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The light was fading towards evening.
Straker moved a little where he lay, eyes still closed, trying to ease a vague but nagging discomfort. His eyes opened, and he blinked. The view that met his sight was unfamiliar. That puzzled him, but distantly. He was filled with a lassitude that he knew could not be normal, but could not summon the energy to worry about it.
His gaze sharpened as light glinted on metal clamping his wrists.
The sight sent a jolt of alarm through him. The heavy relaxed feeling began to dissipate. He sat up with a start, and had to fight down a surge of dizziness.
He looked around, and realised that he was on a bed in what seemed to be a perfectly normal bedroom. There were even pictures on the walls, though of unfamiliar scenes. The floor was polished wood, with a rug beside the bed. He was fully dressed apart from his jacket and shoes, and he had been lying on top of the bedclothes, except for a woollen blanket that had covered him to his shoulders, and had slid off as he moved. The sheets were a pleasant pastel blue, as were the walls of the room. There was a single large window in the wall opposite the bed, again with blue curtains, which were open, revealing an evening sky. Below the window there was a central-heating radiator. There was a door near the bed-head, and another door in the corner. Besides the bed, the room held a tallboy in light wood, a matching bedside unit with a lamp that was illuminated, a plain black leather pouffe, and a comfortable-looking armchair, upholstered in a fabric darker than the bedding but in a tone that matched the curtains. And the air in this room smelt fresh and clean, though unscented, and without the air-conditioned dryness of his own office.
He looked at the blanket. It appeared to have been put together from a number of squares of many different colours, either knitted or crocheted, he wasn't sure which. In a room with distinctly masculine overtones, it was out of place. It was the kind of thing that would be handmade by someone's wife or mother. Or grandmother.
There was a bottle of water on the bedside unit, with a non-spill drinking cap. When he touched the bottle, it felt made of plastic rather than glass. His wristwatch was beside it; but it had stopped, apparently at noon. Or midnight.
That watch had a self-winding mechanism, but would run on its own for quite some time. If it was now stopped, it must have been off his wrist for at least thirty hours. He doubted whether it was showing that particular time at random; it must surely have been set manually, by his captors. He wondered why they had bothered.
His shoulder holster had been taken, unsurprisingly. So, it seemed, had his pager, and his wallet. They were certainly not in his trouser pockets.
His shoes were nowhere to be seen; but he noticed a jacket, on a hook on the door. It was air-force blue, like his trousers; but it bore no markings of rank, or of medal ribbons. Instead, there were hanging strands of thread, where those things might have been ripped away..
Straker inspected his hands. The cuffs that had been used to secure him looked like standard SHADO issue, but with a longer-than-standard linkage chain. His feet were also shackled with similar cuffs, but again the length of chain linking the two ankles was long enough to allow him some mobility, to walk if not to run.
Experimentally, he stood up. Wobbling a little, he made his way carefully towards the door. As he had expected, it was locked. He checked the jacket pockets, and found his wallet in one of them. Its contents appeared to be intact.
Now that was odd. why had he not been robbed?
On the thought, he investigated the small concealed compartment in the coin pocket. It should have held a selection of small tools for various unconventional purposes; one of these would have enabled him to pick a lock.
The compartment was empty.
More intrigued than annoyed, he placed the wallet on the bedside unit, beside his watch. He checked the window, which was also locked. The view, of fields and woods, was not familiar. No surprises there. He tried the corner door; it opened onto a small en-suite, with toilet, handbasin, and shower cubicle.
He moved to the armchair, and lowered himself into it, leaning back with a sigh. All in all, this was one of the more comfortable prison cells he'd seen.
What was it he had once said? You could achieve quite a lot by just sitting around? Well, it looked as though he now had an opportunity to put that one to the test.
What had happened to him? How had he come to be here? Wherever 'here' was?
It occurred to him to wonder whether he had had some kind of breakdown, and been confined in a mental hospital. But the handcuffs made that somewhat unlikely; they would have used a strait-jacket, surely.
Whoever had taken him, they had treated him with some care. He was not in any pain that might indicate an assault, though he was aware of a dull if mild headache. He had been arranged comfortably with his hands in front of him, more or less in the recovery position, on a clean bed, and kept adequately warm. He was under restraint, but had enough mobility to attend to his physical needs. A drink had been provided; he wondered if it contained more of the drug that must have been used on him. And his personal possessions had not been taken away. except for his pager, and - of course - his gun.
And there was nothing in the room, or its fittings, that could be used as a weapon. Whoever had taken him had given some thought to that. The only chair was far too heavy to lift; there were no tables, only a bedside shelf firmly attached to the bedframe. Even those pictures were unframed, and appeared to be laminated flexible panels stuck to the walls. There was, perhaps, the chain on his wrists; but he knew he would not be able to get into position to use it. The ankle restraints, and the lack of traction from socks on smooth wood, saw to that.
He reached down and, with some difficulty, removed his socks. That would signal his intentions to his captors, he knew; but he considered the risk outweighed by the gain in mobility.
He doubted whether he would be left alone for more than a few hours, or even whether he had been abandoned completely. So, he could expect a visitor before very long. And then, no doubt, the fun would start.
He thought back over recent events. The last thing he remembered clearly was the arrival of General Henderson in SHADO Control, in a mood that was even more foul than usual. In fact the man was in a rage, though controlling it, albeit with difficulty.
Everything from then to now was a complete blank.
A sound caught his attention, and he looked up at the door. Someone was outside.
The handle turned. The door opened. In walked possibly the last man Straker would have expected to see.
"Good evening, Straker," Jackson greeted him. The psychiatrist switched on the overhead light, drew up the pouffe and seated himself - well out of reach of his feet, Straker noted. "How are you feeling?"
"Release me at once," Straker snapped, surging to his feet. "What the hell d'you think you're playing at?"
"I'm trying to keep you alive."
"What the hell do you mean by that - "
"Simply," Jackson answered, "that if you leave this house without taking great care, Straker, you will be shot. And not by me," he added, as Straker's eyes narrowed. "I will indeed release you, in a few moments. First I want your assurance that you will not try to leave until you have heard what I have to say."
Straker thought: that's twice he's not called me 'commander'. Something is badly wrong. "I should call Security - "
"They would be the ones doing the shooting."
The man was quite serious, Straker realised. He sat down, perching on the edge of the chair. "All right. I'll listen."
"Good," Jackson smiled. "Would you like coffee?"
"No! For god's sake, Jackson - "
"Very well. Straker, you may have found that you have problems with your memory. That is down to me, I am afraid. What is the most recent thing you recall?"
"Henderson arriving. In one hell of a temper."
"Indeed. I gave you a hypnotic treatment, which has blanked out your memory of the last two days. I will shortly speak the word which will reopen those memories, but first I must prepare you." Jackson clasped his hands and leaned forward a little, his expression as grave as Straker had ever seen it. "You will have noticed that I have not addressed you by your rank - your former rank, I should say. You see, you have been court-martialled. I was not the prosecutor. You were found guilty of treason, stripped of your rank, and sentenced to death by shooting. The sentence was carried out this morning."
Straker stared at him, speechless. After long moments, he croaked: "Treason?"
"You were found guilty of collaborating with the aliens. Since before SHADO was even set up."
"That's bloody ridiculous," Straker whispered.
"I quite agree. However, the evidence presented against you was quite damning. and your defence team was unable to break it."
Straker remained silent, trying to drag his thoughts into some sort of order. Jackson did not interrupt.
"You said. I was shot, this morning. I suppose that means they used a dummy bullet."
"They did, I supplied it without their knowledge. It delivered a dose of a fairly potent anaesthetic, enough to give the appearance of death. Your body was to have been cremated, and most of SHADO believes it was."
"This all happened in two days?"
"Yes," Jackson confirmed. "That in itself is extremely suspicious, and it is the reason I intervened."
"Who's in on this? My escape, I mean?"
"Only me, I am afraid."
"Not even Alec Freeman? What - what does he think about all this?"
"You will not enjoy hearing this." Jackson met his gaze. "Colonel Freeman was the one who carried out the, er, 'execution'. He volunteered."
With that, Jackson spoke a single word; and the floodgates opened in Straker's mind..
* * *
The events of those two days had been crowded.
Henderson had stormed into Straker's office, breaking into a meeting between himself, Freeman, and Foster, which had begun with a furious Freeman - back a few days earlier from his duty tour in Australia - demanding an account of his recent actions with the 'psychobombs', and had gone downhill from there. The General's arrival, with two IAC security staff in tow, had not helped matters. He, too, had wanted answers; and when Straker had simply ignored the questions, had placed him under arrest, on a charge of collaborating with the aliens.
Straker had laughed in his face.
They had disarmed him and locked him in a confinement room, taken away his personal possessions, and sent Colonel Webb to him as a defence attorney. Webb was unsympathetic and unhelpful, but Straker did not care. What could they do to him anyhow, he had thought. He remembered the feelings he had had; contempt for these idiots, anger with the men he despised, disgust at their weakness.
Why had he been feeling those things? He could not remember; they had seemed entirely natural at the time. Now, however, the memory filled him with horror.
He tried to shake that off; and his thoughts moved on, to the court-martial...
* * *
Two guards marched him into the courtroom, the same chamber that had been used for Paul Foster's trial. He was made to stand before the bench of three judges.
Henderson rose to his feet. "You are Commander Edward George Straker?"
"I am," he answered, steadily; but he was thinking: you know perfectly well who I am, you fool.
"Commander Straker, you are charged with treason, in that you did betray SHADO secrets to our enemies, known only as 'the aliens'. How do you plead?"
"Not guilty, of course." He managed to stop himself adding: you bloody idiot!
"Sit down. The prosecution may proceed."
Virginia Lake presented the case against him. It was believed that the aliens' knowledge of SHADO operations, and indeed of the events leading to its formation, had been so detailed and accurate despite the great distance and consequent time delays between Earth and extrasolar planets, that they must have had inside information; and in so much and so specific detail that it showed that he, Straker, had been the source of that information.
He was charged with being in direct contact with the aliens, and giving them access to SHADO secrets, sometimes months, if not years, ahead of actual events.
Webb called him to give his response. Straker walked to the witness chair, but remained standing, facing the bench.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "several questions have been raised about my supposed interaction with the aliens. I propose to show that these questions have simple answers which do not require 'inside information'.
"Many of these questions depend on the speed of access the aliens have to Earth. How quickly can they find out what is happening here? How quickly can that information get back to them? How quickly can they respond? I will comment on this with a few specific examples.
"I must apologise for reminding General Henderson again of an incident in which he was severely injured. It was pointed out that the aliens knew about the Rolls that collected General Henderson and me and took us to the meeting with the PM. except we didn't get there, because they had enough warning to attack. It was further pointed out that they knew about the Utronic equipment - about Westbrook Electronics, which they destroyed; and about the flight to deliver the equipment, which Colonel Freeman was piloting and which, again, they attacked, this time unsuccessfully.
"Some of you think it is not feasible for alien spacecraft from outside the Solar System to manage the feats I mentioned in order to even try these attacks. And, of course, you are correct. But - as you will see when you check the records - I have stated clearly that I am not convinced they're coming from another solar system. As I told the UN Special Committee, I only ever gave that one a rating of 'possibly'.
"I am personally convinced that, although they may indeed originate from another star system, they have a local base here in our own system, just as we have Moonbase. Perhaps quite close to us. And by 'close' I mean around a billion miles away. That's one thousand million miles. It sounds like a lot; but actually, it's only about as far as Saturn. Jupiter is even closer, at only half a billion miles distant. Of course, in each case the exact distance from us at any given time varies with the movement of both Earth and the planets concerned around their orbits.
"As I said, a billion miles, even half a billion, sounds a lot. It isn't, not on cosmic scales. Some things can cover that distance in a remarkably short time. Light, for example. A photon - a unit of light, or radio, or any other electromagnetic wave - can go from SHADO Control to Moonbase in a little over a second. The LM takes half a day at constant boost, and even then it would have had the Apollo team green with envy. The same photon would take about 8 minutes to get here from the sun. To go from the sun to Jupiter it would take about three-quarters of an hour - 43 minutes, in fact; and nearly twice as much to Saturn. But it would take over four years to get to our nearest stellar neighbour, Proxima Centauri.
"The travel time for this photon between ourselves and Jupiter depends, as I said, on the relative positions of those two worlds. When we are both on the same side of the sun, we are 8 light-minutes closer, so that travel time is only about 35 minutes. Conversely, when we are on opposite sides, our own solar distance adds an extra 8 minutes, so the photon is in flight for about 51 minutes.
"Using the Utronic equipment, we have observed the speed achieved by incoming UFOs at anything between four and ten times the speed of light - SOL, as we have abbreviated it - though Einstein would be seriously worried by that. At ten times light, a UFO could make it here from Jupiter in about four and a half minutes, on average. At four SOL, it would need about eleven. That does not take into account acceleration and deceleration times; though those must be quite short. We know the aliens travel in a liquid buffer to protect themselves against the stresses involved in those flight phases, stresses that would otherwise reduce them to something resembling strawberry jelly."
Straker paused, observing the expressions on the faces around him. Some were astonished; some sceptical. One or two were frankly bored. He wondered distantly whether he was wasting his time here, with that intellectual dwarf of a General...
His own thoughts startled him. He liked these people, respected them. why was he thinking about them like this?
But the feeling went as quickly as it had come. He pressed on.
"I say 'Jupiter' and 'Saturn'. But these worlds are huge, cold, high gravity gas giants. Jupiter is the biggest planet in our system, and Saturn the second biggest. Jupiter's gravity is some two-and-a half times ours; Saturn's is a little better, only slightly more g than ours; it's big, but not very dense. But their temperatures are savage. Jupiter has a surface temperature of about 160 degrees absolute, more than cold enough to freeze carbon dioxide, though it gets warmer as you go deeper into it, from its own internal heating. But if you did try to go deeper, the atmospheric pressure would squash you flat. Saturn averages out at about 135 degrees - for those of you who enjoy camping, that's pretty much cold enough to freeze butane. Neither is a place any self-respecting alien - or human - would try to set up home on. Especially as they don't seem even to have an actual surface, just gas all the way down.
"But the aliens don't have to try to colonise these huge planets. Both worlds have sizeable - and liveable - moons. Liveable, that is, with a technological assist. I'm talking about Ganymede, orbiting Jupiter, and Titan, around Saturn. Ganymede is almost as big as Mars but less dense, and has a surface gravity about a seventh of Earth's, against our own Moon's one-sixth. It would make an ideal baseworld. Titan's surface g is again rather less than that of our own Moon. It’s got its own atmosphere, and first indications are that this is mainly nitrogen, with quite a lot of hydrocarbons, and a pressure about half as much again as Earth's own. But, again, it could make a useful baseworld. And there are other moons of both worlds available as well, which could be mined for resources."
Straker took a sip of water before continuing.
"As far as the matter of messages from Earth reaching such a colony is concerned, I must remind you that we ourselves have the Utronics system. Its beam travels almost instantaneously - certainly much faster than light's snail's pace. Our own early designs have not yet solved the power problem; a Utronics unit requires too much energy to be built into anything like SkyDiver, much less an Interceptor. But it is by no means impossible that the aliens have cracked this problem just as they have the problem of travelling in excess of light speed.
"I hope that deals with the 'distance' question."
"One moment," Henderson interrupted. "Why not use Mars as a base? Much closer, more convenient for them, surely?"
"More convenient for us, too," Straker pointed out, ignoring the heavy sarcasm. "Our own technology is quite able to launch a direct attack against Mars, even a counter-invasion. We have already put two landers down on the Martian surface - the Vikings, a few years ago."
Henderson nodded. "I guess. Continue."
"Yes, sir. Another question has been raised about the known alien 'contacts' - for example, the so-called 'psychobombs', and Miss Bosanquet. The 'psychobombs', of course, died in the execution of their tasks - but they knew where to find their targets; targets whose location should have been secret. And they found me - or rather, my car.
"Also, there was the Dalotek affair, where the aliens interfered with our communications, and that complete mock-up of SHADO Control that the aliens built in the underwater dome.
"Finally, there was Miss Sarah Bosanquet.
"You're wondering how the aliens got the information necessary to do these things. Remember the 'Washington Square' incident? We know that it is possible for the aliens to monitor our communications, between SHADO Control and Moonbase, and the SkyDivers, even our links to our personal transport. They can detect where our radio signals are coming from; deduce what our comms technology is - AM, FM, digital, or whatever; and they can devise ways of interfering with those comms. They can perhaps even break our encryption, particularly on the links between SHADO and Moonbase. No security system is unbreakable, and we would be fools indeed if we pretended otherwise. So they can watch us on TV, listen to our radio conversations, and draw up their plans accordingly. We change our encryption keys frequently and at irregular intervals; but they catch up after a while.
"Miss Bosanquet worked at a naval base, and had both a high security clearance and a high degree of technical skill. We now know that she easily gained access to our communications, and she had her own link to the aliens. But she is alive and free. We have not tried to interfere, and this has been questioned. But if we did take her out of circulation, the aliens would simply replace her. In the meantime, we can keep her under our eye, watch the aliens through her - and feed her disinformation.
"That concludes my statement."
Straker sat down. There was a quiet buzz of discussion among the judges. At length Henderson spoke. "Commander Straker, I would like to ask you about the death of Lieutenant Maddox, and your manipulation of me to gain funding for a clean-up of 'space junk'."
Straker ignored the provocation. "Sir?"
"Tell us, please, how you knew there was a UFO coming in?"
"I didn't 'know', not exactly," Straker replied, knowing how weak this must sound, but feeling insulted at having his own intellectual abilities questioned like this. "It was a logical deduction, derived by game theory, a subject which is not taught as much as it should be. As I said at the time, if we removed the alien device, they would simply replace it. And it had been fairly easy, if very risky, to detect it and devise a counter-measure. I considered it was just a distraction designed to make us shut down, that the aliens were after bigger game. this HQ."
"And how, Commander, did the aliens know how we would react?" enquired Henderson.
"They would predict that we would want to protect our LMs until the threat had been removed."
"Surely this whole thing is all just speculation, Commander?"
"Speculation, certainly, sir. But it's based on solid fact. And I was right, if you recall."
"I see. Colonel Lake, do you wish to re-examine?"
"I do, sir." Lake strode to the witness chair, and stood looking down at Straker. "Solid fact," she repeated, slowly. "Commander, you have been talking at some length about Jupiter, and Saturn, and their moons. Are you aware of the Voyager project?"
"Yes, ma'am, I am."
"I'm sure you'd like to tell us about it?"
"As you wish, ma'am. The Voyager project began some years ago. In 1977, two probes were launched towards Jupiter, on paths which were designed to take advantage of a rare alignment of the outer planets which would allow them to visit each world in turn.
"Voyager Two reached Jupiter in July 1979. It took and sent back detailed pictures of Jupiter itself and several of its moons, including the four Galilean satellites, Ganymede and its siblings. Voyager One also encountered Jupiter. Both craft went on to Saturn. Voyager One arrived there in November 1980 on a slightly different path to Two, a path which allowed it a close flyby of Titan, though afterwards that path took it upwards out of the solar system. It encountered no more planets; but again, it sent back images of Saturn and its moons. Voyager Two went on, and is scheduled to visit both Uranus and Neptune in the next few years.
"There was a third mission, a few months after the first two. Its existence was kept secret because its purpose was to look for craft originating from countries other than the US. No such craft were found on the images it sent back."
"Have you seen the Voyager images, Commander?"
"I have, ma'am."
Lake glanced down at the sheaf of papers in her folder, then her eyes met Straker's. "So have I. In fact, I have obtained the original close-ups from which these overall pictures have been assembled in a mosaic. I have had the IAC photo-reconnaissance team go over them in some detail. There is no sign of any artificial structure on Ganymede, or on any of the other Jovian moons. Similarly, there is nothing on Titan, although its thick atmosphere does make interpretation difficult.
"In short, Commander, there is no evidence whatsoever of an alien presence within the solar system."
Straker was silent.
"However, Commander," Lake continued, "there is evidence of the existence of an alien world outside this solar system. the one the Discovery probe found when it followed a UFO to its homeworld? A journey which took four months, not four minutes? You remember?"
"I remember," Straker muttered, grimly.
Lake cleared her throat. "Well, let's move on, shall we..? Straker, you mentioned the possibility that the aliens may have broken our encryption. Would it not be easier for someone just to give them the information on how to do that, than for them to hunt around trying to find a way in?"
"Easier, yes," Straker admitted. "But not essential."
"Do you recognise this, Commander Straker?" Lake enquired, picking up a silver disc from the table before her.
"It's a computer disc. One of the new optical ones, called a CD. I don't know if it's a specific one."
"This disc," Lake said, slowly, "is one of half a dozen discs, each with one of our encryption system keys on it, which is altered several times a year, as you mentioned. They were produced at IAC HQ, which is where they are kept until needed. Do you know where we found them?"
Straker's throat was suddenly dry. "No, ma'am," he managed to say. He was aware of Freeman and Foster both looking at him, but could not return their stares.
"In your office, Straker. In a locked compartment in your office. A compartment which only you can access. Possibly the most secure location on this base." Lake tossed the disc down on the table. "Well, Commander? How did they get there? I'm sure we'd all like to know."
"I don't know," Straker whispered, at last.
Lake had a most unpleasant smile on her face. "That concludes the case for the prosecution, General."
"Does defence wish to cross-examine?"
Webb shook his head.
Henderson leaned back in the chair, his expression unreadable. "Return Commander Straker to the holding cell while we consider our verdict."
Straker did not have to wait long. He was recalled to the courtroom after only about ten minutes.
Henderson and the other two judges entered, and everyone in the chamber rose to their feet as the judges took their seats, then sat down again.
Henderson looked up, and met Straker's eyes. "Stand," he said, quietly.
Straker got to his feet once more.
"This court has considered carefully the evidence laid before it. The court acknowledges the validity of evidence provided by Commander Straker regarding the possible existence of an alien colony within this solar system, but finds no evidence to support the actual existence of such a colony.
"The court has considered the central question of whether Commander Straker is indeed guilty of the charge against him. This charge is that of treason, in that he did pass details of SHADO encryption systems to the aliens so that they can read our voice, video and data transmissions.
"On this charge, Commander Edward George Straker, you have been found guilty.
"The sentence is death. You will be executed by gunshot. You are not given leave to appeal. Since this court sees no good reason to delay, this sentence will be carried out tomorrow morning, at 06:00.
"Take him away."
Straker smiled his contempt. The man was a fool. Always had been, since that UFO attack; clearly it had addled his brain.
They took him back to the holding cell, to sleep if he could. They offered him food, and drink; he ignored both. He had dozed.
* * *
Doug Jackson watched Straker's face, as the man's memories played themselves back. He thought back himself to how he had arrived to hear the shocking news..
He was tired. The flight from his home town in Poland had not been a long one, and he normally enjoyed flying; but the sadness of the situation had sapped his energy.
The funeral had gone well, if that word could be used. He felt that they had given the old man a good send-off.
'Old', he thought. His uncle was barely into his sixties. And he had always kept himself fit, since before the war. He had been active in the AK, the Polish Home Army, and had evaded capture several times. But that stroke, coming seemingly out of nowhere, had defeated him finally.
Jackson had received the call notifying him of his uncle's sudden illness that morning. He advised SHADO of the emergency, boarded a private aircraft at London Gatwick, and arrived at the hospital in time to say goodbye. He had the impression that his uncle had been waiting for him, and had held on to life just long enough. His older brother and his two surviving sisters had also been present; his brother assured him that he would handle all the admin details, which would take some time, and advised him to return to England and await news.
He took a taxi to the studio, to be greeted by a furious Miss Ealand with the news of Commander Straker's trial and death sentence.
"You have to be kidding me," he whispered, sinking into a chair. "There must surely be some mistake - it must be some kind of strategic move - "
"There's no mistake, Doctor." The secretary's voice was almost a snarl. "That man betrayed us to the aliens. And now he's going to die for it. And Henderson is shutting us down."
"You mean we'll be left defenceless?" Jackson said, horrified.
"Oh, no," Miss Ealand said, bitterly. "The IAC will take over SHADO functions, and run it properly for a change!"
"I. see." This is wrong, Jackson thought. This is horribly wrong. "Where is the Commander at this time?"
"Locked up below. He'll be shot tomorrow, first thing."
"Is Henderson here?"
"Not at the moment," the secretary told him. "He's gone back to IAC. But he'll be here in time for the execution."
"I see," Jackson repeated. He stood. "Thank you, Miss Ealand."
He entered the inner office, and shut the door. The voiceprint analyser confirmed his identity. As the room descended, he was thinking furiously. He needed time - and so did Straker - to find out what had suddenly made people act so thoroughly out of character.
And 'suddenly' was the word. The whole mess had come about in a tearing hurry. Straker could not possibly have had time to prepare an adequate defence. He had not been allowed to appeal. The prosecution could not possibly have considered any evidence they might have had in any detail, or questioned that evidence as thoroughly as they should with a man's life at stake, as he had done with Paul Foster on the occasion of that man's own court-martial. And even then, he had missed rather important data.
This had to be the work of the aliens; but why the rush?
The lift grounded. He made a swift exit, and hurried to his office. The control room was silent, except for the constant background electronic noise. No-one was speaking, no-one was looking at the others. He was aware of the psychological atmosphere down here, and it was a blend of anger, betrayal, and hostility. He went on into Medical, closing the door behind him with relief. The feel of the place was beginning to get to him as well.
Enough of that. He had preparations to make.
* * *
Freeman sat in his own office, at his desk, head in hands. His thoughts were chasing around in circles, like squirrels in a cage, maddened, trying to escape.
He played back the trial, and the execution, in his head. He had followed Paul out of the room, while the judges had gone out for their conference..
"No," he had whispered. "No. I don't believe it. I can't believe it."
"Neither can I," Foster said, grimly. "Alec, it's like that time with me, when ten grand turned up in my bank account and I had no knowledge of how it got there. This is a plant. It has to be."
"This is something else. It's comparatively easy to make that kind of payment. Getting anything into that locker in Ed's office without his knowledge is entirely different. The alarm system would go nuts for a start."
"But you surely can't think that - "
"That Ed Straker is a traitor?" Freeman flung at him. He thrust his hands into his pockets. "I don't know. But he's always played his cards very close to his chest. And I suppose I've resented that. I've often wished he would open up a little. All right, I've resented it when he's pulled something out of the hat that's got us out of trouble, usually without a word of explanation. but on occasion, it's made me feel a bit of a fool. Made me feel he's been laughing at me, at my stupidity."
Foster bit his lip. "I've felt the same," he admitted, in a low voice.
"I'd forgive him that if I could find a way those discs could have got there. but I can't think of one."
"Let's go and have some coffee," Freeman said, abruptly. "They'll be some time yet, I should think - " He stopped. The court usher was beckoning to them from the door. He exchanged glances with Foster, and the pair re-entered the chamber.
Straker was in the chair, staring straight ahead, flanked by two burly guards. The slight smirk that had hovered on his features throughout this court-martial had gone, leaving an equally faint look of concern.
He stood at Henderson's order, and listened while the General told him he had been found guilty, and sentenced to death, without leave to appeal. They had taken him away. Slowly, the room had emptied. There was no buzz of conversation; everyone was silent with their own thoughts.
Freeman's thoughts moved on, to the following morning, to the execution. He had volunteered - demanded - to be the executioner..
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Henderson asked.
"Damn right I do - I mean, yes, General, sir." Freeman's voice was taut, his face bloodless.
"Very well." Henderson stood back.
Wearing full dress uniform, Freeman walked through the door into the execution chamber. A screen was drawn across, concealing the other side. On this side of the screen stood a tripod, with a rifle mounted on it, so supported that it would be buffered from any movement in the executioner's hands.
That was just as well, Freeman thought. His own hands were shaking as though with extreme cold.
Henderson followed him inside, closing the door behind him. He was holding a small box in his hand; he placed it on a nearby stand.
A trumpet sounded. Freeman came to attention. The screen was pulled aside.
Straker was present, in full USAF uniform, with his two guards. Dr Shroeder stood behind him. He glanced at the rifle, then at Freeman, then stared straight ahead.
Henderson stepped forward. "Commander Edward George Straker, you are to be executed for treason. Do you have anything you wish to say?"
Straker shook his head. "No, sir." His voice was steady.
"You are stripped of all rank and decoration." Henderson reached out and tore the insignia of rank away, then ripped the medal ribbons from Straker's chest. The guards pulled his uniform jacket from his shoulders. One of them dragged his hands behind his back and secured his wrists with cuffs. He was urged into place, to stand on a circular mat in front of the rifle.
"Turn. Kneel. Look at the red spot."
Straker complied, presenting his back to the rifle, and to Freeman. He gazed down, as instructed, at the small red dot on the edge of the mat. The movement exposed the back of his neck to his executioner.
Henderson took up his box and opened it. He took from it a single bullet. The projectile glinted brassily in the harsh fluorescent lighting as he placed it in the rifle's firing chamber. He closed the rifle, and nodded once to Freeman.
"Colonel Freeman. After the second note of the trumpet, you will carry out the execution, on my order."
The trumpet sounded. Freeman looked through the sights of the rifle, and with hands that were now quite steady, took careful aim at the back of Straker's head.
The trumpet sounded once more. Henderson barked "Fire!".
Freeman did not move. He was frozen with indecision. He was about to kill his friend and colleague -
"Freeman!" Henderson snapped. "Obey your orders, dammit, or you'll be next!"
Straker muttered something. It sounded like 'bloody coward'. Freeman's fists clenched, and his finger tightened convulsively on the trigger.
The rifle slammed into his shoulder with the recoil. Straker jerked once, and fell limply forward, to lie quite still, his mouth slack, his eyes partly open. Blood pooled on the back of his neck and dripped to the absorbent mat.
"Dr Shroeder?" Henderson said.
The doctor came forward, and knelt beside the fallen figure. He felt for the pulse in the side of the neck, then used a stethoscope to listen to Straker's chest. He looked up, first at Freeman, then at Henderson. "I confirm that this man is dead, General."
"Thank you, doctor." Henderson motioned to the two guards. "Bag that and dispose of it. Colonel Freeman, you may go. but I will want to address the staff in thirty minutes."
"Yes, sir." Freeman left, in a hurry. He only just made it to the restroom in time.
* * *
Straker didn't want to think about the next bit. But the images in his head went on, remorselessly.
At last they had come for him. They had made him dress, in uniform, and had taken him to the execution chamber. Freeman was waiting, beside a rifle on a tripod, with Henderson. The General performed the ritual stripping him of rank. The guards handcuffed him, and made him kneel, head bowed, with his back to Freeman.
There was a brief pause. Henderson barked an order for Freeman to proceed or be shot himself.
He had smiled, slightly. The man's a coward, he had thought, ignoring the small internal voice that was shrieking at him from so far away. He wouldn't dare -
The rifle fired. Something stung him in the back of his neck. All the strength went out of him. He toppled forward into blackness, and did not feel the impact with the floor.
* * *
Keith Ford was also thinking back to those events, and about Jean, his fiancée..
He watched Colonel Freeman dash past, grey-faced. Then one of the phone handsets on his console flashed its 'alert' light. He picked it up.
"Mr Ford?" It was Miss Ealand's voice.
'Mr' Ford, he noted. Evidently an external caller. "Yes?"
"It's Jean for you. Shall I put it through?"
Oh no, Ford thought. Not right now. Then he remembered; he was supposed to be going out with her tonight. He couldn't face it.
"All right," he sighed. "I'll take it in the messroom."
"I'll put it through there. Has it - I mean, have they - "
"I - I think so. I saw Mr Freeman just now. He wasn't looking at all well."
"Then it's over. Good."
The secretary hung up. With a sigh, Ford heaved himself to his feet and walked to the messroom. One of the hushphone booths was flashing its light. He walked over, entered the hush canopy, and picked up the handset. "Jean?"
"Keith! Are you all right? I've heard rumours they're shutting the place down - "
"That's right," he muttered. "We're probably all going to be made redundant, or something."
"But what's happened? What's gone wrong?"
Ford's temper flared. "How the blazes should I know? It's not my fault!"
Jean's voice sounded hurt - as well it might, a small voice within him noted. He ignored it. "Keith, what's wrong - " she pleaded.
"I don't know, I tell you. Look - just leave me alone, OK?"
And with that, he had slammed the handset down.
* * *
Freeman recalled how Henderson had begun the transfer of control of alien defences, from SHADO to the IAC..
When he came out of the restroom, after a painful interval, Henderson was waiting for him in SHADO Control. As far as he could see, the entire Earthside staff was present. The monitors showed that Moonbase was online, and the SkyDiver crews also.
"You took your time, Freeman," Henderson growled.
"Sorry, sir." Pompous ass, Freeman thought. You're not the one who's just had to execute a traitor.
"Well, let's get on with this. Attention, everyone." General Henderson looked around at them. "Tomorrow I will close down the SHADO organisation, and transfer its functions to the military - though I have serious doubts over whether we will actually need those functions, since we have crippled the aliens by removing their principal agent. However, the UN will insist, I have no doubt, that we maintain at least a watching presence."
He hasn't told the UN about this yet? Freeman thought. Probably wants to hand them SHADO in a neat package tied with a pretty bow, and take the credit.
"The studios will also be closing. I have called the board of directors to a meeting in one hour. Freeman, you, Foster, and Webb, will attend. So will Lake, I suppose." A slight smirk hovered on Henderson's lips, and was gone. "The staff will be told to stop working and go home. Redundancy notices will be drawn up to be issued to all staff within the week.
"I suppose some of you will wish to resign - that is, if you've got any sense. Those who do, report to Dr Jackson after this meeting. He will take your names, but will wait until after SHADO is actually closed to administer the amnesia drug.
"Tomorrow, when the studios are closed and empty of staff, we will carry out the shutdown procedure. First, we shall run full systems checks at all SHADO locations, including the SkyDiver fleet and the Space Intruder Detector network. I expect that this will take most of the day. Foster, you will go to Moonbase with a decommissioning crew; I have arranged an LM launch for 02:00 hours tomorrow morning. Be on that LM, please."
"Yes, sir," Foster said, quietly.
"The Shift-A staff will remain here until 18:00, when Shift-B will take over. Shift-A staff will return at 06:00 tomorrow. We will run full systems checks. When I am satisfied, we will then put those systems into standby mode, ready for the IAC-designated staff to assume control.
"That's all. You may go."
* * *
Straker sat forward in the armchair, his face in his hands. "I don't believe it," he whispered. "How could it have happened...?"
"That," said Jackson grimly, "is what we must try to find out, and quickly. I apologise for keeping you restrained; but I had to return to SHADO to try to gather what information I could, and I had to leave you here while you recovered from the anaesthetic in the dart. I could not take the risk of you wandering off and getting yourself killed, you understand."
"No, I - I see that.."
"Good. I will now remove the shackles." Jackson reached out, turned the combination rings on the cuffs on Straker's wrists and ankles, then detached them and put them in his bag. "Will you have that coffee now, and some food? You have neither eaten nor drunk for nearly a day."
"Good." Jackson rose to his feet and left the room. He returned, with a tray bearing two full, steaming mugs. The tray had its own legs; he folded them down, and set it on the floor beside Straker's chair.
"Drink up," he directed; and Straker obeyed, still shaken. Jackson gave him a few minutes to pull himself together. But a few minutes was all he felt they could afford. He took a mouthful of his own coffee, and regarded Straker intently. "Now, I need to ask you a few questions."
"Go ahead," Straker muttered.
"Firstly - at the risk of sounding like a TV reporter - what were you feeling, during the trial? What were you thinking, about General Henderson, and the others? And what were you feeling at the execution?"
Straker thought back, and winced. "I'd really rather not say. It was all most uncomplimentary. Insulting, even."
"It was not the way you would normally be thinking?"
"Sure wasn't! OK, Henderson and I have a relationship so stormy it should be named like a hurricane, but I genuinely respect the man. But yesterday - well, 'intellectual dwarf' was the kindest thought in my head."
"And - sorry to press you on this, but it is important - what were your thoughts about Colonel Freeman?"
"I.." Straker swallowed, tried again. "I was - calling him a coward. I was thinking. he wouldn't dare shoot me..."
"I take it," Jackson said very carefully, "that that is not your normal opinion of him?"
"No it bloody isn't!" Straker shouted, coming to his feet, his mug slopping alarmingly. "I'd trust him with my life! He's one of the bravest men I know, and honest as the day is long! I must have been mad to be thinking that - "
He broke off. Something in Jackson's expression alarmed him.
"Was I mad?" he whispered. "Was there - "
"An alien influence at work? Like the 'mindbender' crystal?" Jackson supplied. "Yes, I believe there was. It affected everyone at SHADO, at Moonbase, even at the IAC. I do not yet know about the SkyDivers. It did not affect me, because I was not present."
"Thank god you weren't. I'm sorry, I should have asked, about your uncle - "
"We gave him a good 'send-off', and my brother, the eldest of us, is attending to the formalities. But right now, we need to focus on this matter. Sit down again, please." Straker did as he was bid, and Jackson continued: "I believe that whatever this 'influence' is, it must be short-lived. I would not expect it to last more than a few days. You see, you cannot make someone act against their normal inclinations for very long; their deepest instincts would oppose it, especially in a case like this. They must already be starting to shake off the effects, as indeed you are doing now; starting to wonder, starting to ask themselves the questions they were forcibly prevented from even thinking about. The aliens must know this; they will act, and act quickly and decisively."
Straker went pale. "Henderson will shut SHADO down. He'll have IAC take over. The aliens will slip through the crack!"
"Most graphically put," Jackson agreed, grimly.
"I have to get to the studio. I have to prevent the shutdown."
"Indeed. But you have a little time. Henderson will first have to close down the studio function, which he is doing today. He will begin the process of closing down SHADO tomorrow, starting with a full systems check, both down here and on Moonbase, and that will take at least half a day. So may I suggest that you take a little time, here, to consider ways and means? I will be happy to make you some supper."
"..Yes. Of course. You're quite right. I don't think I have much of an appetite, though."
"I'll keep it simple. What would you like me to do to help?"
"Find the source of the influence. And shut that down."
"I shall do my best. Now, I suggest you shower and change, while I prepare some food. There is suitable clothing in the cupboard."
"Thanks," Straker said.
* * *
Alone in his office, Freeman wept. He felt as though he were being torn apart. How could Straker have betrayed them like that? It was wrong. All wrong...
Yes, he realised suddenly. It was wrong.
It made no sense. No sense at all.
He scrubbed at his cheeks. This was ridiculous, he was suddenly certain. A spy's job is to help the enemy. None of Straker's actions, none of the rabbits he had sometimes almost miraculously pulled out of hats, had ever helped the aliens in the slightest. On the contrary; they had thwarted the aliens at every turn.
Why hadn't he realised that? Why hadn't any of them noticed it? Why had they been in such a hurry to rush through and execute the SHADO leader?
The fine hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He had the answer, he knew; but he could not make himself think about it.
Was it all just 'empire-building', as Foster had once accused Straker of doing? Setting up situations and solving them, to make himself look good? What was his eventual aim? To become World President?
Tomorrow Henderson would shut SHADO down. IAC would hand their function over to the military, who would carry on. but there had been no alien incursion for weeks. Henderson was of the opinion that the aliens were losing interest; and that the loss of their chief spy, Ed Straker, would cripple them beyond recovery. There would be no more attacks.
Freeman just wished he could make himself believe that.
* * *
When Straker emerged from the en-suite, dressed in a dark-coloured jogging suit, he found that Jackson had brought him a meal - ham sandwiches, and more coffee. His watch was still on the bedside unit, but it was indicating that the time was around 6pm, so evidently Jackson had apparently wound and reset it. Beside the watch was the small pouch containing his 'safe-breaker's' tools. He put the watch back on, and slipped the pouch into the pocket of his trousers; but he left his wallet with Jackson, asking him to lock it away. They sat and ate; and they discussed the problem, and possible measures that could be taken. Remembering that 'mindbender' crystal, Jackson wondered whether they might be faced with a variant, or with some kind of hallucinogenic drug in the air systems.
"Either would mean," Straker pointed out, "that they would have to have access to several different places - not only SHADO Control and Moonbase, but each of the SkyDivers as well. And they'd need to set them off all together, as nearly as possible at the same time."
"True." Jackson took another sandwich, and chewed thoughtfully for a few moments. "Well, there is another possibility, a non-material one. Have you ever come across the word 'subliminal'?"
"It means 'below the threshold' - specifically, the threshold of conscious perception. That is, impressions can be made to reach the mind without being consciously noted."
"Oh lord yes, I've heard of it," Straker agreed. "Some people wanted to do advertising that way, by flashing up images on video screens too quickly to be noticed, but which took effect subconsciously, making the victims interested in the product."
"It didn't work, as I recall - at least, not on TV, the frame rate is too slow. It might be possible at the cinema, by flashing images much more quickly than the film rate, which you can't do on TV. I remember reading a short SF story by Roberts about that, where the technique was used to make a man murder himself."
"Indeed it wouldn't work on TV, or video. But it could be done through the auditory system, by 'whispering' the message too quietly to be heard consciously. Or perhaps by using sound frequencies that are known to have psychological effects. Or, indeed, both. That could be done very easily indeed. All you would need is to get into the radio systems, perhaps through SID, and broadcast your 'whispers' to everyone in SHADO, Moonbase, the SkyDivers, and indeed everyone with a radio link to SHADO. Including the IAC."
"Nasty. But it should be possible to deal with that."
"What could be done? I'm not an engineer, regrettably, Straker."
"When a computer misbehaves badly," Straker said thoughtfully, "an accepted technique is to force a 'factory reboot' - a controlled shutdown and software restart, to put it into a known and hopefully 'clean' state, as if it had newly emerged from the factory. Very useful with those new 'laptops', I hear."
Jackson blinked in surprise. Straker gave a half-smile, and continued.
"SHADO ops software is backed up in hard-wired storage, in something called 'read-only memory', which once programmed can't be altered, only read. To change it you would have to physically substitute the devices themselves. What I can do is force a total shutdown of all systems with any audio output, wipe their temporary memories, and reload from the backup store."
"By the sound of it, that should certainly work," Jackson agreed.
"And it may do something else. As with 'Washington Square', the aliens would be watching for just such a shutdown - and they would come in to attack. But I propose to be ready for them - though I can't count on SkyDiver this time. How long do you think it would take for the influence to lift?"
"As I say," Jackson replied, "I believe it is already lifting. People are beginning to fight it. You took some ten hours to sleep off the effects of my anaesthetic, and you woke fully recovered from the influence. I suspect that if you had been awake, actively fighting its effects, the recovery time away from the source of the interference would have been much shorter, perhaps no more than an hour or so."
"I hope so," Straker said grimly. "I doubt whether the aliens would give us ten hours. It would be more like ten minutes. I think I will leave the transmitters to shut down last, to give people as long as possible."
Straker waited until nightfall, then insisted on leaving. Jackson did not try to talk him out of it. He provided a gun, and some food. He let Straker out by the back door, and watched him fade into the dusk, his pale hair hidden under a dark balaclava.
* * *
Freeman checked the time; his watch said it was a few minutes before ten pm. He had spent the day, after that board meeting, wandering around aimlessly. Tomorrow would be a long day. He supposed he should sleep; but he knew he could not. He certainly did not want to go home, to that lonely, cheerless apartment.
He should also eat; but his appetite had deserted him.
Most of the shift had apparently felt the same way. After handing over to the night staff, instead of going home they had congregated - as if by common consent - in the messhall. When Freeman had looked in there, the place was crowded, though few were eating, and even fewer were talking.
Well, he should at least try to get some rest. He got up stiffly from the chair, and walked across to a door in the side wall. At a touch of a sensitive plate, the door slid silently aside, revealing a small alcove with a cotbed, provided for use at times when his standby presence was needed. There was a pillow, and a folded blanket. He closed the door, took off his jacket, kicked off his shoes, and lay down, pulling the cover up over himself. After a few minutes, the overhead light faded to a dim glow.
For a long time he lay there, staring into the darkness, trying not to think. Perhaps he dozed.
A buzzer abruptly brought him fully awake, and he sat up. He touched the small comms panel by the side of the bed. "Freeman."
"Lieutenant Mitchell here, sir. There is an intruder in the grounds."
"On my way. Where are you?"
"At the front entrance, sir."
"I'll be there in five minutes."
Freeman grabbed his shoes, and his jacket, and donned them. His head was aching a little. His mouth was dry; he took a gulp of water from the dispenser, and hurried out. Foster was in SHADO Control, wearing his travel overalls, pacing up and down the length of the monitors in silence, watched by Colonel Lake. Her brows were furrowed, as if in puzzlement, or perhaps discomfort. Freeman beckoned to Foster, and he nodded and followed, heading for the studio front office.
* * *
"Give me an update, Mitchell," Freeman requested.
"There's definitely an intruder, sir, but he hasn't tripped the alarms. He was spotted quite by chance, someone out walking their dog, who knew the place was closed and called the local police. They let us know. They were happy to let us handle it."
"OK. where is he?"
"Last seen near the sound stage. Williams is keeping him under observation."
"Show me," Freeman ordered.
They moved off, with Foster bringing up the rear. Mitchell led them round a corner, and pointed. "In there."
It was a narrow alleyway between two adjacent buildings. "Williams is down there, sir," Mitchell said.
"Thanks." Freeman used his comm. "Williams, it's Freeman. What have you got?. OK, I'll send Mitchell to you, Foster and I will go around the other side." He clipped the radio back on his belt. "Let's go."
As they rounded the corner, Freeman heard Williams shout: "Stop or I shoot!" The shout was followed by several gunshots.
"Damn fool," muttered Freeman. "That wasn't necessary. Where did the shots come from?"
"Over there." Foster pointed.
"Let's get behind this wall," Freeman suggested. It was perhaps three feet high, across a wide pavement from the nearby building, and formed a boundary by a grassy area beyond. They ran towards it, and crouched down.
"There's something moving over there, to the left," Foster whispered.
"OK." Freeman lifted his night-vision goggles to his eyes. He adjusted the focus, and froze as he got a clear view of the intruder. The man was pointing a rifle in his direction. but that was not what had caught his attention.
Foster grabbed Freeman's sleeve and pulled him down behind the protecting wall. As he did so, the intruder fired. Behind the two SHADO men, a neat row of bullet holes appeared in the side of the building behind them. Foster turned, looked, and stared.
"I don't believe it," Freeman whispered. "It can't be..."
"Is there a bullet hole in you?" Foster asked, quietly.
"What. No. No, there isn't. Why...?"
"Look." He pointed.
Freeman turned, moving like a man in a dream. The security lighting showed a row of seven bullet holes in a pattern that was too neat, too regular. All were exactly the same height above the ground; and they were spaced at very precise intervals. except for the one which should have gone through Alec Freeman. That bullet had hit the wall a clear yard above Freeman's head.
Foster knew only one man who could shoot like that.
"Ed Straker," whispered Freeman.
"Exactly - What?"
Freeman held out the goggles in a shaking hand, and thumbed the replay button. Foster looked. "My god. It's him. It is. What the hell? He's dead, you shot him yesterday!"
"When I get hold of him, he's going to wish I bloody had shot him!" Freeman snarled. "What brand of alien silly b*ggers is he playing?"
"But why did he deliberately miss you?" Foster asked. "Not for old times' sake, surely?"
"I don't know - "
They were interrupted by more shots, followed by a call from Mitchell. "Over there!"
The security man was pointing, and running. Foster and Freeman followed; but they had to give up the chase after only a few minutes, having lost track of their quarry.
"We need the surveillance cameras back on," muttered Freeman. No prizes for guessing who turned them off, he added silently. and saw the same thought in Foster's eyes.
"What now, sir?" Mitchell asked.
"Get back to the guardhouse and turn on the security system again," Freeman ordered. "Williams," he added as the man arrived, panting, "go with him. Check the monitors, see if you can spot him. Foster and I will check inside, starting with the most obvious places. Make contact again in half an hour if nothing turns up."
The party split up. As they made their way towards the admin block, Foster said: "What do you have in mind?"
"You should go to the spaceport," Freeman replied. "You can't miss that shuttle. But you've got a few hours yet. In the meantime, I'll have a look below stairs."
"Will the voiceprint let him in?"
"It'll hold him in the office, for us to collect him."
* * *
Straker had nearly reached his objective.
No-one knew better than he that the ground below the studios was a veritable warren of hidden passageways. The emergency lift shaft from his office, whose existence a desperate Foster had deduced, was only one such; and it would be guarded. but there were other paths.
This region was a storage area for studio props and equipment. He rounded a corner between cabinets, and a shot sang past his head. Too close, he thought. He sent a return shot back, heard a curse. He'd missed his pursuer. Good.
He stopped beside a cabinet that appeared, to the casual glance, to be firmly rooted in the floor. He pushed carefully, and it slid aside, revealing a dark passageway below.
Something struck his left shoulder. He realised that he had heard the accompanying shot; and then agony sliced through him. Gritting his teeth, he swung his legs into the hole, and dropped into the darkness. He did not have far to fall, but the jolt of the landing curled him up in a ball with pain. He lay still, fighting down the pain and the nausea and the encroaching darkness, while above him the cabinet slid silently back into position.
When Mitchell and Williams arrived, chasing their quarry, there was no sign of the man they had been pursuing.
"Where'd he go?" Williams panted.
"Don't know. but I winged him." Mitchell pointed. There was a splash of blood on the cabinet door.
"Well, he won't get far. Let's look around. Quietly."
* * *
Fluorescents above Straker flared into life. He managed to sit up, clutching at his shoulder. He felt the wound carefully. As far as he could judge the bullet had gone straight through. but it had caught the bone of his upper arm a glancing blow, knocking a chip from it. And the wound was bleeding freely, though mercifully the arteries seemed undamaged.
He needed a first-aid cabinet. There were plenty of those around the studios, but none down in these tunnels. He set off to find the nearest. As it happened, this was the medical room.
The corridor he was following came to an end, with a steel ladder leading upwards. He placed his rifle carefully on the ground beside it. Using his one good arm, he managed to make his way up to the overhead hatch. He braced himself against the expected pain, wrapped his injured arm around the ladder, and had to wait a few moments. When the fireworks display inside his head had faded to manageable levels, he reached up with his good arm and slid the hatch aside.
He listened, carefully, but could detect no nearby movement.
He pushed himself up through the hatch, and closed it again. Looking round to get his bearings, he nodded to himself; he was where he had wanted to be, in the rear corridor of SHADO, behind the medical bay.
Again, he listened. He could just hear sounds of movement, of electronic equipment, the occasional brief remark. All very subdued; but at least the place was operating.
He moved quietly into the medical bay, and entered the supplies locker.
First priority was to deal with the pain. He found a morphine kit, and injected himself. As the pain began to fade, he took scissors and cut away the bloodstained sleeve of his jogging top, stuffing it into his pocket with a quick mental apology to Jackson. Dressings were on another shelf, and he needed two to stem the bleeding.
He wondered about taking the morphine kit along, but decided against it, with some regret. Tablets would be easier to carry and use; he found a boxful, and that went into his pocket as well. He began tidying up so that, to the casual eye, it would look as though no-one had been here; but stopped suddenly, at a shout from behind him.
"Freeze or I shoot!"
* * *
Freeman and Foster had hurried to the office; but Miss Ealand had said that no-one had come this way.
"Who were you expecting?" she wanted to know.
"Never mind, he's probably long gone. Paul, you'd better go as well, you've got a shuttle to catch. I'll go to the command office, wait for him there, grab him before he can do any damage."
Foster departed, and Freeman went on into the office. His comm sounded. "Mitchell here."
"There was movement in Storage, so we went to take a look. I challenged, but he wouldn't stop, so I fired. I think I winged him, we found blood, but no sign of the intruder himself."
"OK. Keep looking."
Freeman used the voiceprint, and the lift began to descend. He rubbed his eyes; the headache he had woken with was getting worse. Perhaps, he thought, Jackson would have something for it in his stores.
When he arrived there, the door to the supplies locker was slightly open; and someone was inside. But it was not Jackson. He recognised the man at once. So he had not been mistaken. And they had indeed 'winged' him; one arm was bandaged, and blood was showing through. Good, he thought; but he felt a slight stab of concern, though it was suppressed as quickly as it had come.
Drawing his gun, he moved stealthily forward, eased the door wide, took aim, and shouted a challenge.
Straker froze where he stood.
"You're dead," Freeman said, harshly. "I executed you myself. And now you turn up here, large as life. So what's this? More of your damned alien trickery?"
"Trickery, yes," Straker agreed. The bitter anger, the betrayal, in his erstwhile friend's voice had gone through him like a red-hot dagger. The pain was far worse than even the agony from his damaged arm. "Alien, no. Mine, no. As you will no doubt have worked out, I had help."
"When I find out who that is, he's for the chop as well! You won't tell me, will you?"
"Not yet, no. Sorry."
"If you think that's what's stopping me from killing you right now, think again! We'll find your damned accomplice, with or without your help!"
"I don't doubt it. so why haven't you killed me now?"
"Because you probably won't stay dead! I'd have to - " Freeman broke off.
Straker wondered what Freeman had been about to say - rip his heart out, probably; but he did not pursue the thought. Instead he said, mildly: "Of course, if anyone was likely to be my accomplice, it would be you."
"I'm not a bloody traitor - "
"No," Straker answered. "Indeed you are not. And neither is Paul Foster. But no-one from Henderson downwards ever even considered that possibility. Despite the fact that you and I have been close associates, even friends, for decades. And I was the one who brought Paul Foster into SHADO, and kept him here, even through that court-martial."
"Are you trying to divert suspicion onto us?" Freeman snarled.
"I'm trying to get you to think! A spy with close friends who aren't in on the plot is a liability. They would figure out what he was up to and warn the authorities - unless they were co-operating. So they should be investigated. But that hasn't happened, has it?"
Freeman was silent. Straker did not move, or speak. He waited.
"So. who is your accomplice? Who got you out of there?"
"You said you could find out, and you're right. So do that, right now."
"Well. it can't have been a real bullet, obviously. It must have been some sort of anaesthetic dart, like the one they used on Foster. The anaesthetic load must have been quite a fancy drug, to fool Shroeder into thinking you were dead. Unless he was the one. But he's not a firearms expert. The rifle I - I used must have been jigged to give a realistic recoil..." Freeman broke off. "Jackson!!"
"And it would have been Jackson who would have called for me and Paul to be investigated.." Freeman took a breath. "Another thing..why didn't you shoot us just now? You're the best shot I know, and you had several clear chances. but you just missed, with every shot. Paul noticed it at the time."
"He would, I suppose. What are you going to do now? You should hand me in, and Jackson too." Carefully, Straker turned to face him.
"In a few hours," Freeman said, "the staff will be arriving. This place is going to be shut down. Mothballed. Its alien defence functions will be taken over by the 'real' military. Moonbase too."
"You're not pleased about that."
"Can't say I am, no," Freeman admitted. He turned away slightly, looking round the locker. "Of course, if you're still here - uhh!"
The edge of Straker's hand hit him on the side of the neck, and he crumpled into a limp heap.
* * *
Straker knelt beside Freeman's unconscious form, feeling for the pulse in the neck. It was strong and regular. He pulled Freeman into the recovery position. The man would not be out for long, and indeed he was beginning to stir; it was time to leave. Leaving the locker door open, he retraced his steps back to the tunnel.
Next stop was the computer maintenance room - or, at least, the access area beneath it.
When SHADO was being built, he had given thought to the possibility - the near certainty - of a scenario where the aliens landed and took over the place. His own office had been designed with that in mind, and the escape hatch had been only one of the facilities available in there. Foster had deduced its function. but even he had not known that it led down as well as up, into these tunnels.
The place he was heading for now was another last-ditch measure; and that was exactly what he was going to use it for.
He opened a door in the tunnel wall, and entered the space behind. It was no bigger than a broom cupboard, or so it felt. Grateful that since the sub-smash incident he had more or less conquered his claustrophobia, he sat before the compact little console; but he did not close the door.
It took him perhaps twenty minutes to set up the program he had devised, and link it to the main control room above, to be triggered at the right time. That gave him some fourteen hours to reach his next destination.
Jackson had told him that Henderson was sending a team up to Moonbase, to mothball it. He had to get aboard their LM. The quickest way would be to get himself put aboard the shuttlebus, which would be leaving from the garage here shortly.
Being careful not to jar his arm, which - despite the morphine - felt like a length of wood with a nail in it, he re-entered the tunnel, and selected a route to the outer regions of the complex. He came up in the cargo area. He headed for the sealed room where the spacesuits were kept. Putting one of those on, he knew, would be sheer purgatory; but he would need it for the journey ahead.
* * *
When Freeman came round, a few minutes later, Straker was gone. Cursing quietly and rubbing his neck, Freeman sat up. His gun was on the floor beside him. Thoughtfully, he picked it up, and replaced it in his holster. He decided that his headache - and neck ache, now - could wait for Jackson to arrive. He called Mitchell, advised him to abandon the search, since - he said - there was evidence the intruder had left the studio grounds. Making his way back to Control, he went in to the command office, sat by the conference table, and waited.
There were voices outside. He went out of the command office to see. Henderson was there, together with the staff. Both shifts, Freeman noted.
"Ah, Colonel. Any problems?"
"All's quiet here, sir," Freeman said, mendaciously.
"Good. Well, better get on with it, I suppose. We'll start with a full systems check, so that we can go into standby mode tidily. That will take most of the day, so let's get to it."
* * *
A little more than twelve hours later, a lunar cargo module landed at Moonbase. Four technicians, and Paul Foster, disembarked, and made their way into the control dome. Gay and her colleagues were waiting for them.
Inside the shuttle, in its capacious hold, were several cases. They were mostly empty, ready to receive equipment from Moonbase that was to be returned to Earth as surplus to requirements.
One of them was not empty.
It contained a man, who was wearing a spacesuit, and who was folded into a fairly uncomfortable position. Perhaps fortunately, the man had blacked out early in the flight, from acceleration stresses. He was awake now, and trying to fight down the agony in his arm and shoulder while he waited for the morphine he had swallowed to take effect.
At length, the pain had subsided enough that he could move.
Straker reached out with his good arm, and pushed the lid of the case open. He climbed out, thankful for the low gravity. Closing the case again, he made his way out of the module, and down into the reception dome. It was deserted, as he had expected. No doubt there was a lively discussion going on in Control right now.
He entered the corridor that connected reception to the remainder of Moonbase, and knelt, awkwardly in the suit. He found the sensitive plate, and pushed at the correct spot. The next panel swung open. He lowered himself into the darkened space below, closed his helmet visor, and pulled the entry hatch back into position. The small air-lock depressurised, and the exit door opened.
As with the 'warren' below SHADO, few people had even known this network of subterranean corridors existed. (Or should that be 'sublunarian', a wayward thought wondered.) He'd kept it that way. Their existence, deduced from lunar photo-reconnaissance, was the main reason Straker had chosen this location for Moonbase, in anticipation of doing some more detailed research into their origins.
When he got the time for that, of course; but he had used his rank to insist on his own quarters up here. All the sleep-rooms had light-show panels, like the one in his office at SHADO Control; but his own panel had an access tube behind it, with a locker for a vacuum suit. And the tube led down instead of up.
Besides himself, only John Bosanquet and a few technicians had known about the tunnels, or about what else was down here. He had had to kill Bosanquet when the man had revealed his true purpose; and the techs had been given amnesia treatment as soon as that had been available.
He came out of the tunnel into a large underground chamber. For a moment, he gazed up it the craft it had been built to shelter. The Interceptor's umbilicals were still connected; meters showed the fuel tanks were full. So were the missile cradles, and the secondary lockers, a recent upgrade put there for the rare occasions when an Interceptor had a chance for a second shot at a fleeing UFO.
That was his first task: to prevent Moonbase from decommissioning the three Interceptors. If things were going to happen the way he feared, he would need them fuelled, loaded, and ready to go.
He went in to the service chamber, pressurised it, and took off his helmet and gauntlets. The spacesuit would be too troublesome - and painful - to remove, so he left it on. He sat by the control desk, and began the process of isolating the hangar from Moonbase control.
He checked the time. Right about now, SHADO would be buzzing.
* * *
"General? Systems check is complete, sir. We are ready to go to standby."
"Thank you, Colonel." Henderson was seated at the conference table in the command office, papers strewn across the surface in front of him. He looked up at Freeman, noting the fatigue in the man's face, and the hopelessness. "I take it you still wish to resign?"
"I do, sir."
"Very well. I will have Jackson give you the amnesia treatment when we are finished with this."
"Thank you, sir."
Henderson rose to his feet, and motioned for Freeman to lead the way. Privately, Freeman was thinking of what he would like to say to the psychiatrist. He'd never really liked the man, not since that business with Foster. No, before that. The man was a slimy weasel, nothing more, always had been. Probably the driving force behind Straker's own machinations. He wondered again at the merciful impulse that had made him allow Straker to escape, and had stopped him from mentioning the encounter to Henderson. Perhaps he was just going soft in his old age. Perhaps his retirement was seriously overdue.
He walked to the comms station, Henderson following. Ford was seated at the console. His face was strained; Freeman had heard a rumour that he had had a serious argument with his fiancée and had broken off their engagement. He thought: you're well out of it. Go and do something worthwhile for a change.
His own thoughts bothered him, distantly; but he ignored the feeling, the faint sense of unease.
"Attention, please," Henderson said. "We are about to go to standby mode - "
The lights went down; the quiet, all-pervading hum of the equipment died. They were in darkness and silence. Someone produced a torch; then the emergency lighting came to life, filling the room with a dim glow.
"Who jumped the gun?" Henderson barked. "I said 'standby', not shut down!"
"No-one, sir," Freeman answered, puzzled. "The systems shut themselves down."
"Check for malfunction!"
"I'm trying, sir." Freeman was thinking: what have you done to us now, Straker you bastard - "Ford, see if you've got any comms channels. Try Moonbase, and the SkyDivers."
"Yes, sir." Ford checked his instruments. "Only thing that's working is the transmitters, sir."
"That's ridiculous," Henderson growled. "Anything from Moonbase? Telemetry, perhaps?"
"I can't tell, sir. The receivers are all off. Shall I try the telephone?"
Ford lifted the handset, listened for a few moments, then shook his head. "Not even a line tone, sir."
"I see." Henderson thought. "Get hold of the maintenance techs. Have them investigate."
"I'll go," Freeman said. "And I'll see if any of their personal radios are working."
But he was back almost immediately. "We're shut in," he said grimly. "All access to 'above stairs' is closed and locked. Not even the emergency lifts are functioning - but no faults are being reported."
* * *
Aboard SkyDiver 1 also, the power had gone into shutdown. Captain Waterman, who was on the subaqua phase of his schedule, had his crew checking the systems.
"Life support OK," Peterson reported. "Emergency systems all running. Except we don't have any helm control."
"We're rising, sir," Forrest said, from the diving station. She checked the meters as the craft seemed to lurch under their feet. "Stopping. depth about ten feet."
"No comms, sir. Can't raise SHADO or Moonbase." Lieutenant Grey was frowning at his instruments as though trying to bully them into giving sensible answers.
"We should be quite close to harbour," Waterman said. "What's our last known position?"
"Our ETA was about thirty minutes, sir," Peterson told him.
"Odd kind of malfunction," Forrest murmured. "We're not in any immediate danger. We have life support, for the moment anyway. We can get out through the emergency hatches and swim to the surface quite easily, and we are within reach of land. But we can't move, and we can't talk to anyone. At least, they can hear us, we can't hear them."
"They would have started to put SHADO on standby around now," Waterman said thoughtfully. "But I can't see that affecting us so directly. And selectively. All right, this is what we do. Prepare to evacuate; but keep trying the systems, especially comms. We'll give it an hour before we make our decision."
* * *
Gay Ellis rubbed her forehead. Her headache was not improving. It had come on a few minutes after Moonbase had lost all power except for the emergency backups. Though, oddly, the transmitters had still seemed to be working; but ten minutes ago, they had gone off as well.
They seemed to be safe for the moment, even though they were cut off from Earth. Paul Foster was with the technicians, trying to find and fix the problem. After an hour, they were no nearer to discovering what had happened.
She noticed that Joan Harrington was also rubbing her head. "Problem?" she asked.
"Nothing much, Gay," Joan replied. "Just a bit of a headache is all."
"You too?" Gay raised her eyebrows. "Anyone else having problems?"
There were nods all around. Nina Barry checked the environmental readouts, which were almost the only instruments currently operating. "No problems with the air, Gay."
Gay blinked a little, sat back in her chair. As suddenly as it had come, her headache was receding. She almost smiled with the relief. It had not been severe, but she felt much better now, somehow.
Across the room, Joan was also looking brighter. She stood up, stretched, and resumed her seat. Gay watched her, thoughtfully.
"My headache's gone," Nina reported.
"Mine too," Joan agreed.
"And mine," Gay confirmed. "In fact, I feel better than I have done for days - "
"What is it?" Joan asked, as Gay broke off, her face white.
Gay pointed at the main monitor. Beside the screen, the telltales which showed Interceptor status had gone to red. "The Interceptors have launched. All three of them! Lieutenant Bradley, respond!"
"Bradley here," came the familiar voice. "It's not us, Gay. We're still on the ground. Someone has taken control of those craft from us!"
And then the comms system came alive. "This is SID. Incoming UFOs. Area 147 Blue. Multiple traces. Interceptors are en route to meet them. ETTs pending."
* * *
In SHADO Control all attempts to find an exit route had proved fruitless. Even the lift behind the colour panel in the command office was locked. And now the transmitters had gone off line.
Henderson was fuming, but quietly. "This is crazy," he muttered. "Straker must have done this. He's sabotaged us. But he hasn't killed us. He could have done, by turning off the air system. All he's done is shut us in."
"To wait for a UFO to get us, perhaps?" Lake suggested. She rubbed her temples, absently. At least the headache was beginning to dissipate. Jackson had joined the small group at the comms desk; he watched her carefully, but did not comment.
"Too complicated, and too risky," Freeman said, absently. "Kill us all, first, then destroy the place. It makes no strategic sense at all to give us time to find a solution."
"You do think there's a UFO coming in, then?"
Freeman turned to look at her. "Yes, I do. And I really can't see how Ed could have set this up months ahead of time. Even if he did, he can only have called them in, to wait around somewhere, even if not at an actual base, which we know they don't have - "
Ford glanced up suddenly. He welcomed the distraction from his worried thoughts about Jean. He could not understand how he could have treated her so badly. He loved her. What had he been thinking of..? "Do we know that?" he cut in.
"Voyager didn't find anything," Henderson reminded them.
"Sir," Ford said carefully, "half of Moonbase is underground."
"But they would have had a surface installation, just as Moonbase does - "
"It took the Voyagers two years to reach Jupiter," Ford said. "That means the aliens had two years' warning, not counting mission design and construction time. Time and more than time enough to put some camouflage in place!"
Henderson stared, an arrested look in his eyes. "You're saying there might - "
"My terminal has just gone live," Ford said, suddenly. "And the emergency exits are reporting they're now operational."
"Let me see!"
They checked. Ford found that his terminal would access the mainframe, but could not reach the outside world. And there were still no incoming signals getting through.
"Does anyone else have access?" Henderson said. There were headshakes all round.
There was silence for a few moments. At last Ford said: "General, sir, I'd like to take another look at those raw data images you obtained from NASA, if I may."
"Of course. may I?"
Ford moved aside, and allowed Henderson to reach the terminal. The General tapped out a few commands on the keyboard. "There's the image file, Lieutenant. It includes Voyager 3."
"Thank you, sir."
Ford resumed his seat. "Each frame was re-taken three or four times to increase the chance of getting a good image. Let's look at each group in turn. As you can see, there is quite a lot of noise on the images, but the processing tends to remove that, leaving us with a clear picture.." His voice trailed off.
"Run that back," Henderson ordered, harshly.
Ford did so. They watched the train of images in silence.
"Keith.." Freeman whispered. "That can't be natural."
"It isn't," agreed Ford.
Henderson gazed at him in horror. "Then - then we were wrong. There IS someone out there."
"It rather looks that way, sir."
"What's going on?" Lake said, her voice a near-whisper. "Was Ed innocent after all?"
Henderson said: "What about those discs with the encryption codes - "
"That's another thing," Ford said. "Those discs are blank."
"I noticed something at the time. but for some reason I thought nothing of it.." Ford pulled a flat plastic box from his drawer. It had a colourful label proclaiming it as a commercial music recording. He opened the box, withdrew the disc it contained, and showed them the disc's underside. "Look carefully. You'll see an inner circle which is a slightly different colour. And compare it with one of the suspect discs. It's completely unmarked."
Freeman said: "It's a plant. It has to be. Are we sure no-one else can get into Ed's secure locker?"
"All locks can be cracked," Lake pointed out. "That compartment is keyed to the Commander's fingerprints - but there are ways those can be stolen. And - " She broke off.
"What is it?" Henderson asked.
"Ed wasn't the only one with access to that locker! Someone had to search it, to find those discs! Why the HELL didn't we think of that?"
Henderson straightened up. His face was stricken. "Shit," he whispered. "We did get it wrong. This completely demolishes any case against Commander Straker. And it means I condemned an innocent man to death. I murdered him!"
"No you didn't," Freeman said, tonelessly. He was leaning forward, hands flat on the console, gazing down at his feet.
"Freeman, you may have been the one who pulled the trigger, but I was the one who - "
"We didn't kill him. He isn't dead."
Henderson said, his voice more gentle than any of them had ever heard from him before: "Alec. He is dead."
"He isn't," Freeman insisted. He looked up, and there were tears on his cheeks. "That bullet was a dummy. It was loaded with anaesthetic. Just like the one they used on Paul Foster that time."
"Alec - "
"Freeman is correct," Jackson said, stepping forward. "I supplied the bullet. Alec did not know this at the time, of course."
"What - "
"Where is he?" Freeman interrupted. "Jackson - "
He broke off. Without any warning, the main lights had come on again. All around the room, control consoles were lighting up, becoming active.
The mellow voice of Space Intruder Detector sounded through SHADO Control. "This is SID. Incoming UFOs. Area 147 Blue. Multiple traces. Interceptors are en route to meet them. ETTs pending."
* * *
"Any response from the Interceptors?" Foster snapped.
"None, sir. They simply aren't answering our calls," Gay told him.
"Ground defences responding yet? We've got to shoot them down before they attack here - "
"They're going after the UFOs, sir."
"What. Let me see!"
"They're making mincemeat of the UFOs," Joan murmured. "Two down already, and the rest are scattering."
"Colonel Foster," Gay said, suddenly, "if my readouts are to be believed, only one of the Interceptors is manned. The other two are slaved to it and moving more or less at random."
Realisation hit Foster in a surge of fierce relief, and joy, as he remembered the 'intruder' of yesterday. "So that's where - Gay, can you take control of the other two? Help him out a bit?"
"I'll try, sir." She was thinking: help who out? "Joan, lend a hand here."
Foster reached out, and pressed the button to call Earth.
* * *
SID's pronouncement was followed a few moments later by the voice of Paul Foster. "This is Moonbase. Do you read me, SHADO Control?"
"Loud and clear, sir," Ford responded.
The two-and-a-half second delay for radio waves to make the round trip between Earth and Moon was maddening. But, at last, Foster responded. "I confirm we have a major UFO incursion in progress. Interceptors have launched to meet them. Ground defences have returned to our control and are tracking the intruders."
"Acknowledged, sir. We have them on positive track."
"It'll be Waterman next," Freeman said.
It was. "This is SkyDiver One to SHADO Control. We are aware of the incursion and are ready to launch on your command."
"Acknowledged," Freeman said. "Please stand by, Captain. Paul? What's your status?"
..."All interceptors are going after the UFOs," Foster said. "But system readouts say only one of them is manned. the other two are slaved to it."
"You asked me where Ed Straker was," murmured Jackson. "That would appear to be the answer."
Henderson said: "Jackson, what the hell's going on? What have you done?"
"Listen carefully," Jackson replied, "and I will try to explain.."
* * *
After a few moments, Joan reported: "I have control of Interceptor Two, sir. The Interceptor has used one missile and has another in its secondary locker."
"And I have Three," Gay added. "It's fired once as well, don't think it scored a hit, but it got them worried.."
It took only a few minutes for all three Interceptors to use up their payloads. "OK, bring them in," Foster directed. "Moonbase to SHADO Control. Be advised that of the seven craft in the incursion, four have been destroyed. The others are now out of our range. ETTs computing."
..."Thank you, Moonbase. We are alerting SkyDivers," Freeman said. "How's he doing?"
"Coming in to the hangar now. Security are on standby."
..."Get Two and Three turned around, Paul. I want them fuelled and fully loaded. Just in case. Oh - and alert medical, as well, he may be injured." Freeman had remembered Mitchell's report of finding blood, and that he had encountered Straker in Jackson's medical room. with a bandaged arm. Which, he remembered with a pang of guilt, he had ignored..
"You bet - I mean, yes, sir. Gay, see to it, would you? I'm going down to the hangar."
"Yes, sir," Gay replied. "Colonel - "
"Yes?" Foster said, rising to his feet.
"Who's flying One?"
"Well.." Foster gave a lopsided grin. "You remember my own court-martial, when I tried to escape, and they shot me with one of Jackson's specially-doctored bullets? Well, he's apparently done that again. That pilot is Ed Straker."
He headed for the exit, and only Lieutenant Ellis's iron self-discipline kept her from dashing after him.
* * *
Foster arrived at the launch bay airlock in time to watch Interceptor One touch down. The landing was not a tidy one, but neither the craft nor the bay was damaged.
The engines died, and the overhead hatch closed. "Pressurise," Foster ordered.
"Pressurising, sir," the tech acknowledged. A few moments later, he added: "Full, sir. Safe to enter."
The door slid open. The walkway extended to the exit hatch on the Interceptor, but there was no movement from within. Foster signed to a security guard, and to one of the medics, and hurried across. He thumbed the emergency release, and the cockpit shell opened.
The pilot was wearing a vacuum suit, with its helmet visor darkened, so that the face was not visible. He was slumped sideways in the seat; but he stirred at Foster's touch. He reached up one-handed, and tried to unlatch his helmet. Foster gently moved his hand aside, and did it for him, lifting the helmet off his head. A delighted smile lit up Foster's face at what he saw.
"Mind my left arm, Colonel," Straker croaked. "I think it's broken.."
"Sit still, sir, I'll call an extraction team - "
"You will do no such thing. I'm quite capable of walking. Oh, and I suppose I'm under arrest?"
"I'm afraid so, sir," Foster admitted. He helped Straker to his somewhat shaky feet. "You're going straight to medical, and no arguments!"
"I'll come quietly. How's the response going?"
"Three UFOs penetrated. SkyDivers got them."
"Good.." Straker made his way along the walkway, ignored the waiting medical trolley, and allowed himself to be led into Moonbase.
* * *
There were two armed guards outside the door to the medical cubicle. They nodded to Colonel Freeman.
"OK to enter?" he asked.
The door slid open, and Freeman walked in. Shroeder was checking an equipment module which seemed have more monitors than SkyDiver's control panel. From time to time he glanced across at his patient, who lay, eyes closed, on a surgical trolley.
"Good morning, doctor," Freeman said, keeping his voice down. "How's he doing?"
"Quite well. He's sleeping at the moment. He's had a couple of units of blood, and he'll need surgery to that arm when he gets Earthside. Nothing serious though, I'm glad to say, essentially just tidying up. You can sit with him a while, if you like."
"Thank you." Freeman drew up a chair, and sat beside the bed. He looked at the sleeping man carefully. Straker's face was paler than usual, as was only to be expected; but he seemed calm, and reasonably relaxed.
"I must get on. Call if I'm needed."
"Will do," Freeman answered. Shroeder left, and the door closed behind him. Freeman returned his attention to the sleeping man. "You're impossible, you know that?" he muttered.
"So I've been told," Straker murmured, sleepily. His eyes were still closed.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."
"No problem." Now Straker did open his eyes. He moved his head to look at Freeman. "It's good to see you, Alec, I have to say."
"Ed - " Freeman cleared his throat, tried again. "Ed, I have to apologise. For shooting you in the head."
"You should apologise for your terrible marksmanship. How could you possibly miss a target this size from six inches away? I didn't know your 'slice' was that bad!"
"Oh come on," Freeman protested, encouraged by Straker's slight smile. "It must have been at least a yard! And anyway, you ducked."
"Ah. That must have been it." Straker's smile widened, and he tapped the bed control to raise himself into a sitting position. "Forget it, Alec. I gather from Doug Jackson that we were all under some sort of hypnotic or subliminal influence."
"So he said. It was nasty. Can you imagine the sort of mayhem that could cause if it were used somewhere like the UN? Or the House?"
"He's got a team looking into countermeasures, I believe. What does Henderson think about this whole thing?"
"He doesn't know whether to be relieved that you're all right or disappointed that he hasn't been able to take over."
"Well, he's still in with a chance," Straker mused. "There's the retrial."
"Too right," Freeman admitted. "As to that, there's good news and bad news. On the one hand, we have new evidence - Keith Ford has pulled a couple of very interesting rabbits out of his hat which should clear you of the original charge completely."
"The 'original' charge? What's the bad news?"
"The charge sheet is getting longer by the day."
Straker leaned back, and gazed thoughtfully up at the ceiling. "I'll bet. Let's see. breaking and entering on secure premises, resisting arrest, armed assault on four SHADO officers, theft of medical supplies, second unarmed assault on a SHADO officer - how's the neck, by the way?"
"Sorry about that," Straker said, sincerely, and Freeman gave a grin. "Where was I? Oh yes. unlawful imprisonment, sabotage of SHADO Control, sabotage of Moonbase, piracy of the entire SkyDiver fleet, stowing away on a military spacecraft, hijacking three Interceptors. Oh, and theft of and criminal damage to a spacesuit."
"I bled all over the inside. It'll have to be dismantled and cleaned with a toothbrush. Have I left anything out?"
"If you have, Henderson will add it to the list. And then he'll lock you up and throw away the key. In a volcano."
"No doubt." Straker took a deep breath. "Oh well, when does the fun start?"
"Your taxi leaves in an hour," Freeman told him. "Shroeder's given the go-ahead, though he's not entirely happy. And he's supplying some morphine. You'll need it."
"Hmph. Why did he agree?"
"Two reasons for the rush. Henderson wants to get this mess sorted out as soon as possible - "
"He'll get no arguments from me on that score," Straker put in.
"Nor me. but Shroeder's worried because of your arm. Flight stresses won't do it any good at all. That chipped bone and torn muscle could heal up here, but you'd be stuck for about three months while it did it. On the other hand, if you go downstairs now, when it's barely started healing, it will be far easier to repair any damage. And Henderson isn't going to wait for three months, neither can he come up here, nor is he going to court-martial you over the radio."
"I get it. Who's piloting? You?"
"That's right. And Mark Bradley will be your security guard."
"Good choices. Oh well. Better get ready, I suppose."
* * *
The atmosphere in the courtroom was completely different to the earlier occasion. Was that really less than a week ago? Straker wondered. It felt like a lifetime.
"The defendant will rise," Henderson said.
Straker came to his feet, with a slight shake of his head as Bradley, his guard, made to offer help. His quick glance took in the room. It was packed.
Henderson verified his identity, swapped glances with his colleagues on the bench. He looked up, met Straker's gaze, and said: "This is something of a new experience for me, Straker."
"Court-martialling a dead man." He noted Straker's grimace, and went on: "At least, that is what we thought you were. As you are clearly not dead, we have to define your present legal status. And that is that you are a disgraced ex-officer, stripped of your rank, who having been found guilty of treason escaped your execution and became a fugitive from justice, allegedly committing further offences. You will be tried accordingly by this Court."
"I understand, sir," Straker said, quietly.
"Concerning the original charge, on which you were found guilty," Henderson said, "new evidence has come to light which the Court has agreed to consider. We will come to this in due course. However, the court must also consider the charge of evading justice, and your conduct between your escape and your re-arrest, from which further charges arise."
"Very well." Henderson looked down at his notes, and read out the list of charges. It was quite as long as Straker had expected.
"We will first deal with the primary charge, that of treason, by collaborating with a race with whom we are at war albeit undeclared, by supplying them with information about SHADO operations. Edward George Straker, how do you plead?"
"Not guilty, sir," Straker answered.
"Very well. You may be seated; Prosecution may begin."
Gratefully, Straker resumed his seat. Colonel Lake rose to her feet.
"Thank you, General. I shall begin with a short reminder of the previous session.
"You will recall that the defendant presented a case suggesting that it was possible for aliens based near the gas giants to react to happenings here on Earth in a very short time, measurable in minutes. While this is clearly true, it was also shown that the Voyager mission revealed no evidence for any alien settlement on the moons of Jupiter or Saturn.
"I have no witnesses to call at this time."
Lake sat down. Henderson nodded to counsel for the defence, Colonel Webb, who stood up.
"I would like to call my principal witness, Lieutenant Keith Ford."
The comms man took the witness seat. There was a slide projector beside him, and a screen had been placed at the end of the room.
"You are Lieutenant Keith Ford?"
"And your function within SHADO?"
"Have you seen the photos taken by the Voyager craft on their flyby of the planets known as the gas giants, and their moons?"
"I have. I have also seen the raw, unprocessed images, in particular from Voyager 3."
Straker sat forward, alerted.
"Did you see any sign of any artificial structure on any of these bodies?"
"No, sir. But I did not expect to see anything."
"Indeed? Please explain why not."
"Simply that the aliens had several years to get ready and to camouflage any such installation. The three Voyager craft took between 18 months and two and a half years to reach Jupiter; and then of course there was the time taken to conceive, design, and build the spacecraft. The aliens would have had observers in place, who would have passed them warning."
"I see. So we cannot say definitely, that there is no alien presence in the Jovian system?"
"On the contrary, sir, we have positive evidence that there is indeed such a presence."
A rustle went round the room. Webb said: "Explain. What is this evidence?"
"I would like to give a little slide show." At Henderson's nod, Ford dimmed the room lights, and turned on the projector. The first picture appeared; it was grainy and speckled, but was clearly that of a planetary body.
"These images are from Voyager 3. This is Ganymede, largest of Jupiter's satellites. As you can see, the image is speckled with visual noise, mostly due to radiation from the 'solar wind', concentrated by Jupiter's magnetic field. It is common practice to take these images in 'runs' of several frames, and combine the frames to give a noise-free composite. I will now show you each of the frames in one of those runs, separately."
Ford flashed up one image after the other. Each was noisy; but the 'noise' had a definite shape to it.
"I will now superimpose these images, without the normal interpolation."
He did so, and the 'shape' became more apparent. It formed a spearpoint-like outline.
"That's not natural," Straker breathed.
"The defendant will remain silent," rapped Henderson. "Continue, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir. Here is another group of images."
Again, the noise specks formed a spearpoint, but differently aligned.
"That's all, sir."
"Did you analyse these images further?" Webb asked.
"I asked Major Joseph Kelly to do that, sir. He is our image processing expert."
"Thank you, Lieutenant Ford."
Henderson asked: "Does Prosecution wish to cross-examine?"
"No, sir," replied Lake.
"You may continue," Henderson said to Webb.
"Thank you. I would now like to call Major Kelly."
Ford got up from the chair, and Major Kelly took his place. Straker remembered him from the abortive Discovery project.
"Major Kelly, I'm told you are an expert on photographic interpretation?"
"I've made a detailed study of the subject, and I have some years' experience."
"Thank you. You were involved in the attempt to photograph the alien homeworld?"
"Was it successful?"
"It did not provide the information we hoped for. However, it did follow one of the alien craft to what we assumed was its homeworld, a journey of some four months, which, at UFO speeds, would place that world well outside our solar system in the region of Alpha Centauri. However, the existence of such a homeworld does not, of course, exclude the possibility of a local base."
"Indeed," Webb said. "You saw the images that Lieutenant Ford showed us?"
"How would you interpret them?"
"As well as inspecting the images themselves," Kelly replied, "I consulted NASA about the spacecraft systems - of course, without revealing what I wanted the information for. I am led to the following conclusions. Firstly, the effect is real, and not an artifact of the spacecraft signal coding. Secondly, it is not an output from the craft's systems, but is external. Thirdly, it arose from two points of origin close to the spacecraft as it passed through the Jovian system; nothing like it was seen outside a distance of some ten million miles from Jupiter. Fourthly, it is not electromagnetic, or high-energy solar wind particles, but is a form of energy we don't know about, in a tightly-confined beam like that from a laser, which affected the image sensors directly. Lastly, what we are seeing is not in fact 'noise', but patterned, information-carrying transmissions - even though we cannot at this time decode those transmissions.
"To summarise, ladies and gentlemen: these transmissions are real; they are external; they are local to Jupiter; they are artificial; and they are not ours."
Straker opened his mouth to speak. Henderson snapped: "The defendant will kindly remember that he is on trial for his life, not attending a seminar on astrophysics!"
"Sorry, sir." I know which one I'd rather be at, Straker thought. but he's right.
"Thank you, Major Kelly," Webb said.
"Do you wish to cross-examine this witness, Colonel Lake?" Henderson asked.
Lake shook her head.
"Very well. Colonel Webb, do you have any more evidence to present?"
"Yes, sir. I would like to recall Lieutenant Ford."
Ford resumed the chair.
"Lieutenant, do you recognise this?" Webb held up a silver disc some four or five inches across.
"It appears to be a compact disc, sir. A device used for the storage of digital data. It can handle several data formats, including images, text, and computer programs. Without a closer look, sir, I can't say if it is a particular disc."
Webb handed him the disc. "Please read the label aloud."
Ford did so. It identified the disc as being from the IAC, and it had the code sequence that showed it to be one of the encryption key records.
"May I have that back? Thank you." Webb inserted the disc into the computer beside him. Its screen could be seen by everyone in the room. He pressed several buttons on the keyboard.
The message on the screen read: "Unformatted disc".
"This disc is one of those found in the defendant's locker," Webb said. "It is blank. So are the others discs that were found there."
Henderson nodded. "Do you wish to cross-examine, Colonel Lake?"
"With your permission, sir," Lake replied, "I would like to check this disc."
"Of course. Please proceed."
Lake walked across to the computer and did rapid things at the keyboard. After a few moments she looked up. "I agree, sir. This disc is blank. Completely unused."
Henderson nodded. Lake said: "No further questions, sir."
"Very well. Colonel Webb?"
"Thank you, sir." Webb rose to his feet. "I wish to recall the defendant."
Straker resumed the witness seat. Webb said: "Did you put these discs in your locker?"
"I did not," he answered.
"Did you remove them from the locker and give them to the investigating team?"
"I did not."
"Do you know who did?"
"I do not."
"Why are they blank?"
"I cannot know, sir. But I would like to offer a suggestion."
Webb glanced across at Henderson, who nodded. "Proceed."
"Thank you. General, sir, one of the questions this court is considering is this: has information on our encryption systems been sent to the aliens? I don't know the answer to that, except that I certainly didn't do it myself. But I would like the court to consider an alternative possibility: that the aliens may, through one of their terran contacts that we know they've got, have given us their own encryption system."
"Do you have any evidence to support this possibility, Straker?" Henderson said, slowly.
"No, sir. But I suggest you start by finding out where those blanks came from. And whether they were ever in my locker to begin with."
"Rest assured we will do exactly that." Henderson transferred his gaze to Webb. "Have you any more evidence to offer on this charge, Colonel?"
"Colonel Lake, do you have anything to add for the prosecution?"
"Very well." Henderson leafed through his notes. "We now come to the other charges, which include unlawful imprisonment, sabotage, piracy, and hijack. Edward George Straker, to these charges, how do you plead?"
"Guilty as charged in all cases, sir," Straker answered. "However, I wish to invoke the Doctrine of Necessity, in that if I had not acted as I did, both SHADO Control and Moonbase would now be smoking craters in the ground."
"Hmmmph. I see. Do either the prosecution or the defence have anything to add?"
Lake shook her head; but Webb answered: "Yes, sir. I understand that Dr Douglas Jackson would like to address the court."
"Indeed? You may proceed, Doctor."
Jackson came forward, and stood beside the witness chair. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "I confess that I interfered with the execution decreed by this court. I did so because it seemed to me that something was very badly wrong with the situation. I was away from SHADO dealing with a family emergency; when I returned, it was to find a situation as unbelievable as it was unexpected.
"There were several alarming features to this situation. Commander Straker's trial and sentencing had been carried out with indecent haste and with the possibility of appeal withheld. None of those concerned with these events had apparently questioned them at all. The prevailing emotional atmosphere was entirely hostile and hateful.
"I hypothesised that SHADO personnel were being adversely affected by an externally-induced malign influence. I considered trying to insist on an appeal, but all the indications were that any such attempt would simply be ignored. So I decided to buy some time to investigate this influence.
"The first priority was to preserve Straker's life. I did this by supplying a non-lethal bullet, loaded with a drug that would simulate death for a short time. After the 'execution', I intercepted the, er, 'body' and removed Straker to a safe house. I ensured that his condition was stable, and I left him to sleep off the effects of the drug while I investigated matters here."
Jackson turned to face Straker. "At this point I should apologise. I decided it was best to place a temporary block on your memory, as a countermeasure against the malign influence that was affecting everyone including yourself. I also restrained you and locked you in, to avoid the very strong probability that you might wake and wander off, which would almost certainly result in your being shot by SHADO Security."
Straker gave him a nod, and Jackson continued: "I had already found that the malign influence, whatever it was, had begun to affect me; and it was only by practising the sternest of mental disciplines that I was able to resist it. I will not describe my feelings in detail; but I will use the words 'hostility', 'anger', 'contempt', and 'feeling betrayed' to characterise them.
"I see you all recognise the feelings.
"It was evident that Moonbase was also affected by this influence. So were our 'civilian' staff such as Miss Ealand. I spoke to Captain Waterman aboard SkyDiver 1, and it quickly became apparent that he and his crew were also victims of the influence.
"It seemed to me that the effects might be caused by one or more of three things. An emitter like the 'mindbender' crystal; a substance in the air in those places; or subliminal messages played over the sound systems.
"Straker and I realised that the first and second of these had the disadvantage - for the perpetrator - of requiring separate 'installations' in each of the affected areas, with all the problems of placement and synchronisation that would involve. Subliminal messages, on the other hand, could be transmitted from a single source, SID for example, to all areas, as a kind of 'mind virus'.
"The effects of any such 'virus' would necessarily be short-lived. People cannot be forced to act against their basic natures for very long; they would resist, and fight the influence, even subconsciously. So the process would have to be rushed to achieve its objective, before common-sense began to reassert itself.
"Even so, Straker and I did not have the time to make a thorough search, especially since, as I have mentioned, SHADO personnel would shoot Straker on sight and ask questions afterwards, if at all. I heard that you, General, intended to shut SHADO down and transfer its functions to the military. Straker was convinced, as was I, that the aliens would take advantage of the break in coverage to attack in force. He therefore decided to take matters into his own hands. Perhaps he should tell you how, himself."
"Perhaps he should," agreed Henderson, dryly. He nodded at Webb.
"I recall the defendant."
Straker had not left the witness seat. "Yes, sir?"
"Tell us what measures you took to counter this possible incursion."
"My first objective was to prevent the shutdown of SHADO," Straker replied. "My second was to demonstrate the reality of any such incursion, and to muster our forces against it. My third was, if possible, to find and counteract what Dr Jackson calls the 'malign influence'.
"I achieved the first by allowing the systems overhaul you ordered, General. It made sure that everything was ready, and gave me time to reach Moonbase. I then implemented a modified form of 'Washington Square', which shut down all systems at SHADO and Moonbase, and in the SkyDivers, instead of merely putting them on standby. I tried to do this as safely as possible. The SkyDiver crews, for example, could have abandoned their vessels and come ashore easily if necessary. I set the transmitters at each facility to go off-line last.
"At Moonbase, I isolated the Interceptors in their fully fuelled and armed state, ready for use. I slaved two of them to the third so that I could fly all three, with reasonable success. And then I waited. The transmitters went off-line on schedule, and before very long, SID detected an incursion. As I had arranged, all systems came back on line in a 'factory reboot', beginning with central processing, then communications. I had not had time for anything more specific.
"As soon as everyone realised what was happening, they joined in the fight, and we were able to defeat the incursion.
"The systems shutdown had another, welcome effect. As Jackson and I had hoped, it removed the malign influence, and the 'factory reboot' did not restore it. Within a very short time, people's normal thought processes, which were already beginning to stabilise, had re-established themselves."
"I see," Webb said. "And are we back to normal now, Dr Jackson?"
"The fact that you can ask that question, sir, says yes, we are."
"That concludes the case for the defence," Webb said.
"Thank you," Henderson said. "Does Prosecution wish to re-examine?. No? Then that will be all. I must ask the court to excuse us, while we have a short discussion. Please remain seated, everyone."
Henderson and his two colleagues moved back from the desks, and a quiet discussion ensued. After only two or three minutes, they withdrew from their huddle, and turned to face the court once more.
"This court has reached its verdict," Henderson said. "The defendant will stand."
Straker rose to his feet.
"On the first charge, that of treason by means of passing SHADO information to the aliens, this court has considered the question of the possible existence of a so-called 'mole' within SHADO, a mole whose purpose is to give the aliens advance warning of our intentions and actions. The court accepts that the evidence presented by Lieutenant Ford and Major Kelly establishes beyond doubt that there is an extraterrestrial presence in the Jovian system; and the court acknowledges the information provided by the defendant previously, that it is quite possible for this presence to respond quickly to events here on Earth, at the speeds of which they are known to be capable, through the communications links that they are known to have.
"In short, this court accepts that there is no case to answer; and so the charge of treason is dropped.
"In respect of the further charges, which include kidnapping, sabotage, piracy, and hijack, the court agrees with the defendant that the Doctrine of Necessity applies, since it was our intention to close down SHADO and transfer its operations to the military, which left a 'window of opportunity' in which the aliens could attack; and that is exactly what they did.
"Accordingly, all of the further charges are dropped, and none will be preferred against Dr Douglas Jackson for his interference with due process.
"Therefore, we do hereby reinstate Edward George Straker as Commander-in-Chief of SHADO Operations with full rank and privileges as before. Sit down before you fall down, Commander."
Shakily, Straker sat. Freeman was beside him in two strides. "Thank you, sir," he managed to say.
"You are free to go. but first, I hope you will accept my deepest and most sincere and heartfelt apologies for putting you through this. It may be that, sometime in the future, you may find it within yourself to forgive me. but I'm not holding my breath." Henderson looked down at his notes. "And, no doubt, you will be putting in a funding application for a manned mission to Jupiter to investigate the alien base!"
There was a ripple of quiet laughter around the room. Straker managed a nod. "One thing," he said huskily, and had to clear his throat. "I would like to thank Lieutenant Ford, and Major Kelly, for their presentation, which was fascinating in its own right. besides the fact that it got me out of a very deep and nasty hole. And I'd also like to thank Jackson for effectively kidnapping me, and for providing a dummy bullet for use on me."
"Glad we could help, sir," Ford smiled.
"May I see you and Major Kelly outside for a moment?"
"Of course, Commander," Ford said, puzzled.
"Come on, Alec." Straker came to his feet once more, nodded to Bradley, who was grinning all over his face, and headed for the door. Freeman could barely keep up.
Ford followed the pair, Kelly at his heels. "Yes, sir?"
"Keith," Straker said, "that talk you gave really was fascinating. And it gave me an idea. I've realised that here at SHADO we have a lot of detailed specialist knowledge on a wide variety of subjects, and that we should spread it around a bit. You and Major Kelly here could contribute a lot. Perhaps we should run a series of short seminars."
"Sounds good, sir. Shall I set it up?"
"Please do. I'm afraid I will be out of circulation for a few days, Medical wants to do some repairs on my arm - so I'll talk to you about it next week, OK?"
"Of course, sir. and I'll put you first on the list, shall I?" Ford added, mischievously.
Straker gave him a nod, and a smile. "Oh, Keith. I gather you and Jean have had problems, because of this 'mind virus' of Jackson's?"
"I'm afraid so, sir. We had a bit of a row. but I have managed to persuade her to come out tonight. I've got some serious fence mending to do."
"I see. Look, Keith, I want you to take the weekend off. The two of you should go somewhere special. Wine and dine her until she yells for mercy. I'll authorise a blue card, pick it up from Miss Ealand." No doubt, he thought, the secretary had been 'listening in' to the court proceedings.
"A blue card? Sir - "
"Go on. Hop it." Ford left, grinning. Straker turned to Major Kelly. "Have you got any more interesting little projects under your belt, Joseph?"
"Funny you should say that, sir - "
"Good. Let me have the details, I'll see what I can do for you. Oh - and take Mrs Kelly for a small celebration, I'll authorise a blue card for you as well."
"Thank you, Commander." Kelly shook his good hand, and departed in Ford's wake.
"Ed," Freeman said, "when did you last have a decent meal?"
"Can't remember," Straker admitted. "I certainly never got to try your cooking properly, Jackson."
"Well, somewhere out there is a very large, very juicy steak with your name on it. Shall we go a-hunting?"
* * *
It took Ford about three minutes to change into his 'civvies' and head for the staff lift. He came out in the front office, to be greeted by Miss Ealand, who was smiling through her tears and doing her best to repair her mascara.
"You've heard, I take it?" Ford said.
"I've heard. Well done, Keith, thank you, so much. Here's your card."
Ford took the small envelope. "Thanks. Is Jean around?"
"She's waiting by the front desk. Have a good time, and come back married!"
"I'll do my best." And with that, Ford grabbed her and kissed her.
"Mr Ford!!" she protested; but she was smiling.
Ford exited with a farewell wave. He ran along the corridor to reception. Jean was there, standing by the desk, a forbidding expression on her face. "You're in a good mood," she said. "The boss given you a pay rise, not the sack?"
"Alas, no. but I've still got a job. And the weekend off. And I'm under orders to give you the time of your life. And Mr Straker's picking up the tab!"
* * *
They ate dinner at Freeman's apartment, for the privacy it offered, allowing them to speak freely. The steaks arrived from the studio by special delivery, brought by Norma Ealand, who was persuaded - without much difficulty - to join them. Freeman supplied salad, and fries; Jackson left the apartment for about half an hour, and returned with two bottles of Chateauneuf du Pape. The meal was excellent, only slightly marred for Straker by needing his steak to be cut for him, since his left arm was in a sling. Norma Ealand insisted on doing those honours.
"Sorry about this, Norma, but thank you," he said; but there was a twinkle in his eyes.
"No problem at all, sir," she assured him.
Freeman chuckled. "It's ridiculous. This man can fly three Interceptors at once, but he has to be fed like - "
"Actually," Straker said, "we may need to do something about that. If my motives had been hostile, Moonbase would have been scattered in pieces over the lunar landscape."
"We've had problems like that before," Freeman agreed, remembering their pilot, James Regan. "What d'you have in mind?"
"I'll have to give it some thought."
"As it's a special occasion, have some more wine to help the process?" Freeman topped up his glass. "And let's hear about this manned mission to Jupiter, shall we?"
The dinner went on. Straker watched his friends, and listened, and occasionally joined in the conversation; but his thoughts were elsewhere. This whole affair had brought several matters to the surface of his attention.
There was the question of the alien colony in the Jovian system, its existence now confirmed; and its actual location, that he suspected, namely the Jovian moon Europa, warm enough from tidal effects to have liquid water. And the aliens liked liquid..
Freeman had been joking about that manned mission - he thought - but SHADO would indeed have to pursue that line of inquiry. Very carefully. They could perhaps start with 'acquiring' the abandoned Dalotek installation, upgrade it into a new and larger Moonbase, and equip it with some seriously upgraded 'moonmobiles' built for interplanetary travel. The thought of Henderson's probable reaction to those suggestions made him smile a little.
But before that, there was the problem of defending against themselves, from threats both material and mental. If indeed his motives had been hostile, there would have been nothing left of Moonbase. or of SHADO itself, come to that.
Another problem - slightly ironic, in view of his 'court martial' - was that he had been economical with the truth on many occasions over the years with SHADO, and before that. He hated having to do it; but reminded himself of the danger his colleagues and friends would be in if they knew what he knew..
There was the evidence accumulating from the very few alien bodies they had been able to obtain, which suggested that the word 'alien' was somewhat inaccurate. SHADO personnel knew that the aliens used transplanted organs to prolong their lives, which meant those organs had to be a reasonably close match to their physiology; but few, as yet, knew just how close the match was.
It was close enough to establish that the two races were related; that, in fact, they were not two races, but one. It was far from clear, however, how that had come about. The simplest possibility, that Earth was itself a colony, threw up its own set of questions.
He had managed to conceal the knowledge of this connection between the two groups, even from the doctors actually doing the investigations, by judicious use of the amnesia drug, and by wholesale raids on the medical data files.
And then there was that installation that John Bosanquet had found, when Moonbase was being constructed.
Straker had often wondered who - or what - had built those tunnels below the lunar surface, and where they led. Bosanquet had known, he was certain. A pity the man had died. but when Straker had questioned him about it, Bosanquet had tried to kill him.
Bosanquet had shown where his allegiance lay, and had made his intentions clear; he was going to reveal the tunnels to the aliens, give them underground access to Moonbase. He would not allow Straker to interfere. And Straker could not allow such a betrayal of humanity.
They had fought. The battle ended when Bosanquet had tried to use an alien device against Straker, but had accidentally triggered it, and had destroyed himself and the device together. Straker had sealed the tunnels against any further access, and made his way back to the Moonbase site, using up nearly all his damaged suit's air in the process. He was rescued just as he passed out from anoxia. His memories of the incident were still a little fuzzy.
But the affair had not stopped there. After John Bosanquet's death, they had tried to locate his only surviving relative - his daughter - to notify her of his loss, but without success. She had disappeared off the face of the earth. perhaps literally, Straker had thought. And then she had reappeared - and proved to be in contact with the aliens.
There was more - far more - to Miss Sarah Bosanquet's activities than relaying data to the aliens; of that Straker was certain. The reason he had given for not 'shutting her down', namely to have some control over the data being passed on, was a valid strategy, and true as far as it went - which was not nearly far enough.
He considered that the aliens' actions in the incident had been downright bizarre. All of the meagre evidence SHADO had been able to gather indicated that they needed human tissues and organs to maintain and prolong their own lives. That being the case, why wipe out their source of supply?
Straker could bring to mind a number of possible reasons. He didn't really like any of them.
First on the list was that the aliens had been defeated by SHADO, and had given up trying to raid Earth - but had decided to take humanity with them into oblivion as an act of revenge. And there was the opposite - the aliens had learned all they needed to know about Earth for a successful takeover, and wanted to clear the place out, ready for their arrival. Either way, it hadn't worked; so they had resumed their raids, perhaps in some desperation.
Another possibility, indicated by the apparent attempt of a possible defector to get in touch, was the existence of at least two separate factions among the aliens, with differing agendas.
Or perhaps it was the beginning of an attempt to hold the human race to ransom. After all, the 'psychobombs' had demanded that SHADO shut down its operations or be destroyed. If the aliens had an antidote to the 'nerve gas', they would have presented a demand for humanity's total surrender or total destruction; but their efforts were defeated. On that occasion.
He thought that one was a little more likely. Though, he admitted to himself, he would welcome the existence of 'factions' among the aliens, offering the possibility of playing one against the other.
A little gloomily, he suspected the answer was 'none of the above'. In all probability, the aliens' true motive was not comprehensible to Terrans, not least because of a sheer lack of data. Perhaps close observation of Sarah Bosanquet would supply some.
That, at least, was something he could try to tackle and keep his efforts, and his intent, locked safely away in his own head.
At least, the 'bone' that he had thrown Henderson, about the possibility - that he knew to be a fact - of the aliens having supplied their encryption scheme, would keep Henderson occupied for quite a while. And he had covered his own behind in the matter; he could demonstrate that he had covertly substituted a code of his own devising, while continuing to allow the alien system to be used, but to carry harmless disinformation.
He looked round the table, at his friends smiling, talking, relaxing; and he raised his glass to them, in a silent toast.
To borrow a phrase from somewhere, he thought: Tomorrow would be another day.
* * *
Notes: The Geek Bit
Sorry about this. but I'm a hotly-interested if amateur astrophysics enthusiast, and I can't stop myself from providing a few references, for those who may also be interested. This is partly to confirm dates, to show that they are indeed in the UFO timeframe.
Planet distances in light-minutes: http://image.gsfc.nasa.gov/poetry/venus/q89.html
The Voyager Program: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/news/factsheet.html
(There wasn't a 'Voyager 3'. AFAIK ;-) )
The Viking Landers: http://mars.nasa.gov/programmissions/missions/past/viking/
CDs: These were around from the early 80s, with music CDs available to buy from 1982: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_disc
Laptops: Portable computers have been around since the early 70s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laptop
LCDs : The first LCD display panel appeared in the US in 1972. (See those recording binoculars.)
Doctrine of Necessity: Yes, there is one - though it's usually used in matters of diplomacy: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/doctrine_of_necessity
And finally. (?)
The Works of Snowleopard
The Library Entrance