by A. Berglund ©2016
A UFO Story, Sequel to ‘Next Steps’
UFO and its’ characters created by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson with Reg Hill, properties of ITV Studios Global Entertainment. See further disclaimers and references at end.
Thanks to Write-Rat (Amelia Rodgers and Ed Straker) for suggesting this plot direction and for all the coaching and encouragement.
SHADO commanding General Edward Straker and his beloved Ambassador Ilyana had been on their journey to her home world for three days. The outfit he’d worn – and left behind unexpectedly – had been neatly folded and placed in a duffle beside his office desk. It was assumed that he would need it if he arrived back on Earth in the same condition in which he left…
Commander Alec Freeman and Ilyana’s sister Ona were preparing to depart for their world tour. She had moved from her room in the SHADO dormitory and into Alec’s perfectly-suited bachelor flat in an effort to get comfortable with each other’s continual presence. At first, Alec found her presence to be quite – alien – although her appearance was so very human.
The first time Alec saw her performing her morning cleanliness ritual he was speechless. She stood nude facing the morning sun behind the sheer curtains of his apartment, her body glowing in a golden field of energy, arms extended and eyes shut gently. She looked so incredibly peaceful and content. He had never seen her form look so glorious, her long white curls draping elegantly from her soft shoulders. Her lovely full curves and flawless skin held his unblinking gaze. She gave him a sly smile and simply reached her hand out toward him. They were a bit late arriving at SHADO HQ.
* * *
General Gunther Prosser had relieved Paul Foster a bit early as was his custom. Prosser was an early riser and enjoyed a brisk walk after breakfast each day. That walk always brought him to the command post a half hour earlier than night shifts’ end. Foster would wait and make himself busy for a while before leaving so he could spend a few moments with Marta when she arrived.
Doctor Schroeder was in the command post when Prosser arrived. “General, I have something of importance to discuss with you. Do you have a few moments?”
“Of course. How can I help you?” asked Prosser. They entered the office and the door closed.
“The food-borne illness at Moon Base has illuminated a deficiency here at SHADO. We have no facilities to handle microorganisms beyond those found in a regular medical office. It is only a matter of time before we have to respond to an alien microbial threat. We have no way to contain or study them with our current equipment or facility layout.”
“What kind of equipment and facilities do you need, doctor?” asked Prosser.
“In general terms, microbial agents are categorized by their pathogenic potential and safe handling requirements. They are called ‘biological safety levels’ or BL’s for short. A BL-1 organism is something you can safely culture on your kitchen counter, like most molds, yeasts and fungi. Most microbes humans come in contact with are BL-2 and BL-3. These require appropriate gowning and containment systems using HEPA filtered exhaust hoods, laminar flow cabinets and simple isolation using gradients of air pressure to keep them in a specific location. My current labs can handle this level of operation with a little modification.”
Schroeder continued. “There are also BL-4 organisms that include the species that are commonly used as biological warfare agents. These are potential global disease epidemic agents that require very specialized facilities to work with safely. Most facilities of this type are government and research labs. The BL-5 organisms are the most virulent pathogens that we know of. These call for the specialized single-purpose labs in underground bunkers with multiple layers of redundant containment and even a nuclear device at the core like what is seen in sci-fi movies. It is assumed that a low yield nuclear blast would kill the organisms. We have no way of knowing or anticipating what it would take to contain, culture or kill alien microbial threats. They could be bacteria, viruses, single-celled organisms, prion-based or something completely new to us.”
Schroeder paused contemplatively. “If we were to build a true BL-5 facility, the only logical place would be beneath the lunar surface, far enough from Moon Base to keep them safe if a breech occurs and the device needs to be triggered. What I would like to do is modify my medical lab to include a barrier isolator, incubator room and a pressure containment scheme. This would require adding a couple of step-down pressure airlocks for both personnel and equipment. I have an idea for a quarantine system but I need some options for total containment in case there is an organism that gets out of our control.” Schroeder pondered a bit further. “I could also use some technicians that are already trained and proficient in Infectious Disease laboratory and culture techniques. It would certainly shorten the start-up time.”
Prosser smiled and clipped his first Toro cigar of the morning. He offered one to Schroeder, who politely declined. Prosser said, “Our staff meeting will take place in two more days and General Straker will be joining us using the cube device. I will gladly present your request on your behalf. In the meantime, I will recommend you meet with the engineering department to get your modifications and requirements into a design plan. You can work with Human Resources on the recruiting for your new positions as you get closer to needing them.”
Prosser continued. “I think you are on the right track, doctor. The need is genuine and I’ll start looking into what funding is available to cover the plan. Would you prefer to present your project to the command staff yourself? There may be questions…”
“In two days I hope to have answers for them General,” said Schroeder.
* * *
In two days, the remaining command staff assembled for their weekly staff meeting which included a hot breakfast. Dr. Schroeder was present as requested by General Prosser. Around the table sat Prosser, Alec and Ona, Foster, Virginia and Thorvald with Schroeder at the guest seat on the end. Ona’s cube began to flash.
“Can you hear me?” said a familiar tenor voice. “This is Straker. Can you hear me? For God’s sake Alec, wave your hand over the damn cube, would you?”
Alec said, “Oh yeah, right…” He waved his hand over the flashing cube and a grainy semi-translucent image of Ed Straker appeared beside the table.
“I can sort of see you all on this screen,” said Straker. “My God that breakfast looks wonderful.” He turned to Ilyana beside him. “Are you sure there’s no way I can smell it too?” he asked her with a grin. “Well, damn…” Said Straker.
Straker continued. “A week of detention to the first person that brings up my wardrobe malfunction or this shiny gown I’m wearing as a result. Understood?”
Alec burst out laughing. “I was afraid I was late for choir practice again…” Straker glared with feigned anger. Alec added, “How does it feel to be the first Earth man to leave our solar system voluntarily?”
“It’s actually not like we saw in all those sci-fi films and TV shows. There aren’t windows everywhere, and the stars you transit are only briefly visible as a flash of light, not the streaks we expect to see. The propulsion method they use compresses the space immediately before the ship and expands it again behind, so visual references are all curved around the hull. You can’t see anything out of the few view ports they do have. I am still trying to figure out how it all works.”
Straker added, “So far, the foods and beverages are a bit lack-luster. I won’t even go into what passes for a lavatory and shower. Ilyana is doing well and is arranging our itinerary for her home world. It will take nearly two weeks to travel there at faster-than-light speeds. The navigation aspects alone are far beyond our capabilities. There are apparently a lot of things in deep space that you need to go around at some distance.” Straker made note of Dr. Schroeder’s attendance. “Doctor Schroeder, what brings you to our staff meeting?”
Schroeder presented his proposal to the SHADO command staff. Prosser asked him, “What did you come up with for a quarantine and total containment scheme?”
“What the engineers and I came up with was turning the HVAC into an isolated recirculating system with HEPA filtered scrubbers and some fresh air feed to keep the oxygen levels constant. We can add separate vestibules for entry and exit and they will be higher in pressure than the inner chambers. The outer rooms will also be positive to the vestibules so they work like air-locks with door interlocks so only one side can be opened at a time.”
Schroeder continued. “For quarantine, we will have emergency push stations located throughout the lab so that they can be triggered quickly. The airlock doors will have heavy gaskets to ensure a good seal for daily use but they will also be flanged with built-in thermal strips that will effectively weld the doors shut to prevent a breech. The dampers in the air vents and drains will do the same thing. If a pathogenic breech does occur and it cannot be adequately brought under control we developed a system to fill the entire containment area with an expanding liquid epoxy that will fill the entire void and solidify. It is obviously a last resort plan.”
There were concerned looks around the table. The ramifications of such an event were outside their fields of expertise.
“Does the engineering group have a plan for how to proceed with installation?” Asked Prosser.
“There is an interstitial space within the concrete bunker structure above the lab where the HVAC equipment is located as well as the utility chases. We can install the duct changes and the epoxy system as well. There will be heated vessels for the resin and the hardener which will feed into a mixing vessel which then distributes the pot mix through the air vents and into the rooms.”
“How much and how long will it take?” Asked Straker.
“They can make the changes in a month, using both commercially available materials and SHADO parts we have on hand. For the facility changes, commercial barrier isolators or gloveboxes, a few incubators and flask shakers, a prep autoclave, a waste autoclave and a Class 100 biological safety hood… We’re looking at a bit less than a million pounds,” said Schroeder. He awaited the retort about spending sprees on the company tab. It didn’t come.
“Do we have the funds available General Prosser?” asked Straker’s hazy image.
“Easily. This may be the least expensive capital project in SHADO history,” laughed Prosser. Schroeder cracked a smile of relief. Prosser continued, “If you saw the invoice for a Sky-Diver sub or a fleet of combat aircraft, your eyes would pop from the sockets… We have a budget line item for facility improvements that will easily cover this several times over.” Prosser grinned. “Come see me when you need the check…”
Straker added, “Make it happen, Doctor. I am making you responsible for the project in its entirety. We will expect weekly updates on your progress.”
Schroeder was excused from the rest of the staff meeting. He had gotten a hot breakfast and the go-ahead for a project he’d dreamed of for years. The SHADO micro lab would allow safe handling of pathogens as dangerous as BL-4’s. He had plans in the works for a true BL-5 underground facility on the far side of the lunar surface.
Schroeder fought the urge to sprint down the corridor to the engineering section. His next stop would be the Human Resources Department. He had some recruiting to do. He also had an outside contact that could streamline that task greatly…
Dr. Edmund Rodgers, M.D., Ph.D. was an old friend of Dr. Schroeder. He had been his academic advisor in medical school and was living a life of dual careers. Rodgers was the head of the Infectious Disease Department at Mayland Hospital and also served as tenured professor of the same topic material at a prestigious university in London. He was working both careers on a part-time basis since his heart attack two years prior. Now in his early 70’s he was happy to continue being part of both worlds.
Rodgers was one of the most curious personalities that Schroeder had ever known. He was a short, fairly round man with a white fringe and perpetual smile on his face. He was a great fan of mystery and whodunit novels and wove the parallels into everyday conversation. The investigatory process had been something he applied with equal fervor to the microbial world.
Rodgers followed the deductive processes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to the point that he kept his English pipe tobacco in a Persian slipper on his fireplace mantle. Schroeder always enjoyed chatting with him and liked the faint smell of his tobacco on his ever-present white lab coat.
Today, he waited for Schroeder on a park bench in front of his lab at the university. As Schroeder approached he could smell the aroma of English pipe tobacco smoke on the breeze. Rodgers greeted him warmly as always. Robins chirped in the trees behind them amongst the rustling leaves.
“Doctor Rodgers, thank you for meeting with me on such short notice,” said Schroeder.
“Always a pleasure to see you, Charles. Do you mind the pipe?”
“Not at all, sir,” said Schroeder. “You’ve been smoking that same briar freehand since I first met you. It just wouldn’t be the same talking to you without it…”
Rodgers chuckled. “Now what can I do for you?”
Schroeder considered his words carefully. Although SHADO was known to the public after the unsuccessful alien invasion, his work there was a different story entirely.
“I am starting up an independent infectious disease laboratory in the Harlington area and am searching for qualified, specially trained technicians. I had hoped you could recommend a few of your more gifted students to either become interns or full-time employees.”
Schroeder continued. “Due to government ties, the nature of the work is highly classified.” The statement was a least half true, but Schroeder still felt a twinge of guilt for misleading his esteemed colleague.
“I understand, Charles. I had no idea you were doing such advanced work. I am proud of you, son. You were an excellent student and I knew you would have a stellar career in medicine.” Schroeder grinned at the irony.
“I have four recent graduates from my I.D. program who are probably struggling to find work as we speak. All of them transferred in from other universities I was largely unfamiliar with but all were top scoring students and brilliant in the labs. I think they would all be viable candidates for you if they haven’t found positions already.”
Schroeder handed him a business card with a post office box address on it. “If you would pass this on to them, I’ll pass their information on to our human resources department.”
“I’d be pleased to do so,” said Rodgers. “Now lad, what do you say to lunch and a pint at the pub across the street?”
“Sounds wonderful,” said Schroeder. “But it’s on me today. You helped me greatly.”
* * *
The construction began in the interstitial space above the underground bunker. From above the various offices and labs the sounds radiated throughout the facility. The command staff and technicians used animal analogs to explain the sounds.
General Prosser relieved Paul Foster at his customary time. “It sounds like a large nest of hornets this morning, Paul.”
“Welders and plasma cutters,” said Paul. “The two previous hours it was a flock of very large woodpeckers.”
“There’s some aspirin in the credenza behind you,” said Prosser. Foster grinned. “Anything interesting besides the wildlife?”
“SID had another brief blip but nothing showed up on the screens here or at Moon Base. I think SID is getting bored with the lack of action these days.”
“I’ll have Moon Base conduct some drills and maintenance checks,” said Prosser. “They’ve got to be as bored as SID. Maybe this is a good time to take a couple of hoppers and do some recon on the lunar surface. We could use updated topo maps for future reference.”
“Good idea, sir. A bit of activity would be a pleasant change.” Foster rose and turned over the command seat. He would visit briefly with Marta and get above to enjoy the morning before turning in.
* * *
Commander Alec Freeman was due to leave on his around-the-world tour in two more days. He agreed to take the evening shift in the command center for Virginia. Her mother was in town visiting and they had dinner reservations with General Prosser at their favorite steak house in a quiet neighborhood in Harlington. There were brick buildings down the block containing quaint shops with alleys leading back to residences that dated back to before the war. It was a picture of earlier times in England.
Thorvald parked Virginia’s BMW on the street. He and Prosser stepped out and around to open the doors for Virginia and her mother. All were tastefully dressed for an evening of fine dining.
As the two couples approached the antique door of the eatery, Prosser paused and bent down beside an older VW Jetta. The rear window was down. “Well hello there,” said Prosser in friendly voice. A large German shepherd leaned out of the window. It had bright eyes and perky ears. Outside the car, the sound of the wagging tail thumping excitedly could be clearly heard. “Hello Fritzi,” said Prosser. “Aren’t you a handsome lad?” Prosser petted the eager canine fondly. It licked his hands in response.
“How on Earth could you possibly know that dog’s name?” asked Virginia.
Prosser turned the dog’s pendant on the collar. The engraved name was ‘Fritzi’. Prosser laughed. “Even in England, nobody would give a German shepherd a non-Germanic name. Nobody with a dog this fine would ever call it ‘Nigel’ or ‘Bob’… If it were a female, it would likely be ‘Heidi’ or something similar.”
Virginia just crossed her arms in bemusement. “The odds were in your favor…”
Prosser bid the friendly dog farewell for now and they entered the restaurant. Nearly two hours later, they emerged once more to nearly deserted streets. Prosser carried a bag with the unfinished steak and baked potato from his dinner. Fritzi was eagerly leaning out of the car window and whimpered for Prosser’s friendly attention. As he approached, the dog looked down the block toward the alley and began to growl. Fritzi’s ears were back and his gaze fixed.
Around the corner of the alley came four youths, dressed in black with red berets. The same outfits worn by the anti-alien protestors at I.A.C. headquarters. As they approached, Thorvald and Prosser stepped in front of Virginia and her mother.
“You’re that Nazi alien-loving stooge that parades that alien ambassador at the U.N.,” said the largest of the four. The shorter one in back proved to be female.
“A very poor choice of words, lad.” Prosser narrowed his eyes and handed his bag to Mrs. Lake. “Now what is it that you want?”
“We should just kill you but you’ll be valuable hostages for the movement,” said the leader. He then pulled a lock blade knife from his pocket and flipped it open. Thorvald and Prosser just grinned at him. Virginia began to reach for her concealed pistol. Thorvald turned and laid his hand on her arm, implying she should wait…
The youth tossed the knife back and forth from hand to hand. He must have seen it in a movie and thought it looked menacing. The antic only drew another grin from both Prosser and Thorvald. They waited patiently for him to decide what copied movie antic he would use next. He finally decided and raised the knife high above his head with the blade pointed at the two couples. He shouted menacingly and charged.
Thorvald caught the knife over the youth’s head and spun the arm that carried it until it locked at the elbow and rotated. The fingers let go of the blade as the arm rotated further. The shoulder joint made a satisfyingly loud popping sound as the ball of the humerus pulled out of the glenoid socket. The youth yelped in pain. Thorvald cupped a massive hand behind the youth’s head and rammed his face into the brick fascia of a plus-size dress shop. He folded at the knees and didn’t get up. Fritzi was growling and barking furiously.
Thorvald retrieved the knife from the sidewalk and launched it into the sign overhead, sticking straight outward from the plus sign in the wooden marquis. The other two young men charged forward.
Thorvald caught one under the chin and lifted him off his feet spinning him around. Rather than splitting the youth’s head open on the concrete sidewalk, he chose to pile him directly into his friend who was already on the ground. The other young man took a hard swing at Prosser who caught the fist and lifted it high. Prosser planted a large solid fist into the youth’s gut, causing him to fold hard at the waist. Prosser spun both of the youth’s arms behind him binding them.
“Here’s a new chew toy for you Fritzi,” said Prosser as he stuffed the youth head first into the back window of the Jetta up past his elbows. The dog barked and growled ferociously as the young man screamed like a young child throwing a tantrum.
The young woman charged forward. Virginia stepped forward and planted a size nine flat-soled shoe in the girl’s face. She folded backward immediately. Virginia took her earbud communicator out of her purse, placed it in position and tapped the outer cover. “Security, this is Lake. We need a clean-up crew on Whitworth Street in front of the steak house.”
The young man with his head in the car was now sobbing pitifully as Fritzi growled and yanked hard on his clothing. The one that Thorvald had spun face-first into his leader’s head began to stir. “Stay down!” shouted Thorvald who put a boot on the back of the youth’s head.
The young man with his head in the car had gone limp. Fainting had confused Fritzi, who now sat with his head cocked to the side and tongue out. Prosser pulled the youth out of the car window and let him fall face first into the gutter.
When the Marker’s Transport panel truck arrived, Prosser was tearing his remaining steak into bite-sized chunks and feeding them by hand to his friend Fritzi. Mason had arrived with the clean-up crew and surveyed the damage. “I hate to see young thugs picking on seniors,” said Mason with a laugh. “We’ll process them and give them a bad headache and a memorable wake-up call.” The truck was gone in moments.
The youths would wake up in a public park dressed in only their underwear and surrounded by empty beer cans and wine bottles covered with their fingerprints. Mason had arranged it personally. The constable that found them could only shake his head in disapproval.
Prosser was just feeding the last chunk of steak to Fritzi when a young woman stepped out of an adjacent door. “Are you feeding my dog?” she asked.
Prosser spoke like a diplomat. “I am sharing my steak with your Fritzi because he is a very, very good dog. He patted the dog on the head and scratched behind its ears. Prosser got a wet tongue to the face in gratitude. “Good night Fritzi. I hope we meet again some time,” said Prosser.
The young woman got into her car as the aged group walked down the sidewalk. She turned around when she looked in the rear view mirror. “Fritzi, where on Earth did you get that red beret?”
The following morning Thorvald stopped his old blue Beetle at the main gate. “Dmitri, what are you doing up here?”
“I’ve been re-assigned while the ambassador is gone. Mr. Mason is doing his best to keep it from being boring…”
“Are you at least getting to spend more time with Tsi?” asked Thorvald.
“Only when she’s here between assignments. We’re making the most of our time together.”
“Let me know when you get a day off. I want to take you to visit a friend of mine and maybe do a little trout fishing,” said Thorvald. Dmitri nodded.
Thorvald grinned and pulled through to the parking area.
* * *
Alec Freeman sat in the command office opposite General Prosser. Both were enjoying a Toro cigar and some fresh coffee. “Everything is ready for your departure tomorrow?” asked Prosser.
“Ready as it can be,” said Alec. “It will be rather odd playing the role of the film executive again even if it’s just the cover story. There will be media coverage of our departure for that reason. We have to maintain that appearance in our global travel despite my full agenda - meeting with intelligence and counter-insurgence operatives.”
“Living the double life will come back to you, Alec. Besides, you have such a charming and clever travel companion. It should also be quite enjoyable…”
“It’s been a very long time since I’ve shared such close quarters with a woman for any length of time. I’ve kept my ‘associations’ loose and brief out of necessity. This portrayal of a husband is foreign territory for me,” said Alec. “I’m not the actor that Ed is…”
“You’ll do just fine, Alec,” said Prosser. “It’s pretty obvious that you and Ona are quite connected already. You don’t have anything to pretend about. An official ceremony is all that’s lacking. Your closeness will be evident to anyone paying attention, so just enjoy it…”
“Marital advice from a man who has been a bachelor even longer than I have,” laughed Alec.
“Not always by choice, Alec,” said Prosser with a far-away look in his ice blue eyes. “There were a couple women in decades past that made me reconsider my life choices.”
“What happened, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“The first was killed by East German security forces during an attempt to smuggle a family into West Germany. I felt such a motivation to duty in order to honor her memory that it made it impossible for me to leave my military career when another woman came along many years later. If I had married either, I would have likely had children your age… We both know fully well that there is also a tangible fear involved when we are so used to living and being responsible for only ourselves,” said Prosser.
“We long-term bachelors aren’t supposed to acknowledge that out loud,” said Alec with a sideways grin. They held up their coffee mugs in a silent toast.
* * *
“Doctor Rodgers, this is Charles Schroeder,” said the doctor into his phone handset. “Thank you for the two contacts you sent my way.”
“I wish it could have been more, Charles,” said Dr. Rodgers. “The other two candidates had already accepted positions with their respective governments. I am very proud of them both. Ms. Entumbe will be fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in her homeland and Ms. Tran will be heading up an effort to eliminate malaria in her native Vietnam.”
“I have the resumes and transcripts from the other two candidates, but they are pretty standard fare. What can you tell me about them that might be of use,” asked Schroeder.
“Svetlana Rykoba is from the Czech Republic. She goes by the name ‘Lana’. She is brilliant and very personable. I would add that she is good natured and very hard working. Her background includes extensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology so she has a great understanding of the disease state as well as the microbial aspects.”
Dr. Rodgers continued. “Jacob Morrison is the other candidate. He is extremely knowledgeable and his laboratory and investigative skills are some of the best I have ever seen. His background is a hodge-podge of private schools I’ve never heard of and it has taken him from Toronto, Canada to Scotland and finally here to London. He is all business and will be in the lab when you arrive and when you leave. As far as personality goes, he really doesn’t seem to have one… As I said, he is all business.”
Schroeder chuckled. “I have a few colleagues that fit that description as well.”
* * *
Alec was in his office placing items in his briefcase. Ona entered with her cube in hand. It was flashing various colors like the mural in Straker’s office. “You have a message coming in from General Straker. Just bring it to me when you’re finished,” she said with a sly smile. She looked back over her shoulder with a wink as she left.
Alec waved his hand over the cube and an image of Ed Straker appeared beside his desk. “Alec, good to see you,” said Straker. “I wanted to wish you the best on your around the world tour… Any last minute reservations?”
“Not really Ed. We’ve been cohabitating for a couple weeks now and I think we’re pretty much past the awkward stage. I never thought I could get used to having a woman around me continually, but it seems perfectly natural already. Everything even seems to smell nicer…”
“You’re preaching to the choir, Alec.” Straker grinned. “I felt the same way with Ilyana. Rather ironic that we’ve spent so much of our adult lives fighting against aliens and here we are sharing our lives and beds with them.”
“It’s either a change of heart for us both or the most devious plot ever hatched by our alien adversaries,” laughed Alec. “If this is alien captivity, it’s not what we thought it would be…” Straker laughed.
“I won’t keep you, Alec. I just wanted to wish you well. I’ll be checking in with you from time to time and you can always contact me with the cube as well.” Straker cut his eyes a bit. “It’s not like I can go out and go for a walk or anything. This vessel is not that large and there is not much for me to do to fill the time.”
“That’s what bartenders are for, Ed.” Straker grinned.
“Just be careful out there, Alec.”
“Look who’s talking. I’m not headed to an unknown planet, am I?”
“You know what I mean…”
“You too, Ed. You too…”
* * *
The following morning, Commander Alec Freeman was in ‘retired studio executive face’ when he and Ona arrived at Harlington Regional Airport. While SHADAIR operators clad in generic flight suits transferred their luggage to the Gulfstream, Alec and Ona walked arm in arm beside the fence where the representatives of the media were lined up. They stopped and chatted with them while cameras clicked away.
The questions were pretty standard. “Where are you going?”… “How long will you be gone?”… “Will you be doing any film-related work while you are gone?”…
The question that caught Alec’s attention was, “What is the reason for that picture of a rodent on the tail?” Alec turned back and was face to face with a tall, black haired woman with striking features.
Alec lowered his sunglasses a bit and smiled. “Well, Ms. Dumas, I was born and raised in Australia. That rodent is a wombat and is found only there. I could have used a wallaby or kangaroo, but that would have gotten me in trouble with a well-known airline…” The group chuckled and he smiled back at them.
Elaina Dumas added, “How is it that we’ve never heard of your lovely bride before?”
“We keep a fairly low profile. We kept the marriage quiet and very intimate.” Dumas looked at Ona and they smiled at each other.
“You are every bit as lovely as your sister, Mrs. Freeman,” said Dumas.
Alec tugged gently on Ona’s arm and they proceeded away from the press line.
“I can’t imagine how she could know who you are,” said Alec as they boarded the aircraft. Within minutes, the Gulfstream had started, taxied and departed heading northwest. Elaina Dumas stood watching behind her sunglasses, with a thin smile.
“How was your breakfast, Ed?” asked Ilyana as she stepped into the small galley. She noted his tray and laughed.
“The whitish wafers were pretty tasty, as was the lump of viscous pale green paste. Those small things that looked like miniature sausages were bitter and unpleasant though… I cut them in half to make the most of them and had to choke them down with this warm, grey liquid that is apparently some kind of beverage.”
Ilyana broke out in laughter, forcing her words out in short bursts. “Ed, those were vitamin supplements… You’re not getting the iron, vitamin D or calcium your normal diet provides. The grey liquid is also a nutritional supplement. The wafers and paste are protein sources.” She regained her composure. “You’ll have to endure the capsules and drink the beverage every few days to keep your nutrient levels up. This is a military scout ship, not a luxury liner.”
Straker smirked and raised an eyebrow. “I never thought I’d appreciate those MRE’s we carried during the war. I stand corrected… If I lose any more weight you’ll be able to mail me home in an envelope.”
“I have something here that should improve your disposition a bit – and a surprise,” said Ilyana. She handed him a fabric bag which he opened immediately. In it was a tan jumpsuit with a pair of boots. “These were donated by Hjordic, the chief of engineering. When you are ready, he is going to give you a tour of the propulsion systems and inner workings of the ship.”
Straker’s blue eyes lit up then went dark just as quickly. “Will I understand a damn thing that he says to me?”
“I’ve told him of your training and experience. He is also a mentor for the Consortium, so he will make it understandable for you. Except perhaps the celestial physics and the energy sources involved.”
“Close enough. Now where can I ditch this ridiculous dress?” She raised an eyebrow and grinned.
* * *
Hjordic gave Straker a hearty welcome. He was about the same height and a bit fuller in build with short-cropped black hair and a touch of grey in the temples.
“Thank you immensely for the change of clothes,” said Straker. Hjordic just grinned. He opened a bulkhead door into a vestibule and waved Straker inside.
“We will have to add coveralls and head-gear to your uniform,” said Hjordic. “This is a radiation area. The level is not dangerous, but should that change, we want to be prepared for it… You’ll be able to speak and hear normally.”
Hjordic handed Straker a coverall. “While we gown, what have you learned about our ship so far?”
“Firstly, it makes no audible sound that I can detect. In stepping off the distance from bow to stern section, I think that it is around 100 meters in length. I’ve noted that the width of the corridors at floor level is quite a bit less than it is at the ceiling and that all corridors run parallel to each other but passages between them intersect at a negative angle relative to the floors.”
“What does that suggest to you, Mr. Straker?” asked Hjordic with a grin.
“Please call me Ed,” said Straker. “What that suggests to me is that the ship is cylindrical in profile with the propulsion and critical systems running the length of the vessel down the long axis through a central core.”
“Excellent, Ed!” exclaimed Hjordic. He handed Straker a pair of over-boots, gloves and the helmet, which proved to be feather-light.
“Ilyana – I mean, the Ambassador – said you were very bright,” said Hjordic.
Straker asked pensively, “Have you known Ilyana long?”
Hjordic grinned. “Many years. She commanded the first battle cruiser I served on. I was her chief engineer then as well… We go back all the way to the Battle of 64.”
“Sixty-four? Was that the year it happened?” asked Straker with puzzled expression.
Hjordic chuckled. “No Ed. Planet 64… The Alliance assigns a consecutive number to each world that is added. The inhabitants still call them by their traditional name but we use a number to simplify things and avoid redundancies. Your world is number 746…”
“So Ilyana has seen battle?”
“Many times, Ed. She is as valiant and courageous a commander as I have ever had the privilege to serve under.” Straker grinned as his pride in her swelled. Hjordic added, “Are you ready?” Straker nodded.
* * *
The bulkhead door in the floor slid open and Straker’s jaw dropped.
The catwalk floor was down a short ladder at a positive angle to the room he stood in. As he entered, he felt a shift in gravity which naturally pulled his boots to that level. He stood, wobbled briefly and then advanced to the rail. He held tight to it and took in the spectacle.
Down the central core of the ship a large, cylindrical structure ran the entire length. Sections of it were rounded protrusions with straight sections leading to the next protrusion. Each of them were glowing and pulsing with brilliant light. The color transitioned from brilliant white near the bow to pulsating red and purple. As the structure ran aft, the color changed again from bright blue to successively darker hues. It was also eerily silent.
It was then that Straker noticed that the lattice-work supported it in three dimensions down the length of the core. The structures that ran its length were other parallel catwalks, each situated with the flooring grate horizontal relative to the core. The other technicians - similarly clad – were walking from station to station. Those on the catwalk opposite him were 180 degrees relative to his own position.
“This is also your source of gravity for the entire ship?” asked Straker.
“Exactly, Ed. The sense of up and down you feel is all relative to this central core. As you step from adjacent corridor to adjacent corridor, you are on a different plane of gravitational pull. The command center is shaped accordingly. You will get used to it quickly…”
The pulsating lights of the core reflected in Straker’s blue eyes. He could hardly focus on what to ask first. He turned back to Hjordic, leaning against the rail.
“Let me guess – How does this make a ship go faster than light speeds?” said Hjordic. Straker grinned.
“It is based on research that Ilyana’s late life-mate had worked on. We used to think of space as an infinite void with bits of matter scattered throughout. What he determined is that space is actually more like a fabric of infinite depth. The planets, gasses, radiation, atoms and indeed all forms of matter and energy, are connected through the weave of the fabric. That was based on observation of how objects distant from each other seem to effect one another.”
“That is part of what we are studying in string theory and dark matter research,” said Straker. “We are decades away from learning to manipulate it.”
“In essence,” said Hjordic, “the field generator at the bow makes a continuous hole in the fabric. The remaining material directly in front of the vessel is taken in, compressed and accelerated out of the stern, effectively driving the ship forward through the hole we create. We use more conventional fuel-based propulsion for sub-light speeds and maneuvering. The field generator focus can be moved to make changes in course at speed. It also creates a field around the hull that acts as a protective shield. When we slow to sub-light speeds, you will begin to see stars as streaks of light and then view them as you have experienced before.”
Hjordic led Straker along the catwalk and then across an arch to the adjacent, parallel one that stood at 90 degrees from the one he’d just left.
“What are those long cylinders fore and aft?” asked Straker.
“They are weapons. Similar in function to torpedoes on your submarines. They use plasma or nuclear warheads, but these are smaller since we are a scout ship and not intended to take on a battle fleet. They are accelerated to high speed by magnetic fields down the length of the tube. They are simple but effective.”
“We use a weapon of similar design, but use depleted uranium and explosive ordnance in our space-based weapons,” said Straker.
“We were impressed by that, Ed. You used them to great effect during the attack on your planet… For what it’s worth, we were impressed by the tenacity and strategies you employed despite our directive not to interfere.”
“Thank you,” said Straker. “It was the only time our world worked together for the common good of our species. The unity didn’t last long after it ended.”
They walked the length of the ship along the central core. Hjordic explained the control banks and introducing Straker to the technicians. His mind raced with thoughts of new technologies and how far Earth humans had to come to get to this level.
The construction project at SHADO headquarters was progressing quickly. New laboratory equipment was arriving at the Markers Transport shipping center. Trucks bearing the familiar logo were arriving regularly and the gear was being placed in the cavernous storage areas under the former studio.
* * *
General Prosser relieved Paul Foster at the usual time. “Anything happen during the night Paul?”
“Just another blip detected by SID. Again, nothing showed up at Moon Base or here on the scopes. It just lasts a few seconds and doesn’t repeat, but it’s at nearly the exact same time when it happens.”
“Has SID been checked for faults?” asked Prosser.
“Technicians took the service shuttle out to investigate and SID has a clean bill of health. No faults whatsoever,” said Paul.
“Perhaps it’s not an object, but a message of some kind,” pondered Prosser.
“Gay and I have discussed that and will be looking for it if it occurs again.”
“Excellent Paul. Now go greet your lovely lady-friend and enjoy your morning,” said Prosser with a grin. Paul rose from the command chair and exited in search of his beloved Marta. She greeted him but with less sparkle in her ocean green eyes.
“Missing your mother?”
“Yes, and Aunt Ona too. It’s just too quiet without them here. Spending the day researching global news stories and climatological trends is not as exciting as it sounds,” said Marta.
Paul wrapped his arms around her and kissed her softly on her supple lips. He smiled sweetly, gazing into her eyes. She pressed her body against him firmly.
“Ah,” said Marta. “That’s better…” She smiled and playfully pushed him away. “Go get some sleep so I don’t wear you out before your shift tonight…” She cut her eyes at him and gave a sly smile. Paul hoped he could sleep enough to be fresh for their date. No woman had ever had such an effect on him.
* * *
Lana Rykoba and Jacob Morrison had passed the initial interviews and accepted the positions offered by Dr. Schroeder. He told them they were under strict confidentiality and could discuss the job and organization with no one due to its government connections. They had agreed and would begin the long process of vetting and clearing the multitude of long interrogations and further interviews. The indoctrination courses and the big reveal would occur when and only when the preliminary clearances were completed.
* * *
Louis Graham was in the medical center when Dr. Schroeder entered. Schroeder looked at the vestibules which now protruded into the office area. “It’s coming along nicely Louis. How much longer?”
“A couple of weeks for the construction, a week for calibrations, air balancing and validation of the equipment. Then it’s all yours…”
* * *
At around 0400 hours, Paul was waiting with Ayshea at the control console with every bit of recording equipment available running. Gay was keeping a similar vigil on Moon Base. If the blip occurred again, they hoped it would show up somewhere.
“This is Space Intruder Detector…” blared over the loudspeaker. Then nothing. It was exactly as every time before.
At both command centers, they backed up the recordings and began to process them through a myriad of diagnostic equipment.
* * *
Alec Freeman lowered the flaps on his Gulfstream IV on final approach to Plattsburgh, New York. The former SAC airbase had been recently sold off and was now a regional airport serving the northeast corridor of New York State. Alec leveled off on his vector that gave a stunning view of Lake Champlain and followed the tower instructions. It was substantially warmer than when he arrived here last.
He had a rental car arranged and he drove Ona to the memorial for James and Evelyn Henderson. They placed fresh flowers at the base, paused to take in the lovely countryside and drove through picturesque farmlands punctuated by farms and orchards.
They pulled in and stopped at one of them with a stand and seating, drawn in by the sign promising hot cider, apple pie and cider doughnuts. The locals had no idea who they were and only noted a handsome couple - the gentleman with an accent they couldn’t quite place…
Alec’s first appointment wasn’t for a couple more days in another town. Ona kept a journal of places they would visit, supplemented by the cube which remained at all times in her purse beside her.
They returned to the civil aviation staging area at Plattsburgh airport. The aircraft was chocked securely, with a drop line supplying electrical power. Alec could switch the inverters to accommodate nearly any local power supply source.
He got to work in the galley, making some pasta and meat sauce, with garlic bread in the small oven. Ona sat sipping a glass of Merlot watching him intently. Her thoughts went to her sister, now nearing their home-world and her niece who was stuck 80 feet underground in a bunker listening to world news reports.
* * *
Ed Straker had become a regular fixture in the corridors of the scout ship. He had been introduced and conversed with all 34 of the crew members. They sought him out to show him things that might be of interest and answered his many questions.
Ilyana stepped into their compact stateroom and said, “We are entering the solar system of my home-world and have begun slowing. We will arrive in another 12 hours, so get some sleep so you are fresh for the final approach. This will be space travel the way you imagined it to be.”
“I’ll be able to see stars?”
“Yes. Streaks at first, but then they will become more distinct as we slow and near our destination.”
“Then you particle transfer me out of my clothing in front of a new group of strangers…” said Straker with a smirk and crossed arms. Ilyana chuckled.
“We go down in a shuttle, so you’ll have to keep your clothes on this time.”
* * *
Lana Rykoba and Jacob Morrison had passed the psych evaluations and interrogations with flying colors. Dr. Schroeder stopped into Mason’s office to check on progress. “How goes the vetting and clearance process, Mason?”
“Ms. Rykoba is just a treasure,” said Mason. “She’s smart, funny, adorably cute and has a winning personality across the board. I’m not sure if I want to adopt her or propose marriage.”
“What about Morrison?” inquired Schroeder.
“I could best describe him as ‘blank’. Very little history beyond basic records, school photos and transcripts. The same applies to his personality. Blank, as in devoid of content.” Mason shook his head. “He’s looking you in the eyes but you feel like you should check his pulse for signs of life. He answers each question with well-considered words and we have failed to generate a response out of anger, frustration or amusement. He is more analytical than any scientist I’ve ever seen, which is probably perfect in the lab but not much fun on the barstool next to yours.”
“So what’s left?” asked Schroeder.
“Next week they begin indoctrination into the real program and find out what SHADO is really about,” said Mason. “Then they are all yours…”
“We’ll be setting up the lab by then, so I’ll need the help getting the layout and flows where they are most optimized.”
“Sounds riveting there, doc…” said Mason with a blank expression. Schroeder grinned sideways at him and exited the office. He went to arrange for Lana and Jacob’s accommodations at the dormitory.
* * *
“What’s on your mind dear?” asked Virginia Lake. Thorvald had been slowly picking his breakfast apart on the plate.
“Oh, I was just thinking about Mr. James. I haven’t been to visit him in a couple of months and I worry about him being all alone on that farm.”
“Tomorrow is supposed to be clear and sunny. Why don’t you take a day off from blowing things up in the lab and go see him? Maybe you can get Dmitri to go with you…”
“I know he’d like that too. He may have grown up on a farm that was in perpetual winter, but a farm kid is a farm kid… “
“I’m sure Mason can spare him for a day from the front gate,” said Virginia.
“I’ll talk to him and set it up,” said Thorvald with a grin. He began scooping up his eggs with more vigor.
The following morning, Thorvald pulled the little blue Beetle into the circle drive in front of the SHADO dormitory. Dmitri was waiting for him.
They drove for over an hour down winding country roads with stone walls and past rolling fields of hay and wheat. The windows were down and the breeze blowing in was sweet with the smell of green fields.
Eventually, Thorvald swung the little car onto a graveled path leading back to the James farm. Dmitri said, “Do you think he will approve of my visit?”
“Farmers are farmers, Dmitri – hard working, down to earth and connected to the land. You’ll get along fine…” Mr. James heard the engine and stepped out of the barn in his overalls and muck boots with a grin on his face.
“Thorvald, good to see you lad!” said the elderly farmer with a growl. He shook his hand vigorously. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Dmitri. He’s a farm boy too…” James grinned and pumped his arm. “Any friend of Thorvald’s is welcome here anytime, son. What kind of farm did you live on?”
“My family raised reindeer on the tundra of Siberia,” said Dmitri. Mr. James laughed.
“You won’t find any of those here, but I have milking goats and dairy cows that are darn good company. Let me get you boys some fresh coffee and we’ll go introduce you to the ladies…”
* * *
On the flight between Plattsburgh, NY and Asheville, NC the cube in Ona’s purse began to flash. Sitting in the co-pilots seat she placed it in her hand and waved the other above it.
“Alec, glad I caught you,” said Ed Straker. The image of him had formed behind the cockpit seats with no body above shoulder high.
“For Gods’ sake Ed, would you sit down? Your whole head is missing,” said Alec. As Straker took a seat, his upper torso and head began to appear. Alec shook his head as he slipped off the headset. “That was really disturbing, Ed.”
“This better?” Alec nodded and grinned. Straker continued. “I wanted to touch base and to tell you what’s happening here. We have now slowed below light speed and I can finally see stars and the planetary bodies in the system. This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Can you see your destination yet?” asked Alec.
“It’s much larger than Earth, Alec. It’s a pale green color with bands of whitish clouds moving slowly across it. It’s not our world, but it’s damn pretty from this view… The other news is that we go down to the surface on a shuttle, so I won’t have the same experience as my departure.” Alec chuckled.
“What’s on your agenda then?”
“Ilyana has a mix of sight-seeing, touristy things and visits to friends and family. Her cousin Lexa is meeting us at the space-port.” Ona smiled.
“Give her a hug and kiss from Marta and myself as well,” said Ona.
“We’ll give them your greeting Ona,” said Straker. “What is on your docket next, Alec?”
“I’m meeting with one of our intel groups in Asheville, NC and then we will take a rental car for some sight-seeing in the Smokies and up into the Appalachians. It won’t be fall foliage, but spring is beautiful here and it should be quite scenic.”
“Make sure you hit the Biltmore while you’re there. They have massive gardens and a winery on site that you will greatly enjoy as well,” said Straker. Alec grinned. “I’ll check in with you in a couple of days Alec.”
“Take care Ed,” said Alec.
“You too, Alec.” Straker’s image faded.
Alec slipped the headset back on and contacted tower control at Asheville Regional Airport for his approach vector and instructions. The sun was sinking low on the horizon, backlighting the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. Ona sat basking in its glow feeling the energy of the setting sun.
Prosser entered the command center to relieve Paul Foster. Paul was listening intently with a set of head-phones. Ayshea was busy at the console, playing back the recording of the three samples they had recorded over three consecutive nights.
“Did you find something tangible Paul?” Asked Prosser.
“It’s a signal of some kind but nothing we can interpret as of yet. We’ve slowed it down and washed it through our diagnostic programs. Whatever is being sent is coming from nearby as we can detect a slight drop in signal strength between here and Moon Base. Although it’s probably a coded message, we can only tell that it is a little different each time. Someone must be sending a daily update. We can’t decipher what they’re saying, but we have run the signal through conversion software and much of the body of the message changes each time,” said Paul.
“How does that work?” asked Prosser.
“It applies an alpha-numeric code to the parts of signal that repeat, so the common bits show as a repeated code. The ones that are new bits show up as a different code. It’s not like deciphering the Enigma code. Do you suppose that Bletchley Park could make something of this?” chuckled Paul.
“Five decades ago I would have said absolutely. I think it’s more of a museum now. We could employ some contacts at MI-6, CIA and others to see if they can make something of it. I should discuss it with General Straker first. I need to know who our contacts are and what arrangements he’s made with them.”
“I wonder if we’re even getting the entire message,” added Paul. “The frequency range of our equipment here is limited. We might not be listening effectively.”
Prosser scratched his chin in contemplation. “We should have a Sky-Diver sub listen in using the ULF (ultra-low frequency) towed communications array they employ for coded messaging. Many countries including Britain and the U.S. use ULF gear as well.”
“I’ll put in a call to Pete Carlin tonight. He should be in the North Sea by then,” said Paul.
* * *
The scout ship containing Ambassador Ilyana and Ed Straker docked at the orbiting platform. It was not what Straker had expected.
“What do you think, Dear?” asked Ilyana.
“I expected it to be shaped like a wheel like all of our old science fiction movies. This is more like docking at a large shopping mall,” said Straker.
Ilyana chuckled and smiled sweetly. “Nothing has to rotate when you make your own gravity.” They walked along the corridor leading to the concourse. They paused hand in hand beside a large viewport. The view of the planet below was simply stunning. Ilyana placed her hands on the transparent membrane and smiled as tears filled her eyes. “I didn’t know if I’d ever see it again…”
They boarded a small shuttle. The seating was much like a regional aircraft on earth, with rows of seats to accommodate about twenty passengers. They were the only ones on board. As the craft pulled away from the platform, the gravitational force diminished until they were in zero gravity. It was much like travel on the lunar shuttle to Moon Base. Straker was again unnerved by the lack of propulsion plant noise.
The glow outside of the viewports began to transition from pale green to a pastel blue as they passed through the atmosphere of the planet. As their altitude dropped he began to see surface features. He could see mountain ranges spanning the landscape, with what looked like forests and bodies of water scattered about.
Straker could see a large structure on the horizon, reflecting light from the parent star. As the shuttle neared, the structure was visibly expanding into a large metroplex. Ilyana leaned over and looked out the viewport. “That is where we are going. It is not our capital but it is the center for education, science and technology. The Consortium is there and many museums and artistic venues.”
“Good restaurants too, I hope,” said Straker with a grin.
“Yes Dear. No more wafers and paste for a while,” chuckled Ilyana.
The buildings began to take on definite shape. They were all sweeping organic shapes, with curves, rounded rooflines and towers that appeared to twist skyward. They were all covered with reflective materials that seemed to glow the pastel colors of the sky above.
“It’s beautiful, Ilyana. It looks as though all the buildings were designed for aesthetic appeal rather than to cram as much into the footprint as possible,” said Straker.
“Many centuries ago, our architecture looked much like yours on Earth. These shapes proved to be more resistant to weather extremes and the materials absorb and reflect solar energy as needed to maintain the environment inside. The visual appeal is simply the result of making the structures fit in with the flow of the natural landscape.”
“I remember seeing pictures like this on a few album covers when I was much younger,” said Straker. Ilyana just looked at him with a puzzled expression.
* * *
Alec and Ona were eating breakfast at a restaurant in downtown Ashville with his intel contact. Al Mason was an unassuming but stout-looking man with thinning red hair and dark brown eyes.
“You know, our head of security back at H.Q. is named Mason as well,” said Alec.
“No coincidence,” said Mason. “Bill is my cousin. When you were hiring before the attack, he called me and told me to get my ass in on it. We both were in Army Special Forces together as well. We used to call him ‘chainsaw’.”
“That’s a pretty gruesome nickname,” said Alec.
“It’s because he sounds like one when he snores. Nobody wanted to have a bunk anywhere near him… It’s why he drew night patrol duty for most of our hitch. It was the only way the rest of us could get any shut-eye.”
Through the window, Alec noted a group of youths clad in black with red berets. “You have them here too?” he asked.
“Oh yeah. Everywhere you have a university, you have the red beret groups. Asheville is a college town. We haven’t paid much attention to them so far,” said Mason.
“You need to start. Some of our senior staffers were accosted by them in Harlington a few days ago. We don’t know who is leading them or why they’re so prevalent,” said Alec.
“We’ll watch them closely. We just thought they were another bunch of punks in search of an identity. That happens a lot in college towns. What has me stymied is why they take on such a cause. Normally, college-aged young people are immersed in protesting against some social injustice or political figure,” said Mason.
“They must have some compelling leadership in the group,” said Ona. “Someone who can fire them into a frenzy of fear-based actions.”
“History is filled with examples of precisely that kind of leader. In many cases, it led to near genocide of population groups, others led to revolutions,” said Alec. “In all cases, it resulted in massive bloodshed…”
“I’ll get the order out,” said Mason. “How soon will we be seeing alien visitors here?”
“Sooner than you might imagine,” replied Ona with a sly grin.
* * *
Lana Rykoba and Jacob Morrison began walking along the underground tunnel from the SHADO dormitory to the main subterranean complex. She fairly bubbled with excitement, thinking of what was at the other end. “Are you nervous Jacob?”
“What do you mean?” he asked flatly.
“If your jaws were clenched any tighter, you’d shatter your teeth,” she chuckled.
Morrison ventured a small grin. “Maybe. A little,” he replied. They walked in silence the rest of the way to the security check point. Schroeder was waiting for them there.
* * *
Straker and Ilyana stepped out of the space port into the bright light of day. The air was warm but crisp, with the fragrance of flowers and trees. Ilyana embraced her cousin Lexa. She was an older woman with long flowing white hair and bright blue eyes.
“Welcome, Earth Man,” she said chuckling.
“Call me Ed. No need for formalities on my account,” he replied. Lexa moved in quickly and hugged him solidly.
“This is how we greet family, Ed. Come on, we have reservations for dinner soon.” Straker grinned. Real food at last. Ilyana took him by the hand and led him to the transport center. She chatted with Lexa along the way while Straker took in the sights around them. For an alien world, it felt remarkably familiar.
Commander Peter Carlin was waiting for the nightly message that Paul and Gay had detected several times, always at around 0400 hours. The towed array behind Sky-Diver 6 was laid out its full 500 meter length, only ten meters below the surface. All recording and detection gear was on and awaiting the signal.
“This is Space Intruder Detector,” blared the overhead speaker. Then nothing. On the digital readouts for the ULF gear, the display indicated they were intercepting a signal. It ran for over thirty seconds then terminated. The system returned to standby mode.
“Did we get it all?” asked Carlin.
“Yes sir, all of it,” replied Captain Howell.
“Wash it through all the filters and coding equipment. They’ll be waiting for our report at headquarters and Moon-Base. Let me know if you find anything,” said Carlin.
* * *
Commander Paul Foster was indeed waiting for the report. The A.V. link at the command post chirped. He pressed the button to connect.
“Find anything Peter?”
“Yes. It’s definitely a signal coming from somewhere near your location. Much of it is sent at such a low frequency that we had trouble isolating it from normal North Sea background noises. It sounds like the message is compressed. We only saw coding like you’ve seen initially, but Sylvia reduced the playback speed enough to detect the distinct elements of the signal. We don’t have a system that can decipher it, but we have the thirty-four second burst stretched into over a full minute of unknown code. It’s a message alright. I don’t think it was intended for human ears.”
“Did you hear that Gay?” asked Foster.
“Yes Paul. It was exactly like we’ve recorded it before. The same signal strength.”
“Alright Peter. Can you pinpoint the source?” asked Paul.
“Now that we know how to listen for it, we absolutely can find the source. The question is do we have any ULF detection equipment that is field portable?”
“We have ULF gear on the command Mobiles. I’ll get things going on this end,” replied Foster.
* * *
About three hours later, General Prosser entered the command post to relieve Commander Foster. “Any new developments, Paul?” asked Prosser.
“Peter came through with a solid recording on the ULF gear. The blip we’ve been capturing is apparently a compressed signal. The elements were much clearer when the recording was played back at half speed. He’s confident it is coming from somewhere in our area. We have ULF gear on the command Mobiles but we only have two units here and need a third to use triangulation to pinpoint the signal source,” said Foster.
“I don’t think the public would respond well to SHADO armored vehicles rolling down residential streets either,” said Prosser. “I’ll arrange to have a third command unit sent here and I’ll bounce it off the engineering group for a more stealthy solution.”
* * *
A couple hours into day shift, Marta entered the Command Office with the cube device in her hand. “General Straker is trying to contact you, General Prosser,” said Marta. She set the cube on his desk and added, “Just call me when you’re finished.”
Prosser waved his hand over the cube and the image of Ed Straker appeared in front of the desk. Prosser had just lit his first Toro cigar of the morning.
“I wish I could join you for a cigar, Gunther.”
“You will again soon Edward,” said Prosser. “How goes your visit?”
“It’s been quite enjoyable so far. The people are friendly here. Even the other species have been friendly. We attended a reception at the Consortium this morning and Ilyana showed me around the facilities. It is essentially a huge university and research center,” said Straker. “By the way, what time is it there? I seem to have lost my watch along with my clothing.”
“It’s a bit after ten A.M. here. We’ve had some excitement tracking down an alien message of some kind that occurs at around 0400 every morning. We have gotten much more of it using the ULF gear from a Sky-Diver. The source is somewhere in this area and we’re figuring out how we’re going to intercept it on land. Do we have any coding specialist contacts in other agencies who could help us?”
“Not with alien code. Our counterparts in the other agencies use the same kind of gear we do. They could interpret terrestrial coding from any source in a matter of hours, but so can we,” said Straker. He added, “Anything else?”
“Doctor Schroeder’s dream lab is nearing completion and he’s hired a couple of technicians with infectious disease training. We haven’t heard a lot from Alec but I am receiving his coded reports from his meetings with our agents in the states.”
“I’ll check in with him later in the day,” said Straker. “I have no idea what time it is here and this planet is huge. It seems like the days and nights last half again longer here. We’re supposed to visit an Alliance zoological park this afternoon.”
“That sounds enjoyable,” said Prosser. “We’ll keep you posted on developments here. I’ll make sure your humidor is well stocked for your return.”
“I’ll be waiting to hear from you,” said Straker. He grinned and his image faded.
* * *
Alec and Ona were sleeping soundly aboard their Gulfstream aircraft. Her cube began to flash brightly, waking them both. She handed the cube to Alec and rolled over. He waved his hand over it. Ed Straker’s image appeared beside the bed.
“Sorry to wake you, Alec. What time is it there?”
“About two in the morning, Ed.”
“Where are you?” inquired Straker.
“Storm Lake, Iowa,” said Alec.
“What the hell is in Storm Lake?”
“Just a nice little regional airport and a fuel truck. This is just a gas and overnight deal. Nobody has any idea of who we are, so it’s going really smoothly,” said Alec.
“How are your meetings going?”
“I’ve met with six different intel agents so far. Those red beret groups are popping up everywhere. I’ve told them to keep the groups under surveillance. They seem to be prevalent in university towns and made up of young adults. What have you been doing there on the ‘forbidden planet’?” Asked Alec.
“We went to an Alliance zoo this afternoon,” said Straker.
“Sounds fun. Did you see anyone you know?” quipped Alec.
Straker grinned. “No, but I can honestly tell you that I no longer will be having nightmares about green humanoid aliens. I saw creatures today that are more terrifying than anything we ever dreamed up for the studio.”
“Too bad you didn’t bring a camera,” said Alec.
“Ona can show you with the cube,” said Straker. “Just don’t do it before you go to sleep.”
“That bad, eh?” Asked Alec with a wry grin.
“You’d be soiling your adult nappies at the first roar,” quipped Straker.
“I’m not that old yet,” growled Alec.
“Yes you are,” said Straker with an evil grin. Alec shook his head and rubbed his eyes.
“You woke me up to insult me in my bed?” Alec shook his head disapprovingly. “I tell you what, Ed. Prosser has well over two decades on me. The day that he starts showing signs of frailty I will let myself go until I am feeble enough to amuse you.”
“That’s quite accommodating, old friend,” laughed Straker.
“Get the hell out of my bedroom,” groaned Alec. He rolled over and put his arm around Ona. Straker was grinning as his image faded.
* * *
Doctor Schroeder was at work setting up the infectious disease laboratory with the input and assistance of Jacob Morrison and Lana Rykoba. The bank of enclosed shaker incubators were set up to supply a choice of atmospheric gases, making it possible to culture both aerobic and anaerobic species. Each unit would hold either six 2-liter Erlenmeyer flasks or six 2-liter baffled culture bottles. Chart recorders for each incubator kept track both temperature and agitation speed.
Two more enclosed incubators were similarly equipped but set up with internal racks for use with solid media formats such as poured plates and slant tubes in racks. A sample prep area and stabilized microscope bench provided three binocular scopes, including one with a camera linked to the lab database.
The incubator room also contained a Class 100 biological/chemical laminar flow cabinet and a barrier isolator with sealed glove stations and airlocks at each end. A waste autoclave would ensure that all materials leaving the laboratory were not biologically active.
Through the airlock from the incubator room, the main laboratory room was kept at positive pressure relative to the containment core. The main room was larger, with glassware prep and storage areas. The benchtop work areas held analytical scales for weighing media components, diagnostic assay equipment and computer work stations. A depyrogenation oven and prep autoclave rounded out the equipment.
Between the main laboratory room and outer office area where the former medical lab had been there were two airlocks – one for entry and one for exit. The window into the medical lab where Straker had viewed his first alien remained intact and now peered into the main lab room. The airlocks were positively pressurized to the main lab room and the outer office positively pressurized to them.
The airlocks, air vents and drains were all equipped with baffles and thermal strips which could completely seal the laboratory for ultimate containment. There were emergency push stations to trigger the system should a breach occur. The epoxy fill system could only be triggered from a dual-key station in the outer office. It was set up like an old missile launch command system, requiring two cam keys to be engaged and turned simultaneously. Schroeder and Mason would each carry a key, with a spare secured in Straker’s command office.
Schroeder carried two long rectangular boxes into the outer office and placed them on a storage rack. “Mister Morrison, I’ll have you install these two ultraviolet lamps in the incubator room. One goes on the laminar flow cabinet and one on the isolator. These are surface mounts that shine in through the glass sash. The mounting bolts are included and they simply plug into the power receptacles on the units.”
Schroeder exited the outer office leaving Morrison and Rykoba to continue their work. “Do you want me to help install those U.V. fixtures?” Asked Lana Rykoba.
“No,” said Jacob Morrison bluntly. “U.V. light is only marginally effective to inhibit microbial growth on surfaces. These are just a waste of time and expense.”
“Ignoring the boss’ instructions before your first paycheck? I’m not sure if that’s bravery or stupidity, Jacob,” said Lana.
“It is neither,” said Morrison. “If Doctor Schroeder knew how ineffective these would be, he wouldn’t have bought them. We must remember this is new territory for him as well. We have experience and knowledge that he doesn’t. Consequently, we must provide input to him that he may not agree with.”
Lana Rykoba looked at him with raised eyebrow. She wasn’t sure if Jacob Morrison was expressing genuinely diplomatic concern or thinly-veiled conceit. She was sure however, that this was the most Jacob Morrison had spoken to her in the three years they’d known each other.
* * *
Paul Foster sipped the last of his hot tea from the stark white mug. The door of the office opened and in stepped General Prosser. He was nearly thirty minutes earlier than usual.
“Good morning Paul, anything interesting happen during the night?”
“We had the usual 0400 message, but the signal has been slightly stronger over the last few days. That could signal a change on their end, whether they are using a stronger transmitter or possible just getting closer. What brings you in this early?” Asked Paul.
“It was a beautiful sunrise and I chose to go for a ride on my motorcycled to enjoy it. It brought me into the gate earlier than walking over from the dormitory,” said Prosser. “Perhaps we can sort out this third command Mobile.”
“The nearest additional command Mobile is finishing up a detail to investigate a possible alien outpost in a remote region of northern Canada. We should have our third unit on station here in another two days once their sortie is finished. The next closest is a week further away,” said Paul.
Prosser grinned and rubbed his chin. “Since we can’t just drive our Mobiles down residential streets, perhaps we can simply load them into their Markers Transport trailers and park them in three carefully chosen locations. The engineering group assures me that the ULF gear will work from inside their transport trailers.”
Paul Foster looked into Prosser’s ice blue eyes and grinned. “Then they are ours…”
Above the Arctic Circle and nearing the northern tip of Baffin Island, two gun Mobiles and a command Mobile pushed their way in meter deep snow and sub-freezing temperatures toward a dark dot on the horizon.
As they crawled nearer, the dark blue of Baffin Bay blended seamlessly into the dark blue of the perpetually darkened sky. The crews were equipped with polar combat and survival gear. After many hours confined inside the Mobiles, they were eager to open the hatches, even if it was frigid on the other side.
The command Mobile pulled in front and used its ocular periscope to examine the structure ahead. Captain Catherine Waters keyed the mic on her headset. “It is definitely a structure of some kind. The architecture is more or less a dome with large angular structures in a ring around the outside. I am reading a low level of radiation and minimal heat signature. No wonder it didn’t show up in satellite scans of the area.”
“Captain Waters, proceed with extreme caution,” said Prosser. “I have a Sky-Diver in Baffin Bay that can launch a missile barrage and air strike in a matter of minutes on that location. I also have an ODIN satellite standing by with missiles and EMP weapon. Just say the word and we’ll make a smoking hole in the permafrost.”
Waters grinned. “Yes General. We will let you know if we run into trouble. There are no signs of activity in the snow around the facility. It’s all just drifted-in and looks like there hasn’t been anyone here in ages.”
“How would you like to proceed, Captain?” Asked Lt. Daniel Martinez.
“We drive right up to the door and ring the bell, Danny.”
“If there’s no bell or no door?”
“We make our own,” said Waters with a grin.
* * *
Ed Straker and Ilyana walked hand-in-hand down a long garden path in a nature preserve area outside of the metroplex. There were trees, shrubs and flowers everywhere but the colors and shapes were unlike anything he’d ever seen. The path led to a tranquil lake in shimmering clear turquoise blue.
Ilyana led him into a gap in the hedge which commanded a lovely view of the lake. She opened the pack he had carried in over his shoulder and withdrew a ground cloth and towel. Both were plush and incredibly soft. She spread the ground cloth on the red-tinted grass. She slipped the bag off of his shoulder and slowly began to unfasten his clothing. He gladly reciprocated and had Ilyana’s gown removed in seconds. She tossed the gown on top of the hedge.
“Isn’t there a law against frolicking nude in a public park?” asked Straker with a grin.
“No my dear,” said Ilyana sweetly. “These secluded areas are here specifically for this purpose.” She pressed her warm body against his and embraced him. “The sun is warm and filling me with energy.” She slipped her arms around his neck. “I want to share it with you…” She pressed her lips firmly to his. The energy in her body flowed through the arms he wrapped tightly around her.
Later, after making love and an invigorating swim, Ed and Ilyana lay together, arms and legs intertwined. Ilyana spoke softly. “You know we only have a couple more days before we have to go back. Is there anything you’d like to see or do before then?”
Straker lovingly stroked her pearl white hair and ran his fingertip down her jawline and slowly down her shoulder. “After this, anything else is just going to be a disappointment. I’m afraid you set a precedent here for perfectly spent days…” said Straker softly.
She kissed him tenderly and added, “Museums and libraries it is…”
* * *
Alec and Ona were in a rental car heading west from Flagstaff, Arizona on Interstate 40. They entered Grand Canyon National Park and explored the vistas from the various scenic overlooks along the south and part of the north rim. As the position of the sun changed, the colors of the strata erupted into full glory. Ona kept the cube recording the experience. “Alliance visitors are going to love this place.”
That evening they would meet for dinner with an intel agent in Flagstaff. The next morning would include visits to Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater, Meteor Crater and Lowell Observatory.
* * *
“I thought you were going to install these U.V. light fixtures on the units in the incubator room,” grumbled Doctor Charles Schroeder.
Jacob Morrison looked up at him sheepishly. “Ultraviolet light is not effective at suppressing all microbial growth. Proper cleaning practices are much more effective.”
Schroeder grinned. “I know you and Lana have more experience with terrestrial microbial species, but you need to remember we are planning to work with extra-terrestrial microbes. Ultraviolet light may provide an advantage for suppression of them.” Schroeder added, “For future reference, my instructions are not requests. If you have information that I do not, you will bring it to my attention and not simply ignore them.”
“Understood Doctor Schroeder,” said Jacob Morrison. “Any further instructions?”
“Yes. You two get some lunch and then get this place into ‘show and tell condition’,” replied Schroeder. “I want our visitors to see you fully gowned and at work through the window. They will be visiting beginning tomorrow.” Schroeder added, “It looks like a million pounds, doesn’t it?”
Lana Rykoba smiled. She and Jacob had no idea how accurate the figure was.
* * *
Gunther Prosser was sitting beside Keith Ford with his headset on. Captain Waters was providing updates every 10 minutes. The Mobiles had circled around the facility at close range and found no entry point. There was a loud blast in the headset.
“Okay, we have a way in now,” said Waters. “The strike group will go in first and assess the safety for the rest to enter.” There was a delay of several minutes.
“Waters here,” she said. “I’m bringing in the video camera, but I’ll download the images to the secure satellite link. I don’t think we want anyone intercepting this outside of the home team.”
“Switching to secure satellite link,” said Ford. “I wonder what they found inside.”
Prosser shook his head. “It must be something substantial to call for a secure AV link.”
The images began to appear on Ford’s monitor. Waters narrated as she recorded.
“As you can see, there is a large laboratory here. Lots of strange equipment that I’ve never seen before… There is a bank of stasis tanks along the wall with a bit of green fluid in them… This is alien alright.”
“I’m entering another room. It’s warm in here. Probably the heat signature we saw… There are smaller stasis tanks in here with a pink liquid in them. There are chambers in the corner that look like incubators… The viewports are warm to the touch.” There was another pause as the view panned around the room.
“There on the table… There are clear containers with materials in them. They look like something from an animal… Oh my God! It’s skin! Dried up a bit, but definitely skin.” Waters voice was shaky. The camera panned around another room adjacent to the main lab. There were long tables with odd blocky benches down the sides.
“This looks like some kind of mess hall or meeting room,” said Waters. She panned the camera and the view showed her exiting the room and entering the next one.
“Sir, there are bunks in here. They appear to be made from something similar to cement, but they are bunks.” Prosser could hear her counting. “This bunkhouse accommodates one-hundred twenty residents.”
Waters left the room and entered the next one. Prosser and Ford echoed Waters’ gasp as she entered the next room. “Dear God! There are over fifty little beds in here – and what appear to be cribs for infants.”
Prosser closed his eyes and rubbed his mouth with his hand. “They raised children here. Alien children or perhaps hybrids. This changes the game entirely…”
“From the level of grit and particulate on everything, I don’t think anyone has been here for a decade – maybe two,” said Waters.
Prosser rubbed his chin. “Captain, secure what samples you can carry and document everything in detail.”
“Roger General, then what?” asked Waters.
“Set demolition charges and reduce it to rubble. We don’t want anyone to be able to come back and make use of it again.”
“Roger that Sir,” said Waters. She handed the video camera to another operative and issued instructions. Prosser slipped the headset off.
“Ford, would you ask Marta to bring the cube device to the office please?”
“Right away sir.”
“You found what?” asked Ed Straker loudly. His image beside the desk suddenly stiffened and his face took a hard line.
“An abandoned alien laboratory and community. They have apparently learned how to prevent the breakdown process of their tissues and equipment... This changes everything,” said Prosser.
“I should have never left. I was afraid something big would happen,” said Straker angrily.
“Ed, something big did happen, but it happened years ago and it will take time to assess the ramifications of what we found… I would add that you personally, have earned time to yourself above and beyond the average working man. If this develops the way I fear, we’ll be dealing with it for years to come,” said Prosser.
“I’ll find out if Ilyana can step up our departure and return,” said Straker. “I’ll call Alec and let him know as well… Thanks for minding the store, General. I wouldn’t have done anything differently than you did.” Straker gave a slight grin and his image faded.
* * *
Lana and Jacob were at work in the lab the next morning. Along with their lab ware they had ordered samples of common bacteria in order to test their methods and equipment with live organisms. Visitors to the new infectious disease lab were treated to a view of a working facility, as narrated by a very proud Doctor Schroeder. He also demonstrated the intercom between the outer office and main lab room.
Staffers and command personnel took turns visiting and peering through the view ports and glass partitions. Thorvald and Virginia came in together toward the end of the day for the tour. As Schroeder explained the containment scheme and the lockdown procedure for a breech, Thorvald listened intently. He wondered if anyone would ever have the guts to activate the push stations knowing they would be sealed inside.
Schroeder gowned up and entered the main lab. Lana and Jacob were just finishing up their culture plates. “You’ve both done an excellent job getting this up and running and none too soon. I’ve just found out that we have samples coming in the next couple days from an alien outpost that our intel group has found and destroyed at the northern tip of Baffin Island.”
Lana’s face displayed shock. Jacob picked up the agar plates and walked back into the airlock leading into the incubator room. Schroeder shook his head and left through the de-gown vestibule.
* * *
“That’s right Alec, an alien outpost that shows they’ve moved beyond the atmospheric breakdown process. It’s been there a long time too…” said Straker’s image.
“Do you want me to head back to Harlington?” asked Alec.
“Not yet. We need the intel you’re gathering, and we’re so late to the party that we’re completely in the dark as to the outcome of their work there.”
“I’ll let you know if we pick up any leads while we’re out and about,” said Alec.
“Good Alec. Until we know what’s going on, play your cards close so we don’t tip our hand,” said Straker.
“I have a great poker face, Ed. Surely you must remember that,” said Alec.
“I remember, Alec. You’ve cleaned out my wallet more than once…” said Straker with a grin. “Be careful…” Straker’s image faded.
* * *
Ilyana entered their suite. “Ed, I’ve gotten us a ride back but we need to be at the spaceport soon to catch the shuttle to the orbital platform.”
“Excellent my love. I won’t be able to relax here knowing what’s going on at home.”
“Ed, you will have to make some concessions on the return trip,” said Ilyana. Straker looked puzzled. “We won’t be on another scout ship. This is going to be an Alliance Battle Cruiser. You will be restricted to our stateroom, the lounge area and the galley.”
Straker’s face fell. “How soon will we get back?”
“Several days less than the trip here. The maximum speed is classified as are the weapons systems and propulsion units. You must respect that and not challenge it,” said Ilyana in a warning voice. She added, “On the plus side, they have a working kitchen on board so you will be eating real food.” Straker grinned. They gathered their belongings and left.
* * *
Early the next morning at 0400 hours Paul Foster and Gay Ellis recorded another compressed message of unknown code. The content was different than previously recorded messages.
* * *
Lana Rykoba waited as long as she dared for Jacob Morrison to show in the lobby of the SHADO dormitory. She walked alone through the underground passage to the security check point. When she gowned and entered the main lab she saw Jacob in the incubator room. He was placing baffled Erlenmeyer flasks full of culture into the platform in the shaker incubator. He checked and adjusted the temperature slightly and slowly increased the agitation speed. The culture broth began to swirl in the flasks, the baffles providing enough action to facilitate aeration of the contents.
As he exited the incubator room, Lana asked, “What are those vials in the barrier isolator for Jacob?”
“When the culture reaches peak growth, I will add cryogenic preservative and dispense it into the sterile vials so we can freeze it for future use,” said Morrison. “That way we won’t have to order any to test equipment in the future.”
“Good idea, Jacob. Does Doctor Schroeder know you’re doing that?”
“No. It seemed like a good idea to do something that would be a pleasant surprise to him for a change,” said Morrison. Lana chuckled. “I’m going to be sampling and checking growth for most of the day. Would you make me up another two liters of tryptic soy broth in case I need it later?”
Lana grinned. “Sure Jacob. Just let me know if you want me to relieve you.” Morrison nodded and returned to the inner airlock.
The Mobiles had completed their twelve hour drive back to the landing zone. Within minutes of loading the transport planes were on a return vector for Harlington Regional Airport that would take them over Greenland. Captain Waters watched the recording of the alien outpost over and over, taking notes and watching for any small detail she might have overlooked. She had three pages of hand-written notes to supplement the recording.
* * *
Alec and Ona were again in the air. Their destination was near Portland, Oregon at a small regional airport looking out over the Pacific Ocean. It was to be a fuel stop and quick lunch on board with an intel agent driving down from Seattle. The next leg of the trip would be Ketchikan, Alaska for another meeting, then a scenic tour of the coast on a small luxury cruise ship.
* * *
The only view Ed Straker had of his ride home was from the viewport of the orbiting platform. The ship was massive, similar in shape to the small scout ship. He could see smaller vessels zooming about around the hulking shape, performing their tasks. All he could manage to say was, “wow…”
Ilyana smiled sweetly. “I used to command this ship,” she said stepping away toward the concourse. Straker fought the urge to let his jaw drop and followed her.
The stateroom for dignitaries was spacious and well appointed. The lounge was directly beside it and had expansive seating, divided into smaller zones with tables and what appeared to be games and data systems. Along one wall was what he could only imagine was the equivalent of a cocktail bar. Even the galley was enormous. Straker had only seen a mess hall this size on a tour when he was aide to General Henderson in the Air Force. That had been on a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin for a meeting.
“How big a crew does this ship carry?” He asked, knowing Ilyana couldn’t give him a direct answer.
“Several hundred,” she said with a sly grin. “You may see them in passing, but you aren’t to speak to them beyond basic pleasantries.” She grinned. “Especially the Interceptor pilots…” Straker’s eyes lit up. She towed Straker back to the stateroom by the arm. “Now,” she said, “how do we fill the time for several days when we are restricted to only three rooms on board a massive ship?” Straker only gave a sly grin…
* * *
In the morning Prosser filled Paul Foster in on the findings of the Baffin Island raid. Paul was visibly shocked and a bit saddened by the news. “That means we’re starting from scratch, doesn’t it?”
“Yes Paul. Only we don’t know where to start looking. Our alien adversaries could be deeply embedded into defense organizations around the globe, including right here at SHADO. Perhaps we can ultimately decipher that code you’ve been recording and use it to our advantage against them,” said Prosser.
“The potential for infiltration is terrifying,” said Foster with a haggard voice.
“We’re a couple decades late on the uptake, Paul. Go and get some sleep while we still can…” said Prosser. He patted Paul on the shoulder as he exited the office.
* * *
Around midday, the SHADO cafeteria was a beehive of activity. Doctor Schroeder came through the line with Lana Rykoba and Jacob Morrison behind him. Lana took a salad plate and Morrison chose a bowl of the soup.
General Prosser stepped up behind Jacob. “Mister Morrison, you made a great choice. They make excellent soup here thanks to Thorvald.” Thorvald stepped up in line behind Prosser with Dmitri beside him.
“Soup today general?” asked the server.
“Of course,” he said grinning. “A couple of those pumpernickel rolls would be good too,” he added.
“You get the last of this urn of soup, sir.”
“Excellent,” replied Prosser. “That means I get all the goodies everyone else missed.” The server lifted the emptied urn out of the warming station and set it on the track to go into the wash unit. He placed the next full urn in its place.
Thorvald and Dmitri joined Prosser at his table and chatted over lunch.
* * *
Having finished his meal, Prosser rose and went topside to take his customary post-meal walk for fresh air and a cigar. He walked out to the guard shack and chatted briefly with Bill Mason then began to walk the perimeter of the parking area.
As Prosser approached the lobby of the old studio main building, he began to feel rather odd. First, his head began to swim in a dizzy fog. Quickly, his legs began to weaken. He tried to get to the park bench nearby but never made it. Gunther Prosser hit the ground hard with the side of his head and began to convulse.
From across the parking area, Bill Mason saw Prosser crumple and began to sprint to him. He was shouting into his earbud communicator. “Medical emergency on the surface near the admin entrance! Warbird is down! Repeat, Warbird is down!”
Within moments, Doctor Harris and two med techs arrived with a gurney and crash box. They checked Prosser’s vital signs. He was roasting hot with fever and his pulse was dropping. “Get an ambulance in here, stat!” shouted Harris. “We’ll stabilize him if we can, but we need to get him to Mayland ASAP!”
As Prosser was loaded into the ambulance, Mason called Commander Lake. She was next in command. His next call was one he dreaded. He picked up the phone and paged Thorvald Magnusson…
Thorvald sprinted to the surface. Harris was still there with the techs, stowing their equipment in the case. Thorvald stopped, crouched and breathing hard with his hands on his knees. Harris spoke with his customary lack of tact. “Your cardiac implant is designed to keep you functioning in daily activity. It is not designed to support track and field competition.”
“I’ve only got a minute doc, so cut the shit and tell me what happened to Prosser…”
“Head injury, falling vitals and a high fever. If it was a stroke or other brain trauma, he’ll need special surgery that we can’t do here,” said Harris.
Thorvald looked puzzled. “The fever doesn’t fit the other symptoms,” said Thorvald.
“So, you have medical training too?” asked Harris with a ring of sarcasm.
“No,” said Thorvald. “I’ve just been a very observant patient…”
Thorvald moved quickly down to the Command Center. Keith Ford was now the senior officer on station until Virginia arrived. He would take Keith’s com console to free him up to deal with anything that should arise. Keith was visibly relieved.
When Virginia Lake arrived in the Command Center, Marta was waiting for her with the cube device in her hand. “I heard what happened to General Prosser and I knew you would want to contact General Straker and Commander Freeman. I’ll be glad to help you with that,” said Marta. Virginia smiled and waved Marta into the office before her.
With Keith Ford back on the com console, Thorvald made ready to leave. “If Virginia or anyone else is looking for me, tell them I’m going to Mayland Hospital.” Ford gave a nod.
* * *
Ed Straker’s image was leaned with lowered head on the edge of both his office desk and the table in their stateroom. “Do we have any idea what happened to him Virginia?”
“No Ed. Thorvald is there with instructions to call when he hears something. Prosser is going through triage and diagnostics right now. I’ll contact you when we know something concrete,” said Virginia.
“I’ll contact Alec and give him the recall order. Have you told your mother yet?” asked Straker.
“After the official part is done… I know she’ll want to be here with him regardless of what happens,” said Virginia.
“We are on our way back, Ginny. We will be several days in transit on a larger, faster vessel. We will be there as soon as possible. Keep me informed, regardless of the time. Understood?”
“Yes Ed. We’ll keep you in the loop and on top of developments here.”
“Thanks Ginny. You and Paul will be carrying the load until Alec gets back.” Straker’s image faded.
* * *
“We need to improve our communication,” said Doctor Charles Schroeder. He was addressing Lana Rykoba and Jacob Morrison, all gowned in their clean-room suits in the Class 10,000 Main Lab room.
Schroeder continued. “I am grateful that you took the initiative to expand the working bacterial seed stock and preserve it for future reference. However, there are shaker flasks in the incubators with no labels as to the organism or organisms. There are no status tags on the incubators stating what is in them or whether they are clean and ready or in need of cleaning. We also have no log books showing the contents of the freezers or status of any of the equipment. There is also no indication of the date and time when items were loaded in the incubators and freezer to account for the blips in the chart records when the doors were opened.”
Lana swallowed hard as anxiety tightened her throat. Jacob simply blinked.
“To resolve this and give us a path forward, we are going to borrow some technique from the Yanks on the other side of the pond called ‘Good Laboratory Practices’,” said Schroeder. “These booklets provide instruction on proper documentation, labelling and other practices that will streamline our operation and prevent errors, accidents and cross-contamination… Any objections?” He looked directly at Jacob Morrison.
“No objections,” said Morrison dryly. “In fact, it sounds like a pragmatic and useful system to manage our operations.” Lana fought back a chuckle. Schroeder grinned, feeling like he had finally connected with his laboratory technicians.
* * *
Later in the evening, Virginia’s phone rang in the Command Office. “This is Lake…”
“Ginny, they moved Prosser directly from triage to a special quarantine suite,” said Thorvald. “They won’t let anyone in to see him and haven’t released any information yet. The triage room where he was has been taped off and technicians in hazmat suits are cleaning in there. I’ve never seen anything like this… Wait. Love I need to go. There’s a doctor coming toward me… I’ll call you back.”
At 35,000 feet over the southern reaches of the Gulf of Alaska, the image of Ed Straker appeared behind the cockpit seats of the company Gulfstream IV. He told Alec what had happened and gave him the recall order. Alec banked the ship in a turn to starboard while he consulted his charts and fuel status. “Vancouver traffic control, this is Wombat three-five-six-niner requesting clearance and traffic vector across B.C. and all the way to New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.”
The tower operator responded. “Wombat 3569, that will require special authorization codes as it will overfly military installations. Do you have an authorization code?”
“Roger Vancouver control. Entering secure code into signal transponder. Do you copy?” asked Alec. Time passed as Alec began to overfly British Columbia.
“Sir, I can’t find that code in any civilian reference manual here.”
“Listen lad, it is not a civilian code. Repeat, not a civilian code. Do you copy?”
“I’ve paged our military liaison office to the tower sir. It won’t be but a moment longer,” said the tower controller.
“Wombat 3569, this is Major Margaret Baker, liaison officer. Your code is in my secure codebook sir. Authorization confirmed. Repeat, confirmed. Nice of you to visit us here, commander. What is your service ceiling?”
“Forty-five thousand, Major,” said Alec.
“Roger sir. Climb to four-zero-triple-zero feet and alter your course five degrees to starboard. I’ll clear a path all the way to Moncton, New Brunswick. I can have supplies for you there. What will you need?” asked Baker.
“A fuel truck and a potable water truck,” said Alec.
“Roger that sir. We will pass your code and frequency down the line. We’ll try to make minimal course changes from station to station. Thanks again for visiting us here in British Columbia,” said Baker.
“It’s been a pleasure, Major. Wombat 3569 out,” said Alec. He pushed the throttles forward to the stops.
* * *
“Is your name Thorvald?” asked the roundish man with the white fringe and lab coat. “I’m Doctor Rodgers. I head up the infectious disease department here at Mayland. Your friend General Prosser is proving to be challenging case.”
“What the hell happened to him? He was strong and in great spirits at lunch, then a heap in the parking lot thirty minutes later,” said Thorvald with a pleading note in his voice.
“It wasn’t a stroke or cardiovascular incident. The head wound was superficial and a result of the fall. He has signs of sepsis and systemic infection. I am running complete panels of blood and tissue and am trying to culture the pathogen inflicting him. So far it isn’t a match for anything we see normally,” said Rodgers.
“Is he conscious? Can I see him?” asked Thorvald. He could see Bill Mason approaching behind the doctor.
“He was conscious twice briefly and spoke. I wrote down what he said. After that I had to put him into a medically-induced comatose state to help him deal with the pain and to slow the functional decline of his organs,” said Rodgers.
Rodgers added, “As for seeing him, I will show you a one way window through which you can observe him, but the quarantine must remain total. Nobody is allowed to enter except myself and my staff. I’m sorry, but it is for your own protection.”
Thorvald introduced Mason to Doctor Rodgers. “You said Gunther spoke to you?” he asked the doctor.
“Yes, twice,” said Rodgers. “The first time he said ‘Mjolnir’ then dropped off. Moments later he said ‘Fenrir rises’. Does this mean anything to you?”
“Absolutely doctor. Very profound meaning indeed…” Thorvald’s face fell and his deep green eyes grew dark and distant.
“The viewport for the quarantine room is behind that blue door,” said Rodgers. “I have to get back to the lab. The orderly can help you with anything you need.”
“Thanks Doctor Rodgers,” said Thorvald. He walked immediately through the blue door with Mason behind him.
Through the window, the sight made Thorvald’s heart break. Gunther Prosser lay propped up in the bed, his head bandaged from the fall. He had monitors for his heart and brain function and was intubated and getting breathing assistance from a machine. Intravenous pumps on each side kept nutrients and liquids on continual drip. Gunther Prosser’s skin was a pallid grey. He appeared to be a lifeless hulk in spite of the readouts on the monitors.
Thorvald’s eyes filled with tears. “You’re really close to the old guy aren’t you?” asked Mason.
“He’s been like a father to me for decades. We worked in covert op’s together for NATO. He was my insertion and extraction pilot.”
“Did you understand his messages?” asked Mason.
“With crystal clarity… Old NATO code. It means destruction and death,” said Thorvald in a low, slow voice.
“But what is Mjolnir?” asked Mason.
Thorvald turned to him, his eyes dark and foreboding. “Mjolnir is me,” he said in growling voice. “He was calling for Thor’s Hammer. Calling me to action again.”
Mason had only a minimal knowledge of Thorvald’s past. This glimpse into his world made Mason’s throat go dry. Quieter than usual, he added, “What happens when Fenrir rises?”
“It means that an ultimate evil has surfaced. Evil that can end the world as we know it. Fenrir is the giant evil wolf of Norse legend. In his jaws, he crushes the sun and moon, plunging mankind into continual darkness. Fenrir’s offspring defeat and destroy the very gods that were protecting mankind. There is great suffering and bloodshed inflicted upon humanity and it culminates in the ultimate battle between good and evil. That’s what Fenrir represents, Mason. It means our struggle to survive is only beginning and we have much work to do…”
“Look Thorvald,” said Mason. “I’m here now, so why don’t you head home for some food and sleep. I’ll stay with him and I’ll call you immediately if anything changes.”
“I just can’t leave,” said Thorvald. “Not yet, Mason.”
“Why not? I’ve got it covered,” said Mason reassuringly.
Thorvald struggled to speak. His voice came out in growling bursts. Tears ran unashamedly down his face. “Because… he never,... ever… left me behind…” Thorvald wept bitterly. Mason put his arm around him. He thought back to his own combat experience in Special Forces and how angelic those extraction choppers looked coming into the landing zone. He understood it well and blinked back the moisture forming in his own eyes.
* * *
Around noon the next day, Virginia entered the Command Center to relieve a very tired-looking Paul Foster. “These twelve-hour shifts are only for a few days Paul. It’s nothing we haven’t done before.”
“We’ve just gotten a little spoiled with getting regular sleep,” said Foster. “Alec should be arriving today. The transport planes with the Mobiles should be in this evening. The labs are standing by to process the info and samples from the Baffin Island raid. The only thing different at Mayland is that there are now two of our security operatives watching Prosser and his room around the clock. We also have cameras and mics to document any visitors or activities around him.”
Foster added, “Finally, we had our customary blip at 0400 hours. The last two messages have been a little longer in duration.”
“Go home and get some sleep, Paul,” said Virginia.
“Sleep?” said Paul. “I’ve had so much coffee and tea over the last twelve hours I’ll probably just lay there and twitch…”
“Well then, try to do it with your eyes shut,” said Virginia with a smile. Paul grinned.
“Did your hubby ever make it home?” asked Paul.
“Around sunrise this morning,” said Ginny. “He was so exhausted he was out cold sitting upright in a chair, fully dressed… I tried not to wake him on my way out.”
“He’s taking it really hard, isn’t he?” asked Paul.
“Their connection goes beyond friendship or even comradery. They are – in many ways – the father and the son that neither of them ever had… He also has a close sibling-like relationship with Dmitri. All of it stems from the covert work they did during the Cold War, even though they were on opposite sides.”
Ginny continued, “All three interacted together back then as well. Now, all three of them are connected tightly. I pity anyone foolish enough to act against one of them. That poor bastard will see the vengeance of the other two, and the savage skills that brought them together.”
Dmitri was in the small ante-room looking into the quarantine suite where Prosser lay in motionless silence. Thorvald entered and stood beside him. “Hard to see him like this,” said Dmitri.
“Yeah,” said Thorvald. “Anything going on overnight?”
“That doctor and his technicians have been in multiple times taking samples of blood, tissue and who knows what else. They are always suited up like they’re in deep space. The doctor has been looking for you for the last hour or so. I told him you would be in soon.”
“He apparently had me listed as his next of kin on some medical information document,” said Thorvald. “You should know that you and Prosser are right behind Virginia on mine as well.” Dmitri smiled. “We may not be related, but you are my family…”
Doctor Rodgers entered the ante-room wearing his customary white lab coat. He looked as though he hadn’t slept since the previous day. “I’m glad you’re back. We’ve been working on General Prosser’s samples all night. The results are without precedent,” said Rodgers. “I have to ask you a couple of questions… Has the general done a lot of foreign travel or been in close proximity to sick individuals from Third World countries?”
“He’s traveled the globe multiple times doctor, but most of that time was spent in combat aircraft at altitude,” said Thorvald. “No Third World contact that I’m aware of… What have you found out?”
Rodgers rubbed his face before he spoke. “What I’m going to say will seem hard to believe. If I hadn’t repeated my tests in triplicate I wouldn’t believe it either.”
Rodgers took a deep breath. “It took hours to finally isolate the organism that has afflicted him. It is an unknown species; not in any reference source available. It is, in essence a motile spirochete that is much smaller than those we normally encounter that infect livestock. It does not respond to any antimicrobial agent we have available. It reproduces quickly whether it is in the host, a culture flask or simply sitting on a wet-mount microscope slide. It seems to bore through all forms of mammalian tissue and consumes the cells as its nutrient source.”
Rodgers sighed and his voice softened. “The organism has infiltrated all of General Prosser’s bodily systems and is consuming the tissue. It is in his lymphatic system and his central nervous system as well.”
Thorvald’s face displayed his sorrow. “Can anything be done for him?”
“His systems are all shutting down. All I can do is try to keep him as comfortable as possible until we find something of use to treat him. I have taken the liberty of sending samples to a colleague named Schroeder who has a new I.D. lab in Harlington. Perhaps he can find something of use…”
Rodgers added, “The general is fighting it in his own way, but he is getting weaker as his organs continue to fail. I fear he has little time left… I am very sorry.”
He placed a supportive hand on Thorvald’s shoulder and looked with kindness into the troubled deep green eyes. “If you are a man of faith, pray for a miracle, but also pray that he does not suffer…”
Rodgers left Thorvald and Dmitri through the door. Thorvald chased him down in the lobby. “Doctor, where did this organism come from?”
Rodgers’ expression turned to one of anger. “It came from a laboratory Thorvald… This organism was carefully designed and created to be the most destructive and unstoppable pathogen mankind has ever encountered… This is not a natural terrestrial organism… This is a biological warfare agent in its most evil form… I will shortly be contacting the national health organizations to make them aware of it.”
As Rodgers scurried to his office to make the call Thorvald stood in the middle of the lobby. Strangers passed him walking in various directions as he stood, eyes fixed and unblinking upon some unseen target. “Fenrir has risen,” he said aloud in low growling voice.
* * *
A few hours later, Virginia entered the ante-room with her mother. Mrs. Lake embraced her son-in-law. He introduced Dmitri. Mrs. Lake sheepishly peered into the quarantine room. Her legs wobbled a bit as she steeled her nerves. Through her tears she softly said, “Is my Gunther dying, Thorvald?”
Thorvald stepped up and put his arm around her. “Yes. I’m afraid so.” She turned and buried her face in his chest. He held her while she wept.
Virginia spoke softly. “Come on Mom. I’ll take you home…”
“Wait,” said Mrs. Lake. She placed her hands on the window and closed her eyes. Her lips moved as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Okay Ginny. I just wanted to tell Gunther I love him and we will be together again someday.”
Tearfully, Virginia said, “He knows Mom… He knows…” She kissed her husband. “I have to get back. Alec relieved me for a couple hours so I could do this.”
The sky was dark and storm clouds were rolling in with long peals of thunder echoing across the night sky. Lightning flashed in the boiling clouds.
* * *
Two hours later, Thorvald and Dmitri were talking about the old days of the Cold War when something unexpected happened: Prosser moved…
Gunther Prosser’s eyes clamped tightly shut and his body stiffened. The heart and brain monitors began to show rapid spikes. He was in tremendous pain…
Prosser clenched his fists tightly and raised his arms, tugging hard at the intravenous tubes within them. With a mighty stroke he drove them downward onto the fiberglass bed table, sending the utensils flying around the room… The monitors went to a flat line as Doctor Rodgers flew into the room in his encounter suit.
Thorvald was pounding on the window with his fists with a guttural roar that poured out from his soul… Rodgers checked for vitals. With dark, sorrowful eyes he stepped over to the window and slowly drew the privacy curtain across…
Thorvald slid down to his knees, sobbing. His grey mottled hair hung down concealing his face. Dmitri put his arm around him, teary eyed.
Thorvald began to utter strange words, low and in growling voice. Dmitri simply held him in support. Eventually, Thorvald turned and sat on the floor leaning against the wall. Dmitri sat beside him. The SHADO security agent outside called in to headquarters and reported the passing of General Prosser.
Thorvald took a deep breath. He put his arm around Dmitri.
“What was it that you said?” asked Dmitri quietly.
“An old Norse prayer for vengeance,” said Thorvald. “Whoever did this will know the full fury of Thor’s Hammer.”
“Ed, Prosser passed away a short while ago,” said Alec. Straker’s image failed to show the sorrow he felt.
“Has anyone else been infected?” asked Straker.
“Not that we are aware of yet,” said Alec. “Thorvald and Dmitri are taking it really hard. Things are going to get very ugly, Ed.”
“Do they think the organism is alien or just something created here?” asked Straker.
“Schroeder is working on it right now, but indications suggest it is alien.”
“Shit…” said Straker. “Send me all the info you have on it and I’ll see if the Alliance has some information as to how to treat it.”
“I will, Ed. They may be our only hope against it.”
* * *
Doctor Schroeder was hard at work with his techs in the infectious disease lab. “We’ve lysed these samples of the pathogen, so they’re inert. I’m taking them to the bio lab so they can process them at a molecular level. We might find something useful.” Schroeder headed for the degown vestibule.
“This is terrifying Jacob,” said Lana. “What if this is a means to genocide?”
Jacob Morrison looked at her unblinking, “We must remain focused and do our jobs, Lana. We work until we no longer can. I’m going back to the isolator…”
* * *
The following morning, Thorvald and Dmitri entered the Command Center together. It had been a rough night for both of them. Alec greeted them in somber tone.
“My condolences lads. Prosser was a one-of-a-kind gentleman warrior and his presence will be missed greatly,” said Alec. “Is there any indication of how he was infected?”
“Dmitri and I have been over it again and again. We were right there with him. He was in great shape at lunch and then thirty minutes later…”
Alec rubbed his chin and took another sip of his scotch. “Maybe someone saw something that didn’t mean anything to them at the time but might shed a light on it.”
Thorvald looked at Dmitri. “Perhaps it isn’t a ‘someone’…” He motioned to Dmitri to follow him and they left in search of Bill Mason.
* * *
“Sure boys,” said Bill Mason. “We have cameras everywhere throughout the facility. It will take a while, but we can trace Prosser’s movements throughout the morning and up until he collapsed.” He led them into the monitor room and they began piecing together images from Prosser’s day.
* * *
Several hours later, they had a composite tape of every movement Prosser made. It began with him rolling into the main gate on his motorcycle. It followed his entry through the security checkpoint and coming down on Straker’s office elevator. He relieved Paul and the two chatted and worked together for a while. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Prosser’s coffee had come from the same carafe as Paul’s and Ford’s. They then tracked him into the cafeteria for lunch.
Thorvald and Dmitri watched closely as Prosser chatted with Morrison in the line and ordered the soup. Thorvald saw something move. “There!” he shouted. “Can you back that up and zoom in?”
“Sure,” said Mason. “We’ll go frame by frame. It will get grainy when we zoom in, though.”
As the server handed Prosser the bowl of soup, he took it and placed it on his fiberglass tray. Prosser turned to say something to Thorvald. There was a blur to Prosser’s left and a small splash in his bowl of soup.
“A hand,” growled Thorvald. “Morrison put something in Prosser’s soup.”
“God Damn It!” shouted Mason. “I never liked that irritating prick! Let’s go!” Mason keyed the signal that locked down SHADO headquarters. The alarm sounded.
As the three sprinted through the Command Center, Alec ran out of the office. “What the hell is going on?” he shouted.
“We have an infiltrator in the lab!” shouted Mason. Alec ran back for his pistol and joined them. As the four of them entered the office outside the main lab, they saw Schroeder speaking angrily to Jacob Morrison and Lana Rykoba.
“I told you a week ago to install those ultraviolet lamps. They could be the only thing that keeps those organisms from getting out of hand!” Jacob Morrison looked up and saw the angry faces of Alec, Mason, Thorvald and Dmitri. He read the situation and rose out of his chair.
Thorvald handed Dmitri the Colt King Cobra revolver from his waistband holster and handed him his key fob. Mason drew his .45 pistol. “Don’t let him past you,” said Thorvald with a growl.
Thorvald burst in through the gowning vestibule in his street clothes. Schroeder rose indignantly to confront him. Thorvald looked at Schroeder and Lana and said emphatically, “GET… OUT!”
Fearfully, Schroeder and Lana made a hasty exit through the de-gown vestibule past three leveled pistols. Jacob Morrison searched for a non-existent alternate escape route. Thorvald moved toward him with clenched fists and gritted teeth.
Morrison knew he was caught. He moved backward as Thorvald advanced. “You murdered Prosser right in front of us,” growled Thorvald. Morrison’s back thumped against the glassware rack. He felt an object and grabbed it. It was a 2-liter Erlenmeyer flask made of heavy lab-grade borosilicate glass. He swung it at Thorvald’s head, striking him hard on the temple. Thorvald’s head snapped hard to the right and he was stunned by the impact. Morrison ran for the incubator room.
Thorvald pulled himself upright again. His hair, now loosed from its leather strap was wet with the blood that trickled from his wound. He shook his head to clear it and his face hardened with deadly intent.
Jacob Morrison emerged from the incubator room with two culture-filled flasks in each hand and a menacing grin on his face. “This batch is much more virulent than the one I used to kill that butcher Prosser.” He started to move toward the door.
“This ends now!” shouted Thorvald as he punched the button station for total containment. The alarm sounded and a strobe light began to flash inside and outside the lab. Jacob Morrison began to panic and dropped the flasks. They shattered and the pathogenic broth splattered across the floor.
“What have you done?” shouted Morrison. The sounds of the air and drain dampers closing was a loud metallic bang. The air was filled with the smell of hot metal as the thermal strips welded the doors, dampers and drains shut forever.
Alec, Dmitri and Mason were staring in disbelief and shock.
“You just killed us both!” shouted Morrison.
Thorvald said angrily, “Yes, but it is just us…”
Dmitri was pounding on the window and shouting. Thorvald reached out and grabbed Morrison. He spun him around and bound his arms behind him. Thorvald shoved him face-first up against the window, his massive hand pressing Morrison’s neck forward and the other locking his hands high behind his back.
“Question time,” said Thorvald. He pressed the intercom button so they could freely talk to the gathering group outside the lab. “Yes, I know what I did,” he growled to pre-empt the obvious statements. Alec pushed to the front.
“Who the bloody hell are you?” said Alec angrily. Morrison only grinned. Blood began to trickle from his nose. Thorvald had broken it with the impact on the window.
“You have no escape. You might as well tell us,” growled Alec. Suddenly Morrison’s eyes grew large. There was an audible snapping sound as Thorvald broke the first of Morrison’s fingers. He yelped in a flash of pain.
“You have nine more opportunities to comply before I move on to more important body parts,” growled Thorvald.
“What makes you think you can torture me into divulging anything?” said Morrison defiantly.
Thorvald slammed him hard against the glass again. “Because I have been tortured by the very best… I learned well,” he growled into Morrison’s ear.
Schroeder pushed through the crowd and up to the window. He was carrying something long. “Perhaps this will give us a clue,” he said. He plugged the ultraviolet light fixture into the power receptacle and pressed the on switch.
Morrison’s eyes glowed a bright greenish white. He blinked hard and tried to turn away. Thorvald reached over his head and pulled the eyelids up. The glow was decisively not human.
“So, we hired an alien microbiologist and gave him everything he needed to destroy us,” said Schroeder with sorrow in his voice. Lana stood behind him with tears in her eyes. Her face showed the anger and betrayal she felt.
Alec spoke with authority. “Forget the ‘who’. What the hell are you, Morrison?”
Morrison grinned again with menace. Thorvald snapped two more of his fingers.
“You can do nothing with the information,” said Morrison. “You destroyed our home-world through attrition. We came here for decades to procure the means to preserve our dying world.” Morrison grinned again. The blood from his nose was now on his lips and teeth and had begun to smear on the glass.
“Our outposts live on. Those on other worlds including here have been thriving. We have re-engineered our species to eliminate the weaknesses you so easily took advantage of. We have been on your world for generations now and we have infiltrated every segment of your planet. Every country, every government and every military force around this wretched rock…”
“When you are all dead, we will make this world our own,” said Morrison. “We are immune to the pathogen that will carry you all to your doom.”
“I was born, raised and educated in the facility you destroyed at Baffin Island. My many brothers and sisters will succeed where I have failed,” Morrison said with indignation. “Your species is nearing its end…” With that, Jacob Morrison shoved back with all his might, pushing Thorvald off balance. He swung hard at Thorvald, striking his face. Mason pushed all the onlookers out of the office area, leaving himself, Alec and Dmitri to witness the end of Jacob Morrison.
Thorvald unleashed the full fury of his anger and lust for vengeance. His fists flew and his boots struck with savage impact on the frail body of Jacob Morrison. Thorvald slung his bloodied body around like a rag doll in a blender. Blood splattered across the lab benches, racks and broken glassware.
“Enough!” shouted Alec, his mixed anger coming to the surface. “We are not savages, Thorvald! Now end this!”
With anger boiling in his eyes, Thorvald dragged Morrison’s limp form up near the window. He easily snapped Morrison’s neck until the head hung dripping blood at a sharp angle. Alec closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the glass.
Thorvald drug Morrison’s limp corpse across the lab, the toes of his shoes making lazy serpentine paths as they skidded along. He dropped Morrison face-first into the culture broth and broken glass he had deposited there.
Dmitri had tears in his eyes and was visibly shaking. Alec turned to Mason, “Get Commander Lake and send a rotorcraft to the orphanage. I want Jackson in here, pronto.” Mason sprinted out the door.
Alec spoke gently to Dmitri. “I know you two are close. Why didn’t he just capture Morrison? We could have gotten the information another way.”
Dmitri looked at Alec with resolve. “Because Prosser’s last words were a call for Thor’s Hammer. He called him to action. Prosser knew what had happened to him and he gave Thorvald the code phrase indicating ultimate evil had arisen. His only course of action was to seek that evil out and destroy it. It is who and what Thorvald is. Most of his life was devoted to protecting the innocent and the weak.”
Thorvald pulled a lab stool over to the bench beneath the window. He was visibly exhausted. Dmitri pulled a couple of chairs over to the window.
Alec picked up the phone. “Ford, page Ona to the office. I need to contact Straker immediately.” He looked in at the disheveled Thorvald, “Maybe the Alliance has some means of getting you out of there and neutralizing the pathogen.”
Thorvald looked up at Alec and smiled. “Thank you, Alec. Tell him I’m sorry I destroyed his lab.” Alec nodded and stepped out of the door with purpose in his step.
Thorvald turned and surveyed the damaged lab, broken glass and splattered blood. He could see Morrison’s feet around the lab bench. “My God Dmitri, I’m a monster,” said Thorvald with sadness in his eyes.
“No Thorvald,” said Dmitri. “At most this amounts to pest control. The monster is laying over there on the floor in a pool of his own evil.”
“I know this is it, Dmitri,” said Thorvald.
“Nyet dammit!” shouted Dmitri. “You’re supposed to leave this world in a blaze of bullets and flames. This is no way for a warrior to die.” Thorvald grinned.
“Listen carefully little brother,” said Thorvald. “I want you to take care of Virginia. This will hurt her beyond words. I don’t want her to go through this alone. You will need to be her rock, Dmitri. Don’t let this drive her under. Help her be strong…”
Dmitri had tears forming again. “I will. I swear it. She will want for nothing…”
“Thank you, little brother,” said Thorvald. “I want you to have my Beetle and my weapons as well, whatever ones you want. Use them well. Protect my Ginny and all of our friends here. Use them as I did…”
Thorvald coughed. A trickle of blood began to flow from his nose. “Getting harder to breathe now. The air in here is limited, but I think that evil creation of his is inside me now. This version must be airborne. Make sure they seal this in, Dmitri. Don’t let them open it for any reason…”
“Don’t leave me alone here, Thorvald,” said Dmitri with tears flowing. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen!”
“It’s certainly not what I had planned either. I would never choose to share my tomb with that sorry sack of shit in the puddle over there.” He smiled weakly.
“I want to tell you something, Thorvald,” said Dmitri. “From back when you were working undercover in that band that was touring behind the Iron Curtain… You didn’t know it, but we were following you closely on your tour route. At first we were waiting for you to perform whatever mission you were sent for. When we saw nothing happen, we kept following you because we loved the music.”
“You knew who I was?”
“Of course, but your music was about honor, duty and adventure. We were huge fans. In all those venues, your audience contained dozens of Spetsnaz soldiers. We even had bootleg tapes of your band that played in BMP’s all over the Soviet Union.”
Thorvald grinned. “The coded messages were part of the music,” he said. Dmitri grinned.
The images of Ed Straker and Ilyana stood beside Alec’s desk. “Do we know how long the air will hold out Alec?”
“Hours Ed. It’s a race between oxygen depletion and the infection killing him. Does the Alliance have any way to help?”
“I gave the information you provided to the medical staff on board. It’s an unknown species to them as well,” said Ilyana. “The Alliance has technology that could make treatment possible but this vessel doesn’t have that equipment. The soonest it could arrive on Earth is in two weeks. I’m sorry, but it won’t arrive in time…”
Ed Straker’s face dropped. He shut his eyes tightly. He could see and hear every detail of the events that resulted in the death of his young son so many years before. He drew a deep breath.
“I should have never left, Alec,” said Straker with anger in his voice.
Alec snapped in retort. “Your presence here would not have changed one single thing that has happened Ed, and you know it.”
“I know, Alec. I know… This is all just hard to take. We’ll be there in three more days. Keep me informed, no matter the time. That’s an order…”
“I will, Ed. You know that. Ginny’s on her way in with Mason right now. This is going to be really hard on her.”
“Alec, one more thing,” said Straker, choking on the words. “Tell Thorvald I said… thank you…”
* * *
Three command Mobiles were loaded into three separate transport trailers bearing the Markers Transport logo. The trucks deployed to three separate locations in the Harlington area and sat parked in vacant parking lots. The Mobiles powered up and energized their ULF radio gear and directional antennae. The wait began…
* * *
A tear-soaked Virginia Lake entered the office outside the infectious disease lab. Her mascara had run in rivulets down her cheeks. Thorvald stood and placed his palms against the glass window. Virginia placed her palms against the glass opposite his, she leaned her forehead against the window.
“I’m so sorry, Love,” said Thorvald. “I had no choice.” His dark green eyes were filled with sorrow.
Ginny gave him a gentle smile through her tears. “I know dear. Mason told me what happened. You saved us all.” She smiled sweetly. “My heroic Viking warrior…”
Thorvald gazed lovingly into her grey sparkling eyes. “I love you with all my heart, Ginny. You made my life so beautiful and blessed,” he said.
Through her streaming tears, Virginia said softly, “I love you too, you bloody sod. Why did you have to be the one to play the hero?” Thorvald smiled.
The door opened from the corridor and Alec stepped in. “I’m so sorry, Virginia. I just spoke with Ed. The Alliance has equipment that may be useful but it won’t get here for two weeks.”
Virginia stepped over to him. Alec put his arms out to embrace her. When her head came upward, her face was filled with rage. Ginny screamed, beating on Alec’s chest and screeching, “Get my husband out of there, damn you! Get him out right now! Open that God damn door!”
She pushed Alec back and ran back to the window. She beat on the glass with her fists, screaming out, “NO! GOD, NOOO! NO! Her voice began to trail off, her legs buckling and her head falling forward. Dmitri and Alec caught her and eased her into a chair. She hadn’t felt the syringe needle enter her arm…
The sedative had worked quickly. The Reverend Father, Doctor Douglas Jackson restored the protective cap to the syringe and handed it back to Doctor Harris.
“Thank you, Yannick,” said Thorvald. “Are you here to perform last rites?”
Jackson smiled warmly. “No, old friend. I know you are not Catholic. I’m here for whatever service I can provide.” Thorvald smiled weakly. Jackson looked around the lab through the window. “You’ve had a very busy day.”
“Yannick, you know that I never wanted to kill again… I am so tired of it. I tried to live a life of peace and faith in these later years. I tried, but I never learned how…”
“Listen old friend,” said Jackson. “The life you ended was not even remotely human… You did live a life of peace and faith. Your proof is the warmth you provided in the lives of the children at the orphanage. It is in the love of your wife and the warm friendships you share with all of these co-workers and friends. You have made their lives richer and fuller with your presence… As for learning my friend, you have never stopped… You are now learning something that only your faith could prepare you for. You are learning how to say farewell – to your loved ones and friends in this earthly domain. You have devoted your life to the service of humanity… You were blessed with skills that gave you the ability to defend the innocent and the weak from those who sought to heap evil upon them.”
“I have done so many barbaric things, Yannick,” said Thorvald with tears in his eyes. “I remember so many of their faces. Faces in agony. Faces in anger and indignant rage. Mine were not the actions of a follower of the Risen Son of God…”
Jackson moved close to the window and placed his palms on the glass. “Defending the innocent and weak is an unquestionable act of love, Thorvald,” he said forcefully. “What does John 15:13 say, Thorvald? You were raised as a missionary. You know that scripture… Say it with me!”
In unison they slowly began to speak. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.” Dmitri wept openly. Father Jackson smiled gently. Alec choked down the lump in his throat. He had never made the connection of the mission of SHADO with such a scripture. It was a revelation.
“Is there anything else I can do for you Thorvald?” asked Jackson.
Thorvald gazed at his sleeping wife in the chair, his heart breaking knowing this was the last time he’d see her in this world. “All of you, take care of my Ginny… Her mother too…” said Thorvald.
“We will,” said Alec. “Count on it.”
“Pray with me,” said Father Jackson. He joined hands with Dmitri and Alec and said a prayer. It was a prayer for Thorvald, for Ginny, and for all of them and the work they were called to.
“Thorvald, this is a very personal event for you. Do you want me to stay with you until it is over?” asked Jackson gently.
“No,” said Thorvald. “You and Alec take care of my Ginny.”
“I’ll stay with you,” said Dmitri. Thorvald smiled weakly.
Alec approached the window and placed his palms against the glass. With solemn voice, Alec said, “On behalf of all of us; thank you Thorvald.” Alec and Father Jackson gently carried Virginia from the room and toward the medical center.
* * *
Thorvald and Dmitri spoke quietly. Dmitri watched his skin take on a grey pallor. A trickle of blood began to flow from the corner of Thorvald’s mouth and ears.
“It’s getting harder to breathe. My vision is fading as well,” said Thorvald weakly.
“Any regrets, Thorvald?” asked Dmitri.
“It’s a little late to wish I had gone into insurance sales,” said Thorvald with a weak grin. “I would have liked to have seen the night sky once more.” Thorvald winced in pain. He clenched his fists pushing the pain back as best he could.
Dmitri was choking on his words, tears rolling down his face. “I will miss you, Thorvald.”
“We will be together again someday, little brother…” said Thorvald, nearly whispering. “Soon I will be holding my little Anna…”
Thorvald’s head slumped forward against the lab bench, his last breath slipping away. His lifeless husk jerked in regular intervals as his defibrillator tried to restart his heart. As the power cell fully discharged, he lay peacefully once more.
Dmitri leaned his back against the window and slid slowly down to the floor. Bill Mason entered with Doctor Schroeder. He knew what they were there to do…
“Seal this thing,” growled Dmitri. “Don’t leave him on display like this,” he said angrily. Mason and Schroeder inserted their cam keys into the actuators for the epoxy fill system.
“On three,” said Mason. “One, two, three…” A mechanical whir could be heard in the interstitial space above the lab. Fluid began to pour into the lab through the air vents. It quickly covered the floor and began to rise up the walls.
Dmitri looked at Bill Mason, his crystal blue eyes full of purpose. “We have to find all of them, Mason. We have to find them and destroy them all… Promise me you will help me do that, Mason.” Dmitri rose to his feet and leaned in close, shouting, “Promise me that he won’t have died for nothing!”
Mason wrapped his arms around Dmitri while he wept. “Don’t worry, Dmitri. We’ll get every last one of the bastards… We’ll find them.”
It was nearly four in the morning in Harlington. The command Mobile crews were ready to intercept the alien message and triangulate the location. Tonight would be the night they pinpointed the source of the signal.
They waited, with recorders running and assault units standing by. The chronometer ticked away, past 0400 hours and kept going. There was no signal.
* * *
The use of ultraviolet lamps became standard practice at all SHADO operational sites and at military bases, worldwide. The simple test brought hundreds of alien infiltrators into the bright light of day.
Morrison had been correct. Alien infiltrators were discovered within the ranks of SHADO in duty stations around the globe. Many more were found in the militaries of many nations. It became apparent that they had spread among the world population. There was no way to test everyone without violating the human rights of the civilian masses. There would be sleeper cells to deal with for the foreseeable future.
It also became clear that many of them had integrated into humanity and were living lives as functional members of society. Not all had embraced the militaristic plans of their progenitors.
When SHADO security operatives were forced to act against red beret cells, the full story revealed itself. The alien insurgents were the founders of the red beret movement and were in fact the regional leaders. Genetically engineered aliens were leading the anti-alien movement…
* * *
General Ed Straker and Ambassador Ilyana had arrived home to a very somber SHADO headquarters. The flags flew at half-staff over the site and in the SHADO memorial park across the road from the entrance.
There was no levity regarding his unclothed arrival in his office. The reunions were bittersweet but warm. The Alliance was sending equipment to deal with an outbreak of the unknown organism should it be released into the human population.
* * *
Alec and Ed discussed the two unsung warriors who had leapt to answer the call to protect humanity. What would be the most appropriate way to celebrate their lives and contributions?
Prosser’s body had been incinerated as a precaution to prevent the organism from breaking containment. Even his ashes had been quarantined by government health officials. Thorvald’s remains were entombed in a solid opaque slab of epoxy. All that could be done was a memorial service to honor them both.
As the two planned what they wanted to do and say, Ed Straker turned to Alec and paused in silence. When he finally spoke, his voice was quiet. “Alec, do you remember how Thorvald had been forced into early retirement due to his weak heart?”
“Sure Ed. I remember we nearly lost him in the Scarborough Raid, too.”
Straker’s lips trembled. “I don’t think we’ll ever know another man with as strong and full a heart as his…” Straker’s eyes moistened.
Alec stepped over and put his arm around him. Alec lifted his glass of scotch. “To Thorvald and Prosser,” he said taking a sip. Straker raised his coffee mug.
* * *
Virginia Lake and her mother were welcomed warmly by Mr. James at his dairy farm. He graciously volunteered his home for as long as they needed to stay. A SHADO counselor would be with them around the clock with medical staff on call. Dmitri drove the little blue Beetle out to visit them daily.
Dmitri stood with Mr. James near the barn. They could see Virginia and her mother standing in the pasture, each one holding a baby goat only days old.
“I understand why Thorvald was so fond of you and this farm,” said Dmitri. “This is a place of healing and great warmth.” Mr. James smiled and put his arm around Dmitri. Dmitri looked into the weathered old grey eyes of Mr. James and saw the heart of the man behind them.
Dmitri would make regular visits to the James farm, finding the same fulfillment and joy that Thorvald had. Deep down, Dmitri knew it was exactly why he’d taken him there weeks before. He would find peace there and connection to living things and the gentle soul that tended them. It was here that he felt Thorvald’s presence most warmly, and he could enjoy feeling like his little brother once again.
Disclaimers: Any similarity between characters, plots, stories, dialogue or settings and any living persons or copyrighted/protected materials is purely unintentional beyond the characters of the UFO series. Thorvald David Magnusson, Gunther Prosser, Dmitri Guyeva and other ancillary characters are purely fictional and a creation of the author. Any similarity to actual persons living or dead is frankly hard to imagine…
Vehicles and Aircraft:
BEETLE and Jetta are registered trademark of Volkswagen AG and its subsidiaries.
BMP (Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty) Soviet State Factory, armored troop carrier.
Gulfstream IV-SP, all variants, are a property of Gulfstream Aerospace Co.
Colt King Cobra, 2-1/2” blued version, .357 Magnum caliber, all variations are properties of Colt Patent Firearms. Very limited production.
Literature, Film and Music:
“Greater love hath no man than this”, the Holy Bible, New Testament, John 15:13.
Spetsnaz, Soviet special forces, originally part of the GRU intelligence group, established in 1950.
All descriptions of infectious disease laboratory activities and equipment are based on experience and knowledge of the author derived from a career in biotechnology and microbiology.
The Works of A. Berglund
The Library Entrance