15. Power Plays (A UFO Story) written by Denise Felt copyright 2001

ACT I

In spite of her glare and her obvious defiance, John could not help smiling as he approached her. When a man had just been poleaxed, he could be forgiven for feeling a little lightheaded. So he walked right up to her and said, "Hello, there. I'm John. What's your name?"

Emily's glare deepened. "Go away!" she growled in a husky voice.

John was charmed. "Is that so? I haven't heard that name in a while. Do you have a last name too, or do you find your first name sufficient?"

She nearly snickered, but caught herself in time. Her chin lifted. "Why don't you go bother Carol? You were eying her pretty closely a few minutes ago. I'm sure she would be quite willing to play games with you."

"What makes you think I play games?" John asked, dodging the issue of Carol with the skill of long experience.

Emily favored him with a haughty once-over. "One look at you."

He gave her a straight look. "Now, that's not very nice."

"You mean, you noticed?" she said, folding her arms. "Good. Now maybe you'll go away."

He met her eyes and realized that she was definitely not trying to play hard-to-get. She was serious. And seriously angry about something. But whether that something had to do with him, he didn't know. So he did what any self-respecting military man did when he was outgunned. He retreated. Temporarily. But he winked at her as he left the lot, just to let her know it wasn't over. It couldn't be. Not this time. Not when he was playing for keeps. Besides, he well knew that conceding one battle did not mean he would lose the war. It was all a matter of strategy.

And in the interests of aiding that strategy, he hailed Buck Rogers as he rounded the Notre Dame building and saw him approaching. Buck did a double- take, as well he might on seeing what looked remarkably like his old Air Force buddy, and came over to him.

"Hi, there! I'm Buck Rogers. And you have to be related to Ed," the older man said as he stuck out his hand.

John shook it with a grin. "I sure am." Buck, he knew, was a fount of information about the studio and Lot 7 especially. In fact, it had been Buck who had first introduced him to Carol Reed at that awards ceremony. But that wasn't important now. He was after bigger game. "I'm his son, John."

"Oh." Buck blinked in surprise. Hadn't Alec told him that Ed had a son named John who had died? He said cautiously, "I didn't know Ed had kids your age."

John grinned. "Neither did he until recently."

"Oh!" Accepting that at face value, the older man gestured around the corner. "Been on the lot?"

"Yes. And I met an interesting girl there."

"Really?" Sensing something behind those casual words, Buck asked slyly, "What did she look like?"

John said, "Spiky hair, Marvin the Martian t-shirt..."

Buck held up a hand, chuckling. "Say no more! Emily! Emily Williams. She's our resident guru on all the finer points of military tactics."

"Indeed?" That was an intriguing tidbit. "Well, I'll have to ask her sometime what her opinion of Waterloo was. Especially since I've finally met mine. But not today. She seemed a little... uptight when I saw her."

Buck Rogers nodded sadly. "She's been having a rough time recently. She hasn't said anything, but I think it's family trouble. But I'm sure she'll get past it in a few days. Why not try talking to her then?"

"Thanks, Buck. I will."

* * *

Sheila was heading toward the park when she saw Emily Williams staring at the dilapidated house on the backlot. The young woman looked miserable, so Sheila stopped as she came abreast of her instead of going on. "Hey, Emily!"

Emily turned and looked at her, smiling slightly when she saw who it was. "Hi, Sheila."

"Thinking morbid thoughts?"

"Huh?"

Sheila gestured to the house. "You were staring at the house, so I assumed you were thinking about that horror film Ed did there a few years back."

"Oh." Emily blinked, realizing for the first time where she had wandered to as she had walked the lots. "No. I was just thinking."

Sheila put her arm through hers and led her away from the house. "Well, I know a much better place for thinking purposes. Let me show you. It's the studio's best kept secret."

Emily chuckled a bit at that. "Oh? Even better than all the other secrets?"

"Well... maybe not," Sheila conceded with a grin. "But a secret, nonetheless. See?"

As they came out into parkland, Emily's eyes widened. She turned a smiling face toward her friend and said, "Wow! This is great! I had no idea anything like this was here!"

"That's what I'm saying," Sheila said, leaning against the railing of the small bridge in her favorite spot. "Ed put it here when the studio was first built. He comes here when he needs some fresh air."

"Is it okay for us to be here?"

"Oh, sure. He's busy at the moment; but even if he wasn't, he wouldn't mind others enjoying the park."

"Okay." Emily relaxed against the railing and looked out over the trees. "It's pretty." Then she frowned. "Wait a minute! I can't see any of the buildings! Is that deliberate?"

Sheila chuckled. "What do you think?"

Emily grinned at her. "Knowing Ed? Yeah. It's deliberate. He's something else, isn't he?"

"He sure is."

They were silent for a few moments, thinking their own thoughts. Then Emily said, "Sheila? Can I ask you something?"

"Sure, Emily. What is it?"

"When you met Ed, it wasn't a good time for you two to get together, was it?"

Sheila looked searchingly at her, wondering where she intended to go with this topic. "No. He was already married to John's mother. Why do you ask?"

Emily sighed. "Because. Was it hard for you to just ignore it? Or was it okay? I mean, were you able to keep your mind on other things, or did it interfere with your work and stuff?"

"Well, it was difficult to ignore. And I found that my attention wandered a lot when I was trying to work. And sleep? Forget it! But for the most part, I was able to function normally, Emily. Especially since Ed was at HQ and I was on Moonbase most of the time. Out of sight made it a little easier to keep him out of mind."

Emily sighed. "I see." She frowned at the line of trees.

Sheila came closer. "Emily? What's up?"

The younger woman gave her a despairing look. "Oh, it's just that I've met him. You know. The One. But the timing is really lousy, and I just can't deal with any more right now. So, I was wondering if I could just keep it from happening for a while. At least until things have calmed down some in my life."

Sheila laid a hand on her shoulder. "Emily, that may not be possible. Especially if it's not a bad time for him. Surely he's aware that there's something between you?"

"I don't know." She shrugged. "He's a playboy, you know? So, he may just see me as a new mark. And if I ignore him, then maybe he'll go find someone else for a while until I get a handle on things."

"And that won't bother you? To see him with someone else?"

Emily gritted her teeth, remembering how he had been looking at Carol when she'd first seen him. "I don't care! Sheila, everything is a mess right now, and I have to find my way through it without any distractions. Don't you see? He'd just get in the way!"

Sheila was silent, knowing that the younger woman wasn't in the mood to be reasoned with. So she asked, "Who is he, Emily?"

She sighed. "Ed's son. John." She grimaced at Sheila's look of surprise and added, "It's weird, isn't it? I mean, I would never have met him in the natural course of things. Because he died."

"Fate certainly takes some funny twists," Sheila said, thinking hard. "Listen, Emily. I realize that Ed and I have been gone for a few days, and we haven't been around to talk to. But surely you know that we always have time for you if you need to talk about anything? And we'll help you in any way we can."

"Thanks, Sheila," Emily said, blinking back tears. "You guys are the greatest. But I know what I have to do. It's just so hard." She took a deep breath. "But I'll be okay. Thanks for your help." And she left the bridge with a wave of her hand.

Sheila stood where she was for a while longer, watching as Emily disappeared through the trees. She was frowning, her mind formulating and sifting through plans and ideas. Finally she smiled. Of course! It was quite simple, really. And wouldn't Ed be thrilled to find out that Emily was going to be his daughter-in-law?

* * *

He steepled his fingers in their brown leather gloves under his chin, considering the scene carefully. Everything must be perfect, he thought, adjusting the angle of the fallen chair just so and standing back to check the result. He frowned at a nearby drape, but resisted the urge to flick the folds into neatness. Too much perfection was as fatal as not enough in situations like this. As a psychiatrist, he was as aware of that fact as any studio director would be.

After a moment, he nodded with satisfaction. Yes, the scene was set just right. He glanced at the desk, where a neatly typed note lay on the blotter next to the pen that had signed it. The drapes were drawn--- no, he would not fix the folds--- and the desk chair casually toppled in the middle of the room. He frowned at the light fixture on the ceiling before deciding that it was strong enough to continue holding the added weight on the rope. After a last cursory glance at the dangling body, he left the way he had come, carefully resetting the lock on the door. He wanted everything nicely cut and dried when he sent his men over in the morning to investigate Lathrop's absence from his post.

As he drove away from the block of flats, he turned his thoughts to ways of minimizing the damage done. It was always so difficult to be in charge of a large group of people. He wondered suddenly how Commander Straker dealt with the pressure? He seemed to carry that great weight on his shoulders with little effort. Even more so since his marriage. The doctor frowned. He still felt concerned about Sheila's position at SHADO. She was not as stable an element as he would wish to have that close to the most important member of the organization. But so far her influence had been a good one; the commander was calmer than he had ever been in SHADO's history. And that peace had filtered down through the rest of the operatives, as well. Morale was at an all-time high.

Now if the doctor could just manage this latest problem as calmly. He took a deep breath. He was certainly trying. Security was such a major issue that it was necessary to always keep a level head. It would never do to panic. A small smile crossed his grim countenance as he wondered idly what Straker would think of his ability to set a scene?

* * *

"Hello, there!"

Jo glanced up as she came out of her office the next day and blinked in shock. Good God, she thought. Those gorgeous blue eyes had no right being that potently charming. She found herself smiling and said, "Hello, yourself. You must be John." And she put out her hand for him to shake, thinking that the slight formality might keep his charms at a proper distance.

But he merely took her hand and turned it, laying a kiss on the back of it in a courtly gesture that was extremely effective. Someone should tell him to cut that out or he'd have women following him all over HQ.

John liked that playful expression she kept trying to hide at the back of her eyes. What an intriguing woman, he thought. Why had he never met such women before? Did it take coming to a different universe entirely to meet such lovelies? "I'm charmed," he murmured.

"I'm not," growled a voice from behind him.

John turned swiftly and encountered Col. Foster's fierce gaze. He lifted a brow, wondering suddenly if perhaps this lady was taken, when Paul removed all doubt by going straight up to Jo and pulling her into his arms for a passionate kiss. When he ended the kiss, he turned to John with her still in his arms and said forcefully, "Mine!"

John lifted his hands in surrender, grinning at the bemused expresshon in her eyes as she gazed up at Foster. Yeah, she was definitely his. "No problem," John said and decided to check out another corridor instead.

By the time he had disappeared around a corner, Jo had regained her senses enough to smack her husband on the chest. "Yours? Why, you Neanderthal! I'm not a piece of property! What's the matter with you? He was just..."

"I could see what he was just," her husband growled in answer. "Damn it, Jo! And you were eating it up."

"I was not," she denied haughtily. "He was charming. Unlike some brutes I know." At Paul's scowl, she demanded, "When was the last time you kissed my hand?"

He frowned for a moment, then said, "That's not important! I didn't hear you complaining about the parts of you that I was kissing this morning. Or last night, for that matter."

"Well," she said, smiling in memory. "You do have a point."

He grunted, accepting that he had won. For the moment. He looked back down the corridor with a frown and said, "I'll tell you something, Jo. That guy is beginning to annoy me."

She chuckled and hugged him. "Too much competition, Paul?" she asked saucily.

* * *

"It's you!"

Emily looked up and saw John Straker in the doorway of the Library. She wanted to groan. Would the man give her no peace? "Go away!"

He came into the room and sat on a table, letting his long legs dangle over the edge. "I had no idea you worked here," he said happily, completely ignoring her remark.

She frowned at him. "Stop looking at me like I'm a side of beef!"

John grinned. "Sorry. It's just that you look so different in the uniform from what you did in the t-shirt. I must say, I really like the difference."

Emily fought a chuckle. "You're a heathen."

He laughed. "Guilty!" He leaned forward to flick a finger down her cheek, and she jumped. "You're such a pretty thing, Emily. Say you'll have dinner with me."

Her lips tightened. "Listen, you! I have work to do, and you are keeping me from it. Shall I lodge a sexual harassment charge with the commander? He doesn't take kindly to men bothering his female operatives, you know."

"Threats, Emily?" John shook his head sadly. "I can't figure you out. Is it me? Or are you just mad at the world right now and I'm a handy target?"

She met his eyes in surprise, unprepared for a direct attack spoken in that soft voice. "I..." She swallowed and looked down, ridiculously moved by the compassion she saw in his blue eyes.

He slid off the table and came around to where she sat. He leaned against the table where her computer terminal was and watched in silence as she fought tears. Finally, he could take it no more. He brushed a finger down her delicate cheek and said soothingly, "Emily. I'm not the enemy. And although I'm a guy and have all the drawbacks that go with that, I do have a good set of ears. What's troubling you?"

"Does it matter? It's not anything you can help with. You don't have family problems. I mean, Ed? Sheila? How could they ever be a problem?"

John grimaced slightly. "You'd be surprised. But, yeah. We all have trouble with family once in a while. Want to tell me about it?"

She looked at him, her dark eyes enormous in her pixie face. "There's nothing you can do," she said in a husky voice.

"I can listen."

She looked away, but he knew better than to assume that was her answer. He waited her out. Finally, she sighed and said quietly, "It's my aunt and uncle. They don't understand why my work is so important to me. They want me to go teach at some university instead of working here. They think I'm wasting my schooling, and it's not as if I can explain the truth to them. So they see me as a disappointment to the family."

He said nothing for a moment as he thought it through. "Well, I can't give you any advice on that. My problems with family are too different to even compare." At her inquiring look, he sighed. "My mother. She's just so hard to get along with. Nothing I do ever pleases her. And she can't keep from trying to cause trouble between me and Dad. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I could just hate her. Then maybe it wouldn't hurt so much. But I know that I could never really hate her."

"She's your mother."

He met her eyes for a moment. "Yeah. And the worst of it is when I get mad and say something out of line. It just pops out without me even thinking about it, and I realize afterward that I'm being just like her when I do that. It makes me want to scream."

"When I'm upset, I get cranky, just like my mother," she said.

He lifted a brow. "Really? I can't imagine." She grinned, and he relaxed against the table. "You know, Emily. You're lucky to have family who care about you enough to worry what you're doing. My mother never gave a damn what I did, as long as it didn't affect her. Once it did, all hell would break loose! But your family loves you. And I think they'll get over their disappointment when they see how happy you are in your work. They may never understand, but I don't think they'll hold it against you."

"Thank you, John," she said softly. "I know I'm lucky to have the parents that I have. And my aunt and uncle too. We're very close. And I guess that's why it's so hard to not be able to explain things to them. I'm used to having their approval, and it hurts to go against their wishes. But you're right. It's a small thing compared to what some people go through."

They were silent for a while, each of them thinking about their respective families. Then she said, "You know, John. I think you're wrong about your mother."

He frowned at her. "What do you mean?"

Emily shrugged, not sure how to put it into words. "Well, I don't know. Maybe she's bitter because she's afraid of losing you. Some people are like that. I mean, she has to have some redeeming qualities or your dad would never have married her. And Sheila didn't think she was so bad."

He looked up. "Sheila met my mother?"

"Yeah. Twice, I think. I don't think she ever told me all the details, but I do know that she visited her a couple times."

John was stunned. "Twice? God! Is she a glutton for punishment?"

Emily shook her head. "No. I'm telling you. She said that she wasn't as bad as everyone always said."

"Somehow I can't imagine my mother even being civil to her."

"Maybe you should ask her about it." "Maybe I will," he said as he stood up. "Thanks for talking with me, Emily. I hope I've been a help to you, because you've certainly been a help to me."

"Yeah," she said with a sigh. "You've helped, John. Thank you."

He reached over and ran a finger along her jawline. "Will you have dinner with me?"

The switch from friend to would-be seducer was so quick that she blinked. And swallowed hard on the passion that his touch ignited. "No."

"Emily! Emily!" he chided softly.

She hid a grin and shook her head. "My parents are coming in today, so I'm busy for dinner tonight."

He said, "You could bring me along. I'd love to meet your parents." She eyed him askance, and he added innocently, "I could be a buffer between you. You know. Keep them from yelling at you and stuff. They wouldn't get on your case with a boyfriend there, would they?"

"You're not my boyfriend."

He shrugged. "They don't need to know that."

The trouble was, he made it sound so darned tempting. "No."

"Okay. But we would have had a blast," he said and left the room.

Emily looked after him, frowning. She had the unnerving feeling that he was right.

ACT II

"No, Lieutenant. It's not your fault. Your presentation was excellent. I could never have done as good a job of it. Listen. You and your team have put in a lot of hours on this thing. I want you to take the next few days off and forget all about it. Put it out of your mind altogether."

"Sir?"

Straker leaned forward. "Then I want you to get back to it and find a way to cut some of the cost. I can't think of any other reason that they would have refused the proposal except that one. So we'll see if we can slice a few thousand off, and maybe they'll accept it. But not today. Understood?"

"Yes, sir." Keith nodded.

"Yes, sir," Morita said quietly.

"Good. You're dismissed." As they went to leave the office, the commander said, "Oh, Lieutenant. Could I speak with you for a moment?"

"Of course, sir." Keith met Morita's questioning glance with a reassuring smile, and she left the office. He turned back to the commander, unsure what to expect. Straker had been uncharacteristically calm about the council's refusal of the proposal. Keith wondered what was going on in that calculating mind of his. And he wondered if he was about to find out.

But the commander said, "Please, Lieutenant. Have a seat."

Keith blinked in surprise. He didn't think he had ever been invited to sit in the commander's office before in all the years he had worked for him. What was going down? "Thank you, sir."

Straker leaned back in his chair, taking his time about coming to the point. "Lieutenant, I have always made it a policy to stay out of the personal lives of my staff."

"Yes, sir." Keith started to sweat.

The commander nodded. "Partly, because it's really none of my business. And partly, because I have enough to do just keeping things running smoothly around here. I have no time for dealing with personal squabbles as well."

"Yes, sir," Keith answered automatically, since an answer was obviously expected. But his heart was pounding heavily in his chest, and he was getting very nervous.

Straker leaned forward. "That said, I wanted to have a word with you about Morita." Keith looked at him in stunned silence, and he went on. "What are your plans, Lieutenant?"

"Sir?" Plans? What did he mean?

Straker sighed. "Your intentions, Ford. What are your intentions concerning Morita?"

Keith swallowed. "Um... I don't know, sir." Straker lifted a brow at him, and he added swiftly, "It's not easy to say, sir. Her husband meant a great deal to her. And we haven't been seeing each other all that long. I guess I was rather hoping that if I hung around long enough, she'd decide to keep me. But nothing's certain."

"I see." Straker felt a spurt of sympathy for the man and said quietly, "You know, Lieutenant. I have found that a living lover doesn't really have that hard a time replacing a dead one. I wouldn't be so quick to assume that her heart is buried with her husband, if I were you."

"Thank you, sir."

"However, you do at some time in the future intend to ask her to marry you. Is that correct?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well." Straker sat back and folded his hands. "Were you aware that the Malorans are studying the compatibility factors between their race and Terrans?"

"Yes, sir. Juno has a brother working in genetics and has mentioned their research several times."

"Good. I have learned from my son, who is from a number of years in the future, that their findings will indicate a definite incompatibility. Not a complete one. A union between a Terran and a Maloran won't necessarily be sterile. But their offspring may encounter some difficulties." He sighed before continuing. "My wife had some difficulty getting pregnant after we were married. And there were no more children after John was born. So, Morita may possibly run into similar problems if you marry. And John had numerous allergies to certain kinds of food, as well as to many medicines. In consequence, he spent a lot of his childhood not in the best of health. Now, he states that the Malorans will come up with a way to counteract that problem in the future by boosting the immune system. But until that time, any children you have might have to endure a number of health problems. Now, I say this not to tell you not to have children, Lieutenant, but simply to inform you that there are certain risks involved if you decide to."

"I see, sir." Keith was astounded, but he was not sure which fact surprised him more. That the commander had shared details of his personal life with him or that he was saying that he wasn't an Earthling. "I didn't realize that you were Maloran, sir."

Straker sighed. "It is not widely known, Lieutenant. I didn't even know myself until a few years ago."

"I see, sir."

"Well, thank you for letting me explain things to you, Lieutenant. Do you have any questions?"

"No, sir."

"Good. Then you're dismissed."

Keith got up and went toward the door, but Straker's voice stopped him before he could leave. "Oh, Ford?" Keith turned and looked at him. His commander was smiling softly. "I wouldn't worry too much about talking Morita around. My money's on you."

The lieutenant grinned. "Yes, sir. Thank you."

* * *

"You don't want me back on Moonbase, do you?"

Straker met his eyes and sighed. "Not really. I'd like to give you more time to adjust, John. Your whole world has changed on you. I don't want to rush you into work until you feel a little more settled."

His son grimaced. "Dad, I'm like you. I need work to help me get my thoughts in order. Being idle just doesn't suit me very well."

"There's plenty of work here to occupy your time, if you're interested. I can always use a third, fourth, or even fifth hand."

John smiled, but got up from the chair to pace. "You know I'd be glad to help, Dad. But this isn't really about settling in, is it? You don't want me flying interceptors, do you?"

Straker just looked at him.

John's hands spread. "I knew it! Damn it! We've had this argument before!"

His father sat back with a rueful smile. "I haven't."

His son gave him a look, but came and sat back down. "Look, Dad. Flying is what I do best. And I enjoy being out in space. I don't know if I'm ready for any other job right now."

"And you won't know unless you try something else, John. What are your goals?"

His son frowned. "Goals? You mean, do I want to someday sit in your chair? I don't know, Dad. I don't think I'm ready for that yet."

"But, someday?"

John shrugged.

His father's lips thinned. "Well, you will hardly know if you're ready for the big chair until you've had some command time under your belt. I'd like to put you on Skydiver 2 for a few weeks. Let you get your feet wet, so to speak, working under Captain Masters. Well?"

John knew when he was beaten. "Yes, sir. When do I go?"

Straker smiled. "Next week. I'm not sure I'm ready to let you out of my sight yet. It's good to have you here, son."

John met his eyes and smiled in return. "Yeah. I know. It's good to be with you too, Dad. You know, you're not quite like my father." At Straker's lifted brow, he explained, "You're mellower, I guess. Not quite so uptight."

His father was silent for a moment, thinking about that. Finally, he asked, "I suppose that's a good thing?"

John grinned. "Oh, yeah!"

* * *

"Hey, Morita! What's happening?"

Morita turned sadly from her lab desk, where she had been straightening up. "Hi, Emily. I'm going home. I've got a couple days off."

Emily gave her friend a long look. "Okay. Hold on. You've got two days off, and you're not happy about it?"

"I feel like we disappointed him, Emily. How can I enjoy any time off when I know we failed?"

"What do you mean? Are you talking about the proposal?"

"Yes," Morita answered, filing the last of her papers. "The council rejected it. Totally."

"No way!"

"I'm afraid so. We did everything, Emily! Just like the commander said. And it seemed like they were really listening, you know? But they said no anyway. And Keith says that's never happened before."

Emily's eyes narrowed. "Never?"

Morita just shook her head, too dispirited to speak.

"Listen, girl. Did Straker tell you he was disappointed in you?"

"No. Oh, no! He said we did a great job. And he wants us to get back to work on it after the break and try to cut costs. But we didn't do a good job, Emily. Not if they refused it like that."

"If he said you did good, then you did. Straker doesn't mince words."

"Maybe he was just being kind."

Emily chuckled. "Not about something that important! It must have been something else, Morita."

Her friend frowned at her. "What?"

Emily shrugged. "I don't know. But it wasn't you, so stop fretting!"

Morita smiled and gave her a hug before leaving the lab. But Emily stood where she was for a long time, frowning at nothing.

* * *

"What happened?"

"I wish I knew."

Straker's lips tightened, but he said nothing for a moment as he took a sip of his coffee. When he sat back in the chair, he gave Shaw a determined look. "I need some answers, General. I did as you asked and let someone else handle the presentation. And they did wonders. Hell, I was convinced, and all I did was read the transcript! So, why did the council reject it? Surely it wasn't because of my absence?"

The general sighed. "I sincerely hope not, Commander. Especially since that part was my idea."

"Then what was it? You were there. I wasn't. I need to know your impressions of the meeting, or I'll never be able to figure out how to get it through the next time."

"I understand," Shaw said. "But I don't know how helpful I can be. Everything seemed to be going well. I certainly expected the council to go for the project. I was as surprised as you were by their ruling."

Straker frowned. "Was there anything unusual about the meeting? Anything in their tone or attitude during the proposal that might have triggered a negative response?"

Shaw thought about it for a while. Finally he shook his head. "I don't know. As I said, everything seemed fine. Granted, I felt a little uneasy when members of the council shot down the proposal so quickly. And so loudly. But I figured they would have a problem with the cost anyway, so I wasn't too worried. Until the entire council agreed that it just wasn't workable. Or worthwhile. I'm afraid I was a bit stunned, so I really couldn't say whether they were offended by the presentation or anything like that. I just wasn't expecting that kind of answer from them."

"I see." Straker brooded, getting up from his chair and pacing the office. "Surely it was obvious to them how important it is to cover every blind spot? My God! Every day that we don't have 100% tracking efficiency is a day where they can slip through our defenses to do who-knows- what kind of damage to Earth and everyone on it! Tell me this, General. If we can get the cost down, say even by a hundred thousand or so, do you think from their response at the first meeting that they would accept it the second time?"

Shaw sat back in his chair and considered. "Maybe," he finally said, but in a doubtful tone. "I really couldn't say, Commander. If you had asked me that even two weeks ago, I would have known exactly what to answer you. But this whole thing has hit me out of left field, and I'm not very sure about anything at the moment."

"Would it help if I tried talking to any of them?"

The general shook his head. "No, Commander. You know that's against policy. You'd be much more likely to get their backs up if you tried that approach."

"Sir, there has to be something we can do to reverse this decision! Surely you realize the necessity of this satellite system?"

"Of course I do, Commander. And I thought they did, as well. Your team was quite persuasive." He sighed. "Perhaps it was just the cost. If you can trim the project at all, they may be convinced to give it another look."

"Good."

Shaw frowned. "But the cuts would have to be pretty large for them to give it a second glance. And it looked to me as though you had already trimmed the thing pretty closely before presenting it the first time."

Straker came to the front of Shaw's desk. "We did. But there may be more that we can do. It's far too vital for us to give up now."

Shaw met his eyes for a long moment, then sat back in his chair. "Well, Commander. If you find that your own resources are not enough to cover the cuts, perhaps you will allow me to assist you in this endeavor." The commander only lifted a bland brow in response, but Shaw continued undaunted. "I have some personal assets myself, although not as substantial as yours, of course, and it just so happens that I have a few good friends who might be interested in investing in the future of this planet, as well. Just let me know, all right?"

Straker nodded, not bothering to deny his own intention of dipping into his private funds in the face of such generosity. "Thank you, sir. I'll keep you informed."

"Can you have a revised proposal ready in two weeks?"

"I believe so."

Shaw nodded and opened the office door. "Then I'll see you then, Commander."

ACT III

"So, who plays with the train set?"

Straker's smile was rueful as he handed his daughter another block. "I suppose it was a little premature."

John snickered. "Somehow I don't see Andy playing with it for a while, Dad."

His father glanced over to where Andrew lay on the bright blanket sucking on his fist. "Maybe not."

His eldest son ran a hand over Andy's soft blonde hair, tickled at how the white strands stuck out in every direction. "I do like the room, though. Did Sheila do all this rainbow stuff?"

"Yes. Your aunt Virginia helped her."

John grinned. Meeting his aunt and uncle had been a real treat. It was nice to know that some people hadn't changed very much in the shift. "I wonder where she got the idea? Has she ever been to New Malora?"

Straker smiled fondly. "Yes. We went there for our honeymoon."

John leaned on one hand while the other tickled Andy's belly. "Oh, yeah? Did she like that?"

"She said she did."

"Did you?"

"I had a great time."

"Hmmm. Well, you took Mom, I mean Gay, to Moonbase for your honeymoon. She thought a working honeymoon would be the best way to make sure she got to see you for two weeks straight."

Straker grinned. "Well, to tell you the truth, New Malora did wear thin after the third week there. Cedric and Lotsen were wonderful, don't get me wrong. And the city is simply amazing. But I was very glad to get back and see my office again."

"You were there three weeks? That is something!"

"Actually, we were there a month." John shook his head in disbelief, and his father added, "By the way, I'd take it as a personal favor if you didn't mention to Sheila that your father took Gay to Moonbase for their honeymoon."

"Oh?"

Straker grimaced. "It is her very favorite place, and this last week was the first time she's been there in thirteen years."

John sat up. "Whoa! Seriously? Why?"

His father shook his head. "They captured her on Moonbase, John."

"What? The Thoelians? No way!" But he saw from his father's face that it was true. "My God! What did they...? How did she...?"

Straker sighed deeply. "She was held in one of their fortresses for a year and a half. If they had wanted her dead, she wouldn't have stood a chance. But they kept her alive. In order to run experiments on her."

John gulped. "Oh, man!" he whispered, feeling sick.

His father nodded grimly. "She eventually managed to escape by killing their leader."

One lean finger shakily traced Andy's cheek. After a few minutes, John looked back over at his dad, who was handing Kathy another block to play with. She tottered off happily, and John asked quietly, "How did she ever get cleared for duty when she got back? I mean, what if they'd reprogrammed her or something? Surely you're aware of what they're capable of?"

"It wasn't that simple. When I said that she escaped, I meant the fortress, John. She remained on the planet for another five and a half years."

His son was stunned. "Why?"

Straker gazed at his young daughter without really seeing her. "She instituted a terrorist group from the surrounding villages to retaliate against the Thoelians. It is still functioning today, as a matter of fact."

"Jesus." John thought about that for a bit, then finally shook his head. Sheila was such a small woman; not fragile really, so much as dainty. It was hard to picture her in that kind of setting. "And when she did come back?"

"She crashed here about six years ago, John, on this property. The older couple who took her in nursed her back to health. Made her their daughter. You see, she had amnesia from the crash. From the records I've seen, she shouldn't even have survived it. I guess the Conovers considered her some kind of miracle."

"Amnesia? Then, she didn't remember...?"

"Anything," his father said tersely. "Not SHADO. Not the alien planet."

"And not you," John finished softly, understanding now why they hadn't married any sooner.

"And not me," Straker confirmed. The room was silent for several minutes except for Kathy's chattering as she played with the blocks.

"How did you meet again?"

He looked at his son blankly, coming back slowly from a distant place. As his eyes focused, he said, "She came to the studio. With Paul Foster."

John raised a brow at that. "Paul? Um, isn't that...?"

"They're friends, John."

"Right." John met his father's frown with as much blandness as he could muster. But he had never been as good at it as Straker himself.

His father sighed and let it go. "She's been an invaluable source of information about the aliens, John. And a great asset to SHADO."

"I don't doubt it. In my world, we still don't even know what their race is called. I was astonished when I heard Mark Bradley call them Thoelians."

Straker nodded. "Yes. There seem to be a number of differences in our worlds."

"You're telling me! Mark showed me the new and improved interceptors. Damn! What I wouldn't have done for one of those that day instead of the I- 5!"

"Did your SHADO ever deal with the Breen, John?"

"The Breen? No. Who are they?"

Straker grimaced. "A very nasty group of people. And I have the feeling that we haven't heard the last of them. Not by a long shot. We're fighting an uphill battle here, against foes with better technology and more powerful weapons." He turned a rueful face toward his son. "But what else is new?"

John smiled. "Hey, if there wasn't a challenge in it, we'd all find something better to do."

Straker laughed. "You're right!"

John glanced at his watch. "Say, Dad. How late will Sheila be?"

Straker said, "It's a pretty important meeting. She may not get home until late. The French are asking for help in organizing a women's shelter program of their own."

"You know, I think that's really cool that she's in charge of all that. But I bet it makes for a long day."

"Sometimes. But she likes to keep busy. And she knows that I like the opportunity to spend time with the children. You might have noticed that she keeps her work schedule slightly different from mine?"

"Yeah."

"That's so that I have time with the kids by myself each day. She's afraid that she'll monopolize their time otherwise." He got up and picked up his daughter, going to the changing table in the corner of the nursery.

John asked, "Would she?"

Straker met his eyes. "Monopolize them? I don't think so. But I appreciate how hard she tries to share them. Your mother never even let me feed you, let alone change a diaper."

"She didn't?"

His father shook his head. "It was her upbringing, I suppose. And since Sheila was brought up in an orphanage, she didn't have any preconceptions of how things were supposed to be done. She feels that raising children is a team effort, and she does things accordingly."

John frowned in thought for a moment. "Well, Mom always encouraged you to spend time with me. And the sibs, when they came along. You never seemed to mind us all under foot."

"I'm glad." Straker brought Kathy in her sleeper to the rocking chair and sat down. He settled her comfortably in his arms and began rocking slowly. "I am sorry about your family, John."

"I know." John had to swallow a lump in his throat and wasn't sure whether it was from the compassion he heard in his father's voice or from watching his hardass dad rocking his little girl to sleep. "But you know, Dad. I'm glad to be here."

"Are you?"

"Yeah." John laid a gentle hand on Andy's back, watching as the baby slept. "I had no idea that love was so great. I mean, you told me about Laura and everything, but you really only knew her for a few days, and hearing about it's not the same as seeing it for myself. Watching you and Sheila together has given me a perspective on love that I never would have gotten in my world. And I would have always felt that something was missing. I'm sure of it."

Straker gave him a small smile. "You mean, you're not going to run from love like your Uncle Alec did?"

John chuckled. "You know, I've never really blamed him for that. Aunt Dee has always terrified me. I wouldn't know how to handle a woman that feisty."

His father's smile widened. "Oh. You'd manage, I think."

John raised a brow. "Is Sheila feisty, Dad?"

"Oh, yes. And I wouldn't want her any other way."

John shook his head, not sure whether to tell his father that he was besotted or just plain loony. "She throws things?"

Straker said, "No. She's more playful than temperamental. Ornery."

"Oh. I see." That was a little easier to understand. He too liked women who knew how to have fun. "Dad? I've met my mate."

Straker stopped rocking. "You have?"

"Yeah."

"Who is it?"

John took a breath. "That's just it. I wouldn't have ever known her probably in my own world. And she'd have been a lot older than me if we did meet. It's Emily Williams."

"Emily?" His father started rocking again as he considered. Finally he smiled at his son. "She could give ornery a run for its money."

John grimaced. "Don't I know it! But I know when I've been hit with a ton of bricks, and she did it."

"Well, congratulations, son." Straker rocked in silence for a moment, then added pensively, "Or should I commiserate with you instead?"

His son laughed. "Why not do both?"

Straker grinned, but after a while, he said, "If you're thinking of marrying in the near future, you're going to want to be settled in a job. What would you like to do at the studio, John?"

He shrugged. "I was a junior studio executive in my world. I handled a few actors, directors, things like that."

Straker thought about that. "But what would you like to do? I mean, if you had your choice?"

John looked at him in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"Well, John. We're in the moviemaking business. We specialize in making dreams into reality. If you could be any part of that dream that you wanted, what part would it be?"

"I don't know, Dad." His heart started beating faster as he considered the many options. "Wait! Last night, Sheila and I were talking after a movie. I couldn't sleep and when I came downstairs, I found her up too, watching an old movie. Gaslight. It's not one of my favorites. But after it was over, we talked for a while about it. What an excellent job they did keeping the suspense up, where you don't see how insane he really is until the end; things like that. And she asked me something. She asked me if any of the names in the credits stood out to me. I thought it was a strange question, but she explained that everyone looked for a different thing. She said that she always checked out who had done the costumes, because clothes had always been a fun thing for her."

"They still are," his father interjected, thinking of her closets.

John grinned. "Well, I told her that I didn't bother checking credits after a movie, because what I would look for you can always tell within the first five minutes of the film."

"And what's that, son?"

"Who did the special effects. Each one has their own signature stamp that they put on the film, whether it's the incredible claymation of Ray Harryhausen or Stan Miller's light displays. You can always tell."

"You can," his father said. "But I don't think that everyone would notice such a thing. Would you like to work in the special effects department, John? I'm sure that Louie Graham would be happy to have you in his crew."

John's eyes were very wide. "Are you kidding? Work with Louie? Do special effects for a living?"

"Why not?"

"I... I don't know." John ran a hand through his hair, amazed at the turn their conversation had taken. "It would be more like play than work."

"Listen, son." Straker got up and laid his sleeping daughter carefully in her crib. Then he came back to the rocker. "There is no law that says a job has to be tedious. In fact, it's much better if it's not."

John laughed. "But then I wouldn't want to leave it to do the important stuff, Dad!"

Straker grimaced. "It's an occupational hazard."

His son cocked a brow at him. "You?" He was astonished.

"Yes, me. But don't tell anyone I ever said that. I'm supposed to be the dedicated head of the organization, you know."

John chuckled, delighted to find out that his father enjoyed his cover job. "My lips are sealed."

"Good."

* * *

"You know, Ed," Sheila said as she traced patterns in his chest hair. "We should invite Emily's parents to dinner while they're here."

He chuckled, wondering for a moment if he'd ever be able to keep ahead of her. She always seemed to know things before he did. "Is that so, Sheila? And you wouldn't have any ulterior motive for that, now would you?"

She met his sparkling eyes in surprise and then sighed. "He told you, didn't he?"

He raised his brows. "I don't know what you mean."

She pulled a chest hair and had him wincing. "Yes, you do, you uncooperative man! I'm talking about John. And Emily."

He rubbed his chest with an injured air that did not have any effect on his wife. "Oh. Them."

"Well?"

"Sheila, who am I to get in the way of your matchmaking plans? By all means, invite them to dinner. I suppose we should meet them before the wedding, shouldn't we?"

"You are so bad," she said with a pout.

He grinned and kissed her mouth. "It's true. I am. But you love me anyway."

She gave a heartfelt sigh. "I must need my head examined."

His grin faded as he met her eyes. "I love you."

"Oh, Ed! I love you too." She kissed him long enough to forget about anyone else but the two of them. "Hmmm. How is it that I can be completely exhausted, and you still manage to wake me up?"

Straker winked at her. "Blame it on fate, Sheila. My body is just too well tuned to yours, I guess. Are you saying we should go a second round? Because, if you are, I should warn you that I have an early morning."

She settled onto his chest. "No, I guess not. Besides, it would probably do me in. I'm just so wiped out."

"I thought you said the meeting went well," he said with a slight frown.

"It did," she murmured, relaxing as she listened to his steady heartbeat.

He stroked her hair. "But?"

"Hmmm? Oh. It just seemed to go on forever. But France will soon have their own division of the Conover Foundation for Battered Women, so it was worth it. Don't you think?"

"I do. Was everyone excited about it?"

"Oh, yeah." She was silent for a while, and he almost thought she was asleep when she said, "I wish I knew what was wrong with Marguerite, though."

"Marguerite?"

"Yeah. She seemed a little distracted. Upset about something. But she wouldn't tell me anything tonight. We're having lunch in a few days, so maybe she'll talk to me then."

He said nothing for a while, gently stroking her hair. He knew Sheila had a lot of friends, but he wasn't remembering a Marguerite. He finally asked, "Marguerite who, Sheila?"

She stirred, then settled back on his chest, murmuring, "Duval."

His hand stopped stroking for a long moment, then began again. Surely there was no connection between Sheila's friend and the French delegate Duval? He tried to think if he'd ever heard mention of the man's wife's name, but finally gave it up. He could always ask Dr. Jackson in the morning.

* * *

He lay awake long into the night, considering possibilities. His wife turned in her sleep, and he ran a fond hand down her arm. Thirty-five years, he thought. She'd put up with him and all his idiosyncracies for thirty-five years. She deserved a medal of honor for that alone. Then there were the children. And the grandchildren. It was still hard for him to accept that he was a grandfather. He always thought of grandfathers as gray-haired old men with stooped backs. And he still had his own dark hair. For a while yet, he supposed. The sideburns had silvered in the past few years. Just enough to make him look distinguished, Beatrice always told him with that flirtatious smile.

He sighed, glancing at her again. Getting older didn't seem to daunt her any. She'd been coloring her hair for years and never thought twice about it. But he wondered if he'd be able to go gracefully gray, or if he would end up covering it up with dyes until it was obvious to everyone but himself that he was an old man? But the thing was that he didn't feel old. Why, he was barely ten years older than the commander! And he knew his people lived long lives. That was another thing that bothered him from time to time. He didn't want to outlive Beatrice. What would he do without her? She was the center of his life.

Morbid thoughts, he decided, and thrust them from him. Something was bothering him about that damned council meeting, and he needed to get it into focus. Straker was counting on him to keep that refusal from happening a second time. And he was worried that he couldn't. That somehow the council had gotten out of his control and gone their own way. But why? What was making him so uneasy?

Shaw suddenly sat up in bed. Uneasy. That was it! He had felt uneasy at the meeting. Something hadn't been right. And not right enough to set off all his internal alarms. But what was it? What could it have been? He hadn't felt anything amiss during the presentation. It had only been after the two operatives had left the room that he had begun to be uneasy. Because... yes. Because the council had been so belligerent. Not even offended, but totally antagonistic. As if... he caught his breath. As if they never intended to accept the proposal at all. Yes. That was how it had been. As if their minds had been made up before even coming into the meeting.

His heart was beating painfully hard in his chest, and he breathed deeply to calm it. This was no time for panic. He had to be certain of the facts before he even dared mention this to Commander Straker. After a few moments spent reciting the mantra of peace, he felt calm enough to go back over the discussion in his mind. It was important to identify who the antagonists were. Not the others, who had let themselves be stirred up into a frenzy. But the ones who had started the whole thing. He played the scene over and over in his mind, trying to lock onto their expression, their tone of voice, as they discussed the proposal. Finally he laid back in the bed, exhausted, but sure that he had it right. There had been one delegate who had initiated the trouble, and possibly one other who had reinforced the comments later when the debate was at its height. But were his suspicions enough to confront them with? Or would it all seem like a delirious dream in the cool light of morning?

* * *

"Good bye, darling. See you later." He planted a kiss on her hair, ran a hand over his daughter's curls, and winked at his son across the table before leaving the room.

"Good bye!" Sheila called after him, and sighed as she glanced at his half- full breakfast plate. She looked up to see John grinning at her.

"Actually, I was surprised that he ate that much," he said.

"It's a never-ending battle," she told him. "But you're right. He didn't do too badly today." She spooned another mouthful of eggs into her daughter's mouth and said, "But Kathy has no problem with her appetite, do you, sweetheart? You would happily eat us out of house and home."

John chuckled. "Enjoy it now. Fiona has reached the stage where she's watching her weight. At twelve! Mom worries about her. And I do too. But I always figured that as long as I could tempt her into at least one pizza night a week, she wouldn't get too skinny."

She set down the spoon and wiped Kathy's mouth. "You're a good brother, John. And I expect you to also come to Kathy's rescue in another eleven years or so. She'll need a big brother to keep her on track by then."

He grinned at the little girl whose rosy cheeks and bright smile showed how healthy and well-fed she was. "I'll be there. I promise." Then he frowned, thinking of other promises that would never be fulfilled now.

"John." Sheila waited until he met her eyes, then said, "They'll forgive you for not being there after a while. And someday you'll even forgive yourself."

He sat back with a sigh. "Did you ever forgive yourself, Sheila? For not being here when Dad needed you?"

She said, "Maybe not a hundred percent yet, but most of the way. Yeah. Especially when I see how happy he is now, you know? I can forget a little how much I hurt him. And hope that he has forgotten too."

"I think he has," he assured her. "Can I ask you something? Why did you wait so long to come back? I mean, I realize that you were setting up the terrorist group and such, but surely that didn't take five years?"

She lifted Kathy from her chair, and Madeline emerged from the kitchen as if waiting for that signal to pick her up into her thin arms. "I'll just take her to the nursery for you, ma'am," she said and left the breakfast room, bouncing the little girl as she went.

Sheila sighed and got up to refresh her coffee, which had gotten cold while she was feeding her daughter. She gave John a solemn look. "Ed didn't tell you why I stayed there?"

"Yeah. To set up the group."

She shook her head. "I stayed, because I had a child. A son."

John gasped. "You...?"

"He was the son of Ming, the Thoelian leader. Did Ed tell you about him?"

He nodded. "He said you killed him."

"Yes, I did. But I was pregnant with Eddie at the time. I stayed on Tuatara those years because I couldn't face Ed with the son of our enemy."

He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Sheila. I had no idea."

She shook her head. "No. It's all right. I guess I should have realized that Ed wouldn't tell you. He would leave that to my discretion. But I think you should know."

"Why?"

"Because you'll see his gravestone in the family cemetery when you go to Boston to visit your grandfather."

"He died here?"

"No. He died on Tuatara when he was five. That is when I returned to Earth, John. But your father is not like other men. I should have realized that. I brought up Eddie to admire and esteem SHADO's commander. It gave him a father figure that he would have otherwise never had. And Ed chose to honor that admiration. He accepts Eddie as his own son. In fact, his gravestone says as much."

John did not know what to say. He could never have imagined that the love between his father and this woman had been through such fires. It amazed him that it had survived. And more than that, to have become as strong as he saw it today. "I'm sorry, Sheila. Sorry that I gave you such a hard time when we met. I feel like an idiot."

She lifted a brow at him. "For loving your stepmother and being loyal to her? I don't think that makes you an idiot, John. I'm sure that Gay treats your father wonderfully. She's such a sweetheart, I don't see how she wouldn't."

"But it's not the same," he said.

"Well, it would be hard for it to be, now wouldn't it? She's not his mate. But bonds can be forged even between those who are not mates, if given enough time. I'm sure she makes him very happy, John."

"He always seemed to be," he said after a minute, deciding that perhaps she didn't need to know how different the happiness his father experienced was compared to this father's happiness. He looked at his watch and said, "Can I give you a lift to the studio? I need to get going or I'll be late. Dad's going to put me in the special effects department at the studio."

"That's wonderful, John!" And it saved her dropping a hint in her husband's ear. "Let me get my things, and I'll be right with you."

"No problem."

* * *

As he drove into town, he glanced occasionally at her in the passenger seat. He still found it difficult to reconcile everything he had heard about her with the image she presented to the world. She was so small, for one thing. And quiet. Not in the way some women were who never had anything to say for themselves, but as if she enjoyed thinking more than talking. And her sense of humor! John could easily see how that twinkle in her eyes had snared his father. Especially since he found himself attracted to it, as well. Emily had a twinkle like that.

He smiled, thinking of his rebellious little mate. She was certainly going to keep him on his toes. And he couldn't wait. But he was still reeling from a few of the things she had told him. Number one being... "Sheila, Emily told me something that I wanted to ask you about."

She turned to him with a sly smile. "And what do you think of Emily, John?"

He grimaced. "I suppose Dad told you. She's my mate. And I think about her a lot, if you want to know."

Sheila chuckled. "I'm glad to hear it. You'll be good for her, I think. She could use a bit of a challenge."

"Ho! Thanks! I know how to take that remark," he said.

She laughed. "Don't tell me you don't consider her a challenge as well, John?"

"Yeah. I do." He was silent a moment, then asked as the thought occurred to him, "Is that how you see Dad? As a challenge?"

"Well, isn't he?" she replied reasonably.

He chuckled. "Yeah. I guess he is."

Sheila said softly, "Emily really needs you right now, John. Although she doesn't think she does. She'd much prefer to tackle all her problems by herself before accepting a new one."

John frowned. "You mean me."

"Yes. But she's wrong. She doesn't understand what having a mate is all about. And she needs your help to show her."

"What am I supposed to show her?"

"That a mate isn't a complication. A mate is assistance. Two heads really are better than one, John. Emily just hasn't figured that out yet. But having a mate means that you're suddenly not alone with your problems. There's help. There's support. There's encouragement."

"And she's trying to handle everything on her own," he said.

"Yes. Which is why she needs you. To understand why she's so contrary right now. And to help her in spite of that." She was silent a moment, gazing at his lean face. Then she asked, "Can you do that, John? Be there for her even when she tries to push you away?" He grinned suddenly. "Sure. I can do that. I specialize in harassment for fun and profit."

Sheila chuckled. "Well, just make sure that she doesn't take off your head!"

John snickered. "You forget. I'm used to dealing with a much bigger problem than she could ever be. My mother. And if she hasn't been able to behead me in all the years she's tried it, then I doubt if Emily will."

She was quiet for a while, but eventually she asked him, "Did you really have that much trouble with your mother, John?"

He sighed. "Yeah. She was no picnic. But that's what I wanted to ask you about! Emily told me that you met her."

"Yes, I did."

"Did she make a scene with you and Dad or something?"

"No, of course not. I went to see her."

He gave her a look. "Why?"

Sheila smiled at his tone. "Have you been in Ed's study yet?" At his nod, she continued. "Have you seen the picture of you he keeps on his desk?"

"My baby picture?" He had noticed it alongside Kathy's and Andy's.

"Yes. That's why I went to see her. Your father lost his copy when his house was destroyed."

"Destroyed? Are you kidding?"

"No. The aliens bombed it. We were able to replace everything but that photo. And it meant a lot to him."

"Bombed?" He thought a moment. "I wondered why the Monet was different. I guess I assumed it was just another quirk of this universe."

She said, "No. I bought that one for him to replace the other one. And, John. You may not want to mention anything about the Monet to Paul Foster, okay?"

"Why not?"

"It's a bit of a sore point with him." At his raised brow, she added, "Don't ask!"

He nodded, then said, "So Dad lost everything, including my baby picture. And you went to my mother to get him another copy?"

"Yes." He looked a little incredulous, and she had to stifle a giggle. "She wasn't so bad, John. And she let me copy her picture so that Ed would have it."

John shook his head in amazement. "I don't think we can possibly be talking about the same woman here. My mother? Doing something nice for Dad? At your request? I don't buy it."

Sheila sighed. "John, you grew up with her, so you must know ways of getting around her. You know, to get what you want from her."

He grimaced. "Sure. You butter her up a whole lot, buy her something that she's been asking for, and hope like hell that she's softened up enough to grant your request."

She chuckled. "I can see that you did it the hard way."

He was speechless for a moment. Finally he asked, "You mean, there's an easy way?"

"Surely you know the way her mind works, John. It's just a matter of strategy. Advance and retreat. You understand that, don't you?"

"Yes. But I don't see how knowing the way she thinks would help me get her to do anything for me."

Sheila said, "Can you accept this axiom: that people tend to think that everyone else sees the world the same way that they do?"

After a long pause while he considered that, he nodded. "Okay."

She spread her hands. "The rest is simple. I put myself in her shoes and figured that she would see me as an adversary from the beginning."

"She would," he agreed.

"So I was as nonthreatening as I could be."

He just raised a brow at her.

Sheila sighed. "Look, John. All I had to do was find common ground. Something that we could both agree on. Once I did, the rest was easy."

"Easy? I think you were lucky to get out of the house alive!"

She grinned, but shook her head. "John, she only wanted you not to be forgotten. When she saw that I was in agreement with her there, she was quite willing to help."

He just looked at her. "Oh, sure! God, Sheila! As if she was that easy to get around! You must have had some trick up your sleeve or something. Remind me never to play chess against you, okay?"

"Now you're being silly," she scolded him.

He shook his head. "No. I'm dead serious. So, maybe I can almost see why she gave you the picture. Almost. But Emily said you went back. Whatever for?"

Sheila smiled. "Because it meant so much to us to have that picture, John. It made your father very happy. And because I wanted to do her a service in return for what she had done for us."

"What did you do?"

"I took her some pictures of you that your father had from that last day. She seemed very pleased to get them."

He looked at her with a great deal of awe. "I can't believe it was as easy as you say," he said, certain that there had been more to it than that.

"I didn't say it was all easy, John. Just some of it."

"Then why put yourself through it a second time?" Sheila was kind, he knew. But kindness alone could not be a sufficient reason to go back into the lion's den.

"Because I understood her desire to have you remembered." The eyes she turned to him were shadowed. "I too had a son who had died. And I wanted him to be remembered, as well."

He drove up to the front gate of the studio, glad to be distracted from answering her long enough to swallow the sudden lump in his throat. After he parked the car, he took her hand and kissed it. "I don't know where Dad found you, Sheila. But I can certainly understand his determination to keep you. However, I still won't play chess with you."

Sheila gave him a warm smile. "We'll have to see about that, John. But I can answer your question for you. Your father found me on the moon."

ACT IV

"Well, Doctor?"

Jackson glanced at the commander for a moment before speaking, almost smiling at seeing that bland expression firmly in place. Such a reserved man, he thought. He should have been British. "The psych tests came back fine, Commander. He seems to have adapted very quickly to a great number of changes in his life. I shall want to keep an eye on him for a while to see how well he continues to adapt, but for now I would say that he is ready for assignment."

Straker nodded. He knew that a lot of the reason John found it easy to accept his new circumstances was because of Emily, but he didn't think the doctor needed to know that. "Good."

"Yes." Jackson rested his fingers under his chin in a contemplative gesture. "I am surprised, of course. He seems to have little difficulty accepting you in the place of his own father. And although he does not consider your wife as a stepmother, I believe this is because of her youthful appearance more than any animosity on his part. His feelings about Gay Sarek are another matter, and I think it would be well if he did not return to Moonbase until he has fully adjusted to this life."

The commander frowned. "I don't think he would cause any trouble, Doctor."

"Nor do I. But it would be very discouraging for him to look to her for approbation when she does not know him at all. And he has admitted that he would probably do so if he was constantly in her company. The habits of a lifetime, you see."

"Hmmm. Well, thank you for the report. He'll be assigned to Skydiver 2 for a while. Perhaps when he returns from there, he'll have a better handle on things."

"Perhaps. And how are you handling things, Commander?"

"What do you mean?"

Jackson sighed as Straker's tone cooled. "I think that perhaps you should undertake a psych evaluation yourself, since your son's appearance has no doubt disrupted your emotional balance to some degree."

"Nonsense. I'm fine."

The doctor's teeth gritted slightly. The commander had always been a difficult patient. "Come, Commander. Your son is dead, and has been for over five years. It has to be unsettling to be confronted by him, especially so much older and as a member of SHADO."

Straker's lips thinned. "How do you think I feel about that, Doctor? I'm thrilled. Don't go looking for trouble."

"You have no negative feelings whatsoever?" Jackson asked softly. "No guilt? No regrets?"

The commander stiffened. "None that require your assistance, Doctor. I am quite capable of handling my own emotions, thank you. If and when I ever need your help, be assured that I will ask you for it."

"I could order it, Commander." Straker's gaze turned glacial, his tone like chipped ice. "Try it."

Jackson sighed, admitting defeat. He could only hope that Sheila was better at getting him to open up. "If you require my services, I am always here."

"Thank you." Straker turned back as he reached the door and said, "Oh, Doctor. What is the French delegate's wife's name? Do you know offhand?"

"Monsieur Duval's wife? Her name is Marguerite, I believe. I can check to be certain if you like."

"That's not necessary. Thank you, Doctor."

Jackson frowned at the closed door after he left. What had he wanted that information for?

* * *

"Say, you're a hard woman to find!"

Emily turned from contemplating the stream below the bridge and smiled. She couldn't help it. He looked so exasperated. She raised her brows and said, "Maybe I didn't want to be found."

John gave her a stern look that was belayed somewhat by the appreciation in his eyes. She definitely improved upon acquaintance, he thought. The snug green dress she wore made his mouth water, and he had a feeling that she knew it. In fact, he wondered suddenly if that hadn't been her intention. His father was right. She could give ornery a run for its money. He glanced around the park. "Not a bad place. Seems a little isolated, though."

She frowned at him. "You've never seen it before?"

He slid a glance toward her. "What do you mean?"

Emily took a breath. "This park. Isn't it in your world?"

"This is my world now," he corrected. Then he frowned, looking around him at the trees and the stream underfoot. "No. The studio never had this place. Is it for a movie or something?"

Emily shook her head. "Your dad built it."

"No kidding? What for?"

She shrugged. "Sheila said he comes here to think."

"Hmmm. And is that why you're here, Emily? To think?"

She nodded, but made no comment. He watched her for a while, then asked, "Need a sounding board?"

Emily grinned at him. "Is that what you are, John?"

"I can be."

She ran a hand through her spiky hair and gave him a rueful look. "I just don't want to sound crazy."

"Try me."

She stared at him for a moment, then said, "Ed always seems so approachable at the studio. I'm not quite sure how to approach him at HQ, though. He's different when he's in full military mode."

"Yeah," John agreed with a grin. "But he's willing to listen to the staff if they've got something to say. Is that what the deal is?"

"I'm not sure." She spread her hands in a helpless gesture. "There's been something that's been bothering me since I talked with Morita. An idea that popped into my head and won't go away. But I'm afraid to mention it to him, because it just sounds too crazy. Besides, I'd need to check my facts first before I say anything."

"Emily, Dad won't mind if your idea is crazy. He welcomes feedback from the staff. If you think it might be important, you need to tell him about it."

She grimaced. "Even if he thinks I'm bonkers?"

He chuckled. "Even then. Besides, he wouldn't tell you to your face if he thought you'd flipped your lid."

"Thanks, John. That's very reassuring!" she said dryly.

* * *

"Wow! You look stunning!" John said as he and his father entered the house.

Sheila grinned, and her husband groaned. What was it about Sheila in red that fried every brain cell he possessed? He came across the front hall and gave her a long kiss. Then he smiled at her. "John's right. You look great. Can we assume from your lovely dress that we're having company for dinner?"

She said, "Yes, you can. And they'll be here in about half an hour. You don't have a lot of time to get ready."

He sighed, knowing that his efforts to leave early this afternoon had been hopeless from the outset. There was just too much to deal with right now; not just at SHADO, but in the studio as well. But Sheila seemed to have taken their broken date in stride. "Let me put away my things, and I'll get freshened up," he said, taking his briefcase and going into the study.

She turned to John on the stairs. He was looking at her uncertainly. "I can disappear upstairs if you need me to," he said. "Or go out."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

He shrugged. "You've got company coming. I don't want to be in the way."

Her eyebrows lifted. "And since when have you been the family half-wit that we keep locked in the attic so that the neighbors don't start talking?"

John grinned. She really had a way of diffusing awkward situations. "You know what I meant, Sheila. They're your company."

"And they'll want to meet Ed's son," she said firmly. "So go upstairs and make yourself presentable, or they will think you're the half-wit."

He chuckled.

"Who's a half-wit?" murmured Straker as he put his arms around his wife from behind and nibbled on her neck. She was wearing some sinful perfume, and he felt his blood pressure rising.

Sheila met John's eyes and gave a gurgle of laughter. "You are, darling!" But she softened the blow by turning in his arms and kissing him in earnest.

Straker sighed deeply. "Have I told you recently how good you look in red?"

She laughed. "Not this week. But I don't mind repetition. Feel free to say it again."

He grinned wickedly, drawing her closer. "Do we have to have company tonight?"

"Yes, my love."

He breathed in the smell of her hair and sighed again. "How soon do you think they'll leave?"

Sheila smacked his arm. "You will behave!" she said sternly, but her eyes were twinkling.

"Will I?" he taunted and kissed her breathless.

John went upstairs grinning.

* * *

"And this is Great-grandfather Conover. Giles Augustus. It is reported that he was a bit of a rake."

Emily looked the painting over carefully. "I can believe it," she decided.

Her father chuckled. "You know, Sheila. The British are some of the worst rakes in the history of the planet. I find that so intriguing."

"Why is that, sir?" John wanted to know.

Manfred Williams shook his head. "Because, my boy. The British are such an uptight race on the whole. I must assume that when they decide to frolic, they do it in a big way to compensate for all that rigidity the rest of the time."

John winked at Cordelia Williams. "You may have something there."

Emily giggled as her mother blushed. John had easily charmed her parents over dinner, and he seemed not to mind meeting her family in force like this. She hadn't realized that he was living with his father. She had thought him too independent for that. But apparently, he was taking the time to get acquainted with his new family, and she couldn't fault him there. And she was finding him a constant delight the way he kept calling her dad sir and flirting with her mother. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt such a bubble of laughter inside her.

She watched him, admiring his beautiful profile as he talked with her aunt about one of the portraits. He was so incredible! And all hers. How had fate managed such a trick? She didn't know, but she was grateful. In spite of the fact that she hadn't felt that she was ready to settle down, she wasn't sorry that he was here. Now. In her life. If she wanted him. And oh, she did! She'd been a fool to hold him off. What had she been thinking?

She blinked as his eyes met hers. So blue, they seemed to look all the way inside her to where her deepest desires lay. And to answer them. Her breath caught, and she felt lightheaded as he came closer to her. She gazed up at him wordlessly, lost in those mesmerizing eyes.

John glanced swiftly down the gallery, where the rest of Emily's family had wandered, discussing ancestors with Dad and Sheila. He laid a trembling hand on Emily's cheek and stared into those dark, dark eyes. Without consciously thinking about it, he lowered his head and kissed her.

Sheila glanced back for a moment, then smiled and led her guests around the corner to where the more recent portraits hung.

* * *

"Does your husband ever forget things, Sheila?"

She glanced up from her salad and noticed how Marguerite was toying with her food, pushing the salad around with her fork, but not actually taking a bite. "Yes. Sometimes. Like yesterday, for instance. He was supposed to come home early, so that we could spend some time with the kids. He often gets home so late that he sees them when they're too tired or already asleep. Yesterday was supposed to be special time."

"And he forgot?"

Sheila grimaced. "Not forgot so much as just set us aside. Something important came up, so he stayed and took care of it rather than coming home."

Marguerite's eyes flashed. "I hope you told him off!"

"No." Sheila sighed. "He knows I won't make a stink about it, so he tends to take us for granted."

"And you allow this?"

Sheila grinned. "Not at all. The trick is to remind him that we are important to him. So, I had a friend come over and take pictures of us having a tea party in the nursery. I'll be picking them up later on today, and of course, I'll give one to Ed for his desk. Just to make him feel as though he was there, you know."

Marguerite laughed. "You are a cruel woman! He will not think he was there. He will wish he had been there!"

Sheila spread her hands innocently. "I can't help it if he misunderstands, Marguerite. I wouldn't dream of making him feel guilty."

Her friend shook her head at her. "Very subtle, Sheila. I would not have thought it of you."

"I know." Sheila propped her chin on her hand. "I'm not subtle, really. I'm usually far too direct! But I suppose Ed has been wearing off on me. He's the king of subtlety."

Marguerite nodded wisely. "They do wear off on you. Now, me? I was not a romantic. But Pierre was always the romantic. He would bring a flower in to me before going to work every morning since our wedding. He never forgot, not in twenty-seven years of marriage. And, me? Now I cry because he does it no longer. Now who is the romantic, n'est--ce pas?"

"He forgets?" she asked with a frown.

The Frenchwoman shrugged, looking away. "He is busy, perhaps. I do not know."

Sheila laid a hand over Marguerite's restless one on the table. "Marguerite."

Her friend met her eyes, a deep pain in her face. "Oh, Sheila! He is so changed. He frightens me!"

"What do you mean? Has he hit you?"

Marguerite shook her head, blinking rapidly to keep from crying. "No! No! Pierre would never do such a thing. It is far, far worse! I do not know him anymore! I look into his face, and I see a stranger! A terrifying stranger!" She bit on a knuckle to hold back the sobs.

Sheila was out of her chair and around the table in a flash, enfolding her friend in her arms and saying soothingly, "It's all right. Let's go back to the hotel, Marguerite. Everything will be fine. You'll see." She half- led, half-carried her friend to the limousine that awaited them outside the restaurant. And she hoped that Marguerite did not notice how worried she was.

* * *

Shaw was glad to get home. The sight of his house was always welcome after a long day of work, but today he had taken off early, tired from the restless nights he'd been having. And it was still a welcome sight. Because Beatrice would be waiting for him inside, ready to tell him about her day and to settle him in his favorite chair with a newspaper. He smiled, already hearing her soothing voice in his mind.

He got out of the car and blinked, his mind swept clean at the sight of the gun pointed at his chest. He looked up and felt his blood crystalize in his veins. It was Pierre Duval who held the gun. But it was not Duval; that much was clear in the completely blank eyes that stared at him from that mask-like face. He repressed a shudder. How had he missed that at the meeting? "Duval? What is this?" he asked, knowing it was useless to try and reach the man, but unable to keep from trying.

"You will come with me," intoned the man.

A thought struck Shaw, and he glanced quickly at the house. Had Duval...? "My wife?"

"She will be unharmed if you come quietly," Duval answered in that same dead voice.

Shaw nodded, trying to keep his relief from showing. Beatrice was all right then. For now. "What do you want with me?" he asked, but he already knew.

Duval only motioned to him with the gun to head toward the road, where Shaw assumed the man's car was parked. It took everything in him to turn his back to that gun and the creature who held it. He started for the road, his flesh crawling with fear and loathing. When the blow to his head came, he almost welcomed it.

ACT V

"What's wrong, Emily?" She paced his office, unable to sit down for worrying. "Ed, I have this really wild idea, and I need to tell you about it."

"All right."

She glanced at him for a moment, but did not stop pacing. "It's just that it's really wild. And I don't know if I'm just paranoid, or if there's really something to be concerned about here."

"Why don't you tell me, and let me decide whether to be concerned or not?" he said calmly.

Emily took a deep breath and abruptly sat down. "Okay." She ran her hands through her spiky hair, trying to organize her thoughts. "Morita told me that the commission rejected the proposal for the new satellite system. And she also mentioned that they had never done that before."

Straker nodded. "That's true. But I suppose there is a first time for everything."

"Yes, but..." She sighed and said, "It rang a bell with me, and so I finally looked it up in the database. Something like this happened on Arcturus several centuries ago. They had an enemy that was trying to take over the political government of their planet and had been unsuccessful through ordinary means. Campaigning, elections; that sort of thing. Well, they finally infiltrated the upper echelon of the political structure by replacing the officials with their own people in disguise. And the populace never realized what was going on, the infiltration was so subtle. Eventually, the laws began to sway more in the enemy's favor, granting them citizenship and then greater and greater freedoms. In the end, the planet was completely conquered. Without any battles being fought."

Straker stared at her, thinking hard. "And you think...?"

"I know it sounds crazy! But it just hit me wrong, you know? Morita said that they did everything right, and the council still refused it. Doesn't that sound wrong to you?"

He ran a weary hand over his eyes. "Yes, Emily. It does. And for the record, I don't think you're idea is crazy at all. In fact..."

His phone rang, and he picked it up. "Yes, Grace?"

"Sir, your wife wants to speak to you. She says it's urgent."

He frowned. "Put her on."

"Ed?"

"What is it, Sheila?"

"I just left Marguerite in the hands of her maid. Ed, she's quite distraught. She says that her husband is not himself. Now, I know this may sound bizarre, but..."

He leaned forward. "No. It doesn't sound bizarre, Sheila. Where are you?"

"I'm on my way back to the studio."

"All right. Pick me up at the main doors."

"Okay. Where are we going?"

"To see Shaw." He hung up the phone and turned a grim face to Emily. "The French delegate's wife says her husband is changed."

She gasped. "Oh, my God!"

"Apparently, your paranoia is infectious." He stood up and took his gun from the drawer, checking the clip and fitting it into its holster under his jacket with the ease of long practice. The gaze he turned on Emily was hard. "I don't want you to mention this to anyone, Emily. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." She could not have refused him anything at that moment. She kept thinking, This is the man in charge of the world. Not the smiling man she normally spoke with, but this man. And her awe knew no bounds. She followed him silently from the office.

* * *

"Do you think it's possible?" she asked him as she drove.

"More than possible. I think they've subjugated the council, or at least a part of it. They've certainly had the opportunity."

"You mean, because of the blind spots."

"Yes."

"But, Ed. How did they learn about the commission? That information isn't readily available, even to SHADO personnel."

"I realize that, Sheila. But Security knows about them, since they're the ones who are assigned to protect them."

"My God! And you think...?"

His face tightened. "It couldn't be anyone else. Shaw's got a leak in the IAC itself. And somehow we've got to plug it, and fast!" He picked up the phone and called Shaw's office. When he hung up, he said curtly, "Turn right at the next street. Shaw left early. He's at home." Sheila shared a worried glance with him, but said nothing as she turned and headed out of the city.

* * *

"That's Duval's car," she said as they drove down Shaw's street.

Straker said tersely, "Park behind it."

Almost before the car was stopped, he was getting out, his gun in his hand. Sheila shut off the car with a snap and got her gun from the glove compartment. Together they headed for the general's house.

Tall hedges shielded the front yard from passersby, so they divided up. Sheila went toward the driveway while Straker skirted the hedges to go to the back of the house. He hadn't gone very far when he heard Sheila say softly, "Ed!"

In a moment he was around the hedges and heading back toward her. She lowered her gun and walked up the driveway. As he reached the driveway, he saw Sheila kneel down beside the sprawled body of the French delegate. Nearby, General Shaw was slumped against his car, bleeding from a head wound. Straker went to him. "Shaw! General!"

Shaw's eyes opened slowly and tried to focus. "Straker? Is that you?"

"Yes, General. No, don't try to get up. We'll get you some help." He looked at Sheila, who was getting up from where she had been kneeling. She shook her head. Duval was dead.

"Beatrice," Shaw said. "Inside. Please..."

"Of course, General," Sheila told him and headed to the house. She wasn't quite sure what to expect when she knocked. It was always possible that Duval had already been in the house.

But the woman who answered the door seemed unaware of any crisis. "Yes? Why, Sheila! What are you doing here?"

"Hello, Beatrice. May I come in for a moment?"

"Of course, my dear. Why, isn't that Charles' car? Is he home? What...?"

Sheila put out a hand to stop her from going outside. "Please, Beatrice. It's not a good idea for you to go outside right now." At the alarm that sprang into the older woman's eyes, she said, "Your husband will be all right. May I use your phone?"

Mrs. Shaw pointed to it wordlessly, worried but accepting the situation for now.

Sheila got through to HQ and said, "We need an ambulance."

* * *

Straker shook Shaw's shoulder slightly. "Try to stay awake, General." He was holding his handkerchief to the head wound, but it was still bleeding sluggishly.

Shaw's eyes obediently opened again, and he blinked at the commander. Then he glanced at his hand with a small frown.

Straker looked at his hand, grabbing Shaw's arm at the wrist and turning it to get a clearer view of what he held. It was a small round metallic device that fit into the palm, anchored in place by two loops that went around the fingers. It looked harmless, but Straker doubted very much that it was. "What is it?"

Shaw sighed, almost too weak to answer. "My grandfather's. Brought it with him. Thought he might need it. Planet of primitives." He gave a ghost of a smile.

Straker absorbed that, looking once more at the body lying on the driveway before saying, "Then you knew?"

"No. Not for certain. Didn't want to. Too horrible to believe. Knew I could be next. If it was true. Wanted to be prepared."

"How does it work?"

"Rather like a tazer. Only more powerful. Quite a jolt."

The commander frowned as he heard sirens in the distance. "You may not want Jackson to get his hands on that."

Shaw looked blankly at him for a moment, then gave that weak smile again. "Keep it for me?"

"Certainly." Straker gingerly removed it from Shaw's hand and slipped it into his jacket's inner pocket.

Shaw's brows drew together. "Beatrice?"

"I'm sure she's fine. Sheila's with her. You can see her later. All right?"

The older man nodded, too weak to argue. The ambulance pulled up at that point, and the medics took over. After it drove off with Duval's body and the general, Straker walked up to the house to collect his wife, trying not to dwell on how close a shave they had just experienced. If Shaw hadn't been alert to the danger... He thought of Emily's words: An entire planet, conquered without a battle being fought. He let the shudder pass before ringing the doorbell.

* * *

"So, tell me more about Emily's childhood. What else did she get in trouble for?" Emily smacked his arm and said, "Mother! Not another word. There are things he really doesn't need to know."

Cordelia Williams smiled and took a bite of custard. Her husband winked at his daughter and asked, "Was there anything in particular you were wanting to know, John?"

"Yes. Where did she get this fixation with Marvin the Martian?"

Manfred laughed. "That's an easy one. Emily was enamored with Saturday morning cartoons from the time we arrived. By the time she had entered her teens, however, she was very selective about which ones she considered worth watching. But Looney Tunes always stayed at the top of her list. She couldn't get enough of that little alien."

"That's because I wanted to meet him," Emily said. "I figured that he and I had a lot in common, so I wanted to chat with him. And especially, I wanted to try out his gun."

John snickered and said in a nasal voice, "Ewww. The Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator."

Emily grinned, and her father lifted his brows. "Obviously, someone else enjoyed those cartoons, as well."

"Of course," John replied. "I even had them on video. My roommate Greg used to laugh at me for having them on all the time. For about five minutes. Until he got hooked and sat down to watch them too."

"Who was your favorite, John?" Emily asked him.

He grinned. "Who do you think? Speedy Gonzales. That's where my nickname came from. Greg used to say that my vocabulary consisted of two words: Andale! Andale!"

She giggled. "Did you retaliate?"

"Oh, yeah. I called him Slowpoke Rodriguez every chance I got." His grin faded after a moment as he remembered his friend's death. Emily's hand crept over to cover his on the table, and he smiled softly at her.

"So, what do you do at the studio?" Cordelia asked after a moment.

"I've just started in the special effects department," John answered, unable to keep the excitement out of his voice. Or his eyes. He definitely didn't have his dad's poker face. "It's fascinating work."

"Then you'll be staying in London?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied, not sure why she was asking for a minute until he saw the look she exchanged with her husband. He turned to Emily with a grin only to find her rolling her eyes.

"Mother!" She folded her arms. "Why don't you ask him what his salary is while you're at it?"

"Now, Emily," her father said. "There's no need to be impertinent."

Emily gave John a look. "See what I mean about family? They can be such a pain!"

John winked at Cordelia and said, "Really? I have no idea why you would think that, Emily."

EPILOGUE

"What did you think of him, dear?"

Manfred buttoned his pajama top thoughtfully. "I like him. He's got spirit." He gave his wife a wry look. "And he'll need it to deal with Emily."

She nodded, running the brush through her hair as she considered. "He seemed a bit too spirited to be happy working only with special effects. I would picture him elsewhere. In a cockpit somewhere. Or on the deck of a ship."

Her husband came over and ran a hand through her curls, watching her in the vanity mirror. "Yes. I know. He has that air of command. But we would be wise to allow him his masquerade, my dear."

Cordelia met his eyes in the mirror. "You don't think he's just a film studio person either, do you ?"

"No," her husband said with a sigh. "And neither do I think Emily is wasting her education."

She frowned. "No. She wouldn't. What do you think is going on, dear?"

Manfred shrugged. "There is no way to know for certain. But I saw the way Emily looked at John's father the other night. And it made me wonder."

Cordelia gasped. "You think she is in love with his father?"

"No. She is as aware as we are, my dear, that John is her match. I'm talking about something else entirely. Didn't you notice? She gives him the same adoring gaze that she has always given her favorite military leaders in history. Remember how she used to go on and on about Alexander the Great? Caesar?"

She was silent for a while. Then she said, "Manfred, do you think...?"

"Yes, my dear. I do," he answered firmly. "But it is not our place to know such things, so we will say no more about it. And especially not to our daughter."

She sighed and got up from the vanity stool to put her arms around her husband. "Then we shall simply tell her how proud we are of her and leave it at that."

Later, as her husband put out the bedside lamp, she said, "Manfred, do you think she's in any danger?"

He frowned. "In her work, you mean? I don't know. But I shouldn't worry too much about it, my dear. She has a fierce protector in the person of her young man. Not to mention her boss."

She settled back against the pillow. "Yes, you're right. She's in good hands, isn't she?" Her dark eyes met his in the darkness. "We'll have to make sure we tour the studio before we leave."

Manfred grinned. "Naturally, my dear."

* * *

"So, Duval wasn't the only one they got hold of."

Dr. Jackson glanced at the commander. "No. The American delegate was also under their control. We have taken care of the situation."

Straker sat back in his chair and linked his hands. "And how did the rest of the council take it?"

Jackson permitted himself a small grimace. "They were understandably upset. Especially the Canadian delegate. We caught the American committee member on route to Canada, you see."

The commander nodded. "And the leak?"

"Was the head of Security Section B. Louis Lathrop."

Straker frowned. "Isn't he the man who committed suicide just this week?"

"Yes."

"And you don't find that a little suspect, Doctor?"

Jackson's fingers rested under his chin. "We know that the aliens are not able to establish a complete hold on those they control, Commander. It is quite possible that Lathrop realized what he was being used for and took the only way out."

Straker met those reptilian eyes, and his lips thinned. "At least, that's what you will put in your report. Is that right?"

"Yes, Commander."

"I see."

Jackson looked away from those piercing eyes and said, "I understand the general has been released from the hospital."

"Yes." Straker smiled for the first time since Jackson had entered his office. He well remembered how jovial Shaw had been when his wife came to take him home, begging her for his favorite supper and acting very similar to a starved puppy. Straker had hidden a grin, realizing that the show was for Beatrice's benefit. Her worried look had faded completely by the time they had put her husband in the car, and she had been giving suggestions for a meal that would have been more than an army could have handled. The commander wondered if Shaw had been able to do justice to it?

"I still have a few questions about the results of the autopsy on Duval to discuss with him," the doctor said. "I shall have an opportunity to speak with him in a few days, I'm sure."

"Of course," the commander said at his most bland. "Have you come up with a way to keep this situation from happening again, Doctor?"

"I think so. We can adapt my original brainwave scanning device to fit the metal detector systems in the IAC building. The council members will be able to be routinely scanned each time they enter the boardroom without any trouble whatsoever."

"And without their knowledge," Straker added tersely.

Jackson spread his hands. "Commander, surely you realize how necessary that part of the setup is? If they know they are being monitored, it gives the aliens a chance in the future to come up with methods of defeating the scan."

Straker pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yes, I understand, Jackson. But that doesn't mean I have to like it." He was silent for a moment, then asked, "And what about Security?"

The doctor took a breath. "We have increased security around all the council members, Commander."

"That's not what I meant."

"Ah! You were referring to the Security Department. We are in the process of testing every one of the operatives as a drill exercise. We should know if there are any other problems within the next few days."

"I trust none of them will commit suicide before we have a chance to talk to them?"

Jackson looked swiftly at him, but met only that bland gaze. He nodded. "We can only hope so, Commander."

"Good. When you are through with them, I want every one of our operatives to undergo the test, as well."

"Isn't that a bit paranoid?" Jackson asked with a raised brow.

Straker said, "They got too damned close this time, Jackson! The only way to keep such a thing from happening again is to be just a little more paranoid than we've been. Schedule the tests."

"Very well." The doctor started for the door, then turned back to ask, "Will you also be taking the test, Commander?"

Straker's jaw tightened, but he said, "Naturally, Doctor. Put me at the top of the list."

Jackson's eyes momentarily registered his admiration for that comeback, but were swiftly veiled as he lowered them and bowed out of the office.