Error Of Judgement

By Claire Steed

© 2002 & 2011 All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and ideas are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended
May not be reproduced without permission
Based on the Gerry & Sylvia Anderson Television Series UFO
This story takes place after the episodes: "Reflections in the Water" and "The Psychobombs"

Chapter: One

"Well, Lieutenant?" snapped Straker. "How do you explain giving class A1 clearance to the naval captain?"

Ford was lost for words and Straker narrowed his eyes, something was wrong. Ford, the man in charge of SHADO communications was not usually speechless, nor did he make the kind of simple childish mistake that had almost loosened the tight net of security which kept SHADO hidden under the guise of Harlington Straker Studios.

Straker was not usually interested in the personal lives of his staff unless of course it interfered with their duties at SHADO. Ford looked down at the paper which Straker showed him, he recognised his own signature alright, there for all to see, bad enough in black and white; worse that this could have happened at all. Ford knew from experience that it would be useless to offer excuses to his Commander.

Instead he said simply: "I don't know sir," his face a study in abject misery.

"You don't know huh, Ford?" Straker stood up and walked calmly around the desk until he was directly facing the lieutenant. Straker's eyes narrowed slightly, he said coldly: "You are on indefinite suspension, effective immediately until further notice, understand?" He emphasised that last word by stabbing a button on the video unit on his desk.

"Alec," he said sharply, "will you come in?"

Straker calmly returned to his seat. As Alec came into the office Straker informed him of the decision to suspend Ford pending a full investigation, hardly registering the look of surprise on Alec's face at the decision, which the Colonel considered too callous, even for Straker. The Commander icily waved them away, but Alec said to Ford, "Wait outside for me, Keith."

* * *

As Ford left the office, the huge steel doors closed shut behind him. Although the doors remained firmly closed, raised voices began issuing from the office and carried easily into the control room beyond.

"Alec," Straker began, "I don't want to hear it," and returned to the reports and various forms screaming for his attention on the desk. "I have too many things to consider without your bleeding hearts syndrome creeping in somewhere, my decision is final and that is an end to it. Lieutenant Ford is on indefinite suspension until the investigation is complete." He made as if to open the doors for Alec to leave but Alec didn't like being dismissed as easily as a raw recruit so he stood his ground.

"Hold it, Ed" he said a little sharply, knowing it would be useless to press the point of Ford's error now so he spoke quietly and truthfully when he said, "Keith Ford is the best communications officer we have here, you can't just dismiss him like this. We need him."

"We need him; we need him huh, Alec?" Straker stood to face the Colonel, "I suppose you're going to tell me next that we need his mistakes, too?" he stood directly in front of Alec Freeman, head slightly back now, challenging.

Freeman drew deeply on his cigarette careful not to blow smoke directly into Straker's face. Although he was not easily intimidated, Alec felt strangely disturbed by Straker's overly aggressive attitude, he knew it had not been easy at the base since the incident when flying 'silver fish' had been spotted underwater, and had been photographed by a non SHADO vessel. The ship involved had taken photographs of a UFO it had shot down and wanted answers. The matter had been dealt with directly and quickly; the amnesia drug erasing the memories of all civilian personnel involved. Keith Ford had been at fault then, too, and Straker wanted answers, and he wanted them now! Even so, Alec reasoned, there was no need for the stance which Straker was taking now.

Alec regarded the Commander for a long moment then he said calmly: "I don't buy that, and neither do you, we both know that Ford wouldn't do something like this on purpose, put him on suspension for a month and reassess his training, that's only fair!"

Straker nodded imperceptibly as if going over Freeman's reasoning. For mere seconds he remained silent, then with eyes of pure ice he said: "Arrange it Alec, and keep me informed."

This time when the Commander made to open the doors to the control room Alec offered no resistance.

* * *

Once outside the office Alec exhaled deeply, he walked towards Ford waiting in the corridor.

The Lieutenant opened his mouth as if to say something but Alec cut him off before he could say anything by raising his hand

"Let's just go," he said quickly, he carried on past Ford and did not break his stride. When they were clear of control, they headed for the locker rooms and Alec waited outside while Ford changed from his uniform into his normal clothes. Keith had remained uncharacteristically quiet throughout the journey from control to where they were now; riding up in the lift to studio level, so Alec broke the silence.

"Go home, Keith. Report to me on my private line at home every six hours. Once you are home, stay there until I contact you and under the circumstances don't go anywhere."

They stopped at the entrance to the studio car park and Ford turned to Alec.

"You don't have to explain procedure to me Colonel ... I know it off by heart and I understand the consequences of not complying, I'll be in touch, Sir." He opened the door to his car, got in and started the engine.

Alec stood back as the car reversed into the drive.

"Take care," was all he said to Ford as he pulled out and drove away from the studio. Alec watched him go, then he turned on his heel and went back inside.

Chapter: Two

It had started to rain in Cornwall, the sea was a murky dark shade of grey and it was very cold. Under water, way down deep under the surface something glittered. It spun and whirred and went along the seabed unseen, the noise of it would usually be deafening but under cover of the sea it was silent. The single occupant was dressed in a red spacesuit; its face was masked by a dark green faceplate. The rest of his group had taken part in the failed attack on SHADO headquarters a few days ago. He was the last of the group to survive, he had no way of getting out of this planet's atmosphere, the ship had been underwater for longer than it was meant to be, and was now starting to slowly disintegrate. It had also been damaged when the craft had been shot down during that attack, but he had managed to get down into a deep trench overhung by underwater caverns and rock formations too deep for human exploration and as such it was almost out of range of their submarines. It had provided the necessary cover and he had so far remained undetected by the enemy. He had moved the craft along covertly until he detected land ahead, he would try to carry on with the mission. The enemy would not be expecting another attack this soon after the major battle, which had raged on the moon, under water, and in the air.

* * *

Alec Freeman walked back inside the studio, he glanced over at the receptionist; he had almost given up trying to get her to have a drink with him, but today he did not feel like socialising and carried on walking past her.

The receptionist followed him with her eyes.

"Unusual," she said under her breath, "he never goes by here without asking me out." She put the cover over the typewriter and left for the evening. On the way out to the car park she wondered idly if Alec was playing hard to get.

* * *

Keith Ford arrived home half an hour after leaving the studio, he felt miserable with himself and he was glad to get indoors and back to familiar surroundings. He made a cup of tea and sat down heavily in an armchair. He drank the tea and started going over the days events in his mind. He knew he had not been responsible for giving the clearance, but he could not understand it when Straker had shown him the signature, it had looked exactly like his handwriting but he did not remember having signed the document. The last thing he'd needed that day was the Commander tormenting him again. Keith put his head in his hands, he felt really tired and the tea had not helped, instead it made him feel sick. He made it to the bathroom and lost the cup of tea, he sat back against the bath and waited for the nausea to pass then he got up slowly, making it gingerly to the bedroom where he fell rather than lay down on the bed and slept.

* * *

Alec made his way to the staff canteen; he needed a strong cup of black coffee before he faced off with Straker again. The two men had been friends since SHADO's inception and Alec more than anyone else knew the sacrifices the Commander had made for the Organisation. He understood why Straker demanded, and got, 110% efficiency from his staff, because that's what Straker gave, and more.

"Sometimes, Ed," he said under his breath, "you can be worse than normal" and this morning was one of those times. Alec remembered back to another time he had seen his friend behave like this; it had been after Straker's son had tragically died after that horrific car accident.

He thought his friend had been distant and aloof then, never asking for help, but when Alec had probed a little deeper he understood the depth of grief which Straker was going through - although he could not relieve the Commander's pain he at least made him self a constant shadow at Ed's side should he need any help.

At the time Alec had wondered if Straker could have just broken out of the icy facade and asked for help in getting the drugs for John, then surely it could have been arranged another way. It would not have been seen as "specialist treatment" which Straker had claimed as his reason for not asking for help, anyone with any compassion would have acceded to the Commander if they had only known the circumstances.

Alec sighed heavily and drained the cup then threw it in the trashcan as he left the canteen. He waited for the lift to arrive and thought that it was useless raking over the past, it had happened the way it happened, and it could not change the present.

The lift came to rest at the intended stop and it broke his reverie, as he stepped out he saw Virginia Lake heading his way.

She acknowledged him with a wave, "I heard the news about Keith Ford earlier," she said, a look of concern on her face.

"I thought you would by now... I'm going to need you to programme the computers to get Keith's profile, his last psych and physical tests; you know the stuff I need."

"I'll get on it right away, Alec," she turned to go but Alec caught her elbow.

"Walk with me," he said and continued on.

Virginia fell into step beside him as they began the walk to Straker's office.

"I just don't understand it," Alec said in a tight voice, "Keith made this type of mistake before but he wouldn't do it a second time, not Keith."

"What's going on, have you any ideas, if it wasn't Keith then who was it?" Virginia's blue eyes blazed angrily.

Her mouth flattened as she realised this was not going to be an easy fix, the kind Straker liked; over and done with and no-one in the know that shouldn't be.

They had almost reached Straker's office and Alec stopped, taking her by the arm he said quietly.

"I don't know Ginny, I just don't know," he said quietly letting his body soften as he leaned against the wall, "one thing I do know, we have to find out and soon."

"Well, I'll get to those reports and I'll see you later," Virginia said softly heading back in the direction she had come from.

* * *

Louise Perryman boarded the bus which would hopefully take her home. Hopefully, because since John had died suddenly she hadn't been thinking properly. She was so utterly confused that she didn't really know which way to turn, in fact this was only the fourth time she had ventured outside and her boss had been so understanding, letting her take compassionate leave at such short notice.

The "official" report about John's death had stated that he had been "killed in action," but official reports tended to be pretty much the same as each other she thought. She knew that John worked for a sort of military set up but she had been careful not to get too closely involved in his work. She was aware that John had attained the rank of Captain, yes she mused John would have gone on to the very top of his profession had he lived. Captain Lauritzen, how grand and exciting it sounded, how awful it felt, now that he was gone. Louise found that thinking about him now upset her almost to the point of desolation.

Although it had only been a month since his death, she had thought she was beginning to accept his not being around, but wished with all her heart that she had said yes when he had proposed late last year, she wanted to wait a bit longer she'd told him and he seemed to be ok with that. Now she knew she would never have the chance, and it hurt.

With a heavy sigh she got up from her seat and made her way to the rear of the bus.

As she stood on the platform waiting to get off, the conductor noticed her.

"You all right miss?" he said, his voice full of concern. She looked at him with slight surprise wondering why he should ask, then she realised she was crying quietly, with a little embarrassment she heard herself saying, "Yes, yes thank you, I'm fine, really."

As the vehicle stopped, she got off and started walking to her flat which wasn't far from the bus stop. It started to rain and she drew her coat collar up and carried on walking.

She was so preoccupied with getting home that she had not noticed the flash of scarlet in the woods nor the green tinged eyes, which watched her from the forest directly opposite her flat.

* * *

Alec drew himself up out of the slouch he had adopted and straightening his jacket he walked over to where Keith Ford normally sat. The temporary replacement had been seconded from another part of the base, the young operative seemed nice enough he thought, younger than Keith by a couple of years maybe. Alec thought that they all looked far too young these days, he smiled and it softened the craggy features.

"Or maybe I'm getting old," he said quietly. Raising his eyes slightly he punched the button which would bring him to Straker's attention.

"Come in, Alec," the Commander's voice intoned, Alec thought that the tone had softened a little, although to anyone else the voice sounded the same as it always did, harsh, unrelenting and cold. On his way into the office Alec glanced at his watch, it was nearing the end of this shift and he was glad he would soon be heading home.

Straker looked up as Alec strolled in, the doors whispered shut behind him.

"Well?" Straker asked leaning back in the chair, he stretched and rubbed the corners of his tired eyes with his thumbs, stifling a yawn, "anything?"

Alec suppressed a smile.

"No, not yet, Ford isn't due to report until... oh..." he looked at the watch again, "eight o'clock tonight, which gives me time to get home for his first call."

He sat down in one of the office chairs and briefly gazed over at the drinks dispenser at the side of Straker's desk - I could kill for a whisky he thought ruefully - perhaps now isn't the time.

Instead he looked at Straker, blond head bending over some report or other.

"You should think about getting home, Ed, you look like you're going to keel over and sleep right here."

That got Straker's attention.

"Sleep?" he said, "with all this going on?" he gestured at the papers strewn over the desk, "Keith Ford playing silly buggers with reports not once, but twice now." he banged the desk for show, leaning back in the seat he let out a long slow breath.

"This situation has to be resolved sooner rather than later and ..." he looked over at Alec who was sitting with his head bent to one side slightly and he caught the small smirk which played at the sides of the Colonel's mouth.

Alec knew that Straker was on the verge of going into one of his famous tirades, Straker's rage against the system he called it.

"What?" Straker asked innocently. In spite of himself, he was starting to feel the events of the past forty eight hours catching up with him.

"Oh all right Alec" he said in a quiet tone, "perhaps once you've gone home, spoken to Ford and then called me to report then I'll go ... Ok?" The ice blue frost never left the Commander's eyes throughout the exchange. Brevity he reasoned would not take the sting out of the situation, but a lighter tone in his voice seemed to make Alec less formal.

"I suppose so," Alec replied. "Look Ed, I'm off duty now so I need to get off to take Keith's call, I'll report back to you directly I speak with him, then you can finally get some rest."

Straker looked up, his mouth had settled into that obstinate stubborn line. Without saying anything he opened the doors for Alec to leave and continued working. Alec breezed through the control room and let his thoughts turn to getting home before Ford was due to call. He fairly sprang from the lift into Reception; it was empty as he had hoped. Unusually for Alec, he suddenly did not feel like discussing pleasantries with anyone. Instead he kept his mind focused and his eyes sharp; there could be no room for error when SHADO's most respected communications man was on suspension. He had been quick to notice the unsettling atmosphere that fast suspension had caused among the staff. He had quickly put a stop to that. Everyone knew just what was expected of them when they worked for SHADO. Sloppiness and incompetence would not, could not, ever be tolerated.

Gaining the freedom of the car park, Alec crossed the tarmac to his car, lighting a cigarette on the way, he inhaled deeply; taking the nicotine deep into his lungs he could feel it relaxing him a little. Although he was officially off duty Alec felt that he could not relax totally until he had spoken to Ford. He finished the cigarette and got into his car, gunning the engine he drove soberly out of the studio and headed home.

* * *

Waking suddenly from a fitful sleep, Keith got up and sat on the side of the bed, holding his aching head in his hands.

* * *

Louise slammed the front door of her flat behind her and took off her heavy coat. Inside it was warm and she began to feel a little sleepy. It had only just turned five pm and she decided it was far too early for bed yet, although most times since John's death sleep was her only comforter. Going into the kitchen, she switched on the light and filled a kettle with water for a cup of tea. Waiting for it to boil, she thought about John, he had been an only child. His parents had died many years earlier, just like her own and so his funeral had been a quiet affair, only attended by a few of his close friends and a couple of men she didn't know; she'd assumed they were from John's workplace, they certainly looked official in their plain black suits and sunglasses she'd thought.

One of those close friends was Keith Ford. He'd taken a day's personal leave from SHADO to be with her. Then, he had stood with her, his arm around her waist so she could lean on him for support and comfort more than anything else while she fought bravely to keep her tears in check. She and John had kept their relationship quiet, intending to 'go public' - his words - after they were engaged. Except that engagement didn't happen so Keith was the only person who knew they were so in love, so close.

Life was so bloody cruel he said to himself as he'd watched the coffin lowered into the muddy earth. A light drizzle fell and he looked up into the softly falling rain. It seemed fitting that it rained at funerals he'd thought; camouflages the tears.

The coffin had arrived at the cemetery closed and Louise would have liked to have seen John's face one last time, to look at his fine handsome face once more before he took his final journey; but that was not to be. Louise did not know that the coffin had been sealed for a reason. No civilian could ever look upon the face of this man whose final expression showed he had died in hideous pain. They could also never see that this man had gone to meet his maker with the fingerprints burned totally from his left hand.

One of the official looking men unknown to Louise was Colonel John Grey - SHADO's only 'official' representative, and Keith had recognised him immediately but the other man, Grey's aide, he did not know.

As Keith was getting Louise settled into his car for the drive back to her flat, Grey called over to him as he crossed to his own car, motioning to the driver to wait: "Didn't know you knew him, Keith" he said gently.

"For a while now," Keith replied in the same gentle tone.

"That your girlfriend?" he'd asked nodding in the direction of the woman sitting uncomfortably in Keith's passenger seat, she could hear every word but was far too upset to say anything about it.

Mindful of the circumstances Keith said simply: "No, John, she was a very close friend of his."

"Oh," Grey said, "sorry ... foot in mouth time." He shook his head at his own thoughtlessness.

They stood in silence for a second or two before Grey spoke again: "Bad business," he said sombrely, "he was a good man, one of the best."

Keith nodded, "He was certainly that ... look, Sir, if you don't mind I'd like to get her back home." He motioned towards his car, and the woman wiping tears from her eyes. "She really is distraught."

"Oh of course, of course" Grey said quickly, "by all means." He turned away from Ford and headed back to his car, turning up his coat collar at the rain.

Keith returned to his car and got in. Louise was sobbing quietly; he simply pulled her to him and held her close in a silent embrace while she cried. Her tears touched him deeply and he felt his own emotions trying to get the better of him in response; he ignored them needing to be strong for her.

When she felt able, she released herself from Keith's arms and sat back in the seat doing her best to compose herself.

"Can we go now?" she asked, her voice so soft Keith wasn't sure if she had spoken.

"OK?" he asked her, moving a stray piece of hair which had fallen across her cheek and was held there by the tears of a few minutes earlier.

Louise nodded and Keith turned the ignition on, put the car in gear and drove away. As they passed the site of the burial Louise turned to take a last lingering look at the place where John would lay for eternity, she kept her eyes fixed on the spot until the car turned out of the cemetery gates and she could see it no more.

* * *

The whistling from the kettle disturbed her reverie and she took it off the stove and made the tea, crossing to the window she opened it a little to let in some cool night air.

Over in the forest, the red suited figure waited. Satisfied that she had not seen him, he went back into the forest under cover of total darkness to the UFO, returning a few moments later with a transmitting device.

The telephone in Louise's flat rang shrilly, breaking the stillness in the room. She lifted the receiver.


Her expression changed from one of sadness and despair to nothing, eyes staring straight ahead as she listened to the sounds emanating from the handset. At first, she tried ignoring the noise but in her emotional state she was unable to stop.

The sounds invaded her brain and the more she listened the more she found that she actually wanted to listen, the murmurs under the sounds became incidental, or so she reasoned, she felt oddly detached standing there.

The sounds lessened and the murmuring grew louder, cold and insistent, the sounds ebbed away, faded and died altogether. Louise found herself standing rigidly against the wall holding the handset tightly against her ear almost afraid of what might happen should she drop it. Still the demands were forced deeper and deeper into her brain, deeper they went until she thought she could stand it no longer, then almost without warning, and as quickly as they had arrived, the murmurs abruptly stopped. Louise collapsed, hitting the floor with a heavy thud. Her head caught the corner of the telephone table as she fell, and a small trickle of blood appeared at her temple.

The now silent handset hung from the telephone like a grotesque pendulum swinging silently from side to side until it too, fell limply to hang in a completely straight line, devoid of motion, adding to the unnatural silence in the room.

* * *

Alec waited by the phone, he had downed a couple of Glenlivets after his dinner. The whisky usually helped him relax but not tonight. Patience was in short supply after the past few days. Whereas Alec would normally pace in silence, he was getting angrier by the minute.

The time for Ford to call had passed and the phone remained stubbornly silent. The time was now 8.15pm, Ford should have checked in at 8pm.

"Straker's going to have my arse in a sling," he complained to the empty room. He decided he could not let the waiting go on, he picked up the phone and called Ford's home number.

The line at the other end remained unanswered.

"Damn, damn ... where the bloody hell are you, Ford," he said, he was just about to start cursing again when the line was picked up.

"Ford, where ...?" Alec began, but was cut off by the sound of Keith Ford asking the caller to leave a message after the tone.

"Bloody useless answer machines," Alec cursed out loud.

Into the phone he barked, "Ford, this is Freeman, I guess you know by now that you've missed your first check in, where the blazes are you?" He drew in a deep breath to calm his voice, "Look, I have to make a report to the Commander about this call you were meant to make," he paused, "do yourself a favour Keith, call me by 8.30pm, if you do fine, if you don't, well it'll be the first thing I have to tell the Commander. Damn it Ford, if you don't tell me what the problem is I can't help you ... call me by 8.30pm."

He hung up and waited for the call. Pouring himself another glass of Glenlivet he sat down heavily in the nearest armchair.

* * *

An hour after she fell, Louise stirred. Her head hurt and she wondered why she was on the floor, then she noticed that the telephone was off the hook. She thought she may have tripped and fell pulling the phone off its rest.

Louise held her head; it felt like she had been hit by a steamroller. After a few minutes she got to her feet shakily, replacing the handset back on its rest she sat on the couch for a few minutes until the room stopped spinning; she had suffered headaches before but just now her head seemed to be splitting. So intense was the pain that she had no recollection of the terrifying phone call she had received. She wondered when she'd cut her head, the bleeding had already stopped but a bruise was forming and although she didn't remember falling she accepted this was the reason for her headache. Going into the kitchen, thinking that a couple of aspirin and a good hot cup of tea would help, filled a kettle with water and put it on to boil.

She noticed the cold cup of tea on the counter and wondered when she had made that, shrugging her shoulders she poured it away.

She took two aspirin with a glass of water and, after the kettle had boiled made another cup of tea, remembering this time to add plenty of sugar.

The memory of her late mother came unbidden to her mind, "Good strong up of tea with plenty of sugar," she used to say, "that'll see you right, good for shock my girl."

The memory brought with it tears, and she wished she could feel the comfort of her mother's embrace, she needed that small modicum of comfort now more than ever.

The phone rang again.

Louise, startled by the sudden noise nearly dropped the cup of hot tea, some of it splashed over her and she yelped in pain. Setting the cup down she walked haltingly to the phone. There was something that wasn't quite right, she knew it but could not remember it. The phone continued ringing, Louise just stood there arms hanging limply by her sides, she stared at it and wished it would be quiet. The noise continued, she grabbed the handset to silence it, and then held it away from her; frightened to bring it closer.

"Louise," came a familiar voice, "Louise, its Keith, Keith Ford are you all right ... look, I had a bad feeling ... needed to see if you're ok?"

Louise sagged against the wall, the spell of immobility broken by the sound of a friendly voice. "Oh Keith, am I glad it's you," she half sobbed, half spoke into the phone.

"What is it, what's wrong?" he asked his voice full of concern, he was worried about the state of her health after John's sudden death, he cared for her and she often told him that she thought of him as the brother she never had.

"Louise," he said sharply.

She caught the tone in his voice, and replied quickly, "I'm all right, it's just that, that ... " she broke off, unable to continue. She sobbed uncontrollably, sliding down the wall to sit in a crumpled heap on the floor. The handset again fell at her feet; she didn't hear Keith telling her that he was on his way over.

As he headed the car east along the A1 towards her flat, Keith could not control the anguish he was feeling.

"For God's sake," he said angrily, "she's suffered enough, what the hell's going on?"

He almost went through a red light at the junction with the Great Western Bypass and had to stop suddenly, tyres squealing. He gripped the steering wheel hard and exhaled deeply. When the light turned green, he gunned the accelerator and continued. Ford had been friends with John and Louise for a couple of years and had remained close to both of them.

It was fair to say that Keith Ford was just about as devastated as you could get when John died suddenly. All SHADO personnel knew the risks but that didn't mean the shock was any less, and for Keith the shock had been vast, he was only just coming to terms with it. He understood how badly it had affected Louise and he had insisted that he take her to the funeral and bring her home, he had stayed with her that night, sleeping on her couch to make sure she felt better for having another person in the flat.

He drew up to a sudden stop outside Louise's flat, he looked at his watch more from habit than anything else. It said 7.05pm.

"Damn," he cursed, "I have to call Alec bloody Freeman at 8pm."

He sprinted inside and up to her door. "Louise would let me call from here," he said softly ringing the doorbell, "I'm sure she will," he assured himself.

The insistent ringing of the doorbell seemed to break the spell Louise was under. She flinched at the sound of it as if struck by an unseen hand. Realising she was again sitting on the floor of the living room with the telephone she hurriedly replaced the thing for the second time that evening. She rose unsteadily and answered the door.

"Keith," she cried, "oh thank God." She threw her arms around his neck and wept.

"Hey," he said caught unawares by the greeting, "I think we'd better go inside, don't want the old net curtains brigade twitching." He ushered her back into the living room and closed the door behind them, his attempt at humour went swiftly over her head.

Keith led Louise back to the couch and sat down on it with her, he held her while she cried, letting her rest against his chest, silently stroking her hair. For this moment, he reasoned there was no need for words. Eventually her tears gave way to small choking sobs and Keith, needing to know what had happened held her gently away from him.

"Come on young lady," he said kindly, "tell me what's happened eh?"

She nodded and wiped away the odd stray tear which fell as she recited what she could remember of the evening's events to him.

Keith listened in amazement.

Louise was not given to a fanciful imagination, she was usually the calm, unflappable one in a crisis, he reasoned that she was perhaps more affected by the shock of John's death than anyone had realised.

"I'll call the doctor, he can have a look at you," he said, "how did you get that bruise, it looks quite nasty ... did you cut yourself ... perhaps your doctor should look at ..."

"Keith, stop fussing," she shouted at him angrily.

Startled by her tone, he was silent for a few moments

"No," she said acidly, "no doctors."

Seeing his expression she added a little more warmly, "I'm all right Keith, honestly."

His face took on its familiar demeanour but the concern remained: "I'd be a lot happier if you'd let me call him ... please?"

"No Keith ... I don't want you to, it's nothing, just a little cut." Seeing he wasn't convinced she went on: "I ... walked into the door before ... I wasn't looking where I was going" she said hurriedly, "I'm just overtired ... I'll have a lie down for a bit, would you put the kettle on, I could murder a cup of tea."

"If you're sure," he said awkwardly, he really wanted her doctor to have a look at her but he didn't want to be overbearing and go against her wishes. Perhaps when she's had the tea I can get to call her doctor he said to himself. As he headed for the kitchen he noted it was almost ten minutes before 8pm, just time to put the kettle on and call Alec. He came out of the kitchen to ask if he could use the phone, but the room was empty. He went into the bathroom calling her name as he went, thinking she may be looking at the bruise but she wasn't there. The front door remained closed so where the hell was she? He went back on himself and across to her bedroom and again the room was empty. As he came back into the living room again he saw the front door standing wide open - yet it had been closed a few seconds earlier. He ran out into the hallway, still nothing, he continued on and out into the street.

"Where the bloody hell ...?" He looked up and down the street but could not see her, "she can't have just disappeared into thin air" he said, trying to calm his agitation.

He passed a red telephone box. Torn between a rock and a hard place Keith gave up the search for a few minutes as he went inside the phone box and called Alec's home number, I'm in for it now he thought dejectedly.

"Why the hell can't I catch a break when I need one," he said to no one in particular.

Alec's line was busy.

"God damn it Alec, get off the bloody line," he cursed, the line remained busy for some minutes. "Sod it," he said, "I'll have to try later."

Ford was not relishing actually talking to Alec having missed his first call in.

"God almighty, what a mess," he cried.

Keith crossed the road and walked along it a little ways. He noticed there were a few parked cars and a van further up just before the forest entrance.

"The forest," he said quickly. "Oh God, don't be in there, I'll never find you." He turned his jacket collar up against the rain which started as a drizzle but began to get heavier, he broke into a run calling her name. His mind was in turmoil ... worrying what had happened to Louise and what would by now be left of his less than glittering career.

The ominous thought: "No-one resigns from SHADO" played cruelly in his head like a battered old tape recorder that refused to stop.

A red gloved hand shot out suddenly from behind the parked van catching Keith completely by surprise. As the red suited figure raised its fist to strike, Keith's eyes widened in horror. The heavy blow sent Keith sprawling unconscious on the pavement, the attack had happened so fast that he'd not had time to defend himself.

The figure, apparently satisfied with his work bent over the stricken figure, picked him up as easily as a rag doll and carried him through the rainy darkness, through the forest to the waiting UFO.

* * *

8.30pm came and went - no call. Alec reached for the handset and dialled the last caller code 1471 - a shrill recording told him there had been a call from a public telephone box at 8.20pm, and gave the number.

"Damn," he cursed under his breath; he replaced the handset and placed a call to SHADO HQ. "Johnson?" he barked, recognising the voice as one of Ford's subordinates.

"Sir?" came the response.

"Get me a trace on this number will you ... yes, yes I'll hold." Alec reached down for the glass of Glenlivet and cursed as he lifted it to take a drink ... it was empty.

"Colonel Freeman? I've got that trace for you, Sir."

"Go on." Alec frowned at the location.

"Will that be all, Sir?"

"Yes, yes thank you, Lieutenant ... goodnight."

"Goodnight, Sir."

The phone box was situated on Sycamore Road, about 20 miles east from the studio. He was just about to reach for the phone to report to Straker when it rang, he swiped the handset off the base.

"Well, it's about bloody time Ford where ...?"

Alec had to hold the phone away from his ear as the bellowing voice issuing from it demanded, "You mean to tell me that he's not checked in?"

Alec sagged back into the chair and waited for Straker to let him get a word in edgeways.

"Ed ..." he began.

"No Alec, you listen to me, I don't want any excuses," Straker continued, "you - gave - me - your - word." Straker punched out the words in a dark staccato, incandescent with rage.

Alec took in a deep breath and responded.

"Ed, let me explain."

"Well, go ahead Alec seeing as all I can do at the moment is wait and listen."

Straker's tone was dripping sarcasm rolled in acid and Alec struggled to keep a tight control on his own voice; eventually managing to keep it measured and even.

"I think Keith called here while I was trying to get him, it's from a call box out in Sycamore Road, I don't know why but I figure it has to be him, I'm just going out there to see if I can find anything."

"Well, lucky I hadn't left yet, Alec ... I knew sleep was a luxury I could ill afford." Straker paused, stew on that for a while Alec he thought bitterly. Into the phone he barked, "Find him, Keith Ford is to be brought here I'll keep him under lock and key myself this time." The line went dead; Straker had cut him off.

Alec stood with the phone to his ear, then as he replaced the handset he balled his fists.

"I swear to God, Straker, one of these days."

Even Straker's closest friend had a breaking point. He consulted his watch as he grabbed his coat and car keys, 11.15pm.

The rain was heavier outside and it caught him unawares, he held his coat over his head and ran for the car.

* * *

Keith Ford had no idea how long he had lain on the floor. The ground underneath him was cold and very hard; he was freezing. He tried to get up but could only manage a sitting position, he winced and a pain shot though his side. Breathing was painful, he ran his hand slowly along his ribs, there didn't seem to be anything broken that he could tell but he would have to be careful moving.

For some reason he suddenly became very frightened and unsure of his surroundings.

"What the bloody hell happened to me?" he cried, his voice rising in panic. He was sitting in the middle of a clearing; there was blood on his hands and dirt all over his clothes.

All around him was darkness, darkness so black it hurt.

It was the total absence of any sounds around him that scared him the most, even at this time there should be birds singing at least. The silent forest grew heavy and very oppressive around him. Keith summoned the effort to stand and shakily headed off in a direction he hoped would bring him back onto the road. He didn't remember actually coming into the forest itself, his mind was racing, pain threatened his consciousness, he was swaying as he moved forwards, he just wanted to lie down but he knew he would not get up again if he did.

He reasoned with himself that he must have come into the forest looking for Louise, tried to focus his thoughts, he forced himself time and again to remember, but his memories remained locked away from him.

He stopped and leaned against a tree in the darkness, he was out of breath and sore, every breath hurt like a red hot dagger.

He could feel himself slipping into an abyss, darkness edged his vision and his senses roared at him to stay awake, but he was so weak he stumbled and almost fell.

The church bell in the old clock tower at the end of Sycamore Road chimed midnight. The sound of it in the still night air broke his slide into oblivion.

"Midnight?" he asked his wounded mind, "what ... the ... hell ... is ... going ... on?" he asked between painful gasps for air; his breathing was becoming laboured now and he forced himself upright again. Every muscle in his body cried out for him to stop, but he stoically pushed the pain aside and began moving forward once again. He lumbered through the undergrowth in that state for twenty minutes and when he gained the sanctuary of the main road he sobbed.

Chapter: Three

Alec Freeman was stuck in a traffic jam. His flat was on the west side of the studio so he had no other choice tonight than to go through the city centre. The back roads which he usually used had been closed for repairs for some weeks, and that inconvenience alone drove him mad. He had to get up at least 20 minutes earlier to get to work on this impersonal, nightmare of a road system. His frustration at being held up now of all times was obvious to anyone who cared to observe, his fists were balled up on the steering wheel and he had finally run out of expletives to hurl at the people in the cars ahead of him.

"Ah, this is hopeless," he said finally. He could not even go back to SHADO. He thought about calling Straker and telling him where he was but then thought better of it, "let's deal with one crisis at a time Freeman," he told himself.

Besides, Straker had his car phone number. He expected the Commander would call in any time now for an update, and he was glad to leave it like that for the moment. His main concern was getting through this damn traffic.

"And Keith," he said out loud, "what the bloody hell happened to him?"

His concern for his colleague had now turned into a deep troubling anxiety.

* * *

Keith stumbled out onto the road. He wanted to run, get back to SHADO. Find Alec, find anyone, but his battered body would not do as he asked, his beleaguered mind fought to regain control and in his confused state he staggered a little.

He was suddenly bathed in light and a roaring filled his ears, he turned slowly in the direction of the noise and stepped into the path of a car speeding down the road.

The driver did not expect to see anyone this early in the morning.

"Jesus Christ," he cried as the figure of Keith Ford appeared seemingly from nowhere directly in front of him. He stood on the brakes, wrestling with the steering wheel.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God, stop ... stop ... stop ... " smoke poured from screaming tyres as the car slewed to a halt, then came that awful thud of contact as he hit Keith.

The driver lost in shock for a moment, didn't move. He was breathing quickly, the memory of that body rising up over the bonnet and filling his windscreen would be imprinted on his memory for ever.

He watched in horror as Keith fell from the bonnet already unconscious, rolled a few times on the road and came to rest, lying completely still on the tarmac. The driver got shakily out of the car, he felt like he was trying to move underwater; tears pricked his eyes as he walked over to Keith.

The sight of the broken body laying face down on the road stirred him to action, he knelt by Keith, and felt for a pulse, it was weak, but it was there. The driver let out a short breath and reached inside his pocket for his mobile phone.

He dialled 999 and requested an ambulance, his voice was shaky and he spoke in clipped tones trying to get his trembling voice under control. He told the operator that the casualty was the victim of a car accident and was unconscious with a weak pulse; he gave the location and waited for the ambulance.

The driver had never been so frightened in his life.

"What if he dies?" he thought, then pushed the thought out of his mind as a wave of self pity threatened to overwhelm him. He went back to the car and returned with an overcoat. He had taken a very basic course in first aid at the last company he worked for - so he made very sure not to move Keith from the position in which he lay in case he caused him further injury.

He sat by Keith in the road and checked his pulse again. It was still there, still weak and thready like a butterfly trapped under his fingers, he carefully felt inside Keith's mouth to make sure his airway was not obstructed and to his relief he found it was clear. He could feel Keith's breath on his hand, it was very faint but at least he was breathing.

Unable to do anymore for Keith he took the overcoat and placed it full length over the injured man.

"Got to keep him warm ... shock," he told himself.

Then he sat by the fallen man and held Keith's head with his hands, keeping it immobilised.

The driver sat with Keith like that, in the road, waiting for the ambulance, in front of the car. It was still raining.

* * *

In the distance the strident wailing of a siren broke the still night air.

"Bloody marvellous," Alec stated, "stuck in traffic for over two hours and now you get the police in to shift whatever it is up there." He exhaled deeply and lit a cigarette. His main concern was finding Keith; he was impatient to get going.

The carphone buzzed and Alec raised his eyes skywards.

'Yes, oh great and wonderful leader?' he wanted to say. Instead he lifted the handset slowly and said: "Freeman."

"Alec, any news?" Straker's impatient tone did nothing to lessen Alec's mood and he remained hesitant for a few seconds longer than Straker liked, sensing even more trouble he said flatly, "tell me."

"I'm stuck in traffic at the moment, looks like there's been some sort of accident up ahead, I can't go forwards or backwards, I'm well and truly jammed." Alec knew this would not be what the Commander wanted to hear and he felt absolutely useless telling him, but unless Straker was expecting him to make the car suddenly sprout wings and fly then he could do no more until the traffic started moving.

Back at HQ Straker sat back in his chair and shook his head, he closed his eyes and sighed heavily, he looked over at Paul Foster.

"Take a mobile if you have to, go cross country, just get out there somehow, find me anything, anything at all." Straker's eyes burned blue as he let Paul Foster out of the office.

"Alec" he said returning to Freeman, "I've sent Foster out to Sycamore Road, by mobile if necessary, do what you can to get there, if you can't get there then I could use you back here," before disconnecting the call he added, "keep me informed this time Alec."

With a look of disgust at the monitor he flipped the switch to close the call, then hit another button.

"Lieutenant Johnson."

"Yes sir?"

"Get me some coffee will you, oh and find me Colonel Lake?"

"Right away, Sir" she said.

He closed the intercom and leant back in the chair again, he stretched his tall, slender body trying to release the tension at the base of his neck.

* * *

The wailing of the siren moved the driver out of his reverie, the lights casting blue shadows over the two silhouettes in the road in front of them.

"Oh, thank God," he cried still keeping Keith's head immobile; his arms had long since gone to sleep with the effort.

Leo Grey and Jack Masters had received the call to attend the road traffic accident half an hour before their shift ended; they wasted no time in getting the ambulance out on to the streets. Both paramedics ran from the vehicle over to the two men.

"What have we got mate?" Leo asked gently.

"I knocked him over," the driver said, his voice rising slightly. Relief that proper help had arrived chipped at the facade of coping that the driver had constructed earlier, now the facade cracked and fell away.

"Stepped right out in front of me..." he sobbed, "didn't mean to hit him, just came from nowhere... just..." He broke off, tears spilling down his face.

"All right, mate," Jack said calmly. "We'll take it from here." He helped the driver away from Keith so that Leo could assess him.

He gestured back at the man lying in the road, "Know who he is?"

The driver shook his head.

* * *

Colonel Lake looked over the reports on her desk for the last time, staring at them would not change what they told her, she reasoned. Since Alec Freeman had asked for the reports on Ford, she had wanted them to be ready for when the Colonel came back on duty in a few hours time. Her shift had been due to end at 10pm last night, but when the reports came in she had spent the last three hours checking and re-checking the results.

Just because the computer, in its humble opinion did not find anything wrong in Keith Ford's psychological profile - it did not mean that there was nothing there to find.

One thing the computer did raise was the issue of the signature on the clearance folder which Keith had denied signing, it said there was a difference in the handwriting based on the sample signature which Keith had supplied to personnel when he had been recruited for SHADO.

Virginia inhaled sharply, she had told the computer that everyone's signature changed slightly from time to time and that would not be anything they could use, she had reprogrammed the computer in her words - 12 different ways - to get a more definite answer from the machine.

It insisted that this variance was too great, and so she had studied that report closest of all, if there was anything here that could prove Ford's innocence she wanted to find it, and quickly. She hoped this variance could be the thing which would clear Ford.

"But, if it did," she reasoned, "what other scenarios does that conjure up?"

The intercom on the desk buzzed.

Virginia reached over and flipped the reply button.


"Commander Straker would like to see you in his office."

'Of all the times,' she thought to herself, but to Johnson she said, "I'm on my way."

She rose from the chair behind the desk and stifled a yawn, she looked at her watch. It was now nearing 1.15am.

She ran a hand through her thick platinum hair.

"No sleep tonight, then," she told herself.

Gathering up the reports on Keith she headed for the door.

* * *

Alec Freeman lit his fourth cigarette and calming down slightly turned on the radio, perhaps there was some local radio news bulletin coming up which would tell him what the hold up was. The night was slowly giving way to morning and he shivered, been in this car for so bloody long he thought, his back had long since knotted and gave him pain if he moved suddenly.

* * *

Virginia Lake entered the corridors of the underground complex, walking quickly and with purpose she came into the control room a short while later. Lieutenant Johnson was the only one in the room and Virginia smiled at her.

"Quiet night?" she asked.

"Jury's out on that one"

Virginia smiled as she carried on through control and seeing that the doors to Straker's office were open she went straight in.

He was there. As usual.

Part of the furniture she thought, his blond hair glinting under the lights overhead, still busy. "You wanted to see me sir?" she said, coming to a stop in front of his desk. She cast a concerned eye over him and wondered if he'd been home yet, he didn't look like he'd had any sleep.

Straker looked up, acknowledged her and gestured for her to sit down, and as she did so, he pressed the button on his desk to close the doors. God he looks rough she told herself, her brows furrowed.

"Something wrong, Colonel?" his voice was sliding into acid again and she realised he had seen her look of concern.

Surprised at being caught off guard she replied too quickly.

"No, Sir ... I just wondered if you'd had time to get any rest tonight," her voice was coated in honey; the last thing she wanted to do was invoke another Straker ice storm.

His mouth had already started its customary pressing together of the lips into that hard, flat line.

"I'm fine, fine," was all he said in response, choosing for the moment to ignore her concern. "Those the reports Alec Freeman asked for on Ford?"

She handed them over.

"Mmm," he grunted and started looking through the first report.

She had wanted to go over them with Freeman before Straker saw them, but when Straker wanted something you did not take that something to a colleague first, even though they had requested the information.

"I've checked and re-checked them personally sir, the computer can find no evidence that Keith Ford is anything to worry about..." He shot her one of his I don't believe you just said that looks and she closed her mouth on the next comment.

That look in particular made her shiver, Ed Straker had the unnerving ability to look right down deep into your soul, find what he wanted and then pluck it out of you without so much as a thank you.

He held her gaze for a few moments until she could no longer look into those fathomless pools of ice.

He regarded her coldly for a moment.

"Well, go on ... go on," he gestured for her to continue, she consulted the final report which she had not yet handed over and told him.

"This is the only variation that the computer could find."

He reached across and took it from her casting his eyes over the report; his eyes settled where she had pointed out the information. She waited for him to say something, when he didn't she carried on detailing the report.

"It states that there is a difference between the handwriting and the sample signature which Keith supplied to personnel when he was recruited."

"Is that all you've got, Colonel?" he barked at her, throwing the report on his desk with the others.

"Yes, for the moment, Sir."

"Well then I suggest you go back to the computer and try again."

His tone implied he was chastising a recalcitrant child. "Everyone knows their handwriting, and most of all their signatures change and are not exactly identical ..."

"Even so Commander ..." she interrupted him and he slammed his hands flat on the desk and stood to face her over its surface.

"Colonel Lake," he said, "when I ask you to re-check the facts, that is exactly what I want you to do."

He turned his face away from her and opened the door for her to leave.

Biting back a retort she left the reports on his desk, she drew her mouth into an almost identical line to his and her face adopted a colder, expression.

"I'll get on it right away, Sir" she said in that quiet, but determined tone she used when she was angry.

She kept what she really thought about his attitude just then to herself at this point, she had faced off with him before and she put tonight's episode down to his being crabby through tiredness, and bloody minded she added for good measure; and that thought brought a smile to her lips. She walked out of his office and out into control.

* * *

A police car arrived on the scene shortly after the ambulance. Two policemen got out and approached the two paramedics.

"Alright, mate?" one of them said, "looks pretty bad."

Leo nodded in agreement; he knelt down beside the unconscious man and leaned over his body, putting his mouth near Keith's right ear.

"Hello, can you hear me?" no response.

He tried again, "Hello, can you hear me."

"Jack, over here, give us a hand," he called over to his colleague, "I got no responses over here."

Jack left the driver sitting on the opposite kerb and went over to the ambulance, he returned now with another medical bag and a cervical collar. As the two men prepared to turn Keith over onto his back one policeman moved over to the crowd of onlookers who had gathered outside. Most were residents who had been woken from sleep by the commotion in the street, flashing blue lights usually woke the most hardened of sleepers.

He began dispersing all but the most hardened few, who eventually melted away after he had insisted. He'd been a policeman for nearly 20 years and it still bothered him the way people gathered at the scene of an accident just to have a look at someone else's misfortune.

His colleague was trying to take a statement from the driver, who was still in tears; Jack saw him and called over.

"Can you leave that for now, mate; you can do that at the hospital if you wouldn't mind." Jack, concerned for the driver's state of mind added, "He'll be going along too."

The policeman nodded, his colleague was beside the paramedics and the victim so he radioed into his HQ and relayed the events.

"Unidentified white male, No ID, RTA Sycamore Road, ambulance crew taking victim and car driver to nearest hospital, we will provide an escort."

Throwing the radio handset back in the car, he walked over to the driver's car and began looking it over. Nothing unusual inside, he moved round the back noting the skid marks on the tarmac.

He went back to the police car and came back with a tape, assessing the length of the marks on the wet road he concluded that the driver had been going faster than he should in this built up area. He'd get the driver to take a breath test at the hospital too he thought.

Leo and Jack gently rolled Keith onto his back, careful to keep his neck, head and back in a straight line.

Checking Keith's eyes Leo flashed his pen light over them, the pupils remained fixed, staring sightlessly back at him.

Leo sighed at that response and checked for a pulse, found it thready and weak; the man's blood pressure was practically on the floor.

Working quickly he put the cervical collar on the unconscious man, deciding against intubation. He reasoned that the damage to the man's face may be too severe to manage his airway safely and the last thing he wanted to do was cause the man any more discomfort ... or worse.

He looked up at Jack as he was thinking.

"I'll bag and mask him in the ambulance if he needs it."

Jack could see that Keith had been breathing on his own since they arrived, so he simply nodded in agreement and helped Leo start an IV.

"You not using a backboard on this one?" he asked.

"No, I want him in that ambulance with his head elevated, so any fluids can drain out easier," Leo responded. "Strap his body onto the stretcher then, that gives us a bit more flexibility."

That done, they lifted Keith from the indignity of the wet tarmac.

The policeman stood back as the paramedics worked and winced at the sight of the man's shattered face. Where he had impacted on the windscreen of the car, Keith had sustained severe cuts and bruising.

The worst of the damage was on his left cheek where a piece of the windscreen had sliced right through the skin, leaving the cheekbone exposed to the air.

"You guys work fast," he said noting the short amount of time it had taken Leo and Jack to get the man from the floor to the ambulance.

"We do our best to make sure they make it," Leo called over his shoulder, "its called scoop and run mate, we get them to casualty as soon as we can then its up to the hospital."

As they manoeuvred Keith into the ambulance, Jack looked down at him.

"Been breathing on your own up to now," he said "just you keep it up."

Keith's body may have been battered, but his will was intact. Deeply unconscious and traumatised as he was his spirit seized the comment and used it to squeeze every scrap of severely depleted energy he had left to keep him breathing. Shallow was the best his battered body could do, but for now it was enough; and he was still clinging tenuously to life.

"Could do with a hand getting the road clear up there," Leo called to the two policemen inclining his head in the direction the ambulance was facing.

The traffic had stopped behind the driver's car which had come to an ungainly stop in the middle of Sycamore Road. Earlier there were horns blaring and people shouting in annoyance at being stuck but the arrival of the police had soon stopped that.

"We'll be a few minutes here yet but that's the quickest way to the nearest hospital."

"Which one you taking them to?" he asked.

"Wexham County General" Leo shot back, getting into the ambulance and securing Keith. He checked again for pulse and breathing. Both were still there, both were still weak.

Jack went across to the driver and gently led him into the back of the ambulance.

Once the driver was in he closed the doors on them and got into the driving seat, Leo settled the driver across from him, monitoring him as well as Keith. Leo then turned his attention back to Keith, and his lacerated face.

Jack reached across for the radio as he started up the engine.

"Unit 2-12, RTA Sycamore Road."

"Go ahead" came the dispatcher's voice.

"White male, approximately 35-40 years old, blood pressure 90/60 respirations 10, weak thready pulse, unconscious, pupils fixed and dilated, facial trauma apparent, no ID."

"Current ETA, 2-12?" came back the voice of the dispatcher.

"Estimate 30 minutes, police in attendance clearing road ahead for us."

The police car cut a swathe through the traffic; cars were forced onto pavements for at least 100 yards.

"Come on, come on," Jack said urgently, needing to move the ambulance faster, needing to get his charges to the safety of the hospital. As if in silent response the police car shifted out of the traffic and travelled along the grass verge a little way, followed at an even slower speed by the ambulance.

"Christ man," Jack swore aloud, "I need a flat surface you idiot..." Then he saw the U turn point and silently offered thanks as the police car suddenly sprang to life, escorted the ambulance onto it and then led the way to the hospital

* * *

Freeman wound down the window and breathed in the early morning air; it felt like there had been a frost.

"Not Straker this time," he chuckled, then swore heavily as a police car screamed past his line of traffic, it's siren wailing and lights blazing; immediately followed by an ambulance doing the same.

"Bloody hell," he said, watching the retreating vehicles picking up speed in his wing mirror. He flicked the end of his cigarette out of the window, and started the engine, reversing the car slightly he cut across the grass verge.

Taking off after the ambulance he forced his way into oncoming traffic, still keeping sight of it as best he could, winding up the window at the same time. Although he had no idea where the ambulance had actually come from, he had convinced himself that it had come from the direction of Sycamore Road, and he had no chance of getting there now. Foster could look round and take anything he found there back to Straker he reasoned.

Alec knew the Commander wanted him back at HQ; he gave that thought no more than a second and reasoned that Ford may be in that ambulance and that made him press the accelerator a little harder.

For once Straker was not his first priority.

To keep up with the ambulance, he had made a few illegal manoeuvres but he could not afford to lose sight of it. Mentally committing the licence plate to memory he continued on after it, his mind racing and he thought back to the time when he had last seen Keith, in the car park at the studios.

He remembered sadly that Keith had seemed a little hurt by his suggestion that he would forget procedure and he had responded too stiffly for the Keith he knew. Alec stayed focused on chasing the ambulance but his heart was heavy. Ford's sudden and unexplained disappearance was getting to him more than he would admit.

Keith had been involved with SHADO from the very beginning, and Alec knew Ford had seen some tough calls go through, but he also had, through sheer perseverance and nerves of steel averted impending disasters as easily as getting up in the morning.

"And that's not easy with Straker on your back," Alec said wryly.

Alec thought back to those days when they had all met in Nina Barry's flat, knew that was one of the rare times he actually remembered Keith laughing. That memory brought with it another one, colder and more unrelenting, the thought that Mary Straker had been having Ed followed and finally cornered like an animal in a trap. Unable to convince her otherwise, Ed had been accused of having an affair with another woman, the photographs had cemented the case, and Nina Barry, innocently unaware in all of it, was cast as the other woman.

Freeman broke out of his reverie as the ambulance turned left at a junction, Alec was in the wrong lane and suddenly pulled over across two lanes of traffic, tyres screeched and horns blared as furious motorists had to brake suddenly to avoid his car.

"Yeah, yeah," Alec called after them, giving the finger to one or two drivers who had done the same to him.

Chapter: Four

Paul Foster wasted no time in getting out of SHADO control. Tall and athletic, he had no difficulty in sprinting around the back of the studio complex. Cutting through Black Park, the heavily wooded and park like area surrounding the studio; he ran at full pelt to the area where the studio kept all its vehicles. Skidding to a halt outside the security booth, he took out his pass and showed it to the guard.

"Out early this morning, Mr. Foster," the guard said, glancing at his watch, it told him it was 1.45am.

"Yeah, look I need to get to Markers Universal."

The guard became all business at that remark.

"Yes, Sir," he said.

An old timer with SHADO, he had been recruited when he was in his mid thirties and had specialised in security, he had served his time well. Straker rewarded him with the more sedentary role of vehicle security team leader in his twilight years so that he did not injure himself on duty before retirement caught up with him, and when the time came he would get his amnesia shot.

"Go right on ahead, Sir" he told Paul, who impatiently sprinted off under the barrier, he came round the back of the building which housed the huge trucks, it looked for all the world just like an industrial estate; nothing could be further from the truth. Paul checked the keys he had signed for up in the requisitions office, he had been a little surprised to find the usual clerk not there and had commented on it.

"Tony's off with the flu, Sir" came the response.

Paul thought for a moment and continued, "And you are ...?"

"Lieutenant Garry Andrews" the man had responded, "Tony's stand in, although I pretty much fill in where I'm needed."

Paul felt uneasy and he didn't know why, under the circumstances he did not have time to investigate, knowing nothing about this stand in he'd get Virginia Lake to pull Mr. Andrews' file when he got the chance, but for now he found the SHADO Mobile he had been allocated. Climbing up into the driver's seat, he immediately put his headset on. He gunned the engine and it came to life immediately, he urged it forward.

Heavy, and powerful it lumbered out of the unit and across the tarmac into the woods. "SHADO Mobile 2 to control" he said into the headset.

"Control, go ahead."

"Show me logged on to Mobile 2 at 01.50 hours heading for Sycamore Road."

"Yes, Sir," came back the response.

Paul cut the connection and guided the tank-like machine on deeper into the undergrowth. He knew that in the unlikely event of the vehicle being seen by a civilian it could easily be dismissed as footage being shot for a new film. The studio had been quick to see the potential of Black Park and had wasted little time exploiting it and the surrounding area for outside location work. Dense, sometimes brooding, it served as many different parts of the world depending on the film being shot at the time.

Paul consulted his watch; he estimated his time of arrival at Sycamore Road as being exactly 30 minutes from now.

* * *

Lieutenant Johnson walked over into the Commander's office and told him that Foster had just reported in.

"Fine, fine" he said, "anything from Alec Freeman?"

"No, Sir."

"Oh what the blazes is he playing at?" His voice turned the air a cold shade of grey and Johnson lowered her eyes to the floor.

Straker waved her away.

"Thank you, Lieutenant," he said and closed the doors behind her.

Sitting heavily in his command chair, he reached across for a cigar. Tearing the end off it he lit it took the smoke into his mouth and blew it out again. He set it down in an ashtray letting the smoke curl upwards; trailing delicate patterns of blue lace behind it.

Straker rested his elbows on the desk, raising his hands almost parallel with his chin, one hand closed over the other in that classic pose he adopted when in deep thought. The top hand massaging the one underneath, he stared fixedly to his right.

He remained like that for a few minutes then annoyed by inactivity he tried calling Alec on the carphone, but Alec was too busy keeping all four wheels of his car attached to the ground to answer the call.

Straker pinched the top of his nose in despair, he could use some sleep he decided and if nobody wanted to talk to him he mused sarcastically to himself, then now would be a good time.

He picked up the cigar again and went out into the control room, the morning shift had seemingly just come on duty and he was pleased to see that the rest of SHADO seemed to be running as it should, despite two of his best command staff being off site, and the other sitting in an office down here somewhere checking and re-checking the figures she had already checked and re-checked earlier that morning.

His face gave nothing away, the control room staff had given up wishing him good morning when he wore the expression he adopted now, the one which gave off arctic blasts, the hard but finely sculpted face of the SHADO Commander.

Straker looked round for Lieutenant Johnson and found she was still at her console.

"I'm going to grab a few hours sleep, Lieutenant," he told her quietly; "if anyone bothers to call in perhaps you'll let me know" he turned to go, "I'll be in my quarters."

"Yes, Sir" she acknowledged.

He turned on his heel, suddenly feeling very weary as he walked across the control room and out into the main corridor.

* * *

Quarters assigned to SHADO Operatives consisted of a large barrack type room containing rows of bunks, a kitchen area, telephones, radio, lights, a satellite television system, and of course the ever present computer links to all areas of the base.

Off the main room there were smaller, more private areas and their design was pretty much the same as the quarters on Moonbase where the wardrobe and dressing area had been cleverly hidden behind a revolving one-way mirrored door. These areas offered staff a place to sleep and relax when either off duty or to provide brief respite if they were needed on duty past normal hours. Showers and bathrooms were situated at the end of the main unit.

The Commander's quarters for obvious reasons, were private and he had his own bathroom en-suite. Straker could never relax properly here, but he needed to sleep like anybody else. He had long since given up the regime of trying for eight solid hours of sleep and chose out of necessity of the job to cat-nap. It was not ideal he reasoned, but it gave him a chance to recharge his batteries. He laughed inwardly at that, he knew that his staff sometimes saw him as an automaton and that remark would have amused them had they heard it.

He did not come down here very often. It was never the same as being at home and completely off duty, but then this Commander never let himself be off duty. He nodded at the guard as he passed into the quarters.

"Sir," he responded.

The doors closed behind the Commander, he crossed to the bed, stretching his long lean body out flat he fell asleep almost immediately.

* * *

Foster arrived at Sycamore Road more or less at the time he had estimated; he had seen no-one on the way. He had taken the headset off and climbed down onto the wet grass after parking the Mobile where it could not be seen. It was a fair walk out onto the main road, the only sounds he could hear were the sounds he made pushing forward through the undergrowth and the clicking sound his boots made where they came into contact with the hard ground.

He had been searching for what seemed like hours but his watch told him it had only been half an hour. He felt as though he was the only person alive, the stillness was so complete.

He heard a noise and stopped, listening, eyes scanning the area around him ... there was nothing there. He looked up through the trees at the patch of still dark sky trying to see where the noise had come from, still nothing.

"There should at least be birds, animals," he said to himself. He moved forward again, the sound came again, like someone's clothes brushing against the undergrowth.

Foster turned quickly to look behind him swinging the beam of his torch around as he did so, still nothing. He faced forward to carry on walking and almost jumped out of his skin.

"Oh sorry, mate," a voice said immediately in front of him, "didn't see you there."

It was a man, just an ordinary man out walking his dog; it barked furiously at something in the distance and ran off past Paul into the bushes.

"Maximillian," the man bellowed, chasing after it into the dark eerie blackness. Foster let out a long relieved sigh and smiled after the man.

The joys of dog ownership he thought. Waiting for the man and his dog to move out of sight he cast the torch light ahead of him and moved off again.

Walking some distance away but parallel to Foster and hidden by the dense trees and undergrowth, Louise Perryman strode purposefully along the waters edge. Hands held loosely by her sides, eyes staring fixedly ahead, she proceeded west through the forest.

* * *

The screaming police car drove quickly into the hospital grounds, pulling over momentarily to let the ambulance pass by. Jack brought the ambulance to a halt at the doors to the Casualty Unit; he jumped out of the vehicle and came round to the back, opening the doors to help Leo bring Keith and the driver out into the cold morning air. The hospital's emergency doors swung open, and they rushed the trolley inside to the waiting medical staff. Leo was still monitoring Keith, calling out the stats to the doctor who met them. "White male, age is approximately 35-40, blood pressure 90/60 pulse is weak and thready, pupils fixed, facial trauma apparent, no ID, been unconscious throughout, no response at all, Glasgow Coma Scale is 3 at the moment."

As the heavy red doors of the hospital's casualty unit closed shut behind them the blue lights of the ambulance continued to strobe along its slate-grey brick walls.

A few minutes after the ambulance arrived, a dark brown car screeched to a halt in front of the Casualty Unit. Alec shot out of the car and burst through the doors of the hospital heading straight for casualty reception, he walked quickly and determinedly to the front of the queue. "E're, you can't go pushing in to the front of the queue like that" an old woman protested, "bleedin' cheek of the man."

Turning to face her he held his hand up in a placating gesture.

"I'm sorry, madam" he said quickly, "it's an emergency."

She was not satisfied, "It's always a bleedin' emergency for the likes of you... "

Turning back to the nurse on duty behind the desk he ignored the old woman.

"That accident case you've just had brought in..." he began, "... it could be a friend of mine whose been missing for a couple of days" the nurse lifted her eyebrows at his urgent tone.

"If you'll take a seat sir ..." she began.

"If you'll find out for me, its urgent ... nurse ...?" he continued, looking for her name badge and finding it "... Stoneman," he finished, flashing his best friendly smile at her.

He felt anything other than friendly right now but he needed her help.

Freya Stoneman had been on duty for a full 12 hours straight and the many admissions brought in by ambulance had meant a fraught night, which had easily spilled over into early morning in the casualty department. The wait to see a doctor had increased steadily from 4 hours to 7 hours. It was not her fault that the hospital, like many others like it around the country were struggling to cope with the demands made on their units by an ever increasingly demanding public, yet their anger brought on by frustration at the long wait was always aimed at the first medical person they saw; usually the nurse behind reception.

Freya had always maintained a cool, professional approach to being castigated in public, and she understood their reasons for being frustrated but that was the way it was, and she could do nothing to change the current system, there were times though when the aggravation threatened to overwhelm her.

When Alec had come bursting into the unit, she had looked up at the sudden noise of the doors flying open, seen his fast approach across the unit towards her and his thunderous expression and decided that he would be trouble. The last thing she had needed right then would have been dealing with this bear of a man, but then he had flashed that disarming smile at her, and she had softened in spite of herself.

The doctor starting to assess Keith looked up at Freya as she came into the unit; the team had just taken the paperwork from the paramedics.

Freya glanced down at the injured man and frowned at his facial injury.

"Got a man outside in reception says this may be a friend of his, been missing for a few days," she told the doctor.

He grunted in response and said "OK, well, I can't come out to him yet, I need to get this man assessed and stable, then I'll see him."

He said no more and turned back to Keith. He started the usual routine of primary survey and resuscitation which happened each time an unconscious patient was brought in, Keith's airways, breathing, cervical spine, circulation and nervous system were checked.

Dr Brandt's skilled team worked together well, they had been in this hospital together for four years so they knew each others movements and anticipated Brandt's needs, which got the patient quickly out of casualty and into the next stage of treatment.

Knowing she was getting in the way Freya moved to the door.

"No problem, James" she told the doctor, "I'll get him to wait."

She left them to work on Keith and returned to the desk, Alec had not moved and he lifted expectant eyes to her.

"Doctor Brandt will see you shortly, Sir," she told him. "They're trying to get your friend stabilised."

Freya reasoned it was better to take the official line with Alec for the moment. She would not guess at the extent of his friend's injuries, but she had heard the doctors discussing the GCS level being 3 with the paramedics, she winced inwardly at that reading - not a good sign.

Her face belied none of this; she maintained a mask of calm professionalism as she relayed the news to Alec that the doctor would see him shortly.

The old woman who had berated him loudly was just about to start again when Freya caught her eye and shook her head at her to stop. The old woman closed her mouth and watched Alec as he walked slowly away from the desk and took a seat by the window, crossing one leg over the other he turned and stared dejectedly out over the car park.

* * *

Back in the unit, Keith Ford was lifeless according to the Glasgow Coma Scale. Dr Brandt felt that cold sensation of hopelessness at the readings and the non responsiveness as he flashed his pen light over Keith's eyes. Such a low GCS reading meant the man was brain dead. Fixed and dilated pupils only served to cement these findings. Brandt could therefore be forgiven for the invective he almost shouted when Keith suddenly became combative. Somewhere deep down in Keith's subconscious mind he was still struggling with a red suited figure. Putting his shock to one side the doctor moved immediately to hold the writhing man down, trying in vain to keep him still. Brandt was concerned that the man would injure himself further, but in his confused state Keith had become very agitated and strong enough to push one of the nurses out of the way, almost knocking her over.

Brandt called quickly for 10mg of Droperidol.

"Come on, come on ... hurry" he called over his shoulder to the nurse for the fast acting sedative, "quickly, or we'll lose him."

"Let g ..." Keith muttered vaguely, arching his back, still writhing and struggling with the doctor. Keith was not fully conscious, but they needed him to be still.

"Leave m ... .uh ... uh ... get ... off me ... " Keith was making no sense at all to them and his breathing became quick and fast, his heart rate shot up, "sha ... do, sha ... got ... to ... to ... get ... con .... trol ... UF ... O."

A nurse handed the syringe to Brandt and he quickly administered it to Keith, his voice tailed off as the drug took over his body, the doctor held him down as his body relaxed into stillness. Looking up at those around him Brandt shook his head in disbelief at what he had just witnessed. "I can easily say that is the very first time I've ever seen that happen to a casualty with such a low GCS."

Across the other side of the unit the car driver watched in mute sadness at the scene in front of him. He had been checked over and was assessed as having mild shock, but his doctor decided he could tell the police anything they wanted without too much stress.

Brandt took in a deep calming breath and exhaled slowly. He ran his hands through his greying hair "Well, according to those reactions, I'd say his GCS has just gone up, but I'll need to do a proper assessment when he's been up for the scan and the sedative wears off."

Looking over at Julie Alexander, one of his nurses he said: "Try again shall we?"

They worked fast as Brandt checked Keith's eyes again, a very slight flicker this time and the doctor felt relieved. Using rapid sequence intubation on Keith was easier for them now that he was asleep, although Brandt was primarily a casualty doctor he knew enough about anaesthesia to get the breathing tube down into Keith's airway to stop him swallowing his tongue or inhaling any solids from his stomach.

Around the doctor his team sprang into action. Pulling a cart over to her Julie undressed Keith, replacing his torn and bloodied clothes with a crisp clean hospital gown. Then she started a Foley catheter. Brandt replaced the IV the paramedics had used with large bore IV's of hypertonic saline, and plasma. Julie took blood for cross matching and samples for arterial blood gasses, giving the vials to a colleague she told her to run them up to the lab quickly.

Knowing they had to work fast they wasted no time. They carefully removed the cervical collar and attached Keith to a cardiac monitor. Brandt seemed satisfied with the results he was seeing.

"Heart rate slowing down to almost normal," he announced, "pulse rate ... better, good, good he's settling down ... could be better though."

Julie gently cleaned the lacerations on Keith's face noting that the skin covering the exposed cheekbone had been almost sheared away; it would require stitching at least.

Brandt needed to get a CT scan and X-Rays to rule out broken bones so they wheeled Keith out of the unit ready for transportation to the radiology suite.

Julie pulled the blanket up over Keith to keep him warm and she was careful not to disturb the IV's.

Brandt looked over at one of the nurses clearing away the equipment they had just used. "Nurse, page radiology, get it cleared for CT scan and X-Rays as quick as you can please, and tell them were on our way up."

"Yes Doctor."

Coming out into the reception area, he spoke briefly to Freya.

"Where's the man ...?" he started and Alec, upon seeing the doctor emerge had crossed the room in a heartbeat.

"Alec Freeman," he said introducing himself, "you may have a friend of mine out there" he pointed behind the doctor.

"Yes," the doctor responded, "I'm Dr Brandt ... if he is your friend, he's pretty well banged up, got him under sedation at the moment while we get him upstairs for a CT scan and X-Rays, that'll give us a clearer picture of what's going on here ... we have a protocol here Mr. Freeman - the golden hour rule, get them in from the scene and into the operating theatre within that time and you may just save their life."

The doctor led Alec into the corridor just outside the unit where Keith lay attached to numerous wires, tubes and the cardiac monitor.

Alec's face drained of colour at the sight of Keith Ford laying supine on the trolley. Uncharacteristically lost for words he could say nothing, he looked across at the doctor and eventually he nodded, and said: "That's him."

Used to seeing this reaction in relatives and friends of injured people, the doctor noted the response but had no time for pleasantries.

"Ok, well look, I need to get him upstairs so if you'll give the details to nurse Stoneman ... " he gestured out to reception.

"What happened?" Alec's voice was soft, almost a whisper.

"Car accident ... we think he was knocked down by a car out on Sycamore Road, the driver is in here somewhere ... you can probably speak to him later, I should think," Brandt said. As he passed reception he looked at Freya. "Clear the operating theatre and page the neurosurgeon on duty."

"Yes, Doctor," she said.

"Who's on tonight? ... Gunner, yes well get him to stand by would you?"

He shot a look back at Alec and began walking quickly after the nurses taking Keith to the lift, his white coat flayed out behind him with the movement.

"I should go home and come back later, Mr. Freeman," he called over his shoulder, "your friend will be going straight into the operating theatre ... depending on what we find, he won't be going anywhere for a while."

Alec stood and watched them go; he felt the familiar pricking feeling behind his eyes; tears threatened to spill. He forced them away, angry with himself for letting them show at all; he was Alec Freeman for Christ's sake, not some weeping teenager.

He ran a hand over his face.

"God," was all he said.

Freya came over to him, seeing his shock she had him sit down and got him a hot drink. She sat across from him.

"He'll be all right, you know" she said to him seeing his distress, "he's in good hands there, Doctor Brandt is one of the best casualty doctors we have."

She waited for that news to settle into Alec's mind.

"Can I take your friend's details Mr. Freeman ... what's his name?"

Alec told her, only giving as much information on Keith as he was allowed to under the circumstances. He sipped gratefully at the hot tea, wishing it were something a lot stronger. "Did he say anything?" he asked her.

Freya thought for a moment.

"I think he was talking about shadows and little green men" she said.

Alec choked on the mouthful of tea he was drinking, showering hot tea over his hand.

Seeing Alec's reaction but misunderstanding the reason for it she went on hurriedly.

"From what he's been through its not surprising, its good that he was mumbling, means he's got a fighting chance."

Alec swallowed hard, coughed heartily for a few minutes and then took a few deep breaths, pushing down the reaction he asked if they had any more details about what happened, absent mindedly nursing his burned hand.

Freya pointed in the direction of the two policemen sitting on the other side of the room.

"I think they may be able to help you more ... the driver's being released in a few minutes to speak to them."

Noticing more people at the desk she left him, calling after her as she went.

"I'll be back with you shortly."

Just then the unit doors opened and the car driver came out accompanied by a nurse who walked with him over to the two policemen.

Alec walked across to where they sat.

"My name's Alec Freeman," he told them gruffly. To the driver he said quickly, "that's my friend you hit."

One policeman stayed sitting with the driver while the other stood up directly in front of Alec, blocking the big man's access to the driver.

"Oh I'm not going to hit him if that's what you think," he said, "I just want to know what happened."

Not entirely satisfied, the policeman stayed where he was. Alec looked down at the driver, "Well?" he said, raising his voice slightly.

"All right, Sir," the policeman said, taking Alec's arm he went to pull him aside, Alec shrugged it off.

"Look," he said his eyes blazing "I need to know what happened; now the sooner you tell me, the sooner I leave you in peace."

The other policeman asked Alec to sit down and they let him listen while they questioned the driver. They took off their hi-visibility coats as the temperature in the hospital was a good deal warmer than outside.

"Right then" one of the policeman began.

Alec noted the badge number, just in case it becomes a problem later on he thought to himself. The police questioned the driver who denied he had been speeding, holding his head in his hands he drew in a sharp breath.

"Honestly, he just came out of nowhere, I did my best to stop ... poor man, I'll never forget that ... never."

Alec's eyes widened momentarily at that.

"Mmm," said the policeman cutting the driver off concerned that the man was getting upset again, "well, the breath test showed negative ... so we can rule out drink driving" he paused to write in the notebook, "we've got all your contact details, phone numbers, address, but you'll need to bring your documents into the station within 24 hours from now, you know the things we mean, current certificate insurance, tax, MOT."

He put his notebook back in his top pocket, leaving his colleague there with the two men; he stood up and went over to Reception.

Walking through the queue still there, he asked if the driver could be checked over again before they discharged him.

"Apparently he lives on his own and the thought of going home alone going over what happened ..."

"Sure, we'll look after him, don't worry," Freya said kindly.

The policemen came back over and shrugged back into their hi-vis jackets.

"Goodnight gentlemen" they said and left.

Alec tried very hard not to glare down at the driver.

Leaning over him he said, "You better hope he makes it," his voice deceptively low, the driver looked up into a cold and menacing stare, and shivered.

Alec walked past reception as calmly as he could, making the universal sign of going to make a telephone call to Freya, she nodded back at him.

Outside in the car park, there was a bustle of activity as people arrived at the hospital, some to visit, some to have procedures, some to work and some just to make the tea. Alec had no time for any of them, he moved quickly over to his car and got in, grabbing the phone he dialled HQ.

* * *

Paul Foster kept moving forwards, he had traversed back and forth through this part of the forest, found nothing and seen no-one except for the man and the dog. He found he was walking in the direction of the main road and he reasoned he may as well take a look out there; he pulled up the zipper on his coat against the chill air. Straker had told him earlier of the car accident when he had ordered him out here, and Paul naturally figured that it would all be cleared away by now but as he reached the main road, he saw he had been wrong, there were still shards of glass on the floor and there was blood on the ground. At the side of the road, the driver's car sat where it had been moved earlier that morning by the police and a few of the drivers stuck in the resulting traffic jam, waiting for a tow truck to take it to the police impound yard for further examination.

Paul cast his eyes over the windscreen, smashed in the centre, blood encrusting it.

He shook his head at the sight. "Poor sods whoever they are" he said out loud.

He turned away from the vehicle and his eyes settled on a white car parked on the other side of the road, he thought he recognised it as Keith's car, but ran across the empty road to make sure. All the stickers on the back window and more importantly the registration plate confirmed it; it was Keith's car alright. Paul had seen it many times parked in the car park at the back of the studio.

"What the hell is Keith's car...?" he shot a look over at the other car and his blood ran cold, "oh God ... Keith" he said. Foster had hoped, like everyone else that the SHADO operative had simply gone AWOL, there had been rumours that he had been on Sycamore Road, "God, Keith," he said again, a cold chill spread over him. "I hope you're not involved ..."

Piercing cries rang out from somewhere across the road, deep in the forest.

Foster, immediately jolted into action by the sound tore his gaze away from Keith's car, his thoughts from what might have happened, and took off across the road running headlong into the darkness. As he went further and further into the forest, the cries became less and finally ended altogether, the dog he had seen earlier ran past him barking in fear, seeing Foster and without breaking his stride the dog abruptly turned around and followed him. The foliage was thicker and stronger the further in he went, it slowed him down a little and he swiped at low slung branches as he went, on and on, not pausing for a minute, his breathing was quick and fast, sweat stood out on his brow, his legs felt heavy but he forced himself on.

The stillness seemed almost palpable, it began to enclose him, then suddenly he heard the sound of something heavy sliding along the earth then the noise of something hitting the water at great speed. He suddenly came out into a clearing and it was such an unexpected sight after all the darkness that he skidded to a halt and almost lost his footing in the mud. His face paled as he saw that there had been something there, something huge and round. He bent forward, putting his hands on his thighs trying to get his breath back.

The little dog caught up with him and started barking excitedly at him.

Foster smiled down at it.

"You don't want to be here boy," he said though short breaths.

He raised himself upright again and his eyes picked out the body of a man laying by the water's edge, he walked over to where the man lay on his side facing outwards across the water. The dog ran past Foster and over to the man, Paul tensed immediately, he could see blood on the back of the man's head and his hair was matted with it.

Paul's face settled into a serious, cautious expression as he hunkered down at the man's side, seeing no movement he touched the man's shoulder.

"Sir, can you hear me?" No response.

The little dog sat by the man wagging his tail but he had stopped barking now. Paul gave it a cursory glance.

Turning the man over he looked into sightless eyes, and recoiled in horror at what he saw, further down where the man's stomach should be there was a gaping bloody hole.

Paul's eyes widened in horror.

"Jesus, God ... oh God," he said, tears came unbidden to his eyes. He shot backwards, scrabbling in the earth as he did so, coming to rest a few feet away from the mutilated body, he felt bile rising in his throat, he tried to stand but instead was violently sick after what he had seen, the bloody mess and the smell made him keep gagging and retching until he could retch no more. The man's insides had been mutilated in such a way that only his liver had been taken, the rest of his organs had been left at the side of his body in a neat pile.

The words surgical skill came to Paul's mind as he sat there on his haunches resting his head on his arms for a minute, trying to gather some kind of control over the situation.

Foster had been involved in some pretty heavy occurrences since joining SHADO. He had been presumed dead after that incident on the moon, and he would have died had an alien not befriended him, he'd even dreamed about being snatched by aliens, but this ... this was the first time he had seen the other side of alien harvesting up close. He knew what the aliens were capable of but to see it up close made him want to be sick again. Getting to his feet slowly, he wiped away the tears with the back of his hand, pulled out his phone and called it in.

Chapter: Five

Ed Straker had been restless since he lay down; he had slept fitfully, not really resting.

The ringing of the phone jolted him out of sleep; he woke and sat up in one fluid movement. Pulling the phone from the cradle he said "Straker."

"Lieutenant Johnson sir, I'm sorry to wake you ... I have Alec Freeman on the line."

Straker nodded.

"Fine, fine ... put him on."

The lieutenant connected the call and went to get some coffee; it had been a long day so far.

"Alec, where the hell did you get to?" Straker demanded, overtones of steel in his voice. His intimidating tone belied the fact that he had just been roused from sleep, blond hair still tousled, and in other less traumatic circumstances it might have been noted that for once Alec had woken Straker instead of the other way around.

"Ed," Alec said ignoring the steely tone, "I've found Keith Ford."

"Well, he'd better have a good explanation for going AWOL Alec, are you bringing him in ...?"

As Straker was speaking Alec drew in a long slow breath and waited for the Commander to stop speaking. He knew that what he was about to relay would no doubt bring up very painful memories for him, but Alec had no choice - there was only one way to say it, straight and plain.

When Straker was silent he continued.

"He's been knocked over by a car out on Sycamore Road, he's pretty messed up, unconscious, face cut to pieces, I'm not leaving here till I know he's ok."

Silence issued from the other end of the phone, so Alec continued: "The doctors are talking about having a window of something called 'the golden hour' to help him."

* * *

Straker's subconscious immediately called up the images of his son lying in the grass, blood at his temple. The golden hour he snorted to himself. Johnny had the golden hour all right, but he never had more than that. God alone knows he thought if Alec hadn't diverted the transporter, the doctors may have had time to save him. Anger and rage welled up and he pushed it down again at Mary's impatience; had she let Johnny show him the boat they were talking about as they drove home that day the boy may still be alive. He gripped the phone harder to retain his glacier like control. He could not allow the memory and the crushing pain of that tragic day when his own little boy had been knocked over outside Mary's home, suppressed for so long, to return at this time and claim him.

He wanted Johnny back here again but he knew it would never be and he pushed the memory away, each time he did so it became harder to do.

"Ed, Ed ... are you there ... are you alright?" Alec's voice issued from the other end, "I'm sorry I had to tell you like this Ed, but there's no other way."

Straker nodded, piercing blue eyes staring straight ahead at nothing.

Straker's voice was quiet, "I'm fine Alec, just fine, stay there and let me know the minute you have any news."

Alec knew Straker didn't sound fine, he knew Straker was still battling inner demons where Johnny was concerned, demons that would never let go.

Alec sighed; he really needed to be back at SHADO HQ, but reasoned there would be nothing he could do to take the Commander's pain away. Instead, he did as he had been told, went back into the hospital to wait for news of Keith.

* * *

Johnson came back to her console, the incoming call alert was flashing, she answered it.

"Get me Commander Straker," an urgent sounding Paul Foster demanded.

Noting that Straker's line was still busy she said: "The Commander's line is busy at the moment Colonel."

Straker replaced the receiver and sat on the edge of his bed, closing his eyes for a moment he held his head in his hands and let out a long mournful sigh.

" ... Oh hold on, it’s free, putting you through."

Angrily snatching the phone from its rest, Straker growled his name into the phone.

"Sir," came Fosters voice.

Straker noted the harshness.


"Sir, there's been a UFO, there's evidence, and ..." he took a deep breath before continuing, "Sir ... there's something else."

Straker's head shot up straight and his eyes became sheer ice.

As he listened to Paul telling him about the mutilated man, he stood and began pacing. He told Foster to get Field Incident Protocols in place.

"You know what to do, Colonel, I'll get a team out there ... oh and Foster ..."


"You say there's evidence ... how many we looking at and where did it, or they, come from?"

Foster looked around him. "There's evidence of one at this site, but from the marks on the floor it looks damaged, there's fluid here."

"Don't give me guesses Colonel, give me facts," he barked. "Find it."

"Yes, Sir," Foster responded almost hanging up then, "oh, by the way sir, Keith Ford's car is here, parked on Sycamore Road."

The other end of the line went quiet as Straker closed his eyes and let out a breath.

"Well, you may as well know Foster, Lieutenant Ford was involved in that accident earlier, he's at Wexham County General Hospital ... Alec Freeman is there, he followed the ambulance and that's all we know for now."

His mouth tightened in that familiar impatient line and he cut the call.

Foster stood letting the words echo in his brain, he thought of all the damage he'd seen on the car windscreen.

"Oh God, Keith," he said to himself. It sounded to Foster, from the tone of voice Straker had used that he knew more than he was telling. By now he was used to having his ears chewed off by Straker and he had gotten used to it. It was when the Commander was speaking quietly to you in that tone of implied calmness that you knew you had problems. Foster had no choice but to focus on the job at hand, wondering what Keith was doing all the way out here when he was on suspension. Reluctantly pushing away his concern for his colleague he started back over to the body lying in the forest.

* * *

Passing the security section on his way to control Straker marched in.

"I need groups 2 and 3 on operational alert," he barked at them, ice blue eyes scanning the room as he continued.

"Get out to Sycamore Road immediately, UFO incident reported, Colonel Foster is on the scene."

The security teams jumped to attention as he entered the room, Straker hardly ever came here in person. Pleased at the response but not showing it Straker drew himself up and leaned his head back slightly.

"There's been a mutilation at this one - Field Incident Protocols are being established at the site, Colonel Foster has reported one UFO ... where it came from and how it got so close to home we don't know yet."

Glancing at each of the men in turn he continued.

"Get over there, investigate, turn every leaf over, every blade of grass if you have to, just find me the reason it's there."

He turned on his heel and went back out into the corridor.

"All right," the team leader said, "you heard the Commander ... move."

* * *

Passing through into the control room, Straker saw Virginia Lake heading his way.

"I've got those reports on Lieutenant Ford ready for you, Commander," she said.

"My office," he responded not breaking stride, she had no choice but to follow him.

Inside, he pulled his jacket open.

"There's been a UFO incident out at Sycamore Road, a mutilation," he closed the doors "and we've found Ford."

Virginia took a moment to digest the information; she looked up at Straker horrified at what he had just said.

"Keith, my God! ... He's not the mutilation?"

He held her gaze and this time she did not look away from those eyes of blazing ice.

"No," he said equally horrified by the thought "no, he's been ..." he took in a deep calming breath "hit by a car on Sycamore Road."

He crossed over to the wall at the end of his office, arms folded, staring at it.

"God alone knows what he was doing out there when he was on suspension." His eyes flashed sudden fire. "He disobeyed my direct orders."

Crossing rigidly to one of the corner seats he sat heavily on it, he motioned for Lake to do likewise.

Virginia sat opposite him and thought for a long moment.

"The evidence of a UFO and Keith Ford were both found on Sycamore Road?" she asked quietly, not liking how it sounded.

His face was a study in stone.

"Mmm," he grunted, "we have no evidence to suggest he was involved ... yet, although it looks like too much of a coincidence and in this job Colonel we don't deal in coincidence." He paused briefly. "All I do know for the moment is that Ford was taken by ambulance to Wexham County General."

He was silent for a few moments then he relaxed his shoulders a little.

"It sounds like he's in a pretty bad way, Virginia" he said quietly, glancing over at her. Leaning forward he pinched the top of his nose.

Virginia watched him with concern. Any car accident would play on Straker's mind after his son's death, but for the victim to be that one person in SHADO that he seemed to enjoy tormenting she mused.

"How bad is bad?" she asked slowly, she could imagine the inner turmoil Straker was going through, perhaps if he had not suspended Ford ... She let the thought trail off.

Like the rest of SHADO she knew that Straker rode Ford too hard, his intimidation of the man was legendary and had grown to such lengths that she wondered how, and perhaps more importantly why Ford took it, day after day. Everyone knew that Straker was a hard taskmaster and everyone including herself, was intimidated by him to some degree, it would be hard not to be she thought, that was how he got 110% efficiency; intimidation worked so he used it.

For some reason he had singled out Keith Ford for his specialist torment treatment, for whatever the reason she mused Straker kept it closely hidden.

"Well ... he's unconscious," Straker said bleakly, "lacerations, possible head injury." She could visibly see the pain creep into his eyes as he described the injuries, almost identical to Johnny's. The anguish inside him at the memory cried to be let out and she could see it washing over him in waves.

To give him back some small semblance of control she got up, moved to the desk and put the reports on it.

"Is there anyone with him, do you want me to...?"

"No," he said quietly, sitting upright and flexing his back.

She watched in admiration as his face transformed itself from the abject misery of a few minutes ago into the calm and unreadable face of the SHADO Commander.

Snapping back to the present moment he stood to face her.

"Alec's there."

She nodded at that.

Straker held her gaze for a moment, "I've told him to wait for news."

Walking quickly over to his desk he leaned across and punched the button that connected him with Moonbase.

"Lieutenant Ellis," he said into the monitor.

Looking up at Lake, he said: "I'll need you ..." and broke off as Moonbase answered his call.

"Go ahead control," came back the familiar purring tones of Gay Ellis.

Ignoring Lake for the moment he turned his attention back to the monitor.

"Gay, we've got ourselves a UFO here, roughly 20 miles east of HQ, a little too close for comfort."

He glared at the screen in front of him before demanding to know how it got past Moonbase.

Gay Ellis looked long and hard at the Commander's face framed by the monitor, she tilted her head slightly, raising her eyebrows she said coolly.

"We've had no UFO activity recorded here sir, in fact it's been relatively quiet since the last attack."

"Hmm," he said pressing his lips flat. He remembered that all out struggle with three people acting as guided missiles for the aliens, the horrendous loss of life they caused. That loss of life, of the tracking station and a skydiver submarine with all hands still sat heavily on the Commander's mind.

"I suggest you put Moonbase on red alert until this is over, all interceptor pilots on the base to be suited up and ready." He glared again at Ellis through the computer screen and then his head shot up. Pointing a finger at Lake he stood up.

"What if that UFO was left behind from that last attack?" he asked cutting the link to Moonbase.

"Colonel Lake," he said turning to face her, "I want you on the nearest Skydiver."

He pressed the button to communications. "Ford," he barked into the phone, "get me Captain Carlin."

Virginia closed her eyes briefly as she heard him bark the name, he had said it more from habit than anything else, she looked across at him, her lips flattened indignantly. He realised his mistake too late, and still holding down the button he said impatiently.

"Just get me Carlin, and put this base, all ground stations and skydivers on Red Alert."

Ford's replacement blanched. "Yes, Sir."

Straker ran a hand over his face making no apology; he pounced on the intercom as it buzzed.

"Captain Carlin for you, Sir."

In the background Straker heard the operative calling the alert.

"Attention all ground stations, skydivers and base operations this is a maximum security alert, red alert, red alert."

The base became a hive of activity as people manned their stations a little more closely, the urgency of red alert making adrenaline run a little faster.

"Thank you," he said into the intercom; a little less angry now.

"Peter, I'm sending over Colonel Lake, we have a UFO approximately 20 miles from HQ, apparently underwater at the time of speaking."

Straker registered the look of surprise on the Skydiver Captain's face.

"Where did it come from sir, do we know?"

"I think it could have been one that got away from us during the last attack off Cornwall" Straker leaned a little closer to the monitor, "I want that thing found." The menace in Straker's voice was unmistakable. "That alien's mutilated a civilian and Foster's out there now with teams 2 and 3." Disgust at yet another civilian death at the hands of these monsters crept into his voice.

"Go back to Cornwall if you have to, take Skydiver down as far as you can along the seabed, patrol every last piece of the ocean ... just don't lose it this time."

The Skydiver Captain nodded.

"Right sir, we'll expect Colonel Lake."

Straker looked over at her.

"You know the urgency on this, don't lose it," he said again as he opened the steel doors to his office, Lake nodded and left.

The reports on Keith Ford lay where they had fallen, untouched on Straker's desk. The doors closed shut behind her leaving the Commander to sit in silence for a few moments. He reflected on the events of the last hour, he thought of Alec waiting for news of Ford at the hospital and reached for the phone, "Miss Ealand ..." he began.

The thought of the word hospital brought a sudden memory. The anguish of feeling so totally alone as he had on that fateful day when he had been given no choice but to leave the hospital alone after the death of his son. His ex-wife's words cruelly ringing in his ears.

"I never want to see you again."

Tears shone in his eyes at the unexpected memory but he refused to let them fall.

Miss Ealand's voice issued from the handset.

"Yes, Sir?"

"Never mind," he said and replaced the handset.

In her office Miss Ealand gave the phone a quizzical look and carried on typing.

* * *

Coming to the end of the forest and out into daylight Louise Perryman turned and crossed the road, still walking west along Sycamore Road.

Chapter: Six

Straker got up, took his jacket off and went outside into control. He emerged as a panther might from its den, eyes scanning the area, slowly stalking his staff. Watching the monitors and asking for reports, he prowled menacingly.

The young operative taking Ford's place looked terrified. He and Lieutenant Johnson had been discussing how Keith was when the sudden appearance of Straker sent him scuttling back to his desk. He quickly became very interested in his monitor and did not make eye contact with the Commander.

The action was not lost on Straker and, as he had overheard their conversation he knew they were worried. He told them what he knew so far, needing their full attention focused on the job at hand.

Straker had in the past delivered more devastating news to his staff. Back then he had been accused by some of being too mercenary, he had shrugged it off, goes with the territory he had said, this time was no different.

* * *

Alec Freeman crossed hospital reception, still just as angry at the situation as he was earlier, this time there was no old woman at the desk to annoy him.

"Any news?" he asked Freya.

"No not yet Mr. Freeman ... Mr. Ford is still in radiology, depending on what they find he'll probably go straight into theatre."

Alec blew out a breath.

"When they've finished what they have to do, they'll tell me," she said kindly, "then I'll tell you."

He smiled his thanks at her and went over to the coffee machine.

"Pretty girl," he thought to himself, then "get a grip, Freeman," he told himself. "This isn't the time."

* * *

In radiology Dr Brandt was standing with his hands on his hips, looking at the images from Keith's CT scan and the films from his X-Rays.

"Julie?" he said, "get Dr Gunner up here ... and ... is theatre two clear?"

She walked across to the white board on the opposite wall to the scanner.

"Yes Doctor, it was cleared for you when he was brought up here" she nodded over at Keith, still out of it under sedation.

"Mmm good," he said. Julie walked back over and looked at the images with Brandt and frowned, recognising the crescent shaped mass covering Keith's brain.

"Subdural Haematoma" she said.

"Acute Subdural Haematoma," he corrected her, "caused by that contusion to the frontal lobe" he pointed to the front of Keith's skull on the image. "He's damned lucky he didn't break any bones."

Coming over to Keith he called back over his shoulder to Julie: "Can you shave this part of his head for me before we take him into theatre?" he showed her the area needed. Julie was careful not to disturb Keith any more than she had to and gently and carefully shaved part of his hair away, looking down at him as she did so she thought how peaceful he looked.

"Where the hell is Gunner?" Brandt said looking around, seeing Julie was done shaving Keith's head he called out, "here, help me get him to theatre."

Julie and two other nurses helped Brandt rush Keith out of radiology and into theatre two.

Gunner joined them on the way.

"What have we got, James," he said to Brandt.

"Acute subdural haematoma" Brandt returned.

The neurosurgeon pursed his lips and grunted.

Brandt continued: "Had an argument with a car windscreen."

"History?" Gunner said looking for Keith's notes. Julie handed him the paramedics running sheet.

"Right well, lets not hang about," Gunner said reading the notes quickly and passing them back. Gunner was one of the hospital's most respected and skilled neurosurgeons, he looked down at Ford.

"Well, Mr. Ford, you've got the best team in this hospital looking after you today," quietly assessing the man as he did so, "lets get on with it shall we?" he crossed over to the table, "I need to relieve the pressure on his brain."

They manoeuvred Keith onto the operating table, careful not to dislodge any lines tethering him to the monitors. The trolley was moved out of the way, and they positioned Keith for surgery. As Keith was prepped and draped, Brandt and his team scrubbed in. On his way into theatre Brandt glanced at the clock, it read 3.05am.

* * *

Alec Freeman rested his head on the back of the chair. Sitting at the back of the waiting area, he had reasoned he would not be disturbed. He had long since given up reading the magazines, he'd drank as much coffee as he could stand for one day, and been banished to the car park for his smokes.

He glanced over at the clock, noting the time was 5.40am he closed his eyes. The events of the past few hours were catching up with him, he was still on alert, never sleeping properly anywhere than in his own bed.

To the casual observer he appeared to indeed be asleep, to those who knew him he was still ready for anything.

* * *

It had been a difficult operation, but Gunner had seen worse. He always worked quickly, not wasting a single ounce of energy. He glanced up at the clock 5.56am, at last the surgery was nearly done.

"How's that sedation coming, Tom?" Gunner called over to his anaesthesiologist.

"He'll be coming out of it by the time you finish the dressings," he called back, his keen eyes reading the monitors. Gunner wanted to reassess Keith's neurological responses, to see whether the man was able to move and what his level of consciousness was after the surgery. If the responses were satisfactory then, and only then, would he let them transfer Keith to the ICU.

Looking over the wound for fresh re-bleeds and finding none he closed, and continued with the dressing, then checked the dressing over Keith's newly stitched cheek. "Regrettably, Mr. Ford, you will have a small scar there when this heals," he said to the unconscious man, "despite our best intentions."

A few minutes later Tom called over. "He should be coming round any minute."

Gunner nodded.

In the recovery room Gunner brought his paperwork over and looked down at Ford.

Leaning over him he asked, "Mr. Ford ... can you open your eyes for me ... Mr. Ford?"

Nothing, no response. Gunner pushed down panic and tried again.

"Mr. Ford ... open your eyes for me"

This time Keith moaned and tried raising his arms to his head. Concerned that Keith would dislodge his IV's, Gunner quickly took hold of his hands and moved them away.

"Well, that's encouraging," he said, Keith's eyes fluttered open and Gunner smiled, "that's much better."

Keith was disoriented and began moving around on the bed.

"Its all right Mr. Ford, you're in hospital ... you've had an accident ... you're doing fine." Taking hold of Keith's hands in his he spoke again, "squeeze my hands please ... as hard as you can ... squeeze ... that's it ... good ... that's very good."

The doctor, satisfied Keith's brain was functioning normally by the strong responses he'd felt from the man squeezing his hands, put Keith's hands back down gently on the bed.

Keith, responding to the doctors soothing voice, and still feeling the effects of the anaesthetic, closed his eyes again to let sleep claim him. Gunner turned back to the rest of the team to find them relaxing a little after the strenuous operation.

"I'm marking his notes up that his GCS is up to 14 ... he's not out of the woods yet but he's getting there ... those responses look very promising ... nice work everyone," he said. "Ok, take him to ICU please."

* * *

Doctor Gunner came downstairs, crossed to reception and spoke to Freya; she pointed him in the direction of the apparently sleeping man. Hearing the voices Alec opened his eyes. Resisting the urge to yawn he looked expectantly at the doctor; trying to read his face for news.

"Mr. Freeman?" he said extending his hand to Alec, "I'm Doctor Gunner."

As he took a seat opposite Alec, still in his theatre scrubs; still creased and sweaty from the exertions of surgery he quietly surveyed the careworn man in front of him, noting the almost hidden anxiety behind the quiet intense eyes.

"Mr. Ford has been a very lucky man," he said flatly.

Alec let go the breath he had been holding.

Gunner smiled a little at that.

"He sustained quite a nasty blow to the head, it's known as temporal front lobe injury which caused an acute subdural haematoma."

Taking Alec's silent gaze for confusion at the medical terminology he continued, "In layman's terms it caused damage to the front of his brain which in turn caused him to bleed into his brain ... we had to operate to remove the clot it formed, but we got to him within the golden hour."

"Oh, I know what a subdural haematoma is," Alec said surprising the doctor, "I have a colleague who has had more injuries than you could shake a big stick at, he's had one of those too," he laughed, surprising himself at how the tension seemed to be ebbing away now that he had been given good news.

Gunner smiled again, "Interesting friends you have Mr. Freeman ... although ... an acute subdural haematoma is slightly different to the one your ... er ... colleague had shall we say, whereas with a subdural you can drain the blood out by drilling small holes into the skull. An acute means that the blood has clotted and needs to be removed surgically and that's what we've done."

Silence reigned for a few moments.

Alec's face regained its normal composure.

"Is Keith going to be all right, doctor?"

"It's early days yet Mr. Freeman, but he was able to tell me his name earlier and he's tried to pull his IV's out." He chuckled. "That's always an encouraging sign ... the brain is telling the body there's something there it doesn't like ... we'll need to keep him here for neurological assessment, tests that sort of thing. He gave us a major scare when he came in though, my colleague Dr Brandt got no response from him, his pupils were fixed and dilated which usually means there is no hope ... but your Mr. Ford suddenly became combative, which surprised the hell out of the casualty staff ... as yet, we have no idea what caused the fixed and dilated nature of his pupils. It's possible it may be drug related but we'll have to get him back on a ward for now and investigate further when he's well enough."

Alec nodded slowly as the doctor's words began to sink in.

Doctor Gunner cast his eyes around the busy reception area, passing a careworn hand over his face he sighed: "I'm hopeful he'll make a full recovery but he'll need careful monitoring ... you see, these injuries are different in every person, so no two injuries are exactly the same, but Mr. Ford seems reasonably healthy enough ... he sustained some bruising to the frontal lobes, that part of the brain which controls personality, behaviour ... in essence, what makes that person the person they are ... we won't know whether Mr. Ford will be a different person to the one you know until he wakes up."

Alec looked down at the floor.

Trying to reassure him Dr Gunner said: "Like I said Mr. Freeman, we won't know how bad it is until he wakes up ... please don't worry, he really is in the best place ... we will look after him"

Alec still did not look up, his mind racing with the news that Keith may not be the same as he was ... and its implications for SHADO.

When Alec felt he had digested as much of this news as he could for now he looked up. He quietly considered this doctor with the light grey eyes and silver hair for a long minute. He gave off confidence by the bucket load, how much he reminded Alec of Ed Straker. Dedicated, professional.

"When can I see him?" he asked the doctor quietly.

"In a couple of hours I should think, he's sleeping at the moment and he won't know you're there."

Alec nodded.

"Where is he now?"

"He's in the ICU Mr. Freeman, don't worry he really is in good hands here."

Alec persisted.

"I can see that Dr Gunner, I'd just like to look in on him, I've been here since he was brought in and I'd like to see that he's ok."

The doctor held Alec's gaze for a moment.

"I'll give you two minutes, then you really have to leave him to our care Mr. Freeman ... ok?"

Gunner stood up and turned in the direction of ICU.

"Fine" Alec said following after the doctor in that easy loping stride, his shoulders still slightly hunched but slowly losing the careworn slouch he had adopted earlier when there had been no news and he was imagining the worst.

Going up in the lift Dr Gunner was quiet for some moments.

"Have you been into an ICU ward before Mr. Freeman?"

"Many times," came back the response.

The doctor laughed, "Oh, yes your ... colleague," he chuckled.

Alec smiled at him.

"Sometimes a first visit to an ICU can be frightening," Gunner went on, "there's lots of noise, monitors and the like."

"Yes," Alec said, on the one hand not wanting to be patronised, but on the other not wanting to be rude to this doctor who had saved Keith's life. The doctor had even come down personally after that surgery to talk to Alec himself; the gesture had not been wasted on him: "I can imagine," he said kindly.

The doctor continued, "Mr. Ford will be lightly sedated for the next few hours to let his body adjust after the trauma of surgery ... he'll have medication for the pain too, when we reduce the sedation then Mr. Ford should wake up naturally. He's been breathing on his own since he came here, apart from when he was anaesthetised obviously; unassisted breathing is always a good sign."

He shot a look over at Alec, "He'll have round the clock care here ... so please don't worry."

The lift brought them out on the third floor of the hospital's east wing.

Gunner walked with Alec to the observation window.

"Two minutes Mr. Freeman. I'll get a nurse to show you out. Look, I've got to go ... nice to meet you."

Alec shook his hand.

"Thank you for what you've done for him so far ... and it was nice meeting you too."

Alec looked solemnly through the glass and the old familiar tired sadness worked its way over his face as he looked over at the SHADO operative laying in the ICU bed; how many other times had that figure been Ed Straker?

Alec sighed, all he could see of Ford's face was the right side; the top of his head, forehead and left cheek hidden away under sterile dressings.

After a few minutes of standing there Alec reasoned he could do no more for Keith at this time, perhaps I should go back to HQ he thought.

He turned to go and almost walked into Julie.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he laughed, and it was a nice sound in the unit after the trauma of the last few hours. She caught herself before she collided with him and smiled, then catching his expression she said: "He'll be ok you know," looking back at Keith, "I'm on ICU duty for the next month, we've got a good team here. He'll get round the clock care Mr. Freeman."

He smiled at her and she placed a comforting hand on his arm.

"Go and get some rest, leave him to us now."

"One thing nurse" he said also looking back, "why is he in restraints, he's not dangerous is he?"

"We don't want him to pull his IV's out."

"But he's sedated?" Alec persisted.

"Even a semi conscious patient can pull lines out. Look, please don't worry."

As he left the unit he gave Julie his personal mobile number.

"Anything happens at all, I need you to call me," he told her.

Taking the card she looked at it and then put it in her pocket.

"I'll do that."

* * *

Twenty minutes after Keith was admitted to the ICU, his bloodwork came back from the lab with an apology for the lateness of sending them to the ward; a note attached said they'd been backed up solid all night. Julie frowned as she read the results. Knowing Dr Gunner was in his second operation of the day she picked up the phone and paged James Brandt.

* * *

Alec walked out of the lift as it reached the ground floor, still mulling over how he would get Ford over to Mayland, because that will be the first thing Straker would want and a priority if his accident had anything to do with alien activity. He passed by reception and waved a goodbye at Freya.

"Thanks," he called over his shoulder and she smiled back at him.

* * *

Brandt had been enjoying a hard earned break when the page came. Like any good doctor he set the half full cup of coffee down in the canteen and rushed up to the ICU.

"What is it?" he said as he rounded the corner into the unit.

Julie gave him the findings.

"Bloody hell," he said under his breath, they both looked over at Keith. "There's no mistake?" he asked.

"No, James," she said softly.

* * *

Paul Foster moved quickly to secure the area around the dead man, taking a metallic coloured cover from the mobile, he had placed it over him, and the little dog had sat by the man all through the events of the last few hours. Foster had picked the dog up and moved it out of the way several times but it kept coming back.

He used tape similar to the tape police used to cordon off crime scenes, but SHADO tape was white and therefore untraceable.

If anyone asked he would have told them there was a dead animal under the cover and they'd have to take his word for it.

"Big cat we think." That was usually enough to get the general public out of their way. On those occasions out in the field where the police had become involved SHADO worked together with them.

When the matter was closed and the files sealed, the officers and any other people involved were invited over to one of the mobiles to have a specially prepared cup of SHADO coffee or beverage of their choice. The amnesia drug the drinks contained was tasteless, so after SHADO had gone there were no loose ends left to tie up.

Foster was lucky at the moment, no-one had bothered him.

This forest stretched for nearly five miles down from the road and sprawled out along the river. It would take most of the day and possibly the evening to search it properly he mused. The sound of the approaching mobiles caught his attention and he waved them over.

Lieutenant Shyler was the first to approach Foster, he was well liked in SHADO, a good team leader and Foster knew him.

"Adam, over here," he said leading him over to where the dead man lay, his dog laying at the side of him.

Hunkering down, Adam patted the dog's head, "Hello, boy," he said calmly. "This his dog?" he said to Foster.

A few seconds later he lifted the metallic cover.

"Christ, they are savages," he said in disgust at the torn body, he replaced the cover as he stood up, he faced Foster.

"Know who he is yet, Paul?"

"Well, I'm just going though his ID, lives over there somewhere I think." Foster pointed back over towards the main road, "just off Sycamore Road ... number 65 Lightfoot Street, our man was George Davis and at the moment I don't know anymore about him."

Foster turned looking deeper into the forest.

"Look I have to go check out this guy's address, send your men out in the mobiles, go to the furthest reaches of the forest, and sweep back in, leave a couple of guys here to search around the site where the UFO was ... there's got to be something there ... I know its going to take a long time but lets get going shall we ... Straker wants something, so lets not disappoint him." Foster's tone was brisk.

"Right, Sir" Shyler said sending the men off as instructed as Foster headed off in the direction of Lightfoot Street.

* * *

James Brandt studied the report in front of him.

"I don't understand it," he said, "it looks like it's a designer drug - similar to one called POLO, it appears to be a combination of Scopolamine, Heroin and another unidentified component." His brows creased at that. "Not sure that might be what caused the fixed and dilated pupils when he came in, it didn't the last time I saw this ... Julie, do you remember last year when I did that exchange programme with Hackensack Medical Center in New Jersey for six months?"

"Yes I do remember very well, James, we all envied you going to the States." A couple of other nurses looked up at that and smiled at them, he noticed the reaction and returned their smiles briefly.

"This thing was prevalent over there then, loads of people overdosing." He closed his eyes for a moment, "one night alone we had 60 people in the ER from overdose." His voice was quiet. "Terrible, terrible time." He sighed, "I hope to God it's not starting over here."

He shook his head slightly and stood up, still looking at the notes.

"I just don't understand it, Julie," he looked over at Keith and continued, "thing is, if he's got this in his system he should have presented with respiratory distress and cardiac arrest but he didn't, just the pupils ... this report says its similar to POLO and that's the closest they can get, unless its a new variation ... oh God that makes me feel sick at the thought."

He put the report down and walked over to Keith's bedside.

"He doesn't look like your typical common or garden druggie, no tracks in his arms yet these results say that drug is in him, I'd ask you to take more blood and get it checked again, but that's already been done so there's no point."

Julie walked further into the unit to check on the other patients while Brandt checked Keith's eyes with the pen light. Noting the appropriate reactions he cast his eyes over the monitors; everything looked normal. Perplexed, he gazed down at Keith as if that would give him the answer, other than the IV's and the other lines attached to him there were no other marks on his arms besides those where they had taken his blood.

He felt baffled and was about to walk away when his eyes settled on an area on Keith's head, just behind his right ear about an inch in just under his hairline. Keith was laying with his head slightly to the left and James noticed a small speck of blood underneath the head dressing, it had congealed. Julie was still attending to another patient further down ICU and Brandt looked up to see where she was.

"Saskia," he called over to another nurse, "take over from Julie for a minute will you?"

"Yes, Doctor Brandt."

Julie came back over to Keith's bedside.

"What have you got, James?"

"Look at this, why wasn't this checked, looks like he's been bleeding from the back of the head."

"He was checked a few minutes ago," she cried, "I did it myself and ... oh God, that," she said emphasising the last word and pointing to the blood, "was not there a few minutes ago."

Brandt quickly removed that part of the dressing away from Keith's skin, the movement caused Keith to moan and his eyelids fluttered. The doctor stopped working for a minute to let him fall back into his sedated sleep. Under the dressing there was a hole, bigger than a hypodermic would make and surrounding it was a deep round indentation in the skin.

Not expecting to see something like that Brandt stiffened.

"What the hell is that?" he said slowly, "looks like some sort of puncture mark but I don't know anything that would cause that type of wound."

Satisfied that this was the cause of the bleed, he inspected the area again. Seeing no debris in the wound he re-dressed it and made sure Keith was comfortable.

"Gunner's got to see this. The cervical collar was off before surgery so they had to have seen this," he went on. "In all the years I've been a doctor I've never seen a collar leave that sort of impression in the skin."

Taking Julie by the arm he led her away from the bed.

"I'd like to have another look at his scans see if we missed anything."

"Ok," she said walking over to get the films for him. While he waited by the monitor he said, "Looks like that could be how the drugs got in his system ... but he's hardly likely to inject himself at the back of his neck is he? ... usually it’s straight into the arm, and failing that any other extremity where they can find a vein." Placing the films where he could see them he continued, "It looks to me that he could have been injected against his will, that mark looks quite nasty."

Julie looked across the unit at Keith.

"Thing is, he's not in any fit state to tell us anything yet."

"I agree," he said looking at the images as if they would tell anything more than they had earlier; they didn't and Brandt frowned.

"When he starts coming out of it I'll need a consult on that, that ... whatever it is, I've never seen anything like it." He paused for a moment then, "I'm leaving him alone for tonight as he's only just come out of surgery." He thought for a few more minutes, "When’s he due for his next scan nurse?"

Julie checked the chart.

"Tomorrow evening 5.30pm" she said.

"See if you can bring it forward to first thing tomorrow morning."

"Yes doctor".

Brandt turned back to the desk.

"In the meantime got to get help on this, can't have an unidentified drug loose on the streets of England now can we?" he asked her, reaching for the phone he called the police.

As the phone rang out he checked the cabinets to make sure they had enough Lorazepam on standby - just in case our man has a seizure from that drug he thought; it’s the only thing that will resuscitate him.

* * *

Virginia Lake arrived at Skydiver half an hour after she had left HQ. She had been flown out to the submarine as it had been heading back to join in the search for the UFO. Peter Carlin had raised the sub after checking it was clear to do so, and she had transferred from the plane to the ship unobserved by civilian eyes.

"Nice to have you on board, Colonel," he said.

Looking around at the crew she said, "I wish it was under better circumstances Captain, let's get under way."

He nodded and gave the order to dive.

The crew prepared their stations as Carlin led Virginia to the back of the ship.

"My cabin is at your disposal, Colonel."

She smiled at him, "Thank you, Captain. That's very kind of you - hopefully we won't be down here that long."

* * *

Alec reached his car, debating with himself whether to call Straker before he left or just drive and tell him the news on Ford's condition when he got there. He decided on the latter, if Straker gave him any trouble before he got back he mused he may just turn the car around and drive in the opposite direction.

Chapter: Seven

Louise Perryman reached Black Park as Alec drove into the studio; she had walked unseen through the forest and along the riverbank from Sycamore Road that morning. The early hours of a cold grey morning meant people stayed indoors a little bit longer, exacting as much warmth as they could from being indoors before venturing outside.

Coming to the wooded area she stopped and appeared to wake up from the trance like state she'd been in as she walked. She ran alongside the perimeter fence down one side of the woods, there were huge old oak trees here and she made short work of climbing them, sitting in between the trunks of one of the trees she waited.

Casting her eyes over the studio complex she saw what she was looking for, there up ahead between two high sided red walls was the zebra crossing, looking to her right were the two light blue doors with black handles.

* * *

Gaining the security of the Studio car park, Alec drove to a vacant space and parked. He went into the building through the rear entrance, walked down the corridors until he came to Miss Ealand's office. He fairly burst through the door into her office, making her jump.

He smiled, happy at getting the reaction he wanted.

"Alec Freeman," she said warningly at him, dark eyes smouldering, "one of these days I just might refuse you entry to Commander Straker's office."

"Ah, come on now, Miss Ealand" he said as the doors closed after him, "you know you love me really."

Miss Ealand meanwhile thought better of throwing something at his retreating back and recovered her composure.

* * *

Inside Straker's office Alec resisted the urge to quote Shakespeare into the voicebox on Straker's desk, for once simply saying: "Freeman."

"Voiceprint Identification Positive, Freeman Alec E," it told him.

"Yes, I know who I am thank you," he said to it. "Bloody machines."

Emerging from the lift he was surprised to find the base on red alert and increased his pace a little.

Inside control the tension was high.

"Red alert?" he said to Ford's replacement as he came in.

"Yes Sir ... Commander Straker's orders, there's been a UFO."

"A UFO," he echoed, "where, when, how did it get past Moonbase?"

"Ah Alec, nice of you to join us," Straker's voice sarcastically issued from just outside his office.

Alec glanced at the young operative in front of him.

"Here we go," he said, then walking over to Straker. "What's going on?"

Straker smiled a little. "Come in, let me tell you."

Alec walked into the office and immediately over to the drinks dispenser, filling a glass with whisky he sat down opposite Straker's desk. Straker remained standing in the doorway, he lifted his head back, keeping his gaze neutral he watched him.

"Same old, Alec," he said in a tight tone, gesturing at the drinks dispenser as he came round his desk he said, "help yourself why don't you?"

As Straker closed the doors to control, Alec took a long drink, ignoring the barb: "There's been a UFO?"

"Yes," Straker said nodding slowly.

"I'll get to that in a minute ... tell me about Ford," his voice uncharacteristically soft.

Alec, surprised at the diversion was momentarily speechless. He set the glass on Straker's desk and lit a cigarette, letting out a slow breath he relayed what the surgeon had told him, adding his own feelings about seeing the man laying helpless in the ICU.

Straker was silent for no more than a minute.

"Well, our first priority is to get him transferred back here to Mayland immediately, keep the situation contained."

Taking a long slow drink from the glass Alec looked over at Straker.

"You're a hard bastard, Ed Straker," he said at length. "Contained," Alec thundered, a cynical smile playing across his lips "... Ford's only just out of brain surgery, he can't be moved yet ... he's not even conscious for God's sake."

Straker looked back in surprise. He inhaled slowly, anger and wanting revenge at the alien attack so close to home was beginning to rise inside, it was aching to be let out but he pushed it back down, for the moment, and fixing his penetrating cold blue eyes on Freeman said vehemently: "If anyone else had said that to me Alec ..."

"Yeah, well it isn't anyone else, Ed," Freeman retorted, "its me, I've seen the way you plague that man when he's on duty, I don't know why he doesn't stand up to you."

Freeman stood, anger getting the better of him.

"You don't give him a chance. You've never known intimidation on the level you give him."

Straker glowered thunderously at him and he stood also. The two men faced each other across the desk.

Straker came round the desk shoulders hunched with his hands balled into fists.

"I have my reasons," he told Alec. His voice was heavy and still carried menace.

Alec knew Straker from old. "You have your reasons," he echoed sarcastically, "well, all I can say is they better be bloody good ones." Alec turned away but pounced back, "if you hadn't suspended him ..."

Red Alert Klaxons suddenly sounded.

"Intruder alert, intruder alert," shrieked the warning.

The glass window behind Straker's desk imploded into the room. A young woman with a gun broke through from behind the glass; raising the gun she aimed it at Straker and fired.

The two men spun round in alarm.

Momentarily stunned by the attack, Alec launched himself at her trying to get between her and Straker - but he had been standing just that little bit too far away, all he could do was knock her aim off a bit.

As the glass shattered around him, Straker had thrown his arms up protectively over his face but he hadn't been quick enough to deflect the bullet. As it hit him it spun him round, and he fell heavily to the floor sending shards of glass flying in all directions. Alec grabbed at the gun. Wrestling it from her he managed to open the doors to control and a security detail rushed in but her reflexes were lightning fast as she pushed Alec away and ran through the guards as if they weren't there.

"Get after her," Alec bellowed. "Stop her."

Calling Dr Jackson on the comm link, he was at Straker's side in an instant.

When the Commander had fallen he had landed face down on the floor right on top of some of the glass from his mural, there were shards of it in his hands.

"Ed," Alec said urgently, "Ed ... can you hear me ... Ed..." his voice getting louder.

Where the bullet had torn through the Commander's skin there was a deep red gouge along the hairline, and blood was welling up in the wound.

"Where the hell is Jackson," Alec asked the remaining guard at the door.

"I'm here, Colonel Freeman," came Jackson's distinctive voice from the doorway.

The medical team stood just outside the office with a trolley as Jackson moved Alec out of the way. The doctor knelt down by Straker's side, seeing the Commander was breathing and his pupils were normal he spoke in a loud voice.

"Commander ... Commander can you hear me?" he asked, flattening his voice to make it deeper.

Pushing what glass he could out of the way Jackson gently turned the Commander over, inspecting the wound on his head he simply grunted.

Then looking at Straker again he continued, "Commander," louder this time.

Ed stirred and moaned softly.

"Good ... good," Jackson said, "now, can you open your eyes ... yes, yes that's right," his gravelly voice focusing on bringing the Commander awake.

Suddenly feeling useless Alec ignored the remorse which clamoured for attention and barked over at the guard. "How the bloody hell did this happen?"

Annoyed at himself for leaving Ed unprotected for a split second, and that was all it had taken - a split second to cause this.

Jackson, concerned at the sudden noise shot Freeman a look which silenced the big man, and then turned back to Straker.

The Commander opened his eyes again and with Jackson's help managed a sitting position on the floor, he leaned heavily against one of the corner seats.

Straker was groggy and confused, trying to push Jackson out of the way he tried to fix his gaze.

"Alec ..." he began, the distinctive voice alarmingly quiet and weak. Freeman hunkered down at Jackson's side but the doctor held Freeman at arms length while he continued to examine Straker.

"Commander ... can you tell me your name, and where you are," Jackson continued. The ice cold eyes fixed Jackson with a stare that would freeze the sun, even in his battered state.

"Straker, command ... Commander of SHADO ... I'm in my ... office" he finally spat out between breaths.

The pain in his injured head was driving him crazy. It felt like a red hot poker burning down into his skull and Jackson's fussing was making him agitated.

"Jackson ... will you leave ... me alone," he managed through strongly gritted teeth.

"Yes ... yes ... Commander." Jackson's voice was soothing and placating; he was used to dealing with Straker's stubbornness. "Can you stand Commander?" Jackson continued, ignoring Straker's arguments, "I need to have a proper look at you in Medical Centre."

Straker gathered his strength and with a supreme effort of will forced himself to stand, his head swam and he felt sick but he made it.

He refused point blank to go to Medical Centre on the trolley they had brought.

"Dr Jackson," he said, "I am not being wheeled down the corridors of HQ like some helpless little baby in a pram, I'll walk."

"Yes, Commander ... as you wish," Jackson said, drawing out those long flat European tones. He stood close to Straker as the Commander spoke. Ed suddenly felt uncontrollable nausea washing over him and as blackness and the floor came up to meet him Jackson and an orderly caught him.

With Freeman's help they got him secured on the trolley and out of the office. Passing worried looking operatives from the control room Alec said, "All right, all right, back to work ... come on, we've got a UFO to find." With that he turned and followed Jackson and the med team back to Medical Centre.

* * *

Out in the labyrinthine corridors of HQ a security guard took aim at the fleeing woman and fired, she fell at once; they had her. Earlier, they had come across the body of their fallen colleague out on the back lot, his face and body a mass of bruises and blood, his gun missing.

The security team arrived at Medical Centre a few moments after Jackson had taken Straker into the emergency suite. Dr Shroeder met them and took the injured guard in for treatment. He had security take the woman into the holding area normally used for combative patients, he did not take any chances and told them to put her in restraints, seal the door closed and post a guard outside.

* * *

Jackson rushed Straker straight through the unit for a CT scan; he was taking no chances with the SHADO Commander. Looking at the films Jackson leaned in closer to inspect the images. "Ah" he said, "that confirms it, the Commander has a concussion from the fall, nothing too serious," he turned to look at Alec, "he'll live ... he's going to have a sizeable headache when he wakes up, the bullet tore off the top layer of skin, it'll sting like hell where the nerve endings sustained damage."

Alec stared down at his friend as Jackson continued.

"He'll be tired, irritable, and of course, he'll have that headache."

"No different to normal, then," Alec chuckled with relief and Jackson smiled vaguely.

"Yes, I suppose so," he said.

"Do your best with that cut, doctor," Alec said suddenly serious, he indicated the hairline wound on Straker's head. "Don't want to spoil his good looks eh?"

Jackson smiled thinly and continued working.

Alec was silent for a moment.

"What about his hands, doctor - are those cuts worse than they look?"

"Yes, it's mainly superficial ... be sore for a while ... but they'll soon heal" Jackson finished quickly; his voice was rich but always seemed to Alec to carry menace in the way he spoke. The doctor turned away from Alec and continued working.

Alec stayed where he was. "You know Keith Ford is in an NHS hospital over at Wexham?"

The doctor sighed, obviously he would get no peace to work until Alec was satisfied, and Jackson straightened up to face him.

"Yes, we need him back at Mayland, and as soon as he is well enough to be transferred ..."

"I'll see to it," Alec said, cutting the doctor off, "just you look after him" he pointed down at Ed, "I'm not taking any more chances with his life, if she becomes a problem shoot her, with real bullets this time."

Jackson said nothing but fixed Alec with an unblinking stare for no more than a moment. Then turning away from Alec, he began to tend to Straker.

"The Commander won't be here that long I hope, the fact he is unconscious means he will be staying here until he comes to ... after that, I want him here for 48 hours for observation."

Alec turned also, walking out of the unit he headed straight over to the other side of Medical Centre, out through the double doors and across to the secure unit.

"Do we know anything about her?" he asked the guard.

"No sir, all we know is she managed to get in through the lift behind Commander Straker's office."

Alec lit a cigarette. "Well obviously," he said impatiently.

"Gained access through the studio grounds" the guard continued, "took care of a six foot security guard and shot the Commander with the guard's gun."

"How did she know about the lift to the Commander's office?" Alec drew on the cigarette, and exhaled gratefully.

He began pacing a little.

"Where did she come from? Who is she? ... well one thing's for sure," Alec told the guard, "when the Commander's office is ready for occupation again that exit from his office will be secured ... this does not happen again ... understand?" he said, pressing the point home by leaning in close to the guard and stabbing him in the chest with his finger. He stared at the guard for a couple of seconds, then headed back to control.

* * *

Doctor Brandt had been studying Keith's latest CT scan results and found nothing out of the ordinary. No more bleeds, but annoyingly it did not tell him what the mark on Keith's neck was. They had been keeping round the clock watches on him, making sure nothing else untoward came to light. "I think we'll start waking him up soon nurse," he said. Seeing two policemen walking into the unit, Brandt smiled at the nurse on duty: "I'll be in my office for a little while" he said softly.

"Thanks for coming," he called over to them as he shepherded the two men in the direction of his office.

"New drug on the streets, I think you said doctor."

* * *

Alec left the guard with strict instructions not to let the woman out of that unit, he told them what he had told Jackson.

"Any trouble ... shoot her." He'd deal with repercussions personally. Remembering her strength he shivered but to anyone else it merely looked like he was shrugging his shoulders, he crossed quickly into control, everyone looked up at him for news.

"Commander Straker will be fine, he has a concussion, bullet grazed his temple, he has cuts and bruises, but he'll live." Silence reigned for a few minutes and Alec was just about to condemn them for their thoughts when the communications station beeped. Lieutenant Johnson took the call.

"Colonel Freeman," she looked at Alec, "Colonel Foster for you."

Alec swiped the microphone round to face him.

"Paul, I need you back here at HQ, there's been an incident, yes ... yes, I know well ... no Commander Straker's not here at the moment ... yes, I know he did ... well, you're telling me now ... look, leave it to groups 2 and 3 ... just get back here as fast as you can."

As he cut the connection, his mobile phone rang.

"Freeman" he said, turning back to go into Straker's office.

"No ... you're joking aren't you ... he's ... what?" Alec raised his eyebrows, a look between confusion and surprise climbed across the craggy features, "I see ... no ... no ... no as far as I know he's not a drug ... ok, I'll be there as soon as I can," he said shutting the phone off.

Damn hospital he thought, Keith will be better off when we get him back here whenever that might be.

Chapter: Eight

Brandt faced the two officers across his desk. They'd introduced themselves as Detective Chief Inspector Harry Bramby and his Sergeant Tom Provender. Bramby and the sergeant sat as instructed in the chairs opposite the doctor. Bramby spoke first, his soft voice at odds with his burly and gruff looking manner: "Perhaps you'd like to tell us what you have so far, doctor?"

Brandt relaxed a little, leaning back in his chair. "It looks like a drug I saw when I was in the United States last year, I was in an exchange programme ... cost a lot of lives then ... thing is, this is a strange one, that man out there has this drug in his system, yet there's no tracks apart from an as yet unidentified mark on the back of his neck that looks like a puncture wound. He doesn't look like a druggie, but I think he's been injected with it against his will and I think the site at the back of his neck is where it was given."

Sergeant Provender, busy taking notes said, "We'd like to question him ..."

"Well you can't at the moment," Brandt interrupted, "he had an operation yesterday to stop bleeding in his brain so he won't be in any fit state for your questions yet."

Provender pursed his lips, his tone slightly aggressive, opened his mouth to continue. Bramby shook his head at him to stop him going further. Turning to Brandt he said: "I understand doctor ... however, if you can give us all the details you have on the drug in his system and those on the American drug then we can start the ball rolling."

Brandt nodded. "This thing killed a lot of people over in the states; I don't want to see it over here ... especially if people are being injected against their will. They could present here at casualty units as lifeless ... pupils of the eyes may be fixed and dilated which usually means serious brain injury, usually with poor prognosis ... unlikely to recover ... in which case they may be misdiagnosed if clinicians are not aware of this thing. Our casualty presented with exactly the same thing, completely unresponsive and then out of nowhere he suddenly springs to life, screaming and fighting ... oddest thing I've seen for a long time because this didn't happen with this drug appeared in the states ... I'm at a loss at the moment."

He smiled thinly at the two officers and ran a hand through his hair. "That's all I've got at the moment I'm afraid," he said standing up.

The two officers stood also.

"We'll get to work as soon as we get back to the station ... we'll be in touch as soon as we can doctor," Bramby said.

"We're reducing Mr. Ford's sedation now, so hopefully he'll be awake soon, he's likely to be a bit disoriented after the anaesthetic but once we determine what his neurological responses are I think we can get you back then." Brandt directed his comments to Provender, leaving him in no doubt that Ford would not be disturbed by the police until he was well enough.

"How long do you think it'll be?" Provender said sharply.

Brandt gave him a disapproving glare: "At the moment, I don't know but I'd allow at least a week, maybe two."

"Thanks for your help, Doctor," Bramby said gently, "I understand ... perhaps you'd be so kind as to let me know when you think Mr. Ford is ready to see us?" He shook hands with Brandt as Provender walked over to the lift. "New sergeant," he said quietly to Brandt. "I have yet to break him in."

Brandt smiled, a sympathetic detective he mused as he went back to the unit, thought they died out years ago.

Julie Alexander was just replacing the receiver as he came in.

"Hi, James," she said, "I've just called Mr. Ford's friend ... you remember him?"

Brandt stopped for a second. "Oh ... erm, Freeman wasn't it?"

"Yes that's right; he says he'll be over as soon as he can and that as far as he knows Mr. Ford is not a drug user."

Brandt shook his head "This is just nuts," he said, and went back in to check on Keith.

* * *

Paul Foster sprinted back onto the main road. He'd found Shyler, and left the man in charge of the operation, there had been no reply at 65 Lightfoot Street, so Foster told him to keep protocols in place and report back when anything came to light. Shyler's team were very thorough so Foster knew he was leaving the situation in good hands. The legwork would have to be followed up later, Foster was needed back at HQ so he hailed a passing cab and told the driver to step on it.

* * *

Skydiver patrolled along the ocean floor. Apart from a few rock formations and smaller anomalies they had found nothing, they had come inland as far as they could and were sweeping the area again.

"There," cried the sonar operator, a flash of silver spun off in front of the huge sub. Skydiver followed it.

"Load torpedo tubes," Carlin called out.

"Tubes loaded," came the response.

"Have we still got it, Lieutenant?" Carlin called over to the operator.

"No sir, it’s disappeared," she said dejectedly, "wait ... there it is," she said triumphantly as it passed ahead of them for the second time.

Carlin gave the order to fire.

"One away, Sir."

The missile exploded deep underwater.

"Did we get it?"


"Did we get it?" Colonel Lake this time.

"No Colonel ... contact negative."

Virginia threw her hands up in desperation and Carlin punched the bulkhead in frustration.

Turning to Virginia, "It's playing with us ... cat and mouse ... but we'll get it."

"Yes," she said determinedly, "We will."

* * *

Foster fairly ran through reception and into the outer office.

"Miss Ealand," he said as he barrelled through into Straker's office. He was there and gone so fast Miss Ealand had just opened her mouth to say hello and he was gone. Used to the sometimes frenzied activity by now she calmly returned to her filing.

* * *

Alec looked up as Paul sprinted into the mess that had been Straker's office.

"God," Foster said shocked at the sight, "what happened?" he said, looking over at the shattered wall behind Straker's desk.

"We had an uninvited visitor you might say," Freeman retorted, collecting the glass from the floor and some from the desk. "Came in through the back door when no-one was looking."

Paul's face blanched.

"Is Ed ...?"

"Yeah, yeah he's ok ... a woman shot him ... "

"A woman ... wha ...?" Paul's eyes widened.

Alec picked up the command chair and righted it.

"What happened was she just burst through the glass and shot Ed. He's got a concussion, a few cuts and bruises, and a grazed temple which will give him a sore head for a while ... apart from that he's ok."

"Where is he?" Foster picked up the phone and the pens which Alec had knocked off the desk earlier in his lunge for the would-be assassin.

"Jackson's got him in Medical Centre."

"Where's the woman?"

Freeman snorted at that.

"One track mind eh, Paul?"

Foster shot him a look.

"Oh come on, I'm pulling your leg," Alec smiled at him.

Serious for a moment Alec closed the doors to control.

"I have a problem over at Wexham ..."

"Not Keith Ford ... he's not ...?" Paul's eyes reflected concern.

"Well, yes it is Ford ... but not in the way you mean," Alec finished quickly. "Just something I've got to clear up, you can handle things here for a bit ... get this office secured and working ... I've arranged for the lift and its access to be bomb proofed" he smiled, "the glass will be replaced later today."

"Sure Alec" Paul said quietly, "I can look after things here."

Alec looked over at the shattered wall.

"That exit has been a disaster waiting to happen since this place was built, no security at the other end." Alec glanced over at Paul letting the question tail off.

Paul chuckled.

"And you're never going to let me forget that are you?" He smiled at Alec. "If there'd been guards at the other end I wouldn't have made it out ... I know ... I know."

His face settled into a serious expression. "But I agree with you, Alec, I'm just glad we didn't lose Ed in the process."

Alec patted him on the back as he left. "I'll be back as soon as I can, Paul," he said.

* * *

Julie went over to Keith's bedside and checked the monitors again. Everything was as it should be. She had been monitoring him almost constantly since the operation, making sure he was as comfortable as he could be given the circumstances, changed his dressings, and she reasoned that they would probably come off tomorrow - Brandt would do that she told herself, and I'll assist.

Julie expected Keith to be confused and probably combative as he started waking up. Some post op brain surgery cases were, he would probably rail against the restraints, and she kept a close watch on him for signs of consciousness to stop him becoming any more distressed when he woke up.

* * *

Dr Jackson looked down at Straker for a long minute; he wanted to be there when the Commander came to. Jackson's face swam before Straker as he opened his eyes, slowly coming into focus.

"Doctor," he said thickly, "Alec, where's Alec?" His mouth felt dry.

"Colonel Freeman went back to control, I think," Jackson said taking Straker's pulse and looking over his face for any new signs of distress. "He'll be back soon."

Straker fought against the doctor's arm.

"Jackson," he sighed heavily trying to move the doctor out of the way, "I have to get ... back to control ... that UFO's still out there ... I need ..."

Straker struggled to sit up, but his head swam, Jackson put a restraining hand on the Commander's chest and stopped him going any further.

"What you need Commander is to let your team work for a change," he said slowly, "they know what to do, they're well trained."

Straker wasn't interested and still fought against the doctor.

"Now Commander, now just lie still, I want you to rest. Now you can either do it here in SHADO Medical Centre or at Mayland, voluntarily or under sedation ... it’s your choice."

Jackson held the Commander by the shoulders and forced him back onto the pillows.

Straker still struggled.

"Commander," Jackson said sternly.

Getting Straker's attention with that he continued, "You have a concussion after that bang on the head where you fell, some cuts and bruises and you were lucky to get away with a graze to the forehead."

After a few seconds Straker stopped struggling, he remembered the attack and his hand went to his head to feel the wound, Jackson pulled his hand away from the dressing.

"The wound is not infected thankfully," Jackson said in a long flat tone, "you have a couple of tiny stitches in there to keep it closed, we were able to flush it sufficiently with an antibiotic solution, and I will keep a check on it just to be sure."

For the first time Straker became aware of the drip in his arm.

"What's in this?" he asked the doctor, shaking his arm slightly.

"Something for the shock, some vitamins ... and pain meds," Jackson said simply.

It was quiet for a few minutes.

Satisfied with the laconic response, Straker said slowly: "Where's the woman? ... Did we ...?"

"Yes, we stopped her," Jackson finished the statement.

Straker sagged against the pillows a little and closed his eyes.

"Great, now we'll never know who she was ... and how she got here," he said forlornly.

Jackson chuckled, "Oh, she's not dead Commander."

Straker's eyes flew open and there was a spark of the old fire there.

The doctor smiled, "She's been shot with an anaesthetic bullet, after that incident with Foster..." Jackson let the sentence trail off, "... where is she?" Jackson asked the question as Straker started forming the words, "she's over in the secure area, out cold, with a heavily armed guard outside."

Holding Straker's gaze he finished, "Don't worry, Commander, she's in restraints she's not going anywhere ... when you are ready you can see her, but I want you back at full strength before that."

Straker, realising he had no choice for the moment, stayed supine.

Jackson noted the Commander's readings on his notes.

"Now I want you to rest for a day or so ... I'd like it to be longer but you won't have that, I know ... you give me a day resting and I'll release you ok?"

From his bed the Commander said nothing but fixed the doctor with any icy stare. Despite the pain meds his head still hurt, as soon as that stopped he told himself he would leave.

As the head of the department Jackson was probably the only man, apart from General Henderson who had the authority to tell Straker what to do and be able to enforce it, and Straker knew it.

* * *

Freeman pulled his car into the hospital grounds and parked. On his way in he wondered where the hell they'd got this idea about Keith using drugs. If they knew Keith like he did, they'd know how ridiculous a suggestion it was he thought as he crossed reception and into the lift. The pretty nurse wasn't there today he noticed.

* * *

Foster straightened up as much as he could in the damaged office, he was still in there when the repair men came in and started replacing the damaged wall and the glass mural behind Straker's desk. Up top in the studio Paul knew them as set builders. As such they were comprised of specialist glaziers, carpenters, electricians and just about any other field they needed to get those sets ready for shooting. Down here, they were SHADO's 'go to' men for building repair and maintenance when it was needed. Their expertise was second to none, and today Paul Foster was glad of that fact.

"Thanks guys," he said before walking out into control.

Leaving Straker's broken office behind he crossed over to Ford's replacement

"Any news?" he asked, scanning the monitors over the desk as he did so.

"Not yet, Sir," he said.

Foster scowled, "Get me Skydiver."

"Yes, Sir."

"Peter," he said as Carlin's face appeared on the monitor, "anything?"

"We found it Paul, but it's playing hard and fast with us at the moment, we're on it, we'll get it."

Foster nodded.

"We've had an attack on HQ."

In the background behind Carlin he saw Virginia Lake look up suddenly.

"Some woman attacked Straker, came in like a subway train apparently ... through his emergency exit."

"How is the Commander?" Carlin asked steadily.

"He's in Medical Centre with concussion, cuts and bruises Alec said, but he'll be ok. I'm just going down there to see how he is."

Carlin and Lake stood in silence for a few seconds.

"Look, just get that bloody thing," Foster said as he cut the link.

As he turned to leave control, he looked down at Ford's replacement.

"How's it going?"

The young man shrugged his shoulders, "Ok, I guess," he said turning back to his work.

"Never a dull moment," Foster said under his breath as he walked past him and out into the corridor, turning right he headed for Medical Centre.

* * *

Alec walked out of the lift and headed for ICU, he could see Keith from where he was standing. Doctor Brandt came out of his office and almost walked into him.

"Oh Mr. Freeman, glad you're here ... my office?" he said, walking back into the office and leaving Alec no choice but to follow him.

"How's he doing, doctor?" Alec said, mindful of the need for Keith to be at Mayland at some point.

"Considering what he's been though, he's doing ok ... we won't know for certain until he wakes up. Dr Gunner's coming down shortly to see him ... he's the neurosurgeon who did the operation."

"Yes I know who he is," Alec said evenly, "what's all this nonsense about him being on drugs?"

Brandt shut the door to his office and sat down gesturing for Alec to do the same.

"His bloods came back with this mix of a designer drug that I've not seen over here before, it was prevalent in the states about a year ago, did some damage I can tell you."

Alec's face was serious. "If Keith Ford has drugs in his system I can guarantee that he didn't put them there. If he's a drug addict then I'm Marilyn Monroe," he said flatly.

The doctor laughed at that.

"Point taken," then his face took on concern, "there's a mark at the back of Mr. Ford's neck which I haven't seen the like of before, best way I can describe it is it's bigger than a hypodermic needle would make ... the skin is red and flattened in a circular pattern around it."

He let Alec digest that.

"It's entirely possible that Mr. Ford was injected against his own will, I've never yet seen people inject themselves in the back of the neck."

Alec nodded slowly as Brandt continued.

"The police had to be called ..."

"The police?" Alec interrupted forcing Brandt to hold up his hands in a placating gesture.

"Standard procedure Mr. Freeman, when a new drug, or a variation of an old one, is found in someone's bloodstream, we have to notify the authorities. The thing is Mr. Ford can't tell them anything yet, he's just about coming out of the sedation, he should be lucid in a little while ... but as I said we won't know how he is until he's fully awake."

"I want to see him," Alec said in a tone that brooked no nonsense, "Dr Gunner said his frontal lobes were damaged and ..."

"As you wish, Mr. Freeman," Brandt said cutting him off mid sentence, "I'm sure Dr Gunner also told you that we won't be able to make any determination on any damage until Mr. Ford is fully conscious again ... so I can't speculate on what might happen when Mr. Ford wakes up, we'll play it by ear Mr. Freeman, now normally we only let next of kin in the unit but you seem to be as close to next of kin as he's got."

Brandt stood up to leave the office and motioned for Alec to do the same: "Mr. Ford may respond to a friendly voice," Brandt said coming around the desk. The two men left the doctors office and crossed into the unit, Alec smiled at Julie as they went in, they approached the bedside and Alec noted how thin Keith looked, despite being on all these drips he still looked pale and wan.

Brandt gestured for Alec to go in closer and suggested he ask Keith to open his eyes. Alec saw the mark on Keith's neck but he said nothing. At the sound of Alec's voice, Keith's head moved a little.

"Keith," he said gently shaking him on the shoulder, "Keith ... its Alec Freeman ... can you hear me?"

Keith's eyes struggled open and he tried lifting his hands but being restrained he couldn't. He started to fight the restraints.

"A ... le ... c" he said starting to thrash about on the bed.

Brandt moved Alec out of the way.

"Mr. Ford, settle down, it's all right."

"Al ... ec ... U ... FO ... ali ... en," Keith struggled with the words, his tongue wouldn't form the words properly, the doctor motioned for Julie to take Alec out, but Alec shrugged her off, and moved in closer.

"Keith, Keith listen to the doctor," Alec said in a firm but soft voice, "its all right, its ok, you're in hospital, you're safe, now it’s all right."

Keith slowly stopped struggling to be free and closed his eyes; he wanted so desperately to sleep.

The doctor checked Keith over again for any signs of bleeding the thrashing may have caused. Satisfied that Keith was doing fine he looked over at Alec.

"Can happen like that sometimes, they can be confused and start fighting ... looks worse than it is ... he'll probably be all right next time ... we'll try again in a few minutes."

Alec couldn't tell from that brief burst of energy whether Keith was any different to how he normally was and was just about to say that out loud when Brandt took him to one side, the doctor's tone became deadly serious.

"He seems to have a fixation with aliens and well, UFO's. He was saying pretty much the same when he came into casualty ... is that normal? ... I mean for him?"

Not expecting to hear that, Alec laughed. "Oh that, no ... let me explain doctor ... I work for Harlington Straker Studios." Noting the doctors recognition of the name he continued, "Keith Ford is one of our most influential, and important directors, top man in his field - you know how they can be I'm sure."

The doctor said nothing but listened intently.

"Anyway," Alec went on, "he's been working flat out on a new science fiction movie."

"Oh," Brandt said, a little taken aback, "well, it's not often we get big shot directors in our humble little hospital." He smiled.

A small flicker of relief crossed Alec's face before he disguised it with a smile. "I can't tell you any more than that or the studio execs would have my guts for garters," he said, "security and all that" and mainly because I haven't a clue what I'm talking about and I really hope to God you're buying this he thought, his quiet tones suggesting he was leaking confidential secrets to the doctor.

"He's been talking of nothing else for weeks, working himself silly ... then all of a sudden ... gone. No-one can find him on set ... work on the movie has to stop ... then he lands up here." Alec needed a cigarette badly. "He's a very powerful man is our Mr. Ford."

Brandt seemed content to simply listen as Alec went on: "We have our own private hospital for employees of the studio and it has a really private wing where major celebrities for want of a better word, come when they need treatment ... you know the sort of thing I'm sure."

Brandt nodded, pre-empting Alec's next request he said simply: "And you want Mr. Ford transferred over there."

"That's right," Alec said.

"Can't do it Mr. Freeman, he's not well enough and the police need to see him."

Alec took the doctor by the arm. "I'm not asking you, doctor," he said suddenly shedding the nice guy image, "I'm telling you, I need him back at our hospital as soon as he is well enough to be moved."

The doctor shook his arm free.

Alec kept his voice tight, almost menacing. "The police can see him at our hospital the same as they would here."

Being a casualty doctor, often working nights when the local assorted drunks and ne'er do wells would pitch up wanting treatment, Brandt was no stranger to being threatened so he easily stood his ground: "Sounds suspicious to me, Mr. Freeman," he said his own voice matching the intensity of Alec's voice, "he'll get the best possible care here ... we ... "

Alec was in no mood to argue: "Yes, but you can't protect him ... you said yourself that he's been injected with something against his will ... what's to stop whoever it was trying again?"

"He came in here with that injury, mark ... or whatever it is, Mr. Freeman," Brandt said in disgust at what he was hearing, "I hope you're not suggesting that anyone in this hospital would do that to a patient."

This argument was heading off in a direction Alec had not meant it to, so he had to think fast and as both men fell silent letting the ramifications of the last few minutes sink in Alec said: "No doctor, I'm not ... but Mr. Ford is a very influential man at the studio and we'd like him at least isolated until we can transfer him back to our facility"

Brandt shook his head and sighed.

Alec went on: "A compromise doctor? ... You move him into a private ICU room and I'll have a guard outside it."

"A guard?" Brandt said in surprise. "What does Mr. Ford need a guard for ... this is a hospital in England, not a war zone."

"I know, I know," Alec said quickly, "you say those marks on his neck were there when he came in ... what's to stop whoever it was coming in here and trying again." From the doctor's expression Alec could see that he was slowly persuading the doctor to his own way of thinking. "You're not here every second of every day are you?" he went on pressing the point, "neither are the nurses ... you can't watch over him 24/7."

Brandt digested the reasoning behind Alec's argument: "Reluctantly, Mr. Freeman, I have to agree with you," he said. "We can have our own security guards on duty to protect him but I'm sorry to have to say this they wouldn't be able to stop a determined individual if, and I must stress this if anyone wanted to try again as you put it. So you get your guard here and I'll arrange for a private room, your guard can stay outside."

"Thank you," Alec said simply. He more than understood the doctor's concern for Keith's recovery, and Brandt had shown he was no pushover where getting the best for his patients were concerned. Alec had to agree that Keith was in good hands here, but he also had to weigh that up against Straker's orders. There was no getting away from the fact that Ford would have to be at Mayland sooner or later; later when the doctors here allowed it, but sooner when Straker demanded it.

"How long will it be before he's well enough to travel?"

"You're a very persistent man, Mr. Freeman," Brandt said allowing a flicker of a smile to cross his face. "To answer your question ... it's very hard to tell at this stage and it all depends on the individual, so shall we'll try waking him again? ... see what he's like now shall we?"

* * *

Further down the corridor she watched and listened. Leaning around the corner every now and then to hear what they were talking about her ears pricked up at the words Harlington Straker.

Important director eh? She had to get closer. Thinking for a few minutes she smiled at her own idea. She hadn't had a scoop in so long, her editor was fast losing patience.

What was that CEO's name she thought, then smacked her forehead.

"Duh" she told herself, "Straker."

Amy Frost put her pen and notebook in her bag and headed off after them.

* * *

Brandt leaned over Keith again. "Mr. Ford," he said looking down at the sleeping man. "Mr. Ford can you hear me, Mr. Ford ... open your eyes please."

Keith was content to just sleep for the moment but eventually fought back to consciousness and slowly opened his eyes.

He blinked a few times at the light in the unit then looked directly at the doctor. "Well now that's better ... how do you feel?"

"Mmm," Keith mumbled.

Brandt tried again, "No, come on, don't go back to sleep. Mr. Ford, you can sleep later ... can you tell me your name?" Even in the deepest recesses of his mind Keith fought through the fog - you've just told me what my name is he thought slowly. His head ached despite the meds he was on.

Taking his silence for unresponsiveness Brandt asked him again, Keith took a deep breath in, "Keith Ford," he said quickly, his voice raspy.

"Mmm good, good," Brandt said, "do you know where you are?"

"Hospital," again quick and raspy.

"I'm going to ask you to squeeze my hands Mr. Ford; can you do that for me?" Taking Keith's hands in his own, he waited. "Squeeze my hands, please."

Keith summoned the strength to squeeze the doctors hands, Brandt smiled and nodded, the equal pressure he exerted as he squeezed the doctor's hands told Brandt that Keith was fine so far.

"Excellent, excellent," he said, marking Keith's notes. Julie stood with Alec as they watched this simple test being carried out "He looks as though he's going to be ok." she smiled at Alec.

Alec didn't smile back: "I'm wanting to know whether he's the same Keith he was before he had this accident, nurse," he said softly, "as it is, we can't tell ... so you'll forgive me if for the moment, I don't agree with you."

Julie felt concerned at those comments but didn't let it show outwardly

They were so engrossed on the scene in front of them they did not see Amy standing a little way behind them, listening.

* * *

Foster walked quickly into Medical Centre and saw Ed was sleeping. Jackson put his fingers to his mouth telling Paul to be quiet. Bringing him into his office, Jackson closed the door. "Sorry about that," he said, "You know how he is ... I've just given him something to make him sleep for a while, let his head heal properly."

"Where's the woman?" Foster asked.

Jackson shot him a look: "Why?" he countered.

Foster shrugged half sitting on the front of Jackson's desk. "I'm intrigued ... who is she, where did she come from?"

"I don't know, Colonel," Jackson said. He stood up and went over to one of the charts on his wall, comparing some report or other. "When she comes round we'll have answers." He stopped for a moment, tilting his head slightly. "We could always assume it was alien mind control again ..." his voice flat, monotonous. His eyes narrowed and Foster shot him a curious look.

Jackson continued, "Well, what other reason is there, we've seen it before?" he turned away momentarily. "You know she was shot with an anaesthetic bullet."

Paul winced and Jackson turned back at the sound, "Ah yes Colonel, you know all about those don't you," he chuckled, a hint of menace in the sound.

"We have her in restraints and she should be coming out of it in about an hour." Jackson fixed Foster with a cold stare, "Colonel Freeman wants her shot if she were to attack the Commander again."

"Mmm?" Paul responded, he nodded.

"That doesn't bother you?"

Paul shook his head. "No, should it?"

* * *

Alec was a little happier now that he had talked the doctor round to getting Keith a room of his own, and as he left the ward he and Brandt had shaken hands, the ritual of pleasantries alluding to an absence of hard feelings on either side. Now he made for the car park, only just out of the doors, he lit a cigarette. Inhaling deeply he savoured it, then blew out the smoke. He could feel himself calming as the nicotine worked its way round his system, but it did nothing to deter the niggling doubt which had begun creeping into his thoughts; was Keith raving on about aliens because he worked for SHADO or because of something else? As he moved towards his car he stopped and glanced up at the windows of the east wing of the hospital towards the intensive care unit, as if that act alone would answer the maelstrom of questions flowing through his mind.

* * *

Back in ICU student nurse Susan Cranhill came on duty. She was a trainee and had been working in ICU alongside the other nurses for the last 2 weeks. She was just checking the details of the patients in the unit when a smartly dressed young woman looked over at her across the reception area. "Excuse me" she said.

"I'll be with you in a minute," Susan shot back thinking to herself that some relatives didn't give you a minute sometimes.

"I think you have my father in here ... Mr. Ford, car accident," Amy continued, seeing the young nurse's stern expression she went on. "I've been on holiday and I just got back this morning, been a long flight ... Canada," she said, "police told me dad was hurt ... is he ... he?" she took out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes.

Susan was flustered: "I shouldn't let you in here really, I know its only next of kin allowed in, but that nice Mr. Freeman seemed to be helping your father so much we didn't think he had any other family." Amy noted the name - Freeman, another bigwig to crucify she thought. "Can I just see him ... for a few moments?" she half sobbed to the nurse.

"Oh ok, just for a few minutes, but don't tell anyone or I'll get shot."

Amy approached Ford, still asleep, still in restraints, still helpless. She sat down by his bed.

* * *

A few minutes later Brandt came into the unit and immediately recognised Amy. "What the hell is she doing in here?" he thundered to the student nurse making her face blanch. Striding over to her, he picked up her coat and bag where she had dropped them and manhandled her out of the unit. Throwing her things on the floor in the corridor he told her to get lost.

"I told you last time, get out and don't come back - there's nothing here for you to see you ... you bloody ambulance chaser," he said, furious with her. "I'll make sure security show you the way out" he said, "so don't get any ideas about coming back up here ... because if you do," he glowered, "I'll get the police in."

* * *

Coming back into the unit Brandt heard Julie giving the new nurse a good dressing down for letting Amy Frost in. "But she said she was his daughter," the nurse wailed, "I didn't know." She ran off in tears causing Julie threw her hands up in the air in desperation.

"There is the future of nursing ... God help us" she said to him. Brandt crossed immediately to Keith's bedside, and was relieved to see that nothing had been interfered with. As Brandt stood over him Keith woke up at all the noise.

"It's all right Mr. Ford ... just a bit of excitement, how are you feeling now?"

"A bit sore," he said thickly, "head aches a bit ... can I move my arms?"

Brandt smiled down at him, "As long as you promise not to pull your IV leads out," he said, untying the restraints.

"Mind if I try a few questions?" he asked. Keith managed a slight nod. Brandt took a pen from his pocket and with the closed end prodded Keith's legs up and down. "Can you feel that?"

"Yes," Keith responded, trying to move his legs away from the pen.

"That's fine, Mr. Ford," he said. The fact that Keith could feel the pen on his legs meant no nerve damage. It also suggested no physical damage to his body. Because Keith had been severely bruised when he came in, the doctor was still not sure if the multiple contusions he had were the result of the car accident, or something more sinister.

Putting the pen back in his coat pocket he asked: "Have you any children Mr. Ford?"

Keith emitted a snort like sound, his throat felt thick and sore. "No," he said slowly.

"Thought not," Brandt muttered to himself.

Keith looked up at the doctor and his expression made the doctor grin.

"Oh nothing to worry about ... just some reporter in here's saying she was your daughter, probably looking for a scoop on our famous hot shot director." Brandt folded his arms as he went on: "Mr. Freeman was here earlier, he wants you to go over to the HarlingtonStraker Hospital when you're able to, until that time I'm arranging for a private ICU room here and Mr. Freeman is sending over a guard to keep any more of her kind out."

He looked down at Keith again, but he had fallen back into sleep. The doctor shook his head slowly, taking out his pen light he checked Keith's eyes and again the response was normal. Brandt wasn't overly concerned, sometimes it took patients a little while to come out of sedation properly, but with the responses he'd gotten from Keith earlier, he was satisfied the man was doing just fine, but he did need rest.

"Looks like Mr. Freeman was right," he said. "You are important; you've already attracted the attentions of the gutter press."

He left Keith to sleep and called security. When the guard arrived he had him stand on duty outside ICU. "No-one goes in or out that isn't cleared by me," he told him.

* * *

On the way back to the studio Alec called ahead and had security get the next available man out to the hospital. He told them to ask for Dr Brandt, he was feeling more than uncomfortable about having to leave Keith in civilian hands.

Chapter: Nine

Dr Jackson left Paul for a few minutes to check on the Commander, his readings looked normal and his eyes were closed in sleep.

"The Commander is fine, he should be up and about again tomorrow," he said, making a note on Straker's chart, he put the pen away in the top pocket of his tunic.

He called a nurse over and told her to stay at the Commander's bedside: "If there is any change, anything at all - you call me immediately."

"Yes, Doctor."

Coming round the end of the bed he said quietly, "Its time to look in on our intruder." Paul fell into step beside the doctor and they walked together in silence to the secure room. The guards stood to one side to let them pass, then one of the guards went in with them. The door hissed shut. The guard stood ready, a discreet distance away from the two men but close enough to respond if she attacked again.

Jackson moved over to the woman and began a brief examination. "Pulse is hardly there," he said in alarm, checking her eyes he noticed that the pupils remained fixed and dilated. She appeared to be staring at the ceiling.

Jackson stood back a little and took a short breath in and let it out again. His hand came up and stayed by his mouth for a brief moment. "She should be coming out of it now but ..."

"But what?" Foster said.

"I don't like the look of this," Jackson said ominously. "She's hardly breathing ... get Dr Shroeder in here quickly," he yelled at one of the guards, shouting after the retreating man he called, "and tell him to warn Mayland we have an emergency."

* * *

Harry Blackstone arrived at Wexham County General fifteen minutes after security received the call from Alec. He hoped when he got upstairs that Lieutenant Ford had been moved to his own room, his team leader had been briefed by Alec on Keith's cover story and Harry chuckled inwardly at the thought of Keith being "a big shot director." Harry knew Keith would laugh like a drain at that when he came back to work. He knew Keith to be a gentle, kind hearted man who for some reason always suffered at the hands of Commander Straker too often.

He had heard the scuttlebutt that Keith had been out where there were signs of a UFO and his outward demeanour gave nothing away, he was far too professional to drop his guard for a moment, he was as concerned as anyone else but he did not let it show. He stopped briefly at reception and asked for Dr Brandt.

* * *

Upstairs in ICU they were wheeling Keith's bed with all its IVs, drips and attachments along the corridor to the private room. It was located next to the nursing station itself; Dr Brandt deciding to take no chances with his recovery. Once Freeman's guard got there the man should be safe he reasoned. Dr Gunner had been delayed again and so Brandt decided to move Keith before anyone else took a liking to him.

Getting Keith settled in the new room, he made certain that the man was comfortable. Although it had been a couple of days since he was brought in Keith was now starting to become a little more alert and seemed to enjoy the fuss being made of him. Most of the nurses had taken a shine to him and Julie, the senior nurse on duty couldn't help feeling a little jealous. After all she thought to herself, I had seen him right through his ordeal from the moment he arrived in casualty looking half dead. She knew her feelings were not professional and could be detrimental to the care of her patient if she allowed them to see the light of day, so she forced them back and no-one, least of all Keith, suspected how she felt. She had arranged a rota of nurses to look after him so that he had the required round the clock care Brandt had demanded after his argument with Alec Freeman.

Julie Alexander took the first shift. Dr Gunner had said he would look in later that night or early the next day to check Keith's neurological responses. So, she reasoned "Everything's going the way it should."

Brandt was looking in on another patient when his bleeper sounded, reception calling he noted. He finished what he was doing and headed downstairs.

Harry stood to meet the doctor as he came across reception towards him; they shook hands and introduced themselves. On the way up Brandt explained about the reporter from the local rag trying to gain access to Keith. "She's always trouble, we have any local bigwigs in here and she's all over them like a rash," he said sourly. "Our security team dealt with her, but as a precaution, I had your Mr. Ford moved to a private room ... a little sooner than I would have liked but he's doing very well at the moment, we're very pleased with his progress so far."

They came out of the lift, "As you can see," he gestured to the guard standing outside the room, "I have one of our security guards outside his room at the moment, so Mr. Ford should be ok."

Harry smiled over at the doctor and asked for the name of the reporter, for future reference he said, making a mental note to call Alec, have a G6 done on her.

* * *

Virginia Lake had taken Carlin up on the use of his cabin. The Skydiver Captain had insisted that she take a break, she looked exhausted. He patrolled the sonar area as if that act alone would bring the UFO out of hiding, they had located it once and it had successfully avoided them since. Frustration and anger welled up in the Captain. Not only had he lost his sister to these monsters, but friends too, now another civilian had been killed.

Now he had yet another chance to bring one down ... he ached to find the thing, he wanted another chance at revenge.

* * *

Adam Shyler had overseen the search of the area Foster had assigned them; all they had been able to see in the half light were vague signs of the UFO where it had spun up huge mounds of earth as it had made for the water. There were a few pieces of metal in the undergrowth and looked to Shyler like parts of the UFO had been sheared off as the uneven ground had tried in vain to hold the UFO down.

"Wherever it is," he thought, "I hope Skydiver puts it out of its misery." Earlier he had had two of his team load George Davis's corpse into Mobile 2, stored in a sealed until for Jackson or Shroeder to pore over later he thought, "Nice job," he said under his breath grimacing as he did so.

He'd also asked one operative to arrange for Davis's dog to be taken to a local animal shelter until he could be claimed by an as yet unfound relation, or failing that, rehomed.

They had been working from the outer edges of the forest in towards the water, by doing that they had minimised their exposure to civilian eyes. Shyler was just about to call off the search and head back to HQ when he noticed a set of small footprints leading from the water's edge off into the forest. "Strange" he said, "why would someone walk out of the water wearing shoes." Intrigued he went back to the mobile and returned with measuring equipment. Kneeling in the mud, he inspected the print. "Small enough for a woman's shoe," he said, noting the size, he took a digital photo of the print and went back inside.

There were other marks in the ground there, which Shyler reasoned could be footprints but the ground was too badly muddied for them to be seen clearly. Making sure they had missed nothing else, Adam called the search off and swung himself up into one of the mobiles. It came to life as the driver gunned the engine and moved off back the way they had come. Once inside he began relaying the data from the footprint back to HQ.

* * *

Alec drove back to the studio, the phone bleeped at him. Raising it to his ear he said "Freeman ... oh hi Harry, yes ... who? ... She ... what? ... no, no, don't worry ... I'll look after it ... I'm heading back now I'll get Miss Ealand to run a G6 on her ... can't do a full one as we have no vocal recording, just look after him for us till we can get him out, yeah, thanks, Harry." Alec replaced the receiver and his expression clouded over, "Bloody reporters," he said under his breath. "Well, if she comes sniffing around, she'll be sorry."

Parking the car in the studio car park he headed indoors, and entered the building at a more sedate pace than he had on his last visit. As he walked into the outer office Miss Ealand was just putting away some filing. "You're busy today," she said to him.

"Yup," he replied, "no rest for the wicked." He grinned at her. Giving her the details of the reporter he asked her to do the usual, she took the details and said she'd call when the results were back. He walked into Straker's office and the doors closed shut behind him. When he emerged at underground HQ he headed straight for Medical Centre. He was deep in thought reasoning that Foster could fill him in on the UFO; Straker had been on the verge of telling him when all hell broke loose.

As he rounded a corner Jackson and Shroeder came flying round the corner with the woman on a trolley. Foster and two of the security guards hurried behind. Alec had to jump back to keep from being run over. "What happened?" he said, Jackson ignored him, calling out her stats to Shroeder, who was doing CPR as they rushed along.

"Taking her to secure unit Mayland," Paul said, Alec fell into step behind the doctors and the woman, almost running to keep up. "Seems she was allergic to the anaesthetic in the bullets, they can't revive her ... she seems to be in a coma."

Alec's mouth fell open. "Well wasn't anybody watching her for God's sake, I mean we can't lose her ... we need to know what she knows," he said, his frustration was obvious.

"I agree," Jackson said in between checking the woman and guiding the trolley through the underground corridors to Mayland. "We do need to know, but we were trying to stabilise the Commander when she was shot." He shot Alec a dark disgusted look. "He was our first priority, Colonel," he said a little unnecessarily.

Alec narrowed his eyes at the doctor; he had never had much time for Doug Jackson and had never kept it a secret. Foster locked eyes with Alec, understanding his frustration, but now was not the time for a confrontation.

* * *

At Mayland, Jackson handed over the woman's care to Shroeder while he headed back to HQ.

Foster caught up with him. "Is there nothing else we can do?"

"Colonel Foster," Jackson said in a tired voice, "we have tried everything we had here, they have more facilities at Mayland you know that."

"Yes I know but there must be something."

"Colonel Foster," Jackson almost shouted in annoyance, then controlled it, speaking slowly and quietly he continued: "The anaesthetic we use in those guns is a universally tolerated drug. We use it because it has no ill effects that we know of."

The doctor sighed and looked at the floor. "Our intruder is not likely to survive," he said raising his eyes to meet Fosters gaze.

Paul looked like someone had slapped him.

Jackson shook his head and moved away, "And I don't know why ... I just don't understand it Colonel, but if you are so concerned why don't you go back over there?" he gestured back in the direction of Mayland, then turned and walked away from Foster and left him standing in the corridor.

Foster stood watching the doctor go then turned back the way he had come and went back to Mayland. Shroeder had a team working flat out, they had tried the usual dose of Epinephrine to reverse the anaesthetic, but she did not respond and he looked up quickly at the monitor to watch for any signs, there were none. "Damn," he cursed. He called for an IV of Naloxone and set it going at 2mg - still nothing. He increased the dose to 10mg and still there was nothing, it should have worked within three minutes and Shroeder was puzzled, he did not understand it, their anaesthetic had never needed a reversal agent before.

"What the hell is going on here?" he said in frustration. Naloxone was a very aggressive drug and usually used to rouse patients from narcotically induced coma, he had used it as a last resort but even that too failed, he discontinued it.

He could do no more than go through the motions of keeping her alive. He had her moved to an ICU room in the secure wing, along with her IV lines secured in place, he had her intubated, put on a ventilator and kept her closely monitored.

The machines took over her breathing and others pumped blood around her lifeless body and took away waste. Attached to stands at the side of her bed transparent pouches of meds and vitamins continued to drip feed fluids into her veins.

Shroeder felt drained after the exertions of the failed resuscitation attempt; he had hoped for some signs of life. He looked down at her and he knew in his heart that her situation was hopeless. Her pupils had remained fixed and dilated and she had been left unattended for too long after the rush to get the Commander stabilised.

No one but the guards paid her any attention in those few moments after they brought her in. She had remained still, hardly breathing and she had slipped deeper and deeper into coma assisted by their anaesthetic from the bullets as it worked with the drugs already in her system, slowly breaking down her defences and metabolism.

Shroeder had taken blood and was waiting for it to be analysed; much good it would be now he thought. The woman was too far gone to be helped he thought sadly, but as a doctor he had a duty of care to try. He had made certain that the two security guards remained outside her room.

Outside Alec Freeman waited for news. "Well?" he said fairly pouncing on Shroeder as he came out of the room.

"If I'm honest, Colonel," the doctor said wearily, "I can't do any more, she's too far gone I'm afraid."

Alec ran a hand through his hair as the doctor went on, "I've done all I can, its up to her now." Placing his hand on Alec's arm briefly as he passed he said, "Sorry."

Alec nodded and looked in at her; she was only a slightly built woman. He found it hard to believe she had almost battered a burly security guard to death and almost assassinated the Commander. Alec looked over at the guards as he went back into the underground tunnels heading for Medical Centre.

As he came back into the corridor he saw Foster heading back, catching the young man's arm he said, "It's no go Paul, Shroeder's done everything he can."

Foster looked grim as he turned back and walked with Alec in silence for a few moments. "I don't get it Alec, she looked like a normal woman, not a trained terrorist yet she gets in here as easily as going shopping."

"Mmm," Alec said digging his hands deep in his pockets as they continued on, "We may never know" he said, "Medical Centre?"

The two men walked back together in silence.

* * *

In control Lieutenant Johnson was receiving the pictures from Shyler. The footprint shot had been enlarged and it definitely showed the footprint belonged to a woman. The makers' name on the sole of the shoe was clearly visible where it had been imprinted in the mud.

"Any idea where Colonel Freeman is?" she asked a colleague.

"No sorry ... Medical Centre's a good a chance as any," he said.

Taking the picture she asked him to keep an eye on the monitor.

"Just in case anything develops while I'm gone, like it usually does," she called over her shoulder at him, she really wished Keith was back on duty, she missed him and she knew the others felt the same.

* * *

Dr Gunner approached the ICU unit and looked in on the patients there.

"Where's our star patient?" he asked Julie who was just returning from lunch, she smiled at him.

"Ah" she said, "well, let me see ... Mr. Ford got so fed up of waiting for you to come and see him he discharged himself." She managed to maintain a straight face for a few seconds, then had to laugh at his mock crestfallen expression. "He's been moved to room 7" she said, walking him over to the room, "seems he's a hot shot director for that Harlington Straker Studio and he had our resident snoop from the Wexham Globe sniffing around."

Gunner raised his eyes "Best that he's in here, then," he said. Stopping outside the room he introduced himself to Harry. "Mr. Freeman doesn't trust us," he said pleasantly.

"Well, we like to look after our own," Harry said in an equally pleasant tone.

Gunner consulted Keith's notes as he went in, he nodded as he read them, turning the page he stopped by the bed, checking the monitors and looking at Keith he gave him a visual examination. Keith became aware of someone standing there and stirred.

"Hello, Mr. Ford," Gunner said, he introduced himself and continued, "I'm the neurosurgeon who did your operation, how are you feeling today?"

"Little sleepy," Keith said, his tongue felt better and although his throat was still sore it didn't feel as bad as it had before. The doctor extended his hand towards him and Keith slowly grasped it; they shook hands briefly. The doctor noted that Keith responded to the unspoken action in a reasonably steady manner and without being asked to do so. Keith's responses appear normal he noted, as he was talking to Keith he was watching for any signs of the trauma resurfacing, any unusual behaviour or action, but found none ... so far, so good he reasoned.

The only thing which concerned the doctor was the damage to the frontal lobes which had caused the bleeding. Keith would need to be assessed when he was fully awake and alert to see what effects it may have caused. Keith told Gunner he felt reasonably well, sore all over from the bruises and he had a headache. The doctor noted that Keith was being given Tylenol for the pain and said he'd up the dosage a little bit. He was pleased to be conversing with Keith, the man didn't appear to be mentally confused or agitated and that was a good sign ... although he knew from his experience in this kind of surgery that it was far too early to tell what damage may have been done.

While his patient was awake and reasonably alert the doctor asked Keith if he wouldn't mind moving his arms off the bed a little, he did as he was asked; the movement not enough to disturb his IV's and drips. "Good," Gunner noted, "Now I need to do the same with your legs Mr. Ford do you mind?"

Keith managed to shake his head very slightly, "No I don't mind" he said quietly.

Gunner took the covers off Keith's legs and just asked him to move them a little which Keith did; satisfied with what he saw he recorded the movement on the notes and saw that Brandt had already noted the response to the pen prodding earlier.

"How long will I be here?" Keith suddenly asked.

Gunner replaced the covers, "Well that depends entirely on you, Mr. Ford," he said evenly, "we'd like to keep you here for two weeks just to be sure there's nothing else going on in there that we don't know about, we'd like to run a few more tests." He moved to the foot of the bed as he went on: "Your Mr. Freeman wants you moved to the HarlingtonStraker Hospital as soon as possible, so we may have to let you go earlier than we'd like, but you seem to be doing very well, and we're very encouraged by your progress."

He had just snapped the notes closed when Brandt came in and he nodded at Gunner.

"Hello, Mr. Ford" he said seeing Keith was awake, "mind if I take him away for a few minutes?" he said gesturing for Gunner to follow him.

"Do I have a choice?" Keith said to their retreating backs as they left.

* * *

Alec and Paul were in deep discussion outside Medical Centre, Paul slouched against the wall. "I found that poor sod out in that forest, they cut him up, Alec, God ... I swear I've never been that close to a harvested body before." He ran his hands over his face at the memory.

Freeman was glad he'd been spared that particular investigation; he waited for the horror to gradually fade from the young man's face. "And apart from finding Keith's car there, you saw no other evidence that he'd been down at the UFO site" he said, more of a statement than a question.

"Well, yes but Alec, that doesn't mean he wasn't there."

Alec regarded him for a moment, "Look, Paul we're after solid facts here, not suppositions, if you can't find anything linking him to the UFO then I'd rather believe he wasn't there but I have these fears, these niggles that he was there ... I don't know how yet, but he was there. He's been screaming the place down over there about aliens and UFO's, what if it's not because he works here ... what if they had him?" Alec was becoming agitated, and began pacing up and down outside the Medical Centre. "I've got to get him back Paul, he could be next." Alec paled as he remembered the puncture mark on Ford's neck. "He's got a mark on the back of his neck that we can't account for." He pointed back at the direction of Mayland, "Did that woman have any strange marks on her neck. Did you see anything?"

Paul shook his head not liking where this was going, "No Alec," he said, "there wasn't time."

Alec suddenly stopped pacing and held Foster's penetrating gaze, "Get over there and find out," he said.

* * *

While Paul set off at a loping run towards Mayland, Alec pushed open the doors to the Medical Centre and went in. He was pleased to see Straker sitting up drinking a cup of coffee. For all the commotion the woman's intrusion had wrought all Straker had to show for his injuries was a small dressing on his forehead. Jackson had taken the IV's out and was sitting on the end of the bed talking to the Commander in hushed tones.

A warm smile played across Alec's mouth and he genuinely seemed glad to see Straker awake and alert.

"Jackson," he said acknowledging the doctor.

Meeting Straker's eyes he said, "Foster's just been filling me in on the UFO."

He waited while the doctor got up and moved over to his desk. "It's entirely possible that Ford was involved with the UFO in some way."

Straker closed his eyes briefly at that; he had hoped his suspicions would be proved wrong. A familiar sadness crept up inside him, he listened as Alec told him how Ford had been talking about aliens and a UFO, the strange mark they'd found earlier. Straker looked through Alec as if he wasn't there. He thought of Ford, his whipping boy, and the horrors he would have suffered at the hands of these monsters.

"So I've just sent Foster back over to Mayland to see if she's got a mark on her neck or something similar," Alec finished.

The silence as Alec stopped speaking jolted Straker back to the present. His eyes remained heavy and he got out of bed, "Get him back here, Alec," he said quietly but determinedly, "I don't care how you do it, just get him back where we can help him ... I had my suspicions earlier" he said, "but until it was proven I ... " he let the sentence trail off; turned away from Alec.

"Ed ... you ok?" he asked, concern in his voice. Jackson came back over to the Commander but Straker waved them both away. He put his dressing gown on and walked over to the bathroom. Jackson and Alec watched him go inside, once there Straker sat on the side of the bath. Being careful not to disturb the dressing he rested his head in his hands.

* * *

Brandt walked with Gunner out of the unit into the corridor. "I wanted to catch you while you were down here," Brandt said, "when we started checking Mr. Ford over after the operation he had this mark ..."

"Yes, I know what you mean" Gunner said, "we were too busy saving his life to be concerned with strange looking marks," he paused, "even so, I agree it does look strange. I've not seen anything like it before ... it didn't look as though it was causing him a problem, so we left it alone."

Brandt gestured towards his office and the two men walked towards it. Going in Brandt closed the door, "I'm afraid it looks more sinister than a simple puncture mark, you've seen his blood results?"

Gunner nodded.

Brandt went on: "Police are coming back tomorrow, now that he's awake they want to question him, I had them on the line earlier." He sighed heavily. "I have a theory about our Mr. Ford ... I think he could have been abducted by someone ... whoever it was we may never know, but they've given him a sound beating whoever they were, and then finished off their little game by shooting him up with this concoction."

Gunner frowned: "It must have been a pretty savage attack, I've not seen that many contusions and cuts on one person for a long time, don't know what he did to deserve that ... physically the signs so far are that he'll make a full recovery, but mentally ... well that's another thing altogether."

"And to make matters worse," Brandt went on. "This Mr. Freeman wants to move him, I'm not sure I like that but as long as Mr. Ford is recovering at the rate he is then I have no legal hold over him," Brandt said quietly.

"I agree," Gunner said. "Although Mr. Ford is getting stronger, he'll still need his motor neurone skills testing, he'll be convalescing for a good few weeks, if not months over at their hospital, and who knows for how long after that, I hope their doctors are ready for that. Have they been in touch yet?"

Brandt shook his head.

The two doctors were quiet for a moment. "Does he remember anything about the accident yet?" Gunner asked steadily.

"Not that I'm aware of, mind you he's been in and out of sleep for a few days and he's just starting to eat normally again ... so we may be able to see if he has any recall while he's still here, although when the police come, I want to be there with him."

Gunner's pager went off. "Damn" he said, "Emergency got to go."

They stood up and walked over to the door. Brandt stood to one side to let Gunner pass. "My only concern is that he doesn't relapse when he leaves us."

Chapter: Ten

Foster made it back to Mayland in record time. He raced through the corridors narrowly missing a few people in the process, getting up to the ICU suite he looked for Shroeder. The doctor was in his office poring over a report, he looked up suddenly as Foster came charging in. "Colonel Foster?" he said in surprise, "didn't expect you back so soon ... something wrong?" he asked waiting for the other man to catch his breath.

"That woman," he said gasping for air, "did ... you see any marks ... on her neck ... like a puncture wound sort of thing," he punched out between breaths.

"Well, no," Shroeder said, "there wasn't time I ..."

"I need to check," Foster cut him off mid sentence, and took off in the direction of the woman's room.

"Colonel Foster," the doctor called after him, putting the report on her bloodwork results down on the desk he followed after Paul. He found him leaning over the unconscious form. Moving her head slightly to the left he said, "Come and have a look doctor."

Shroeder walked quickly round the bed. "My God" he said, "we were so busy treating her, we never saw that." He grimaced. "Horrible looking wound," he said leaning in closer to inspect it.

"Seems to be a puncture wound and the skin has stayed depressed around it ... well, if this is the work of our alien friends all I can say, Colonel, ... is ... it's a new one on me."

Foster was almost out of the door. "Well, what's the matter Colonel ... what is it, what's wrong," he called out after the man. Leaving the woman he ran out after Foster, he caught up with him in the corridor.

"Look, doctor," Paul said, "I can't explain right now, but Keith Ford has one just like it on the back of his neck ... I've got to find Alec Freeman, I'll explain later," and he was gone, taking off down the corridors again.

Shroeder looked worried, he went back in to look at the wound on the woman's neck again, she didn't stir. He sighed heavily, "Perhaps it would be kinder to just let you go," he said quietly looking down at her for a few minutes, he shook his head and went back to his own office.

He sat for a while studying the results of her bloods; they did not make sense. According to the report she had a combination of Scopalomine, Heroin and another drug that he couldn't identify, he had been searching his records when Foster had burst in. Shroeder studied the papers again; they still made no sense.

* * *

Paul slowed from a headlong dash to a fast paced walk as he came closer to Medical Centre. He rounded a corner and collided with Lieutenant Johnson sending her flying, the papers she was carrying scattered around her as she fell. "Sorry, sorry," he said as he helped her up, picking up the reports. She looked a little shocked.

"You ok?" he asked her starting to grin.

"Yes, I'll live you big oaf" she said smacking him in the chest with some of the papers, "is Colonel Freeman in Medical Centre do you know?" she asked.

"Well, he was when I left ... why?"

"This came in a few minutes ago ... Lieutenant Shyler took this at the scene of the UFO," she showed him the footprint.

"I'm on my way to Medical Centre now ... I'll take it," he said setting off, "you're sure you're ok?" he called back.

"Yes, I'm fine," she laughed back at him, heading in the opposite direction.

"This is good work Lieutenant, thank you."

Just you remember to thank Shyler too she said to herself as she headed back to control.

* * *

After Brandt and Gunner parted ways Brandt headed for Keith's room and was now sitting on the edge of his bed, the man looked a little stronger today he noted. "Well, our friends from the police would like to interview you tomorrow if you're up to it" he said as he was making notes on Keith's chart.

Keith looked concerned, "I don't remember anything of any use, it's a total blank, sorry," he said.

"Well, if you're unhappy with anything they ask you ... or you get upset over anything remember I'm going to be here with you so I can always ask them to leave."

Keith looked across at the window for a minute, then turning to look back at the doctor he asked quietly, "I would like Alec Freeman here, he may know more about this accident thing than I can remember."

Brandt replaced the notes at the end of Keith's bed. "No problem Mr. Ford, I'll get Julie here to call him later."

"Thank you doctor," Keith said raising a wan smile.

"No problem," Brandt said again, heading towards the door.

Julie came over and adjusted his pillows, Keith smiled up at her. She had told him a few times that he had been talking about aliens and UFO's and shadows, but then she had made the strange remark about him being a film director. Keith had looked puzzled for no more than a minute and a wry smile crept over his lips - Alec's cover stories get worse he had thought to himself. He frowned suddenly hoping he had not said anything incriminating about SHADO, UFO's or otherwise, he sat up straighter in the bed and leaned heavily against the pillows letting go a sigh as he did so.

"Are you alright Mr. Ford?" Julie asked a little concerned.

"Yes, I'm just fed up being in bed," he said, "and call me Keith ... Mr. Ford sounds so bloody formal." He smiled at her. She had nice eyes he thought.

* * *

At the nurses station Brandt called DCI Bramby's office and confirmed their appointment for 9.15am the following day.

* * *

Straker sat for a few minutes in silence trying to quell the rising feeling of dread he had felt when Alec dropped the bombshell about Ford, he was also feeling an uncustomary remorse for the way he had ruthlessly suspended the man. He reasoned that yes, anger had clouded his judgement that day but Ford had to be disciplined, the secrecy of SHADO was paramount and no one was above discipline when its concealment was threatened.

He shook his head as if to clear away the doubt, it was done now, and he could not change any of it. Ford had disobeyed orders, left his home to go to Sycamore Road for some reason, ended up at the hands of aliens and God knows what else. He lifted his head and gazed ahead at nothing. He told himself that the present was his immediate worry, what happened now would seriously affect the future, all of their futures if he did not act, and act fast.

Running his hands over his face he stood, crossed to the sink and splashed cool soothing water over his face. The drugs Jackson had given him for the headache had made him feel sick, and he'd felt a little light headed when he had gotten out of bed earlier. He took in a deep calming breath and went back out into Medical Centre.

"Ed," Alec began.

"I'll be with you in a minute Alec, Jackson I'm leaving, I'd appreciate it if you'd do whatever you have to do to release me, but I'm needed elsewhere." He turned away from the two men, took his suit out of the locker by the bed and went back into the bathroom.

Jackson narrowed his eyes and he sighed heavily. "What can I do?" he said to Alec, throwing his hands up in despair.

"Well, you could force him to stay ... you are the doctor after all."

Jackson stood: "Yes, but you know what he's like, he won't recover in here." He pointed towards the door, "Out there ... that's his best medicine."

Alec slowly nodded in agreement.

Foster pushed open the doors and came in, seeing the empty bed he looked questioningly at Alec and the doctor.

"It's ok," Alec said, a grin creeping over his face, "he's getting dressed, be back out in exactly ..." he looked at his watch.

"Ten seconds," came a steel edged voice from the doorway of the bathroom.

Apart from the small dressing across his forehead and a few cuts to his hands, he looked the same as he always did. His finely boned face impassive, eyes of steely blue ice watched them as they looked over at him.

He inclined his head back slightly: "Let’s have it," he said.

"Shyler found this at the site," Alec handed the print to Straker.

Foster sat on one of the empty chairs by the doctor's desk. "Just radioed it in, they're on their way back, oh and doctor ... " he looked over at Jackson, "they're bringing in the body of the dead man for you."

Jackson held Foster's gaze for a few moments then nodded. "Did we identify him yet?" he almost whispered the question.

"No ... there was no-one home when I went to his address, then I was called back here. Shyler can deal with it, he knows what's required."

"Sir, that print is just small enough for a woman's shoe," Foster continued, seeing the Commander poring over the picture. Straker gave Paul a cursory glance, then turned his attention back to the print.

"It could belong to our intruder," he said moving over to the bed Straker had occupied earlier that day and perching himself on the edge of it. "I've just come back from Mayland. Alec wanted me to see if she had the same mark on her neck as Keith has ..."

"And has she?" Straker's head came up slowly and his eyes locked with Foster.

"Yes," Paul said flatly.

Alec had been watching the discussion develop between the two men, he looked expectantly at Foster, inwardly willing him to go back to Mayland,

"I'm on my way," Paul said catching the meaning behind Alec's stare. Straker passed the print to Alec who studied it for a few moments and then gave it back to Foster.

On his way out Paul turned, "Oh, Doctor Jackson .... Seems your theory about our intruder being under alien mind control wasn't so far fetched after all."

A laconic smile crept over his features. Think about that when I'm gone he said under his breath.

Freeman shot Straker a look then turned to Jackson, "Well I had a theory ..." he began.

"Oh come on doctor," Straker said patience beginning to wane. "Make it quick."

The doctor pursed his lips and looked down at the floor for a few minutes, "When Foster came over here earlier I suggested that the woman could have been under alien control ... I asked him what other explanations could there be?"

Straker's mouth worked itself into that familiar impregnable line; his mind began outlining the possibilities. "And now it seems we have another time bomb ticking away over at that hospital." He turned to look at Alec, "Make sure you get Ford back here tomorrow ... I don't care how you do it, I don't want one of our people in civilian hands ... least of all at a time like this."

"As soon as we've finished here, I'll get on it," Alec said quietly.

Straker pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head, the sudden outburst left him feeling a little dizzy, he sat heavily on the edge of the bed.

Jackson came over to him. "I'm all right doctor," he said, lacing the last word with acid.

"As you wish, Commander," Jackson said, returning to his desk, returning a few moments later with the release forms for Straker to sign.

* * *

Foster had almost made it back to Mayland when Dr Shroeder passed him going in the opposite direction, files tucked under his arm.

"Hi Paul" he said, "Can you tell me what's going on yet?"

"In a few minutes doctor" he called over his shoulder not breaking stride, "you headed back to Medical Centre?"

The doctor nodded, "I need Doug to look at these" he said indicating the files.

"Ok, I'll see you there in a few minutes."

"Fine," Shroeder said and carried on walking.

* * *

Straker signed the forms for Jackson and stood to leave when Freeman's mobile rang. "Freeman" he said. "Oh, hi Miss Ealand ... yes, really ... well, it figures ... her kind are all the same ... no, no he's here with me now," he said smiling over at Straker, "yes, I should start to look busy if I were you ... he's on his way ba ... hello? ... Miss Ealand?" He looked at the phone in mock horror, "She cut me off" he said emitting a deep short laugh, "well, it made you smile" he said to Straker and it was true, there was the merest hint of a smile on those unforgiving lips.

Straker waited for Alec to explain the call. "We had some woman sniffing around the hospital looking for a story."

The Commander looked at him slowly with eyes of ice. "This day just gets better and better," he said. "Did she get anything?"

"No," Freeman said quickly, "that doctor over there threw her out, recognised her from some other times she's been seen there ... seems she's an old hand at it."

Straker shook his head, the memory of his treatment at the hands of another so-called lady of the press, Jo Fraser, came to him; guile was something they had in droves he reasoned. He thought for a minute, "So? What did the G6 say? ... I assume that's what that was," he said pointing at the mobile phone.

"Yes, it was" Freeman retorted, "seems our snoop is a girl called Amy Frost, been with the Wexham Globe for four years, not had a story published for ages, belongs to some union or other ... no ties to any major affiliates, but we're watching her, she won't get further than the front gate," Alec assured him.

"Hmph," Straker said, "as long as she's not been taking lessons from the Jo Fraser School of Journalism we should be ok." There was no amusement in his face this time, he was deadly serious.

Alec had started to grin but curtailed it as he remembered the time he'd been left in charge during that incident with Fraser and was immediately sad. It was Ford who had gotten him out of trouble that day by writing up the Skydiver launch as a practise run. He was silent for a few minutes.

* * *

Keith Ford was trying to sleep, he felt uncomfortable with all these damned lines in his arms and the catheter, his head felt sore but the headache had gone thanks to the increased dose of Tylenol, his cheek hurt like hell where it was mending. He fidgeted in the bed and wanted to get up, "Nurse," he called over to Julie.

She was at his side in a moment, "What's the matter, Keith, can't sleep?"

"No." he sighed. "Not for the want of trying though," he said and yawned. "Know when can I get these lines and things out of me? ... I want to get up and move about a bit."

She checked his pulse and readings and nodded. "You seem ok," she said to him. "Well, these things have been keeping you going." She smiled indicating the pouches of meds attached to the stand at the side of the bed.

"I know," he said dejectedly, "but I can't stand being in bed any longer ... and I'll definitely want this thing gone," he said pointing at the catheter drain.

She laughed sympathetically, "Nothing much wrong with you today is there ... I'll ask the doctor about taking the catheter out later and we'll see how you are then eh." She glanced down quickly at the catheter bag just under the bed and noticed it would need changing again soon.

Keith looked a little happier at that; he looked up at her: "Did you get hold of Alec Freeman yet?" he asked quietly.

"His line was busy when I called earlier ... but I'll try again in a few minutes." She checked his pulse again and headed over to the door. "You ok for a few minutes while I try again?"

"Yep," Keith said.

"And when I've done that I'll find the doctor for you too."

"You're too kind," he teased.

* * *

Straker and Freeman had just left Medical Centre when Alec's phone rang again

"Freeman ... oh hi ... tomorrow ... well yes, what time? ... never mind, I'll be there first thing ... yes, goodbye."

He shut off the phone and met Straker's inquiring stare, "That was the nurse over at the hospital. Police want to talk to Keith, he wants me there when they come ... lucky I was going over anyway," he said lightly.

"So, he's awake now," Straker said quietly, "good, good." Alec could see from Straker's expression that he was going over something, was that a flicker of relief he saw in Straker's eyes. Whether it was or not, it quickly vanished.

"You'll have to make sure he doesn't tell them anything, Alec, you know what I mean," Straker said, fixing Alec with an icy glare that would have frozen most people on the spot but Alec merely shrugged.

"From what I'm hearing he doesn't remember too much about it," Alec responded, "probably won't be able to help them very much."

"Mmm," Straker said, "well, when they've gone, make the arrangements to get him back here ... take Jackson if you have to."

"Don't worry ... I'll get him back," Alec assured him for what felt like the umpteenth time.

* * *

Julie came back a few minutes later. "Right," she said, "I've spoken to Mr. Freeman, he's going to be here first thing ... and doctor will come and look at you later, see if we can take this horrible thing away eh?" she said looking at the catheter drain.

Keith liked her; she was smart, funny and totally professional. He reasoned with himself that yes, she was just doing her job but he could feel her caring nature every time she spoke, he felt safe when she was here.

"Thank you," he said simply.

"Be back in a bit, just need to look in on my other guests," she said smiling at him.

"I'll be here," he smiled back.

* * *

As she left the room Dr Gunner approached from an adjoining corridor: "Is James in there?" he inclined his head in the direction of Keith's room.

"No," she said, "he's in clinic I think ... why?"

"You remember the driver in the RTA with Mr. Ford?"

"Vaguely," she replied.

"Brought in yesterday having had a hearty meal of barbiturates and whisky."

"Oh no," Julie said slowly, "did we get to him in time?"

Gunner shook his head: "No, I'm afraid not ... I was called for a consult but he was too far gone."

"I'll get James to call you if you don't see him before I do."

"Thanks Julie, I know he'd like to know."

* * *

Shroeder passed Straker and Freeman in the corridor. "Oh Commander," he said, "Good to see you up and about, how's the head?"

Straker held the man's gaze for no more than a moment, "Like it's got a subway train running through it doctor, but I am assured I'll live."

Shroeder smiled. "If you need anything for the pain."

"No, I'm fine, fine," Straker said, "there are far more important issues going on here than my headache ... what have you got?" he asked, looking at the files tucked under the doctors arm.

"I'm just going to ask Doug for a second opinion on these test results, I can't make head or tail of them."

"Whose are they?" Freeman, this time.

"They belong to the woman."

Straker asked for them and Shroeder passed them over. Straker looked questioningly back at the doctor then together the three men turned and headed back into Medical Centre.

* * *

Foster was on his way back from Mayland. He'd asked to see the woman's shoes as soon as he arrived. Checking them over he decided they were a match. "I'm taking them over to SHADO Medical Centre for a few minutes," he'd told the nurse. She didn't like patient's personal belongings going outside the hospital, but this was no ordinary patient and these were no ordinary times, so she had let him take them.

* * *

Jackson was poring over the bloodwork results. "And what is your professional opinion doctor?" Straker asked, impatient for news.

"I agree that these results are inconclusive," he began.

"Inconclusive," Straker echoed in a thunderous tone. "You must have some idea what's in her system."

Jackson sat down and rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a moment. "It's ... possible that she has been injected with something ... unusual."

Straker rolled his eyes but Jackson continued as if he hadn't seen the Commander do that. Keeping his voice low and sinister, he went on: "We can make an accurate assumption that this is what the aliens injected her with to make her compliant."

"At the very least," Straker said ominously.

Jackson looked up at the Commander, a haunted sadness in the blue eyes. "One thing I cannot get to the bottom of is where she got such detailed information about your office" he dissolved back into thought for a moment.

Straker slapped the report on the desk, keen eyes deliberating; searched for the memory and recalled it. "When Foster and I went out to that underwater construction of theirs ... you remember Alec, the one off the Cornish coast," he said looking over at Freeman.

"Where they had replicas of everything, and everyone ... yeah I remember," he said casually. Straker walked across the room and back again. He stood at the side of the desk, then leaned forward holding the sides of it.

"Is it possible then that this alien, left behind with nowhere to go still had some of that detailed information about this base ... and fed it to her."

Jackson broke out of his reverie, "Its possible Commander, yes, but we may never know for sure."

Straker stood up, thumping the desk in frustration.

"The drugs we found in her system are like nothing I've seen before, they're using unknown and very deadly contaminants now," Jackson stated flatly.

Alec ran a hand over his mouth, "The doctor at the hospital thought Keith was doing drugs, they found a strange mix of things in his blood ... what did you say they were doctor?" he asked Jackson. As the doctor read them out Freeman compared notes with what he'd recorded after speaking to the casualty doctor. "Scopalomine, Heroin and another unidentified component," his face paled. "Exactly the same."

Straker's eyes turned arctic, fixing them on Freeman he said darkly: "Like I said Alec, I want him back here tomorrow. I don't care what you have to do or what it takes." Turning to the doctor he said, "you go too Jackson."

Jackson thought for a moment then nodded. "Once the police are out of the equation, I can get Lieutenant Ford transferred here ... the hospital he's in have to comply with the patients wishes; they can't stop a transfer if the patient requests it," he said, a chill smile spread slowly across his face.

Straker shook his head; the doctor gave him the creeps sometimes. "Just do it ... be over there at first light."

Turning on his heel he turned for the door, Alec got up too quickly and almost lost his footing in the rush to follow the Commander out. Straker had given no warning that he had just curtailed the conversation and it caught Alec unawares.

As they left, Jackson called Mayland and had a room made ready for Keith Ford in the SHADO section of the hospital.

* * *

James Brandt had just seen his last outpatient in clinic for the day, and was about to leave the small room assigned as a consulting room for the duration, when the phone rang

"Brandt," he said genially.

"James ... have you seen Charles yet?"

"Oh hi Julie, erm no ... not yet, why what's up?"

"You remember the car driver who caused the RTA involving Mr. Ford?"

"Yes," he said crisply not liking the sound in her voice.

"He was brought in here yesterday, an overdose apparently, Charles was called for a consult but he was too far gone."

"Damn it," he cursed and sighed heavily. "Look Julie, under the circumstances and because Mr. Ford is doing so well I don't want him or his party to know that for the time being, can you do that for me?"

"Of course James, you know me."

"I do." He smiled. "Thanks ... for letting me know."

Replacing the receiver he sat down heavily in the chair he'd vacated a few minutes earlier. He remained like that for what seemed like hours but were in fact just a few minutes. Gathering his thoughts he got up, retrieved his briefcase from under the desk and put his clinic notes into a plain brown folder. He felt as though he'd not done enough to follow up on the car driver but then his rational mind told him he could not be there to save everybody. The rationalisation didn't help and he opened the door quickly, shutting off the light in the room as he went.

He dropped off the clinic notes to the girls on reception and walked out.

"What's the matter with him today?" she said to her colleague, "he's usually as charming as he is good looking."

"Dunno," the other girl laughed shrugging her shoulders. "Male menopause?" and they both laughed.

* * *

Foster came in with the shoes. "It's her all right," he said, passing one to Straker and Freeman, "See, underneath." He indicated the instep underneath the shoe. "It's the maker’s name, no doubt now ... she was there."

"Sorry to disappoint you, Foster," Straker said wryly, "we came to that conclusion ourselves a few minutes ago." He tossed the shoe back to Foster and continued out.

Freeman looked askance at Foster: "Sorry, Paul," he said, smiling and followed after the Commander.

The two men walked back to control in silence, each going over the events of the past few days. Straker nodded to himself a few times as various thoughts came into his head. "How's the office rebuilding going, Alec?" he finally said as they approached control.

"It's finished," Freeman responded as he led the way.

Straker said nothing and continued through control, taking notice of those who wished him well and were glad to see him back, he nodded his thanks to them. Freeman followed him into the office and the doors closed behind them.

Alec made for the drinks dispenser and poured himself a whisky, he resisted the urge to down it in one; instead he lit a cigarette. Straker watched him with mild amusement from the doorway.

"Home sweet home," he said, walking across to his desk. He noted that the glass had been repaired to his exacting standards. There was no mess or stray pieces of glass to be seen. As he pulled out his chair he checked it over for glass before he sat down, just to be sure.

"Is this thing secure now?" he asked looking at the glass screen with the multi coloured pattern weaving steadily across its surface. "Do I have to worry about it happening again?"

Alec shook his head. "It's secure, armed guards are stationed up top now, its security sealed, new codes will be down for you this afternoon ... just in case you need to get out in a hurry ... you know," he said lightly and moved over to the corner seat. Turning serious for a moment Alec said "Why the lift was up at studio level I'll never know but from now on it will remain locked down here ... like I said if you need to get out in a hurry."

Straker watched him for a few moments, then he leaned back in the chair grateful for its support against his back. Steepling his fingers in front of him, he continued to watch his second in command.

Alec was starting to feel a little uncomfortable, he narrowed his eyes. "What?" he asked eventually.

Straker drew in a breath, "Oh, I was just thinking about the last time we were in here."

Alec said nothing, but kept his eyes locked with the Commander.

"Would we really have come to blows Alec ... would it have come to that?" he asked quietly.

Alec downed the whisky, inhaling deeply and thinking quickly before he spoke, "I don't know, Ed," he looked at the floor for a moment. "It could have come to that. We'll never know now." Raising his head again he locked eyes with Straker, a non committal expression on his face. "But I still stand by what I said, you can be too hard sometimes."

Straker looked away momentarily, "It goes with the job, Alec."

"I know it does," Alec said softly, "but you and I, we've known each other for far too long to start pussyfooting around." he inhaled gratefully on the cigarette. "For what it's worth, I think you were too hard on Ford, perhaps suspension wasn't the answer." He stood up, "Anyway, what does it matter, he didn't stay home like I asked him to, headed off on some wild goose chase out on Sycamore Road ... God alone knows why, I can tell you this for nothing" he continued, "the police won't be the only ones asking questions tomorrow." He finished the cigarette. "I'm going to get something to eat ... join me?" he asked.

"Maybe later, Alec," Straker said coldly.

"You should start taking care of yourself Ed, you're only just out of Medical Centre and you need to eat."

Straker stood to face him over the desk. "I believe I said later, Alec" he said and this time Alec felt the full force of the ice cold stare. Straker opened the doors for him to leave, he looked across at Straker for a minute maybe two, then walked across the office and out into control; the heavy steel doors closed shut behind him.

Chapter: Eleven

Just off the coast of Cornwall, a silver shape skittered along the seabed, unwittingly exposing itself to the scrutiny of Skydiver.

"Got it, Sir," the sonar operator said to Carlin. As they watched, it suddenly began to pick up speed. "One decimal four," she said, looking at him in surprise.

"But that's crazy," he shot back, he looked at Virginia in mounting alarm. "It's trying to reach launch speed underwater ... its going to try to take off." He shook his head at what he was hearing. "Steer zero four two... maintain speed at forty knots" he shouted, heading back to his cabin.

He returned with his jacket on: "Are we clear?" he asked the periscope operator.

"Clear up top sir."

Putting his helmet on Carlin announced: "Lift off stations." He moved to the launch chute, "You are not getting past me this time," he said under his breath. Lake stood to one side as the crew began their lift off routine; the huge submarine slowed from chase speed to stillness in the space of a few minutes.

"Good shooting, Captain," she said as Carlin went past.

"Thanks," he smiled back, reaching the launch bay doors he leapt in and disappeared down the chute. A few moments after he left, Virginia and the crew took their positions as the sub began to tilt, tipping up almost on end, giving Carlin the clearance he needed to launch.

The force of the acceleration away from the sub as Carlin disengaged was enormous. To those inside it felt like they were being pushed backwards and down at an alarming rate - though the sub did not actually move more than a few feet with the force of the separation. Once Carlin was away, the crew began the after launch protocol allowing the sub to right herself and maintain a steady position under the water.

* * *

Sky One shot up and away from the sub, speeding elegantly through the water and Carlin felt the familiar rush of adrenaline at the moment he left the ocean behind and emerged from darkness into light. Gaining altitude, he rose higher, watching for the UFO. He saw it climbing unsteadily out of the water: "Have UFO on positive track" he radioed back, "bearing zero two zero, blue ... airspeed 120 knots."

He could see it was straining to gain height, it almost didn't make it but he let it struggle for a few minutes, watched it gain a little height and then turned the ship round to face it: "You're not going anywhere but hell" he told it. Readying his rockets, he fired.

The UFO lost most of one side in that attack and as Carlin came round for another pass he saw Lew Waterman in the replacement Sky One heading down towards the ocean.

Still airborne, although severely battered and slowly breaking up from being underwater for so long, some of its silver rings sheared off, the UFO tried to spin, failed and then tried again. Its very persistence seemed to be taunting Carlin, so when flames began issuing from the stricken craft, he showed no mercy. Letting go the rest of his ammunition, he hit the UFO dead centre and this time there was no escape. Exploding in a huge fireball the UFO disintegrated and rained down fragments of silver into the ocean. A dark smudge of grey smoke and orange-yellow flames hung in the air for a few moments where the UFO had been, then disappeared and left nothing behind in the clear blue sky.

Carlin whooped and punched the air as well as he could in the confines of the cabin: "Sky One to Skydiver Control," he said. "Got it, target destroyed." He listened to them cheering for a few moments then said: "Returning to base ... Captain Waterman in replacement Sky One should be with you in a few minutes."

* * *

Back underwater the relief was palpable, Virginia was ecstatic that after so many near misses they had the thing. It made the air a little easier to breathe knowing that their mission was complete. Klaxons sounded as Waterman and the replacement Sky One started docking procedures. The sub remained still in the water, strong internal anchors kept her from moving while Sky One docked. The two machines joined together; locks were sealed, and a few moments later Waterman appeared at the top of the chute Carlin had used earlier.

* * *

Straker's monitor buzzed. "Captain Carlin for you, Sir," came the voice of Ford's replacement.

"Yes Captain ... any news?"

"We got it sir, but I'm afraid it disintegrated on impact ... there's nothing left."

Straker banged the desk in frustration, so many missed opportunities, just like when Johnny died ... all for nothing. Wasted time, wasted opportunities, wasted lives.

"Sir?" Carlin asked at the sudden silence

"Thank you, Captain," Straker said closing his eyes briefly, "Very good work."

Closing the link, he opened another: "Get me Skydiver Control."

A few seconds later his monitor beeped: "Captain Waterman for you, Sir," Lieutenant Johnson this time.

Waterman's face appeared on the monitor.

"Captain ... are there any traces of that UFO, anything at all that we can use for analysis?"

Waterman looked pained: "No, Sir" he looked away for a moment. "It was totally destroyed ... we've checked the area ... there's nothing left."

Straker nodded in frustration: "Thank you," he said flatly and cut the link.

Leaning back in his chair Straker considered the possibilities; what was left? Pinching the bridge of his nose he sat for a few moments, then he leant across his desk and picked out a cigar, lit it and sat back in the chair, he inhaled it slowly, savouring the taste.

"Well, seems like the only one who can tell us anything is Ford," he said to the empty office.

Straker knew there were other ways of getting information out of Ford, but he wasn't happy with those methods at the moment given the man's recent operation. He decided to take the wait and see approach, get him back at Mayland and take it from there.

He sat staring at nothing for a few moments then his eyes caught a familiar looking report sticking out from the middle of those Alec had tried tidying up after the attack. He took the folder out of the pile and suddenly became deeply engrossed in it, Virginia had painstakingly listed every signature that Ford had ever supplied; the only one which differed significantly was the one giving A1 clearance. He thought for a moment then raised his head slowly, drawing deeply on the cigar he held the breath for a moment and blew out a perfectly formed ring of smoke.

If Ford's signature had not been written by the man himself as Lake's report suggested, that meant someone else had written it; giving rise to another possible security leak. Putting in another call to Skydiver he asked for their ETA at base.

"In about an hour, Sir," Waterman said.

Straker nodded: "Let me speak to Colonel Lake."

Virginia detected an undertone of steel and as Waterman moved aside she looked into the monitor remaining silent.

"Virginia," he said, "I understand that you're an hour away from base?"

"That's right, Sir" she said.

"I want to speak to you about this report on Ford," he said.

"Yes sir ... I thought you might," a slight catch in her voice.

"Be back here as soon as you can, Colonel."

Cutting the link he swiped the report up off the desk; and walked stiffly out of the office heading for the commissary ... and Alec Freeman.

Paul Foster met him half way across control.

"Colonel Foster," he said marching through, "have you eaten?"

Foster struggled with the unexpected question.

"Well, no ... I was just going to see Shyler."

"Then come with me ... I have a few things I need to discuss with you and Colonel Freeman, and I need to eat too ... apparently," he said offhandedly suddenly remembering Alec's earlier comment.

Foster gave him a puzzled look then dismissed it, closed his mouth and followed after the Commander. He reasoned he'd see Shyler later. Then the report on the dead man could be finalised and closed.

* * *

As good as her word Julie had asked the doctor to remove the catheter and Keith was more than happy to having it gone although he did admit to being a bit sore afterwards. Doctor Brandt told him that was normal, the only down side he'd said was that he had to drink plenty of fluids to keep any would be infections at bay. Brandt said he would reduce the meds in the IV and that they would be stopped altogether that evening: "You've got your physical strength back, eating and drinking normally, it's a good sign, Mr. Ford." He smiled. "See you later."

As he made to leave Julie stopped him in the doorway, using the door to shield herself from Keith she thanked him again for removing the catheter. "The last time I, well, put it in," she whispered, "Mr. Ford was unconscious and I didn't want to embarrass him now he is awake." In spite of herself she could feel her face colour, she had performed this operation countless times and this was the very first time it had ever caused her embarrassment.

"No problem," he said suppressing what would have been a very loud laugh, he and went out shaking his head.

"What's all the whispering in the doorway about," Keith called innocently, which made Brandt let the laugh go out in the corridor.

As Julie came back into the room she could see Mr. Freeman's guard trying to maintain a straight face out in the corridor, and she frowned at him in frustration.

Taking a deep breath she said: "Long story short, Keith, I asked Doctor Brandt to remove your catheter."

"Ok," Keith said, "and what's wrong with that?" he asked, "isn't that what doctors do?"

"No," she said a little more firmly than she intended, "it's what a nurse would do."

"Oh," he said quietly, then "OH" as realisation dawned.

Eventually, he smiled at her and then laughed, "Oh don't be uncomfortable about it," he said softly, "you are sweet ... "

"I just didn't want to embarrass you that's all," she told him.

* * *

Alec Freeman was enjoying his meal, a steak done just how he liked it - medium rare with a side order of salad. He was almost done when the doors came flying open and Straker marched in, followed by Foster. "Bloody hell," he said through a mouthful of salad, "wonders will never cease."

Straker ordered a light meal from the menu, Foster did the same. Both men then crossed the room, heading for Alec's table.

"See you've found yourself the furthest table from anyone else," Straker said noticing that Alec had chosen a table in the furthest corner of the room. Putting the reports down on the table he poured himself a glass of water.

He looked over at what was left of Alec's meal: "How was the steak?"

"Pretty good," Freeman said, obviously enjoying it.

Straker picked up the report on Ford and passed it to Alec.

"Don't say anything, just read it for now, when we've finished here I want you both in my office to discuss it." He took a long drink of water, watching Alec's expression change as he read the file.

* * *

Virginia Lake had finished writing up her reports on the destruction of the UFO. Taking refuge in the Captains cabin she had finally signed the last sheet of paper, dotted the 'i's and crossed the 't's. Find fault with that I dare you she thought to herself, aiming the thought at Straker. She ran a hand through her hair and went back into Skydiver Control: "How much longer Lew?" she asked.

"Twenty minutes or so ... or thereabouts." He smiled at her. "You in some desperate hurry to get back or something?"

She stood across from him in the confines of the sub. "Absolutely," she shot back smiling, "can't wait to get back to the fun factory."

* * *

After their meal The Commander, Foster and Freeman walked back to Straker's office. The B roster evening shift had just come on duty and a few newer faces watched them walk through control. Reaching the office Straker threw the report on his desk, "This all but says Ford did not sign that report" he stabbed the button on his desk console to close the doors. A couple of operatives caught the last few words and looked at each other in surprise.

"So," he said, levelling his gaze at the two men as he sat down. "That leaves us with the question of who did." He paused for a moment, reached over for a cigar, taking one for himself and offered them around. Alec took one, Paul declined.

"Any suggestions?" he said lighting the cigar.

"Well," Alec said sitting across from Straker on the corner seat he preferred. "We have to start at the beginning ... who has access to signatures. Accounts, administration ... requisitions?"

"Requisitions?" Foster said sharply.

Straker and Freeman looked over at him. "You know something?" Alec asked.

"Not for sure, Alec" Paul said turning to face Straker, "but there was this guy who issued the mobile to me, he's a new face."

"Oh come on, Paul" Straker said exhaling smoke, "we can't accuse every new member of SHADO of ..."

"I know, Sir," Foster persisted, cutting Straker off mid sentence, "but there was something about him ... for what its worth I think we could start there."

Straker considered him for a moment, turning to Freeman, "Alec ... your views?"

"It's as good a place as any to start," he began. Seeing Straker's impatient expression he said: "I know, I know ... time is an issue." He stood up and extinguished the butt of the cigar. "Send Paul over there ... see what he finds, then tomorrow when I've sorted Keith's transfer out we can look at other possibilities ... if Paul doesn't turn anything up."

Straker did not move, instead he thought for a moment. "Hmm," he said finally. He looked past Alec to Foster, "Do what you can tonight Paul, it's late I know, but you can get keys from Morgan at Gate 3."

Straker pinched the top of his nose, he was beginning to feel the strain of command tonight, he was tired and wanted sleep but he also needed answers. After Foster left he turned to Freeman, "I'm going over to Mayland to see our intruder, I believe she's in a coma and not expected to recover."

Alec looked at his friend with tired eyes. "Shouldn't you get some rest instead," he said. "You're not expected to be here 24/7 ... especially after what you've just been through."

Straker nodded silently, he stood and walked to the door: "I want to see her ... do we know who she is yet?" he paused by the open door.

"No, not yet ... Jackson's been trying to identify her," Alec said following the Commander out into the corridor.

"Pretty clever girl by all accounts using the ladder to climb down behind your office, that's why it was so bloody unexpected ... no noise from the lift shaft at all."

"Mmm," Straker said. He remembered them putting that lift area in. On one side of the shaft, cleverly hidden, was an escape ladder made out of metal rungs set in the concrete itself, they'd set them far enough away so that it did not interfere with the lift access.

The engineers told Straker he'd need another route out if the power to the lift was ever cut.

"Jackson should have some idea who she is by now I would have thought," Alec continued, "I'll head over there on my way home ... see what he's got, I'll let you know."

Straker nodded and wished him goodnight, then he turned in the direction of Mayland, heading for underground corridor 32.

* * *

Alec walked in thoughtful silence. It would be a very lucky break indeed if Foster found anything over at Requisitions tonight, and after the events of the past week Alec reckoned they were due a break. He also knew that when Paul had a hunch it usually meant he was on to something, "I just hope you're right" he said under his breath. Coming into SHADO Medical Centre, he went in search of Doug Jackson.

* * *

Straker considered the conversation of the last hour. Perhaps when all this is over ... if it ever will be, he thought morosely to himself; security needs to be heavily tightened or Henderson will want my head on a platter. Walking slowly but determinedly he thought of Henderson and was a little disappointed that he had not been over at HQ trying to lay the law down like he usually did.

Henderson was the only person in SHADO who tried intimidating Straker; he tried very hard but usually didn't get far. Straker reasoned with himself that if Henderson did make an appearance, he would deal with him in his own inimitable style, play along with the intimidation then go and prove the man wrong; worked every time. Straker wondered idly why Henderson bothered intimidation in the first place, it never works he said quietly to himself.

* * *

Foster came round the western facing side of the studio heading for Block 3, he could just see the top of Fred Morgan's head. He went in without saying a word, Morgan's head shot up at the sound of someone coming in. "Good god alive," he said, "Paul Foster, haven't seen you for ages, thought you'd dropped off the face of the earth." He laughed at his own joke, and got up to shake Foster warmly by the hand.

"I need the keys to requisitions, Fred" Foster said bluntly.

"Oh?" Morgan responded, looking puzzled for a few minutes, he returned to his desk and sat down. "Won't need 'em ... that young Andrews is over there, works very late that lad, very conscientious if you ask me."

When he looked up, Foster was gone.

* * *

Alec was studying the records of a 29 year old legal secretary from Wexham: "And you're sure these are hers?" he asked looking up at Jackson, waving the records a little.

"Yes," Jackson told him, "they were sent over earlier today, dental records are not usually incorrect."

Alec grunted: "Dental records?"

Jackson sighed: "It was the quickest way, Colonel," he said perching himself on the end of his desk.

"Yes well," Alec said bluntly, "even though I've no great liking for her, trying to kill Commander Straker, its still an atrocity the way these aliens are seemingly able to take people from the streets and use them like this."

Jackson held out his hand for the return of the records: "Yes, it is terrible, Colonel Human life is expendable these days," he said resignedly.

Alec held on to the reports: "I'd like the Commander to see this" he said.

Jackson nodded, "Just drop them in on your way home Colonel."

As Alec turned to leave Jackson continued, "When we get to the hospital tomorrow morning I need to speak to Lieutenant Ford alone."

Alec stopped and looked over at the doctor. Jackson smiled lazily back at him: "Oh nothing sinister," he said. "I just need to get the lieutenant to ask for the transfer ... makes life easier for all of us that way."

In your dreams Alec said to himself as he left.

* * *

Straker had reached Mayland and was standing outside the woman's room looking in at her through the observation window; he shook his head at the sight. It wasn't so long ago that he'd had to watch another young woman suffer and eventually die at the hands of the aliens. Their drugs back then had caused Catherine Fraser's death on that terrible day when they had raced against time to rid the earth of an alien bomb. He blinked back the memory.

Doctor Shroeder appeared from his office further along the corridor, he was about to look in on the woman when he saw the Commander standing outside her room, and slowed. As he drew near to the Commander, Straker asked if there was any change, no matter how small.

"None at all I'm afraid sir, she isn't responding to anything we've tried." The doctor took in a long slow breath and sighed heavily. "We're just going through the motions of keeping her alive now I'm afraid."

Straker noted the defeated tone in the doctor's voice, he'd heard it so many times but this time, this one and only time he had hoped they could save her, but even with the most sophisticated equipment in the hospital, they had been unable to stop her rapid deterioration into her now comatose state.

Straker felt anger rising up as the uselessness of the situation bore down on him. Yes, she'd broken through security and tried very hard to kill him, and he had wanted Jackson to interrogate her, using the most brutally intensive means if needed. He knew Jackson was more than capable of getting the information out of her. Who knows? he asked himself, for all we know she may have survived the interrogation, been given the amnesia drug, gone back to a normal life, now they'd never know. Straker was frustrated at the present situation, for once it was out of his control, and that thought alone served to bring him to boiling point. He needed to know what she knew and how she knew it. The answers were there, locked away from him in her mind, so close he thought, so damned close. He quickly quelled the feeling, it would not bring the answers they so desperately needed, instead it only served to feed his anger.

* * *

Alec Freeman shattered the silence as he rounded the corner, coming to an immediate stop by the Commander.

"Doctor," he said slowly acknowledging Shroeder, "I take it there's no change yet?"

The doctor shook his head, sensing that Alec needed to speak with Straker he turned to leave: "I'll be in my office if you need me."

Straker thanked him and turned to Alec: "Is that good news?" he said reaching for the file, "God knows we need some."

"Yes, well ... of sorts ... Jackson is convinced these records are hers."

"Nicola Brown," Straker said reading from the files, "well, at least we got a name."

Alec nodded, "We know she's a 29 year old legal secretary and she lives on East Hampton Road, at least that's the address Jackson got."

"Doesn't make any sense," Straker said coldly, "what the blue blazes was Ford doing out at Sycamore Road and why was she there too?" he stabbed a finger in the direction of the unconscious woman. "Well, hopefully Ford will be able to tell us" he continued, "I know he doesn't remember anything but Jackson will get it out of him." Seeing Alec's expression he went on: "Oh ... nothing too extreme, Alec" he said trying to sound sincere, "I need answers and he's the only one now who can give them to me." He handed the reports back to Alec. "I'm going back to control, I need to see Virginia Lake." He paused and sighed. "Then maybe I'll get some sleep," he said his voice sounded weary. "Tomorrow Alec, tomorrow will bring the answers we need," he said, the familiar ring of steel in the clipped tones.

Alec waited patiently for the small tirade to end, a thing he'd done so often in the past it was simply second nature now.

"You're actually going home later?" he asked in surprise.

"No, I'll go to my quarters, there's little point going home Alec, besides we'll be up again in a few hours ... get some rest," he said, turning to leave. Alec walked with him. They were silent for a few moments, "How's that guard doing Alec, the one our secretary here almost killed?"

"Not too good ... I checked on him earlier, seems she's given him a severe concussion, busted his ribs, one punctured his lung ... he's quite ill at the moment so Jackson was saying, we know what she did, but not how she was able to do it," he sighed in frustration. "At the moment, Ed, you know as much as I do."

"It's a mess, Alec," Straker responded as they walked together back in the direction of HQ.

* * *

Paul Foster approached the nondescript red brick building which housed requisitions and supplies. It was situated at the end of its own little drive, almost hidden by trees and foliage. SHADO staff working there were obliged to wear civilian clothes, the building was out of sight of the main road but it still took deliveries like any other supply store. Delivery trucks came and went and no-one ever suspected where those supplies were headed. Kept securely under lock and key until needed, supplies would be transported over to SHADO in plain nondescript vans. The arrangement had worked well for the last ten years and administration saw no reason to change.

Paul went straight for the main administration office on the first floor. He took the stairs two at a time, marching purposely along the corridor to the room at the end of it. He'd already convinced himself the young upstart in the room was behind all this and he was determined to prove it.

Inside, Garry Andrews was carefully tidying his desk area and was just turning the computers off when Foster came in.

"Colonel Foster," he said, surprise echoed in his voice, "we haven't authorised anything for you tonight have we?" he took a clipboard down from the wall and ran his eyes over it.

"No" Foster said coldly, "I wanted to ask you a few questions" he said, letting his eyes wander around the room, "I see you work quite late Lieutenant, any particular reason for that?" he said lazily, half sitting on the corner of Andrews's desk.

Andrews put the clipboard back slowly and faced Foster. "Er ... no, Sir," he said, and Paul thought he looked flustered. Foster crossed his arms, he decided to go straight for the jugular, no pussyfooting around; there wasn't time. "You know about the suspension of Lieutenant Ford?" he began.

"Yes," Andrews retorted a little too quickly. He licked his lips and looked at Paul nervously. "Terrible business that ... he should know better shouldn't he, I mean he is a senior operative over there ... not the first time he's done it either I understand."

Paul took a deep breath in and looked down at the floor for a moment, controlling the urge to give this young man a good thrashing for his insolence; he looked back up at Andrews. "Lieutenant Ford claims the signature wasn't his, says it's a forgery, know anything about it?"

"No, why? ... oh I see, you're accusing me are you?" Andrews crossed to a chair and sat down heavily in it. "Look, Colonel Foster" he said quietly, "I have genuine respect for Lieutenant Ford, but think about it ... when would I have access to his signature?"

Paul said nothing, instead he stood and moved round the desk looking at the various charts and paperwork on the wall, looking for something, anything that would pin this on Andrews. He heard a noise behind him and saw Andrews move toward the door, Foster moved to cut him off. "Going somewhere?" he said.

"Yes, home," Andrews said bluntly, "unless you have some proof, Colonel Foster?" he stood insolently by the door waiting for the Colonel to speak.

Foster merely looked at him: "I haven't finished with you yet, Lieutenant," he said emphasising the last word for effect. "In case you've forgotten I outrank you ... you'll leave when I dismiss you, now sit down."

Andrews slowly returned to his chair and sat down sulkily.

"How long have you worked here?" Foster asked quietly.

"About a year with SHADO" Andrews responded, "I usually work for SHADO administration, but I've been in this job for the last 7 months helping Tony with the workload, he's my superior." He fidgeted in the chair. "Since he's been sick for a while I've been here on my own."

"Show me your requisitions sheets for the last three months," Foster said suddenly, "I'm only interested in seeing anything relevant to items for HQ and control."

Andrews got up with a sigh and went to the filing cabinet at the back of the office, "I don't know what you think you'll find," he said as he rummaged through the files, "I mean, well ... Colonel Lake is the one who usually signs for things over there you know."

"Yes, I know," Foster shot back.

He took the first few files Andrews gave him, searched through a number of them. The only signature he saw on those he'd been given belonged to Virginia Lake.

He didn't see the glass paperweight wielded by Andrews until the last second. Because the blow was unexpected it took Foster completely by surprise. It was a heavy blow and it hit Foster squarely on the side of the head, he fell to the floor hitting it hard, he raised his hand to his head and moaned. Andrews hit him again; this time Foster did not get up.

Andrews stood over him breathing heavily. He checked the corridor but saw no-one. Walking back inside the office he looked down at the unconscious form of Paul Foster and chuckled: "Sorry, sir," he said sarcastically, emphasising the last word as he leant over the fallen man. "You're getting too close."

He went back over to the door and locked it this time, then taking a bag from the top of one of the filing cabinets, he began filling it with various files, notes and some pieces of hardware. As he stepped over Foster, and looked down at him again, he saw blood oozing slowly from the side of the Colonel's head. Andrews snorted in satisfaction. "You bloody military types, you're all the bloody same, think you know it all."

He went back to the desk and retrieved the paperweight, tossing it in the bag, he went back over to the door, unlocked it, checked to see if the corridor was still clear. The corridor was empty so he left, locking the door behind him.

* * *

Straker wished Alec goodnight as they came to the corridor that led away to control. "See you in the morning, Alec," he said waiting until Alec walked away, then he turned on his heel and headed in the direction of control.

Chapter: Twelve

Virginia Lake emerged from the underground lift as soon as the doors opened, seeing the Commander approaching from the end of the corridor she waited for him. "Colonel," he acknowledged her, "good shooting" he said not breaking stride, walking with his hands clasped behind his back.

"Thank you, Sir," she said walking a little faster to catch him up and fell into step beside him. "I'm sure Captain Carlin felt as elated as we did when he shot that monstrosity down."

"Yes, well unfortunately the situation is more grave than you imagine," he said in steely overtones. "Our intruder, a woman of 29, is now in a coma over at Mayland."

At Virginia's questioning look he continued, "She was allergic to our anaesthetic bullets. Oh, Jackson and Shroeder did what they could, but as they told me later - getting me stabilised was their first priority. They didn't get to her until it was too late, seems she had a massive reaction to the drug and she is not expected to recover."

Virginia caught the inflected pain in those last few words as he told her, she thought back to immediately after Catherine Fraser had died, he had been at the sharp end then too. Virginia had felt totally useless then also, watching him walk past her without saying a word, she had also felt his pain then too and had simply gone after him, as a friend, a shoulder to cry on.

They had walked through the grounds of Harville Hospital for hours until he had been forced to confront Catherine's death, even then he would not release the anguish fully to another living person. She knew he would wait until he was totally alone and then he would let it go. Personally, she thought that it was a great shame he chose to be alone with his feelings, he was human after all and no matter that he deliberately portrayed himself as a walking computer she knew different. Virginia suppressed a sigh, she hoped he would not take this death too hard when it came, for the way he spoke it was a foregone conclusion.

They walked together in silence for a few moments, each alone with their memories, then Straker changed the subject and took her thoughts in a completely different direction. "Your reports on Ford have suggested the signature is not his ... can you enlighten me any further?" he asked still not breaking stride, still walking with hands clasped behind his back.

* * *

Alec came out of the studio into the pitch black darkness of night, crossing to his car he started to light a cigarette and thought better of it. I'm too bloody tired to smoke he told himself. Although he could have stayed in quarters, he preferred to go home; take a complete break even if was only for a few hours. As he drove away, he went over the events of the last few hours and hoped that Ford's return to Mayland would be the key to unravelling this whole affair. He was happier now to note that security had increased around Straker's office up top, not before time he thought; it was a complete bloody miracle that no-one had tried getting in that way before. Even after Foster's disappearing trick after the failed court martial a while back, Straker had insisted on no guards up top. The Commander had argued that it drew attention to what should be a secret escape route, and besides the two of them, there were only the engineers and a few other trusted individuals who knew about it being there.

Alec was more than satisfied that on this occasion the Commander had acceded to him. Now that exit would be properly, if not covertly, guarded 24/7.

He sat in silence in the car for a few moments, and thought about how slowly the internal investigation was going, until they had the key to the whole business it could not be concluded properly.

* * *

Garry Andrews sauntered past Gate 3 on his way out to the car park. "See you tomorrow, Morgie," he called as he went by the window.

Morgan came out, "Oi," he called, stopping Andrews in his tracks.

"What now?" he said looking back at Morgan in annoyance.

"Bit touchy aren't we?" the older man said, "come on," motioning for Andrews to come inside the office. Andrews paled as he thought Morgan would surely search the bag, he wondered idly if he'd have to take care of Morgan the same way he had Foster.

"You know regulations," Morgan said, "no keys go off the premises, give 'em here."

Andrews regained his composure, "Oh sure, right," he drawled. He took the keys out of his pocket and handed them over.

"Colonel Foster was looking for you earlier did he find you?" Morgan asked.

Andrews looked surprised, "Oh ... er ... yes ... he asked me a few questions and then he said he was going back to HQ."

"Mmm" Morgan grunted. "Only he never came back past me."

"Must have had your head down ... or you were sleeping you old bugger," Andrews called as he left.

"Hey," Morgan called after the young man, "less of the old if you don't mind."

Morgan thought briefly about checking over the requisitions office but then decided to take the young man's word for it and closed the door against the chill night air.

From the rear of the security block Andrews watched for a few moments. "Good, good," he said under his breath noting that Morgan had done nothing, just as Andrews suspected he would. "Lazy old sod," he said smiling to himself, "by the time they find you, Foster old boy, I'll be long gone."

* * *

Keith was enjoying being free of the drips, catheters and anything else which had held him prisoner while it kept him going. He was laying stretched out on the bed in a pair of navy blue paisley pyjamas, his hands behind his head and for some reason he felt happy. The thought 'it's good to be alive' danced through his head and made him start a little. The phrase made him a little uneasy and he didn't know why.

Once the catheter had been taken away Dr Brandt had asked Julie to find Keith a pair of pyjamas from supplies to replace the rather unflattering and very draughty, as Keith had put it to him, hospital gown. Not really my colour he said to himself, navy blue paisley but it's better than nothing. He smiled as his stomach growled expectantly, the chicken salad sandwich he'd had at lunch hadn't touched the sides.

Keith had asked Julie to see if she could get him his evening meal early today and she said she would see what she could do. "You'll get me into trouble," she said, and he smiled at her tilting his head as he did so.

Knowing patients were meant to have their larger meals at lunchtime and a sandwich for evening meal to help digestion Julie had been able to cajole the catering department into helping her give Keith his meals the opposite way round for the last few days.

At first the manager said it would be too much trouble. "Everyone gets treated the same you know that," he'd said to her.

"I know, Sam, but just this once ... please ... for me", she smiled at him.

"If I didn't know any better, nurse," he said seriously, "I'd think you were sweet on this fella."

* * *

Now she entered Keith's room with his old fashioned shepherd's pie with a side order of vegetables on a plate on a tray under a stainless steel cloche.

"You look pleased with yourself," she called to him as she put the food down on the side table by the bed.

"I just realised, Julie," he said in an expansive voice, "that I didn't die out there." His voice became softer, "I'm still here, and I really don't know how."

Julie frowned as she looked at him: "Hey now, none of that," she told him. "You fought this battle with us you know, we didn't do it all on our own."

She moved over to the bed and sat on the edge, she took his hand in hers and massaged it slowly: "Promise me," she said, "that you'll get stronger every day and that you'll enjoy whatever life gives you when you leave here." She made to get up but he didn't release her hand so she sat back down.

"You are very kind Julie, I will miss you when I have to go I do know that," he said solemnly.

"Well, you're not going anywhere just yet," she said, "now will you please eat your dinner before it goes stone cold?"

* * *

Virginia Lake was concerned at way the Commander looked. His icy demeanour gave nothing away but she could see he had started to look tired and careworn. She wished he would take a few hours rest and told him so. He had stopped walking then and turned to face her letting her feel the cold penetrating ice from his eyes.

"Yes ... yes," he had finally said, "I believe I was asking about the report, Colonel," his tone slightly less acidic but a trace lingered as if to serve a warning.

Virginia took in a deep breath but let it go slowly. "Well, I know what the report states, Commander, it appears to clear Lieutenant Ford. The signature varies too much for it to be his so my next line of questioning was to look for where the signature could have come from, if it is a forgery then someone had to have access to Lieutenant Ford's signature and that could only have come from the control room." She paused briefly, watching the steely blue eyes taking everything in; could almost see it being analysed inside his head.

"Lieutenant Ford does not usually sign for things unless I am not there. We know he's considered senior enough to sign for things in my absence." She bit her lip, then continued. "If a signature is required for anything considered sensitive, or important, then he usually has to have anything he signs for authorised by a superior officer, say Freeman, Foster or yourself ... if he has just signed for something and not had it authorised then I have no explanation for that, and that is the only thing I can come up with off the top of my head sir."

"Thank you, Colonel," he said, then softening slightly, "Virginia, I appreciate how hard you worked on that report and I'll expect you back here first thing tomorrow to help Foster with enquires, I sent him over to requisitions," he folded his arms, "seemed like somewhere to start, Alec Freeman's suggestion." He smiled a little, then frowned, "he should be back soon." He started walking again, "Go home, Colonel" he called as he went, "we'll pick this up again in the morning ... goodnight."

"Goodnight, Sir" she said softly brushing a stray strand of hair off her face, she shook her head at the obstinate form of Commander Straker marching back to quarters; totally alone, as usual. She walked back the way she had come thinking of any likely recent orders sent to requisitions, the only things Ford was likely to sign for would be items of stationery, magnetic tapes and the like. Well Paul she said to herself, I hope you find something, it's about time Ford was cleared, he's not stupid ... yes, he made the odd mistake from time to time but then she reasoned, hadn't they all done the same.

Straker did demand more from the lieutenant than any other operative in control and one day she mused she would make it her business to find out why.

Gaining the black stillness of the car park, she crossed to her car, and drove over in the direction of the requisitions block, perhaps Paul was still there she thought, perhaps I can help.

She was surprised to see the building in total darkness as she came down its secluded drive, perhaps he'd gone home after all she thought, I'll just check anyway. Leaving the engine running she got out of the car and walked round to the front of the building. The main entrance lobby was dark and the door itself was locked. Virginia frowned, looking up to the office windows on the first floor there was nothing to see.

"Nice of you to tell us you'd finished your investigation, Paul" she said a little testily under her breath. She got back in her car, turned round and headed back the way she had come.

* * *

Back up in the requisitions office Paul Foster lay in a pool of his own blood, oblivious to the world outside.

* * *

Straker walked to his quarters and went inside. He undressed for bed, and was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow, he was exhausted tonight. Outside in the deserted corridor a guard kept watch. Slowly the night passed and gave way to morning

* * *

Freeman and Jackson arrived at Wexham County General shortly before 7am. Brandt met them at Reception. "Hello again, Dr Brandt," Alec said shaking his hand, "I'd like to introduce Dr Jackson from the HarlingtonStraker Hospital, Mayland." The two doctors shook hands and moved over to the lift area.

Alec followed a little way behind, he had spotted the nurse who had been on duty that first night and gave her his most enigmatic smile. Freya smiled back, "Nice to see you again, Mr. Freeman" she called over. Alec waved at her and joined the doctors, Jackson in particular seemed amused by the small altercation, he smiled slowly but said nothing.

A few minutes later they were walking slowly towards Keith's room. Harry stood up and greeted them. "All quiet on the western front, Mr. Freeman" he said.

"Glad to hear it, no more snooping reporters been back I take it?" Alec said pleasantly.

Harry laughed. "No sir, and anyway she'd have to get by me." He moved back to stand by the door, "Mr. Ford is quite safe while I'm here," he said.

Alec liked this man, he knew he could be relied upon, he had that enviable of all qualities - remaining calm and unflappable in a crisis, he was a big man and at 6' 4" nobody messed with him unless they had a death wish.

"Glad to hear it, see you later Harry, thanks," Alec shot back, then turning to go into Keith's room, he asked the doctor how Keith had been.

Brandt smiled, "Oh, he's been fine, much stronger than we gave him credit for, been getting a bit stir crazy though, fed up being in bed, that sort of thing"

Freeman was the first to go in, followed by Brandt and Jackson.

Keith was sitting in a chair by the window looking out on the grey grizzly morning with tired eyes. He turned to see who was coming in and a broad smile lit his face, "Alec," he said.

"Hello, Keith," Alec said, moving quickly across the room. "Stay there, its ok, we'll come to you."

He chuckled as Keith sat down again, letting out a relieved sigh as he did so.

"It's so good to see you up and about, Keith," Alec said sincerely, meaning every word of that statement. He'd feared the worst when he'd seen him in the casualty unit on that awful night, and his relief at seeing Ford awake and alert instead of flat on his back was evident. He knew the doctors wouldn't know if Keith's personality had changed since the accident but from what Alec could see, he was the same old Keith.

The young lieutenant looked up at Alec. "It's nice to be up and about," he said, then rather absent mindedly, "can't wait for my hair to grow back over this bit," he said, indicating the patch they shaved away.

"Ah, you'll be right," Alec said "Can't be much wrong with you if you're worried about what you look like," he said.

Jackson came further into the room. "Mr. Ford," he said slowly, elongating the words.

"Oh, Doctor Jackson?" Keith said in surprise, "I didn't know you were coming too."

"Yes, I need to see how you are doing, and you look very well I must say." Jackson then looked at Alec, "and to keep Mr. Freeman away from the nurses ... you know what he's like".

Keith laughed and Alec shot Jackson a look, but the doctor just smiled lazily back at the Colonel.

Brandt smiled, He was glad to see that Keith was enjoying their company, made him feel a little happier about transferring the man into the care of this odd looking but obviously caring doctor. He consulted Keith's notes and came over to join them. "You are doing very well, Mr. Ford," he said despite his concerns over the frontal lobe injury. Knowing that this particular injury did not always show up in the tests they did it would be difficult to see how much damage there was, if any. As the lobe damage had caused the bleeding into Keith's brain, Brandt had been surprised at the speed of Keith's recovery so far. It was almost as if the lobe injury had healed. If it had, it had done so extremely quickly he thought, which was unusual. The lobes were extremely vulnerable to injury given their location at the front of the brain, and he knew he could watch for signs of damage in those particular areas they controlled, emotional responses, judgement, language, memory, impulse, control and social behaviours, but Mr. Ford appears to have normal function at the moment in all of these areas, he told himself, so a full recovery looks promising. Mr. Freeman hadn't intimated there had been any change in his friend's behaviour thus far he observed, so he would have to sign this one up as a lucky break; if that was the case then it more than made up for the ones they lost.

He knew Gunner had also been in a few more times to see Keith and had run a few standard tests, tapping fingers to test the motor neurone responses and asking a few mathematical and deductional questions to test Keith's reasoning and language skills. As the man seemed to be conversing normally Brandt had told himself maybe, just maybe Mr. Ford was one of those lucky few who went on to make a full and complete physical recovery.

From the moment he'd been brought in and given over to their care, they'd done everything they could to save his life. That their skill, expertise and nursing had got Keith to this point was a given but the memory loss over what had happened to bring him to the hospital still concerned Brandt. At this point he simply didn't know whether it would come back in time or not. One thing he was certain of, and that was his intention to make sure this new doctor knew just how much Keith had been through since he had the accident, he wanted nothing but the best for his patient.

The door opened quickly, breaking his train of thought. Julie Alexander came in with Keith's breakfast on a tray. "Oh heavens," she said, "I didn't expect you all here so early." She brushed past Brandt and Freeman, ignored Jackson for the moment as she set the tray down. Brandt then introduced her to Jackson and she shook hands with him, she noticed how clammy his hands were but resisted the urge to wipe her hand.

"Got to keep my favourite patient's strength up," she said looking fondly at Keith before bringing a bedside table over and moving the breakfast tray onto it. "Here you go Keith."

Alec smiled, he'd noted Keith's reaction to her as she came in, her use of his first name, caught the doe eyed look he gave her. Yes, he thought to himself, she is pretty and he suspected that Keith may be a little sweet on her.

Julie looked over at Alec and caught the smile, she smiled back a little puzzled. "And what are you smiling about?" she said to him.

Alec chuckled and looked down at the floor for a few moments.

Keith looked up at him, a little embarrassed, he knew what Alec suspected and looked away. "Oh nothing, nothing," Alec said innocently, sitting on the corner of Keith's bed. Keith Ford you sly old dog he said to himself, he had to admit to being impressed, he was seeing another side of Keith; he liked it. It told Alec that Keith Ford was not purely put on this earth to be Straker's whipping boy after all.

Jackson had noted the interplay and was amused, but said nothing. He'd remained to one side while Brandt had ushered them in and was happy for the moment to simply watch how they interacted with each other. Although he was sure Keith had received nothing but the best care from these people, his job was to convince them that he would take Keith away to Mayland today.

As Keith started eating his breakfast Julie asked the others if they wanted coffee, they nodded and she went to get it.

"What time are the police due, doctor?" Alec asked from the end of Keith's bed.

Brandt looked at his watch, "In about an hour or so, round about 9.15, so you've plenty of time for coffee and catch up time," he said, "I'll leave you alone for a while, I have rounds but I'll be back before they come, see you later." Brandt put Keith's records back where he had taken them from and left. Julie came back in and was surprised to see Brandt had gone.

"Rounds," Alec told her, "said he'll be back when the police get here."

"Ah," she said bringing the coffee over and left it for them on a tray.

"Aren't you going to play mother?" Alec asked her.

"Come on Mr. Freeman, you're big enough to pour it yourself I'm sure," she laughed back. Keith felt mortally embarrassed at Alec's good-natured teasing of her, he had grown fond of her and he knew Freeman knew it too. Keith smiled a broad and contented smile as she dealt with Alec. She took Keith's empty tray, pleased to see he had eaten all of the meal.

"That was really nice," he said to her.

"I'll pass your compliments to the chef shall I?" she said laughing.

"Sure, sure," Keith said resigned to the fact that they would all make fun of him at some stage today.

"I'll be back in a little while," she told them, "I need to check on another patient who came in last night." Looking down at Keith she said, "If you need anything, you know where the call button is ... just use it ok?" He nodded back at her and watched her leave.

Jackson pulled up a seat, "Now Keith," he said, "we need to get you transferred to Mayland today ... "

"Today?" Keith said in surprise, cutting the doctor off mid sentence. "Why so soon?"

Jackson hardened his tone slightly, "Mr. Straker wants you back there today. He needs to know what happened to you." Unsure of how much Keith could or would remember the doctor proceeded cautiously, "He feels it would be better for you to be back with us, until your memory comes back." Keith pursed his lips and looked miserably at the floor, he had forgotten Straker for the moment. He hadn't even given his Commander a second thought while he'd been in the hospital. Having to face Straker anytime soon made him feel very uncomfortable; he'd felt just about well enough to cope here. He shivered and suddenly felt a little frightened and he knew it was unlike him. He was a resilient if not quiet individual, he was respectful of his senior officers and he knew in his heart that he was not frightened of Straker. He started to feel angry at the fear, but did not let it show.

"I tried reporting in Alec ... I remember that much," he said suddenly. Raising his head he locked eyes with Freeman, "Your line was busy, yes, I remember that ... then nothing ... sorry."

Alec tried a question. "That call you made was traced to Sycamore Road Keith, do you remember going to Sycamore Road?"

Keith looked askance at him, "Sycamore Road, don't remember a Sycamore Road ... was I there? ... I'm all messed up with my memory Alec, I'm sorry."

The inflection in the word was pitiful to hear, but Keith fought to retrieve the memory, tried forcing it to the surface, but it refused to come.

"I'm sorry, Alec," Keith said again, "I don't remember."

Alec could have pressed the point a little more but he could see Keith was getting anxious trying to force the memories out, and he could feel what Jackson was thinking - better to get him back at Mayland first, then try to get him to remember.

Jackson hadn't moved from where he sat but he was paying close attention to the young lieutenant.

Alec walked over and placed a hand on the young man's shoulder and Keith looked up grateful for the support. To reassure him further Alec said pleasantly: "Ok, well, take it easy, it'll come Keith, it'll come ... don't worry about it now."

Alec felt for him, he knew how Keith was probably feeling, and he knew that the task ahead wasn't going to be easy for him either.

Silence hung in the air for a few moments then Keith asked: "Will these doctors agree to me going today?"

"They will if you request the transfer," Alec said gently.

"Yes, they can't refuse you if the request comes directly from you," Jackson interrupted, "we can have an ambulance over here in forty five minutes to take you back over, so don't worry."

Keith ignored Jackson for the moment and spoke directly to Freeman, "It seems like such a long time since I was back there, Alec," he said in a small tired voice, "one minute I'm suspended and then ... how long has it been? ... I've lost all track of time."

"Ten days," Freeman said, smiling down at Ford. "You'll be back in the saddle in no time Keith, just you wait and see." Alec hoped he sounded more optimistic than he felt.

Keith sighed suddenly feeling very tired. He stood slowly and went over to the bed, he took off the dressing gown and lay gratefully back against the pillows. He had not been looking forward to this day, and now that it had finally arrived he hated it even more. Keith closed his eyes against the tears which began welling up and forced them back down.

He was determined they would not see him cry. When he had regained his composure, fragile as it was, he said resignedly, "Ok, tell me what I need to say to them."

"Just tell them you want to be treated at Mayland," Jackson said lazily. "It's considered a form of self discharge ... but you would be discharging yourself into our care instead of staying here under theirs."

Keith looked over at the doctor. "Fine" he said, "I'll see Dr Brandt after the police have been."

* * *

As good as his word Doctor Brandt appeared a little before 9.15. The police were in reception and after checking with Keith to see he was fine to answer their questions, he sent a nurse downstairs to get them. "Now, don't forget, Mr. Ford," Brandt said kindly, "if you're not happy with what they ask you I'll get them to leave, they can always come back another day."

Keith grunted, yeah, of course they would he thought to himself - only you don't know that I'm going to be leaving later.

Alec sat at Keith's bedside and Jackson settled himself across the room preferring to lean against a table and stretched his legs out in front of him, crossing them at the ankles, he folded his arms and waited.

Brandt returned a few moments later with the same two policemen he'd spoken to a few days ago, DCI Bramby and DS Provender. They sat at the opposite side of Keith's bed across from Alec who sat quietly with one leg crossed over the other and his hands folded neatly in his lap, his expression guarded and unreadable.

"Nothing to worry about, Mr. Ford," Bramby said in a genial tone, "we just want to find out from you in your own words what you know about the situation." He took out a statement sheet.

"I can't remember very much," Keith said looking over at Alec for help, "apparently I was hit by a car out on this ... where was it?"

"Sycamore Road," Alec said evenly.

Provender looked over at Alec at the same time as Keith did. "And what is your relationship to Mr. Ford?" he asked him bluntly.

"A friend, a close friend," Alec responded just as bluntly.

Provender nodded, took out the notes he'd been given by the two policeman who attended the accident and turned back to Keith: "So you are saying you don't remember being there," he stated, his manner implying he did not believe the man.

"Yes," Keith said quietly wishing they'd go away, but wanting to get it over with, "like I've already told you, officer ... I really don't remember."

"Sergeant," Provender said harshly cutting Keith off mid sentence making Bramby look over at him in surprised annoyance.

"Sergeant," Ford repeated, "Look ... I'm not being difficult, I just can't remember."

Alec watched Ford carefully, conscious that if he showed any sign of stress and unease he'd stop the interview - never mind waiting for the doctor to do it. Provender observed the man in the bed also, but he was watching for any signs to reinforce his belief that Ford was faking the memory loss.

Keith continued: "I think we've established that I was over there but that's all I can tell you."

"You're a drug addict, Mr. Ford," Provender said harshly, "tell us the truth, you're faking this memory loss aren't you ... you were out at Sycamore Road, you scored, and wandered into the road where you were hit by a car ... isn't that what happened?" he demanded.

"That's enough," Alec said, about to get to his feet when Bramby stopped him.

Brandt walked over to Keith's bedside, "Is this line of questioning really necessary?" he said, "I've already told you what I think happened."

"No," Bramby said getting up angrily, "this line of questioning is not necessary," he said glaring at Provender. "Wait outside, sergeant," he said in a voice that brooked no nonsense.

"He's lying sir ... can't you see that?" Provender protested.

"Outside, Sergeant," he said again, slightly raising his voice.

Provender scowled but did as he was told.

Taking in a quick deep breath, Bramby pulled a chair up a little closer to the bed. In a soft tone he went on: "I apologise for my Sergeant's behaviour ..."

"Thank you," Alec interrupted.

"That was completely out of line," Brandt said angrily.

"Yes I know it was," Bramby held his hands up for calm, "Sergeant Provender is newly promoted to the rank, and for what it's worth against my better judgement," he said. "He is keen to go higher, but if I have anything to do with it he'll be back in uniform directing traffic before his feet touch the ground ... if you'd like to lodge a formal complaint, I'll get you the relevant information."

Brandt glared at him: "Yes I do, your sergeant's behaviour just now is unconscionable and as Mr. Ford's doctor I won't allow that man back in here again, is that clear?"

Bramby let the doctor expend his anger, before he asked quietly: "Am I still allowed back in? ... I promise to behave."

Brandt softened his tone, emitting a very short, almost quiet laugh: "You are, Detective Chief Inspector, but not your Sergeant."

Throughout all this Dr Jackson had stayed where he was, motionless. Quietly observing the personalities in the room and taking mental notes of what was said.

When the atmosphere calmed around him and he felt able to go on Keith fixed Bramby with a tired gaze.

"I'm not a drug addict ... I know I'm not," he said quietly and determinedly. "I can't remember what happened that much is true, but I know I'm not an addict." Sitting up in the bed he went on: "How many times do I have to tell you ... I don't know what happened, I don't have the memory ... I do know though, that I've never taken recreational drugs in my life," he said adamantly. "That I am absolutely certain of but I'm told someone else decided I should." He leaned forward to let Bramby see the mark on the back of his neck, it was still there but had shrunk considerably.

"I understand, Mr. Ford," Bramby said. "That mark does indeed look very nasty ... I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of it eventually," he said gently. "Are you ok to continue?"

Keith lay back on the pillows and was quiet, he closed his eyes in frustration.

Alec caught the movement and this time he did stand up. "I think that's enough for now," he said, "Mr. Ford does not remember, I've known him a long long time, he is not a liar, if he says he doesn't remember then he doesn't remember."

"I understand Mr. Freeman. It's ok, I can come back another time if needs be," Bramby said as he put the chair back where he had taken it from earlier. "When someone is admitted to hospital in that state and is shot so full of drugs we have to rule out the victim's role in all of this - we have started enquiries into where the drug came from, our narcotics teams are out on the streets as we speak, and we're talking to known pushers in the area. We'll find what we need, but we have to establish the truth as far as we can."

Keith merely watched as Brandt opened the door for Bramby to leave, paying no attention to Sergeant Provender waiting outside.

"You can always question him at a later date if you need to," Brandt said, "once his memory starts coming back then he can tell you what happened, but its not been much use to you I'm afraid."

Bramby smiled at the doctor, "Happens like that sometimes, we're not accusing him although my sergeant may have given you cause to think otherwise. We had hoped he may have recovered his memory a little better by now, but we're probably going to have to wait and see on this one, we'll keep the pressure up on the streets you can be sure of that. We may get a lucky break out there, who knows?"

Brandt nodded and turned to go as Bramby walked away, Provender following behind him. The doctor went back into Keith's room again. Approaching Keith's bed he looked down at the man, laying quietly, eyes closed but not sleeping and was struck by how tired he looked.

"Glad that's over with for now," Brandt said as he checked Keith over just to be sure.

"Yeah," Keith replied.

Satisfied, the man was just tired the doctor turned to leave, Keith asked him to stay.

Brandt looked questioningly at Keith. Silence hung in the air for a few minutes, then Keith said quickly: "I want to go back to Mayland with Dr Jackson today ... Dr Jackson can have an ambulance here in forty five minutes at the most, and I'd like to go."

Brandt sat heavily on one of the chairs at the bedside. "Oh," he said surprise in his voice, "well, that's an unexpected request." He smiled at the man; probably wants to go back to what he's used to, he thought. "Of course you can be transferred, no problem there, it's just come a little sooner than I thought it would."

He ran a hand through his hair, and adopted a conspirational tone, "Personally I'd like to keep you here for a few more days just to make sure you're ok, but you're doing very well so far."

"He'll be well looked after at Mayland Dr Brandt I can assure you," Jackson said standing from the slouch he had adopted earlier and coming to stand at the foot of Keith's bed. "He's a very popular man is our Mr. Ford."

Keith ignored the remark and looking over at Brandt he grew serious. "I really am very grateful to you for what you've all done for me here, really I am, but I'd like to go back now."

Brandt stood. "Ok, well I'll see about getting the paperwork ready for the transfer." Looking across at Jackson he said, "Doctor if you'd like to use the phone at the nurses station to arrange your ambulance ... I'll show you where it is." Jackson fell into step beside Brandt and the two doctors walked out of the room together. Brandt showed him where the phone was and then saw Julie approach from the ICU unit itself. "Glad you're here," he said to her, "Mr. Ford will be leaving us this afternoon."

"Oh," she said and the small sound carried sadness to Brandt's ears.

"Yes, seems he wants to go to their own hospital to finish recuperating, their Doctor Jackson is arranging for the ambulance now."

"Bit sudden though," she said, she didn't really know how to explain how she felt about Keith Ford, he looked so lost and lonely in here she thought, and I know its not professional to have feelings for a patient, he just seems to need looking after she told herself.

"Come on dolly daydreams," Brandt said to her, "get his notes ready and fill Dr Jackson in on the full treatment he's had while he's been here."

Julie managed a small smile and followed after him, she felt like someone had just torn the bottom out of her world.

Chapter: Thirteen

In his quarters and still in bed, Ed Straker had been reading through the notes from the folder on Ford again when he glanced over at the time. He cursed inwardly at the dial, then headed for the shower, undressing as he went. He turned the water on and when the temperature was just how he liked it he stepped in. The warm water washed over him and he gratefully turned his head up into the spray letting the water run over his face, taking away the strain of the previous day. He towelled himself dry and dressed. He combed his white blond hair into that sleek almost helmet style haircut he had adopted. Afterwards he went out into the corridor, nodding a curt good morning to the guard who kept watch outside.

The Commander strode away in the direction of the control room. Foster should be back by now he said to himself looking at his watch. He strode quickly past the operatives in the control room and went into his office. Surprised to find no sign of Foster he called Lieutenant Johnson in. "Has Paul Foster reported in yet?" he barked at her.

"No, Sir."

"Hmm" Straker thought for a moment then, "Is Colonel Lake around?"

"Yes, Sir, she's just on her way in."

Straker walked round the desk and sat heavily in his chair. "Well send her directly to me when she gets in," he said, dismissing her he closed the doors.

* * *

Dr Jackson and Alec had lunch in the canteen while Keith ate his in his room. Julie was a little sad to be seeing him go but didn't want it to show on her face; she'd taken her break now so she would be here for the duration of the afternoon's events.

"This is a big surprise," she'd said when they were alone.

"Tell me about it," he said ruefully.

"When I said you wouldn't be going anywhere soon ... I had no idea ... " she could feel the tears coming and she turned away from him under the guise of needing to get his notes ready.

The door opened suddenly and Doctor Brandt came in, followed a few moments later by Dr Jackson and Alec.

"How's everything going?" Brandt asked her.

"Fine," she said a little too softly and it touched Keith's heart. He wanted nothing more right now than to sweep her up in his arms, kiss her gently and tell her everything would be all right, but it was impossible with all the people here. He tried to catch her eye but she wouldn't look at him.

Brandt's beeper sounded and taking it from his belt, he looked at it in mild disgust.

"Well," he said looking over at the assembled group, "seems your ambulance is here Mr. Ford."

"Excuse me," Julie said quickly, leaving the room.

Keith watched her go with a modicum of sadness, he really was very fond of her. He managed a wan smile as the thought of the journey back over to Mayland made him feel more tired so he just sat quietly in his chair by the window. He had been waiting for, and dreading this moment, and while Jackson and Freeman stood and spoke to Brandt, Keith stayed sitting in the chair. He had remained dressed as he had been earlier - in pyjamas and dressing gown and had been assured he could return them once he was settled in at Mayland.

Julie came back into the room, her eyes were a little red.

"Come on, Mr. Ford," she said brightly, hoping she sounded happier than she felt. "Let's take you downstairs in style," she said.

He looked up at her "I can walk fine you know," he said softly to her, "I don't need that."

"I know," Julie responded, "I just want to make sure you're treated well and looked after until the last possible moment here."

He was sure going to miss her and he hung back a little while the two doctors discussed notes and Jackson took them from Brandt.

Alec said he'd see them back at Mayland, he decided to take his car back and leave Keith to go back with the doctor, "I'll see you back there, Keith," he said kindly, "leave the nurse alone for a bit, eh." There was a trace of laughter in his voice.

Passing by the door he told Harry to wait until Keith was safely off the premises, check the area over for any other possible breaches of security, then, when he was satisfied, he was to report back to HQ for debriefing.

Keith looked up into Julie's eyes as he got up to get into the wheelchair. "Thank you for all you've done Julie, I will miss you, you're a lovely girl," he said to her, his voice was a little heavy and the inflection was not lost on her.

"I'll miss you too," she said, "but don't tell anyone." She tried a laugh but it didn't quite work and he wasn't convinced.

He was silent for a long moment. "When I'm over this thing perhaps we can go out for a drink?" he smiled at her and she brightened.

"Yes, I'd like that ... here let me give you my number," she took out a small pad and wrote her telephone number on it. Passing it to Keith she blushed a little. He slipped the paper into the dressing gown pocket and sat in the chair.

Julie leaned close, "You just make sure you get well quickly, Keith," she said turning the wheelchair round, "I'm holding you to that drink." He grinned and felt a little happier now.

Jackson walked over to meet them and smiled at the nurse "All settled in?" he asked looking at Keith.

Ford nodded and Julie pushed him out to the waiting lift, on the way out Keith had Julie stop the chair so he could shake Brandt's hand. "Thank you again, doctor," he said quietly, "I've had the best care here and I really appreciate what you've done for me."

"You're very welcome, Mr. Ford," Brandt said kindly. "I'm very happy that you're up and about so quickly, you had a very nasty injury there, Doctor Jackson knows what we had to do and how we expect everything to heal, I hope this business with the drugs can be sorted out when you're better ... hopefully once your memory's back we can get to the bottom of it." He quickly checked over the cheek wound on Keith's face. The deep laceration had healed very quickly, there were just a few sutures there now instead of the huge dressing which had almost obliterated half of his face. Brandt nodded. "You'll be left with a small scar there I'm afraid," he said, "sorry."

"I think that's the least of my worries, Doctor," Keith said wanly.

Brandt shook his hand again. "Be well Mr. Ford, all the best to you."

Turning to Jackson he said. "Take care of him," his dark eyes flashed, Brandt meant what he said.

"Of course," Jackson responded sincerely, "like I said earlier, Mr. Ford is one of our very important people."

Julie started pushing the wheelchair out to the lift again.

"Bye Harry," Keith called over as the doors closed.

"See you later," the security guard grinned back.

Julie chaperoned Keith all the way down to the waiting ambulance, she noticed Mr. Freeman was still in reception, he was talking to Freya and Julie smiled to herself.

As they crossed reception Jackson called over, "I think its you who should be leaving the nurses alone, Alec ... thought you left earlier." Freeman jumped as he had his back to them and hadn't heard their approach.

"All right, all right," he said a huge grin slowly spreading over his face, he held his hands out in a placating gesture. "I'm just going," he smiled at Freya again and joined them as they left reception.

Outside the afternoon air was grey and cold, not quite frosty, but cold enough to make Keith shiver. Jackson took him quickly into the ambulance and Julie waited while they settled him in, then as the doors closed she managed a small wave and motioned for Keith to call her.

Alec caught the motion and he stood for just a second with his head slightly to one side with that knowing grin starting to spread over his face, then he shook his head at her and headed for his car.

Julie took absolutely no notice of him and went back inside with the empty wheelchair. She went back up to the ICU unit and Brandt met her as she came up, "Nearly time for your break," he told her kindly, "why don't you go and get a cup of tea eh?"

Julie looked gratefully up at him and smiled her thanks, "I could really do with one," she smiled. Saying goodbye to Keith had been harder than she expected she thought to herself and she hoped she would see him again.

* * *

Freeman followed after the ambulance, after the morning's events he was still unsure what had actually happened to Ford out there that night in Sycamore Road. True he was healing well, his injuries were almost mended, and Keith was now starting to look like he had on the morning Straker had suspended him. He allowed himself to think that the doctors had been worrying about nothing over Keith's frontal lobe injuries, he just looks and sounds exactly the same as he always did. Alec had already decided that Straker wouldn't be using the usual methods to regain Ford's memories, the UFO had been destroyed and damage limitation had contained the situation. Apart from the attack on Straker, the woman in the coma, and that poor sod they'd found in the forest Alec reasoned that they had managed to come through fairly well this time. Keith had just been through major brain surgery and was, so far, doing well. Straker would not be causing a relapse. That wouldn't be helpful to any of them, so Alec reasoned he'd have to try reining in Straker for once. Alec didn't want Keith slipping into the same type of coma the woman was in. Her reaction to the anaesthetic bullets may have been a natural reaction but he wasn't so sure. Alec stopped at a junction to give way, then signalled right and followed close in behind the ambulance, he'd see Keith settled back in then he'd go see the iron man, hoping too that Foster had come up with something.

* * *

Dr Schroeder was sitting at his desk in SHADO Medical Centre when the phone rang. He listened for a moment then his face took on a melancholy look. "I'm on my way," he said wearily, standing and walking quickly out of the door, he turned left and headed straight for corridor 32.

* * *

Virginia Lake came into Straker's office. "Any sign of Foster?" he punched out.

"No, Sir," she said.

At the questioning tone in her voice he continued, "Seems he's not reported in for duty yet."

She frowned at him. "Well, when was he last seen?"

"He was last seen in here," he said, overtones of ice beginning to sour his tones, he gestured at the office. "I asked him to check a few things, he went over to requisitions late last night, but I'm told it was all locked down for the night and nobody's seen him since."

"That's right ... it was," Virginia said, "I looked in on my way home last night but the main door was locked and everywhere was in darkness."

Straker walked stiffly round the desk. "Go over there again," he said tiredly. "Maybe whoever's on duty can tell you where he is."

"Sir," she said smartly and left. As she rode up in the lift she thought that it was most unusual for Foster to be late, if requisitions turned up nothing then she was going over to Paul's flat, see where he bloody hell he is, she said to herself.

* * *

Up in the requisitions office Paul Foster woke to the sight of the carpet staring back at him. His head was aching and his eyes wouldn't focus properly, he moved his head slightly trying to get up but the pain made him feel nauseous. He stayed still for a few moments longer, then pushing the pain away managed to get to a sitting position. He felt sick with the effort but sat for a few moments waiting for the feeling to pass. After a few more minutes he managed to gain a standing position and stood leaning heavily against the desk, holding onto it for support.

He focussed his eyes on the telephone and trying to remember the number for the gatehouse outside he tried calling Morgan. The line was dead. Pulling the cord from the floor he saw it had been cut.

He let out a long painful breath and forced himself to stand. Stumbling over to the window he could see Virginia Lake approaching and tried signalling to her. His head swam a little and he felt faint, losing his footing he fell heavily onto the floor again, this time he sat where he was and held his head for a few minutes.

Virginia came over to the building, once inside she called cheery hello's to the staff in the warehouse part of the building, she decided to start with the office staff, perhaps they'd seen Foster last night. She ran up the stairs, and turned the handle of the door.

It wouldn't open, she knocked. "Anyone in there ... hello, Andrews, what's going on?"

She heard the sound of someone stumbling around inside, and stopped speaking to listen.


She heard her name called weakly from the other side of the door, recognising it immediately. "Paul ... Paul open the door," she said.

"Get me the hell out of here," he shouted.

She tried the handle again.

"Paul, hang on, seems the doors locked, jammed or something".

"Get the bloody key from Morgan," he punched out, struggling for breath. The fog in his head refused to lift, but he had to get out, had to get Andrews, God knows what he was up to he thought, he squashed the rising panic and regained some control as he heard Virginia run back downstairs.

He watched out of the window as she went into the office and came out again, Morgan standing to one side, the man couldn't leave the gate unattended but looked up at the window where Paul was standing, he scratched his head and then went back inside.

Foster swore under his breath, "I'll bloody well give you scratching your head, you old fool," he said, "if you'd done your rounds properly last night, this could all be sorted out by now." his head ached but at least it had stopped bleeding.

The door opened suddenly as Virginia threw it open. "My god, Paul" she said, coming over to him, "what happened?" her huge eyes reflecting concern as he tried pushing past her to get out, she half supported him.

"Hang on a minute," she said, "let me help you." she stopped to lock the door behind her.

Slowly, they tried making their way downstairs. Paul was breathing heavily and trying to speak at the same time. He told her about Andrews and how it looked like he was up to no good.

"I didn't see any signatures other than yours, but Andrews obviously has something to hide, its possible he's got something on Ford ... and I want first crack at that little swine," he said.

"Yes, well first you're coming with me to Medical Centre, get that head looked at, I'll tell Commander Straker while you're having that seen to," she said. Together they made it slowly to her car and she drove them both back the short distance to HQ.

* * *

Shroeder met a wall of activity as he rounded the corner coming into the woman's suite. They had her flat on her back and were drawing a sheet up over her face. He looked over at the doctor who had tried to save her, "I don't understand it" he said. "Seems she just slipped away," the doctor said quietly, replacing the paddles which they'd used to try and jump start her heart. "These things," he said putting them back on the unit, "made absolutely no difference." He took off the yellow medical gown he had over his tunic and stuffed it into one of the bins in disgust. "Seems she just gave up."

Shroeder felt the ache and frustration at such a needless death crawl up from the pit of his stomach. As a doctor he hated this, knew it was part of the job but it did not make this particular moment any easier to bear. He sighed heavily in frustration, "Well, she needs to go to the mortuary now, get an orderly to take her over, I'll need to do an autopsy." The doctor nodded and started wheeling the trolley they had her on out into the corridor.

The doors to admitting opened at the end of the corridor and Shroeder turned quickly at the sound, as he did so his tunic caught the sheet covering the woman and it moved a little, revealing a little of her face; ashen and cold. Shroeder hadn't noticed and was watching Jackson pushing Keith Ford into the hospital in a wheelchair. After the sadness of the previous few minutes Shroeder was genuinely glad to see Ford.

"Well, this is a bit of good news," he said, walking away from the trolley, "welcome back Lieutenant, its good to see you looking so well."

Keith shook Shroeder's hand and said he was glad to be back too.

Jackson saw the lifeless body of woman on the trolley, he shot a look at Shroeder who simply shook his head and Jackson frowned. Jackson told himself he'd get Ford settled back in then he'd have to find out why the woman died so suddenly.

As they came level with the trolley Keith caught a glimpse of the woman's face and went white. "Stop, stop this bloody thing," he shouted at Jackson. He shot out of the wheelchair and pulled the sheet off her face completely, "Oh" he gasped, his hands tenderly traced the outline of her face "Louise," he said in a whisper. He stumbled backwards, shock catching him unawares.

Jackson caught hold of him, he shot a look at Freeman and Shroeder at the same time: "What is it ... what?" he said but got no further as Ford screamed "No! ... God! ... No!"

His knees buckled and he almost fell, but Jackson's hold stopped him falling completely. The doctor took Keith by his shoulders and turned the man around to face him, "You know her?" he asked incredulously. Keith was breathing heavily and tears fell unchecked, his face was a mask of pure misery, he couldn't speak, instead he nodded and shrugged the doctor away.

"Louise," he whispered and slumped against the nearest wall, the memory of that painful night when he had last seen her crept out of its hiding place and crawled slowly over him. It was all too much too soon and he slid down the wall and sat in a crumpled heap.

Keith held his head in his hands and shook it from side to side slowly as the awful realisation claimed him. He felt the familiar pain of devastation and loss washing over him, how could he lose her now, he had loved her as a sister and now she was gone. His cries were pitiful to hear, he shivered uncontrollably and sobs racked his body. Keith had just about come to terms with John Lauritzen's death but this re-opened the wound and the beast called grief seemed about to open its hungry mouth and swallow him whole.

Alec came rushing over as the lieutenant started to fall, tried to hold onto him but Keith pushed him away and stood up awkwardly, still leaning against the wall he looked deep into Alec's eyes and Alec felt an overwhelming sense of dread wash over him. Freeman had never been on the receiving end of a look like that before, never seen fear like that in the young lieutenant's eyes before, and he had the distinct feeling of someone walking over his grave; he suppressed a shiver.

Keith just stood looking at Alec for a long moment, then he wiped away a tear with the back of his shaking hand and just said simply: "No Alec." Keith's breathing was laboured and he felt totally alone.

Alec put a hand on Keith's shoulder, "Don't push us away Keith ... let us help you ... how did you know her?"

Keith broke away from him and made it to the other side of the unit, his breathing quick and shallow now, he became light headed as everything started fading to grey, and he crumpled to the floor again.

Then he started talking, words tumbling over each other in the mad scramble to be free. "She lived on Sycamore Road that's why I was there, she'd been upset by something, a phone call, I couldn't find her, Alec," he sobbed. "She ran out somewhere I don't ... I don't ... "

Cruel memories taunted him and he broke off unable to continue. Alec was at his side in a heartbeat, he tried to calm Keith - grabbed his arms to hold him still.

The sight of Louise, the key that unlocked the door, let the memories spill out unchecked, they emerged as cold shivers crawling up his spine then proceeded to full blown ice as they surfaced, bringing with them all the terrible things he had suffered at the hands of the alien.

"Alec," he sobbed against Freeman's chest, huge racking sobs.

"All right, Keith" he said, trying to calm him, then Keith pushed him away, made it to a corner and curled up in a foetal position, he was shaking his head from side to side and rocking.

"Two ... two ... " Keith wept as he rocked, "two..."

"Two ... ? ... aliens ... ? ... Keith?" Alec asked, "what are you saying ... Keith, two ... ?"

Unable to get an answer Alec sat down as close to Keith as he could without making him worse. The sight of the distressed lieutenant tore into his heart, seeing him this way, after all they knew he'd gone through physically at Wexham and now this. Alec looked across at Jackson, the doctor had cleared the corridor and given Keith some space, he couldn't give him total privacy at the moment because of where they were but he'd heard enough. He came over to Keith then and in low soothing tones he said: "Who is she, Keith?"

Keith looked right through him, Jackson hunkered down on the floor close to Ford and Freeman, keeping his voice low and soothing Jackson tried again: "Calmly, now tell me what ... "

Keith pushed against him, "You don't know," he shouted, yelled at the top of his voice, "you don't know what they did ... they put something in my brain, held me down ... "

"They?" Alec went cold.

Jackson motioned at him to be quiet: "Let him talk, get it out ... come on, Keith," he said soothing his voice.

Keith moaned as the pain would not let go.

"I fought and fought ... I wasn't going to let Straker see they broke me," he said through clenched teeth, "I wanted him to see they didn't break me" he pushed out. "He always thinks I'm a screw up well I showed him." He went quiet, tears still slid down his face, his breathing still quick and raspy.

Jackson motioned for Shroeder and the small team of doctors who'd worked on Louise to come in.

Keith drew his knees up to his chin and balled his hands up to his eyes, he looks like a terrified child Alec thought.

To Jackson he said, "Can't you do something?"

Jackson gave him a dark look. "I can sedate him, but sooner or later, Colonel, he has to face this and getting it out in the open is what we all want ... isn't it?"

Keith wailed in despair as more memories came back. "They probed and examined me, every single part of me, hands everywhere. ... and Louise," he sobbed, "I couldn't save her, they hurt her and I couldn't save her."

He wiped his eyes again and swallowed hard but the memories kept coming. Remembering the probes in his body, his nose, his ears, his chest, his eyes, "Oh god, oh god, oh god ... make it stop," he cried, "pain, pain ... make it stop, make it stop make it stop ... Louise, I'm sorry ... Louise." His face became flushed and his breathing became quieter, he banged the sides of his head in despair.

"I am a screw up," he said finally resting his head back against the wall, eyes swollen red from crying. "They made me tell her all I knew about SHADO ... they made her help them ... she didn't want to ... so they hurt her ..." he stopped talking for a moment and then began to weep silently again as he remembered her suffering in that alien ship, their callous disregard for anyone and anything save themselves, "Louise," he said softly.

Keith's eyes suddenly went back in his head and he tipped forward into Jackson. The doctor caught him and held onto the unconscious man. Shroeder came over then and together they picked Keith up and laid him gently on a bed. Alec was on his feet in a heartbeat, watching Jackson check Keith over, let out a sigh and told Alec it looked like a simple faint. "Not surprising after what he's been through," he said coldly turning to the other doctors. "Take him to ICU now," he ordered.

* * *

Alec let go a really deep dismal sigh, he had expected it would be a bad moment when Keith's memory returned but he had been unprepared for the sheer voracity of the man's grief. One more day at Wexham he thought ominously and Ford would have been spared this, but then they would be no closer to unlocking the memory of what happened in that alien ship. They still didn't have the full picture, but they had something.

Alec watched them take Keith into ICU, he was not an overly sentimental man but he had been close to tears himself at one point, whatever Keith had done or said while he was in the hands of the alien, he did not deserve this pain he thought.

Alec followed the team to ICU and watched as they transferred Keith into a bed, watched them check him over, then when Jackson was satisfied with Ford's condition, he came out of the unit and over to where Alec was standing.

"He was calling her Louise," Jackson said, "that means our records are wrong." He motioned for a nurse to come over and asked her to call the dental records office where the records had come from.

"Dear God," Alec said in frustration. "How the hell did this happen, he's only just out of major surgery and now this."

Jackson stopped him mid sentence. "From my initial examination, it seems that Lieutenant Ford has simply fainted, the unexpected shock has been too much for his mind, he wasn't expecting to face such a sudden recall of memory, but at this moment I can be sure that he will recover, he's young, he's healthy." He stopped for a moment, looking through hooded eyes at Alec, the doctor seemed to be trying to choose his words carefully. "There are more things buried deep within his mind ... that I am sure of, and we will need to retrieve them at some point."

Alec looked at the doctor not liking the unspoken implication. "You are joking," he shot back incredulously. "If," he said icily, "you think you're going to start intensive interrogation on him after this Jackson, you've got another think coming."

Jackson merely smiled that slow unreadable smile and looked at the floor for a moment. Alec shook his head, he wanted nothing more than to shake this little man by the throat but resisted the urge to throttle him where he stood.

Instead he fixed Jackson with a cold, unmoving stare. "You don't go any where near him with your interrogation methods unless I tell you to." Moving in closer to the doctor's face, "Is that clear?"

The doctor nodded slowly, his face gave nothing away. Silence hung in the air for a few seconds as the two men faced each other. It was broken a few seconds later by the nurse.

"Records were just calling, doctor."

Jackson pulled the records from the nurse and read them quickly, nodding he passed them to Alec. "Louise Perryman, 32 year old accounts clerk from Wexham, home address is 45 Sycamore Road."

Jackson glanced over at the nurse.

"They apologise for the error, doctor," she said anticipating his question, "said they had a temp in, she sent over the wrong records, we have been assured that these are the correct records."

"Thank you," he said simply. Finally they had identified her, and it gave him no pleasure to note that Louise and Keith had been in an alien ship together, for who knows how long, at the mercy of those alien monsters.

* * *

Shroeder came out of Keith's room a few minutes later, sensing the hostile atmosphere he looked for a brief explanation from the two men, getting none he continued, "I've given the Lieutenant a sedative, help him sleep, that's what he needs right now, I'll reduce it in a while and then we can see if he's any better then." He looked coldly at Alec. "Lieutenant Ford is mentally and physically exhausted ... he is to have total bed rest."

Alec was surprised at the doctor's tone. "You won't get any arguments from me on that score doctor," he shot back. Alec had never disliked Shroeder, he was the more human of the two doctors, he understood the doctor's tone but did not like it being directed at him personally. Alec contented himself with the thought that while Shroeder was on duty at least, Ford would be looked after; the doctor would also keep Jackson at arms length.

Alec's tone darkened as he locked eyes with Jackson. "Just look after him ... " he let the sentence trail off.

Alec turned to leave, and headed out into the underground corridor, he could do no more now than to reluctantly leave Keith in the hands of the doctors. His thought of his next meeting did nothing to inspire him, he now had to face Straker and he was in no mood for arguments.

He walked quickly into control and through to Straker's office, there was a great deal of activity in the control room. He saw Virginia checking over something with an operative and waved, she nodded back engrossed in the paperwork.

Paul Foster was walking towards him with a huge bruise over one side of his head, there were a few stitches there too.

"What happened to you?" he said stopping momentarily.

"You'd better come in, Alec," Straker's steely voice issued from the office. "We have a problem, a big one."

Alec continued inside the office and Foster turned round and followed, Straker closed the doors behind them.

Chapter: Fourteen

Since he'd gotten away from the studio Garry Andrews had been dismantling the computer he'd been building; it had taken best part of six hours and he was sweating. He knew he'd have a small amount of time to get everything ready to clear out. He'd have to do a moonlight flit - leave the flat not giving notice to his landlord, leave practically everything behind except the important stuff.

He had stacks of paper filed neatly in order on the desk at the side of the computer and there on the top page was the docket with Ford's signature, class A1 clearance he thought to himself, then his features darkened - he had not expected to be discovered so soon. It had been so easy he thought, whoever's signature he forged would eventually be made the scapegoat and it looked like his plan had worked when Ford was suspended

It had been his own stupid mistake that he had transmitted the document on the wrong frequency where it went straight to the naval base; otherwise he could have gone on for a lot longer. He reasoned with himself that it had been simplicity itself to obtain a signature from someone in the control room, when Ford had signed for those magnetic tapes a few weeks back no-one even suspected what Andrews' real intentions had been. Now they were within a hairs breadth of connecting him to the forged signature, time was tight and he needed to be gone. He cursed inwardly at the thought that his own carelessness had almost ruined him.

* * *

Alec desperately wanting to relate the events of the last hour in Mayland, was forced to contain his impatience. Taking his customary position on the corner seat across from Straker he'd been given no choice but to listen to what Foster had been relaying: "I went over to requisitions and the little swine jumps me, never saw it coming," he'd said.

"So he could have Ford's signature?" Alec stated, his impatience just about contained.

"Could be, Alec." Foster flexed his shoulders. "I don't know what he has, but it’s got to be pretty important stuff for him to do this."

"What's his address, I mean shouldn't we be there, like now?" Alec said testily.

Straker cut him off mid sentence. "Groups 2 and 3 are already on their way, they have orders to detain Mr. Andrews until you get there."

He opened the door for them to leave and Paul made to leave at a run.

Alec hung back for a few moments: "We got Ford back," he said quietly.

Straker looked up from where he sat behind the desk, "And?"

"Its not good Ed, he's had a kind of breakdown when we got him back, seems he knew the woman ... a Louise Perryman."

Straker's face wore a curious expression, "But I thought we identified her as Nicola Brown?" he said, rising.

"Records gave us the wrong information. Keith recognised her, poor sod after all he's been through," he looked over at Paul then turned to Straker.

"Close the doors for a minute," he said.

As the doors whispered closed Alec went on, "He's suffered at the hands of the alien, been inside the ship, and apparently the woman was in on it too ... that's why he was out on Sycamore Road...she lived there. She died a few hours ago, Ed ..."

"And you're only just telling me now," Straker thundered.

"We've only just got Keith settled down again Ed, there wasn't time." He paced for a minute. "Keith saw her on the trolley as they were getting ready to take her to the mortuary, he was just coming in from Wexham and he saw her ... I can't describe the grief he felt, he really took it hard."

"Mmm," Straker said, "and he's with Jackson now is he?"

Alec became suspicious of the Commander's tone.

"Well yes, at Mayland ... but…" He moved to stand in front of Straker. "He's in ICU, Ed. He's not in any state for questioning."

Straker moved to go round Alec and again Alec blocked him, Straker fixed ice cold eyes on his friend, Alec didn't flinch. "You'll push him over the edge if you start interrogating him. He's under sedation at the moment, he collapsed as he was telling us what happened."

The Commander brushed past Alec this time and Alec let him but caught the Commander's arm as he went past, "Ed ... " Alec implored.

Straker shook his arm free with a bit more force than was necessary and Alec caught the inferred annoyance in the Commander's action.

"Sedation can be reversed. I have to know Alec, I have to know what he knows ... if that means interrogation then it will have to be."

Alec walked across the room after the Commander. "For Gods sake, Ed," he said coldly, "Ford could have died out there on that road, if you start heavy handed interrogation now ... well then you may end up killing him."

Straker shook his head, moved back to the desk and made to open the doors, not taking those ice cold eyes from Freeman he said: "When the security of SHADO is threatened I have to know, he might have other instructions planted in his brain Alec, did you think of that ... what was the alien planning if the woman failed?"

Straker walked stiffly round the desk: "No, its too dangerous, but while Lieutenant Ford is unconscious we are reasonably safe, when he wakes up ... " He left the sentence unfinished and glared at Alec, "That's when the problems are likely to start."

Straker opened the doors for them to leave, Paul went out immediately but Alec stayed where he was.

"Just don't push him so hard that we lose him, he's a good man perhaps tainted by this moron over in requisitions, he doesn't deserve to die over it ... or is that what you want?" Alec asked.

Straker's mouth became a grim hard straight line, looking over at Foster he said menacingly: "Leave us."

Foster did as he was told and Straker closed the doors after him.

"I made my choices a long time ago, so did Lieutenant Ford. He has the answers to this ... this mess," he said sourly. "Of course I don't want to kill him, but I have to know, Alec," he stood face to face with Freeman. "One way or the other I have to know." He punched the words out one at a time, slowly, each word dripped solid ice and Straker let the words hit their mark for a moment, Alec shook his head at him.

"You do any more damage to that man, Ed Straker, and I'll have no choice but to ... "

"What?" Straker said, tone light but mocking, "resign ... Alec?" he said tilting his head back slightly. Right at that particular moment Alec Freeman could have willingly floored the Commander. Sometimes Straker went too far, would not see sense, yes, he needed answers but he did not need to destroy the life of a good man in the process.

"You didn't see him, Ed," Alec said quietly for effect. "It was pitiful, he broke down in front of all of us ... I've never seen Ford like that. Whatever they did to him, it hurt him mentally and physically, he's only just out of brain surgery ... God knows what damage the aliens did before that accident and before we got him back, don't make him any worse in the process, Ed. That's all I'm asking."

Straker looked at him for a long moment, the Commander's demeanour that of the impregnable computer, a cold calculating machine with a heart of ice. He was silent, opening the doors for Alec to leave. Alec remained, not being dismissed until he had a guarantee that Ford would still be fine when he came back from Andrews' flat.

"I'll check in with the doctors," Straker said as he indicated Alec should leave.

Freeman turned and placing his hands on both sides of Straker's desk leaned over it to face the Commander head on. "Give me an assurance that you'll not make his condition any worse," he said in a voice so quiet it was almost a whisper.

Straker would not, could not give in, he knew Alec was right of course. If he did go too far with the interrogation now it could seriously harm Keith Ford, but he would not allow Alec or anyone else to know the pain he was feeling that one of their own had been abducted, tortured and god knows what else.

"I'll check with the doctors, Alec," he repeated softly, then inclined his head sharply in the direction of the door and this time Alec took the hint and left.

Meeting Foster in control Alec let out a long breath, his face contorted with concern and anger, concern for Ford and anger at Straker. Alec still felt cold when he walked past Ford's station and the man wasn't there. With a superhuman effort he controlled the anger, knew he had no choice but to go after Andrews.

* * *

A short squeal of brakes outside the flat had Andrews panicked and he ran to the window. There outside was a car, he recognised the men in it. Not even stopping to pick up anything he broke out of the door to his flat and made for the stairs at a run.

Groups 2 and 3 arrived in unmarked cars. Andrews just made it out of the building as they approached. Another car sped round the corner from the other direction and completely wrong footed him. Alec stood on the brakes, the car screeched to a halt and the two men inside took off after the fleeing man, Andrews ran out into traffic and dodged the cars somehow, blaring horns and threats rang in the air as Foster and Freeman gave chase. Foster's head was aching with the exertion but he ignored the pain, would not let this little runt of a man get away, he ran that little bit faster and gained on him. Taking a flying leap he brought Andrews down in an undignified rugby tackle and they fell together on the pavement.

Turning Andrews over he watched in satisfaction as the pale face blanched, Foster raised his fist, brought it down hard on Andrew's head, momentarily dazing the man. Foster was breathing hard, but had stood and pulled the younger man to his feet, somewhat shakily but he made it.

Alec caught them up. "You've got some explaining to do, Mr. Andrews," he said bluntly.

Foster had a loose hold of Andrews, and the man suddenly kicked Foster hard behind the knee and Paul fell. Andrews was almost running but Foster was ready this time and tripped him as he attempted to get up. Alec threw himself at the arrogant young man, began raining blows down on him, one punch after another "You ... little ... bastard ... you don't know ... what ... you've ... done," he threw out, between breaths. Foster, momentarily stunned by the ferociousness of Alec's attack pulled him off, "That's enough, Alec," he said pulling him away.

Andrews lay on the floor, dazed and bloodied, "He's not going anywhere," Foster said, wiping away sweat from his face, dragging the dazed man to his feet and marching him back across the street.

Foster asked for handcuffs and taking them from one of the security men he made certain Andrews was held securely captive this time. Andrews was just about able to get upstairs, his legs were heavy and he hurt, he had never known Alec Freeman could hit so hard.

Getting into the flat was easy - Foster didn't bother with a key, he just kicked the door open, what met them left them speechless.

In various boxes around the dingy room were pieces of SHADO equipment, hardware, files, reports, folders and atop a sheaf of papers Alec saw a familiar logo, noting in dismay that it was a standard transmission docket, the one giving A1 clearance, he also noted the signature on the bottom.

"You little bastard," he said again and swung at Andrews, a flat backhand across the face. Andrews, in handcuffs could not defend himself and fell backwards, falling awkwardly into an abrupt sitting position.

"Virginia's report was right," Foster said. "What the hell are you doing with all this?" he barked at the man sitting on the floor.

Andrews struggled to speak, his lip swollen and cut from the beating he'd taken earlier, swallowed and tried to speak, even in this moment, scared as he was he was still arrogant, they could do what they liked to him and probably would.

"I get good prices for selling secrets," he said quickly.

Alec began to move towards him but thought better of it. "Ah ... you're not worth it," he said in disgust.

"Alec!" Paul said suddenly. Foster was holding a file, pretty nondescript to look at. Alec took it from him, looking inside he saw that there were perfect copies of command staff signatures, even Straker's.

Alec raised his eyebrows. "Are security still here?" he asked, Foster nodded.

"Good," Alec said mobilising himself to action, "Get them up here ... get every piece of this back to HQ ... all of it."

As Foster went out, Alec hunkered down close to Andrews: "Suppose you tell me ... from the beginning," he said, keeping his voice slow, deliberate and menacing, "what you were doing with all of this."

Andrews stared back at him, his face a mess, he swallowed hard, defiant to the last he said. "Suppose I don't."

Alec gazed back at Andrews with cold Straker like precision, "You can tell me here or at HQ ... doesn't really matter now does it?"

Alec paused for a moment. "Oh, you're going to be court martialled at the very least." Andrews' eyes were wide with fear.

"You realise that SHADO is run as a military operation and as such operates under military law, lets see," Alec went on, enjoying the other man's discomfort, he figured this was the least of Andrew's worries once he got him back to HQ and let Straker maul him. "There's espionage, obtaining signatures by deception, forgery of some high level documentation, assaulting a senior officer, being absent without leave, shall I go on?" he said, letting a humourless, sinister smile spread over his features.

Foster came back with a couple of the security detail and told them to search the whole flat, take everything back to HQ.

Alec hauled Andrews to his feet. "Is this all of it?"

Andrews nodded quickly.

"This better be all of it," Foster snarled, "because where you're going, you're going to be there a long time so you better be telling the truth."

Alec told the security detail to leave no stone unturned, "Find out if he has accomplices, a garage, other storage areas, I want everything, and I mean everything back at HQ today, understand?"

"Perfectly, Sir" the Teams Leader said. "You'll have it back there no later than tonight." He shot Andrews a disgusted look, Alec caught it and understood. He said nothing but turned Andrews round, holding onto him with one hand he forced him out into the stairwell.

Foster followed him, together they secured Andrews in the car. Alec gunned the engine, his mind racing. What else was going to come crawling out of the woodwork today. His main concern was Keith Ford, he'd been suspended for nothing, the more he thought about the situation, the more angry he became.

Chapter: Fifteen

Keith Ford was lost in a dark place. He was vaguely aware of someone crying and moaning, the sound was pitiful and he tried searching wherever he was to find the source. The more he searched the more he could not find where the sound was coming from. He opened his eyes slowly, he could still hear the weeping and still wrapped in darkness he realised slowly that he was listening to himself.

He remembered then and screwed his eyes shut, trying to force out the awful memory of Louise.

Dr Shroeder came into the unit after he heard the sounds of crying and walked over to Keith quietly. Ford was lying on his left side and looked through the doctor, his dark eyes stared fixedly on the far wall. Shroeder seemed to be talking but Keith wasn't listening, his Louise was gone, now he felt totally alone and nobody cared. He felt as though he would die here and nobody would notice.

Shroeder decided to leave Keith alone for a moment, let him come to terms with his loss and the trauma of the abduction.

He was surprised to almost walk into the tall imposing figure of the Commander as he went back out again. Straker nodded over at the figure in the bed. "How is he doctor?"

Shroeder shook his head slightly. "Hard to tell, seems very out of it, woke up crying a few minutes ago ... he needs to grieve, Commander, needs to come to terms with it. I'm holding off giving him any more drugs at the moment, his body's had a lot of medication lately and I want him to rest before we give him anything else, unless he gets any worse of course, then we'll have no choice."

Straker merely nodded, "When can I talk to him?" he said flatly.

Shroeder walked away from the ward and Straker followed.

"It's probably best that you don't see him, Sir," the doctor said, "for the moment anyway. I suspect that Lieutenant Ford could fall into a depressive state, probably triggered by the loss, I've seen it happen." Shroeder did his best to remain professional while thinking of the way the Commander rode the man. "He may just go over the edge if you push him now, give it a couple of days then we'll see how he's coping ... excuse me," he said and went back to look in on Keith.

Straker stood outside the observation window and watched. Ford simply lay there, unblinking, staring straight ahead, Straker felt a chill run down his spine.

* * *

Alec made it back to HQ in record time, together he and Foster bundled Andrews out of the car and down into underground HQ, Andrews had all but given in and was walking dejectedly with his head down. Alec had him placed in Room 22 and posted guards outside. "Under no circumstances are you to go in there, open the door or talk to him at all." The guards nodded.

* * *

Straker walked out of Mayland and back into corridor 32. Alec had been right, Ford looked terrible in that bed, almost defeated. He doubted that Ford even noticed he was there. Straker was mulling over a time to start questioning the lieutenant, weighing up the pros and cons of immediacy and deciding, for the moment, to agree with Freeman. Their ultimate goal after securing the information was to get Ford back into the control room where he belonged. Breaking the man was not what the Commander had in mind, he knew he was walking a fine line between breaking the man completely and just getting the information out of him.

* * *

Just then Alec came out of the underground corridor and the two men met face to face. Alec gave the Commander a quizzical look - seeing the Commander approaching from the direction of Mayland.

Straker smiled a humourless smile: "I haven't touched him, Alec," he said holding his hands up. "He looks utterly defeated Alec, broken."

"Yeah," Alec responded, "that's what I was trying to tell you back there." He inclined his head slightly in the direction of Control as he spoke. He could tell from the Commander's expression that the sight of Keith Ford in that hospital bed had drained him.

"Well, maybe we can get something from Andrews," Alec began.

"You got him?" Straker said coldly, his shoulders straightened.

"Oh yeah," Alec said, "we got him alright and you won't believe what he's been up to."

"Try me," Straker said abruptly increasing his speed, "Room 22?"

"Where else?"

The guards outside Room 22 stood to attention as the Commander approached, Freeman opened the door. Andrews looked very small sitting on the floor against the wall at the back of the room, he was terrified of this moment, but he hoped it didn't show. He faced the Commander as he walked in. Straker approached and Freeman walked past him, hauling Andrews to his feet. Freeman closed the door and stood ready in the corner. Straker had given free reign to his anger now, and already it was building, in a few seconds it would be free.

He walked slowly over to Andrews, saying nothing he walked round the man.

"Funny, Alec," he said, "doesn't look so powerful now does he?" he let fly a well timed backhand that caught the man unawares, Andrews staggered backwards under the force of the blow, still handcuffed he had no choice but to go down heavily. "Oh come on, Andrews," Straker said, hauling the man to his feet, "sitting down on the job?" another blow and again Andrews went down.

Straker walked over to Alec, "Get Jackson in here, you know what he needs to bring."

Andrews stared at Freeman with fear filled eyes.

Alec stared back, his face unreadable, then he turned and left the room.

When they were alone Straker turned back to Andrews, his ice cold blue eyes sparkled with rage.

"Now, Mr. Andrews," he said, voice dripping acid. "Where were we?"

Andrews managed to stand shakily, holding his hands in front of him, he tried deflecting the blows Straker threw at him, it was like trying to fight a raging fire with a bar of chocolate and time after time Andrews fell at the hand of his Commander.

Being an ex-military man, Straker knew exactly where to hurt Andrews, each blow delivered precisely, ruthlessly. Andrews was feeling pain in places he didn't know could hurt so bad. His face was bruised, his right eye had all but swollen shut and his lip was bleeding.

A few minutes later Jackson came in with Freeman and the doctor quickly looked Andrews over, he could see as soon as he walked in that the Commander had done a pretty good job of softening him up, he mused that the Commander had probably enjoyed it.

Straker usually dealt with traitors quickly and this was no exception especially given what Andrews had done. Jackson turned hooded eyes on Straker and allowed a chill smile to show on his face.

"You know what to do, Doctor Jackson," Straker said. Jackson nodded and began preparing, switching with ease from the doctor overseeing the care of Lieutenant Ford into the cold, sinister interrogator he had been at the IAC.

Straker took Freeman by the arm and they went out into the corridor: "GetColonel Lake down here, she should be finished checking his files by now, I want to see if she's turned up anything we can use."

Alec nodded and left, Straker turned and went back in. With the help of a security guard Jackson had Andrews strapped into the chair in the room. An armed guard trained his gun on Andrews while they removed his handcuffs, then they moved to wait outside. After attaching Andrews to a polygraph and a voice stress analyser, Jackson waited for the instruction to administer the drug which would loosen the traitor's tongue.

* * *

Back at Mayland, in ICU, Keith Ford closed his eyes and tried pushing the pain away, he had curled up into a ball and was feeling more isolated than he had ever felt in his life. Shroeder had pulled up a seat at the side of Keith's bed and was gently talking to him. Keith had all but withdrawn inwards and Shroeder was becoming increasingly more concerned.

* * *

Virginia Lake had just about finished going over Andrews' personnel files again. Though she knew he'd been working for the Royal Air Force over at Northolt before joining them, she was going over the details of his joining SHADO with a fine toothcomb - to see if anything had been missed. She knew also that there was the matter of him being implicated in some underhand dealings at the base but he had provided paperwork signed by a senior commanding officer at his interview; paperwork which proved he had been cleared of all charges. Virginia even remembered speaking to the officer directly after the interview to confirm the details. Colonel Gracken had given Andrews a glowing reference and had said they had been sorry to lose him, but the young man had felt tarnished by the accusations and had decided to leave. Of course back then it all sounded so plausible, she shook her head at the nightmare it had since become. Finding the piece of paper she was looking for she took it with her as she walked into Straker's empty office and picked up the phone.

She waited for a few moments for the call to be connected: "Oh," she said, introducing herself, "I was expecting Colonel Gracken."

"Well, Miss Lake I'm afraid you'll have to settle for me," a man's voice chuckled back at her. "I'm Colonel Kent, we had to dismiss Colonel Gracken for ... well, misappropriation of company files and hardware. He was court martialled and dishonourably discharged ... how can I help?"

She raised her eyes skywards at that but continued asking her questions; the line went silent for a few moments. "Andrews was in a civilian post here - so he was dismissed for forging Air Force Documents" he said, his tone cold and sharp.

Virginia raised her eyebrows in surprise, "Well, the piece of paper I'm looking at says he was cleared of all charges."

"Hmm," Kent mumbled, "I suppose that's signed by Gracken is it? ... yes? ... he's the one you spoke to originally I bet, gave you glowing references?"

She was just about to reply when Colonel Kent went on: "Very dangerous young man is Mr. Andrews, now if you've got him there, although God knows how he conned your organisation into taking him on, then you need to consider what you're doing with him, he's very dangerous."

"Yes I see," she said, "and where is Colonel Gracken to be found these days?"

"He isn't, I'm afraid," Kent said, "he hung himself shortly after the dishonourable discharge ... couldn't live with the shame apparently, leaves a wife and a teenage son, damned shame."

"Yes," Lake said, not expecting to hear news like that.

"Funny though," Kent went on, "I never thought of Mr. Andrews working for a film studio ... well have to dash, goodbye Miss Lake."

Virginia let her thoughts wander for a moment and then hung up the phone. Taking the file on Andrews with her she walked slowly out into control. Alec Freeman's arrival broke her reverie, "Penny for them?" he asked, a slow grin spread over his features, she grinned back although she did not feel like smiling.

"Straker wants you to bring what you've found to the interrogation," he said flatly, she fell into step beside him and together they walked out into the corridor, on the way she told Alec what she had found.

"Little swine forged his own letter saying he'd been cleared of his last crime ... forging official documents at RAF Northolt, seems he had a colleague vouch for him, but the colleague is not employed by the base anymore. He was dismissed for what they say was misappropriation of Air Force property."

Alec met her gaze and shook his head, "I knew Andrews had been charged with that, but I thought it was cleared up. Their ... Colonel Gracken signed that letter," he made an effort but finally recalled the name.

She looked at him askance. "He's the one they've got rid of."

"Where is he now, he could be in cahoots with Andrews."

"He's dead, Alec," she cut him off mid sentence, "hung himself."

"Well that's one loose end we don't have to worry about," he said getting more angry as the conversation wore on. "How the bloody hell did he get in here ... our security systems are meant to weed these types out."

She nodded. "Yes, I know, but you know as well as I do, any system can be fooled, Alec. You have to know how to do it, and when, and he did ... he's bloody good at what he did I have to say." There was no genuine appreciation in her statement, instead her eyes were cold and steely.

"He had to pick Keith Ford's signature of all people."

"I know," Alec responded. "I know, poor sod's been through all this for nothing, I swear to God that little bastard Andrews is going to get what's coming to him." Alec fell silent for a minute, then: "Andrews had some pretty convincing stuff in his flat, perhaps he was just testing the waters with Ford's signature, see what he could get."

Virginia took in a deep breath and let it go just as quickly, mouth flattening in determination. "He was just naïve enough to think he'd get away with it and he almost did, something as simple as an order for a few magnetic tapes started all this."

"Magnetic tapes?" he said in surprise. "You'd better tell me everything you know Virginia ... I don't like the sound of this."

She met his gaze: "No, me either. I was just speaking with Lieutenant Johnson, she remembered Ford signing for some tapes, I wasn't around for some reason and the Commander was on the warpath over one of the damned machines breaking down and snarling the last tape."

She paused briefly. "Apparently there was a delay on the regular order, Johnson said it took Ford ages to repair the machine, but he put a call in straight away to requisitions and had them find some magnetic tapes from somewhere, anywhere, just to get them over at control for this damned report Straker wanted running. You know what he can be like."

She smiled and Alec returned it. Virginia blew out a breath: "I'm afraid Keith didn't want to bother the Commander with something as trivial as a replacement tape, so he did it himself and when Andrews brought it over he signed for it ... how were we to know what Andrews was planning."

Their conversation ended abruptly as they reached room 22.

Alec turned to her. "Ready?" he said opening the door.

"As I'll ever be," she said hoping she sounded brighter than she felt.

As they went in, they saw Straker watching the man strapped to the chair. Strong leather manacles held his hands and feet securely in it, two wide leather bands circled his chest and held him rigidly in a sitting position, leads attached Andrews to the monitors.

"Is he ready, doctor?" Straker demanded.

"Yes, Sir," Jackson drawled slowly, still holding the syringe.

Straker nodded and the doctor injected the liquid into Andrews' arm, he waited for a moment checking the young man over then stood back.

Straker became quiet, as if reining in his thoughts for a moment, the computer mind turning questions over and over, eyes of crystal ice rapier sharp. He waited for a few moments while the drug took effect, standing directly in front of Andrews he barked, "Name?"

Andrews looked over at him trying to sound arrogant, and failed. "Garry Andrews" he spat.

Straker paced backwards and forwards, Andrews' eyes followed. "Rank?"

"Lieutenant," came back the tired response.

"I believe I outrank you, Lieutenant" Straker said, his quiet tone took them all by surprise but Jackson allowed himself a small smile.

Andrews tried to swallow but his mouth was dry: "Lieutenant, Sir," he said emphasising the last word for effect.

"That's better," Straker said, he nodded slightly at Alec who, at the signal came over to Andrews like a caged bear suddenly gaining freedom and Andrews paled, he could go nowhere and his readings shot up, Jackson merely noted it but said nothing.

"Why were you forging signatures?" he roared and Andrews flinched. He was feeling sick, light headed and very hot. He remained silent, he was becoming more terrified as this drew on and he knew once he started talking he wouldn't stop. Better to say nothing he thought morosely, after all, what will they do - kill me.

He looked across at Straker and he knew in that moment that the Commander probably would have him executed unless he was very careful, Freeman had said he'd be court martialled.

Straker was remaining calm, it was taking a huge effort for him to do so, but he did it. Alec tried again, this time getting in close, "Why were you forging signatures. What did you hope to gain ... why?" He went in closer to the man's ear. "Why?"

Andrews licked his cracked and bleeding lips and shook his head.

Alec brought his face round a few inches closer to the battered face of the lieutenant: "You know, you're not going anywhere Andrews ... you may as well tell us."

Straker came over and Alec remained where he was. "Come on ... Garry isn't it?" he said and allowed a small smile to play at the corners of his mouth. Alec looked up in mild surprise.

"Why were you forging signatures, it's a simple question ... why did you do it?"

The urge to slap the man around a bit more kept flitting through Straker's mind, he was flirting with the idea, but pushed it away for the time being.

"What did you want to achieve? I've looked at the signatures you copied you know," he said slyly, advancing on Andrews, "they're really very good." Andrews shot him a curious look. "I'm sure we can make further use of your ... talents here at SHADO. There's no need to be ugly over it, I just want to know why you did it."

Andrews was confused, he glared at Alec. "But he said I'd be court martialled," he whined, squirming in the chair he glanced at Freeman - still intimidatingly close.

Straker inclined his head back slightly, "Well, I'm sure there's no need for that," he said gently walking across the other side of the room and getting some water. Drinking it slowly, he savoured the taste while he watched Andrews lick his lips again. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said. "Would you like some?" He motioned for the doctor to give Andrews a little water and Andrews took in the small amount gratefully.

He could not fathom Straker at this moment, and he was not so stupid as to think the Commander actually meant what he was saying. When Straker turned those icy blue eyes on you full force you didn't usually question what he was telling you.

Andrews was thrown off by the behaviour, he wanted to tell, confess, but he couldn't, he decided suddenly, they could kill him, let them work it out, be too late then anyway. He held the last mouthful of water he'd taken in his mouth and as Alec came back to start questioning again he spat the water out directly into his face.

Alec was incandescent with rage, as he wiped the water away with the back of his hand he followed through and caught Andrews on the side of his head with a well aimed blow. "You're an arrogant little bastard, and I don't forget things like that," he said under his breath.

Turning to Straker, eyes blazing, "Let me take him Ed ... stop all this pussyfooting around, he's a no good little bastard, just out for what he can get."

Straker was having a hard time holding on to his own anger, but kept it in check for the moment.

"Alec, Alec," he said, seeming to maintain the pleasant tone, "this is getting us nowhere, now I'm sure Mr. Andrews, sorry ... Garry ... will tell us what we want to know." Straker looked across to the monitors, the readings were a little out of the ordinary, but not too much.

Jackson watched the proceedings with an air of humour. "I can always give him more if you wish, Commander," he said, hooded eyes glinting under the lights.

"Well," Straker responded. "Possibly, possibly we'll have to see where Mr. Andrews takes us ... won't we?" he said, hardening his tone at the last moment as he looked at Andrews. "Tell me Garry, what were you doing with those signatures?"

Andrews still said nothing - he knew they only had what they'd found at the flat, they still didn't know why he'd done what he did, and he wasn't going to tell them, wasn't going to break, and what was the woman doing here ... only useful for one thing he thought and smirked. Alec caught the look and resisted the urge to rip Andrews' throat out through his stomach.

"Ok, Jackson ... another shot," Straker said, familiar impatience starting to creep back into his tone. He walked back over to the far wall while Jackson administered the shot and waited for it to take effect. This time Andrews had trouble focussing, the room was getting very heavy around him, he couldn't breathe, couldn't speak, his head lolled forwards on his chest and Jackson lifted it, looking into the man's eyes for a moment.

"He's ok, takes a few moments for the body to adjust," he looked over at Straker, then back at Freeman. "This particular drug is infallible, shouldn't be here much longer."

He stood to one side and let Straker approach again: "Now," he said, familiar ice clipped the tones, "what were you doing with forged signatures?"

Andrews just about heard him, his ears filled with loud rushing sounds and he could feel his heart beating heavily in his chest. Getting no answer, Straker called Virginia over, "Tell him what you know," he said.

"Well for starters, we know that he was dismissed from RAF Northolt for forging Air Force documents, his friend or whatever he was, a Colonel Gracken has also been dismissed - court martialled and dishonourably discharged ... he hung himself not long after that." She stopped abruptly and Andrews' eyes widened at that, his mind looked for a way out of this, he was trapped, he didn't know what to say, what to do, he closed his eyes and moaned.

"Well, well," Straker said walking stiffly over to Andrews again, "seems like you're all on your own now seems like your friends have left you to take the fall, tell us what you know, it'll make it easier on you," he lied.

* * *

Keith Ford finally drew his gaze from the far wall and looked at Shroeder, the doctor still talking, met the vacant stare with concern

"As I was saying Keith ... you're not alone in all of this, we're not going to abandon you."

The doctor had been deliberating with himself about starting Keith on an anti-depressant to see if it would break the stranglehold Ford's grief held him in. He thought of Straker and the interrogation going on in room 22 ... he would not be able to keep Keith away from that for ever, but he needed to be sure that Ford would be well enough to undergo questioning, leaning on the rail over the bed he looked kindly at Keith. "You know the best way through this is to talk about it."

Keith said nothing but unexpectedly his eyes glistened with unshed tears.

Shroeder frowned. His initial concern was for Ford's mental health; he'd not seen the man so depressed in all the time he'd been at SHADO.

"I know I can't understand exactly how you are feeling Keith," he continued kindly, his tone mild and soothing, "but I can offer to listen you know, that is all it takes sometimes, have an objective ear to tell ... just someone to listen."

Keith merely turned away from the doctor and closed his eyes again.

Shroeder stood up from leaning on the rail and took Keith's notes from the end of the bed, watching Keith close his eyes he thought that perhaps it would be best to let him sleep now. The doctor's main concern now was trying to stave off the depression which had unmercifully taken hold of the lieutenant. He made a decision to start the drug therapy in a day's time if Keith was no better and still remained uncommunicative.

He noted that he'd start slowly, with 10mg Fluoxetine at breakfast, then in 3-5 days if Straker gave the man space to recover, he'd increase the dose to 20mg. Then they would most likely be able to cut through the barrier Ford had skilfully erected around him feeling secure in its false protection. With a bit of luck the doctor reasoned they could then start helping him recover.

Chapter: Sixteen

Alec stood in front of Andrews' chair, his manner threatening and belligerent. He had no more time to waste on this man, he'd almost cost Ford his career, and possibly his sanity. He was desperate for this to be over, get the man court martialled and end it once and for all.

Andrews was feeling very out of it, his head felt like it was trapped in a vice. Steely fingers seemed to hold his head forward, he didn't want to break, didn't want to tell them; wouldn't help them. Straker, becoming more annoyed with inaction told Jackson to administer another shot.

Under the circumstances Jackson complied without any fuss. Ordinarily he would have challenged the decision, it was risky yes, but the situation warranted it. Jackson was becoming increasingly more frustrated by the lack of response from Andrews although his outward manner belied his feelings; he wondered how much longer Straker would let this go on. As far as he was concerned the doctor felt it was taking too long. Andrews was an only child and as such they were the ones who usually broke quickly, unable or unwilling to resist pain for very long.

"It would be unwise to beat Andrews any more," he said slowly, quietly. An air of menace hung about the man, the voice merely backed it up. "No ... you see giving him more pain externally is only hardening his resolve and he will resist only more, this third shot will do the trick I am sure."

Straker looked at the doctor with a hard expression, then nodded. Jackson went on, "If we get at his inner pain, where he feels he is attacking himself then we might get a breakthrough, play on the fact that he is totally alone in this."

Jackson injected the third dose and as the drug worked its way round his system, it seemed to Andrews to set his nerves on fire. Swarms of starving ants seemed to be crawling hungrily all over his skin, a red haze settled in front of his eyes and he felt like he was going mad.

The figures of the Commander, Jackson and Freeman merged into one, sweat trickled off his face and he could feel it dripping down the front of his tunic. He moaned again and moved his head from side to side, the voices became a whine and eventually merged into one long drone. The wall in front of him seemed to take on a life of its own and danced drunkenly in front of him; he closed his eyes against the image.

"No," Jackson roared, "open your eyes Andrews, look at me, tell me, tell me ... what did you forge the signatures for, what were you going to achieve ... come on Andrews ... come on."

Jackson did not let up with the questions. "What were you doing with the signatures, where did ... ?"

"Shut up ... shut up," Andrews sobbed, he could stand the shouting no longer, "I forged the signature so I could send command ... level ... requisitions to outside sources to buy weapons," he yelled against the pain and his own blood rushing like a river inside his head, desperation creeping into his voice. "Now shut up, shut up, leave me alone."

Straker, Freeman and Lake looked at each other aghast at the revelation.

Jackson looked over at the monitors, the needles were going crazy, back and forth across the page incredibly fast. He knew he was not looking at a liar, the readings were not off the scale yet but they were getting there.

"Who were you sending to," Jackson barked, "come on, come on Andrews ... tell me what you know, who were you sending to?"

"I was trying to buy weapons to sell ... but I needed a signature of a relative unknown first to see if it would work ... Ford's signature was the first one I forged," he wept openly, tears fell from bloodshot eyes. "Then if that worked I was going to use a signature with more clout."

He looked up gloomily at Straker as he said the words.

The Commander said nothing but glared at him, the ice blue eyes boring deeper into the man's soul.

After a few minutes Andrews wilted under the glare, "Your signature is easy to get Commander, all those scripts you have to approve." He squirmed in the chair, the restraints curtailing his movements, but he stopped crying and sniffed back any more tears threatening to fall. He tried to take a deep breath but his skin was on fire and he couldn't get a good breath in. He struggled to speak but forced the words out in a staccato fashion. "It's easy getting into Miss Ealand's filing cabinets after she's gone home you know." He swore softly, each breath in burned and it made him cough. "She never suspected a thing." He allowed himself a deadpan chuckle railing against the pain. "And neither did you."

Straker advanced rapidly across the room, Jackson put out a restraining arm and held him back.

Andrew's voice droned on. "You just have to know how to pick the locks ... and seal them again, no problem, nobody ... knows you've been there."

His breathing was laboured now, the drugs still held him prisoner. He tried licking his cracked lips but that just made them worse, his head lolled onto his chest and then he looked back up at Straker: "There's a whole new world of miniaturisation out there, Commander," he said tiredly, he was calming down a little and was talking this time - not yelling at the top of his voice, "once you start assembling the technology, you can make any kind of weapon you like, I planned to sell weapons to Beijing, they seemed to be the most desperate to have them and the most eager to pay what I asked." He tried drawing in a deep breath, didn't manage it and instead coughed and spluttered before continuing: "Russia and America have technology and China doesn't even come close, so they are desperate to have what we have."

Freeman heard the revelations falling out of Andrews' mouth in disbelief.

"And how did you think you'd get away with this ... we would have caught you somewhere along the line."

"You might have," Andrews shot back.

Ignoring the barb and motioning for Freeman to do the same Straker said: "You've got all the equipment from the flat I take it?"

Freeman nodded, not entirely sure since the teams had not yet reported in.

Andrews carried on talking, his mind had long since given up the struggle. "I would have made it except I transmitted the document on an open frequency and not covertly like I should have done, and that," he spat out at them, "is the only reason you found me."

Virginia looked up at that: "Well, that's not entirely true ... my reports showed a difference in the signatures ... not much I agree, but enough to make us suspicious."

Andrews snorted in disgust, and then fell silent.

"Is that all of it Andrews?" Straker barked standing directly in front of the chair.

Andrews nodded.

"Well when groups 2 and 3 bring the contents of your flat over here, we'll see what else you know," he said turning away. "Doctor Jackson ... I want Lieutenant Andrews kept under secure lock and key in the brig, full military lock up, isolate him, but don't take any chances."

The doctor nodded: "Andrews will be out of it for some time, this drug is known for its ability to loosen the tongues of the most hardened and resistant mind, it leaves them feeling disorientated and weak, once he goes into the brig, he'll be guarded, but he won't give us too much trouble."

"Good," Straker said and meant it. "I'll need you ready for his court martial ... I want you to be the prosecuting officer."

Jackson folded his arms and considered the Commander for a few moments, then he nodded but remained silent.

Straker looked across the room in the direction of Andrews: "How long before the drug is out of his system?"

Jackson smiled, also looking over at Andrews - the lieutenant's head had fallen on his chest and he was breathing heavily.

"It will be gone in around 48 hours, Commander," he replied stonily. "I'll be ready."

The doctor glanced over at Andrews again: "And so will he."

* * *

Keith Ford woke suddenly, something jolted him out of the deep but fitful sleep he was in. The room around him was quiet, save for the gentle beeping of the monitors. He closed his eyes again and succumbed to the voice he had heard, the one which had woken him. He followed it as it took him deeper and deeper inside himself, it led him down into a dark place. He watched fascinated, looking down at himself, he noted how small his body looked laying in the bed from up here, then the darkness enticed him, enveloped him, and he was gone.

* * *

Finally getting what they needed out of Andrews, Straker and Freeman came out of the interrogation room. Lake excused herself and went back to the control room, her work here done.

"What a mess Alec" the Commander said exhaling a long breath.

Alec lit a well earned cigarette and drew on it gratefully, "Yeah, well, at least the situation is contained, naval captain won't remember anything. He enjoyed his coffee." The Colonel smiled at the memory, turning serious for a moment he continued. "We got Andrews before he actually started plying his evil trade, we'll be going over everything in minute detail when groups 2 and 3 get back."

Straker nodded, his mind turning to other thoughts.

Alec considered Straker for a long moment, he looks so damned tired he thought. Knowing it would be useless to suggest the Commander get some sleep he continued on, "I'll also need to debrief Adam Shyler and his team, they've been back a while now but with all this going on there hasn't been time to do it properly."

Alec finished the cigarette and stubbed it out.

"Hmm, I'll leave that in your capable hands shall I, Alec?" Straker said harshly.

* * *

Shroeder came back in to the unit a little later, he looked in on Keith - the lieutenant appeared to be sleeping, but his breathing was shallow. Checking Keith's pupils he cursed out loud. "Keith" he shouted in the man's ear, shaking him, there was no response.

Keith's breathing remained shallow and his eyes had not responded to the light, the pulse rate was weak and very thready.

"No, dammit," Shroeder cursed again. "You are not slipping away on me ... come on Keith..." He raised his voice, "come on."

Getting no reaction, he lay Keith flat on his back, tried drawing a needle across his skin, but there was no reaction. He called out for assistance and a nurse came in. "B-vitamin Thiamine quickly," he called over his shoulder to her, the drug was the first one he'd try in his fight to reverse this first stage of the coma Ford seemed to be sliding into. The nurse came back with the drug and Shroeder administered it, still nothing. The doctor shook his head, "Ah come on, come on." Still nothing.

"Narcan," he called for the stronger reversal agent, "Come on Keith, fight, come on," he said, waiting for the drug to take effect, still nothing. The long moments turned into eternity for Shroeder as he watched Keith Ford slipping deeper away. Unable to rouse the unconscious man, Shroeder sighed a deep careworn sigh, running a hand through his thick black hair he met the worried gaze of the nurse. "Get him over for a CT scan now" he told her, "I have to know what's going on inside his head." The sudden and unbidden thought of Louise Perryman and her rapid decline came to him - it chilled him to the bone, and he looked determinedly down at Ford.

"You are not going down the same road she did my friend," he stated defiantly at the unconscious man. The doctor worked quickly, taking more blood he had it sent up for analysis as a team came to take Keith away for the scan.

* * *

Straker and Freeman walked together in the direction of Mayland, both mulling over the events of the last few hours. Alec did not have time for scum like Andrews especially when their scams included innocent people like Keith Ford. Alec kept his eyes facing forward, hopefully the lieutenant would have recovered enough for questioning and Alec reasoned that it would be wise given Straker's present mood, to wait until the Commander was a touch more calm before he started questioning the lieutenant.

Straker on the other hand, was determined he'd get what he needed from Ford in the next few days. By then he reasoned with himself that the doctors had given him more than enough time to come to terms with the situation - after all the lieutenant was an adult not some lovestruck teenager he told himself, well I need answers - any repercussions would be dealt with later.

* * *

Two security guards hauled Andrews out of the chair he'd been strapped to and frog-marched the drowsy man through the underground corridors to the security wing, selecting the cell nearest to the guard station they threw him in, and he fell against the wall. They had handcuffed him again and securing the door, they left him there in the darkness. Jackson had followed behind to make sure Andrews did not try escaping again, but there was no need, the drugs had sapped his resistance and he allowed himself to be dragged along.

Andrews sat where he had fallen and closed his eyes, he'd never survive court martial, he'd not be put to death, he wouldn't let them. Oh yeah and how are you gonna stop it little man his mind screamed at him. Face it you've had it.

* * *

An unnatural silence met Straker and Freeman as they walked out of the underground corridor and into Mayland, as they came level with Ford's room they saw the bed was gone.

The two men turned to look at each other and a slow dread crept over Alec. Shroeder emerged from his office and seeing the two men came over.

"He's not?" Alec asked suppressing the cold gnawing at his bones, already afraid of hearing the answer.

"No, well not in the way you mean," the doctor replied quickly, "he's lapsed into a coma ... I've just sent him over for a CT scan, he should be back soon."

Straker's mind refused to accept what the doctor was telling him: "A coma? ... how ... what caused it?"

Freeman shot him a look. "You know I told you about Miss Perryman, Ed, that's what probably did it, he was in a very fragile state after he saw her, he remembered bits and pieces like I told you but he seemed to slide into that deep depression soon afterwards."

"Well, that's just great," Straker said, his impatience getting the better of him. "We're still no closer to knowing what happened out there and now we have to wait for sleeping beauty to wake up before we know more."

Shroeder looked away from the Commander for a brief moment, he knew his disgust at the Commander's remarks would be reflected in his dark eyes and he battled to bring it under control, he tried hard and failed. "Excuse me," he said quickly, walking back in the direction of radiology.

Alec looked at Straker once and also turned away from him, balling his hands into fists, he controlled the urge to suddenly turn and let fly at the Commander. He could be an unfeeling, hateful bastard at times Alec thought.

Straker closed his eyes momentarily as the words came out, quickly and uncontrolled. "I'll be in my office," he said curtly before adding stiffly. "Go over to his flat and clear up any trace there may be of SHADO, answerphone messages you've left, folders, dossiers." He emphasised the last word before he turned and walked away.

Alec stayed where he was, then after he had calmed himself sufficiently he followed after Shroeder. The doctor met him on the way, the team wheeling Keith back into the room. Shroeder ignored Alec for the moment, attaching Keith to the machines that would breathe for him and keep his circulation normal.

Alec waited until the doctor had finished. "Can you do anything for him?"

"I don't know, Alec," Shroeder said quietly, confusion edged his voice, "one minute he's awake and very very depressed, next minute he's in a coma, no response from reversal agents ... which usually bring them out of it." He took the CT films and studied them against the lightbox.

"What's the likely outcome doctor?" Alec's voice was uncertain.

"Don't know at the moment, the CT scan is negative so its nothing to do with the injury. The temporal front lobes here and here," he pointed them out to Alec on the films he was holding, "are looking normal, only diagnosis I can accurately make at this time is that the shock was just too much for him."

Alec drew a weary hand over his mouth and let it stay there for a few moments.

"Will he recover, I mean Miss Perryman..." He let the statement trail off, not wanting to point out the obvious.

Shroeder caught the intimated remark. "Yes, well as far as I am aware Keith was not shot with anaesthetic bullets and did not have an allergic reaction, I agree the cases are similar Alec but not identical, we have to hope that he will recover. It really depends on how long he remains unconscious and unresponsive, any longer than four weeks and it doesn't look good I'm afraid."

Doctor Jackson came into the hospital and spoke briefly to the nurse on duty at reception, she told him what had happened with Ford and he came directly into ICU, concern written all over his hawk like features. He drew in a breath and let it go just as suddenly, he listened to Shroeder as he relayed what had happened, the treatments they'd tried and Jackson nodded, taking it all in, he slowly paced up and down outside the room, turning possibilities over in his mind.

Alec met Shroeder's gaze as they watched Jackson come to a halt.

"It's not uncommon for delayed shock and depression to cause a coma," he said finally, "I admit it's rare - but it does happen."

Alec shook his head a little, he felt powerless to help the man in the bed overcome this latest trauma, he could only guess at the inner torment which had pulled the lieutenant down into his present state.

"Mind if I go in?" he said finally, Shroeder nodded. The two doctors followed him into the room, Jackson stood at the opposite side of the bed to Alec and read through Keith's notes.

"Yes, it is as I suspected ... his mind has simply retreated in on itself, Colonel. The trauma of his abduction and the death of a close friend so soon after the car accident, it was simply too much."

Alec merely looked over at Jackson, his face seemingly impassive. Dr Shroeder checked the monitors, while IV's again fed vital fluids into Keith and other lines took away waste.

An endotracheal tube attached Keith to the respirator this time, Shroeder was not taking any chances, he knew the lieutenant would be sore when he woke up, and Shroeder kept telling himself he would wake up, almost as if the thought alone would be enough to rouse the man. The doctor knew it was better for Keith to have discomfort when he was awake again than to swallow his tongue and choke to death while in the grip of the coma.

Alec looked down at the unconscious man, tape over his eyes and that damnable machine breathing for him. Shroeder stood at the end of the bed.

"Why tape on the eyes doctor?" Alec asked

"Well, it's simply to keep them moist, you see when anyone lapses into a coma they lose the blink reflex, he's had some eye drops put in and then the tape ... we'll keep him monitored. I am determined we will not lose him." Shroeder gave what he hoped was a convincing smile to Alec, "All we can do now, is keep him alive and wait," he said. Jackson joined Shroeder and together they left the room leaving Alec alone again staring down at the unconscious form of Keith Ford.

Alec hated the violent sense of déjà vu which clamoured over him but he let it remain, he knew that even in a deep coma, people could hear what was going on around them and he leaned over Keith, putting his mouth close to the man's ear he said: "Come on Keith, I know you can hear me, you can fight this, you're stronger than you think you know ... fight it, don't give in to it Keith, fight it."

He stood for a few more minutes watching the man in the bed, the machines keeping him alive and he sighed heavily.

A few minutes later a dejected looking Alec Freeman walked slowly out of ICU and back across to HQ, he walked with his head down and his hands in his pockets.

Story continues in Repercussions

The Works of Claire Steed

The Library Entrance