6. Need to Know

(A UFO Story)

written by Denise Felt

copyright 2001


"Will it affect your work, Delores?" Commander Straker asked quietly.

"No, sir," she assured him. Then she grinned. "I won't let it."

He shook his head at her. "You do realize the trouble you're asking for, don't you?"

"If love was easy, everybody would be trying it," she replied cheekily.

He chuckled. "Remember that next time, Delores. Preferably, before you punch him."

"Yes, sir. I'll try." She stood up. "Thanks for listening. And for not telling me my cause is hopeless."

Straker smiled sweetly. "I would never do so, Lieutenant."

* * *

After briefing Alec Freeman on the morning's events, Straker went to his studio office and took the room up to ground level. He had a headache, but he was doing his best to ignore it. Lately, it seemed as though he was doing that a lot. He wasn't used to being sick and hated the thought of being incapacitated in any way. So he ignored the body aches that told him that all was not well and hoped that they'd go away on their own. He'd been sleeping better for a couple of months now. Surely that should help his system fight off whatever this was that was trying to get him down.

Miss Eeland brought in his mail. "You've got a letter from Michael Miller of Washburn Studios and one from Deirdre Snow." She handed him two envelopes, one of them heavily scented and pink. He took them, grimacing at the smell of perfume. "The rest I can take care of for you. Except this one. You might want to open it yourself."

He took the large envelope from her, frowning at how thin it was. "Who's it from?"

"It doesn't say," she answered. "I think it's just a photograph. It's too thin to include a resume."

Straker said, "What actor would send just a photo?"

Miss Eeland gave him an arch look. "Maybe it's from a blackmailer."

He lifted a brow at her and tore open the envelope. He stiffened as he gazed at the large glossy picture. It was a color photograph of a wooded area. Broken tree branches and metallic debris indicated that it was the site of a UFO crash. Written across the bottom corner in a silver marker used for signing autographs was one sentence: We need to talk. The handwriting looked vaguely familiar, and he frowned, trying to place it. Then he looked closer at the treeline and recognized the area. He slowly got up from his chair. "I'll be out for the rest of the day, Miss Eeland," he said as he headed for the door. "Cancel my appointments, won't you?"

"Yes, sir," she answered, wondering what had been in the photo to give him that grim look.

* * *

"Where are you going?" Alec asked.

Dee looked around, but didn't stop walking toward the elevator. "Mr. Rogers wanted me to look in on the shoot this morning. I was just heading over there now."

Freeman frowned. "Your shift doesn't end for another four hours, does it?"

"Commander Straker okayed it," she told him, entering the elevator as the door opened.

He held the door, keeping it from closing, and gave her a hard look. "I wanted to talk to you."

"Talk away," she invited airily, knowing that he would not avail himself of the opportunity in the corridor.

He gritted his teeth. "I wanted to apologize, damn it!"

Dee's heart turned over, but she kept her expression cool. "What for?"

"Don't be an idiot!" he fumed. "For what I said about you and Foster."

She lifted an ironic brow. "Apology accepted."

"Listen..." he began, then had to step back as Ayshea entered the elevator.

"Are you going up, Colonel Freeman?" she asked with her customary smile.

"No, thanks," he replied and stepped back as the elevator closed. He was left glaring impotently at the doors as the elevator headed up to ground level.

* * *

"Hey, Dee!" Max Fenig hollered from the table as she entered the soundstage. She waved back and headed to where the team was going over scenes from an upcoming episode of Encounters.

"Hi, guys," she said, "Where's Mr. Rogers?"

"Right here, kiddo," he said from behind her. She turned to see him holding a rolled-up script in his hand. "Come into the office for a minute."

She followed him into the small room next to the set that the team lovingly called "the hot box." It was usually used only by the director and Rogers when they were fussing over a script. Or when an actor was getting hauled over the carpet about something. Hence the nickname. He gestured to a chair, and she sat down.

"I thought you might like to go over the storyline before we finish up the script," he told her, handing her the script he carried. "If there's anything you need us to add or delete, we have to know before next Friday. That's when we start shooting."

"Okay," she answered, looking at the script title and trying to remain detached.

Rogers laid a large hand on her shoulder. "Take all the time you need, kiddo," he said. "It's your story."

Her eyes were a bit misty when she looked up at him. "Thank you, Mr. Rogers. I'll get it back to you quickly." She left the soundstage without stopping to chat further with the team. She had been given the rest of the day off by her commander in order to look over the script, and she meant to do exactly that. Dee just hoped it wouldn't take all day to get the courage to read it.


"Mr. Straker, Miss," the housekeeper announced and ushered Straker into the library.

"Thank you, Madeline," Sheila said quietly from the window. "That will be all."

"Yes, Miss." The housekeeper closed the door behind her.

Straker looked at the woman standing near the floor length window. He hadn't seen her for two weeks, when they'd spent a morning wandering around a street market, finding the most outlandish items they could to furnish a fictitious vacation home. It had been a wonderful day, one that he hadn't wanted to end. But it had been difficult, as well. He hadn't done very well at keeping his distance. His self control had been in shreds by noon, and he'd told her he had to get back to work. It had been a desperate excuse. He'd sat in his office staring at the walls for the rest of the afternoon. But he knew that, given the chance, he'd spend time with her again.

He walked over to the couches and laid the photo on the coffee table. She had not looked at him since he had entered the room, and he wondered if she was blaming him for the things that she had remembered. God knew, she had the right. "How much do you remember?" he asked.

No hello. No inquiry about the state of her health. Not even a comment on the weather. Just the interrogation. She sent him a searing look before returning her gaze to the rain beyond the window. "Go to hell."

Straker lifted a brow at her fierceness. "I was under the impression that you wanted to see me," he said.

She turned from the window and walked over to the couches. He could see that she had been crying, and it shook him badly. "Who do you think you are?" she asked harshly. "Every time I think I know you, I find out that I'm wrong. That you're someone else entirely."

"That's not true, Sheila."

"It is true!" she replied. "Why do you toy with me?"

He spread his hands. "I don't know what you mean. I never play games, Sheila. And certainly not with you."

She gave him a hard look, cocking her head to the side. "You do that very well. It's amazing how sincere you sound."

Straker stiffened. "What have I done to deserve this? If you're going to accuse me, at least tell me what I've done."

She sank onto the couch with a sigh, running a hand through her hair. "For four years, I've lived with the possibility of madness hanging over my head. The doctors told me that there was some minor brain damage from the concussion; nothing I needed to worry about. But I've worried anyway." She looked up at him. "Everything just seemed off, not quite right in a way that I couldn't pinpoint. I realize that some of that was because I was living a life that wasn't my own. But even accepting that I wasn't Sheila Conover didn't make things seem normal. Then I met you." Her gaze hardened. "And you lied to me."

"I never lied to you."

"Do you honestly think that your silence absolves you from any blame? You knew, you knew why I thought the things I did. When I told you about thinking I'd been on the moon, I'd never told anyone else that. I didn't want to sound crazy. But I told you. And did you say, Of course the moon seems familiar to you, Sheila. After all, you were an astronaut? No! You said nothing! You let me go on believing that my mind couldn't be trusted.

"And when I wanted to salute you--- do you remember?--- did you tell me that was because you were more than a film producer, and working at some film studio wasn't really my main job? Damn it, Ed! I worked for you. Didn't I deserve to know the truth?"

He suddenly remembered the last fight he and his father had a few months ago. He'd been so furious at his father's refusal to answer the million questions he had about who he really was. And later, his father had been shocked to realize that he'd known all along that he was alien. Andrew had only been trying to protect his son from the truth. But instead, the knowledge had been a constant thorn in Straker's side, because he couldn't be sure. He looked at Sheila, seeing the same frustrated anger in her eyes that he had felt for so long toward his father. He ran a hand over his face. "Yes, Sheila. You deserved to know the truth," he said tiredly.

"Then, why? Why didn't you tell me, Ed?"

He sat down on the couch across from her. "I was trying to protect you."

Her dark eyes searched his face. "From what?"

He lifted the photo from the coffee table and showed it to her. "From that."

She took a breath. "Do you really think it's harder for me to deal with the idea of being abducted by aliens than the thought of being insane?"

"I didn't realize that you were thinking along those lines," he said. "You seemed to be happy in your new life. I just wanted you to be able to enjoy it without being bothered by ghosts from the past."

She leaned forward. "Instead, those ghosts were constantly with me. They made me doubt my rationality."

"I'm sorry."

Sheila closed her eyes for a moment. "Do you have any idea how strange it was to walk around that studio, knowing that there was more there than I could see, but unable to grasp just what it was? To be certain that there was another world beneath the facade, if only I could find the way there? It terrified me to be so sure, when it was just a studio!" She shook her head wearily. "And now to realize that I was right. I was right! Every crazy thought--- every bizarre dream--- they were real."

"Surely you know that I never meant to cause you so much worry," Straker said raggedly. "I couldn't bear the thought of you remembering what they put you through. My one desire was to shield you from that pain. Not to bring you more pain."

She looked at him. "I do know that," she said finally. "I've always known that you wanted to protect me, even from my own memories." She ran a trembling hand through her hair. "But I needed to know the truth, Ed. How else could I deal with the nightmares? Do you know what frightened me the most about them?"

He swallowed. "No."

"The apparent symbolism. The trees that were all stunted and grotesque. The sky that was such a sickly yellow. My counselor thought it was some Freudian reference to things too horrible to remember, but it wasn't! It wasn't Earth! It was another planet!" She threw up her hands. "So simple, don't you see? And the man in my nightmares. I had such a hard time accepting that anyone could be so completely without mercy or any human capacity for compassion. It hurt so much, making me leery of everyone I met."

She drew a breath. "But he wasn't human! I can't tell you how good that feels to know! I realize that you probably thought the truth would be too much for me, that I couldn't take knowing I'd been on an alien planet for seven years. But it calms me, instead. Because now I know that I'm not crazy. That every strange image, every odd thought was actually a memory trying to resurface. I wasn't losing my mind. I was regaining it."

"What made you remember?" he asked quietly.

Sheila gave him an ironic glance as she got up from the couch. She returned to the window and stood watching the rain. "I haven't remembered, Ed."

He was startled. "Then...?"

Her smile was twisted. "It's just that the memories that I do have finally make sense." When he continued to look baffled, she explained. "The family solicitors came by a few days ago. They brought me a packet from Dad. The photo I sent you was included, as well as a long letter." She smiled sadly. "He said six months was long enough for me to mourn him. He thought I might want to know the truth about myself." She came back to the couch and leaned on the back of it. "He thought I was an alien, you see."

Straker took a deep breath. "I'm sure he had reason," he said, thinking about the UFO crash and her rapid healing qualities.

She nodded. "But I knew from talking to you that I was quite human. I even knew my real name. So I looked me up."

"And found out that you were an astronaut."

"Yes. And an American, which seems rather odd to me." She cocked her head to the side. "Isn't that funny?"

He shrugged. "Not really. You've believed that you were British for four years."

"It just seems like such a silly thing to be surprised about," she said. "Anyway, once I knew that my career did not revolve around a film studio, I wondered what I was doing there. I recalled from looking you up before that you were retired from the Air Force, and Paul had told me that he was ex-RAF." She shrugged. "So I decided that Harlington-Straker Film Studios was exactly as my mind kept telling me it was: something more. And from your obsession with secrecy, it was obvious that it was military in nature."

Straker smiled. "You always were an excellent puzzle-solver."

She grinned at him. "I just wish you weren't constantly hiding the puzzle pieces from me! Maybe I'd have figured it out sooner."

He sighed. "You do realize that you'll have to be debriefed now?"

She nodded. "Yes. I'm ready."

He stood and gazed at her for a long moment. "Are you sure, Sheila?"

She came to him, laying a hand on his arm, needing what the contact made her feel. "Ed, my nightmares will be much easier to face now that I know the truth. I survived everything that happened to me. I'm certain that I can survive remembering it."

"What if it drives you mad?" he asked quietly, voicing an ever present fear.

"Then you'll just have to come visit me in Bedlam," she answered saucily. "Ed, I'm tougher than I look. I'll be okay."

He laid a hand on her cheek. "I don't want to lose you altogether."

She smiled. "You mean like, half a loaf is better than none?"

Straker grinned at her analogy. "Exactly."

Sheila placed her hand over his on her cheek. "You won't lose me, Ed. I've got a saying of my own for you. The truth will set you free."

He gave her a tender kiss that had her throat closing on tears. "May I use your phone?"

She nodded, unable to speak.

He dialed the number to the hospital. "Dr. Jackson? Can you free up your afternoon?"

Jackson replied quietly, wondering what Commander Straker wanted that was so urgent, "If it is important, yes."

Straker looked at Sheila. "I'm bringing in Col. Austin."

Sheila lifted a brow at the rank. Straker winked at her. There was a short silence, then Jackson's voice came over the line, "I'll be ready when you arrive, Commander."

* * *

"Did you like my mysterious summons?" Sheila asked him as the car headed toward the main road.

He slanted her a look from the driver's seat. She was grinning, and he lifted a brow at her. "Wouldn't it have been easier to phone?"

"I suppose. Or I could have just dropped in." She shrugged. "But I didn't want to upset your secretary again."

"I see."

"She knew me, didn't she? I mean, from when I worked for you?" Sheila asked quietly.

He nodded. "Yes."

She gave him a look beneath her lashes. "She's very pretty."

His glance was exasperated. "No, I am not having an affair with my secretary," he told her firmly.

She choked on a giggle. "Ed! I wasn't implying anything!"

"Weren't you?" he asked grimly.

"No." She gave him a saucy look. "I was teasing you. Are you always so defensive?"

He thought about Mary's numerous accusations over the course of their ten year marriage and sighed. "Not usually."

Sheila patted his arm. "Besides, I think secretaries get a bad rap. It's such a stereotype, you know. It's hardly fair."

He slanted her a look. "You should talk to Chris."

She smiled, seeing his expression lighten. "Who's he?"

"My brother. And yes, you met him once a long time ago."

"Does he believe that secretaries are misrepresented in society too?"

He grinned. "Not exactly. He's usually firing one for coming on to him."

Sheila laughed. "The poor man!" She looked at Ed for a moment, then asked, "Does he look like you?"

Straker frowned. "What does that matter?"

She rolled her eyes. "It matters a lot if he's as handsome as you."

"I am not handsome," he asserted, flushing slightly.

She bit back a giggle. "No, you're right," she said in a serious tone. "You're not handsome. Paul would be called handsome." His sidelong glance was so stern that she grinned. "In strictly feminine parlance, you would be called gorgeous." She laughed at his horrified expression.

After several minutes, she asked him, "What will happen after the debriefing, Ed?"

He sighed. "I don't know. A lot depends on how it goes."

She bit her lip. "If it goes well, will I go back to work for you?"

"Possibly," he said. "Although you already have a successful career."

She smiled. "So do you, and you seem to manage."

Straker thought of Alec's recent complaints about his friend's workload. "It's not easy."

"I'm sure I'll adapt."

"What about when your band goes on tour?" he asked.

She shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I'll handle it when the time comes." She watched the rain outside the window for a moment. "Will I get to go to the moon?"

The car swerved and was quickly brought back under control. Sheila looked at his hands clenched on the wheel and decided that she'd asked the wrong question. After staring at his grim face for a moment, she said meekly in a broad accent, "That's all right. I'll get by with a small cell to do the countin' and a spot o' coal to warm me hands."

He glanced swiftly at her, and his expression softened to a smile. "I doubt it will come to that. I'm hardly Scrooge, Sheila."

She grinned. "Of course not." She added sweetly, "Ebenezer."

His smile widened, but he made no comment as he pulled into the hospital parking lot. He parked the car, but made no move to get out. When he looked at her, his expression was grave.

Before he could say anything, she laid her hand on his and said, "I love you, Ed."

He closed his eyes. "Don't, Sheila."

Her hand tightened around his. "Yes. I need to tell you. I know you're worried, but it will be all right. Really."

He realized with dismay that she was handling this much better than he was. She wasn't worried about the changes that would come from being brought back to SHADO. How could she be? She didn't remember how dangerous her life had been. But he knew. And it shamed him to realize just how afraid he was. He squeezed her hand tightly before releasing it. "Let's get this over with, shall we?"

* * *

When she looked through the peephole and saw Alec standing outside her door, Delores wanted to scream. This was hardly a good time. However, barring a miracle or a stroke of lightning, she wasn't going to get rid of him. So, she sighed and opened the door.

"Delores! What's wrong?" he asked, taking her by the arms and looking closely at her tear-streaked face.

She shrugged him off, pulling a handkerchief out of the pocket of her fuzzy robe and blowing her nose. "I'm fine, Col. Freeman," she lied. "What can I do for you?"

He hated women's tears. In fact, he made it a strict policy to terminate any and all relationships before they came to that stage. But this woman had kept him tied in knots since the first time they'd met. Nothing about their relationship could be considered normal. Hell, they didn't even have a relationship! They'd never stopped arguing long enough to start one. "Stop being foolish!" he said. "It's obvious that you're not fine. What's going on?"

She glared at him, stepping close. Her mass of red curls barely came up to his chin. "If you call me an idiot or a fool one more time, I'll deck you!"

Alec grinned. That was better. Anger he could handle. "Not this time," he told her.

Dee had the grace to blush. "Then stop pissing me off," she said much more mildly as she went over and sat on the futon. She tucked her tiny feet under the hem of her robe, and Alec was sorry to see them disappear. He had found their naked petiteness oddly erotic. "What do you want?" she asked.

He leaned on the stereo console that took up most of the small room. Her studio apartment was very tiny, he thought. But then, its occupant wasn't very large herself. "I wanted to apologize," he said.

She lifted a brow at him. "I thought you did that already."

Alec consciously kept from grinding his teeth. "I wanted to make sure that you understood. I don't want things to be difficult between us, Delores. We have to work together for the next million years or so. I like to get along with everybody."

"Well, I accepted your apology," she said with a shrug, "but I can't say that I understand why you said what you did. It was crude and uncalled for."

Freeman rubbed his jaw in memory. "Yes. That's what I gathered by your response," he said dryly. "I was worried about you. You're new to SHADO. And Foster can be a little... overwhelming."

Dee's smile was as sharp as a knife. "And why should that concern you?"

"Because you might not realize that everything's a game to him!"

She looked him right in the eye. "And what is that to you?"

Because I care about you. He blinked in shock. Had those words almost come out of his mouth? He looked at the woman on the futon and felt the walls closing in on him. "Nothing," he said as he straightened. "Nothing at all." He headed for the door. He turned as he reached it, frowning at her as he had a sudden thought. "Why were you crying when I came in? Was it because I'd upset you?"

She'd seen the shock in his face and was encouraged. Dee leaned back against the cushions and said quietly, "No, it was something else."

He came back to her and took her chin in a gentle hand, staring into her face for a moment. "Is there anybody whose lights I can punch out for you?" he asked softly.

Dee caught her breath at the tender expression in his eyes and found herself leaning toward him. She stiffened. No way was she going to succumb to his potent charm. That only led to madness. So she jerked out of his hold and said with a lift of her chin, "I don't cry over men."

"Good for you," he replied and flexed his hand, wondering why he could still feel her soft skin on his fingers. "So, what happened to upset you?"

She shrugged. "Just some ghosts," she said quietly.

Freeman's brows lifted. "Get real."

Dee looked up at him. "Are you never haunted by mistakes of the past, Alec?"

"Yeah," he sighed, "all the time." He ran a hand through his hair. "Just recently, in fact." At her inquiring look, he said, "I was a little late getting the Mobiles to a UFO site several months ago. A woman died."

She looked at his bleak expression, then asked, "Was it Laura?"

He was surprised. "You know about her?"

Dee nodded. "She was a friend of mine from C.A.A.R. Commander Straker told me how she really died once when we were talking about her." She said softly, "He doesn't blame you, you know."

Alec looked away. "He wouldn't. Hell, he doesn't even blame his bitch of a wife for divorcing him!"

She laughed. "He's very special, isn't he?"

Her tone had him frowning. "He's a good friend," he admitted slowly.

She nodded. "He's really helped me a lot. Did you know, he was the one who helped me get this place? He had a friend who had an opening, and the rates were good. He even brought me a housewarming gift." She smiled, fingering a beautiful Tiffany lamp on the endtable next to the futon. "I owe him a lot."

Alec's answering smile was a bit hard. "He's something, all right," he said.

* * *

"Good afternoon, Commander Straker, Col. Austin." Dr. Jackson's demeanor was relaxed, but his quick eyes noted not only the changes the years had wrought in Sheila's appearance, but Straker's protective hand on her arm as well. His expression as he turned to the commander was carefully blank, and Straker's lips tightened.

Sheila was frowning at him. "I knew you, didn't I?"

He inclined his head once. "Yes. What do you remember about me?"

She shook her head. "Nothing concrete. Just the impression of familiarity. Were we friends?"

He lifted one Slavic brow. "I thought so." He glanced at the commander, then gestured to the chairs in front of his desk. "Please sit down."

Just then, Straker's radio beeped. He took it out and pressed a button. "Excuse me," he told them. He lifted a hand to Sheila's cheek for a moment, unsure what to say. She smiled reassuringly at him. He shot a hard look at the doctor, then left the room.

Sheila took a seat, saying dryly, "Why do I get the feeling that Ed doesn't consider you a friend?"


"What is it, Alec?" Straker asked in exasperation as he stood in the corridor outside Jackson's office in the hospital complex. His headache had come back more fiercely than ever. God, he just wanted to make it through the next few hours.

"What the hell are you up to?" The ferocity of his friend's voice was not diminished any by the phone line.

For a stunned moment, Straker thought Alec knew that he'd brought Sheila in. Then he relaxed. He couldn't possibly know unless he was having him followed. "Could you narrow the field a bit for me, Alec?" he asked dryly.

Freeman snorted. "Go ahead and laugh. I can't believe that you would stoop so low. Damn it, Ed! She may not be a babe in arms, but she's almost as naive about some things. How could you take advantage of her that way?"

Straker sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose to staunch the needle-sharp pain. He wondered vaguely if he would be less bewildered if he wasn't in agony. "Who am I taking advantage of?"

"Delores, of course," Alec said, disgusted at the prevarication. "You should have heard her talking about you. She was so full of how kind you've been to her, setting her up in her own place and buying her things. God, you make me sick!"

Commander Straker closed his eyes, finally understanding. "Listen, Alec," he said calmly. "It's not like it sounds. You have to understand her situation. Delores lived with her uncle and cousins, who treated her pretty badly. She'd mentioned trying to move out to me, but she was having trouble finding a place. I was just trying to make her life a little less stressful."

There was a short silence. "Are you planning on having an affair with her?"

"Of course not!" Straker ran a hand through his hair. "God, Alec! How could you even think it?"

"I don't know," his friend admitted with a sigh. "I seem to jump to all the wrong conclusions where she's concerned. Pretty stupid, huh?"

Straker thought of his own accusations to Sheila two months ago. "Yeah, well. It happens." His smile was rueful. "You almost sounded jealous, Alec. You'd better watch your step."

Freeman gave a laugh. "No way, man! Do I look that stupid?" He chuckled, then added, "Don't answer that!"

"Go away, Alec," his friend said. "Call me when there's a real crisis."

* * *

When Straker entered the room next to Jackson's office, he could see the doctor talking to Sheila through the one-way glass in the wall. He reached over to the console and turned on the volume. Jackson's voice came through the speakers clearly.

"Hypnosis alone has never worked effectively for you in the past. You have a strong will that resists such deep searching. However, I've been working on a method that might free up some of your memories for you, if you're interested."

Sheila frowned. "What would it involve?"

Straker stiffened at his next words. "It's based on some dream research I've lately been studying. The device sends tiny electrical impulses through your brain, stimulating connections that may have been damaged or otherwise impaired. It is completely harmless and leaves no residual aftereffects."

"Would I need to be restrained?" she asked.

"No. We can do it right here in the office. I'll put you into a light hypnotic state, which will relax you enough to allow the probe to work."

"Will I retain any memories that surface?"

Jackson frowned. "That depends." At her look of inquiry, he added, "A lot will depend on how well you respond to the probe. You must accept the possibility that we may not be able to access any of your lost memories."

She took a breath. "Alright." In the room next door, Straker was looking grim. Damn Jackson! He'd had no idea the good doctor had been working on his own version of the Solarian probe. Straker wasn't pleased to have brought Sheila here only to supply Jackson with a guinea pig for his experiments. But then, he wasn't pleased to be here at all. The last thing he wanted to hear about was what she had endured at the aliens' hands. Yet, there was no way he could walk away and leave her to face it alone.

Dr. Jackson had hooked up a spindly band of electrodes about Sheila's head and was testing the readings on his computer screen. Everything seemed to be registering, because he came from behind his desk and began the hypnosis. He asked her a few routine questions to make sure she was under, then returned to his chair to study the results. He was very methodical, something that had always relieved Straker in the past. However, today it only prolonged the agony of the wait. Finally, the doctor sat forward and began.

"Sheila, I'd like you to go back to the day you were captured by the aliens. Where are you?"

She sat very relaxed in the chair, looking not at Jackson, but at a space just beyond his shoulder. "On Moonbase."

"When the interceptors missed the UFO, what did you do?"

"I took a rocket launcher out onto the surface. Gay radioed me not to once she realized what I was up to, but I knew it was the only way. If I could get them away from the base, maybe I could manage to kill them as well. I'd done it before. I knew it would take a miracle, but I was open for one. Only it didn't happen that way. The rocket launcher did only minor damage to their ship, and they came after me. I wish..."

She trailed off, and Jackson prompted her. "You wish?"

Sheila sighed. "I know it's wrong, but I wish the phone hadn't rung in Ed's office the other night. I really don't want to die a virgin."

Jackson's brows raised, but he managed to keep from glancing at the mirrored wall. "Do you remember the trip to their planet?"

"I remember studying their instrument panels in order to figure out how to operate the ship. I kept hoping for a chance to overpower them and take the ship back to Earth. But their restraints were very effective. I never got that chance."

"When you arrived on their planet, where did they take you?"

"It was a small room. Very small. And completely bare. Although I knew that they were watching me. I didn't need to see a video camera to prove it. The sensation was clear enough."

At this point, Dr. Jackson did glance at the wall with a small frown. But he only said, "Did they try to communicate with you?"

Sheila laughed harshly. "No. They didn't care at all what I knew about SHADO or anything. I was there for one reason only. As a test subject."

"What do you mean? What were they testing you for?"

"They wanted to know how quickly I healed. And what it took to quicken or retard that healing process." When Jackson gasped, realizing what that must have entailed, she gave a smile that contained no mirth whatsoever. "Their experiments were very thorough."

He asked quietly, "Were you frightened, Sheila?"

"Yes, and very angry. But after a while, I was just angry. Scientists can be so annoying." She frowned. "But there was one who frightened me very much."

"Was he a scientist too?"

"No. He was their leader. Ming." She crossed her arms to hold in a shiver.

Jackson asked, "Why did he frighten you?"

Sheila's arms tightened. "He never spoke, not even to the others. He just watched. His eyes. They were so cold, devoid of anything that could be termed human. I tried to ignore him, to not let him see that he scared me. But I couldn't get away, I couldn't..."

She was gasping for breath, and the doctor said soothingly, "It's all right, Sheila. You're safe now. How long did the testing continue?"

She took a deep breath. "I don't know. Months, I think. I lost all track of time."

"I see. I'd like you to go forward to the day the testing stopped. Are you there?"

In answer, Sheila screamed.

* * *

"You're certain?" Alec ran an agitated hand through his hair. God, he hated sitting in this command chair. He wasn't cut out to handle these kinds of situations. "Yes, I see. How is he?"

Dr. Shroeder's voice came over the phone line. "He's in stable condition now. We'll be running tests over the next few days to see if there is any permanent damage from the heart attack. I can't say more until we have those results."

Col. Freeman sighed. "Right. I'll let Commander Straker know. He'll want to come to the hospital. When will visitors be allowed?"

"Not until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. Tell Commander Straker that he's through the worst of it and resting quietly."

"I'll tell him. Thank you, Doctor." Alec hung up the phone and laid his head on his hands. How did Ed deal with this every day? And what would they do if anything ever happened to him? There was only twenty years difference between him and the general, after all, which was not a long time once you got past forty. If the general was already at a point where his health would be forcing him to slow down, how long before Straker got there? And who would run SHADO once he was gone? God, could anyone else run it?

It was a frightening thought.

Col. Freeman almost called Straker right then, but he'd already called and bothered him once today. Besides, he'd be coming in this evening. Alec would tell him the news then. It wasn't as if he could go visit Henderson today anyway. And Alec had some good news to tell him, as well. The improvements they'd been able to make on their radar since they'd gotten the Solarian device had meant that the three UFOs that had tried to sneak past Moonbase's defenses a few hours ago had been swiftly and efficiently dealt with. Straker would be pleased. Alec had to admit that he'd been pretty excited about it himself. At least until Dr. Shroeder had called.

The Solarians had certainly made a difference with their visit, Alec thought. And not just with the help of their equipment. Alec was still reeling from the knowledge that Ed wasn't from Earth. He realized that he would probably have figured it out on his own after a while. Callista Carlin was a Maloran like Ed, and she was starting to look more and more like him every day. Peter had said that it was due to exposure to sunlight, something Malorans didn't get much of at the bottom of the ocean. But Callista's hair was no longer translucent; it was turning blonde. White blonde. And her eyes had darkened as well, so that they now had a touch of blue added to the grey. Alec had wanted to ask Ed about what the Solarians had said for two months, but he hadn't quite known what to say. Perhaps because he still hadn't figured out how he felt about it.

Which was stupid. Ed was still the same friend Alec had known and trusted for too many years to count. But somehow the thought of Ed being an alien unnerved him. He wondered with sudden insight how it had affected Ed?

* * *

Straker's hands spread against the one-way glass in a futile effort to reach Sheila and comfort her. Jackson had quickly brought her forward another twenty-four hours, but she continued to sob incoherently, rocking back and forth in her chair. Her scream was still ringing in Straker's ears, and the commander wondered how long it would keep echoing through his mind.

After a few minutes, he realized that her sobs were actually words. Or rather, one word. She kept repeating it over and over again until it became an incoherent babble. But the word was Ed. Straker leaned his head against the glass, closing his eyes and wishing he could cover his ears to block out her despair. But everything that she had suffered had been his fault, and he needed to know the extent of his guilt.

He opened his eyes as Jackson brought her forward several days. Her sobs quieted, but she continued to rock in her seat, her arms tightly crossed. The doctor said, "Sheila, where are you now?"

She looked at him with tormented eyes. "In the cell," she whispered.

"What are you thinking?" Jackson asked her.

"I will kill him," she said fiercely, enunciating each word.

"Who will you kill, Sheila?"


Dr. Jackson looked into that stark face and asked the question that he was certain he already knew the answer to. "What did he do to you?"

Her eyes closed for an agonized moment, then opened with a fierce defiance. "He raped me."

* * *

"How are you?"

Dee almost dropped the phone. Did the man have any idea how sexy his voice was? "Fine."

Alec sighed. "Come on, Dee," he coaxed. "I've been worried about you. How are you really?"

She said, "I'm okay. It's just that I can't change any of it, you know. That's the problem with the past. No matter how many times you relive it, you still can't change any of it."

"Why is it necessary for you to even face it?"

"Because Encounters is going to do my story for an episode."

Alec gasped. "I didn't know that you'd had an incident with the aliens, Dee! When was it?"

She sat back on the futon and ran her fingers over the script. "I was five. And of course, I had a UFO incident. I'm a member of C.A.A.R., aren't I?"

"That doesn't mean anything. I thought the group was open to anyone who was interested, not just those who've had an experience."

"It is," she admitted. "But those of us in key positions in the group are almost always people who've had an incident."

He sighed. "What happened to you, Dee?"

Her throat closed up at his gentle tone, and she couldn't answer.


"I can't, Alec!" she gasped. "I can't talk about it. They died. They all died, and it's all my fault!"

He heard her sobbing on the other end of the phone line and closed his eyes. "Dee, do you want me to come over? I could be there in just a few minutes. Would you like that?"

Far too much. Dee pulled herself together. "No, Alec. I just... I need to do this on my own. I'll be alright. Commander Straker warned me that it would be hard. But I have to do it. Maybe my story can help someone else who's been there, you know? That's what the series is all about. And I want to do my part."

"You are doing your part, Dee," Alec assured her, "far more than any of your friends at C.A.A.R. know. No one wants you to tear yourself to pieces like this. I promise you, it's not in your job description."

She gave a watery chuckle. "I know, Alec. But I'm kinda like old Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. My past has shaped who I've become. Sooner or later, I have to face my ghosts. And finally accept that I can't do anything to change what happened."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked quietly, wishing he were there with her to comfort her.

Yes. Say you love me. Say you love me even though I killed my family. "No, Alec," she said. "But it means a lot to me that you'd ask."


Dr. Jackson brought Sheila forward another year, hoping that her situation had improved during that time. "Did Ming ever rape you again?"

"Yes." Her head was bowed.

"How many times?"

She shook her head, still not looking up.

Jackson's voice was grim. "Do you know why he raped you, Sheila?"

"Yes." She looked up finally, her eyes flashing. "He wanted to live forever. And I was his ticket. You see, they are all sterile. The only kind of immortality they can achieve is a sort of living death, where they continually have to patch themselves up with new organs, new tissue. They don't age much, but who wants to live forever in a rotting shell?

"A Denebian smuggler sold him a drug that was supposed to reverse his sterility. He was determined to sire a child, a son to lead their people after he was gone. A son who could regenerate himself without replacement parts." She gave him a steely look. "My son."

"Did he succeed?"

She cocked her head to the side. Her smile was vicious. "I suppose that would depend."

"On what?"

"On what you consider success."

Jackson looked into her dark eyes and felt the small hairs at the back of his neck stand up. "Where are you, Sheila?" he asked quietly.

"In the cell," she answered with her chin raised.

"Where is Ming?"

She smiled ferociously. "Right here."

"He doesn't frighten you anymore?" he asked in surprise.

She shook her head, her eyes gleaming.

"Why not?"

Her arm swept out in a wide gesture. "Because they'll never put these pieces back together again."

He stared at her in shock. Then he asked slowly, "Why did you do it, Sheila?"

She lifted a brow at him. "How long do you think it would have been before he realized that I was pregnant? Once that happened, I would never be able to escape. Nor would my child. And how could I hope to evade him in the future if I only stabbed him to death? They would give him new organs and he would come after me. No. This way is best. Fitting. Ming, the mincemeat!" And she grinned.

* * *

"Hey, why the long face?" Paul asked when he came into the office.

Alec rubbed his eyes. "Ever have one of those days, Paul?"

Foster grinned. "Yeah. But not today."

"Oh, yeah? Why not?"

Paul spread his hands. "Because it's Friday."

Alec rolled his eyes. He watched as Paul poured himself a drink from the dispenser in the corner. "Listen, Paul," he said slowly, "are you going to be here a while yet?"

Paul downed his drink before answering. "Until seven. Why?"

Freeman got up from behind Straker's desk. "I need to take off for a while. I'll be back before seven. Keep an eye on things for me, will you?"

"But..." Paul was left speaking to an empty room.

* * *

"Where are you now, Sheila?"

"Quiet!" she whispered. "They'll hear you. I'm sabotaging some of their ships. There. A good day's work. I've accounted for six in all. I've left my mark underneath the instrument panel, so I'll know next time."

"Why are you sabotaging their ships?"

She looked at him. "So that they'll blow up when they decelerate into Earth's atmosphere."

Jackson rephrased his question. "Why don't you just steal one and return to Earth?"

Her gaze was somber. "I can't."

The doctor frowned and leaned forward. "Why not, Sheila?" he asked softly.

She looked away. "I can never return there. How could I ever face him?" She placed a hand on her stomach. "Bringing the enemy back with me."

In the adjoining room, Straker put his head in his hands.

Sheila looked back at Jackson, her expression bleak. "I'll do what I can to help Earth from here. We've gotten together a small raiding party from the village. They hate what the Thoelians have done to their planet. But they lack the means of getting rid of them." She gave a small smile. "It's amazing what a small group of people can do when they're organized."

"Wait a minute," the doctor interrupted. "They're not from that planet?"

"No, they took over Tuatara almost a century ago, hoping to use the villagers as replacement parts for themselves. But they weren't genetically compatible. Which was good for the villagers, but bad for the neighboring star systems."

"Which includes Earth?" At her nod, he urged her to continue. "So, you made friends among the villagers?"

"Yes. And Timon's wife is a midwife. She has promised to help me when my time comes. I'm afraid. Oh, not of giving birth. I know it's painful, but women survive it every day. No. It's the nightmares. They make me afraid."

"What are the nightmares about?"

She pressed her hand against her stomach. "That my baby will be born with Ming's eyes."

* * *

Dee's heart melted as she stood looking through the peephole. Slowly, she opened the door. "Alec," she sighed.

He came into the apartment, closing the door with a foot even as he enveloped her in his arms. He ran a hand over her red curls. "Dee," he murmured. "I thought you might appreciate the company of a friend."

As he molded her small form to his solid frame, she gasped. Her tiny hands fluttered over his chest, making him bite back a groan. He leaned down and kissed her, knowing that this was what he'd been waiting for since he'd first laid eyes on her. When he finally drew back to look at her, her cheeks were flushed with passion and her eyes were softer than he would ever have believed.

"Alec," she murmured. He hid a grin against her neck, smelling the sweetness of her hair as he nuzzled. He had never imagined he could get her into such an agreeable mood. Never one to hesitate when he had the advantage, he picked her up and carried her to the futon.

* * *

"What is that, Sheila?" Dr. Jackson asked.

She had pulled a chain out from under her shirt and was rubbing the small blue stone dangling from it. She fingered it with a smile. "It's a gift to me. From Eddie."

The doctor was startled for a moment, then he asked, "Who's Eddie?"

Her smile was tender. "My son. He found it in the hills and brought it home. He's always looking for treasures for his wish box. He said the color of the stone reminded him of his father's eyes."

Jackson noticed that the stone was almost an exact match for Straker's unusual blue eyes. "His father's eyes?"

She frowned. "Every boy needs a father. A hero to look up to. Surely it cannot be wrong to give him a father he can be proud of? He knows the truth. But the truth cannot guide him throughout his life. So he has chosen his own father."

The doctor said, trying not to think of what the man in the next room was going through, "You named him after Commander Straker?"

"Yes. Ed wouldn't mind. It's not as if his wife would ever know. What could it hurt? He would not begrudge my little boy a name to be proud of. I know it."

"No, I don't believe he would. How old is Eddie?"

"Five. He is a special child. And so smart. He has his own band of village children that he's in charge of. They are so resourceful!" She shook her head fondly. "It's amazing the places a child can get into that an adult never could. Just last week, they ransacked an entire storehouse in the fortress. The provisions they stole will provide food for the villagers for many a month."

"But he's just a child!"

Sheila looked him in the eye. "There are no children in war." Then she sighed. "I wish he could live a normal life. Go to school. Make friends. Play baseball. But that will never be. It breaks my heart sometimes to hear him talk of when we will go home to Earth. He wants so much to watch the Yankees play. To have an ice cream cone. To meet the father he chose."

Tears were streaming down her cheeks, but she didn't seem to notice them. "How can I tell him that we will never go there? That he would be hated there? That his hero would be disgusted by him? That his father of choice has his own beautiful blonde children and would never accept my dark little boy?" She shook her head fiercely. "I cannot! So I sing him a song about strawberry fields forever and tell him the story about Noah and his fabulous ark. And I let him dream."

* * *

"Sorry I came?"


They had ended up on the floor, because they'd been too impatient to fold out the futon. Delores' back was inches from the stereo console. Alec sighed, pulling her closer. "You need a bigger apartment."

She giggled. "Maybe we should try yours next time."

He grinned, liking the sound of a next time. "Maybe we should." He twirled a curl around his finger absently. "Dee," he said.

"Alec," she answered, mimicking his tone.

He chuckled. "I'm trying to be serious here."

"Yes, sir," she said, saluting.

He suddenly shifted positions, pinning her beneath him and kissing her breathless. When he released her, she lay back with a contented smile. He eyed her for a moment to see if she was going to venture a comment, but she was quiet, gazing at him with an expression in her eyes that made his heart turn over. "Dee, why didn't we do this before?"

Her brow lifted lazily. "I can't think why not. I must have been an idiot."

He chuckled again and kissed her pert little nose. "You knew that I wanted you. You had to have known. The air practically sizzled every time we were in the same room."

Dee sighed, tracing his jawline with a finger. "Yes. But I didn't want to be just another trophy, Alec. I need more from you than to be the fling-of- the-week."

He frowned. "It's not that bad."

She patted his cheek sharply. "Oh, yes it is. I wasn't in SHADO five minutes before I was warned about the notorious Col. Freeman. A rake of the first order, I was told. Deny it if you can."

He shook his head. "It wouldn't do me any good. My reputation precedes me, apparently. But I don't think of you as the fling-of-the-week, Dee. I never have."

"How do you think of me, Alec?" she asked softly.

His brow furrowed as he thought about it. Finally he said, "I don't know. You're so full of fire and sass. You make me want to laugh even as you make me want to strangle you. I've never felt this way before." He touched a finger to her chin. "Maybe that's why I'm having trouble putting it into words."

"Let me see if I can help you clarify it a bit," she said. "Do you want to have an affair with me, Alec?"

He smiled, relieved to have it put in terms he understood. "Yeah."

* * *

Jackson wondered how Col. Austin had managed to survive on the aliens' planet. Especially with a constant reminder of all that she had suffered at their hands in the person of her son. He brought her forward several months and asked, "Where are you now, Sheila?"

She was leaning back in the chair, her eyes closed. "In the ship," she said listlessly.

The doctor frowned. "What are you doing?"

"Going home."

Jackson rested his chin on his hands. "Where is Eddie?"

Her eyes opened, revealing a deep pain. "Dead."

In the adjoining room, Straker's breath caught on a sob.

Jackson glanced at the computer screen for a moment, studying the readout, then came out from behind his desk and leaned against the front of it. He asked softly, "What happened to him?"

Silent tears were tracking down her cheeks. As before, she seemed to be unaware of them. "He was captured. He knew what he had to do." She swallowed painfully. "You see, he was wired. We both were. Eddie was special. If the Thoelians had captured him and realized what he was, their race would know how to replenish itself. They would not only be able to continue, but they would flourish. It could not be allowed. Eddie understood that. And I... I was wired as well, because there was no way they were getting me a second time." She flashed a fierce look at him.

The doctor took a breath. "Do you mean, you were both wired with explosives?"

"Yes. The packs were self-triggered. We always wore them. I was on the other end of the compound during the raid. It was better to attack in several small groups than in one mass. The resulting confusion in the fortress helped us to complete our mission. But I heard the explosion. And I knew what it meant.

"Timon told me later that Eddie took out the two guards that had caught him when he detonated his pack. That would have pleased him. He was such a fierce little warrior."

Dr. Jackson watched as she absently rubbed the small stone around her neck. After a moment, he said, "So, you are returning to Earth."

"Yes. There's nothing on Tuatara for me now. The villagers can continue their raids without me. I need to return to SHADO, so that I can be debriefed. Tell them what I've learned, bring them a ship to study." She gave a small shrug.

"Will you tell them about Eddie?"

Her eyes closed for an agonized moment. "I can't. He mustn't ever know. Dr. Jackson will understand. I'm certain of it. I've always been able to talk to him. He could just sort of leave that part out of his report." She was wringing her hands in agitation as she spoke. Jackson reached over and laid a calming hand over them. She looked at him mutely.

"Sheila," he said quietly, "are you ashamed of Eddie?"

She shook her head. "No! I could never be ashamed of him. He was so wonderful. My precious little boy." Sheila took a breath. "But I have to be able to face Ed. Work with him again. See him and his wife, their children. How can I do that if he looks at me with pity? Or worse, with disgust? But I have to return home... I've realized that I want to die where the sky is blue and the grass green."

Jackson frowned. "Why do you speak of death, Sheila?"

"What do I have to live for?" Her laugh was harsh. "Even if I could think of something, it wouldn't matter. Not now. Because I am going to die. Look. There's my mark. This is one of the ships I sabotaged. Who'd have thought any of them would still be around? I'll see Earth, all right. I'll die within sight of her beautiful blue skies. But it's better this way, you know. Now the doctor won't have to perjure himself on my account. And I won't have to die a million deaths seeing Ed each day, so close and forever out of reach."

She suddenly leaned forward in her chair. "Look. There she is. Earth. I'd better adjust my entry angle to keep out of Moonbase's radar. It would be horrible to come all this way only to be killed by all my old friends, wouldn't it?"


When Delores opened her eyes after a light doze, it was to see Alec sitting on her futon reading the script. She wanted to crawl away somewhere and hide, but knew that sooner or later, she would have to face his questions. And his reaction to her answers. She sat up on the carpet, hugging her knees.

Alec looked up from the page and saw her staring solemnly at him. He put down the script and came to her, sitting on the floor facing her. He reached out a hand and ran it slowly over her mass of curls. "Dee," he said raggedly, "do you know how lucky you are to be alive?"

She blinked in shock. Somehow, that thought had never crossed her mind. She shook her head, unable to accept such kindness from fate. "It was my fault," she told him softly. "If I hadn't wandered off into the woods, they wouldn't have gone into them to search for me. The aliens wouldn't have found them. And killed them."

He'd read how her parents and older brother had noticed her gone from the picnic area and spread out in the nearby woods to look for her. Alec shifted closer and put his arms around her. "You were five years old. How could you be blamed for wanting to explore? None of you knew there was any danger. Dee, it wasn't your fault."

She shook her head. "That's what Commander Straker said too, but it was, Alec. If I'd stayed in the picnic area with them, everything would have been fine."

"You don't know that. Do you really think the aliens would have hesitated to come into the clearing? Your parents weren't armed. The aliens could have attacked with impunity. It didn't matter whether you were in the woods or not. Your family was just at the wrong place at the wrong time."

She looked at him mutely, realizing for the first time that he could be right. All her life she'd been told that her one mistake had caused her family's deaths. It made her dizzy just to think about the possibility that it was no one's fault. Her eyes filled up with tears, and she asked, "Then why did I live?"

He placed a tender kiss on her forehead. "So that your family would not be forgotten."

* * *

Jackson said softly, "Sheila, I want you to come forward in time a week. Where are you?"

She sighed. "In a bedroom. There are curtains around the bed, and I have them closed."


"Because the room is yellow. I don't like it. Mr. Conover--- my father--- said we could paint it another color when I'm better. But there's a balcony out this side of the room, and I keep the curtains open just a bit, so that I can look out the doorway and see the sky. It's so blue it makes me cry. I can hear the birds singing, and can even catch a glimpse of the trees on the hill." She gave a slight smile. "At night, I like to watch the moon. It makes me feel safe just to see it hanging there."

* * *

Jackson hesitated a moment before opening the door to the adjoining room. He took a deep breath and went in. The light had not been turned on, and the only illumination came through the one-way glass from the office next door. Straker stood at the glass with his back to the door. The doctor had left Sheila resting under hypnosis, so that he could consult with the commander before bringing her out of it. Commander Straker seemed to be watching her intently. He did not turn when Jackson entered the room.

"Commander, Sheila Austin cannot be brought back to SHADO as the situation stands. She will need extensive therapy; perhaps even to be hospitalized for a long time before she could pass the psych evaluations."

"No." Straker's hands spread out on the glass in front of him. "I assume you are referring to the fact that she broke. That she killed Ming. You see that as a defect, something that needs to be corrected in order for her to be normal again. I see it as a victory. She overcame tremendous odds, Doctor. By rights, she should be dead. Or insane. Instead, she not only managed to kill her abductor, but she escaped to continue the fight. SHADO has never had such a loyal operative."

"It is not her loyalty that is in question."

"It's her sanity. Yes, I know. But I have no fear of her someday going berserk in the corridors of SHADO HQ and chopping everyone into pieces. What concerns me is another matter entirely."

Jackson gazed at him in silence for a moment. "You are worried about how she will handle knowing about her son."

Straker leaned his forehead on the glass. "Yes. You heard her when she spoke of returning to Earth. She said she had nothing more to live for. She seemed to welcome the thought of dying. That's not the Sheila I know. If it took amnesia to give her back her joy of living, then so be it. Leave it be."

The doctor frowned. "You want me to bring her out of the hypnosis without her memories?"

"Do you have a problem with that?"

Jackson sighed. "No. Actually, I agree with you. However, there is another problem to address. If we are not going to bring her back into SHADO, then we will need to deal with her current knowledge of its existence."

Straker turned from the glass at that, glaring at Jackson out of eyes red- rimmed and tormented. "We are not going to touch her present memories, Doctor! She's forgotten enough! I hardly think that we need have any fear of exposure from her. You admitted it yourself. Her loyalty is hardly a matter of concern."

Dr. Jackson's eyes fell. "You have a point, Commander." He turned to leave the room, then looked back. "She will never stop being a security risk, you know."

Straker turned back to the glass and stared at the woman sitting so quietly in the next room. "I know."

* * *

"I'm sorry, Ed."

"Don't, Sheila," Straker said hoarsely. He watched the wipers sweep the rain off the windshield for a moment. "You have nothing to apologize for."

She cocked her head, hearing more in his tone than his words explained, but unable to decipher what it was. "If I had been able to remember, I could go back to work for you, and we would be together. Instead, we're right back where we started." Her sigh was discouraged.

"What are you saying?" he asked quietly. "Do you want to call it quits, Sheila?"

She shook her head sadly. "No. It's just that... you were right after all. Half a loaf is better than none."

His smile was twisted. "It's not wrong to want the whole loaf. I guess it's easier for me." Sheila looked searchingly at him, and he explained. "I've always known you were out of my reach. I'm just happy to know you're alive."

She leaned back against the seat with a faint smile and toyed with the stone on the chain about her neck.

Straker felt compelled to ask, "That's a beautiful stone. Where did you get it?"

She said, "It was in the packet from Dad. He said in the letter that it was on a cord around my neck when they found me. I think I never actually believed that I wasn't imagining everything until I took it to the jeweler's yesterday. They got very excited about it, but wouldn't tell me anything more than asking my price." She shrugged. "So I took it to Fred, the drummer in my band, who's studying for his doctorate in geology. He said it has a crystalline structure unlike anything on Earth." She gave a small smile as she rubbed the blue stone. "So I guess I picked it up elsewhere, huh?"

His answering smile wavered a bit around the edges. "A souvenir?"

"Yeah." She looked at its deep blue color for a minute, then sent him a bland look. "Gee, I wonder why?"

He couldn't meet her eyes for more than a moment.

After a while, she ventured a question. "Ed? What about all I know about the organization? Surely, it's not permitted for just anyone to know those things?"

"No," he said, glancing at her. "But you really know very little." He smiled. "And I think we can trust you to keep our secrets."

She frowned slightly. "Is that your opinion, or the doctor's ruling?"


She heard the steel in his voice and sat back with a sigh. The mansion came into view from the road, and she felt exhausted all of a sudden. As he pulled up to the house, she looked at him. "Ed, can I ask you a favor?"

He looked swiftly at her. "I suppose that would depend on the favor."

Her smile was rueful. "I'd like to be able to visit the studio again." At his lifted brow, she explained. "I miss the park. It's so peaceful there. And I feel close to you when I'm there. Almost a part of your world."

He laid a hand against her cheek. "I'm sorry, Sheila. It's just too much of a risk. Not only could you remember enough walking around to get yourself into serious trouble with security, but someone who used to work with you might spot you. Then we'd be in for it."

She leaned into his hand. "It's okay. I understand. I'm not stupid enough to think that you aren't running some serious risks even talking to me. If I were less selfish, I would tell you that I never wanted to see you again. Then you wouldn't get into trouble because of me." She swallowed. "But I am selfish. I need to see you, Ed, to be with you, just to be able to share a smile with you, even if we never have more than that."

His blue eyes gazed longingly into her dark ones. "I need you too, Sheila," he said huskily. "It's getting so that I can hardly bear letting you out of my sight. It would be better for you if there were no reminders of the past in your life. If I went away and never saw you again." His hand slid into her hair to caress her scalp. "But I can't. I'm not that strong. If I couldn't see you any more, it would kill me."

He was so close that she could almost taste him on her lips. "Ed," she whispered, her eyes closing with pleasure at his caress. "Come into the house with me. Your security people aren't here. No one would ever know. There's just us, and I won't tell."

Straker groaned, pulling her into his arms and holding her fiercely. He buried his face in her hair, trembling with passion denied for so long. "I can't, Sheila," he said raggedly. "I won't reduce everything we feel to just sex. You mean so much more to me than that." He gave a harsh laugh. "Besides, I'd be found out in no time. Do you honestly think that I'd ever want to leave your bed to go in to work?"

They shared a smile. He kissed her very gently, forcing back all the passion that wanted to rage out of control. She'd endured so much because of loving him. She deserved all the tenderness within his power. He swallowed painfully and ran an unsteady hand down her hair. "I know it doesn't seem like it now, Sheila, but there will be a time for us. I don't know when or where, but I have to believe that we'll be together some day. It's all that makes each day bearable."

"So we'll just take one day at a time," she said, her smile a bit watery. "I love you, Ed Straker. I've always loved you. Even amnesia couldn't keep us apart." She touched his cheek. "I know our time will come. I can wait for it if you can."

He chuckled, surprised that he could laugh when he hurt so much. "Try not to be too patient, okay?" he whispered, kissing her temple. "I wouldn't want you to make me look bad."


"Say, Ed," Alec asked, "you're not taking that thing with you, are you?"

Straker grinned as the workmen loaded the heavy stone fountain onto the back of the truck. "Of course, Alec. It's a wedding present."

"It's ugly."

Ed chuckled. "It's fish, and Virginia said the gifts were all to be on a fish theme."

"What'll they do with it?"

Straker shrugged. "Put it near the front drive, I suppose. It'll add a certain something to the house's air, don't you think?"

"You don't want to know what I think," Alec assured him dryly.

Ed shook his head at his friend's lack of artistic appreciation.

As Straker headed inside to his office, Alec Freeman followed. "Ed, does this mean that Virginia will be remaining in Boston after the wedding?"

"I don't know," his friend answered. "She hasn't requested a transfer yet. I suppose she'll tell me her plans when I get there."

"The wedding's at her dad's lodge in the mountains, isn't it?"

"Yes. You know, it's funny, Alec," Straker said as he started clearing off his studio desk, "but Chris has gone to that lodge often on vacation. He's known Charles Lake for years."

"It's a small world."

"Hmmm," Ed mused. "And getting smaller every day," he said with a meaningful glance at his second in command.

Alec grimaced. "Speaking of which, there's something I've been wanting to talk to you about."

Straker looked up from sorting papers, giving his friend a searching glance. "What is it, Alec?"

Freeman picked up a small sculpture off a side table, then set it down again. "Ed, have you always known that you were an alien?"

Straker sat back in his chair and folded his hands. "Well, I've always known that I was different. I didn't know for certain that I was an alien until this past year, however. Why do you ask?"

Freeman ran a hand through his hair. "I guess I wondered why you never talked about it."

"You mean, to my best friend?" Straker asked quietly.


"I suppose, because I wasn't sure how you'd take it." At Alec's start of surprise, he lifted a brow. "You see, I wasn't quite sure how I felt about it either."

Alec asked seriously, "How do you feel about it, Ed?"

Straker shrugged. "I'm learning to accept it. It explains a lot of things that never made sense to me before. And I suppose it makes me a little more tolerant of the idea of Earth harboring other foreigners."

Alec grunted. "You mean, like N'var's survey team?" He shook his head. "My God, it won't be long before we won't be able to tell the players without a scorecard!"

Straker already felt that way, but didn't tell his friend so. "And what about you, Alec? How do you feel about having your boss be one of the enemy?"

Freeman frowned. "That's just it, Ed. You're not. I mean, we signed a treaty with the Malorans. And even if we hadn't, they don't engender much fear. I think five hundred years of silence is proof enough for anyone that they don't mean Earth any harm." He paced the office for a moment. "I guess it's just that I've always considered you one of us, you know. And now I find out you're not. You're..." He spread his hands.

"Say it, Alec. Alien."

Freeman sighed. "Yeah."

"What does that actually change?" Straker asked. "Does it make me any less your friend? No longer the one who carried you back to the barracks after your fight with Finney all those years ago? Or the one you got tipsy on his wedding day? And what about as your boss, Alec? Am I less reliable now than I was before? Do you question my orders more? Do you wonder what I really have in mind when I give you a command?"

Alec was shaking his head. "No, of course not. It's just..."

"I know," his friend said. "It's the word." Alec looked at him in surprise. "Well, it is. We've gone for nearly twenty years believing that the word alien meant bad news. Now we're faced with the concept of aliens as allies. Co-workers. Even in command." Straker sighed. "It's not an easy adjustment, Alec. For any of us. And it will take time to accept. For all of us. But if the

command team can't accept it, can't get past the prejudice, then what hope does the rest of SHADO have of coming to terms with it?"

Alec gasped. "I never realized... I guess I just didn't think it through, Ed. Of course, we've got to accept the idea of aliens as allies. I mean, they've helped us so much already. I suppose all the races we meet won't be as friendly as the two we've seen so far, but we can't refuse their friendship just because they're different from us. That would be stupid."

Straker nodded. "I keep remembering something I said to the Maloran queen, Alec. I told her that where they came from is not as important as where they live now. And it's true. For all we know, there may be hundreds of different alien races living on Earth. Who are we to say who belongs here and who doesn't? Who's human and who isn't? It's not our genes that decide what kind of people we are. Not really. It's us. We decide what kind of human being we will be. Or whether we'll be human at all.

"Look at me, for example. I wasn't born here; I was born in an underwater city lightyears away from here. But do I live underwater, ignoring everything that goes on above me on the surface? Do I keep to myself, refusing to associate with anyone not of my kind? No, of course not. But that was my choice. I could have turned out that way. I chose not to."

"And we're all glad you did," Alec said with a smile.

Ed's look was very serious. "And then there's you," he continued quietly. "Look at your childhood. Brought up in a home where your parents wouldn't even speak to each other. What kind of life was that for you to have? But did you grow up just as bitter and cruel as they were? No. Do you refuse to open up and be friends with anyone? Not hardly. And someday, when you get married, I have no doubt that your marriage will be very different from your parents'. That's your choice, too."

"Marriage," Alec murmured, his eyes widening.

Straker closed a file, adding it to the pile on his desk to be put away. "Yes, I know, Alec," he said. "I realize that it's not a word that's in your vocabulary, but..." He trailed off. Alec was standing stock still in the middle of the office, gazing off into the far distance as though a thought, blinding in its intensity, held him bound. Straker raised a brow, but said nothing.

After a few minutes, Alec seemed to recollect his surroundings. He looked at his friend. "Ed, I've got to go! I'll be back after a while, before you take off for the States, anyway."

"Where are you going?"

Freeman ran a distracted hand through his hair. "I'm going to get married!" he said.

"Right now?" Straker asked incredulously.

"No." Alec spread his hands. "I've got to go ask her."

"Oh," his friend said, hiding a smile. "Well, good luck."

Alec thought of the little spitfire he had to convince and said, "Thanks. I'll need it." He made it to the door before turning back. "Oh, Ed. By the way, will you be my best man?"