You Can Always Count on Me
Epilog: A Letter From Beyond
Lew Waterman jumped up from his garden bench and hurried through his living room to the front door. By a hair he nearly missed the postman’s ringing.
“Morning, Lew, so you’re back. Did the navy let you go? “
“Morning, Mark. I’ve got a few days off this weekend. You’re a bit early, aren’t you?”
Nodding, the postman handed Lew a few magazines and a padded envelope. “Right, but you might remember our dart tournament starts in a few hours. If you want to join us, you’re welcome. At one p.m. at the club. Oh, and we’ve got haggis and neeps for supper. Interested?”
Lew took his mail and slapped him on the shoulder. “Haggis? No, thanks. Have a hen stewing on the stove for lunch.”
Mark grinned. “Let me guess, Grandma Waterman’s famous chicken fricassee, isn’t it?” He clicked his tongue and sighed. “Okay, so no haggis.”
“Not today.” Lew skimmed over the mail in his hand. “Wait a moment.” He took the envelope out of the rest of his mail. The damaged wrapping had caught his attraction. Holding it up into the sunlight he noticed the dirt on the crinkled front and the blurred writing. “What the hell happened to that?”
Mark looked to the floor, trying to hide his embarrassment. “I’m sorry. We had an …accident with a colleague three months ago.”
“Are you talking about Martin Henson? Did he fall into the harbour?” Waving with the envelope Lew smirked at the postman.
Mark’s face blushed. “Not exactly. Martin got drunk again; couldn’t remember where he’d left his bike, let alone the mailbag. We found it last week in a roadside ditch to the beach. And umpteen letters, as yours.”
“Glad it was still there.” Sighing, Lew shook his head. “Thanks anyway. Good luck with the darts.”
He shut the door and strolled into the kitchen, his gaze following Mark mounting his bike, then heading for the neighbour’s house. Sometimes Lew disliked the need to hide his true profession at S.H.A.D.O. and masquerade as a member of the navy, but his new friends in Sandbank had accepted him as this from the beginning, and nobody had ever asked him about details of his job on the base.
Lew placed the mail on the kitchen table with the ripped envelope on top of the pile. He took it in his hands, turning it around. The sender’s name was washed away by the dampness in which it had lain for a longer time. Lew didn’t expect any delivery or presents by friends, so who had sent this to him? He angled for a knife and sat down. Cautiously he slid the envelope open. A DVD slipped out of the paper, plopping on the table. Lew raised his eyebrow. A DVD, without any labelling - what did that mean?
A bubbling startled him out of his thoughts. Jesus, the chicken… He dashed to the oven and pulled the boiler from the hob. That was close! He had been looking forward to this meal all week long, and not even Lt. Masters’ invitation to his birthday party tonight had stirred him from his resolve of spending a quiet weekend with a good lunch at home.
He reduced the heat and shoved the pot back. Plenty of time left looking after his unexpected mail and solving the mystery about the DVD.
Lew went into his living room and placed the silver disc in the player’s tray. He pushed the button on the remote control while sinking into his armchair. The TV screen flickered for a moment, then the picture established. He caught his breath.That was Craig! Craig Collins, his comrade at S.H.A.D.O. and best friend, killed in action during a fight with Commander Straker a few months ago. What the hell …
The voice of Craig stopped his reflections. He turned up the volume, eager to find out what his deceased friend had to say to him.
“Hello Lew, while you watch this, my mission on S.I.D. might be in full swing. I … uhm, I don’t know how I shall put it. Neither if recording it on DVD is a good idea, but I’ve got only a few hours before I leave and meet Ed Straker at Cape Canaveral.“
Craig stopped talking and gripped at a glass, emptying it in one big gulp. Lew noticed the shivering of the hand and the distracted movement when his friend placed the empty glass back on the table.
“Lew…there’s something I must tell you. The last weeks, after our trip to Australia and later when I returned from that island, were anything but pleasant for me. Col. Freeman put me through the mill and Dr. Jackson’s never ending interrogations stressed me at nauseam. And all because S.H.A.D.O. wanted to know if the aliens had left a trace in my body or brain.”
He stopped again and wiped over his face. “They didn’t find anything. But me, Lew…. I know there must be something. Those headaches, the nightmares, those … flashes and the recurring desire to kill… oh, only for split seconds, nothing you can grasp, nothing I could even describe… those moments come and go and I … I feel, I’m changing. It’s like … like losing my personality.”
Craig pursed his lips, peering somewhere behind the camera. Lew sat motionless, his fingers clasped in a tight grip. Seeing his old friend in a state like this frightened him, and he began to realise that there had happened more to Craig than he had supposed.
“So … Lew, what I want to say is, I feel a non-human influence since I was in that dome. But whenever I try to focus those things, my thoughts are stopped as if I dashed into a wall. There are times – maybe minutes, maybe hours – I don’t have the foggiest notion what I was doing. My memory is washed away. And worse, I can’t even rule out the possibility that I’m doing something dreadful during those periods.”
He rummaged around in the drawer of his desk and held a plan into the camera.
“Look, this is the mission plan for the next two weeks for Skydiver 1 – your diver, Lew. What’s that doing here, for Christ’s sake? Why did I mark the weak spots of the nuclear reactor on it? I’m scared. Am I turning into a monster, an alien?”
He hid his face in his hands, breathing heavily. Lew’s gaze was fixed on the screen, his heart racing, beating like a drum in his ears. Craig’s confession shocked him in some way, but on the other hand he was beginning to understand why the S.I.D. mission had ended with a fatal conflict only days later.
His companion raised his head. “Lew, you’re my friend, the best friend I ever had. If something comes up during the mission, tell Ed, I always wanted the best for him and for S.H.A.D.O. I know how important this mission is to him and I want it to end well. And now I’ve to go ….God bless you, mate.”
The picture froze and Lew looked into the face of a man who had anticipated his death. A few days later his premonition had come true; he had died in space, and all that was left of Craig was a body, drifting through the space for ever, lonely as a human kind could be.
Nodding a last good-bye to the man on the screen, Lew dragged his hand across his face before he switched off the TV.
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I wrote this story as a contribution to the Ed Straker's Herald's writing prompt: "Plans for a quiet lunch are broken by an unexpected arrival".
Part One: Fight for Survival
Part Two: Friends Will Be Friends
Part Three: Lost Without You