Alec nodded, 'Yes Miss Ealand, Dr Harper. She's going below with me.'
One second of hesitation, in fact even less than that, before Miss Ealand smiled a welcome and opened the door to the inner office. Alec waved Sara inside.
'Okay,' he looked at her, 'ready for this?
Sara lifted an eyebrow. 'As ready as I'll ever be I suppose. What do I have to do now? A retinal scan?' He could hear the scepticism in her voice but also some hesitation, and who could blame her; after all, until last night she had been blissfully unaware of SHADO and aliens and now, well now Dr Sara Harper was about to be introduced to the best kept secret on the planet.
Jackson walked along the corridors, humming to himself as his feet tapped out rapid steps, walking with surety and confidence, as if he owned the passages, the bleak and featureless walkways, and in some respects that was correct. Not many people had access to these areas, unless they were ordered to come here for examination or in some cases, interrogation. It did not have a comfortable reputation, far from it and Doug Jackson did nothing to prevent the spread of the rumours. In fact he encouraged the whispers about the nefarious activities that were supposed to take place behind the doors.
But today, unconcerned about reputations and rumours, his agile mind was on other more important things as he strode the white corridors to his domain.
The doors, their sensors linked to his unique biometric signature, slid opened as he approached, and, as usual he marched in to be stopped in his tracks by Paul Foster, standing, gun in hand and aiming at him.
'Colonel Foster?' The drawl was both approving and amused.
Foster scowled and lowered his arm. 'You could have warned me Jackson. Ed's still asleep in your isolation room. Don't wake him.' He turned his back on the doctor and went back to sit on the chair facing the door, his weapon still in his hand.
'Colonel, you look tired. It is time that you got some sleep. We will need you to be alert later this afternoon. I suggest you go home now and leave Commander Straker in my protection.' Jackson smiled.
Paul Foster looked around the room. 'Sorry Doctor,' he said, smiling in return, but his eyes were cold and without any hint of apology or friendship, 'I take my orders from the Commander or Colonel Freeman. I won't leave here until one of them gives me that order.' He sat upright, tense as if waiting for trouble.
The soft voice behind startled him. 'I think Dr. Jackson is probably right. You've been awake all night. Go home. And, thank you Paul.' Straker's voice was filled with quiet appreciation.
Paul jerked to his feet, mouth open with surprise, 'Ed. I mean... Commander, I ..'
'Colonel Foster, I mean it. You'll be no use to anyone if you can't stay awake.' But despite the severity of the words, Paul could see the genuine smile in Straker's eyes and knew that the commander was choosing his words with care. He smiled, tucked his gun away and tugged his jacket straight.
'Yes sir, I'll leave you with Dr Jackson.' Paul cast a baleful glance at the doctor and walked out after one last look at Straker, as if he wanted to reassure himself yet again that Straker was alive and here in SHADO.
'So, Commander, did you sleep well?' Jackson queried.
Straker sighed and shook his head, 'You'd better tell me whatever it is that you are planning Jackson. You aren't here just to babysit me are you?'
'Really, what makes you think that?'
Straker hunched his shoulders in the dressing gown, and frowned. 'I know you, Doug. So go on. Tell me.' He stared morosely at the floor, waiting, but the hand on his shoulder made him look up into Jackson's sympathetic eyes.
'Stop worrying please. Colonel Freeman will be here soon with someone who may be able to help us in our search for the clones. That is all. Now, I suggest you get dressed while I organise breakfast.'
The robotic voice of the identification system had startled Sara, but it was nothing to the sight of the underground base, with its maze of corridors, state-of-the-art technology and stern operatives who gave her one swift glance before concentrating on their work. She had sat in the office as Alec had gone through the formalities, authorising her presence here and handing her a badge. 'Wear this at all times,' he warned her, then he had taken her by the arm and guided her out. She was lost and confused by the time they reached a junction and she was steered along yet another bleak and unspecified aisle to the door marked 'Psychological Assessment Unit'.
Alec halted and looked down at Sara with a look of concern. 'Okay?' he asked.
She nodded, and squeezed his hand, 'Yes. Don't worry Alec, I'm fine. Honestly. I'm just glad you're here as well.'
Alec stepped away from her and placed his hand flat on a metal plate, and, as the door opened, stepped back to usher her inside the reception area. Jackson was there, reading and he closed the file and put it aside before looking up. 'Dr Harper. This way please,' he gestured to her and she put her briefcase down on his desk before following him through one of the unmarked doors that led to other rooms.
It was the usual clinical suite that she had been expecting, an examination bench in the middle of the floor, a cabinet, chair in the corner, a low stool on wheels. A familiar feel to the room, as if it had been transplanted from any hospital. But Ed Straker was perched on the edge of the examination table, arms folded as if waiting for her.
He stood up and held out one hand. 'Dr. Harper. Good of you to join us. I understand Dr Jackson has explained the situation to you? I apologise for the secrecy, but I am sure you understand the need.' He hitched himself back onto the bench and smiled at Alec. 'Well, what happens now? How do I fit into all this?'
Jackson stepped forward. 'It is a simple matter. Dr Harper performed the autopsy on the clone; your clone. I want her to examine you and to look for anything that is different, something that the clone didn't have.'
Alec Freeman, leaning against one wall with his arms folded, grinned at the expression on Straker's face.
There was a long pause. Straker raised an eyebrow and sighed. 'Very well. What do you need?' And he frowned at Alec. 'Are you enjoying this Colonel Freeman?
'Me? No. Not at all, Ed.' but Freeman's smile widened. 'I'm more than happy to help Dr Harper if she needs it.'
Sara Harper stepped forward. 'Thank you gentlemen. You may go now. I work alone. And Commander Straker doesn't need any one to hold his hand.' She turned to the slightly discomfited man now sitting upright on the bench. 'I can check that wound first. I don't expect anyone else has bothered this morning, have they?'
Straker gave a brief laugh, 'No,' he admitted as Sara watched Freeman and Jackson leave before she stepped to the door and locked it behind them. He was still sitting there, uneasy, his eyes narrowed in thought, his hands clasped together. Then he looked up as if a sudden memory had come to him. 'Harper. You were there yesterday weren't you? In the Shelter. I thought I remembered your face. I'm sorry, I hadn't realised until now. Jackson just said that he had found a doctor who might help us.' She saw him relax a little, the muscles ease, the fingers loosen their tight grip. 'So, Doctor what do you want me to do?'
'Start by calling me Sara, please,' she grinned at him, 'and then you can take off your sweater and let me check those stitches.'
He complied in silence, and then sat there staring at the far wall almost ignoring her presence as she pulled the dressing away from his ribs, her cool fingers touching around the edge, feeling for any signs of swelling. The room was quiet, her hands gentle, efficient and somehow soothing. 'Good. That's fine. Clean and dry. Keep it like that and no stretching or strenuous activity.' Her voice was matter-of-fact and practical, the tone of a doctor concentrating on her task and Straker stood up and reached for the roll-neck jumper at the end of the bench.
'Sorry.' Sara stopped him, her hand on his arm. 'I haven't finished. You want me to help you find these clones?'
He nodded although there was a hint of reluctance, as if he knew what she was going to say. 'Yes, anything that will enable us to determine a replicant from the real thing.'
'Fine. Then Commander, I need to examine you. Thoroughly.'
The faint blush that darkened his face was hardly noticeable, but it was enough to make her pause and turn away to give him some privacy.
'I'll just get my notes from outside,' she said, her back to him, crisp professionalism in her voice, 'so meanwhile undress and lie down. Here.' She handed him a sheet from the end of the bench and unlocked the door. 'Two minutes.'
The room was cooler than he would have liked. It was easy to slip off shoes and socks and stand there, hesitant and somewhat unwilling with the tiled floor cold under his bare feet, but his responsibilities were paramount and with a sigh of resignation he continued undressing, placing his clothes in a neat pile on the chair before, shivering with the slight chill in the air, he lay down on the bench with the sheet pulled up to just below his waist.
It was hard to relax; all his senses appeared to be stretched to their limits as he waited, listening for her footsteps and the door opening, anticipating her hands touching him. Not as they had before, dispassionate yet healing, no, he knew what she would do and he flinched from it. From that stranger's contact, that intimate yet utterly necessary examination that she was about to perform.
The door opened. He heard it close, and lock. He swallowed, allowed one hand to clench, then forced the fingers open in a pose of relaxation. She stood next to him. He noticed that she had rolled her sleeves up past her elbows, that her fingers were devoid of any jewellery, that her face was serious.
'Ready?' Her voice was softer than before, as if she was faltering in her resolve to help them. And he sighed, knowing that he had to endure it, if they were to have any hope.