© Jul 7, 2016
By Regina Calway.
U.F.O: Three Days. A reworked extended version of U.F.O: Meltdown.
Doctor Alan Schroeder was finalising his report, checking over the last details. Colonel Paterson from Bristol Area H.Q had been filling in for Straker along with Colonel Alec Freeman for the past four months.
It had been three days in particular that had led to the current situation. Three days in which the Commanders behaviour had been increasingly- Well anyone who had read the report, or had been at H.Q then already knew. He just hoped that when the commander returned he’d learned something from it.
Straker woke after a restless night. There was nothing unusual in that. Just in the way he felt this particular morning. He was aware of it having a dreamlike feel, as though he hadn’t yet dismissed sleep. He’d woken up hadn’t he? Yes, he had, he could feel the cool floor beneath his feet. - But as to what day and time it was right now he couldn’t be sure. Asking himself those questions - In his mind that was a sure sign something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t like him to wake slowly. Years of discipline and training had made certain aspects of his behaviour practically an autonomic reflex. He may just have had one of the toughest weeks going but who in s.h.a.d.o. hadn’t! He tried to rationalize his vague worries away. The last few months he’d felt more under pressure than usual but pressure was nothing new. It wasn’t even surprising that he’d misjudged the situation and ended up in hospital for a few days after an alien capture had been successful but unfortunate for him. What was surprising was how he felt now.
Another particularly tough week had followed. He’d been through tough weeks and months before. It was part of the job. Well he’d had some time to recover in the hospital and Doctors Jackson and Schroeder had declared him fit for duty. So whatever he was feeling now couldn’t be too serious could it, he told himself. Then with startled realization, “but it isn’t like me”. Trying to think of a rational explanation, he concluded. "Well nothing a cup of my favourite coffee can’t put right. What do I expect after the hrs I’ve put in this week?” If he’d been thinking as rationally as usual he’d would have been aware that his judgement in this matter was way off.
Later that morning near the start of his journey: There was a squeal of brakes as an oncoming driver slowed down to avoid Strakers’ car. Ed hadn’t been aware that his mind was elsewhere. He was shocked back to full awareness - the driver had swerved to avoid a stray horse and had narrowly avoided him. He hadn’t noticed, at least not on a conscious level. -Realised he’d not taken any avoiding action either. His flashed his lights in acknowledgement. The other driver being in a magnanimous mood slowed, acknowledged with a concerned look and indicated that he should slow and roll down his window. It was fortunate that was so. Straker would not have dealt well with a case of road rage that morning.
Straker did just that. “Are you alright?” both the driver and he said in unison.
The driver of the other car replied “Sure, no problems. But you look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine, fine; thank you.” He sounded uncharacteristically hesitant but quickly covered it up. He was shocked by his lack of awareness, what could have happened.
“You’re sure? Here take my card.” It read Brian Spence G.P. his contact details were underneath. Straker gave the doctor his studio Business card. After all, it had been a narrow escape.
By the time he’d reached the studio entrance he’d shaken off his rather lethargic start to the day, or so it seemed. He certainly hoped he had. Reaching his above ground office reception, he was about to greet his secretary Miss Ealand when she replied, “We weren’t expecting you in today. Are you alright, sir?”
A little surprised at this he responded “Anything wrong, Miss Ealand?
“It’s just that you look rather unsettled if you don’t mind me pointing it out, sir. We weren’t expecting you on duty until later tomorrow. You are also four hours early and in the wrong place to meet General Henderson.”
Straker seemed to be considering what he’d just heard.
“If you recall you were expecting Alec at your house. You were to both wait for Henderson there and then go to the golf course. They are not expecting you to be here. Besides which you usually inform us if you are coming back to H.Q.” There was a questioning but concerned tone to her voice. “Are you sure everything is alright? There isn’t anything I need to know is there Sir?” Miss Ealand wondered if something had happened that she’d yet to be informed of by control. Something serious enough to make him as unsettled as he seemed. “General Henderson is in your office with Colonel Freeman. They will be expecting you later. - Shall I let them know you are here?”
“Four Hours? – I didn’t...” he trailed off but not before Miss Ealand had caught his expression. He’d not been aware of the time. He didn’t realise.
In fact, he’d skipped ahead a whole day. Being aware of his schedule Miss Ealand was aware of that even if her commander hadn’t been.
Did Miss Ealand Just say that they were expecting him; she’d just said that they weren’t?
He seemed a little confused just now as though she had said something contradictory.
“No Miss Ealand, there hasn’t been anything you’ve missed. Yes, let them know I am on my way down... And Miss Ealand...”
“Thank you, I’ve just,” there was a slight pause, the commander considering his next words carefully. “- If I seem a little off balance today it’s that I’ve just had an unusual morning.” He seemed about to finish there but reconsidered. “...In more than one way.”
“Unusual in what ways, sir?” her curiosity for once getting the better of her seeing as though the commander was being more open than usual, inviting her questions. He also seemed rather preoccupied, and not his usual self.
“Nothing much it just that I-”. He gave a small sigh. “Most people have trouble waking up in the mornings at some time or another. I just haven’t been able to shake the strangest feeling that I haven’t quite woken up yet. It’s probably nothing to worry about Miss Ealand. It’s just that it’s not like me that’s all.” He gave her a slight tight smile.
To hear him admit to worry over such a slight thing and to admit to how he was feeling was unusual. For him to mention it, it must really be worrying him. Or else it was more serious than he admitted. He hadn’t been any more specific as to what else had happened. He also sounded as though he was trying to reassure himself more than her.
How many years had they worked together? – Long enough to know each other pretty well: Not as well as Alec Freeman knew him, but well enough. She decided then and there that she would keep as close an eye on Commander Straker as it was possible for her to. He definitely looked shaken when he came in. Anyone else but Alec might have missed it.
“Miss Ealand has any more studio business come up since I’ve been away? “
Miss Ealand checked although she already knew the answer.” No, there is nothing new on your schedule Sir.” You checked just before you left last night”. He should have been aware of that already.
He had quite a tough few months from what she’d gathered. Obviously this little discussion had helped as he did seem a little more like himself than when he came in a few moments ago.
“Ah yes I did.” Well that’s all. I will see you later.”
“Sir” Ealands tone stopped him briefly. “You’ve had a tough few weeks; things are probably just catching up with you. As Alec would say and as you’ve said to Paul often enough, go easy on yourself.”
“I’ll be as good as new after some decent rest is that it? You are probably right. I’ll try Miss Ealand.” He’ didn’t sound certain that he would succeed but he was certainly sincere.
Walking through to his inner office, he went through the voice print identification procedure, sat down heavily in his chair, almost composed himself, and waited while his office descended. “What else could I have forgotten?” he thought, worry clearly visible. He was thinking of the possible implications. His instinct assured him that so far nothing of importance regarding s.h.a.d.o. and its security had occurred. Fortunately, his instinct was correct. - So far.
The commander entered the underground headquarters of s.h.a.d.o. passing the two female guards on duty at security. “Commander.” they greeted him. His usual composure was almost completely in place by that time. They hadn’t noticed anything amiss. He just sounded a little distracted, not something too unusual for him. Not really, now they’d worked with him for as long as they had. They might not know him as well as his colonels but by now, most operatives regularly based in S.H.A.D.O. control and other parts of H.Q. had gotten to know him a little better.
He was known for his somewhat moody behaviour, reserved nature and tough exterior. You wouldn’t cross him when in one of his sterner moods but he was fair. He was caring too, although he didn’t like to openly reveal that side of his personality often. He also knew what it took to get the job done. If anyone else worked the hours he did they’d be in a perpetual mood. So they didn’t hold it against him unlike some of the operatives at s.h.a.d.o. Despite that, they all respected him. Those who knew him less well didn’t appreciate his tough exterior. It took time to get to know him.
“Lt. Johnson, Lt. Paulson, good morning.” He walked on and entered control, which at the present moment, was quite quiet. He had the distinct feeling that he’d forgotten something but couldn’t quite recall what. Straker exchanged greetings with the operatives in control. They were not surprised to see him although his presence was unexpected. He was about to enter his office when a red alert sounded. The S.I.D.s strident tones echoed:
“U.F.O. Sighting four million miles, speed sol three, lunar intercept four minutes.” Confirmed one u.f.o. speed sol three, lunar intercept four minutes”.
Alec Freeman and General Henderson were leaving his office. Alec to take over the alert. The General to speak to Straker. Alec nodded a quick greeting and took over in control. Henderson indicated to Ed that he should join him in his own office.
“Ah Miss Ealand said you were in. –Ed, we weren’t expecting you until later.”
The general replied taking a good look at his ‘most vital piece of S.H.A.D.O. manpower’ as they entered the office. He seemed –How could he put it? A bit out of place, unsure of himself: Not something he would have ever normally attributed to the commander.
“But I am glad you are here. I wanted to tell you the good news myself. Your organization has passed its yearly s.i.a.” –Henderson was referring to the special internal audit. A painstaking and eminently thorough five- year audit of shados financial operations that had been suggested by the commander himself in response to Henderson’s constant requests for justification of spending over the years. It was a major undertaking but had the effect of slightly reducing the seemingly continuous financial reporting back to Henderson and the i.a.c. Giving shado staff responsible for dealing with such matters more time for their primary role. “Freeman filled me in on all the latest financial details while you’ve been recuperating. Since you’ve been back he’s done a passable job of keeping me informed in that regard.”
Straker wasn’t surprised, Alec was a good second in command even if dealing with paperwork wasn’t his strongest asset.
“Having him continue to take some of the load of your shoulders sounds like a good idea. You have been back a few weeks now.” Henderson was giving Straker an appraising gaze. “Schroeder tells me you could do with another month off. Why don’t you think about it? I believe that you feel Alec would do a good job in your absence.”
“Why do I get the distinct feeling that’s not a request General?” Straker said as he sat at his desk and opened his briefcase taking out a few more items to add to the already growing pile of work. He could see that Alec had gotten through quite a bit just by looking at the out tray and documents piled neatly waiting to be filed.
He’d forgotten the report on the interceptor crash he was going to forward to the maintenance crews. – When was he going to have had it ready by? Should it have been Yesterday? Was it tomorrow? Their reports had been handed to him, his conclusions had been added and he wanted the maintenance teams to act on his findings a.s.a.p. If he’d lost track of things. He paused in his thoughts briefly: and they were expecting his reply already..
“The bad news is that there’s going to be another cut in funding.” Henderson was still studying Straker but not obviously. He was also deciding if he should tell him he had come in a day earlier than expected for full duties. Did he realise that he was hours early too.
“Why does that not surprise me General”? Irony and more than a hint of exhaustion were clouding his voice.
“Since you have come in today why don’t we discuss it now, if you are determined to stay? It could help. Freeman’s reports were quite useful, and yours were thorough as usual.” The general was trying his hardest to help Straker. Straker checked the time and calendar on his s.h.a.d.o. laptop in front of him before his next statement. Unsure what day it was let alone the exact time. His brief exchange of greetings with Miss Ealand this morning had been helpful but still left him feeling rather off balance: Not to mention his near miss on the way in to work.
“Will you join me for breakfast General?” It was a rare request but offered with friendship.
The general accepted. He wondered if he’d get to the nub of the matter. Or to be more precise nub of matters. - What the commander was worried about and how to persuade him to take a break without being adopting his usual “grouchy General air” that he usually but not always adopted, when trying to corral him into carrying out his orders.
Two hours later General Henderson left the commanders office. The breakfast had only taken ten minutes at most. During and afterwards quite a few matters regarding the funding had been discussed. It had been a productive meeting for both of them. Other matters had been touched upon too. There were just a few things that Ed was still concerned and irritable about, though Henderson tried his best to placate Ed without being patronizing. Henderson had been determined to draw him out. He really wanted to know what was bothering his c-in –c. He too had responsibilities. One of those was ensuring that S.h.a.d.o. was operating to the best of its ability. That had a lot to do with the person who was in charge of it. If they were having problems, then shado might be too. Usually the person in charge, Straker, could handle them. But there had been some concerns put to him recently. It was his duty to investigate them. If necessary, take action before concerns escalated into problems for shado.
They had also decided to reschedule the golf for tomorrow afternoon. As they’d also managed to discuss some of what they were going to discuss at the meeting in General Henderson’s i.a.c office, Henderson had decided that it was no longer necessary to meet there.
Not that he had told the commander but he’d discuss what he needed to with Freeman and Straker in the medical centre office tomorrow. He would probably arrange for Colonel Lake, Colonel Paterson and The heads of Medicine and Psychology to be there as well, if he needed to take official action. The golfing would follow. Henderson would insist upon it and get Jackson and Schroeder to back him up if necessary. He would also back them when required.
He hadn’t been able to persuade his C-in-C to take leave immediately. He could order him but he needed more proof for the i.a.c first. Although if it was a matter of just a few days here or there he could certainly do that. But he decided that in Strakers present situation he’d better not push him. It might do more immediate harm than good.
Seeing as though Straker had come in for some reason today he wasn’t going to draw attention again to the fact and make him more out of sorts. Not that he really looked all that bad. - Though if things were as reported to him, as he was beginning to suspect they were after having spent time at headquarters recently, they would have a limited amount of time before action was required.
It was also maybe the first time in recent years, ten years or more since working with the younger colonel Straker, that he really began to understand his current problems. Reading about them and experiencing them second hand via reports were two different things entirely. Henderson began to wonder if he was really that out of touch or if it was his style of leadership that lent itself to clashes with the commander. Each had their duty to attend to and Henderson wasn’t about to let S.H.A.D.O down by not getting to the crux of the matter no matter his leadership style seemed overly blusterous to some. Soon, he considered giving another thought to the timescale involved.
A month or so at the very least at last report from s.h.a.d.o.'s medical department. From what he’d heard, the incident, which had left him in hospital had completely knocked him out and he’d been unconscious for several days before he’d regained consciousness.
Although he’d passed the physical and psychological tests he had to have before being declared fit for duty he’d been finding harder than normal to keep awake since the incident. The medical team had recommended reduced hours but the commander had disregarded their advice.
Commander Straker had been over worked before the incident. That had apparently been responsible for the miscalculation which resulted in him being caught in a blast. Having survived that he’d been plunged into a fire fight, again survived that, then been caught in another explosion that had knocked him out while trying to drag one of the aliens who was eventually caught, away to the waiting mobile teams. It might have been a successful conclusion to the mission for shado but concerns had been raised at the debriefing of the teams concerned headed by Col Freeman.
He was suffering the consequences of two concussive events in quick succession. Henderson had only discovered this when it came to light after questioning during the course of investigations. –These were initiated after requests were made and concerns raised.
Ed was going to accompany him to his car. Obviously trying to be his polite-self, as opposed to his irascible one. The General appreciated the gesture but could tell that he was unusually preoccupied. The General also had another motive. In order to monitor the commander unobtrusively he would be staying in a newly requisitioned temporary office: – One of the spare offices in the medical centre, for most of the day. Henderson would again be discussing recent concerns his colleagues had over their commanders’ health. He might be resilient but even the best of them had to have some latitude given them now and again, to just take off for some unplanned down time. The commanders’ problem was that he’d didn’t see it that way: At least not in his own case.
The General didn’t want the commander to know that he was going to be at Headquarters for the entire today. All Straker knew was that he would be unavailable at his office at the i.a.c. should he need to contact him but, he could still be reached by contacting Miss Scott. The control room staff and relevant others had been instructed not to mention his presence at H.Q unless they covered the fact that he’d been there all day. They and the Colonels had, and continued to do as they’d been ordered. Strakers command staff were certainly well trained, and as it turned out very protective of their commander when the need arose.
“No Commander, that won’t be necessary. I shall not disturb you any more than necessary and I can see that you are busy”. By now Ed would have been on duty anyway - if it had been the next day.
Everyone at H.Q. was aware that he would have come in two hours early as he had all that week just to make up for being away recuperating. But why he’d come in four hours earlier and in at all today was a mystery. It wasn’t necessary but the commander obviously had his reasons.
The General, Alec and he had been scheduled to have met at Henderson’s I.A.C. office and then gone golfing. It wasn’t often they met up for golf after a meeting at the I.A.C. but the general had wanted to see Straker in a less formal setting and thought that his friend Col Freeman might be a welcome presence there too.
Until plans had been rearranged Commander Straker had been unaware that he’d been due to meet there, not his house. –It was a memory of another meeting he’d once had that he had recalled. His secretary and trusted s.h.a.d.o. operative Miss Ealand had said as much but that wasn’t what the commander had heard. Aware of his lapse, he now had the rearranged details firmly in his memory and his personal diary. Hoped, fervently, that tomorrow would not be a repeat of today. He couldn’t fathom why he’d mixed up the details, nor why he felt so unsettled today. It just wasn’t normal.
The commander of S.H.A.D.O. had felt like the walls of his office were closing in on him in the last thirty minutes. He badly needed to get out. Just into control would do. He sought out Alec who was just coming over to update him with the latest on the u.f.o they had tracked earlier.
Henderson had come to check on their commanders progress and was secretly there as head of the I.A.C and an independent ‘member of s.h.a.d.o.’ to gauge the levels of stress the commander was working under. It was the reason, until rescheduling it that he’d organised the golfing break for later in the day. He’d heard reports from all the senior staff at h.q. who worked closely with him and even then, he hadn’t quite believed them. Not until he’d been invited to see for himself.
That had been almost three months ago. Since then he’d been making visits to s.h.a.d.o. mostly when Straker wasn’t on duty to gather information from staff who worked with him without adding undue stress. Jackson had always informed him of the effects his usual visits normally had. This was different, usually Henderson’s visits were associated with bad news but the most recent ones, prior to those specially arranged to monitor him, had sent Strakers’ stress levels sky rocketing. As a result Henderson would be careful not to bring too much bad news when visiting Straker in person. He hadn’t planned on Straker coming in today for duty. He had just been expecting him to meet up with him and Col Freeman around midday. At his office once he’d returned to it, from Strakers’ place of work here.
His initial reply to those facts had been “Straker, stress we’re all under stress. He’s seen more action than most people and is certainly stronger than most. He’s also more determined than most. If the medical department can’t persuade him to take leave and Jackson is at a loss I don’t see what I can do. A week after his first visit, after the senior officers - Alec Paul and Ginny had presented their findings to him he had said:
“I need first hand proof before I can take any action and that will take time. The I.A.C committee will need to approve any prolonged change of command however temporary that may be. To that end, you can expect regular visits from me. Some will be anounced, others will be more unobtrusive. I’ll be glad if one of you would arrange a temporary office for me to work from at S.H.A.D.O. headquarters until this matter is resolved. His tone was more demanding than requesting. It was however tempered with concern.
Since then things had seemed to calm down at least on the surface, apart from the last week. Straker being adept at hiding things had seemed to be doing fine. Henderson had agreed to submit a request to the I.A.C. for Freeman to take over for the period of time Jackson recommended but it wouldn’t be implemented for at least another three weeks much to the chagrin of all involved. It seemed that although more than usually stressed, Straker would last out until Henderson had enough proof the take to the commission and take subsequent action. Gathering the proof was an ongoing process.
Alec came up to him just outside control and asked “How’d the meeting with Henderson go?” He noticed Ed loosening his jacket and his tense posture.
“Oh, not so bad Alec, not so good either, more budget cuts… “He rubbed his temples. “Thanks for those reports Alec They went down well with Henderson. He was actually pleased.” Ed was in a good mood despite his tension.
The commander had stopped near the middle tracking and communications console and had shifted the focus of his attention to the bridge of his nose and squeezed tightly. “That the latest on the u.f.o. sighting?” He indicated the data in Alec’s hands. “Will you leave that in my office please. Carry on Colonel. I’ll be back in a moment – just going to see doctor Jackson: His voice was lightly dusted with pain and more than a little strained. It was an abrupt change. It wasn’t like Ed to leave during an alert either.
Mind you, he wasn’t supposed to be in today. How did he seem to know just when an alert was about to happen even before being notified? Somehow, he usually timed it just right. Always available when needed. That was the present problem. He was too available. He should make time for himself more often, even if it meant doing less down below and more in the studios on occasion: He knew the commander didn’t particularly relish being at ‘home’. Particularly if he felt he was needed at headquarters. Even so he usually stuck to his roster in some sense. He didn’t usually come in unexpectedly.
“Ed. Jackson’s not on duty at present, do you want to call him in?”
“No”, Ed snapped at him. “Just put that in my office! - Sorry, Alec.” His apology was immediate. With that, he stalked off to med centre in search of Schroeder. Lately he’d been getting more snappy than usual.
Alec looked at his back as he walked out, he felt for his friend. “I don’t think we’re going to be in for a good day today,” he said to Lt Ford who was at the station nearest where he was standing. - “I think the commander has a grade one earthquake going on inside his head. See if you can speed up the link to the other incoming data would you, Ford, It’ll help.” Alec asked ever mindful of what would lead to a more efficient and therefore pleasant working situation for his colleagues and of course their commander. “Put me through to Foster on Moon base in a minute would you. I’ll just put this in the commander’s office first.” Alec replied, removing a packet from his internal jacket pocket. Whilst he was there, as well as placing the data he was carrying on the commanders’ desk he removed and switched some containers of the commander’s favourite beverage as requested by Jackson and Schroeder. They too had been informed that the commander had come in to h.q. unexpectedly today.
Commander Straker walked over to medical, opened the doors, and asked one of his colleagues if Dr Schroeder was available.
His request was relayed by the efficient medical secretary. Dr Schroeder duly appeared.
“What can I do for you commander? –Take a seat.”
“Do you have anything for a migraine like a Mount St Helens eruption? And.” He trailed off reluctant to mention it despite it bothering him. - He sounded irritable worried and exhausted. He sat, Dr Schroeder sat too, mirroring his patient.
“And commander?” His tone encouraging, as well as showing clinical interest.
“I can’t explain it but I have this strange not quite there feeling. It’s as though I haven’t quite woken up yet. I know I have but at the same time I don’t feel sure if I’m dreaming or awake. I can’t shake it.” The commanders’ description was not as precise as those he usually gave but certainly conveyed how he felt.
“Commander It’s exhaustion catching up with you. Physical stress and mental exhaustion. You really need to rest.” “How long have you been on duty today?”
I was with Henderson earlier that was –uh about? He had to think about it. He frowned with the effort to recall.
“Lethargy, irritability, forgetfulness: I think we can confirm a few of those symptoms already commander”. He too noticed the commanders loosened Jacket. One of many current tell tails indicating signs of stress. He paused before asking “When did you first notice this?”
Now thinking along those lines already, he was able to supply both answers. “This morning” Around 6 a.m. I was with Henderson at eight.”
“You should have called in sick commander. Is there anything else I should know: Any accidents, lack of co-ordination or awareness of your surroundings. Waking dreams, seeing or hearing things that aren’t there?”
The commander thought for a moment.
“Other symptoms might be: Aches, pain, dizziness, increased heart rate, lower sugar levels: -feeling cold, shivering.”
“I did have a close call on the way in this morning.”
“How close was it, in truth commander? Prompting him not to hold back. Knowing his reticence when discussing his health.”
“There was this escaped horse on the road on the way in. The first I was really, consciously, aware of it, was when I heard screeching tires. The car on the other side of the road swerved to avoid it and avoided hitting me in the process. Here, if you want confirmation. Here, here’s the driver’s card.” –There’s something else too. I can’t quite put, no that’s not it. I don’t seem to be… sequencing events correctly. - I was sure this morning that I was supposed to be here. The meeting I’d had scheduled with General Henderson. I’m sure that was not scheduled for today. - But tomorrow, until he rearranged it with me. Now it is for tomorrow.” he said as if to imprint the fact in his memory.
He didn’t mention the mistake over where to meet or his other minor lapses of concentration. He didn’t want any unnecessary poking, prodding or questions. Besides that, he couldn’t quite remember what it was that had happened anyway. Just knew that something wasn’t quite right. He knew that Schroeder was a good enough doctor to discern what was wrong even with the partial, verbal information he was giving him. Between him and doctor Jackson the answer would be forthcoming soon. Or so he hoped.
Schroeder had noticed his repeated ‘here’. The commander didn’t waste words, his irritability, his slower than normal answers to questions and of course his migraine and unusually open admittance of the earlier near miss: To add to that the misremembered meeting time and the loss of sequencing ability. All were time and memory related.
Miss Ealand had a few concerns and they as her duty required, were duly reported to the medical department. The indicators were not encouraging. He had half expected the commander’s visit once informed of his presence at H.Q. Some things, even with s.h.a.d.o.’s commander in chief, could be predicted.
The commander-in chief wasn’t in the best of shape but if he managed to get some rest right now, he might stave off anything more serious. Any other course of action was risky to say the least. He might manage to keep the commander together for a maximum of two or three days or so if he didn’t have any undisclosed problems. He would order him to rest after that time if the commander didn’t do so. Henderson would back him if necessary. He would report his findings to Col Freeman. If anyone could influence Straker it would be him.
He let none of what he was thinking show. His medical training and concern for the commander masking his annoyance with the commanders ‘almost reckless disregard for his own well-being’ as he’d once put it to Jackson. Dr Schroeder continued in a conversational vein.
“Ah Dr Brian Spence G.P. He’s a good friend of mine. We were at school together. If I need to check anything I can always contact him.” - He’d be good at s.h.a.d.o. assuming circumstances came up that encouraged him to join. He’s highly observant and an excellent doctor. Anyway, back to the point commander. I can do one of two things right now.”
“These are: give you something for your migraine, give you some multi vitamins and minerals, a mild sedative and order you to take some rest right now. In your quarters here, for at least twelve hours.”
“Or” demanded Straker, irritation quite evident in his voice.
Schroeders’ tone was authoritative and serious throughout the rest of his conversation with the commander. “The same with a slightly stronger dose of everything mentioned. Orders to sleep at the end of an eight- hour shift! No coffee, as you are so near the edge right now that it would impact badly on you. If you really can’t stand not drinking it de-cafe will do. Come back immediately if you experience any of the other symptoms I mentioned or anything that is at all unusual.”
“Well I think I can do the second.” He said with sincerity. The irritation suppressed.
“I would prefer that you would take the first option and follow medical advice more often.” Schroeder was observing him closely, his concern showing.
Straker locked gazes with the doctor, his tone worried and equally as commanding. “Dr Schroeder I know you would, but at this present time there is too much to do that needs my personal presence. I’ve been out of action for a while as you know doctor.”
“Yes commander” he said kindly his next sentences more forceful. “You would have more time to spend constructively if you took our advice more often and let yourself recover properly. Discipline and duty can be taken only so far.
You need to refocus some of that discipline and duty on getting well. Taking a day off on occasion, not using duty as a reason to cut corners with your health. “He paused to let that sink in while he gathered the required medications.
“It’s another form of discipline and duty commander and an equally valid one. There is no reason to think you’re shirking your responsibilities by concentrating on those to yourself once in a while. I know yours is not an easy job by any means. But I am asking you as a physician and a friend to take more care of yourself.” What I am giving you is at best just a quick and temporary solution. You are doing yourself no favours commander. At worst it will just prolong the inevitable and make your symptoms more severe when its effects ware off.” Another pause, doctor Schroeder hoping his long warnings would make the commander back down just because of the effort involved in curbing his obviously growing annoyance. – No luck so far, so he continued.
“Given your present state its highly likely that your body will just override the treatment. The only way of knowing for sure when that would happen would be to do a blood analysis and hormone-level test to see how out of kilter you are. The results would take some time to get back.”
Straker was doing his best to not snap at Schroder. He seemed to succeed but more due to the effort required to be annoyed being too much, than anything conscious on his part. Straker didn’t really want to snap either. Schroeder could see it in the almost apologetic look in his tired and preoccupied eyes.
Straker was almost ready to leave once he had taken the multivitamins and minerals. Dr Schroeder then administered a mild timed release shado sedative that should relax him without putting him to sleep until the end of eight hours. If he fell asleep before then the Dr warned, it would be because his body had forced him to. Dr Schroeder walked over to where the stock of pain killers were kept and opened the cabinet retrieving some more medication for the commander. He turned towards him putting a pack of the usual medicine his commander required into the commanders’ hand. He would take the migraine meds given him, in his office with a good swallow of water. At least he was now aware enough to follow the doctors’ advice in that regard. Schroeder Locked his gaze level with the commanders giving him permission to go. Dr Schroeder was not happy -Thankful that the commander had come to see him and pleased that he’d taken some of his advice, but definitely not happy. Straker returned a thankful gaze and left, his posture showing his authority as he left. A worried doctor noted the findings of his examination and results of the consultation in his records as usual. No doubt, Henderson would require all the ammunition he could get.
A short while later the commander appeared back in the H.Q control centre where Col Freeman was waiting for him.
“Ok commander the reports in your office. There’s an alien on the lunar surface: - Paul’s out there with a team of two mobiles crews. Colonel Lake will be due in soon. Paul has things under control there and there’s no other activity at the moment. Ford has also sped up the data link.
That elicited a smile from Ed. Ford received a brief pat on the back and a “Good job Lt”. Straker re-entered his office and downed the migraine tablet he had in his hand along with a good swallow of water. He was thirsty and had not had anything to drink since a coffee at his breakfast meeting with Henderson. It hadn’t had its usual perking up effect Henderson having prepared a half strength version for him but the commander had reacted as though it had, the placebo effect making itself felt. By now however it was beginning to wear off. He wondered how he’d manage without drinking more today. – Perhaps caffeine withdrawal was partially to blame for the migraine but it was unavoidable in this line of work.
If not for Schroeder’s advice, he would have been on his second cup of it by now. A few hrs later Straker had almost cleared the backlog of work on his desk. By then Freeman had left replaced by Col Lake.
Before Freeman left, he had called Lake aside. “Ah Colonel a word or two in your ear before you take over.” Lake was just passing the console by the entrance near the commanders’ office. She went over to him. They were now standing near the dark haired female operative, operative Millar, at the console. Doctor Shroeder just contacted me. Would you keep a friendly eye on Commander Straker: He has been in with Henderson for most of the morning, he went straight to med centre after the meeting. Dr Schroeder has given him some relatively mild medications along with his usual but warned the commander not to touch any coffee as It could cause his symptoms to get worse and interact with the medication. The amount of the stuff he had to give makes it quite potent.”
“Ed is that tired he might just forget. There’s more Ginny. I’ve let the other operatives here know that if they bring the commander coffee it has to be de-cafe. I managed to switch the supply in his office before he came back but there’s still a chance he’ll go to the studio refectory. - S.H.A.D.O. catering have been informed.” They moved a little away from operative Millar as they talked before continuing the conversation. - Not wanting the less senior ranks to worry and granting the commander some measure of privacy.
“What exactly did he give him Alec?” Ginny asked once she was sure they were far enough away.
Just a combination of multi vitamins and minerals initial tests showed he was lacking along with a combination of stuff that makes up shados latest sedative. Apparently Schroeder’s been working on a sedative specifically tailored for use on the commander as he was concerned that something like this might happen.
Ginny gave one of her characteristic nonverbal ‘Col lake is surprised and concerned responses’. She raised her eyebrow. Alec gave her an answering eyebrow raise of his own and continued: “There’s more Ginny. There is also still a chance something might happen even if he does avoid caffeine as he’s close to the edge of tolerance for being given preventative treatment according to Dr Schroeder. He was quite annoyed with the commander apparently.” Alec didn’t want to make Colonel Lake worry but he’d also noted the barely concealed worry in amongst the annoyance in the Dr’s tone.
“Out of the two options he gave him he’d only accept the least medically effective.” If anything does happen it will certainly be soon after if he manages to go through today without resting. Exactly when he can’t be sure. A few days, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. He has suggested to Henderson that he arrange some down time for him soon: Talking of him.”
“If you need to speak to General Henderson he’s currently in my office trying to be unobtrusive. He’s working on a solution but with bureaucracy it nearly always too little too late.” He paused briefly, seemingly exasperated that their efforts had so far, been seemingly ineffective. Would you persuade him to go home after lunch he doesn’t seem himself.”
He could tell Ginny agreed with him about bureaucracy and knew it from experience, they all did. She was surprised Alec hadn’t succeeded himself. Well, she knew the commander could be stubborn when he wanted and figured Alec wanted to wage a war of attrition on that front with her as backup, even Paul too if their individual efforts didn’t work. There was a time when Alec was the only person who could persuade him in such matters. Things had improved over time in that regard. At least that was something positive about the situation.
Lake had a worried expression on hearing the news. It was not exactly unexpected. Alecs expression had matched hers. No doubt if Paul had been here they would have shared it. Forewarned Col Lake called into the commander’s office to inform him personally of the change in duty officers. And to get up to date with u.f.o. related events from the commander’s point of view.
The commander came out of the office around midday to take a break. Lake Ford and some of the other operatives had also done so and gone to the shado refectory at the same time as the commander. He usually ate in his office but today was one of the times he chose to join his colleagues. He didn’t want to eat alone today and really felt he needed the company. Despite the work awaiting him and the noise level in the shado restaurant, he also needed the change of scenery.
He avoided any caffeinated-coffee as asked, but it was obvious that all was not well. Ed was that tired that he bumped into Ford when collecting his meal. It was slight but enough to make the commander nearly drop it exhausted as he was. Outwardly the commander had been doing quite well apart from the occasional lapse. To all intents and purposes he looked unaffected since his exit to medical. Had it not been for Fords quick and fully awake reflexes things would have been rather embarrassing as there was deep red sauce on the commander’s Italian dish. - It would have caused quite a mess had it left the plate and landed on the commander and the floor, which it had almost done at one point.
“Lt. sorry.” The s was beginning to slur. The exhaustion and medications beginning war against each other within Straker.
“It’s alright commander. Can I take that to your table for you?”
There was a considered pause “Thankyou Ford” I’ll sit with you and Col. Lake. - I guess that I am not firing on all thrusters today he smiled.” Guess was slurred too. It wasn’t like him at all. He seemed aware of the fact but unable to conceal it.
“Sir If you don’t mind me saying so we are all rather concerned. You don’t sound so well.”
One or two others who had been near the commander in the queue had noted he looked a little pale but that was all. Those who had noticed had given him a respectful look of inquiry not necessarily expecting a response. The commander had replied with a commanding and reassuring look. Followed by a hint of a wry smile. The Chef serving the commander had added a little more to his plate having noticed his paler than normal complexion. “Enjoy your meal commander” One of the chefs, now serving had said when dishing up his meal with a friendly expression. “It is good to see you again, Sir”, genuine pleasure in his voice. Being recognized by the commander was a pleasure for he always recognized the efforts his staff made, even those who served in the kitchens.
“I am sure I will chef Mariella” He replied while taking the proffered meal. Ford and Lake had noticed that he’d maintained his usual cheerful manner when talking with the staff here. Unwilling to unduly concern anyone here more so, than when around those he knew in control.
Frontline Shado staff were more hardened to concerns and worries but the kitchen staff could be shielded to some degree although equally well trained. Here although in some ways he could relax more he also tried to present a slightly more confidant and commanding presence aware that staff from all areas of H.Q. were here. Some were more familiar with seeing him, others less so. Both the more experienced and recent recruit graduates were here in sizable numbers. There might even be staff from other shado facilities temporally assigned here.
Straker was walking carefully but it was subtle. Noticed only by those more used to working with him.
“Ford, Thank-you, but I think I’ll manage until the end of my shift. Is, it,” He started again. “It’s only another three, no four hour-z, hours.” Isn’t that Right Col-Virginia. he stated. He was even tripping over his words now.
“Sir”, Virginia answered “-if you recall you were scheduled for leave today.” Why don’t you let Col Paterson handle the Alert? He’s agreed to fill in for you. In fact, he’s on his way in now.”
“Are you sure Colonel?” Straker lowered his voice a little, “I’m sure I was supposed to be in today”. He sounded genuinely certain of that. “-Col Paterson, from our Bristol office? I thought that he was on leave. He’s not due back at Bristol regional H.Q. until next week.” That part of his statement had been accurate at least.
“He was sir but General Henderson asked if he would fill in here to help out for the next four weeks.”
“Well if General Henderson’s arranged it I am sure he had good reasons.” ‘He had’ the others present with the commander thought. General Henderson called him in as his primary area of expertise prior to s.h.a.d.o. was in medicine: specifically a PhD research project into stress and its long term genetic and psychological effects. He was advising the General as well as filling in at h.q. when required. He was an expert in cases like Strakers although Straker was a special case, no one on the planet doing the job he was.
The lunch break was passing relatively smoothly. The commander had a small appetite today. They both noticed that he’d left half his meal untouched. It was one he enjoyed but he seemed not to have the energy to eat it. “You’re not hungry commander ?” Asked Lake a note of concern in her voice. He seemed distracted.
“- Oh, no. I don’t seem to have much of an appetite. Don’t worry Ginny. I am sure I’ll make up for it this evening”. He gave her a disarming smile and proceeded to deliberately change the topic of conversation, discussing more light hearted studio matters. They knew it was one of his many tactics. But nonetheless they followed his lead.
“Virginia, I think that first script reading scheduled for tomorrow is a good idea. I like to keep my hand in on occasion: - Providing the project is of a high enough standard. ”He gave a pleasant but eminently tired smile at that to both Ford and Lake. Some of the more recent projects other of the executives had approved, had not been up to the commanders high standards in all areas. Virginia had an opinion on that matter. The commander valued her insights here as well as in shado matters.
“You are a better actor than you give yourself credit for sir and it would be a shame for you not to be able to unwind occasionally. I know that that particular script is of interest to you. Have you decided that you are definitely up for the role, playing a forensic medical examiner? Or would you rather play the hard bitten detective who teams up with him?”
Ford chimed in at this point. “It’s going to be the hard bitten detective if I’ve guessed right sir. Isn’t it? Ford had leaned forward in his chair genuinely interested in what the commander was about to say. Straker for his part relaxed back into his chair looking more at ease than they’d seen him look recently.
“I am certainly leaning in that direction but nothing is set in stone as yet Ford. I know there’s also a role that would suit you down to the ground Virginia. Ford, if you can find the time when you are on set next week there are a few bugs with the sound recording equipment that need ironing out: If you could give that team a hand it they and I would appreciate it. They are all fairly new and could do with someone of your experience to give them some technical help.”
“Certainly Sir, I would be delighted to help. Other things considered I think I’ll find the time.”
It was when Commander Straker stood up from his seat to go back to control when everyone at the table had finished, that he blanched. Ford and Lake could see him sway slightly before sitting back down in his seat. He hadn’t even managed to stand fully before doing so.
“Sir, are you sure you wouldn’t like me to drive you home. You don’t look well at all.” Virginia was concerned, it wasn’t like him to show any obvious signs of weakness. In the last hour he’d shown several.
Commander Straker wasn’t expecting to feel quite so worn out. It had taken him by surprise despite Dr Schroeders warnings. “Colonel I guess I’ll take you up on that offer after all.”
She’d suggested as much earlier.
“As I’m fond of telling others, its no good for s.h.a-a.d.o. if you, I mean. - I mean – I, can’t function. His near total exhaustion was weakening his usual determined stance, making him see the sense of Col Lakes’ comments and act on them. Not only note and acknowledge them. He seemed a little put out by that fact but acquiesced with his courteous manner coming to the fore.” With considerable effort he seemed to pull himself together. It wouldn’t be good for the morale of the less senior of the staff. Possibly even his senior, if they saw him like this.
Col. Lake had managed what had seemed the impossible –She had persuaded the commander to go home! She couldn’t quite believe it. Even Ford was surprised. Straker walked alongside Col Lake to his car with an effort. He was so tired that he nearly dropped his keys and his briefcase before handing them to Virginia. He sat beside her, the Col taking up his usual position in the driving seat. When they passed the gate -house he was nearly out of it but determined to look together in front of his staff. In order to try and relax the commander so he would rest, she decided that a little soothing music would be in order. “Do you mind Commander?” She asked, Indicating the car radio.
“No be my guest Colonel. As you’re driving, your choice.”
She gave Ed a smile and chose something from one of the more mellow of the local stations. Whatever it was it met with his approval. He had recently begun to work on exploring a wider range of musical styles to gain some appreciation of things his many colleagues liked. Figuring it might give him a little more insight into their personalities. He’d found that his tastes were more wide ranging than he’d realised before. He’d closed his eyes as soon as they’d passed the gate house. On hearing her choice had given a small approving smile as he began to relax into what was, within the next ten minutes a deep sleep. The rest of the journey through the suburban roads and countryside to his home passed with the commander deeply asleep. It seemed a shame to wake him upon arrival but she couldn’t leave him there. She had to get him inside.
“Sir, Ed. We’re here. Commander.”…She was gentle but firm enough to wake him.
“Oh Thank you.” Ed opened his eyes and immediately wished that he hadn’t. His exhaustion and the sudden waking had caused another migraine. He grimaced, put his hand to the bridge of his nose and squeezed closing his eyes briefly as he did so. It seemed to help. He did feel a little sick and the light was painful but he’d manage.-As usual, and damn his genetic tendency towards them!
Virginia noticed and let him take a little time, brief as it was. The commander was not about to go slow for anything. “Sir, I Checked with Miss Ealand and you only have a morning script run through tomorrow. It has been rescheduled for 11a.m. followed by a Golf meeting with General Henderson. I suggest you rest as Dr. Schroeder suggested. Don’t worry Sir. I’ll pick you up at ten tomorrow if you’re feeling any better. - You can cancel if you need to Ed.”
"Oh Virginia before I forget, would you pick up the report for the maintenance teams I left on my desk here. Take it to Miss Ealand to copy to them tomorrow. I only Just remembered what’s been at the back of my mind all day.
“Of course sir”. She replied as she escorted him through the door and on up to his bedroom. Another admission, how long before something more serious happened. She knew the commander was careful but how much longer would he be able to hold out until the i.a.c. gave permission for Henderson to take action. Either that or the Commander succumbed to the pressures he normally handled so well. She waited outside whilst he undressed. Once he was suitably attired, he let her know.
Virginia popped her head around the door to check that he really was getting down to rest not trying to sort out any last items of work he’d taken from his briefcase which was resting near his bed. She had also come up with another of his migraine tablets, he was on a maximum of two a day and this was his second. She had also brought a cooling glass of water, a damp cloth for his forehead and some food from the kitchen. “Is there anything else I can do for you?
“No Thankyou Colonel. That will be all.” He was grateful for the help. Not expecting to be, as he put it, nurse-maided.
“Get some rest Commander”. I’ll check on you in the morning. If you need anything…”
“Let you or Alec know. Thanks again Virginia.” He took the proffered items with a grateful look and had just enough energy to listen to Lakes last words before leaving him.
“All being well I’ll see you tomorrow then. With that she walked into his study area and collected the report for the maintenance crews which he had already completed. She then walked over from his desk, through to the front door. She was concerned. Ed had pushed himself hard but never so hard that he’d been incapable of holding together before. His behaviour today was a testimony to that. What had he been thinking!
Lake left having reset his security system and locked the door. The commanders’ car was parked in the usual place. Earlier Lake had arranged that hers be driven to a convenient spot nearby, by one of the security team. She checked in with Control when she’d settled into her seat.
“Colonel Patterson”. His accent was cultured, with traces of North Bristol, Gloucestershire-leaning accent evident. When off duty he was said to do a good impression of a local west country band, - began with W. Or The W-somethings. They were popular with a few comedy hits in the U.K. charts in the seventies. Col Paterson was quite a character and related well to both Colonels Foster and Freeman on the rare occasions he was at H.Q. That and his shock of ginger hair were the first two things anyone meeting him for the first time noticed. His sense of humour was much like that of late Astronaught Craig Collins. Col Lake knew better but sometimes wondered if that had helped when he was considered for acceptance by shado. Henderson was fortunate to have him advising. In the brief time Col Daniel Paterson had been working on Strakers case he’d come to know him well. To add to that Straker himself liked him. Reminded him of Craig.
“Daniel, Commander Straker is back home and resting as recommended.”
“Thankyou Virginia. We are all glad to hear it. Let us hope he feels a little better tomorrow.”
With that Virginia drove back to H.Q. to make a full report in person then went off duty. Tomorrow would come soon enough. It wouldn’t do if she ended up like her respected but sometimes too determined commander was now, as well.
Ed Straker woke to the sound of his telephone ringing. Unusually he could remember his dream. And it was a dream not a nightmare, the latest shado sedative was not overly r.e.m. inhibiting and had certainly done its job. He felt like he’d been asleep for a month. It had been so long since he had any proper amount of sleep that he was almost unfamiliar with what it should feel like. “Straker” He snapped awake. His reply crisp as was his norm but short lived.
“Col. Lake Sir. And how is the commander feeling this morning?” Her tone was light and airy. “The Commander is eager to get on with the day. Ed Straker is still waking up”. That last was said with a yawn. He didn’t sound nearly as bad as he had yesterday and certainly not in pain. If his wry humour was anything to go by he’d had just what he needed. He was in a good-tempered mood. If his yawn and reply, clearly heard over the phone in control was unusual, he could be forgiven that. It just might surprise some of the operatives who said Straker wasn’t human. Straker may have had a decent nights rest but his deficit recently was large and at some point, there would be consequences.
“I will be around to drive you here in thirty minutes. I am just coming on shift now. Would you like an update?
“You can fill me in when you arrive here Colonel. Is that Alec I can hear in the background? I wish I had his way with people sometimes”.
“Yes. I’ll hand you over.” His cheerful greetings were carried clearly over the shado phone. State of the art technology more reliable that the average civilian or military phone system.
“I think you’re getting there Ed. You’ve a way to go but there’s definite progress.”
“Oh you heard that did you. Morning to you too Alec!”
“No need to be grumpy commander!” Alec and Ed were having one of their usual humorous morning exchanges. So things couldn’t be that bad.
Thank-you for holding the fort for me today Alec. I don’t expect to see you until that u.f.o you’re tracking is caught and the relevant reports on my desk ready for tommorow.
“Now how did you know that?”
“I didn’t. Some may think I’m psychic. But I can assure you Alec, that I’m sure that’s just what you were expecting me to say. I thought I would oblige you- just the once.”
Alec gave a chuckle “ One of theses days we’ll do a test on you that proves it. You’ll have to eat your words. It will be on your desk today ready for tomorrow morning. But no coming into control to read it. The previous days alert was ongoing but everyone had been stood down to yellow as progress had been made and the threat lessened.
“Thankyou Alec.” He said with both genuine gratitude and heavy irony at being reminded to take it easy.
“I will be expecting to see you on the golf course after a little meeting in medical Henderson’s arranged just prior to the script meeting. I Just thought I’d let you know, If anyone so much as sees you within a metre of control security has orders to frogmarch you into Jackson’s office for a full medical examination.”
“Ummm, looks like I owe you one Alec. See you later.”
Lake arrived a little later, in time to get to the meeting Henderson had arranged. There was a gentle ring of his front doorbell. Ed invited Virginia in. He looked immaculately dressed and groomed as always . He looked a lot better than he had yesterday. There were still traces of black circles under his eyes. He was still paler than usual, but on the whole, there was a measurable improvement. Lake decided that a little encouragement wouldn’t go amiss.
“Why commander. You are looking a lot better today!”
“Coffee Virginia” offering some from the breakfast table they’d yet to reach. “Before you say anything mines de-cafe as per doctors orders. I don’t know how I’ll stay awake without it though.”
Virginia gave a smile whilst saying “If YOU, don’t over tire yourself and take your tea fairly strong I find that’s enough. It doesn’t kick start your system that much but then it doesn’t leave you feeling overtired the next day if you don’t have any either.
“I never could acquire the taste for it. Besides the now occasional cigar at home it must be my only vice.”
Virginia had not often been to Eds’ house, and certainly not outside her occasional stint as security outside his home on the odd occasion she’d been in charge of a team posted there. It was a surprise to see the assortment of statues pictures and other ornaments. There was even a zebra skin rug on the floor. It could use a woman’s’ touch here and there but was for the most part quite pleasant. The only unusual things about it were the lack of family photos. No holiday snap shots in digital frames or more traditional prints. The colour scheme was another matter.
Despite the lack of obvious family photos. She hadn’t seen the ones of his son in his bedroom. There were two others in the living area of the room. An old photo of Alec, and himself in a colonels uniform obviously enjoying a joke. It didn’t seem to be from a wedding picture from his former marriage to Mary Rutland but was taken around the same time. There was also one other. A very rare publicity shot of him shaking hands with Harlington of Harlington-Straker studios. It was rare too because it showed the genuinely warm and happy side of his personality. Taken shortly after he’d joined the studios and whilst working behind the scenes on a blockbuster sci fi. One of the few of the early projects that hadn’t done badly. You could see the elaborate sets in the background and he was obviously enjoying himself. She hadn’t remembered Alec mentioning the picture to her when she’d asked out of interest when the three of them were discussing such things. It was at someones birthday. Either Alecs or the commanders she recalled. Ah yes ,they were discussing the relative merits of specific photographic styles when combined with certain frames. She had no recollection of what else had been discussed then just the unusual subject of the commanders taste in picture frames. It was when the three of them had been trying to figure out what type of frame to get for Col Foster.
He’d asked for some hints because someone he knew had requested some in a certain style and he couldn’t source it. They’d later managed to get the unusually reticent Paul to reveal that it was for some paintings and photos a girlfriend of his had. They managed in the end but not before a heated but good natured debate as to the relative merits of one particular frame over another had begun. Which frame went best with what style of picture or painting. It had been during one of those all too rare quiet moments at shado or the studio when all four had been able to get together for a social occasion. It was odd what memories pictures could trigger. Even ones she’d not seen before.
“Thankyou commander. It’s a lovely home you have here.”
“A little too big now I’m afraid and more of a place to rest than a real home.” “It would be good to have someone to share it with.”
Lake hadn’t expected that. The commander hadn’t expected to say it either. “It does make a change to have company.”
“Ed,”she said gageing his reaction “You could invite a few of us around more often if you wished. Hasn’t that occurred to you?”
“It has, but with Alecs’ shifts, your shifts and Pauls’. I don’t think the opportunity would arise that often. I’m also sure most of you have wider social lives to lead. Besides It seems I am usually at work more often than I am here.” He took another bite of toast, chewed swallowed. “I also think I’ve in some odd way become used to it. I don’t mean that it’s my preferred option but It could be worse. I think I’ve adapted to having privacy. Toast?” There was also a premium grade granola, croissants and another cereal on the table. Marmalade, Jam, Decafe-coffee, lemon tea and orange juice. He’d obviously been prepared for her to come straight here at the start of her scheduled duty. She liked to enjoy breakfast with others in H.Q normally when on this duty roster. It would have entailed her leaving early to do so as she lived some distance from H.Q.
“Thank you”. She hadn’t yet eaten as the commander had guessed. If she was surprised by his knowledge of her, she didn’t show it.
They ate companionably. Lake was learning more about her usually quiet and quite private commander. Perhaps it was another reason why he didn’t invite people around that often. He felt he could relax here, in his own home and might just let his guard down more than he intended.
An hour after leaving to meet the commander, Lake was driving him through the studio gates.
“Good Morning Commander, Colonel.” Looks as though its going to be a fine day today.
Good Morning Ericsson. How are you settling in? He asked of the fairly new shado guard at the gate. Who was in his first week at the studios.
“Fine, Thankyou sir.”
It was touches like that that made his staff so loyal despite his reputation as a somewhat hard commanding officer.
“Good Morning, replied Lake yes, It does,don’t get sunburnt.”
“ Colonel, I won’t Thankyou”. Replied the guard with good cheer as he checked their passes. “Everything is in order Thankyou Sir, Thankyou Colonel.”
Passes checked and returned Lake parked at the designated space for the commander and then accompanied him to the medical centre. She was about to leave when the commander said. “Oh no, I need moral support Colonel –Henderson remember.”
Now where had she heard that before! - She knew. “You’ll get my support Sir but I will insist that you take the advice offered.
The commander had heard that determined tone before and knew she meant it, all of it. He might not get his way this time if that meant what he thought. He had time to really think about that while walking along the corridor outside the medical centre.
He was glad he’d asked Lake to accompany him as he arrived to find not only Alec and Henderson there but also Colonel Paterson, Dr Jackson and Dr Schroeder. He was out numbered. Did Henderson really need four others to back him or was Alec there to back him too. He suspected a little of both. Surely things were not that bad!
Henderson was the first to speak “Commander, Col Lake”. “Sit down commander”. Ordered Henderson.
Commander Straker did as ordered.
“I’ve had some serious reports concerning someone in shado disregarding medical advice. Pushing them selves way past the limit. Putting the smooth running of the organization at stake. Not to mention the possible security implications of having personnel too under par to consciously adhear to normal precautions. Not that that’s an issue yet. It could become one. -If you don’t do something about it. I will.”
“Would you mind telling me who this person is?” The commander could guess and had a good idea they were referring to him, but didn’t see that he had to. Even with Henderson. He wasn’t in a mood to play games even well intentioned ones.
“I should think that unless you are too far gone to notice even you will know that I am referring to you commander.” If you want proof, I am sure your medical colleagues here will concur. In fact if it wasn’t for them and your loyal senior colleagues Col Freeman, Col Lake and Col Foster”-. He paused for effect. “and their concerns over the past few months leading me to do some checking myself I would never have believed it.
As I said once before you’ve a monkey on your back. This time as well as being on your back its put its hand’s over your eyes. It whipping you to pieces with its tail and you can’t see it to do anything about it. That’s not like you to be blinded like that.”
“General if you have finished with the highly descriptive metaphor?” Straker had given in to the sudden listlessness he felt, leaning his head in his hand. Henderson often had that effect on him but usually once he was alone in his office.
Schroeder added more pertinent information. Your meeting with me yesterday indicated that you were far from fuctioning normally. Even Miss Ealand had concerns-And she was correct to bring them to my attention.
Dr Jackson was next. “Your make up is such that you continually push yourself, commander. I personally have seen your latest medical and psych reports over the last few months and conclude along with your colleagues that something serious will happen sooner or later. The fact the Col Lake had to drive you home yesterday and back here this morning is proof of that.
Alec was next “Ed we have your best interests at heart. Henderson can’t relieve you for an extended period of time until he has approval from the i.a.c as you know. BUT we are working on that. If you go on this way you’ll drive yourself into an early grave.” Alec could see Ed about to object. “Don’t worry we won’t let you do that and much as some in the current i.a.c .might feel it might be necessary we would never replace you. Just take a few days leave for goodness sake. Not that semi working type you’re so fond off. No cutting corners by working over time this month either.
If you can do that starting with this golfing break. I won’t have to ask General Henderson here to get me to permanently replace you for the foreseeable future. Believe me that’s the last thing we want. You are shado to us. It will come to that if you are not careful.”
This time it was Virginia Lakes turn to speak. “I believe you would take extended leave if sufficient evidence presented itself Commander. That and you felt that Alec and the rest of us would be sufficiently supported if you were to do so. I know you well enough by now commander to know that you don’t want to let anyone in shado down. You want to protect everyone no matter what the cost. If you don’t ease up, Commander Ed Straker, the one member of shado you will be letting down will be yourself.” She had unconsciously rested her hand on one of the commanders’ shoulders supporting him while facing him. She continued whilst gazing straight into his eyes difficult considering his current position and trying not to let herself be distracted by being so close to him.
“ When you can’t do you’re your job well enough, you will feel that you have betrayed your duty to shado, no matter how much the voice of reason and truth inside you tells you that isn’t really so. But only once you’ve recovered enough to realize your mistake. The only way you can prevent that nightmare commander is for you to take our advice now, while you are still capable of doing so.”
The commander of shado straightened up in his chair. Met all their eyes with his gaze and with a resolute tone replied: “With all the evidence amassed and all the trouble you’ve gone to I would be a fool to question your conclusions. You may think I’m unreasonable at times but I do realize what’s best for shado. I must admit that Yesterday I was so out of it that I wouldn’t necessarily have come to the same conclusion.”
Much to their astonishment he had agreed. He must truly be tired to admit to that and to capitulate so easily: No carefully planned tactics, no reasoned arguments, no stern expressions, no wry humour even, just acceptance. Was this a good sign? It was what they wanted but so unusual it made Lake and Freeman worry.
Colonel Paterson had been observing carefully along with Drs Schroeder and Jackson. He‘d formed his own conclusions. He along with both the Drs had noted every relevant detail of the meeting from their respective medical stand- points.
At the commanders acquiescence they adjourned to the adjoining office to discuss something in private. That left Alec and Virginia with Henderson and the commander. Henderson was the first to speak.
“I for one am glad that you can still see sense commander although I must admit I was surprised you acquiesced so easily.
Ed didn’t reply, just gave General Henderson a cool almost frosty look.
“Well Ed” asked Alec “Will you be ready to go golfing after the script reading or should we get you home? Ed exchanged a look with Alec that said “don’t say it, I know what you’re thinking”. He’d been looking down after gazing at Henderson and looked up at Alec whilst drawing his hand down his face. He looked like someone who had a lot on his mind. He straightened up a bit stretching tired muscles also realizing he’d crumpled just a little. The Dr’s and Col Paterson had returned. Paterson had a tray with a pot of lemon tea and a pot of honey, whilst Schroeder and Jackson had bought in some tea glasses complete with cup holders and teaspoons. The psychology behind it being that if Straker was drinking the same as everyone else not having coffee wouldn’t seem so unusual. Col Lake by this time had removed her hand and was fetching him a lemon tea with a good spoonful of honey. As she passed it to him from the medical conference table she locked gazes with him as if to say “it wasn’t that bad and “You surprised the heck out of us and “Are you really alright?” All conveyed in just a brief look.
“Thankyou Colonel”. Taking the proferred tea from Col Lake. He answered Alec.
“I guess so Alec. It’s not as though I have much choice though is it” Knowing that Henderson had arranged the golf so he could share his worries officially although informally. And if Henderson wasn’t satisfied with his answers, life for Straker would get awkward. Much as this meeting was semi formal, probably designed to couch the tense seriousness of the situation. It would probably be more so when he was presented with some of shados more official but rarely seen documents unless he missed his guess. Despite the situation and surroundings the atmosphere had so far shifted to something less formal although with every serious intent.
Colonel Paterson Spoke. “Commander you may not be aware of it but the senior staff here contacted General Henderson some months ago. James took their concerns seriously enough to begin monitoring you while you were at H.Q.”
“You did what General!” He was aware of Colonel Paterson's background.
“I did a little checking up on things. With Colonel Paterson's input. It seems their concerns were justified. You have been logging nearly three times as much overtime as your senior staff and have seven weeks unused annual leave. As for medical leave you’ve not even taken half or your entitlement. Let alone what has been recommended. Drs Schroeder and Jackson here say you wouldn’t be persuaded and that you could do with another month or two off right now.”
Knowing you we are prepared to let you take that month three days at a time not including your one regular day off over the next few weeks, until we hear back from the i.a.c. That’s a compromise you’ll have to accept until a ruling is made.” Colonel Paterson will be standing in for you in your absence along with my protégé Lt General Bob Anders and if the i.a.c rule as I suspect they will, they will be giving Freeman, Foster and Lake all the support they need during your leave of absence. Does that meet with your approval Commander?”
Hendersons words although asked as a question carried the undertones of a strong not to be refused suggestion. One ignored at ones own peril.
The commanders instincts were correct. Drs Jackson and Schroeder one after the other, passed some official documentation towards him.
“Commander” said Jackson “These documents will be submitted to the i.a.c. along with our most recent findings. If you would sign them commander. They state:
( c.) ‘That you of your own free will commit to mandatory (three day)’ –This part was filled in ‘working for medical reasons for the time required. S.H.A.D.O. medical directive fourteen a. Forms smd 21a, 21b and 22c as applicable to paragraphs beginning 14c. –e.1b’ to be issued to and signed by the interviewed party.
‘(d.) If upon appropriate actions having been initiated by senior command staff and approved by the current i.a.c chair whose responsibility it is to investigate and oversee all actions taken by S.H.A.D.O., No binding conclusion as to medical recommendations can be reached a compromise position may be proposed’
‘(e.) And if accepted must be witnessed by the initiating parties, in so far as postings permit. In which case form smd21c may be forwarded to absent parties present . These and witnessed copies to be returned for certification by three senior medical staff :’
‘(e.1) If possible from departments comprising of Medicine,psychology.
*In addition one independent advisor from out side headquarters who specialises in the required fields pertinent to the case in question. If said case and rank of office subject to the inquiry merits. ‘
‘(e.1a) Merited in the case of: Commander-in chief shado operations. Deputy commander. Colonels Posted within Headquarters. Or (e.1b) Commanding officers of outlying bases.’
‘S.H.A.D.O DIRECTIVE 14A paras. 14c-14e/87 amendment 1/4.’
‘Copies of forms smd 21a are to be held by h.q medical section. Forms smd 21b are to be issued to present witnesses and forms smd21c are to be issued to absent witnesses. Both are to be submitted to the i.a.c for consideration and further action with due haste.’ A MAXIMUM OF THREE MONTHS AFTER INTIATION OF INVESTIGATIONS BEGIN.
The commander read and signed them as required. Col Foster who was currently on moonbase would be forwarded an electronic copy of 21c to sign and return.
It was that bad. Even if the relevant parties had tried to do this in a less formal a setting. The paperwork required by the i.a.c. had been presented and duly signed. Not since its creation several years ago had the commander expected to see let alone have to sign such a document. He understood the need as much as it was a genuine shock.
“Well commander” Colonel Paterson replied, “That will count in your favour. I can only add that I wish that we had met again under somewhat different circumstances. I recommend you enjoy your break commander. It’s not often that a member of shado is ordered to commence shorter working hours.” he said kindly.
“Oh I have something for you. He retrieved two of the commanders favourite brand of golf ball from his pocket passing them to him. Alec and I bet that you will beat James so try not to hit the sand bunkers Ed. James has his bet on Alec beating you. Foster might be joining you. He is on the early flight from moonbase.
With that less than formal end to the proceedings The commander and Col Lake were now free to attend to their less onerous studio duties.
Straker was reading from the second draft of the screen play: “And so you see if it had not been for the timely intervention of our friend from the Naval yard There would be little evidence left.”
The Medical examiner spoke as read by Virginia lake. “But you see here Lt David”, addressing Straker the dectective. “The only evidence that was missed by the original examiner on the case was this. You see here?”
“Here” said David with certainty born of long experience.
“Yes. This small protrusion just under the tip of the right scapula.” The script calls for Lt David to look at the object on the screen display under the electron microscope, that caused the protrusion.
“That’s what resulted from the attack. Something so small a cursory autopsy would have missed it.”
"And what do you learn from this? Can you give me a time of Death Dr? Is there anything more?"
The reading carried on in much the same style. The doctor discussing her findings. The dectective asking pertinent questions. A case slowly and surely being built. General Henderson had even come in observing Straker in this what was for him a foreign environment. Straker seemed at home in it and Henderson could now see some of the other problems his c-in c was dealt with on a regular basis in the other side of his job.
Henderson had been passed off as a potential investor in the production. Initial activity on the rehearsal site was frenetic as actors from other scenes and productions swapped stages and rewrites were added prior to the beginning of the read through. A few of the other executives, directors and others who had not seen Straker for a while and wanted to disscuss problems or progress with him were also lining up to briefly try and grab the great man as some called him. It was not as easy as Henderson had believed. Yes he knew it wasn’t a walk in the park but having seen what his c-in c had to cope with as well as shado made him wonder how the man had enough hrs in the day.
This might be what Straker considered some light relief but even so the demands were high. And some staff temperamental as expected in this industry. By the end of that reading Henderson had gained a little more insight into the commanders working routine. Reading had to be interrupted twice for matters that only Straker seemed capable of resolving. Capable as others were. It seemed that when the great man was at the studios everyone wanted a piece of him. Although relieved of the demands of shado for a time and a little more relaxed the commander was flagging. Henderson noted when he was preoccupied with thoughts of shado even at the studios- he’d been paged several times just to keep him in the picture. Dealing with the more temperamental or demanding of studio personnel that morning briefly arranging convenient appointments or quickly offering suggestions and advice was also taking its toll. Physically the man was pale and almost grey by the time they left for golf, despite his demeanour being more relaxed. He was certainly in need of the slower pace and outside air afforded by this next outing.
Paul had managed to join Henderson, Freeman, and Straker. They had decided to divide along lines of older verses younger officers but playing as individuals against each other. Only after suitable handicaps had been given did they begin. Straker not having much opportunity to play recently surprisingly had a bigger handicap that the younger less experienced golfer Foster. Henderson was evenly matched with Freeman. Although Freeman doubted that that was quite appropriate. Henderson being quite a bit older than he and a more experienced golfer.
Straker was now playing Foster at the mid point of the game so far James had beaten Alec. Drawn with Paul and was almost even with Straker. Ed Straker for his part was beating Alec and losing to James It was yet to be determined what Paul v Ed. would result in. While walking to the next hole Straker continued to vent his worries, and their were a lot of them. “Ah James," he sighed, "do you realise how much easier things could be in shado if the paperwork was streamlined or you could stretch the budget to providing another secretary to deal with it. Alec Ginny and Paul have often borne the brunt of it when I’ve left. Surely it’s high time there was a through review of it.
"Our primary task should be stopping aliens not dealing with paperwork about them. Yes I See the need for it but surely there’s something you can do!" Paul had not often heard Straker so exasperated.
"We are also in need of improvement to the s.i.d tracking system and upgrades to half the computers. Their adequate they do the job. But with Alien attacks increasing recently and tactics actually changing we badly need more capacity. That’s not all..." a little later they’d reached the hole where Paul was due to take a shot. He aimed his club, swung and made a perfect shot. They walked further and Straker took his. Swing, hit, slosh the ball landed in a duck-pond. He seemed to remember having more luck than Ed last time he played. Ed was worried then too. By the time the game had finished the general the commander and the colonels had bandied worries, suggestions answers and comments back and forth much to the relief of the commanders colleagues. They’d had some idea of his worries but the actual extent and amount of them had surpassed their expectations. When the individual scores were totalled Henderson had beaten Alec and Straker. Paul had beaten Straker and Straker had drawn with Alec. Team wise it was a very close call. They were evenly matched. So decided to call it a draw. Individually Henderson had lost his bet that Alec would beat Straker and Alec and Dave had lost the bet that Ed beat James. As neither bet was against anyone elses forecast no-one had really lost and every one had enjoyed the time in the fresh air especially since a lot of stresses had been released even if not all the problems behind them had been resolved. After the game. Straker was physically exhausted as all could tell by his almost weaving walk back to the clubhouse. They relaxed there for a while before going their separate ways having enjoyed the experience. The aim of the game achieved, Paul drove Straker back to his home before going to headquarters then back to moonbase. SHADO flights there were far quicker than n.a.s.a.s three day trips back in the sixties and seventies. Henderson went back to his i.a.c office for the rest of the day and Alec also went back to Headquarters to relieve Ginny.
Morning: He woke to his alarm. He’d been asked to come in later than normal and was due to take his mandatory four day leave starting the next day. It was for him another late start and he was still adjusting to it. He had to call into medical again under orders from Henderson to do so. Schroeder would be administering another shot of multi vitamins and minerals. The test results had come in and they did not look encouraging. He’d actually allowed Schroder to take another blood sample before he left shado yesterday.
From his point of view the good news was that he’d didn’t feel as bad as in the previous two days. He did still feel exhausted but nowhere near as bad as on the day of the near miss with the horse.
There was a ring at his door. He hadn’t been expecting anyone. He donned his robe and answered the door. It was Alec.
“Morning Alec. You’d better come in. I was just about to get into the shower.”
“How are you this morning? –and don’t say fine Alec or I’ll get a copy of the shado manual and knock some sense into that thick skull of yours. For all your education you can be quite dense at times. If I bodily imprint those medical regs on you, you might just for once listen to us.”
“Come on now Alec. Since when have you had to come up with new threats to make me behave?”
“Since you’ve come up with new ways to scare the living daylights out of the medical staff when they saw your results! I’m driving you in today and you are going to take it relatively easy or I will personally carry out my threat then lock you in quarters near medical centre for the rest of the day!” Now you get ready and I’ll fix us breakfast.
Ok Alec, Ok. He gave him a mock salute before heading to the bathroom. Alec could hear the shower and a semi tuneful whistle coming from the bathroom. Meanwhile Alec was preparing a breakfast that would satisfy both their tastes and the demands of medical centre. Eggs mushrooms tomatoes Quorn and seaweed garnish followed by a healthy portion of orange juice and decafinated coffee. Ed had enjoyed eating meat but had changed to a mostly meat free diet in deference to his views about the environment. He was well aware that this was a side to his personality that most did not know about but just because one was in a profession waging war didn’t mean that you had to wage war on the eco system too. The Aliens and humanity between them were doing that. If the public cared to investigate the environmental impact of the space program added to everything else they’d be shocked. It did have benefits too. Increased satellite surveillance enabled better environmental monitoring and planning. It was of a type and a quality not possible before the advent of the space race and the advanced technology it precipitated. Even so he felt he was doing his bit to negate it. Their was too much death and blood shed and that too had party informed his choice not wanting to add to it in any way he could help. But all things in balance. Everything had its place. There were swings and roundabouts as someone once said to him. The commanders comparatively recent change in eating habits hadn’t done him any damage. It was just his hours. And the fact he sometimes skipped meals.
By the time the commander had emerged from the bathroom, shaved and dressed Alec had cooked up a veritable feast. He noted Alec stuck with a hearty meaty option with the sausages on his own plate. Unlike most vegetarians he didn’t object as he could see both sides. Until recently he’d been an omnivore himself.
Lake was on duty again with Colonel Paterson when Straker and Freeman came into control. It was a good thing too as a red alert had been declared on their way in. The aliens had taken full advantage. They’d sent in a massed fleet of ufos. They needed the extra hands as data was flooding in by the second as new and unfamiliar tactics were used. Cols Paterson Lake and Freeman were dealing with the information flooding into control and Straker was coordinating the strategy from his office relevant information being given him as needed. It was only an half an hour to the mid morning break when Most of the u.f.o.s. had unaccountably exploded. Straker had deduced that they were trying to hide something. He was correct. He was flagging by then so asked Alec to take over while he manned one of the less used tracking monitors. The Aliens had tried to hide a larger than normal ufo approaching in deep space, the long range trackers picking it up and sending the information to his station. It just seemed to be hovering near the long range observation platform placed there by n.a.s.a./e.s.a. It was going to attack it taking out shados and earths capacity for long range observations. Fortunately Straker had planned for this eventuality well in advance just in case. It was now that his careful preparation some years before came to fruition. The fact of his medical state requiring more staff at control was fortuitous, for plans he adapted and implemented on the fly required everyone who was present. By mid morning break the solution had been implemented. Back to green alert status. It was now quiet again but for how long.
Colonel Paterson had joined him in the rest room the operatives normally used near the commanders office. Colonel Paterson as mentioned before had a sense of humour very similar to that of former astronaught Collins. Paterson had decided that Straker needed a break away from the office and control but near enough that that the commander wouldn’t over tax himself he looked, exhausted no dark circles just tired eyes and a complexion so pale it would rival the whitest of whites. They swapped jokes and a few laughs much as craig used to but in his own unique way. Paterson had cleverly manovered Straker into using the couch and found that he’d soon relaxed into a peaceful slumber as intended. In the aftermath of that attack the information gained had to be analysed disseminated, processed and reported on. The commander would be back to his office to organise all this. But not before he’d had fifteen minutes undisturbed rest on orders from Jackson and Schroeder. Other operatives were using the room and surprised to see Straker there as he didn’t often get the chance to use it. They were even more surprised when he’d fallen asleep on the couch in their presence. Tired operatives did take the opportunity to rest there when needed but the commander, that was new! His behaviour had been a little unusual but not completely unexpected over these past few days though so they understood the need.
Even they had noticed his more than usual irritableness hastily suppressed and somewhat distracted and quiet behaviour. They had also noticed that he’d been coming in later over the last two days and taken time away from the office with Henderson and at least two of the command staff. Recent instructions, the presence of Colonel Paterson and Hendersons’ recent visits indicated something unusual was happening. When everything would get back to normal from the operatives point of view, not being privy to all the information the senior staff had, was anyones’ guess.
They were concerned but had no idea at all that the situation was as serious as the senior command and medical staff knew it to be. They were also familiar with the commanders acting ability. It having been put to good use when adopting plans within shado that necessitated it being used. –Usually with the full knowledge of selected senior command staff and security. They doubted the last was what was going on now, due to some instinct they by now had all developed. They were not completely certain so hoped that whatever the situation, it would come to a satisfactory conclusion.
The commander woke exactly after fifteen minutes and was again surprised he’d been so tired. The two other operatives also there were distracted from their breaktime discussion by this.
“Commander did we disturb you?” asked one of the younger female operatives present. A hint of worry in her voice. Col Paterson was reading a report over a cup of Assam tea. He was relaxed back in a chair fairly near the commander. There on a working break with the purpose of keeping an eye on his commander, ensuring he was ok. After all the reason he was at the supreme headquarters was, the commander.
“Oh no Fredricksonn don’t worry. Anyone have the time?” Straker asked a little fuzzily but getting better by the second.
Yes Sir" replied Ayesha Johnson "It's 11.30."
“I guess that’s my little nap over. It’s time I was back at my desk." Operative Fredricksonn made as if to go back too.
Commander Straker noticed. “Operative Fredericksonn, you are to take your full break, you were here a good ten minutes after me. You’ve ten more left unless I give orders to the contrary or there’s an alert. Is that clear? Unless its warranted don’t let anyone tell you otherwise” he said kindly. The slim ballet dancer like operative seemed to melt with shyness at being addressed so by the commander. Her blushes were almost hidden under her long maine of gold blonde hair that she managed to make hide her face just at that moment. Just by bowing her head a little.
Ayesha gave her a reassuring smile “You heard the commander”. You’re too jumpy Aylissa. Carry on like that and you’ll end up a nervous wreck.” The commander knew his operatives well even the newer ones. Colonel Paterson gave Operative Fredericksonn a look that seemed to say I’ve been there too and I’m finding this amusing. Chill girl, chill.
Alylissa Fredricksonn gave the commander and Paterson a more confident smile. Straker was pleased to see Alec was right. He was learning a few things about putting his staff at ease. And having paterson here helped too. He was pleased to see that her confidence had been boosted. Miss Fredericksonn wasn’t the most extrovert of the younger and newer recruits but had potential. As did all taken on by shado. He looked deep into her eyes and gave a patented Straker gaze of the most reassuring kind. Readying himself for a return to his desk he quickly adopted his more normal serious look. He was sitting up about to rise but turned briefly white as a sheet. It was not unnoticed by the four operatives in the room with him. He also gave a brief shiver. The two operatives leaving to resume their duties looked back towards him with concern. He quickly dismissed them saying, "Nothing to worry about I’ve just been doing a few too many hours recently. Medical have it in hand. Thankou for your concern." These were two of the male operatives who’d been on duty with him during the mindbender incident several years ago. Since then they’d grown a little more attuned to the commanders’ subtleties.
If he recalled correctly he’d imagined one of the two present wearing a straw bonnet in control and his colleague was one of the few operatives of African or Afro-caribean descent who’d been on duty during the time lash incident who manned the seemingly rarely used deep space tracking console on the far left of control. They were good operatives and had quite a bit of experience. Alylissa and Ayesha had noticed too. They’d been about to get more tea and offered the commander some which he accepted. He opted for Lemon having acquired a taste for it. He still missed coffee though!
He shared a little companionable conversation with his collegues whilst enjoying the warmth from the tea: “So operative Fredericksonn. How are you settling in here? What is it, about a year since recruitment?”
“Fine Sir, Colonel Freeman’s advice stood me in good stead, sir”
“Oh yes, let me guess. He said my bark is worse than my bite did he?” with a small but genuine smile. “I’ll let you into a secret Aylissa. It is, but it is also necessary to bite and bark as Alec Freeman puts it if you want to keep running a tightly and well disciplined organisation. Not all the time: And It doesn’t mean that you are a that kind of person underneath.” He looked straight at her and seemed to know what she needed to hear.
He was aware that Aylissa had yet to show that commanding streak but was entirely capable of leading a team once she had a little more experience. She was unused to giving orders and her personality was of the more gentle sort. Lieutenant colonel Keith Ford was of the same mould and a good role model for her. What had attracted her to shados attention was her intelligence, thoughtfulness, empathy and deep commitment to shados cause. That and her determination: Once she had set her self to a task, she was unwavering even if not the most confident soul. That would come with time.
When most of your elder siblings were taken by Aliens, you either adapted or went off the rails. She’d adapted and with the help of shado had gained a close and supportive bond with others who’d been though similar experiences. Major Peter Carlin promoted from Captain also came to mind now. Straker figured a little friendly advice couldn’t hurt. After that he lightened the atmosphere even more. Alecs, and Jacksons more subtle approaches rubbing off on him. “Well I could really do with a full strength cup of shado coffee right now but this tea isn’t bad. Its quite pleasant. Besides we don’t want Doctor Jackson running around on coffee patrol do we?” He said, remembering the event. With a smile at his staff’s dedication to the job no matter what it entailed.
Everyone there knew that Dr Jackson preferred Lemon with black tea and just a hint of sugar, he enjoyed the new improved shado coffees too, even so did his duty. He made a habit of reminding operatives that too much shado coffee would not do them any good, no matter what the quality. He was good at coffee making too. He also had a connoisseurs nose for it, and cold tell if people were indulging against his advice. Jackson could give the culprits an exact run down of the coffee type used. Just by the scent of it. He’d done it a few times in a tough but kindly way. And the image was incongruous to say the least: Especially that last time he came into control on one of his monthly fact gathering missions deciding that a less furtive approach was more beneficial on occasion. Colonels Foster, Lake Freeman and even commander Straker were all rumoured to have done passable imitations of Jackson doing so since then. Not to ridicule the doctor but just to, in a friendly way, acknowledge that he was right. Especially when all three of them were together, drinking coffee, and in need of some light relief.
Doctor Jackson enjoyed the research side of his work medical and security work, and the psychology. Even the most lab-based person at h.q needed to get out into other surroundings after a long spell looking down a microscope or monitoring staff via links and security reports: They had been on a green alert for days and coffee was the only thing keeping the staff in control going. “I think, no. I know, I smell Kenyan, Arabica. A hint of the finest Italian espresso, and”. He breathed in deeply cataloguing the varied coffee aromas, Judging accurately when and how much had been consumed and by whom, then: “Colonel Lake, Col Foster.” He had a warning tone. They had tried to look innocent. “I had better look in on the commander too.” He did so. As the senior staff, theirs was the responsibility. Straker had come out of his office saying “Well Dr Jackson what’s the problem?” coffee in hand. Oblivious to what was coming.
The operatives in control were treated to the sight and sound of Straker, Lake and Foster all being dressed down by Jackson:
“Commander, colonels: I think you are all aware of the latest reports on excess caffeine intake.”
“Ah yes, Doctor Jackson, efficiency”-
“Commander, Efficiency is something that can be either hampered or hindered by caffeine use. Judging by the admittedly pleasant aromas here. And of which I am sure the You Colonels here are more than aware of I would estimate a few more calls into my office tomorrow for most of the staff here.” He let that hang in the air then came in for the attack. “Unless anyone of you are actually looking forward to that prospect I would strongly recommend you follow my advice in giving a positive example in this matter. Is that quite clear? I am sure I can rely on you to do so Commander Colonels.” Then came the understanding.
“I do understand its capacities and while they are appreciated, it would not be appropriate if I were not to take my medical duties seriously by over indulging myself. While we are in the same ball court as it were. I will remind you I strongly hope any extra visits tommorow will not be necessary.
"You may think this a minor matter but have no doubt. I will be on regular coffee patrol to more directly keep tabs on staff intake.” No clue as to when or how often was given.
* * *
Looking back on it, although a serious medical concern It was all the more amusing as Dr Jackson was also trying not to over do the coffee that day. And it wasn’t often that senior and not so senior staff were on the wrong side of a public dressing down by Dr Jackson. Psychology at work, Jackson figured as well as the warning being more efficiently given in a group setting it would also have the effect of bonding the senior and not so senior staff a little more closely. He didn’t mind being the one groused about on occasion if it meant that shado was healthy in mind and body.
He was doing it successfully. ‘Of course this will not be the highest priority but you all have due notice.’ Looking around him at the now gently chastised occupants of control centre especially the commander who was a little unsure as to weather to dispose of or finish his cup looking down at it, Doctor Jackson noted and said. “You all might as well finish what you have in your hands as it will make little difference to your intake today.’ He had conceded that much at least.
They all shared an agreeable expression and Aylissa giggled, as he’d intended. She felt honoured, as it wasn’t often that the commander personally swapped a humorous remark intended just for you.
He seemed better for it so when they all finished and left to resume their work ten minutes later. Ayesha and Alyissa were reassured that everything was as their commander had said. Colonel Paterson took mental note of this. He reassured them too. “Its ok ladies, gentlemen everything's under control. I’m keeping a close eye on our commander here.” Casting an admonishing yet at the same time approving glance at Ed. Admonishing as he was being monitored closely. Approving as his commander had allowed him to carry out his duty without too much protest.
“I can certainly testify to that” Ed said with a touch of wry humour. The operatives were a little ahead of them. Colonel Patterson put out a gentle but restraining hand indicating that he and the commander should hang back in the more private area of the rest room. Talking quietly as Lt Ericksonn was still on break. “Sir I would recommend that you take another half hour at least if you can today. It may come to the attention of the operatives here but that’s not as important as other matters” his voice was even quieter now “I am sure you do not need reminding but It wouldn’t be good for morale if you were to pass out right in front of them. A little more time to unwind would give you and morale a boost. Not that morale needs one, but they are concerned for you sir.”
"I’ll seriously consider it, Colonel Paterson. I do appreciate why you are here, Colonel. Sadly there is only one fully trained up and experienced member of shado ready for the full time role of c-in c at present. That person is myself.
"I have given serious thought to that. Any solutions will not be immediate I am afraid." Now Strakers expression had hardened as had his tone: “Colonel, I would, really appreciate it, if I could get on with the rest of the day without being crowded. Half this job involves intense concentration. That level of concentration requires quiet and space. I will consent to you sharing my office but that is as far as it goes. Is that quite clear.” It was not a question.
“That is quite clear, as is my duty in this matter, just so we understand each other.”
“Agreed colonel”, his tone conveying just the right amount of authority.
“Thank you commander”. With that, they exited the rest area.
* * *
For the next few hours in control it was quiet and the commander had been steadily working through the paperwork required of the commander of shado after an alert. He’d felt a little shivery once or twice but it had been brief. So didn’t realise how close he was to folding.
Lunch came all too soon – there was still a lot of work in his office to do. Lunch with Virginia who’d just come on duty and Daniel who was about to leave came and passed uneventfully, nothing more triggering their concerns. Ed looked a little ragged around the edges but not so much so that it was of more concern.
Col Paterson had left. Henderson had come into the medical office to discuss the test results with the doctors. Now they had ammunition, they could make headway with the i.a.c. The results were duly emailed securely to the i.a.c. printed and all electronic records regarding this wiped as security demanded: It would be a while until the commission called Henderson with the permissions he needed. He just hoped they’d not be too late.
After a lunch when most operatives and staff on duty had their breaks pass smoothly, with no alerts being declared, those working there, and due back, all walked back to control when another alert sounded. The commander had been successfully surviving on tea but felt himself dipping slightly. His body still making the adjustment to his new refreshment regime. Commander Straker snapped fully awake alert as usual.
“ Ford Get me sky one and two, Virginia contact the mobile teams and send them to these grid references he pointed to two areas on the display. This one is coming in fast and there’s another on its tail. Lt Johnson Where’s that data? Mathieson, where’s that printout I asked for?"
“Five minutes, my office Ayesha. ok.” He reiterated his command due partially to his flagging energy levels and partly to be heard above the alert in the corridor just outside control. “In my office in five with that long range data, that’s where he was when Ayesha Johnson came in but the commander had not managed to bring order to the papers in front of him or fully formulate a coherent strategy. It was a far-cry from his usual organization.
Freeman had come back in on a split shift and when he called in just ten minutes later with more information for the commander he noticed the relative disorganization and that half his comments on the situation had gone seemingly unheard. From the commander's point of view he was just putting his thoughts together prior to replying. Everything seemed to be drifting in and out of focus and taking place in double time. He couldn’t quite focus on what was going on around him. With Herculean effort Ed forced himself back to some semblance of normality. He was slowing down and aware of it. Tried valiantly to hold on until this planning session was over. ‘Just a little more time. Then I can rest Alec is here, but needs to know… plans.’ Alec and he were co-ordinating search activity and other strategy. Papers maps and various data were spread around the conference table and Eds desk.
“Alec, put that down there, sorry, Alec. I didn’t mean, Yes there. I’m sorry that won’t be your preferred option. Astronaught Jamieson is a little inexperienced but there’s always a first time for everything and Bradley will be with him. Put that other map down here. I think just here will force the issue,” he said consulting data, charts and other maps and reports”.
“What about here if they’ve landed here and here.”
“Yes, that will work. Paul’s teams have dealt with the last one of that group and I want him to get the interceptors re launched and prepared as soon as possible. Lunar interception for the last one –let see those figures.” Alec passed him the figures. “Get on this, Alec. Call Major Grey and his team. Have them rendezvous here and here.” Circling the areas required on the map- “This one, there” pointing to a lunar diagram a course trajectory diagram and data. We need Nina and Paul to co-ordinate the strike and they’ll have to use the defensive cannons. Thankyou Alec – Get Lake with that comparison chart in here. Ok good. Thankyou Virginia”…
So far, the commander had dealt with everything that had come in and more than adequately responded. It was in the short break between Alec leaving and Lake entering his office that the world began to lose its coherence. He was flashing back to earlier events of the day. He couldn’t sort out which order they had occurred in.
“So then Colonel we have Nina, Paul and, where was I, Colonel?”
“Major Grey and his teams co-ordinated here. Sir”
“Is Paul ready?”
“Uh, yes commander.”
“Last of that group..hm..”
“Sir? You did mention that.”
“I did. Yes, I did. Right we need ..to .. to.. um”...
“To co-ordinate. Which we have done. All we need to do now is to wait.”
“Wait yes, Sorry Colonel I”..
Straker shook his head to clear it. Luckily she had understood what was required.
“Colonel I…I don’t seem to – be.. What is? It, I mean. Have –Paul – Nina, Major Grey? Have they? Mobiles deployed? All ok? Alec? He’s where? Get..him please.. Colonel…Now.” He was now acutely aware of being unable to focus on the task in hand, but aware and cognisant of what was needed now. Just unable to function. It was unnerving to say the least.
Col Lake Placed a reassuring hand on the commander’s shoulder. Looking straight into his eyes . It was the second time in as many days and Ed had not objected.
He looked exhausted and to coin a phrase she’d heard the younger operatives use on occasion frazzled. He was valiantly endeavouring to hold it together but biology had won out. He’d closed his eyes for a second. The medical results had indicated that this might happen with a six hour margin of error. He might just have made it to having medical leave however it was not to be.
Ok, Commander. I’ll get Alec. Ok? Lake checked he could make sense of what she was saying then left the commanders office and sought out Alec. “Alec would you come here please” her voice was authoritative but indicative of something serious having taken place.
Whilst Lake had gone to get Alec, the commander with what was left of his energy had managed to write. It was like the time he kept a journal entry during the sub smash incident but a little less coherent. He felt totally and utterly drained physically and mentally and knew he’d be unable to function at all soon. The realization was sudden but effects had been gradual until then with a sudden extreme deterioration. He’d not experienced anything like it before.
“THE note read sudden . Alec, Lake, TAKE OVER command NOW Effective immediately. Can’t …unreadable squiggle – in.. another squiggle. HENDERSON,SCHROEDER.
Alec in charge along with Virginia. Col Paterson and Paul deputise; Paul to as.. another unreadable squiggle when back. along with. W..sqquigle squiggle squiggle-ck Plans on desk see notes made earlier on computer.-(my) Squiggle squiggle.
Should have known.. better…. Plan(squiggle) diff(squiggle). Feeling stran(squiggle)-Hoped, time. -Too soon to see it coming. The next bit was crossed out. strike that! better 4 diffrntl! S(squiggle)d h(squiggle)v(squiggle) trusted (squiggle)u all knew more about what.. Known wh(squiggle) was happen(squiggle) (previous squiggle crossed out) to me would b(squiggle) able take over now at s(squiggle) n(squiggle)!! tx Hen(squiggle) and drs f(squiggle) me. Do (squiggle)rust b(squiggle)t so much t(squiggle squiggle) do. Almost there.
Straker cmdr.(today’s date) (time) th-(squiggle)nk you.
When Alec returned with Lake the commander was motionless unable to move. The pen still in his hand. Alec snapped his fingers and waved his hands in front of his friend’s eyes. There was no response. Lake removed the pen from his hand and the note from underneath. She could read even the worst of his writing familiar as they all were with it after all the years of working with him. But Alec was positively expert at it.
Lake showed it to Alec reading between the lines he read
It was sudden, Alec and Lake take over command now. EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY I cant… INFORM HENDERSON SCHROEDER Alec is in charge along with Virginia. Col Paterson and Paul to deputise. Paul to assist when back. Along with working notes check plans on desk see notes made earlier on the computer on my desk.
Work it out between yourselves.
I should have known and planned things differently! Feeling Strange suddenly. To soon to see it coming. Everyone. Should have trusted you all knew more about what was happening to me and would be able to take over at short notice. Thank Henderson and the medical staff for me. Do trust but so much to do. Almost there.
Strakers’ signature today’s date and time.
Freeman called Schroeder and Henderson who both arrived at the same time. Henderson knew Straker well and what to expect but still couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Straker was frozen in place in his chair. The only sign of movement his breathing. He was deathly pale and his eyes were focused on what only he could see.
“How could he have carried on for so long like that! How could he have fooled himself? I don’t believe it I mean.. How could it have developed this fast? I Mean how Dr?”
“General, his ability to persevere was his undoing. The more you fight against something like this the faster it gets you. He needs at least three months total rest and a year on light duties here. I would refer to it as a melt down as it was a gradual one speeding up exponentially just like a melting reactor core or boiling kettle of water.
Its burnout. Exhaustion, stress, long hours. If you haven’t experienced it before its unlikely you’d know what was going on as it impairs judgement amongst other things. It symptoms affect people in different ways but the results are nearly always the same. Touch should bring him out of it.”
Dr Schroeder touched the commander gently but firmly on the hands saying softly. “Commander come with us we’ll help you to your quarters here and drive you home when you’re ready. It’s alright Sir, Freeman and Lake understood your note.”
Henderson added: “I approve commander. Take over Col Freeman. Edward I hope you realize how serious this situation is. I didn’t realize your capacity to hide the true situation was so pronounced. We may not always see eye to eye commander- and even less so with your colleagues on occasion but in this instance I concur with their judgement. Full medical rest leave effective immediately.”
Dr Schroeder indicated that the commander should stand.
Straker blinked and stood ever so slowly. He even looked as though he might, for a split second, disagree with Henderson but he acquiesced. Lake took the blanket from Schroeder and draped it across the commander’s back and shoulders. He’d begun to shiver as physical shock and exhaustion had caught up with his mental exhaustion. He placed one hand lightly on Lakes and his other lightly on Freeman’s arm for support as they lead him out through control.
The only other time any of the operatives there had seen their commander so exhausted was after he’d been affected by an alien substance brought back from the moon. It was a rare occasion indeed when the commander was obviously worn down to such an extent that it was either too much to hide, or he needed help. Those present gave him respectful glances showing varied amounts of surprise, concern, empathy, compassion or reassurance depending on how well each knew him. The commander said a few words on leaving control albeit weakly “Thankyou ,everyone. Carry on. Its ok, colonel Freeman....”. At that he passed out completely out of operative sights just over the threshold of control and was carried to his quarters by all four of them. He knew several things at that point. If it hadn’t been for everyones’ concern and observance earlier, then Henderson might never have known and therefore been able to quickly approve Alecs temporary takeover. He would have been in a worse condition than he was now if his coffee hadn’t been switched. His colleagues genuinely cared. Control and the rest of h.q was in competent hands.
He began his well earned and well deserved rest. His highly competent Colonels taking charge for the entirety of the time Schroeder, Frazer and Jackson had recommended and Henderson had ordered. Much to the relief of all concerned. If they were lucky he would learn something from this. Alec especially hoped that was the case. The i.a.c had replied to Henderson two days afterwards his request approved. After the event.
Dr Schroeder was finalizing the report checking over the details. Satisfied, he initialed it and placed it in a folder ready for Straker. Details of the recent enforced leave had been added and despite the subject being the commander, he would nonetheless have access to it during the de briefing by Col Paterson. The Dr. looked up from initialling the last page. An encoded electronic copy had already been placed in the medical departments secure files. The ‘patient’ in question walked through the doors to his office at just that moment.
“Commander. It’s good to see you Sir.”
“Thankyou. I trust Colonel Paterson and Alec have been managing. –I hear they are keen to fill me in and eager to grill me regarding my activities whilst away.”
“Just to check if what we heard via security was true. We have been monitoring you, you know.”
“I Know Doctor. I gather Colonel Foster and Colonel Lake want to know too.” That was said with a broad smile.
“You’ve been missed Commander. Don’t let that give you any ideas.” Schroeder was determined that he wouldn’t see that last statement as a sign that he should be here more often.
“Oh, I think I’ve learned a few things, Doctor.” His tone was humorous and enigmatic.
Schroeder raised his eyebrow in mild amusement. He could see the commander had a definite spring in his step. His complexion was perfect and his eyes were radiating contentment.
Schroeder was very pleasantly pleased. The commander could see that the doctor was deliberately not asking what he wanted to know. So he decided to give, just a little.
“Well I think I’ve a new perspective at least.”
“I am glad you followed our advice commander even it was at the behest of Henderson and the i.a.c.”
He gave a satisfied smile in return. “I trust that’s the report Dr?” indicating the one he was just finishing.
“All ready for you Sir.” Schroeder felt that reading it might reinforce recent lessons. The commander took it with yet another smile. There was one less thing for the medical staff to worry about now judging by the situation. Strakers’ tone was so much lighter than it had been when last here. Schroeder raised yet another inquiring eyebrow at Straker.
The expression on his face said it all.
“A satisfactory beginning to the day” thought Schroeder as he smiled in return and Strakers’ footsteps began to echo in the corridors en-route to control. H.Q. Staff exchanged cheerful and respectful greetings. The commander's cheerfulness was infectious.
It had been a refreshing and interesting change having Colonel Paterson here, but It was good that things were back to normal. Another day, another u.f.o. The Commander was back. Back and ready to face anything the aliens could bring to them.
The Library Entrance