The rustle of plastic woke him and he sat up, startled as the doors eased open. The corridor outside was sheathed in the transparent material used for isolating hazardous areas, and the four-man team of specialists was making its way towards him, surrounded by a cloud of disturbed fluff. He swung his legs over the edge of the table and waited.
'Commander.' The voice was muffled but recognisable. Jackson. 'If you would like to come with me?'
It took them over an hour to extricate him without opening the room and the personal isolation bubble which now enclosed him, to the outer corridor. He was hot and sweaty by the time they arrived at the High Security Isolation Unit in the basement area, fluff clinging in damp clots on his hair and skin. He sighed with relief as he stripped off in the outer zone and stood under the first of several showers. A heavy drenching of tepid, distilled water at first to wash the worst of the stuff away and then he stepped out, shivering under the watchful gaze of Jackson and his henchmen. Not even a hand towel to dry his face.
'Turn around please.'
He turned slowly, not sure where to put his hands and aware of eyes raking his body.
He stepped into the inner unit, the barrier closing behind with a hiss. The air seemed thinner here, colder, but this shower smelled of antiseptic. At least it was warm and he rubbed his hair and skin until the water stopped and he was ordered out. They gave him a thin cotton cloth this time and he dabbed himself dry before standing there, waiting for the next order.
More showers, more tests: blood and urine, skin samples, reflexes. He endured them all, aware of his stomach growling, his mouth dry, his head aching more from tiredness than any reaction. In the end Jackson was forced to admit that, until the substance was identified, there was nothing more to be done.
Straker lay back on his bed, itch free and no longer hungry; the isolation unit contained a bathroom, a food and water dispenser and a bed. A comfortable bed. And even better there was not a single piece of fluff. Perhaps he should move his office down here. There was even space for a large closet in the corner as well. Perfect.
He was undergoing another blood test when Jackson was called away, returning some time later without his hazmat suit. 'You can leave when you are ready Commander. It seems our concerns were unjustified. It appears the substance was merely one of the studio effects that was prematurely activated after being damaged, possibly when Colonel Freeman dropped it in your office.'
'It .. what...?' Straker sat up.
'An artificial snow machine. A prototype. Colonel Freeman gave me the details when I was informing him about the incident. I suggest you discuss the matter with him when he arrives back. The analysts assured me that the contents are totally harmless, though they are designed primarily for outdoor use and can cause some minor skin irritation under prolonged exposure.' Jackson folded his arms. 'I have taken the liberty of providing fresh clothing for you. Your office has been cleared for use but I suggest you return there and ensure that everything is in order before you go home.' He walked out.
The biochemical barrier on the corridor had disappeared by the time he got back to his office. The room was spotless and he sat behind the desk fiddling with pens and folders, uncertain whether to continue work or not, his eyes searching for any rebellious white specks. He would kill Alec for this.
But he would have to stand in line. Lake had staked first claim, and he had no intention of getting in her way. Not after hearing her shouting in the control room earlier. Even though he was Commander, sometimes it was more prudent to stay silent. Like now for example. He sipped his coffee, rifling through the report and wondering if he should complete it before going home.
The doors slid open and Ayshea entered, a brief look of confusion on her face. Not often the staff saw him out of uniform. Or in pale blue scrubs for that matter. 'Can I get you anything Commander?'
'Alec Freeman's head?'
She had the decency to smile at him. 'Sorry, sir. Colonel Foster put in a request for that first. As for Colonel Lake…?' Ayshea shrugged. 'Well, let's say Colonel Freeman might be singing soprano after she gets hold of him.'
'Ouch. That bad?' Straker slid the report aside. Henderson could wait for once.
'You know Colonel Lake, sir. Hates disruption of any kind. Especially when it involves her baby.'
'Baby?' Straker frowned. 'I didn't know…' He thought for a moment. No. Really. She hadn't. Had she? He really needed to keep more up-to-date with staff developments in future.
Ayshea raised an eyebrow. 'The mainframe computer, sir?'
'Oh.' Tiredness, that was all. Or perhaps the analysts were mistaken and prolonged exposure to the fake snow was harmful to brain activity? Perhaps he should mention it to Jackson tomorrow; but then he would end up having more tests. A decent sleep would do the trick.
Ayshea stepped closer. 'Colonel Lake has put all bases back to Yellow Alert. Maintenance are flushing the last of the fake snow away and Colonel Foster has handed control back to the main Centre. There's nothing else to do now.'
'Is that a hint Lieutenant? I should really wait until Colonel Freeman returns. I don't want the team to have to deal with the results of Colonel Lake's wrath. It could be messy and they've had enough to do tonight.' He stifled a yawn.
'Go home sir. Keith and I will look after Colonel Freeman. You look tired. And...' She smiled again. 'I'm glad you're okay. We all are.'
He was in the bath when the doorbell rang. Wallowing in hot deep water. No bubble bath, or anything resembling froth or fluff or white stuff. He heaved himself up, letting the water pour down his skin. It was bliss. The bell rang again and he grabbed a towel, one of his old ones, rough and scratchy and thin. And not fluffy.
It was Alec. Standing there with a sheepish grin and a three-quarters-full bottle of whisky in his hand.
'Alec.' Straker wrapped the towel tighter, tucking it in at his waist.
'I brought a drink.'
'So I see.'
'Well, technically it's yours. From the office. I dropped in to see if you were ….'
'My office?' Straker frowned. 'That's from my office?'
'Picked it up from your desk. Thought you could maybe do with a drink. Wasn't sure if you had any here. I certainly need one.' Freeman paused. 'Can I...?' His voice trailed away.
'Come in?' He stepped back. 'Sure. You can tell me about your trip to Moonbase and I'll you about my evening.' He sighed. 'Better give me that bottle, before you decide to drink some of it.'
'No good? Looks alright to me.' Freeman lifted it up to inspect, only for it to be taken from his hand.
'Don't ask, just - don't.' Straker dropped the bottle in the wastebin. 'I've got some proper stuff inside. Single malt. Eighteen years old. Been saving it for a special occasion.'
'And this is a special occasion?'
'Sure.' Straker gave a wry grin and put a hand out as white flakes descended from the sky. 'It's snowing. The first of the season. And the real thing. Not fluffy.' He grimaced.
'Fluffy?' Alec raised an eyebrow.
'Let me get dressed and I'll explain, and then I'll show you my plans for a new office.'
Straker stepped outside for a brief moment, letting the thick snowflakes land soft and tingling and refreshing on his bare skin and then shaking his head with amusement, he led the way indoors.
I was asked to write 'fluff' for this story. This is the result – well, it's the third result – the first two seemed to be unfluffy enough, but given time I might continue one of them and see if it works out. The real problem with doing Christmas UFO stories is that there is very little to go on, regarding the 'protocols' in SHADO. There were no specific UFO 'Christmas' episodes, and no references to any likely activities. Did they have the usual 'office' party, or simply work through the holidays as if nothing was different? (Oh no! More plot bunnies now!) I like to think that there was a 'family' feel to the organisation and that they would have shared some social time. After all it was a military unit and there were probably some 'traditions' put into place after a few years. I doubt really if the Control Room would have had Christmas decorations, but the staff restaurant (and there was one, even though we never saw it) would no doubt have been used for some informal gathering.