Disclaimer: SHADO, Ed Straker and Mary Straker Rutland belong to Century 21 production, Gerry Anderson, etc. The Blackwood Foundation and denizens belong to – uh – mmm – I don't remember, but not to dragon. g The intersection of the two is strictly dragon's rather odd concept.
Warning: for those who don't like reading stories out of sequence, this story follows two which haven't been written and contains spoilers pertaining to Caleb Moorecock. Very small spoilers.
Time: Relatively current
Rating: PG – if that
Synopsis: Politics is not the only thing that makes strange "bedfellows".
The Moorecock Legacy
The airplane hit the tarmac, bounced slightly, the tires biting the concrete as the braking system cut in and slowed so that the pilot could wheel the mass of steel and plastic into a parking bay at the terminal. The airplane came to a full stop, the boarding/unloading chute snuggled up to the side of the plane. The door opened. It was time for the passengers to get off.
The tall, slender man with the pale hair and haunted eyes pulled his carry on out of the overhead bin and walked down the aisle separating the banks of seats with the rest of the arrivals. Ed Straker walked into the terminal and looked around. His gaze went to the windows. He had expected the day to be overcast. Instead, the sky was blue with incredible depth, fluffy white clouds sitting here and there to give a story book look to the place. He snorted gently. Story book was right. This was LAX – the airport entrance to Hollywood and disasters.
He looked around again, not quite certain who he was looking for in this crowd of people. His direct gaze landed on another direct gaze. Nearly black eyes under straight black brows in a tanned face, a mouth like a straight line sat under a nose that looked almost sharp, .short black hair, only slightly longer than military cut finished off the face. The bearing was hard ass military. It echoed his own. Both men nodded infinitesimally and walked toward each other. They stopped about three feet apart and took another look. The crowd moving like a huge amorphous animal around them seemed to feel that moving between them was not a good idea.
"Mr. Straker? I'm Paul Ironhorse. Welcome to LA." Paul held out a hand. Straker took the offered contact. It was a good strong handshake. "If you'll come with me."
Nod. Ed followed the dark man through the continually moving crowds to the luggage delivery carosel, collected his single suitcase and then followed him out to the parking area. The silence between them didn't seem to bother his guide. Ironhorse moved with a practiced ease and grace. A momentary vision of deerskin and feathers was dismissed with a slight frown.
As they moved through the sea of vehicles patiently awaiting their owners, they exchanged coded password phrases, satisfying security usages. If he was surprised when Ironhorse produced a small Geiger counter from the trunk of the discreet late model sedan and ran it over him, he didn't show it. Formalities over, they climbed into opposite sides of the vehicle and drove out of the parking lot. They were moving into the multiple lanes of traffic of a major highway artery when the driver seemed to remember the amenities.
"Would you like to stop for lunch?"Paul asked.
"If you would."
"I believe housekeeping can have something waiting for us, if you don't mind."
"Not at all."
Tension and silence. Both men measuring each other and finding the underlying hard core that made each what he was. Ed Straker wondered what he would find at the end of the drive. General Henderson had not been particularly forthcoming about the Blackwood Foundation. He had harrumphed a great deal and dismissed Straker's questions. He hadn't really *said* anything. The General was not happy about Straker's decision to visit the Foundation.
Paul Ironhorse sensed the tension in his guest. He wondered what the man knew that had caused General Wilson to endorse his visit without the usual precautions. The General was elusive in his answers, skirting giving any actual information. But he had also been decisive in his recommendation that the Blackwood Foundation should meet and exchange information with Commander Straker. Both men were relieved that there was no alien activity directed toward stopping the meeting.
At the mansion housing the Blackwood Foundation, the Foundation's namesake was taking a catnap when Ironhorse and Straker arrived. The mansion sat on extensive grounds, an impressive expanse of green grass surrounding the house itself. A paddock in which a horse and rider could be seen moving at a canter was just to the left of the drive. Behind the house was a stand of pine trees, tall with age. In the distance, Straker thought he could just hear the sound of surf hitting a beach. He could smell salt in the air.
Suzanne McCullough, her dark hair caught back in a butterfly clip and casually dressed in denims and a blue work shirt, was out on the grounds watching her daughter ride, alternately torn between motherly concern and motherly pride at her daughter's evident capabilities. She turned to look as the car drove up the drive, waving and turning back to her daughter.
Ironhorse parked the car at the top of the drive, just beyond the front entrance. He took Straker's suitcase, leaving the other man to bring in his cargo of information in his briefcase. Inside, Norton Drake, the resident chocolate skinned, velvet voiced paraplegic computer genius was deep in conversation with an attractive pale blonde woman in the comfortably appointed living room when Ironhorse came in with their guest. Both looked up curiously. They had been aware that they were to have a guest, but no details had been divulged. Norton looked curious. Mary looked surprised, her color fading a little. Then she gave Ironhorse an exasperated look.
"Norton. Mary. Commander Edward Straker of SHADO."
Mary blinked. Norton looked from the woman to the pale man in the doorway and back again. There were undercurrents here. He wasn't quite certain what they were. Straker? Where had he heard that name? Oh, of course, Mary's – ex – husband. Oh. My.
Mary took a breath, released it and walked across the pale carpet to greet him, her hand held out in welcome. They clasped hands as she smiled at him.
Straker's head was whirling. Of all the things in the world he had expected, this was not one of them. His Mary – No, strike that. His ex-wife, up to her pretty ears in – he firmly sat on the slight boggling motions and sounds going off in the back of his head. Instead, he smiled back, warily.
"Ed, it's good to see you." She threw another of those looks that should have told Ironhorse he was in trouble. He met it blandly. "You've met Paul. This is Norton Drake, our resident computer genius. And the sleepy looking gentleman joining us is Dr. Harrison Blackwood. Harrison, this is – Commander Straker." She stumbled a bit over the title. Was she ever going to have a few things to say to Paul when he had a minute.
Harrison and Norton shook hands and an uneasy silence fell.
Suzanne came in with a coltish young girl. Long blonde hair tumbled out of her proper riding hat as she removed it, bubbling about her success on the horse. Suzanne took in the tableau in the living room and shooed her daughter upstairs to change. "Hi. I'm Suzanne. I hope you'll excuse Debbie for being excited. She's not quite over getting to learn to ride." She raised her eyebrows in inquiry at Paul as she shook hands with the stranger.
"Straker. Ed Straker."
"Commander Straker is here for an information exchange," Paul clarified.
Norton, Harrison and Suzanne all looked slightly stunned.
Suzanne broke first. "There's another project? Why the hell don't they tell us about these things? We're duplicating efforts! Wasting time! Dammit all!" She flung herself into an overstuffed chair and fumed silently, looking not much older than her 12 year old daughter.
Harrison and Norton both noted the puzzled look their guest gave her. Harrison, ever the host, invited him to sit down. "Look, I know this is all – rather confusing –" He faltered at the really direct, penetrating stare the man gave him.
"Not at all. Given the reactions of General Henderson to my decision to come here, I suspect we may not be working on the same problem. SHADO has been – functioning for over fifteen years now. The threat seems to concentrate on Northern Europe." He came to a decision and opened his briefcase. Inside were photos, briefings, everything SHADO had learned to date about their annoying opposition.
He sat back and let them sort through the information, watching who latched onto what. He noticed that Mary stepped back, letting the "senior" members get at the information first. Harrison and Suzanne poured over the photographs while Norton scanned the computer data printouts. The in depth work was on a handful of CD's.
Mary migrated across the room to Paul's side as he stood, patiently waiting for the people in the room to start asking questions, to find out where he might fit into this work session. She caught his arm and pulled him into the hallway, out of sight and out of earshot of the quartet in the living room. He looked at her curiously. She was annoyed, maybe angry. He suspected he knew why, but refrained from smiling.
"Paul Ironhorse," she started in, her tone exasperated. "I realize there is a "need to know" protocol, but you *could* have warned me!" she fumed quietly.
He looked bland, then relented. "I wasn't certain he was coming until this morning."
"You – oh! You're as annoying as he was!" That was when it really hit her that she now knew exactly what had torn apart her marriage all those years ago. She met Paul's gaze with a stricken look. Her eyes watered and tears spilled over. "Oh, my god. *That's* what he was doing - *That's* what – Oh, no –" She hid her face in her hands.
Paul looked at her in concern. He'd momentarily forgotten that Mary Straker had not known what her husband was involved in. Realizing he might have made a major blunder here, he hesitated, then gently put his arms around her, trying to be comforting.
Harrison, knowing that Paul's military and security expertise would make more of a lot of what they were talking about than they could went looking for the Col. His eyebrows rose at the sight of Paul holding their newest staff addition. Then he got a look over the top of her head that he recognized. Paul was out of his depth.
Mary sniffed, coughed and gave herself a sharp call to order. She wiped her face and backed out of Paul's loosened embrace. She looked around at Harrison and gave him a watery smile. "Oh, dear. I am making a fool of myself, aren't I? I'll be all right. I'll go freshen up and see if there's coffee." She started for the stairs, then looked back. "Should I take bets on whether he's eaten or not?" she
asked with a smile.
Paul looked struck. "I'll take care of it."
"Light and sweet," she called after him. He looked back with a frown. "Coffee. He likes it light and sweet."
A nod and Paul vanished into the back of the house to find the housekeeper and request food and coffee.
Harrison wandered back into the living room with a thoughtful look on his face. It wasn't Mary and Straker who caused the look. A whole different set of aliens. Humanoid aliens. Genetically compatible aliens. The mind boggled. At least they didn't seem to be intent on wholesale invasion. Not like the ones the Foundation faced, and lost to again and again and again.
Mary returned as the housekeeper brought in sandwiches and drinks. She could see Ed's surprise when he was handed a cup already prepared the way he liked it. His eyes flickered to her. She smiled at him. Then Norton asked her something and she turned away.
Ed watched the interplay between the wheelchair bound man and his ex-wife. He remembered when she looked at him that way. Odd, he never remembered that sort of tenderness between her and Rutledge. Not in his presence. The other had always been – domineering, superior, jealous? He pulled his attention back to the questions Suzanne was asking and he found himself wishing he'd brought Dr. Jackson along. He told her the disks probably held most of the answers she wanted.
She looked to Ironhorse in inquiry. He nodded.
"Let the man eat, Suzanne," Norton cut in. "Starvation is not good for the brain, whatever it's considered to do for the soul."
Suzanne laughed. "Ok. I'll behave. Harrison – Harrison!"
"Food." She raised a sandwich, peered at the side. "Ugh. Yours." She handed him the vegetarian sandwich and reached for a ham and cheese for herself. She grinned at Straker, wishing the man would relax. "He's a vegetarian." Delicate shudder. "The things he eats – " Her quick grin took any potential sting from her words.
"You're not British, are you?" she asked around her sandwich.
"Monosyllabic?" Harrison inserted impishly.
That got a slow smile and a bit of relaxation. "Frequently."
Suzanne laughed, Harrison grinning as he took a seat and rapidly ingested his sandwich.
They left the remains to be cleaned up by the housekeeper and took Straker into the secure section of the residence. The elevator was roomy enough to accommodate everyone and Norton's wheelchair. The area they entered was sleek, stainless steel, compact and complete. Lab, analysis, and think tank all in one. Suzanne took the CDs and started feeding them into the computer.
"Hey!" objected Norton. "Scan 'em. No viruses, please! Not even accidental ones!"
"Yes, Norton!" she shot back and diligently set the virus scan to check each disk before downloading it into their databanks. "Whew, that is a lot of data!"
"I believe someone said "share"," Mary pointed out.
Norton grinned. "Forward 30, Gertrude." The chair glided effortlessly across the floor at his command, bringing him to rest in front of his own computer access station. He booted the terminal and brought up the files on their own opposition. The invaders of 1953 and earlier, the aliens who sought to eradicate humanity and take the planet from us, the aliens who had hibernated for 35 years to come back with a vengeance, the aliens who had forced the formation of the Blackwood Foundation.
The information flooded across the screen. Ed stopped it at the images of the aliens. He had vague memories of something happening in 1953. He had equally vague memories of an instructor at the Air Force Academy touching on an invasion. It hadn't seemed all that important at the time. He looked over the ship diagrams and information as well as the documented technology items the Foundation had found and worked on, never quite managing to figure out how things were powered and made to work.
Ed stretched and moved to unkink his back, realized that he'd been pouring over alien technology for several hours and looked around. He met Ironhorse's gaze and got up to walk over to where Paul sat watching the others. "Security?"
Paul looked up. "Yes. Military intervention when necessary."
"We're fighting two different wars."
Paul nodded. "I think I'm glad your end stays away from ours, although there's a chance they would not work together."
Straker nodded. "No. I think you've got the smaller problem, but nastier aliens. I can see why they're here, but why her?" he nodded to where Mary stood just behind Norton. He ignored the twinge of – jealousy?
"Norton asked for her. We tend to get too close to the problem. We eat, sleep and dream aliens. Mary's fresh on the job. And she has a way of looking at things that will pull a fresh perspective up for us. Norton's very happy with her addition to staff, so is Harrison. So far, she hasn't been asked to take a look at Suzanne's notes. And I suspect she won't be." The evaluation was accompanied by a tolerant, understanding smile. Two very lovely women, even intelligent, educated lovely women, were not going to work much with each other. At least, that was his entirely male dominant view of things.
"She's hardly field –"
"No. I try to keep both her and Norton here, back up and liaison in case of the field team failing. But, sometimes, that isn't an option. She can handle herself."
Straker made a non-committal sound. Mary. Here. Helping fight aliens. He'd manage. Somehow, he'd manage. He watched her with Norton. Her friendly touch on the man's shoulder as they looked over the data, his glances up at her, the warmth in her eyes – he'd manage.
They called it a day about midnight, returning upstairs to a dinner the housekeeper had set back several times waiting for them to appear. Debbie had long since gone to bed. They were too tired to discuss much. Straker discovered he was too tired to even be hungry. He ate a few mouthfuls and watched the others sleepily. He saw the camaraderie between them, the kind built under the stress of secrecy and battle. Mary was still something of an outsider, but she was accepted.
Mary; she was still easy to look at. Her pale hair was pulled back in a ponytail, the end falling over her shoulder. She wore little make up, apparently following Suzanne's lead. There was no need. She was still as lovely as the day they met. He frowned to himself. There was something more. There was – serenity, determination, a strength he had suspected was there but had never found while they were married.
She walked Norton to his rooms when they retired, leaving Suzanne to show Ed to his room. She wasn't certain she wanted to be alone with Ed, not yet. She could see the longing in him and she knew that she was not the answer to that longing. She knew she felt strongly about Norton Drake, feelings she had known a pale shadow of when she was "in love" with Ed Straker. She'd been young, excited, desperate to be loved and loving when she met Ed and let him woo her. She knew
now that she had been more in love with the idea of being in love with the dashing young American officer than she had been truly in love with the man inside the uniform. She could look at him now, tired, worn by the long day, and know that if she had loved him as fiercely as she suspected he had loved her, she would never have left him.
She knew that what she felt for Norton was gentler, stronger and more deeply felt than anything she'd known before. She also knew she was just a little afraid of letting Norton know how she felt. They were from very different worlds. Not just Britain and the US, but black and white, walking and paraplegic, stiff upper lip and sometimes a little too much lip. She chuckled. and all the differences seemed to matter only in a very narrow little world she no longer inhabited. Wait and see, she counseled herself. Wait and see.
end part one