Warning: contains some violence and torture
The Secret Code
Colonel Foster rushed into Miss Ealand’s office, knowing he was going to be late for his appointment and nearly collided with Ed Straker who stood just behind the entrance door.
“Oh, I’m sorry, sir!” Foster stepped back and looked with a sheepish grin at his commander.
“Sorry about steamrolling me or sorry about being too late?” Straker couldn’t restrain a slight twitch around the corners of his mouth. “As you know, Paul, I want you to accompany me. We need to inspect the new film set they started some weeks ago and check the progress of the constructions.”
Foster nodded. “Of course, sir. By foot?”
Straker shook his head. “No, I told Miss Ealand to arrange a studio jeep.” He grabbed a key from the desk of his secretary and threw it to Foster. “Your turn, Paul. Come on, there is a lot of work waiting for us to do.”
x x x
Foster accelerated and took the next bend at high speed on two wheels, missing the edge of the building by a hair’s breadth.
Straker threw an amused look at him. “Please slow down, we’ll still need that storefront.”
Foster smiled and eased his foot off the accelerator. “Sorry, sir, I just wanted to see how fast these jeeps could go.”
He turned left into the next street – and had to slam on the brakes to avoid another vehicle that was parked across the lane.
“Listen Paul, you aren’t practising for the next Formula One race, are you? Wait a moment, let’s see, who this Dodge does belong to.”
The two men stepped out of their jeep and stopped beside the van to check the inside.
At this moment three men, faces hidden under black ski masks, jumped out from behind the car with raised guns in their hands. Foster reacted immediately and threw Straker and himself to the ground, trying to crawl into the narrow shelter of the wheels. But it was useless. The men followed them around the car, aiming the guns to their heads.
“Nice try, gentlemen. Now stand up and turn, hands against the car!”
Straker felt Foster trembling and fixed his gaze on his colonel’s eyes. He knew that Foster’s physical strength combined with his hot temper might lead him to try something perilous to safe his commander’s life. Straker put his hand on Foster’s shoulder and murmured:
“Calm down, we don’t have a real chance against their weapons. Do what they say.”
Foster sighed but then obeyed and stood up. He raised his hands and leant against the car. The men wasted no time and hurried to their victims. Straker felt a piece of etherised gauze on his face and tried not to breathe, while his hands were pulled behind him and bound together. Next to him he heard a dry knock followed by Foster’s yelp, then he floated into darkness. The kidnappers dragged their unconscious victims to the back doors of the Dodge and hauled them onto the cargo space.
Several minutes later there was nothing unusual to be seen except the empty studio jeep.
x x x
“Lieutenant Ford, what about the mobiles? Did they get a track on the missing UFO?”
Colonel Freeman looked over Ford’s shoulder at the empty monitor, obviously concerned by the lack of a signal.
“I’m sorry, sir, no incoming message.”
Freeman sighed. Only one hour ago this UFO had fooled the Interceptors as well as Sky 1 by escaping at an unusually high speed.
“It must be there, Lieutenant. Waterman’s last coordinates were exact. It must have landed in the region around Eston’s Forest. Connect me to Mobile1.”
Just seconds later, the face of the Mobile operator appeared on the screen. “Mobile 1, come in, to SHADO Control.”
“Captain, when you reach the target area, don’t forget to scan the small lakes there. Perhaps our UFO is hiding underwater.”
“Affirmative. Mobile 1 over and out.”
Freeman dragged on his cigarette. He passed the control room, entered Straker’s office and threw himself into his chair. He furrowed his brow and pressed the talk button of the intercom.
“Miss Ealand, is Commander Straker back yet?”
“No sir, not yet. I assume he is still on the area of the new film set, together with Colonel Foster. They wanted to…”
Freemann interrupted her. “Yes, yes, I know. Please ask him to return immediately, we’ve got a problem with …”
“A UFO I guess,’’ Miss Ealand completed his sentence. “I tried to call him ten minutes ago, but got no answer. Perhaps we have a dead spot there outside? Shall I go myself and search for him, Colonel?”
Freeman shook his head. “No thanks, Miss Ealand, leave that to me. I’m coming up.”
x x x
Straker opened his eyes for a split and shut them at once because of the dazzling light that fell into the room. He tried to open them again and shook his head to fight off his nausea. Sweat trickled down his face and he wanted to wipe it away, but he could not move his hands. Only now he became aware of the fact that he lay on the ground, wrists and ankles bound. He lifted his head and tried to sit up as his senses slowly kicked in again.
“Well, Commander Straker. Already alert? So the narcotic wasn’t as strong as I had guessed. Or you are in the better physical condition than your colonel here.”
Straker stared at the man who stood in the middle of the room beside a large wooden chair, on which Foster was sitting, bound with ropes around his arms and legs. Paul seemed to be unconscious. The captor slapped Foster across his face.
“Hey Colonel, come on, Straker is awake and this is no time to take your beauty sleep.”
Foster winced. A second strike hit his face, followed by another. He groaned and tried to defend himself, but the ropes held him tight. The man raised his hand once more.
“Stop it!” Straker’s voice sounded as his eyes looked: cold as deep frosted water. “Who are you?”
“You don’t remember me, Straker? What a pity.”
“But I do,” Foster’s rough-edged voice interrupted, “Bennett, isn’t it? The chief engineer of SHADO’s arms supplier.”
Bennett’s facial expression changed to a surprised grin. “Exactly, Colonel. And in addition I’m the chief developer of the new Sky 3 weaponry.”
“So that’s how the land lies.” Straker gasped and directed his glance to Bennett. “The defence system of Sky 3. But the new jet isn’t in operation yet as you know, so what do you want?”
Foster took a deep breath and nodded.“I’ve got the picture, sir. Bennett developed the system but he has no idea how to start it. The codes for the Airborne Intercept Missiles are created by I.A.C. security officers and separate from the weapon systems.”
Bennett began to smile, not amused, more reminiscent of a shark just before it swallows its victim.
“Right Foster, and so it’s not difficult to guess what I want, or? We have copied the defence system, but to use it we need the access codes. Which you have.“
“Yes,” Straker answered him with a grim touch in his voice, “which I have, and which I will keep secret, Bennett. You can’t be so stupid as to think I would ever tell someone outside SHADO anything about the access codes of our weapon systems.”
“Oh, well, Commander, I’m sure you will. Maybe .. not directly you. But let us wait and see.”
As if on cue the door opened and two other men entered the room. Straker and Foster exchanged a quick look. The men ignored them and stopped in front of Bennett.
“Finished, Dave. We found a larger cellar downstairs with a separate entrance outside. The missiles are secure there. What about the codes?”
Bennett raised his eyebrows.
“The codes? No, I’m afraid our commander won’t give them voluntarily.” He shook his head and added with an apologetic smile: “No, he won’t, our incompliant chief of SHADO. So you can start your little exercise with Foster. Now, where did you put the film camera?”
x x x
Colonel Freeman gnawed on his pencil. He sat on the edge of Straker’s desk and waited for some good news. Since Straker’s studio jeep had been found empty on the film area hours ago the whole SHADO staff was busy searching for the missing men. But until now they hadn’t found even a trace of his comrades. Freeman was more than puzzled by this fact. He pushed the intercom button.
“Lieutenant Ford, any news?”
“No, sir, nothing yet .. but wait please… we’ve just received a strange email with an encoded attachment for you personally, sir. Shall I decode it and send it to your desktop?”
“No, keep it on your screen, I’ll join you.”
Freeman rushed to Ford’s pc. He looked onto the screen and read the short text of the email. ‘Colonel Freeman, are you missing two important people? We have a surprise for you. Open the attached videoclip and follow the instructions.’
“Damn! So Ed and Foster are definitely kidnapped. Keith, run that bloody film.”
Lt. Ford started the videoclip. Freeman stared at the screen where he could see a man in a large room, his outstretched arms fastened by steel handcuffs to chains that were hanging from the ceiling. He was just able to keep his feet flat on the floor. Although the camera only showed the back of the man Freeman had no doubts that he was looking at Colonel Foster.
Now two masked men with knives in their hands walked into the picture. They took hold of Foster’s sweater and cut it straight up the back before tearing the shreds away. One of them picked up a whip from the floor with one hand and the camera with the other and stepped around the bound man. He raised his hand and stroked the handle of the whip roughly over Foster’s chest, then followed the lines of his lower ribs over his breastbone up to his chin.
A wicked smile crept over thekidnapper’s face as he bounced the colonel’s head with a hard kick of the whip into his neck. Foster flinched and he barely repressed his need to fight back. His eyes glowed with rage but his face stayed deadpan. He tried to cool down, not to goad his captor. The whip was already an unmistakeable indication of what they had planned for him.
The masked man released his grip and returned to the table to place the camera on it. His companion was beginning to get uneasy. He threw an angry look at him.
“What the hell are you waiting for? Slash him.”
The other man grinned, lifted his arm and hesitated for a moment in front of the camera. Colonel Freeman caught a glimpse of the whip. It was made of black leather, almost one meter long with several knotted thin thongs.
The first blow hit the colonel’s bare skin with a sharp crack, leaving red marks across his broad shoulders. Foster cringed, his strong back muscles stiffened. He clenched his fists around the chains that held him upright, but not even a whisper came over his lips.
Lt. Ford gasped for air and turned his look to Freeman’s pale face. “Oh my God! Sir, aren’t we able to help him?”
Freeman swallowed hard before he answered. “I hope we can. But we don’t know where he is or who his captors are. With any luck this video will tell us more…”
His gaze returned to the screen where the scene was going on. Someone had taken the camera and circled Foster with slow movements while the cat hit his back without mercy.
The man with the whip worked with methodical force. The blows bruised the colonel’s skin inch by inch, making his body jerking under the violent strokes.
The camera man stopped in front of Foster, bent his head back and focussed the lens on his face. Foster’s blue eyes were darkened by pain. Sweat soaked his hair, covered his face and glistened on his shoulders and chest.
The kidnapper stood near to him – too near. Paul tucked up his knees and tried to kick him into his crotch, but the other reacted quickly and drew aside. With an amused smirk the man behind Paul turned the whip and knocked its handle into Foster’s kidneys. His body arched up. He cried out, feeling the stabbing pain taking his breath, bringing tears to his eyes.
The next slash hit him, harder than before. Shivers began to shake his body. The leather straps stroked his flesh again and he had no longer the strength left to keep standing. Foster’s knees gave way and his head dropped onto his chest as he passed out. The camera moved and finished its circuit of the unconscious man with a closeup of his abused back. A crowd of crisscrossed abrasions and angry welts covered his skin from the neck down to his waist.
Freeman gritted his teeth. He felt bile rising in his throat, but he forced himself to keep his eyes fixed on the screen. The camera switched to Foster’s tormentor who smiled as he rubbed his sweaty hands down Paul’s trousers.
The screen went black and a male voice began to speak. “Enough, Colonel Freeman? Concerned about Foster’s state? Youc an help him. We want the access codes for Sky 3’s defence weapons and we offe ryou your both friends in return….”
Freeman hit his finger on the pause button, his face ashen. “Keith, stop the film. Call an internal yellow alert, transfer the clip to my pc and follow me.”
He rushed into Straker’s office, sat down and hid his face in his hands. He could not believe what he had seen on the screen only moments before. He took several deep breaths as the implications of the last few minutes began to take hold. A worse scenario had come true; Ed and Paul had been kidnapped.
“Sir?” Lt. Ford had entered the office and waited near the desk for further instructions.
Freeman raised his head. “Rewind the film a little and then start it again. I need to know how we can get them back!”
The picture of Foster’s maltreated back returned to his mind and Freeman could not suppress a deep-drawn sigh of compassion.
“Ready, sir”, Lt. Ford informed him and the last few words of the kidnapper sounded again.
“…and we offer you your both friends in return. You should be aware that we have no objections to treating your commander as badly as Foster or worse, if you don’t cooperate. We expect you alone with the codes at seventeen hundred, co-ordinates as shown on the following map. No police, no military, only you and us. Be on time, Colonel, or your friends will pay for it.”
The screenshot of a web map appeared, showing an uninhabited region with forests and a handful of solitary estates round a lake. A red flag marked a road near the lake.
Lt. Ford read the added co-ordinates aloud. “51 degrees 02’53.16’’ north… but, sir…”,
he looked confused to Colonel Freeman, “this place lies in the middle of Eston’s Forest.”
Freeman frowned and returned his gaze. “I know. The area where we suppose our missing UFO is hiding. Too much for a pure chance in my opinion.”
He looked at his watch.
“And only two hours left. Now listen to my orders. First, inform the mobiles and tell them to wait in the region, but not to get nearer than ten kilometres around the lake. The kidnappers must not notice them. Second, send Henderson a message that we are still searching for our men, but have no further information about their position. No details to him. And third, establish a keyed connection to Skydiver, Captain Waterman, I need him as Fourth-In-Command to inform me about the access codes for the new weaponry.”
x x x
Ed Straker lifted his head when he heard steps on the basement stairs. They stopped outside the door. A key turned int he lock and the door was pushed open. Glaring light fell through the frame into the semi-darkness of the cellar room and made him squint. Two of the villains stepped inside and dragged a body into it.
“Company for you, Commander… perhaps not as communicative as usual,” one of them laughed and let the body fall onto the dirty floor. They left the room without shutting the door and stopped behind it. Straker picked up some snippets of a conversation outside, then Bennett came in and threw a water can in front of the commander’s still bound feet.
“Perhaps your friend needs some cooling-down? My companion has been a bit nasty to him and we want to jolly him along at least until the access codes have arrived.”
The door shut. The commander’s face lost its bland expression as he considered the unspoken threat. Deep concern darkened his voice.
“Paul.” He crawled on all fours to his friend. Foster lay on his stomach, his face buried in the shadow. Straker’s hands touched the unconscious form and shivered with the coldness of Paul’s damp skin. He bent to Foster’s neck and tried to find the pulse in his carotid. There it was, weak but regular. He ran his hands cautiously over the bruising and welts down Paul’s battered back. Straker was thankful that the kidnappers had fastened his handcuffs in front of him after he had been given some water earlier.
“They’ll pay the price for that, Paul,” Straker muttered appalled.
x x x
Col. Freeman reduced his speed and rumbled slowly over the forest track. With the printout of the map on his lap, he stared through the windscreen of his car, searching for any hint that could tell him something about the location of the kidnappers.
He switched the talkbutton of his carphone.
“Freeman here. I’m in the target area. Are the mobiles on their positions?”
“Yes, sir, we are. This is Kellow on Mobile 2. Go on, Colonel, we can see the co-ordinates of your car on our monitor.”
“Alright, Kellow, understood. I’ll check out now. You know your orders.“
He interrupted the connection and concentrated on his task. He approached a road fork and had to stop, when a man who seemed to appear from nowhere stood in front of his Ford. The man turned to Freeman’s door and opened it.
“Get out off the car, Colonel, we’ll take mine for the last part of the journey. And don’t forget your briefcase, I suppose it carries important documents.”
He pointed to the passenger’s seat and smirked. Freeman threw an explorative gaze to him.
“So it’s you who sent me that abominable videoclip. I hope for your sake Colonel Foster is not badly hurt. And what about Commander Straker? If you even have touched a hair on him…”
“Shut up, Colonel,” the man interrupted impatiently, “spare your breath for more important things.”
Twenty minutes later they arrived at a wooden cottage. Bennett ordered Freeman to leave the car and pushed him to the house. Freeman threw a quick look around. The cottage lay hidden under high broadleaved trees near to the bank of the lake he had already seen on the webmap. The view to the other side was closed by thick coppice. The small access they had used seemed to be the only way to the estate.
Freeman tightened his lips. ‘Not a bad place to choose’, he thought.
x x x
Foster’s closed eyelids began to twitch. Slowly he regained control over his body as he struggled out of unconsciousness. His back burnt. With a slight moan he tried to lift his head, to get his outstretched arms under his body to sit up, but a sudden pain in his kidneys made him close his eyes and sink back. The memory of the torture and of gentle hands which had caressed his abused skin later returned to his mind. Ed Straker’s hands. Foster’s eyes snapped open as a scratching noise from the window hit his ears.
“Commander?” He raised his head and tried to see into the darkness. A silent movement behind him made him freeze. Two strong hands grabbed his shoulders and flipped him over. The last impression he got before he was knocked out was the glossy fabric of a sleeve.
x x x
Bennett opened the front door and pointed to the corridor. “Come in, Colonel, someone is waiting for you.”
Freeman was hustled into a large room – the room he knew from the videoclip. Straker sat bound on the same wooden chair in the middle, staring motionless at the colonel. Freeman gasped of relief to find him apparently unhurt. He ignored the stabbing gaze and placed hisb riefcase carefully on the table. Then he turned to the waiting kidnappers.
“Well, here I am. Before I give you the access codes I first want to see Colonel Foster.”
Bennett shook his head. “No, Freeman, I assure you he is alive and that’s enough. To keep him in that state, give us the codes now. No further deals.”
He reached for the briefcase and tried to open it, but failed.
“No chance, Bennett, our cases are secured by personal codes,” noted Straker with a dry grin. “I’m sure Colonel Freeman will open it after you’ve fulfilled his demand.”
“And I am sure I’ll get the codes first and then he might see Foster,” snapped Bennett and moved to the commander. He grabbed a knife from his belt and pressed it against Straker’s throat. “We’ll see what happens now, Straker. Freeman, the codes.”
Freeman raised his eyebrows and flashed a glance at Straker. Although he noticed his warning expression, the colonel pulled his briefcase up and entered the number into the lock. The briefcase opened and he took a DVD out of it.
“No, Alec, stop it. You can’t give the codes away. The weaponry is more important than I am. For Christ’s sake, don’t you dare sell SHADO’s secrets!”
Freeman was not astonished to hear Straker’s plea. He knew the commander well enough to have been expecting this reaction, but with a nearly imperceptible twinkle in his eyes he shook his head.
“I’m sorry, but I have been ordered to save you and Foster. Bennett, here are the codes. To start them, you need two other SHADO officers to provide their codes. But this shouldn’t be a problem, I guess.”
Bennett looked from one to another, unsure if he could believe Freeman. In the end he released his grip on Straker’s neck.
“If this is the only problem, Freeman …Okay, Tom, tie his hands at the table leg. And then you and Lewis get Foster here. Hurry up, time’s short.”
The two men did as ordered and rushed downstairs. Freeman could hear them open a lock and a surprised yelp, followed by the clapping of doors and the sounds of speedy steps. After some minutes Lewis came back – without Foster.
“Where is he?” Bennett barked and moved to the stairs.
The man stared awkwardly at him. “Nowhere. Gone. And with him one of the missiles. An open window in that room is all what is left. Oh, and … wait, Tom took it. Tom?”
He ran downstairs again. Bennett started to follow, then waited by the stairhead, trembling with suppressed rage.
Straker turned his head to Freeman. “Our team, Alec?” he whispered.
“No, can’t be, too early,” the colonel whispered back. “Left my bugging device in my car. Where can Paul be?”
Ed’s eyes tightened and he shook his head. “I’ve no idea. They left him lying in the cellar room when I was dragged upstairs. What about the codes?”
“Manipulated, of course. After the second attempt a hidden countdown is started which blows the control unit and...” He stopped as Lewis entered the room again and thrust something red into Bennett’s hand.
“Do you call that a joke? That is the thumb of a glove!”
Freeman’s head shifted and his wide-open eyes caught Straker’s flashing glance. This little piece of fabric led to one conclusion and he knew Ed’s thoughts moved in the same direction. Bennett, bristling with anger, turned to him and shoved the scrap of material under his nose.
“Didn’t I tell you to come here without your staff? You think you can upset me by getting first your little colonel back, then the missiles and finally your commander? No way, Freeman, no way.”
Bennett dropped the fabric and his fist caught Freeman on his jaw, followed by another in the stomach. The colonel doubled over and hissed: “You’re wrong, Bennett, I came alone. This was none of our men. Perhaps the glove was left last winter by the owners of the house.”
“Yes, and the missile has unfolded its wings and flown away, Foster sitting on it. Don’t make a monkey out of me, Freeman. Someone has taken the weapon and I’m sure it was not your colonel.”
Bennett hesitated, then after some seconds calmed down and shrugged.
“Be that as it may, we’re going downstairsto the other missile and test the code. I’m sure you can manage to run it without a third clearance. If it fails, your commander will suffer for it, understood?”
He nodded to his companion and cut the ropes that handcuffed Freeman, while Straker was also unfastened. “Lewis, take them down with you. And tie them with one hand at the missile again. Come on, gentlemen, let’s go.”
x x x
The man in the red spacesuit waited motionless under the trees near the country house, an alien rifle in his hands. His eyes scanned the area through the green visor of his space helmet. Slowly he lifted his weapon and aimed at the car beside the rear entrance where two men were busy folding the van’s back seat. Now a third man left the house with another, forcing him into the car.
When the two slammed the back doors shut, the alien pulled the trigger. The bullets hit them right through the centre of their heads. The impact threw them back against the Dodge and their bodies slipped slowly down, leaving trails of blood on the van’s doors. Bennett’s head shot up in distress, searching for the invisible enemy. The next bullet the alien fired missed Bennett by an inch and he lunged into the car in a catlike jump, started the engine and forced the van with spinning wheels onto the forest track.
The alien let him go. It was not the man he was interested in, but the second missile in the cellar. He lowered his rifle and sidled up to the house, taking whatever cover he could find. Minutes later he reached the basement and pushed open the door to the room where he had already found the first missile. There it was, the second missile in the very same place with its red control light blinking. And, hands bound to one of its holds, a man.
The alien lifted the rifle and took aim at him.
x x x
Bennett’s wild escape stopped after somekilometres behind the junction to the main lane. A white tank blocked his way and he had no time to apply the brakes before the van slipped into the side of the SHADO vehicle. Both doors were jerked open, strong hands tore him out and pushed him into the mud.
“Commander, are you okay? Let me help you.” Dr. Jackson peered to the back seats and reached out for the unsteady passenger. Ed Straker grabbed his arm and climbed out of the car. The commander took a deep breath and leant against the van, feeling sick after the breakneck ride. A few seconds later he drew himself up to his full height, straightened his jacket and glanced to Bennett who was just lifted up and dragged to the tank.
“Colonel Freeman is still back there, Jackson. We need to get him - and the second missile.“ He hurried to the mobile, the doctor close behind him.
“Lieutenant, I hope you’ve got the co-ordinates of the house? Set course for it, and hurry up. I believe there is an alien inside and if I’m right, Colonel Freeman is in serious danger.”
Lt. Quinn nodded and started the motor, steering the heavy vehicle half around its axis, when a voice sounded out of the loudspeakers.
“This is Mobile 2. Quinn, we have a UFO-sighting on the screen. Our sitting duck is coming out of the water. We’re near to the opposite bank of your lake but don’t have a free firing line, so take it yourself.”
Straker’s head turned to the monitor. A blinking white point appeared on the green background, rising over the outlines of the lake’s surface, increasing in height from second to second. The commander’s jaws clenched, his eyes fixed on the screen.
“Get him, Lieutenant, he’s got one of our missiles. Don’t let him escape!”
The mobile stopped and moved into fire position. Quinn aligned the rocket launchers.
“Fire!” He pressed the button. The rocket found its target and hit the UFO at the edge. Thick red smoke gushed out of the spaceship and with an earsplitting squeak it tumbled down, touching the tree tops on its way to the ground.
“Sir, the UFO will come down close to the country house. Do we go for it?”
Straker nodded. His pale blue eyes met Jackson’s, who returned his look with his usual appraising look.
“Commander, you didn’t tell us where we might find Colonel Foster. What happened to him?”
For a moment, Straker stared straight through the doctor.
“I don’t know, Jackson. I assume he was taken – by the aliens. And before you ask, I think he was aboard the UFO.”
The doctor, having his own knowledge of the commander’s rarely shown emotions, noticed the worried tone. Since the day in SHADO’s armoury, when the commander had tested Foster’s loyalty, the doctor was aware of a growing connection between both men. No one other than Foster would have incited any emotion in Straker’s voice, perhaps not even Colonel Freeman.
Straker’s gaze hardened. “No matter where he may be, we need to check the wreck first. And don’t forget, Jackson, I’m sure Alec is waiting for help. Quinn, head for the site of the crash.”
x x x
Colonel Freeman stiffened. The rifle was aimed at his head. He was trapped, bound to the missile, standing so close to the enemy as to look into the dark muzzle of the gun.
Time stood still as the colonel saw the alien twisting his index finger in an agonisingly slow movement. Freeman felt the heat when the bullet grazed the top of his shoulder at the same moment as the bang of the gun numbed his ears. He jerked back, staring in fear at the alien, waiting for the next, the deadly impact. But instead of another shot the alien suddenly lost his rifle and fell to the ground, hit by a powerful stroke from Paul Foster.
“Alec, are you okay?” the younger colonel gasped, letting the wooden slat slip out of his hands. He leant against the door frame, unsteady, his chest heaving with exertion.
“My god, Paul,” Freeman breathed a sigh of relief, “not a second too late. The alien was close to killing me. Thanks. Can you help me get free?”
He pulled at his bonds. Foster nodded. He opened a bedraggled cupboard near the door and rummaged around until hefound a pair of rusty scissors.
“That ought to do”, he murmured.
He began to work on the ropes. Freeman threw a stern look at him, worried about Foster’s pale face and his physical condition. Foster’s trembling hands tried to cut the ropes but the scissors were blunt and the sweat trickling into his eyes made him squint. Unable to see where he notched the rope he doubled his efforts, but one of the metal blades chipped and fell to the ground. With a loud curse Foster kicked the broken blade away. He scowled on his shaking hands and clenched his teeth.
Freeman leant forward, worry cloudinghis face.
“What happened to you after the beating, Paul? We watched that sickening film and if I had got the chance to kill yourt ormentor, I would have done it in the same second. Later on when I arrived with the codes one of the missiles and you were missing.”
Foster stopped his clumsy struggles to cut the cord for a moment and looked at Freeman.
“Yes, that’s right. I came to only to be knocked out again by this alien. The next time I awoke was outside in the forest. He had dragged me and the missile together for a while, but I assume the weight was too heavy to him. So he left me lying on the ground and carried on with only the missile.”
The last fibre gave way and Freeman unfastened the binds. He touched his right shoulder where the bullet had left a bleeding scar, moaning when his fingers ran over the gash.
“Let me take a look at it.” Paul tore Freeman’s hand away and examined the injury. “Uh, a deep flesh wound. Nothing too serious, I think.”
Alec nodded grunting in pain, then his expression became focussed. He pointed at the outdoor stairs.
“We should better leave. The missile was armed when I had to enter the false access code. The control unit will blow in a couple of minutes and I can’t stop it now. Let’s go.”
He laid his hand on Foster’s shoulder and moved him to the stairs when a deafening screech hit their ears. Foster’s head snapped up, startled by the familiar noise of a damaged UFO.
“Lord, it’s crashing into the house. Run, Alec!”
x x x
Mobile 3 arrived at the scene some minutes after the impact. The damage was tremendous, two sides of the house blown open, the whole roof missing and the front yard carpeted with glass and debris. Flames were shooting out of the destroyed furnishing.
“My god,” Straker moaned, “Alec!”
As soon as the SHADO vehicle stopped, he jumped out, followed by Lt. Quinn and Dr. Jackson. He beckoned to the following truck.
“Get moving. Two men with me.”
Straker guided the other men to the stairs into the cellar. When they smashed the door, the black smoke emanating from it made it impossible to go in.
“There are other stairs into the cellar, inside the house,” Straker shouted. “Come on, perhaps it’s still intact.”
He rushed to the front. A moment later the rescue team entered the ruin through the remnants of the former door. Smoke and dust darkened the aisle, making Straker cough. Quinn grabbed his arm.
“Commander, you need oxygen.” He handed Straker the mask and helped put on the equipment, then the men climbed downstairs into the cellar.
Quinn pushed the first door open and crawled inside the smokefilled room. Some moments later he returned. His voice sounded strange through the respirator.
“Nobody here, Commander. Let’s check the other rooms.”
Straker turned and felt his way over some rubble that had once been the ceiling of the cellar. Then he reached the next entrance. The door was blown out of its hinges and lay battered on the ground on a pile of wreckage. A shiver went down his spine when he discovered a soot-blackened leg underneath the door.
“I’ve found him,” he shouted. Straker fell on his knees and shovelled the debris off the motionless body. The staff followed him into the room. Quinn ordered the men to clear the rest of the rubble and bricks away. Straker looked at the man underneath. No reaction. He lifted Freeman’s upper body as soon as it was free and wiped dirt and blood from his face.
“Alec, can you hear me?” he rasped, worried about the lack of response. He pulled Freeman’s head up to the panel of his breathing mask.
“Your voice sounds like that of an alien, but for one of them there’s too much emotion in it,” Alec murmured and a tiny grin played around the corners of his mouth. He opened his eyes and began to retch, dragging air into his lungs. Then he struggled to sit up and pointed to the collapsed wall.
“Ed, search for Paul, he must be there, near to the outside door. We tried to get out just when the explosion destroyed the ceiling and a beam pinned him to the ground. And don’t be surprised at finding a third body – an alien wanted to kill me and Paul smacked him down at the right time.”
x x x
Straker exited the elevator and hurried through the corridor exclusively reserved for SHADO-operatives, a brown paperbag in each hand. He stopped in front of the door of a single room and knocked once before he entered.
“Hello, Paul, Alec, nice to see you together,” he smiled and handed the bags to them. He was surprised to find Freeman already in a wheelchair, a clear sign that his injuries, especially his broken leg, were healing.
“Alec, you’re making progress. I’ve brought those newspapers for you and,“ he softened his voice, “a packet of cigarettes.”
He glanced at Freeman’s plastered leg and sighed. The colonel threw an astonished gaze at him and grinned.
“Thanks, Ed. Another week and I hope I can replace the wheelchair with a walking frame.”
“And the bullet wound?”
Freeman leant back. “Nothing to worry about.”
Straker nodded and turned to the man in the bed. Since his first visit four days ago Foster looked much better. Though still pale, he was now able to sit. The intravenous tubes and wires that had connected him to the monitors were gone. The white strapping around his bare chest held his broken ribs in place and the colours of the contusions all over his upper body caused by the falling ceiling beam had changed into purple marks.
“Paul, how are you today? Dr. Shroeder says your concussion is not as serious as it looked and will heal without leaving scars. What about your ribs?”
Foster took the paper bag and picked out some blue grapes.
“Thanks for these. And answering your question, no headache, my back feels better and the ribs will be okay in a couple of days. Did you get that sports magazine I asked for?”
Straker raised his eyebrows.
“Listen, I have some news for you. Dr.Jackson called this morning. His interrogation of Bennett has finally shown that he was not cooperating with the aliens. His aim was to sell our missiles to a terrorist group in the Middle East.”
“Okay, but how did he know that you and Paul were outside on the film set at exactly the time he was waiting there to kidnap you?” Freeman asked, watching with interest Foster reaching again into the bag and taking out the next fruit.
“I guess I know how,” Paul answered, biting with healthy appetite into a banana. “His secretary met me two weeks ago in my office to submit some construction plans. And perhaps she took a look into my filofax when I went out to the photocopier.”
“Right, Paul,“ the commander confirmed, “and Jackson assured me it was also Bennett’s secretary who got later in contact with the aliens. She disclosed the place of the hired country house to them.”
“Unhappy love affair?” Foster asked, throwing the banana peel in a perfect angle right into the bin.
“With the aliens?” Freeman joked.
“Not with the dead one, I hope,” Foster grinned back, winking at Straker’s bemused expression.
Freeman grabbed at the cigarettes. “Ed, what do you think about wheeling me into the garden, I’m a bit err… hungry.” He wiggled with the package and smirked when he heard Foster’s deep sigh.
Straker looked onto his watch and reached for the handles of the wheelchair.
“Alright Alec, I was just going anyway. Jackson is waiting for me with his final report. Goodbye Paul, I hope you will soon be back on duty. You have left me with a pile of work and SHADO is missing two officers.”
“Of course, sir, as soon as possible,” Foster answered, his blue eyes shining in confidence.
Straker turned the wheelchair and opened the door. When he looked back, Foster was already absorbed in the sports magazine.
Witha very special thank to my beta-reader Lightcudder who helped and supported me so much!
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