The Square Circle:Responsibility

© Jan 11, 2015

By Regina Calway.

 February 1989:

The commander of shado strode into control at a brisk pace. “Commander!” Acknowledged Johnson and Ford surprised to see him back so soon.

He could tell they had not expected him and it was a pleasant surprise. The control staff in their turn could see that the commander was aware of how they felt: His expression had a hint of amusement. It didn’t last long. He quickly became serious. “What’s the situation? He asked of the operative nearby. She was one of the new communications staff: still on her induction period before being accepted as a fully-fledged graduate from basic operations training. “U.f.o. maintaining course commander. Passing through Alpha base outer defences: - Lunar-control headquarters has them on tracking.”

She paused to listen to information coming over her head-set. Her raised left hand touching her earpiece as she did so. It was her way of indicating that was so. Straker waited patiently. She touched a few pads on her console to change settings and relay appropriate information. She continued: “Commander S.I.D.2 has confirmed predicted perimeter entry and two other extreme-range sightings. Data has been relayed to lunar bases alpha, beta and delta.   S.I.D. one now confirms earlier sightings.” She paused and listened, reported again. – “Incoming predicted earth trajectory termination: Receiving. On screen now.” Meanwhile S.I.D ones’ voice gave audio confirmation. The Lt had multiple displays on her console. One showing trajectories velocities and intercepts in map form, with notations. A second showing communications traffic. Traffic on her communications display was in flow-chart form making it easier for her and others of a more visual nature to follow at a glance. The third display of five possible at her station was the radar tracking display.

Individual preferences could be set to visual text or mixed form depending on the needs of the operator. The other screen showing the relative positions of mobiles, skydivers and shado satellites was also active. Each operative could zoom in, out or overlap their displayed areas with other operatives depending on their duties and operational requirements. Straker could see that she was handling everything well. There were no red flags calling for her attention and most if not all progress status indicators on her displays were green.

“Thank you Gulmira, very thorough Lieutenant.” He said while glancing down at her with a reassuring look. He could see she was nervous. She was still getting used to being spoken to by the Commander in chief of shado. "Lieutenant-Commanders Ford and Johnson, with me. - Lt Anderson, take over until we come back. If you need us, my office."

“Yes sir.” They replied in turn.

They strode through the conference room towards the bank of offices for the senior staff which were usually frequented by Straker, Freeman, Lake and Foster when on duty in control. When they were not, these offices would be used by the senior supervising duty officers. In this case Lt.-commanders Ford and Johnson. They all noticed the shado workmen making last additions to the décor in the conference room.  It seemed like they had been part of the scenery for decades, but no, only the last few years or so.

The commander gave them a polite and approving nod as he passed through adding: “Very good, don’t mind us. Carry on.” The whole redevelopment was going well. The fitters and decorators gave the threesome a respectful look and carried on. They were adding the turquoise and apple green accents to the white walls. Laying the industrial flooring, carpeting and adding the soft furnishings. Headquarters was now having the final cosmetic changes. Other teams had done similar tasks in other bases. From cooks to decorators’ trainees to old hands everyone was working hard: Shado was taking on a decidedly less bunkerlike look. More importantly its capacity to defend earth was being upgraded.

Along with wondering how long it would be until they didn’t encounter the varied teams of decorators, Ford and Johnson wondered what their summons could possibly be about but at the same time, thought their commander might be here due to the scope of the previously predicted sightings from S.I.D. 2.  Wanting to help them as much as possible. They’d only been recently promoted. And Ed believed in giving support where necessary.

They were correct in their assumptions. When S.I.D. two detected u.f.o.s the alert level went up to amber two. It was then they had given the commander a call. S.I.D. two was more than capable of doing the job of the old deep-space watchdogs. They were still deployed but their use was as an additional roving backup now. Sid three wouldn’t be operational until after the next round of spending had been approved. The planned and operational S.I.D.s had quickly become known as the brothers in unofficial shado parlance.

As he’d arrived home not long before receiving their call they had expected him to advise via the secure link.  He hadn’t said he was coming in again. An oversight perhaps. Not unexpected though: He sounded as though he’d just been woken. Unusual in-itself: as he was hardly ever caught sounding less than 100% alert. His norm was usually that, quite often higher. Alec had heard him when this wasn’t the case but when on duty and in the control centre he did his best to keep morale high. If a commander sounded alert and capable it usually helped.

“Thank-you for calling me.” said the commander. “Now, what’s your strategy”? He asked inviting them to sit in the comfy chairs around his round glass table roughly where the conference table had been. It was just over laptop sized.  Usually used when he wanted to work away from his desk or the conference room, in a more relaxed frame of mind.

His redesigned office was a calming and at the same time, invigorating space. They were near the side of his office now slid back and open to the conference room. Thanks to the new detection systems they had a little time before anything major happened. So, time to discuss options. “Lieutenant commanders if there is anything you need help with don’t be afraid to ask. You will find the best officers know when that’s the case.”

There was also a comfortable three seater sofa in his office. He also had a few potted plants including St. John’s wort now growing in his office. He found it had a calming and uplifting effect something to do with its aromatic constituents. And had been recommended by Dr. Jackson for precisely that reason. Its bright yellow but delicate flowers bought a needed softness to the area. Some of the other plants were still to be arranged exactly where he wanted now it was possible to have them growing successfully in all areas of the underground headquarters. With natural sunlight being channelled down for the first time as well as the other lighting, it made quite a difference. As did the natural air flow, although it was screened for pollutants and alien contaminants prior to being allowed in. It was pleasing to see the less severe side of the commanders’ personality reflected in his shado office.  Calming yet vibrant and efficient. 

The last time they had been called into his office it was still a work in progress and they had caught Straker casting an appraising eye over the work and décor. He was a mix of conflicting emotions at that time: Tense due to having to work amid the ongoing changes and caught almost off-guard and relaxed: Taking a short break. “He’d called them in for a routine task and offhandedly asked: “Well what do you think? I am trying to make this space more relaxing. Jackson says with the amount of time I spend here it would be a good idea. Do you think he’ll approve? This last statement was tongue in cheek.” It hadn’t been a particularly busy day. Neither, had it been totally quiet. Affording him time to catch up on his office work. He knew as they would be frequent visitors along with his more senior officers they would be best at judging its effect. He was too involved in its rearrangement to judge what others might make of it. They were a little surprised that he was asking their opinion on this matter. But there it was, the commander asking: “Seriously Keith Ayesha, I would like your first impressions.”

 The control room and the commanders’ office were the first areas to have the new systems up and running. They didn’t have to be concerned about the shado decorators over hearing either. The portable sound proof privacy screens dividing off certain areas were already in place by this time.  Also, if it were necessary the retractable side of his office could be closed and locked. Lt. Anderson was supervising control until the trio returned.

Back in the here and now Ford was the first to speak. “Well sir, we have the interceptors from alpha, beta and delta base on an equidistant placement along the predicted flight paths. Two from alpha and beta, one from delta. Skydivers are on stand-by, as are the mobile teams. Johnson then explained what plans they had put in place for the mobile teams. “As there have been two extreme-range sightings and the plan is to let at least one alien through alive I’ve put our best teams over in the predicted landing areas...”

They continued to outline their plans for the next few minutes. Much to their relief they met with the commander’s approval. Having explained the reasoning behind it and gained agreement that it was indeed, something else they might have to consider. There was only one minor change Straker made.

 They all walked back into control having a clear idea of what had gone on and what was now planned. With an attack of this size, certainly their first major one with no officer above them: Although not strictly necessary to have more help; It was appreciated. Especially from the commander. And doubly so seeing as though he had made the journey back especially. When he really needed to sleep.

The trio of Straker, Ford and Johnson spread out checking the stations and information being fed to each of the on-duty personnel there.  It was now a waiting game. Straker, Ford and Johnson kept busy monitoring all the activity.  “Now” Said Straker. He was standing up so he could easily see most of the operatives and the information coming in. He stretched easing the almost constant aches in his tired body. It wasn’t unexpected as he’d only left for home a short time ago before receiving a yellow 2 alert notification.  As usual he had asked to be kept informed: “Anything including and above yellow 2, I want to know.”, were his final words to Ford and Johnson as they came on duty and he left. Commander Straker was expected to come in for a red but not anything else if anything developed before colonel Lake arrived.

There were many flat screen monitors lining the walls. There was more computing power and new stations: The control room was much bigger, more efficient and infinitely more pleasant to work in than the original. With intelligent shado designed A.I. in theory it could also be left running with only three people during breaks. Or in an emergency when control personnel had to de-camp to the emergency control room soon to be built beneath this one.

 In practice this was never done except during its testing phase. Even then, the usual number of control staff had been on hand close by. Attending to duties in other areas of headquarters during the redevelopment in control.

A.I. or not, even shado artificial intelligence systems wouldn’t be used to replace the human factor. It was there to supplement, backup and help: Colonel Freeman had been pleased to note that Commander Straker, although trusting of computers, recognized the importance of the human factor.

“Lunar command headquarters that’s a go”. said Johnson: “Interceptors go” said Lt commander Nina Barry from Alpha base; “Pre-arranged path. Seek and deflect. I say again seek and deflect.” The Lunar headquarters and its sister bases interceptors responded having been fed the flight data as soon as their strategy was confirmed. The plan was to force one of the u.f.o.s out of orbit and track it back to its base. Another was to be forced to land and its occupant captured. The rest stopped. So far so good. Vectors, speeds and other data flooded in. Communications were in full flow: Operatives sorting through and relaying the changing information and status and receiving reports back. Orders were given as the situation developed, then: One call they always dreaded, no matter how many times they heard it came in; “Interceptor seven to base, evasive action negative. I say again negative, I’ve been hit.  Rep-..” There was the hiss of a severed channel then silence.

 S.I.D 1 reported: There was collective shock on the part of all who’d heard. Still, they continued doing their duty. Professional as usual. Time for reflection and remembrances would be made. Later.

SID ones announcement was repeated: “INTERCEPTOR SEVEN DESTROYED. PILOT LIFE READINGS NEGATIVE”.  That was the last thing Straker heard. Sound faded and everything went black. 

He woke up in medical centre. He remembered hearing about the pilot of Interceptor seven: - A fresh faced astronaut just passed his first week on duty. Helmut Schwann-hausen was probably dead. ‘Interceptor 7 Negative life readings.’ The stark pronouncement still echoed in his mind on regaining his senses. He was married with a young wife and small child. Was that the final word.  Had he been killed outright? Probably, yes. Although stranger things had happened before now. Despite S.I.D. ones’ report he might have been rescued, resuscitated. He could still hope despite knowing the realities. Lt commander Ford was there, sat patiently, almost asleep in the comfy chair at the side of his bed.

“Ford?” Straker asked weakly: Why am I here? What happened?” What’s the Alert status? Straker asked almost shaking off the sad memory of the last thing he heard. He buried it as usual. He didn’t recall how he’d ended up in bed. He wasn’t hooked up to anything so it couldn’t have been too serious. That begged the question what had happened. He sat up feeling disorientated.

Everything was just coming into focus.

Ford quickly shook off any drowsiness he felt. “Yes it ‘s Ford sir. You had us worried. You passed out sir. Doctor Schroder said it’s exhaustion” He didn’t add that he’d taken the whole of control by surprise although they had honesty wondered if he’d ever show himself to be humanly susceptible to fatigue in that way.

It was a wonder that had never happened before under normal circumstances for shado. Time-lash and Mindbender could be considered abnormal, so didn’t count as far as they and he were concerned.

“Green two Sir,”

“How-?” Straker looked and sounded concerned. Ford could see that he was regaining his composure as he spoke. Even if still weak.

“How long. Two days’ sir.” He didn’t add that the medical staff had given him something natural to sooth him and ensure he would sleep for longer.  He had appeared to be disturbed by something troubling during his sleep. Ford now gathered that it was not unexpected for the commander to be so when admitted to medical.

 He had expressed his concern and Straker assured the Lt commander that it was something they were addressing. Ford knew that he cared and hid much. He had not forgotten that day long ago when the commander he said to him: ‘Difficult, I’ll tell you when it’s difficult… Have you ever thought about the victims of u.f.o. incidents, considered their parents, brothers, sisters…   Don’t ever tell me security’s difficult. Sometimes it gets pretty close to home.’   He’d said more a lot more besides and Ford had not forgotten the tortured expression the commander had whilst explaining the harsh realities to him. He had not realised the extent to which he hid his true feelings until then.

“I’ve been here two days? Hmm. Green two. Ok. It’s time I was out of here” He made as if too leave. Was just swinging his feet down. “I do have responsibilities,” he said quietly to himself.  Ford smiled knowingly at that having overheard. It was tempting to ask him ‘and what do we do with our workaholic commander?’ He couldn’t bring himself too. He understood how he felt. He might not be as driven but certainly empathised.

The door to the private bay opened and Dr Schroder arrived. Ford had already responded. Gently but firmly holding the commander down by the shoulders so he couldn’t stand. Dr Alan Schroeder assessed the situation immediately. Ford was speaking to Straker:

“Sir. I am sorry Sir. But doctor Frazer said if you were to attempt to get up before any of the medical staff arrived”-

Schroeder knew what was required: “Commander, that’s enough sir. No, don’t.” said Schroder. The warning note and concern, echoing along with his words. “Thankyou Lt commander: I will take over from here.” Replied Schroder more gently as he came further in. He addressed the commander. “You had an emotional shock. Normally you’d be able to deal with that: But.” -He drew in a long breath before speaking so candidly” You were running on empty Commander. That shock brought on your collapse… He paused. The concern he expressed now clearly visible in his face and eyes. “You are suffering from exhaustion sir.”

“So Ford informed me. Doctor.” He emphasized with a wry note from behind Ford. His voice was partially muffled by Fords proximity to him.

Ford released the commander with a look of apology.

Ed Straker had ceased his attempts to rise. Not wanting to use force against his colleague. Besides he would probably be sedated if he didn’t cooperate. He had been through medical centre more than enough times to know their probable response to his unauthorised attempts to discharge himself. At least the sedatives they now used were safer. He thought with some relief.

- Schroder had ever so slowly began to adjust the usual type given to Straker when they realised that he could have become emotionally and physically dependent on them. Fortunately, research in shado was in advance of that in general medical circles. And the results showed that although the commander had had quite a few doses of it over the years that any negative effects were only just beginning to make then selves felt.  They had caught any tendency before it had become too severe.  The commander had been informed. The sedatives shado issued had been reformulated as a result saving many of its operatives from potentially being given harmful and potentially addictive prescribed drugs when sedatives were called for.

Straker had obviously been taken aback but quickly took the news in a good frame of mind and agreed to the subsequent action plan.He also wanted medical to give him detailed reports on all shado operatives potentially effected.

 That had been about seven months after the long sleep incident. This was the very room he’d been taken to recover in after several unexpected anxiety attacks whilst on a rare leave. Attacks brought about by the long-term use of such sedatives and not dramatically increasing the dose over time to compensate for worsening symptoms.

They had been signs of the beginnings of dependency. It had been what had started the investigation. That and the medical department concern that varied drugs had been used on him, both self-administered in the case of x-50 and by aliens in mindbender. That and the fire fights, battles, injuries and emotional traumas he’d experienced up to now. Unusually he’d even made a visit to Jackson to openly discuss his feelings outside of the normally scheduled mandatory visits. That and the commanders report had really rung alarm bells.

What he had experienced was more than enough. Even for a military man. No other military man had his position and responsibilities. From the medics point of view there was no typical model of expected behaviour for someone in his position either. Just educated and informed guesswork, and theories. The best that shado medical could devise. But theories none the less.

“It’s alright. I understand Keith.”

The doctor had now neared the commander and was on hand with some water. Straker glanced at it realising he was thirsty. “Doctor Astronaut Schwann-hausen: Was there any chance?”

“I am sorry commander”. Dr Schroders expression said it all. He tried to give him a little privacy averting his eyes.  Straker briefly showed his distress at the news. Tried hiding it. A hand across his face and eyes masking his grief. Ford kept his gaze on the commander tempering it with compassion. Knowing that he would appreciate it. They had worked together often enough in the control room to develop that kind of rapport. “You have some visitors outside Commander.” Schroder handed him the glass of water. “Actually, it’s more of a delegation in size.  Seeing as though it’s you Sir. He was gaging his reaction. “You are to give me your word however.”-

He took it. “Thankyou.” His voice had a slight tremor that was now the only sign of his reaction.  “My word”- he drank some of the water -“doctor?” His voice was weaker and more strained than normal.

“Your word… that you will stay in bed until we let you out. If you can do that, you will be up and resuming your duties and responsibilities sooner commander”. Schroder knew that if anything, that was the most likely to make an impact on him.

“Ok, Doctor ok. My word. You have it.” He didn’t like it but, saw the logic and, felt the need. He felt as though he was pulling two to three gravities. He was cold and ached all over too. Hiding his grief at the sad news he prepared himself for his colleagues. He was bone weary and it had caught up with him. It didn’t normally catch him unawares.

“How do you feel Commander? Up to visitors?” It appears to be everyone who was on duty with you. Schroeder was concerned, it wasn’t like him to capitulate to medical demands so easily. However he felt that this small concession would mean that he would not take kindly to any more.  In that instance that meant showing a strong front to his fellows and letting them all in to visit. He figured Ed would just about handle the crowd outside without any ill effects so already decided what he would do. Alan had already calculated the maximum allowable visiting time in this instance and how to allot it.

“Like I’ve been - running a marathon for three days straight. -I’ll live.” He sounded much better now. ‘Which is more than Schwann-hausen will do’, he thought sadly. Dr Schroeder and Ford, after years of working with him could detect the merest hint of emotional distress.  Sounding normal for the benefit of his colleagues he commanded- “Show them all in”. Ford was aware that the commander was still weak and hiding his true feelings. Ford like most of the longer serving operatives who worked closely with the commander knew him to be a caring person underneath his sometimes hard and demanding exterior.

“That’s good enough for now. Alright, you can all come in now he called” Schroder also indicated through the window to the commander’s bay. As they entered he told them: “Fifteen minutes then Commander Straker needs to rest.” Dr Schroeder was correct: Everyone on duty in control at the time had come in to see him; and more. Even Foster, Lake, Freeman, Barry, Bradley, Ellis, Waterman and Carlin had managed to come. No doubt some of the other senior staff, some of whom were relatively recently recruited were holding the fort. With three visitors in the room and others waiting outside it was quite a crowd. Each group of three would have just a few minutes.

Some months later…

Ed Straker turned the key in his latch, opened his door, strode into his living room and all but collapsed back onto his sofa. His home was now much more restful and comfortable than it had been in the past. He’d taken up an offer by the studios head of design who, had finally heard just about as much as he could take about Ed not having an up to date restful place to feel at home in from studio-s.h.a.d.o. staff who’d had the occasion to visit. Consequently, on one of his rare days off he’d had the head of building and design for both shado and the studios come in on a visit to ask him about his taste in décor and home furnishings.  He was a close colleague of Louie Graham the set designer and shado-tech.

At first the commander was dubious saying that with the amount of time he spent there it was hardly worth it. The designer had countered with several arguments including maintaining his expected studio image. Having somewhere relaxing contributing to better performance at work and better down time. That close colleagues who’d visited, including medical and some of security said that if shado was getting a total rebuild and upgrade the least they could do for their commander was ensure that if he had to put up with all that, he could have somewhere he could really unwind in: As well as the usual necessary upgrades to his shado links and security. He deserved it, his friends had arranged it and, he happened to agree.  He wasn’t about to have a wasted journey. And finally, Louie Graham would have something to say to both of them if he didn’t agree. So, for the sake of a quiet life and happy set designer / shado engineer. It would be wise to accede.

 It was a lengthy visit but well worth it. For what Ed had not been able to express initially due to his somewhat preoccupied thoughts had been slowly and meticulously drawn out. To update his home to the levels expected of a successful studio exec and encourage ‘The Guy in charge’ to take more time out to relax whilst home, a thorough and complete internal redesign had subsequently taken place while he’d been away in the U.S.A.

 He’d been both negotiating a deal for an upcoming production and on a u.f.o. related mission. The designer didn’t know the details, just that he’d have enough time to complete it. Ed had returned and was heartened by the fact that it was even better than he’d expected given the designers and his teams talents. And they were considerable. The designer a valued colleague by the name of Mike Gerard had said it made a welcome change from working on the instillations at shado. Straker sympathized. Mike and his team or rather teams had been working on all the upgrades, as Louis his other chief set designer said: “since forever”.  Years later they were almost nearing an end.

 

He was so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open. He had an extra half a day off before having to return to either the studio or shado. He’d been exhibiting signs of exhaustion even after his hospitalisation a few months ago: He’d been coming in for six hours every other day for the last month in consequence, on Dr Jacksons orders.

 Coming in to supervise a possible red alert, arriving during yellow two. Having done an eighteen-hour shift for the first time since being put on six hour alternate days. Having just enough time to drive home, shower, change, grab fifteen minutes’ sleep and be awakened by a call from headquarters. He had still judged it necessary to respond to it:

That day Freeman had just gone out with the mobiles. Lake had been up on lunar-base Alpha with some of the astronaut trainees. Foster was with Carlin on Sky-diver 6 with the latest batch of sub-crew trainees. In short, a situation had arisen which he had judged would need his presence. Lake was on her way back but would have arrived an hour later than he. Lieutenant-Commanders Johnson and Ford were very capable but still Straker thought it his duty to return. His sense of responsibility towards the recently promoted officers had been his undoing that day.

He was grateful for the support and comfort of the deep, yet firm and softy yielding materials he was currently sat on. He had a financial report to attend to, almost completed. He was so tired he couldn’t even open his nearby briefcase to attend to it. He glanced at a script that he had left on the table when he left that morning knowing he wasn’t going to have to finish reading it any time this week. He wanted to have a look at it as he was in a creative frame of mind this evening.

 Despite that he drifted off to sleep having no physical energy to spare. His dreams started out focused on the studios then moved gradually as the night progressed, to shado. The main-focus of his thoughts and dreams was Colonel Lake. He’d been working closely with her for the past three months at shado and almost as often in the studios:  The almost constant presence of his trusted, and now second in command had a most unexpected result. He found himself seriously considering that it was time to break out from his self-imposed single life style. It came as a shock for he had not considered the colonel to be anything other than a trusted colleague and friend.  He recalled all the many times in the past he’d been impressed by her. Only his time his thoughts included things he hadn’t consciously noted. His feelings were telling him what he had really known all the long, but had not been obviously aware of until recently.

 He realised that he was attracted to Virginia, more than attracted. He had been so for a considerable amount of time. He was also aware that this was uncharted territory: A relationship with someone in the direct chain of command. Was it even possible, allowable even?

He sincerely hoped in this case he wasn’t going to put his foot in it again regarding his personal life. Possibly even his professional. He didn’t think he could bear it if he did.  If he felt like that, was it wise to pursue the thoughts he had and make the first move? Either way, he was between an armed u.f.o, and an alien with a gun, to change a well-used phrase. He felt in two minds. Sure, yet unsure: Sure, that if he didn’t do anything he would regret it. Just as sure that if he did, he would regret that too. Either way the potential for emotional and professional disaster could raise its ugly shadow. He wondered why now of all times he was feeling like this. There was so much change happening within his organisation at present; Surely, he shouldn’t be adding to the pressure on a personal front.

Shado h.q. Technical labs:

The printout appeared:

Hubble: Optical telescope, 2.4metre mirror. Planned launch 1990.

S.H.A.D.O. L.S.T: (Lunar situated telescope) Infra- red, radio, digital and analogue, optical and utronic tracking detector telescope. Planned scope of operations 1992 onwards. Testing phase 1989-1992.  ….

  Herschel: Infra-red telescope, 3.5metre Primary mirror. Planned launch 2009. N.A.S.A….

 James Webb: Infra-red telescope. Planned launch 2018….

European extremely large telescope, Chile. Planned operational date 2022.

This was added to the large notice board in the lab. With the schedule of other jobs being worked on or planned at h.q. above that was a seventy-seven point font header reading: ‘DEADLINES: ALL HEADQUARTERS  TECHNICAL PERSONNEL.’ Underneath the appended printout in penetrating yellow: ‘Ensure stations and equipment are secured after use.’ Security is everyones’ responsibility.’ On the same notice board was the health and safety information usually found in such a working environment.

Lieutenants Kelly, Masters, Ranganesh and Matsueo were going over the data reports for the tests on the new lunar telescope prior to its installation near the original moon-base, or base alpha as it was now known. This was a solely shado property and similar in nature to the Hubble and the planned Herschel and James Webb telescopes. So far, all the reports had shown Everything in working order. It had been on the last lunar flight up. Commander Straker, colonel Foster and colonel Lake being on the installation team.  Col Freeman had been in overall charge at headquarters during that time along with colonel Blake and colonel John grey. This was all pretty standard activity for shado In other places far beyond Earth the standard daily routine was somewhat different:

The alien planet.

There was a roar outside the main governmental buildings. Crowds or what passed for crowds on their once lush home world gathered outside risking burns and breathing difficulties. As did all who ventured outside without adequate protection in the most devastated areas. Advanced as their civilization was some things just could not have been avoided. Some changes were as a result of their technological progress other due to the vagaries of planetary orbits. The odd change in local and stellar conditions. The inevitable changes on their planet that resulted in worsening conditions. Such was the situation. Whilst on earth it was a haven. Something more had to be done. Someone had to be responsible for planning for eventualities like this. Most of its inhabitants were unaware of their governments plans, were unaware of shado and unaware of its activities. Which in the winter: in the island called Britain on the far away planet earth, were of an educational as well as defensive nature. And would be of interest to those who did know.

December 1989:  S.H.A.D.O.  Regional Training Centre: Bristol, United Kingdom; Three months after its institution, Midway through the recruits’ basic training.

Several of its campuses are situated throughout the city and its boundaries. They are in areas well known or earmarked for use by the media and the ministry of defence; the combined activities there being a perfect cover. Colonels Paul Foster and Virginia Lake are presently posted there.

“What do think Paul? Virginia’s voice echoed in the confines of the large lecture hall which was multi-functional. The hall was looking more like a cross between a rock concert venue and a plush restaurant seating many guests. The usual tiered seats removed earlier. They were making the final changes to the arrangements for the recruits’ mid semester party. She was expertly winding up a spare microphone lead much as a rancher would coil a rope.

“I think it’ll go well. Jackson’s approved it”: Hee, hee hee Followed. He was doing a good impression of the dog Muttley from the seventies cartoon series Dastardly and Muttley, while helping Lake put some order into the mess of cables next to the amplifiers.

Lake couldn’t help but crack a smile. Most of the recruits here were quite young and Paul, with his youthful outlook and sense of humour fitted right in. His impression had seemed to sum up the general feeling most in shado used to have about Jackson and the psychology department: Dastardly was an appropriate if not entirely accurate description.

Being here, although an extra duty for Paul and a new one for Ginny was proving a rewarding and relaxing experience even if it was also hard work. The recruits fresh outlook and youthful exuberance were rubbing off on everyone. Being away from the thick of things in comparison to their more usual duties was a change of pace. Training recruits involved a different set of pressures. Foster and Lake were assigned here as Commander Straker wanted to make the best use possible of his use of his command staffs experience and bring the new recruits up to standard as soon as possible. To this end, he had temporarily reassigned several of his more senior command staff or given them extra duties as trainers in various shado bases and instillations. Lake also had her newer responsibilities as second and commander of this training centre. Paul and Freeman were now of equal seniority if-and-when it came to any succession.

“I don’t mean that Paul. -Actually, I do mean that as well. What I mean in this instance is: Do you think the commander will go? Medical are serious about us getting him to take time away from headquarters for a while. They also want him to take time to socialize. It’s no good for him being alone at his home. We all know that if left to his own devices he’ll work there too. And he will not be able to relax: - There’s been so much going on with the expansion recently.” Lake paused in her conversation briefly gazing at Paul to gage his reaction, and then continued.

“When he doesn’t work, he’ll worry. Either that or he will not be able to sleep. He doesn’t need the extra workload despite his protestations that he can handle it or its part of the job, or no-one ever said being commander in chief of shado was going to be easy”.

Paul saw the look of concern she had. He felt the same way: “Yes I think he will, if we can mount a campaign between us. If this plan works, he just might pass his medical this month.”

“You mean if Alec, you and I can do all we can to badger the commander into going. Won’t he know we are planning something along those lines? That medical are concerned?

“With a five-year expansion plan. Still ongoing: Four hundred more studio staff and ongoing recruiting into shado. That and the expansion of the studios, two additional moon bases…”

Lake added “Not forgetting the expansion to the interceptor, sky and mobile fleets and that’s not all. He’ll surely suspect medical will be planning something even if he doesn’t know it.” There was realization in her tone as she finished Paul’s’ explanation for him. – She added “He may be too busy to notice.”

“Ginny, you are spot on!” As an after-thought, he added, “Our workaholic commander may act as though he’s indestructible and we in shado, may feel that he’s indispensable.” He gave a small sigh becoming more serious. “But we also know that even he has his ordinary human limits beneath that icy facade he likes to hide behind. At least we should”. There was a pause, Paul had questions.

“Do medical know something we don’t? - Have you noticed how Straker has been much less formal around you recently?” His tone slightly more cautious now: “Do you two have something going on between you Colonel?” He didn’t need to be more specific, Ginny as she’d recently allowed Paul and Freeman to call her in less formal situations understood. It just there’s something about the both of you. Nothing tangible but. - There you go that’s what I noticed. You and Commander Straker. Every-time he mentions you, or you come up in conversation he blushes: It’s not that noticeable as it’s fleeting and he clamps down on it quickly. That’s what I’ve noticed.  You’re doing it too. That’s what it was. I thought so.

Ginny Lake, was blushing. More so when Paul finished speaking. She was thinking of the commander as a quite attractive, still eligible man, whom she’d grown very fond of. “Come to think of it…” she pondered that first question. “No, medical don’t. The second answer is also no: At least not that I am aware of. Not from my standpoint, not that I’d object if it ever came up but I don’t think that’s likely.” She gave the matter some thought. Paul was patient. He had a thoughtful expression, observing his friend and colleague. Virginia asked:

“- Paul, do you think there’s something going on from his point of view? I mean it’s not like the commander to initiate something with a member of his command staff or anyone else for that matter. He’s been burned. It would be atypical behaviour. He was almost used once by that fake associated press reporter too.” Ginny’s tone changed from one of concern to admiration and humour: Did he tell her when he found out what she was up too!  It took a while until we found that out, Ed only let Alec know initially. Ford knew something but knew Ed wouldn’t say anything more until he was ready.” Lake sounded serious again:

“You know, looking back, it took him a while to get over it, and he is dedicated to his work”- Lake continued. Paul seemed to agree and was listening, still thoughtful. “He seems to avoid personal relationships. It’s almost as though he doesn’t trust things to work out. - Has he said anything to you? When you get back if you get the chance...” Lake trailed off, changing her mind about getting Paul to ask the commander directly. It might cause him to be even more enigmatic than usual. “On second thoughts Paul, it might be better if I waited for him to make the first move. You know he worries about the security and other implications”

Paul answered: “You might be right about letting him make the first move. No, he hasn’t, but let me just say, it’s an instinct. You’ve confirmed how you feel even if you are not acting on it. Ed is more cautious.  He may feel the same as you do now. If he does, maybe he’s said something to Alec. If anyone knows, it would be him first. I could ask when I see him tomorrow” he said re- considering. “It wouldn’t surprise me if Ed was reticent given his past-experience and his responsibilities.” They both knew more about their commander than they had done even a few years-ago. “Ginny,” he looked at her in earnest, wanting the best for her and shado “If he does, - have feelings for you that is: Have you ever considered telling him how you feel. More directly?” I mean, have you told him recently?

“No Paul I haven’t.”

“Hmm” he replied thoughtfully.

Ginny noticed but answered, “Back to the original subject Paul. I wonder how Alec is doing on the visit to Bristol training centre front with Ed.  I hope he is successful.  You might try hinting to our commander that I would like to see him. I would like to, in-order to discuss the recruits progress, in person. He could do with some good news and a change of scenery. Even if it is just a visit to shado training centre Bristol. I hear there are more inspections due of the new stations in the U.K and the new lunar bases. He hasn’t informed us of the schedule yet.

Sure Ginny. I’ll do that. Regarding schedules, he was still working that out with Alec last I heard. I know he’s busy, you know he’s busy. He knows we are busy. I am sure he will tell us as soon as that’s done. I know you like to be prepared.  Everything will be fine. Don’t worry so much Virginia.

Isn’t it a womans prerogative to worry? She asked none too seriously.

Not in shado Its everyones. He replied half seriously.  Then more seriously added. Now he’s made you second If I were you, I would worry more. I am surprised Alec asked for you to take over as second in overall command. He didn’t indicate that he would. Not that I have any objection and it shouldn’t matter to you even if I had. It’s just I didn’t see it coming.

Ed said he’s still valued by everyone including him, despite Alecs own feelings on that matter. Alec didn’t feel as though he’d make a good second as he was getting too old. Ed saw his point though. Even if he didn’t feel that way. He also reminded him that he was still the main person everyone looked up to when it came to personnel matters.

Virginia was interested in Pauls view. As he’d been there when Straker had had that conversation with Alec. “I must admit Paul, I didn’t expect that. Alec has lots more to give before he’s too old. I do however understand where he’s coming from. The recent pressures have been considerable and Alec always wants to ensure that Ed has what he needs: Everyone and everything working at their best.” I wondered why, when Ed told me that he wanted me as second. He looked as though he had been given some unexpected news to digest.”  Paul replied:

“He had. It took us both by surprise. But he and Alec, made me promise not to say anything. Before we told you. He didn’t want anyone to worry. About Alec that is. He said that one person worrying about him was enough and he wanted at least two of the most senior command staff concentrating fully with all that is going on at present. To think of it now, if he meant you and I concentrating fully he must have: No”-      Paul stopped mid-way. They swapped knowing looks, realisation dawning quickly: The commander had just admitted to not having his full concentration on his job. It must have been more of a bolt from the blue than we thought. You know how well they know each other.

The following day…

Straker’s oldest friend Col. Freeman had tried to persuade him to go. They had both been on the overnight shift and Ed had only taken a short break from his last before beginning this one. He’d begun his argument for going, with the commander, the previous day. It had ended shortly after midnight without success. 

“You know Ed, you could do with a break. Lt. Commander Ford and I will be on duty for the rest of this weekend. - And before you say anything I know that you would rather see the recruits during the formal reviews.”

Ed was resolutely ignoring him, working through whatever he was reading at present. It didn’t look like one of the ordinary reports. It was in an unusual colour folder for one thing. For another Alec noticed the intense expression of concentration he had. His posture was tense. “Think about it Ed what better way for you to gage their progress by seeing for yourself.”  Ed didn’t reply just a small flicker of emotion was visible for a second. He tried again: “What’s that you are reading, because whatever it is, it’s not doing you any good?”

Something about Alecs’ tone penetrated the commander’s intense scrutiny.

“Hmm? Just…” He was preoccupied.

Alec tried again. “What’s that you’re reading? He bent down towards the commander at his desk, and looked at the bound sheaf of papers he was reading. Gently extending his arm towards them, he was about to turn them towards him. That captured his friend and commander’s attention.

“Not the usual”. He turned the papers towards his now third in command. Lake was younger and Alec had expressed his views on the matter to Ed. He’d responded, making Lake his second. He was still the chief personnel officer for shado though. His talent there was invaluable. His duties would remain much as they were. The only difference now was that Both Ed and Alec would have extra work preparing col Lakes extra clearances and updating her on her new role as well as having her away at the Bristol regional training centre as leading trainer and its commanding officer on a regular basis. Lake was now as good as Alec at handling personnel too. A little different in style but equally as good. That was one less worry.  -There were stacks of statistics, diagrams, plans, written commentaries and accounts. In all it was an almost overwhelming amount of information on nearly every aspect of the expansion in s.h.a.d.o. Despite the reversal of seniority in the chain of command between Lake and Freeman it hadn’t made much difference in the amount of time he gave his commander and friend. It had however accounted for the closer working relationship between Commander Straker and Colonel Lake. Although at the new Bristol base he was in regular contact with his second. Lake for her part had suggested a more than adequate person to take on her role as head of research. She still had her former responsibilities, it was just that she was now undertaking other duties as well. She was certainly getting a feel for the responsibilities Straker now carried first hand as his temporary successor in the event of accident. His permanent one if worse happened. 

Alec picked up the thick document and leafed through it: “Moon base alpha, beta, and delta; Schematics, maintenance and personnel reports. New Interceptors similar, shadair similar, Sky-divers similar, Mobile fleets the same. Technical, progress and situation reports for the two other space intruder detectors and the lunar situated astronomical telescope! What slave driver dumped all that on you at once?” He paused for emphasis. “That doesn’t include the technical reports on the new shado rail links or the three new regional bases built so far. Or the other items mentioned in the tail end of this. Do they realize how much you deal with? I hope they realize it’s not just paperwork you do.”

Alec was about to finish there but reconsidered. “They do know that we fight u.f.o.s not beat them to death with ten ton of paper!” he said with a touch of the commanders’ occasional sarcasm.

Those last two comments drew a small smile then a little chuckle from the commander.

“Alec.” He decided to explain the situation just for his benefit, knowing what his third -he kept reminding himself of that fact- and old friend was trying to do. – He leaned forward in his chair and rested his chin on steepled hands. He was looking up and across intently at Col Freeman. His gaze following his friends movements.

 “The International astrophysical commission insisted that all information be forwarded to them for their perusal along with regular updates. They informed me that they would then return it with additional comments and recommendations. We were fortunate they approved the plans. And this,” tapping the bundle in the bright yellow diagonally stripped gold, plastic shado folder; with the pen in his right hand, - “is the latest they have to say on the matter. They didn’t say it would come back all in one bundle.” He didn’t add, that they had also sent numerous e-mail-updates and downloads in addition to his normal work. He knew what Alec would say.

Ed sounded as though he’d expected it and was surprised that Alec hadn’t. He was also beginning to sound tired, although he was well past that point already. He’d made a good recovery. This was to be expected with the hours he was working.

“You know the hurdles and problems we had. First, we had to draw up the studio and shado expansion plans. It seemed a tough job when shado first started, everything having to be done from scratch. But this had to be planned and initiated while we were really fighting on the front line as it were. We had to gather the evidence, compile a convincing argument. Then, obtain the go ahead and increased funding. You know the current global economic situation. After those were solved-” He paused before going on. Alec had succeeded in drawing him out. He needed a friendly ear at times.

 “What else did you expect Alec? You know the i.a.c, sorry the i.a.u, U.N. special committee, and European special space projects committee are a bureaucrats’ dream as individual entities. When they decide to act as one unit, it’s even worse.” He sighed “Good ness knows what Ginny is going to say when she sees that last email I sent her.” He paused then added. “You Know Alec that’s almost exactly what Virginia said to me the other day.” 

Alec responded: “During that rather long conversation you had over the link the other day over dinner. It’s not like you to take your headphones with you over lunch unless there is an absolute emergency. And” he emphasized “Those privacy screens work too-well Ed. I was dying to know what you were discussing.”

Were you. May I remind you that as second and commander we do have a lot to discuss. Now Alec”- he was teasing him. And Alec knew it.

I’d swear there was more to it than that. At one point you looked positively. Well I don’t know how to put this.”

“Go on Alec, be that bull in a china shop you can sometimes be” he said defensively. He tempered that with an obvious invitation to go ahead written all over his face. Alec getting mixed messages was certainly having some of his suspicions about the commanders’ recent behaviour confirmed. He knew a budding relationship when he saw it. 

“You looked like you were having a more personal conversation and enjoying it immensely in between the stress and the worry. Even those less familiar with your behaviour noticed a spring in your step when you came back after lunch.”

“Stop right now Alec. I have a ton of work to concentrate on.” Eds had as good as admitted that Alec was right and covered it with a plausable work related excuse.

Alec for his part knew his personal code too well, had been friends for long enough to know it backwards and inside out.  He replied meaning what followed it for more than just the obvious reason that he needed a break. “That’s another reason to go. We can take up the slack for a few days.  Ginny hasn’t complained and we all know she’d be entitled too.  You more so. Think about it Ed. As I said just a second ago. While you were ignoring me: What better way for you to gauge their progress by turning up and seeing for yourself.  I know you’ve taken a personal interest. I also know that you want to let the more mellow side of your nature out on occasion, in fact you need to: How about it?” Ed wasn’t being drawn into the trap. He wasn’t going to discuss his personal life right now. Even with Alec. If Freeman guessed correctly Ed was going to pretend that he wasn’t comfortable, had no time etc. That might have been true once but he had gained an appreciation for being able to relax on occasion at such events. True he wasn’t quite up to Pauls and Alecs level of comfort yet, but he was improving.

“I think that’s more Fosters area of expertise. You’re the people person. You know how I feel about social engagements: Besides it mainly for the recruits, I know some of my nicknames. They won’t want ‘hard ass, ice-king’ Straker cramping their style.

“Oh, come on Ed. You know those last parts are just an excuse. And that’s the old, view of you. Most who really know you can see that’s just a façade.  Besides, anyone who says differently just doesn’t know you yet.  Alec reacted to his Commanders expression of mock disapproval. “You and I both know that’s what you think you need present to others to maintain a commanding demeanour and keep this show on the road. There’s always the old military adage: work hard, play hard.” 

You want to keep your reputation intact. Well I’ve news for you. They still respect you, despite the older nicknames as you now well know. Even if their opinion of you has changed to seeing you as less of an ogre. Use of them is their own way of reminding themselves to keep up the effort for you. - It’s changed since Turners day.” referring to the now ex operative who’d tried to take out S.H.A.D.O. by playing with time. “Who do you think knows the personnel that well?” Before Ed could reply Alec beat him to it. “You know. I do, so? Don’t try pulling the wool over my eyes! I know how you really feel and this new lot are keen to see you prove the recent rumours, which I will tell you, are not entirely without basis, correct and have some fun. They know your tough, I know your tough and importantly the aliens know your tough. But what the Aliens and a tiny minority, of very ill informed operatives and studio divas don’t know is: That you have a gentle and caring heart inside of you.  You may be showing it a little more than you used to.” Alec caught his attention yet again: “It’s no bad thing either. I know I used to accuse you of having more in common with a computer, of not being human sometimes.” Ed winced at being reminded.

It still hurt. He’d not shown it much at the time though.  Alec now held his gaze, Straker wondering where he was going with this, tired and head buzzing with work related worries. “Ed, you are human. More so than most. More often than most.  I mean that, no matter what else I may say.”

Straker in a mix of emotion was both pleased and a little concerned at that last observation. Was he still hard when needed, gentle when permissible. Or had his hard façade slipped a little too much. Was he showing too much of what he’d learned to hide? Was he now with nearly twenty plus years’ experience of planning for alien attacks and twelve of being shado’s operational commander in chief since 1980 getting the balance, right? General Bob Anders, Hendersons successor would know. Without his help, he’d be suffering from irreversible burn out by now.  He wondered where that thought had come from. Jackson did say truths had an unexpected way of popping in to a receptive persons mind when they were most needed if they recognized them.

Even after all this time he did wonder on occasion. Not that he’d let anyone else know that. If anyone was, Alec was a good barometer of the commander’s mood.  Alec, venting his opinions and guiding him in his own unique way.

Straker valued his friend’s presence. After all this time, even Foster, Lake and a few others of his staff he’d worked with for so long had more of an insight into some aspects of his complex personality. Did the new recruits at the Bristol training centre also have insights, albeit less long standing ones? Would it help them any more in their line of work if they did? He hoped so. It must be the lateness of the hour, so much introspection. He knew Lake now knew him pretty-well too, maybe better in some ways than Alec. Together they were on an equal footing regarding their knowledge now. God help him if those two ever ganged up on him as they and Paul had threatened. He knew that something might cause it one day. His luck in that regard just wouldn’t last forever besides probability”-   he caught himself, he was drifting off track, had work to do.

Alec and Ed had put in a brief appearance there when it opened and had spent an enjoyable two days inspecting both the centre and the first recruits to train there. This batch had seen a more mellow side to the commander than previous intakes in shado. Perhaps he was mellowing as time passed. In their eyes, he wasn’t as bad as his reputation had suggested. Later they had gathered that his reputation despite his mellowness towards them was not completely without foundation: As they had found when he was required to be his more commanding self. He was without a doubt a complex person.

Overall, the recruits’ comments to Alec when he went on an informal visit as part of the inspection had confirmed that the commander did indeed have a gentler side. The only other time most of those recruits had seen their commander up close or in passing was at headquarters when they had been called to interview before being accepted as recruits.

If this was true and it seemed so, Alec was pleased for him. It wasn’t exactly pleasant to have to be the tough guy practically all the time. In fact, it was down-right demanding. Maybe he hadn’t been given the opportunity to show this side of his personality very often. But the fact that he’d chosen to show it at what they christened “the university” was an unexpected development. Alec knew he wasn’t as he appeared to most people. In fact, he’d been sure given the right environment he’d one day ease up a bit. Fairly-sure, anyway. For a man of his personality it was essential that he do so. There were still so many things he kept far too much under control.  It was the main reason he was trying to persuade Ed now.

I know I’ve said this just now but it’s worth repeating: This lot will still respect you too, even if you do let yourself open-up.” Alec added with a hint of truthful teasing. - “Recent rumours of you softening are highly exaggerated.” He joked knowing Ed could see what he was doing. That wasn’t wholly true it’s just that he knew where to punch verbally when it came to making his friend take notice. “It’s not a studio bash. I’m sure you’ll feel differently about it once you’re there. While I may feel that you have mellowed. If you really want to prove it and allay any worries anyone has about your stress levels, you should go.”

“Alec! Some of your arguments are beginning to sound circular” he teased, although he was accurate. -He started informally then changed tack, asserting his authority. “Colonel, No. There’s a stack of work piled up on this desk.” - Tapping the pile in his in-tray. “More e-mails and reports on my laptop than you would be happy with. Most of which require my personal authorization. You already have enough to do. As do the rest of the senior command staff.” And the not so senior, he thought to himself. “May I remind you who is commander here.” He added finally.

Alec sincerely hoped that Ginny Lake or Paul Foster would fare better, even if it meant he lost their friendly bet. He’d have a word or two with them.

  Alec’s earlier words were still being considered by the commander when Foster asked him about it for the second time that day. -

Col Foster strode into the command centre with his usual cheerful but serious air. Paul was back on duty after leaving at one a.m. that morning. It had been around that time when he’d made his first attempt: assuming, that as Ed was going to be nearly exhausted (as Alec had correctly assumed), he would be more likely to capitulate. Near exhausted he may have been, capitulating he wasn’t!

 The commander was near the computer terminal at the far end of control. Paul was not scheduled to be at H.Q. that weekend but had volunteered for the extra duty knowing how much the commander had been taking on recently. It was now ten a.m. Saturday morning and Ed was still on duty. Between Alec, he and Lt Commander Ford Ed. had many senior staff available at H.Q: They were all needed, the effects of the expansion meant everyone was busier than usual. Many of the more experienced staff were pulling extra shifts and working far longer hours than usual.

“Commander.”

“Good morning Paul. Everything alright at Bristol regional?”

“Could I have a word Sir?”

“Walk with me, my office.” Ed had a feeling he knew what this was going to be about. After all, Paul had come in for extra duty on what was supposed to be his day off: Had not been called in for an emergency.

Straker was carrying some computer data.

“The latest on the new astronomical telescope?” Asked Paul. Ed wondered when Col Foster would mention what seemed to be troubling him.

“Yes. All indicators point to a twelve percent increase in data processing speed.”

 It was good news and no less than the commander expected. They never knew when every improvement might be important. New tactics if needed could, and would, be used at any time, by the aliens. Even if they were usually predictable, S.H.A.D.O. knew that much.

 The commander always strove to be prepared even if the need didn’t seem immediately apparent. His and others vigilance had given shado the edge they had needed many times before. Just because it was still true of the situation so far was no reason to ease up. The cost to humanity would be too high if the aliens gained the upper hand. “No glitches so far. I’m just waiting for the rest of the data. You wanted something Paul.”

They stepped through into the recently completed conference room adjoining control, Paul noted his office along with others for the senior staff was at the far end.  Much had changed since he was last at headquarters on a regular basis.

“Alec told me. To quote Henderson You’re not doing yourself any favours.”

“Since when did you want to bring Henderson’s name into this?”

“Well you know what he would have done. He’d order you to go. We could always stage a coup and contact Medical.”

Paul smiled taking the sting from his words although he was serious.

“Are you threatening me Colonel?” replied Ed warningly. Despite his tone, there was humour in his eyes. They all had very clear memories of how abrasive the late General Henderson could be.

“Colonel Lake would be more than happy to see you there. You know how hard she has worked.”

 “And Col Lake has done an exceptional job. So, have you, and Alec. I wouldn’t expect any less of any of you. And Paul, thankyou for letting me know, but I think I know how to handle Col Lake.”

“Are you sure commander?”

“Are you intimating something Colonel Foster? You know I prefer my colleagues to be candid.

“Normally I would be but it is a personal matter. We all know how you feel about discussing your personal life.”

“Are you sure you don’t have mixed motives for asking Paul. I know about that little bet you and the other senior staff have on me “chilling” as some of the younger operatives would put it.” He tempered his serious statement with a tiny hint of amusement, just enough to let Paul know he’d gotten away with asking.

“All right I do admit Alec and Virginia are”-

“Concerned Paul.” He said with more than a dose of frustration.

“Yes.”

“There is something else isn’t there.” Are you sure you don’t want to ask Alec about it. He’s bound to know if any one does”.

Paul was still slightly stunned at the way the commander knew what he and the other senior staff were up to even not being told. Even after all the years of working with him it was still a source of wonder although, not a surprise any more.

“Virginia did ask if -” Paul was just a little uncomfortable asking Ed this in shado h.q as opposed to somewhere like the golf course the commander very occasionally used.

“It’s alright Paul. I think I can guess. I appreciate that you don’t want to invade my privacy. The matter will be sorted out. That’s all.

‘Enigmatic as usual, but I think he has the message’, thought Paul.

“Paul.”

“Yes?”

“I’d advise you, colonel Lake and colonel Freeman not to worry so much. Do you read me.”

“Loud and Clear Sir.”

“Good.”

He had always admired her professionalism and her scientific mind but in the last few months he had been finding it difficult to ignore the effect it had on him when she walked into the same room as him. He knew Col Lake had some feelings for him much like most of the unattached women at h.q. and the studios. He had also noticed Lakes behaviour towards him had changed subtly. He wondered if that was what he was reacting too. He wondered if they both felt the same way. There was no way to know for certain. ‘It seems if there is anything between us that we are both trying to be a professional as possible as always. She’s concerned.’ Anything else I’ll find out about later’ he thought.

Nothing of what he was thinking along those lines showed in his manner however it did manifest itself physically. Paul had noticed a lightness in his eyes and an ever so slight flush on occasions most noticeably when Virginia was near him in the same room. It subtle and very restrained but noticeable. Well if there was an attraction, there would be a way to encourage things if he wasn’t mistaken in his assessment of the commanders’ feelings. He noticed it now when he mentioned her name. If there was anything between them neither of them were certain of it yet.  He wasn’t totally convinced yet. But Alec would know.

They were now entering the commander’s office. Paul was thinking that the commander would after than non-standard inquiry, be thinking of those others with sufficient command experience and regularly posted to skydiver or moon-base who were also taking on trainer roles. A few from control too. Lieutenants, Ford and Johnson in particular came to mind. Paul wasn’t far off in his assumptions either. Correction, Lt-commanders Ford and Johnson their brevet promotions earned recently. Although not yet officially formalised.

“: And Waterman, Carlin, Harrington, Barry etc., etc. I know commander.”

“Thank-you Paul for finishing my sentences for me.” he replied ironically “However you are correct. You’ve all done well. You make a good team of trainers.” The commander thought: ‘They will all be in line for promotion’. ‘It is about time they saw some results for all their hard work. There haven’t been many for a while.’

“When you start dishing out praise in that quantity I know you’ve something else on your mind.”

“You may know but that doesn’t mean I have to confirm it. Are you going to get out of here and let me get on with my work Colonel?” His tone had just a hint of humour in it behind the annoyance.

“The point we have all been trying to make Sir is that you really should take a break.” 

Paul walked over to the desk and leaned over locking gazes with his commanding officer. As though imparting something top secret. -

“It’s only for one day. I have heard Jackson is on the war Path.” Besides, you could take the whole weekend off.” He said, his tone encouraging, friendly. “Would you hazard a guess as to how long it’s been since you had two days off in a row on your scheduled weekends off?”

“Not really Colonel. I”- His expression said it all.

“Exactly.” Paul gazed at his commanding officer, trying to read any emotion in those notoriously expressive but often controlled eyes. His own displayed understanding and sympathy along with concern and determination.  “Not since you were on alternate days. Seven months ago, Ed.”

“Jackson” he sighed steepling his fingers. As much as he respected the doctor, Jackson was a match for him when determined on settling medical matters, obtaining information and using it to his advantage. He was a master in fact. One of the many reasons he’d accepted his value to S.H.A.D.O. after transferring from Henderson’s’ staff, what seemed like yesterday but was in fact many years-ago. “That long.” He considered that.

“Yes Sir. He said he’d go to General Anders this time Sir.”

Paul moved to lean against the wall near the doors.

Straker leaned back in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose.

It was a habit they all recognized. It wasn’t just that Paul’s words had hit home and the commander didn’t like the implications.

There was a buzz on his intercom. He stabbed the button:

“Straker” he said tersely.

Lt. Commander Johnsons voice came over the intercom: “The latest on the last u.f.o. We have the data for you now Sir.”

Trying to sound less like he was about to bite someone’s head off he replied.

“Have Lieutenants Pietkowska and Paulson bring it to my office.”

“Yes Sir.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant-Commander.”

He released the intercom button and opened his office doors. He could see that  Lieutenant Pietkowska was coming through the conference room. She was almost at his door and carrying a thick ream of printouts. Lt. Paulson was with her carrying more: Compact disks, d.v.ds and u.s.b. sticks containing varied reports, schedules and data.

They were requested when Alec came on duty but it was only now they were ready. -As expected. Paul moved from his position near the doors to let the Lieutenants in. Another thick report and stack of C.D.s had just been added to his tray. Lt Pietkowska was trying to find somewhere to put the overflow that would fit in his tray

“Ah that’s the other data Alec said was due.”

“Yes sir, replied the lieutenants.

“Thankyou” said Straker glancing up at them. He sounded pleased and a little stressed.

“That is all of it Sir.” said the Lieutenant Pietkowska trying to make him feel less stressed albeit unconsciously and a little defensively too.

It was not unnoticed. “Lieutenant” he said kindly. “Just leave it there, anywhere on the desk will do.” Then unexpectedly He gave a smile which brightened up the room. “I may be busy and yes, you have brought in more. It is what I expected and I don’t bite -well, not that often. Or so rumour has it." Even Alec smiled at that. At which point both lieutenants dared a smile too. It was accepted. They all needed a little levity on occasion.

“Yes Sir.  Thankyou Sir.” the new Lt.replied.

“Thank you Lt. Paulson, Lt. Pietkowska.”

Their expressions acknowledging his thanks, they exited, recognizing his dismissal. As soon as they left he regained his serious demeanour.

Paul could see the work- load had increased sizeably. The commander could handle it, but now was not a good time for more to arrive. Every-one needed regular breaks. Ed had worked straight though the morning without any and he’d done several hours more overtime at least. He need not have worried. Paul could see Dr. Schroeder was heading towards the office unannounced. He also wondered how Ginny was doing. At least a third of that huge pile was destined for her in some form or another. It was a good thing that Ginny was better at the paperwork side of things than Alec. He supposed that was part of what made a good physicist.

 Straker saw too and held his office doors, his finger on their control. With Alec’s earlier words called to mind, Virginia’s request subtly conveyed by Paul during his second attempt. -  Now Dr Schroeder, he was out-manuovered.

“You know commander, Col Lake has been asking to see you. Thought you might enjoy the change of scenery even if it is just to the university.

Ah you mean Bristol regional. Hmm I get the nickname.” He flushed briefly and tried hiding it. He seemed a bit pale once that wore off. Paler than his usual fair complexion that is.

He considered that Col. Foster had put quite some considerable effort into its planning and implementation. Considering that Paul still had his normal S.H.A.D.O. and studio work he had managed both without so much as a grimace at the extra responsibility of organising this. Thus, when Paul finished pressing the matter, he replied:

“OK as it the first event of its kind: Inaugurating what I hope will be a will be a long standing, morale boosting tradition I’ll attend this once: - Aliens permitting.”  “I may even have something additional planned.” He wouldn’t let on to Paul but if he did end up going if it was that good an event he just might, make it more than once. Not Something he would usually consider but maybe they had a point. Along with ‘I must be tired. I was never that easy to persuade. Well they don’t know what I’m thinking. At least they haven’t become mind readers yet.’

Paul was about to ask him what that additional something might be. “Before you ask Paul I’ll run it by you a little later. I want to give it some thought first.” Straker had moved to stretch his tall frame, now standing at his own desk, picking up yet another hard copy file to read. Paul was again standing near the door to his office. Straker was now scan-reading the file and didn’t look particularly pleased but then, his mood lightened as he sat on its edge stretching his long legs. The commander said with a rare hint of his dry humour and a wry smile:

“If this goes well you can hand the ‘duties’ “of planning the social events to the trainers and recruits you deem to have the most aptitude for it. That’s if you want Paul, the idea was your baby after all.”

Schroeder had entered and was looking on appraising the commander. He’d been attentively listening to the conversation. Not unnoticed but certainly not obtrusively judging by the fact Commander Straker hadn’t yet verbally acknowledged him. He noted his demeanour. He also noted the work on his desk and the fact that Paul Foster had been trying to persuade the commander to take some time to relax by going to the recruits’ event. He’d come in, just in time to hear Paul ask something about Virginia and noticed him flush almost shyly when Paul asked. More importantly once the brief flush faded and it did so quickly he noted just what Alec had noted although in more detail due to his medical training. Alec had called into medical to note his concerns. Schroeder had been about to call on the commander anyway about the same thing: Jackson had had words with him before he left, asking him to drop in on the commander.  They were both in accord as to the situation.

Straker knew it was suggested that the new program of social events be incorporated into training by the medical staff and had certainly approved on the grounds of their recommendations. What he didn’t know was that it was also part of a long-standing scheme on behalf of the medical department to reduce his stress levels and part of the plan mentioned in the report: “Team bonding within organizations and it effects as applicable to S.H.A.D.O.”

What only Dr. Jackson and select few at the event knew was that the commander would be helped along by a small prescription dose of S.H.A.D.O. relaxant roughly equivalent in relaxing power to two units of alcohol without any of its after effects. There would be no interactions with his migraine or other medication the medical team might have to give him either.

If he didn’t loosen up sufficiently to ensure that he passed his next medical assessment due in two days on the morning of that Monday, it would be surreptitiously placed in the first things he ate or drank that evening. It was now Saturday and it may have escaped the commander's notice but not Dr. Jackson's that he had been due to take three days’ leave beginning on the Wednesday. Paul knew even if the commander didn’t that something was going to be done about it if it was the last thing Jackson did.

To be continued…


Regina Zdrojkowska

The Library Entrance