Disclaimer: UFO – not mine. Keith Ford, Commander Straker, Paul Foster, et al, borrowed with intent to return relatively unscathed.
Personnel: The usual suspects
Rating: PG – 13?
Synopsis: Some things really are too good to be true.
Keith Ford was sitting on a park bench, mentally grousing about his life, his job and his possibility of lasting long enough in either to collect his pension. He was eating a cold sandwich and drinking lukewarm coffee from a thermos. He did not look like life was treating him well.
"Maybe some hot coffee would help?" a rich female voice suggested.
Startled, he looked up into a pair of deep brown eyes rimmed with long dark lashes. He pulled his focus back and discovered a slightly upturned nose, a generous mouth curved in a smile and straight black brows, the whole framed by a wealth of curly dark hair. She was holding a thermos in one hand, steam rising from the wide mouth opening.
"Uh – yeah. Thanks." He poured out what he had and held out his cup. She poured. It smelled wonderful.
She sat down on the far end of the bench, about two feet away from him, and pulled out her own lunch. The large bag at her feet disgorged six boxes. The first held sushi and condiments and chopsticks. The second offered the smells of still hot fried rice. The other four seemed to hold other oriental delights. She chanced a glance in his direction from under her lashes.
She looked at the spread between them. She looked up at him and grinned. "I think I over ordered. Still hungry?"
He swallowed and nodded. The smells were playing havoc with his salivary glands. She handed him a pair of chopsticks, which he accepted and then frowned at. It had been a long time since he'd had to use the things. Cautiously, he held them in his long, slender fingers as he recalled them being held and tried to pick up something relatively safe.
OK, sushi was not safe, he noted as he dropped the entire chunk in the soy sauce. Her laugh was delightful. She reached over and repositioned the sticks for him, fished the sushi roll out of the soy sauce and set it on a napkin to lose some of the sauce.
"Good try," she assured him.
Her voice alone was running interesting sensations up and down his spine. Not the thing with a thousand frozen feet that the Commander usually put in motion, something hot and intense. He met her gaze. She smiled. Oh, boy. To put it mildly. He tried to ignore a number of sensations, including the one that indicated his trousers were a bit tight.
They ate in mutually agreeable silence. She watched him, smiled as needed and finally, the sweets consumed, asked his name.
"Ford. Keith – Ford. "
"Nice name. I'm Kitya Harris. You come here often?"
"First time." She let her gaze travel up and down his lean form. She licked her lips. "But I think I could get used to having lunch here, if there was someone to share with."
He smiled back at her. Well, maybe his life was looking up. He hoped so. He watched as she walked away. Oh, yeah. He really, really hoped so.
With his mind in a glow, Keith spent the rest of his shift blissfully getting everything done exactly right. He even smiled when Straker stopped by his station to check on the current refueling schedule. He missed the odd look the Commander gave him.
She wasn't there the next day. His world darkened. Not really expecting anything, he wandered into the park the next day to find her already there. She looked up and smiled at him.
"I thought I might have missed you."
"I'm – running delayed today."
"Ah. Well, how do you feel about Italian?"
"Good. I know this place about a block away – join me?"
After three weeks, even Paul Foster had noticed a change in Ford's demeanor. He seemed much more cheerful than usual. His work was always good, but he seemed to be even more on the ball than usual. Foster commented on it to Alec.
"He's in love," Alec commented knowledgeably.
Foster laughed. "Right. And who's the lucky lady?"
Alec provided a photo. Foster's eyebrows rose. He whistled. The lady was just his style; tall but not too tall, well rounded in all the right places, a face that would make the Mona Lisa jealous. He looked at Alec and grinned.
"Damn. Nice. Where'd he pick this up?"
"The park. He alerted security when he went to dinner with her two weeks ago. He said it was beginning to look serious and he wanted to make certain there wasn't a problem."
"He came to – edgy."
'"No," Alec came back with a laugh. "He thought he'd feel a complete idiot if she worked for the competition, another studio, and was only pumping him to get information. So far, no pump. And she checks out clean. Executive Secretary to a small business owner, slight inheritance of her own to purchase the nice things her salary won't allow, not even a speeding ticket."
For just a moment, Foster had that kind of thoughtful look a fox gets on hearing the hen house is momentarily unguarded. He met Alec's slight frown and grinned. "All right. But if they break off, I'd like the lady's phone number."
"I'm sure you would."
After a month and the clean security report, Keith thought he was in heaven. The woman seemed to be interested in expanding their relationship. They'd had dinner together. They'd gone dancing. She didn't seem to have a problem with his odd work hours. He was fast falling deeply in love with sweet Kitya.
Aliens came and went, mostly in nicely destructive explosions. Paul Foster rotated to Moonbase and back. Alec rotated to Moonbase and back. Keith Ford's performance records, always good, were beginning to be exemplary. All was right with the world, except for the noted occasional alien incursion.
Even Dr. Jackson noted that the man no longer looked quite so much like he expected not to live up to expectations. Which, not unnaturally, intrigued the good doctor. He requested that Ford report to him for some tests and his required interview to ascertain the state of his mental health. This was greeted with Ford's usual "why me? Why now?" reaction, but he reported as ordered.
The tests went well. Finally, he got to the interview with Dr. Jackson himself. He came in, sat down and waited while the man finished perusing the results of the tests. Jackson put the folder down, folded his hands together and fixed his unnerving gaze on Ford. Silence.
"So, how do you feel?" Jackson finally got around to asking.
"You have – developed a relationship, outside of SHADO."
"Yes, sir," he answered, in spite of the feeling that the doctor was making a statement, not asking a question.
"You are – happy with the relationship?
"You are certain?"
What the hell did he mean by that? "Security found nothing to indicate she could be a problem."
"And I what?"
"Are not – perceiving a problem?"
"No, sir." He frowned and thought about it. "Not so far, sir."
"Good. Good. And if a problem develops?"
"That would depend – on the magnitude of the problem, sir." There were days when he wished he didn't have such a knee-jerk reaction to authority where the doctor was concerned, but he did.
"If the aliens threatened the woman's existence – how would you react?"
How would he react? That depended. He'd be angry if she was harmed or killed. He'd be saddened also. He said so.
"And your reaction to SHADO's influence on her life?"
"Doctor, SHADO has had an influence on her life since the day I met her. It just – is." Not the most literate answer he'd ever given, but it reflected the way he felt now. Much as he might sometimes think longingly of the days before he knew about aliens and space ships and SHADO, there was no going back. There was no way he wanted to suddenly find himself with a large gap of memory where SHADO used to be. Nope. Reluctantly, he let himself understand that SHADO always came first, no matter how annoyed with his commanding officer he might get. Or with anyone else, for that matter.
Jackson reported that as far as SHADO and Ford's duty were concerned, the man was fine.
Ford took Kitya out to celebrate that night. They went to a movie, then dinner. After dinner, they went dancing. For such a lean, lank looking man, he moved very well on the dance floor. Kitya told him so, moving her body against his as they danced to a slow tune. He let his hands drift past her supple waist and onto the curve of her rounded ass. She let them stay there, moving between his hands and his torso in a manner calculated to let him know just where he stood with her. She could feel the swelling of his understanding against the tight muscles of her belly. She smiled up into his face, her eyes heavy lidded, her look suggestive.
For the first time in a very long time, Keith Ford spent the night out. The entire night.
Kitya's apartment was as intriguing and exotic as Kitya could be. There were oriental wall hangings, at least one an original. There were other items that spoke of travel to exotic locals. He asked about the wall hanging.
She answered with a light laugh. "Bonus from my boss. We went to Japan a couple of years ago. Spent a month, putting up with language barriers and bad attitudes. When we got back, I found it sitting on my desk. I'd seen it in one of the galleries and he bought it. Surprised hell out of me."
"I can see where it would."
She moved closer, handing him a glass of wine and then distracting him from it as she moved into his arms. "Enough about me," she said, her voice husky and inviting. Her mouth found his. The wine was forgotten. They sank onto the couch together, hands and mouths and tongues doing some wonderful exploring.
After a while, she took him by the hand and led him to the bedroom where she finished stripping him out of his suit and let his hands deal with what little she still wore. Pale lace and satin joined his clothing on the floor. He applied himself to learning all he could about his Kitya. Before the candles guttered out, he seemed to have been successful.
She snuggled in his arms and drifted off to sleep, a happy, canary eating smile curving her wonderful lips. He sighed, his long arms wrapped around the warm armful that was Kitya, and went to sleep.
He awoke alone. For just a moment, he tensed. Then he heard sounds of domesticity from the other room. Not exactly blissful. He pulled on his boxers and looked out. Kitya was informing the coffee maker just what she thought of it, its immediate ancestors and the entire race of coffeemakers. He snorted. He'd felt that way a time or two.
"I'll buy breakfast," he offered as he gathered up the rest of his clothes and headed for the bathroom.
"Oh, did you hear that?" she asked with a laugh.
"Yes." He looked at his watch as he strapped it onto his wrist. He looked again. "Oh, hell. I'll buy, but I can't join you. I'm late."
She pouted prettily, then smiled. "No rest for the wicked," she whispered in his ear, nibbling on the lobe in a most distracting manner.
"Not today. And the boss'll have my hide if I don't get there on time."
She let her eyes run over him. "Nice hide. All right, if you must, you must. Tonight?"
"Tomorrow. I'll be very late tonight."
Raised eyebrow. "There better not be someone else," she shot back softly. "I'm the jealous type."
"So's my boss." What the hell possessed him to say that? He grinned to lighten the statement. "But not the same way." He kissed her lightly. Stopped. Pulled her into his arms and gave her the kind of kiss that promises the moon even if the man can't quite deliver. "Tomorrow, sweet Kitya."
She stood in the doorway, watching him leave, the front of her robe gapping invitingly. Once he was in the elevator, she let the door close. She leaned back against it, the canary eating grin back in place. She went over and plugged in the coffeemaker, her dark eyes glittering with some unidentifiable emotion.
The aliens chose the next two days to make life difficult. Two Interceptors took damage, including the death of one pilot. He managed to bring the vehicle back in, but died in surgery. That left Moonbase short of a defense vehicle. The aliens took advantage. Nine whirling silver modules zipped in on courses to take them all over the world. Four foundered on the remaining two Interceptors, but that left five marauders on course for Earth.
The SkyDivers moved to take up the slack, as did the Mobile units. Sky1 tracked and exterminated two more of the alien craft, both exploding out over the Atlantic Ocean. Sky2 caught debris damage from the alien it was chasing. The ship had changed course at the last minute, charging the smaller vehicle as though it would ram for a mid-air collision. The pilot managed to miss the bulk of the explosion, but caught wing and fuselage damage from debris.
Sky3 lost both of the aliens it was tracking in the clouds over Southern England. The break up of Sky3's radio signal indicated the aliens were trying to use some sort of jamming signal again. Sky3 remained on patrol until Sky1 could refuel and join the hunt for the downed UFOs.
Ford remained at his post, coordinating between ground and air vehicles, switching frequencies and codes to keep the aliens off balance and in the dark. He prayed he was doing as well as he thought he was. After 18 hours, he was relieved for a couple of hours of sleep. He caught the Commander's eye as he left Control. For just a moment, they held gaze, then Straker nodded and Ford left for some well-earned sleep. Hazily, he wondered if Straker would be less of a hard ass if he got some sleep occasionally.
He dreamed of aliens and Kitya. Sweet, warm, yielding Kitya who had made his last night before this mess so wonderful. He dreamed of aliens stealing her, of her dying in his arms. He awoke sweating. Dreams. Just dreams. He wondered if other SHADO Ops with people they loved had dreams like this. Maybe finding Kitya and falling in love hadn't been such a good idea. With a sigh, he went back to sleep.
"Ford. Come on. Wake up. Go get something to eat and report in."
He looked up into the lovely face of one of the other Control Ops. He nodded and got up groggily. A short trip to the locker room and a cold shower took care of knocking the mists out of his brain. He grabbed coffee and a Danish and headed for Control. A quick update advisory showed that one of the aliens was accounted for, but the other was still at large. Now they got to play the waiting game.
It was documented that alien space modules did not last long in Earth's atmosphere. They lasted longer underwater than in the air, and neither was particularly kind after 72 hours. He wondered yet again what their ships were made of that oxygen and the other gasses in the atmosphere were so corrosive to the substance. He also wondered why the aliens didn't find something else to make their ships of so they'd last longer. His date with Kitya was forgotten as they waited.
Finally, 72 hours after it disappeared, the alien craft rose out of a densely wooded area, wobbled into the upper atmosphere and exploded. Anticlimax. The Mobile Units scoured the area, seeking any clue they could to the alien's mission. Nothing. SHADO stood down from red alert. Alec Freeman, looking like the aftermath of a bad experience, sent his commanding officer home.
"Argue with me and I'll talk to Jackson," he'd threatened. Straker was beginning to look like a Halloween skull. He'd already been on duty 9 hours when the problem started. As far as Freeman could tell, Straker hadn't slept more than 10 and 15-minute catnaps in his office during the entire alert.
He was relieved when Straker nodded. "I think I'll bed down here. I'm not sure I'd make it home," he told his second in command with a ghost of a smile.
Ford, little more rested than his commanding officer, drove home, walked into his flat and crashed for 10 hours. He awoke to the jangle of the phone demanding his attention.
"Ford?" he said sleepily.
Silence. Thoughtful silence. "You're home."
"Uhm, yeah." He consulted his watch. Three days over due. Shit. "Sorry," he mumbled, fighting to find his brain in the wreck of his body. "I – There was an emergency. I got stuck. Cut my throat when I see you?"
She chuckled. "You sound kinda dead already. Want me to bring you food?"
He sighed, relieved. "I would love it. Cold chicken. Cold fish. Leftovers. Anything. The 'fridge walked out when I got home. Muttered something about needing to see a microbiologist about a virus."
She laughed. "Okayyyyyyy. I think I get the picture. I have a job to finish up. I'll see you about 6? Oh, I need an address."
"No problem." He gave her his address, rolled over, and went back to sleep for an hour.
He woke up. It was dark. He fumbled for the light on his watch. 21:34. Well. He'd shot it now, hadn't he? He got up, stripped out of his clothes and went to stand under the shower jets and tell himself what an idiot he was. The water and getting clean helped to clear his head. He shaved. He got dressed and checked his refrigerator for signs of food. Hmm. Maybe letting it go in search of a microbiologist wasn't such a bad idea. Was Stilton supposed to get that odd yellow-green color?
He was just about to walk out the front door in search of a restaurant when the phone rang.
"Keith!" A frightened whisper. Female.
"Yes. Keith – I'm about halfway to your place. I got lost. This guy ran me off the road. Keith, I'm scared." Her voice came in and out of range. He could see her looking wildly around.
"What? Oh, uh –" She thought for a moment and told him. "Please! Hurry! He's looking for me! -" A gasped in take of breath. "No! No! Please –" The phone dropped. Crunch. Dial tone.
Keith slammed out of his building, into his car and screeched out of the car park. A part of his mind wondered just what the hell he thought he was doing. Another part was ignoring the cell phone in his coat pocket and plotting devious horrid demises for whoever was stalking "his" Kitya.
She looked down at the remains of the phone lying on the rough wooden floor. A feline smile curved her lips. She looked up and around to the heavy, beat up chair four feet away from her. She continued to smile, her lips pulling back from her white, even teeth. The man in the chair glared at her. She laughed. She stepped forward and leaned down to look him in the face from a closer distance. The scooped neck of her knit top gave him an excellent view of her breasts. Or would have, if he had been interested.
Commander Edward Straker, driving home from SHADO and Harlington-Straker Studios, had come upon a woman in distress. He'd gotten some sleep at the base, but he was still tired. A flat tire on a darkening road did not look like trouble. The lady was pretty, and seemed to be having some difficulty getting the flat off the car.
He stopped, he offered to help, he brought some muscle to bear on the four-in-hand tire iron and crash. Stars. Pain. Darkness. He'd awakened wired to the chair in which he sat. His head hurt. His wrists hurt. His ankles hurt. And he seemed to have his mouth taped over. He glared at the woman who came in and lit the oil lamp on the table beside him. He started to struggle and found that this made breathing difficult. A rope ran around his neck and looped around his chest. Any attempt to lean forward effectively cut off his air. His wrists were tightly wired to the arms of the chair. From the feel, he assumed his ankles had received the same treatment.
He waited to find out if his captor would tell him why.
Hours dragged by in silence. Then she placed a phone call, her acting was excellent. Ford. He had thought her face familiar. Now he knew why. Ford's girlfriend. But she'd checked out with security. What had they missed?
"Wondering what you missed?" she asked, echoing his thoughts. She laughed. "You missed that Kitya Harris isn't Kitya Harris at all. Oh, there was a KH. She was a sweet little thing. Hardly struggled at all when my friends came for her. I'm sure they took good care of her – well – until they needed her heart – or her liver – or whatever." Another laugh.
She ran her hands up his arms, moving forward until she straddled his legs. She put her hands around the back of his neck, caressingly, lowering her weight onto his thighs, just above the knee. The chair was not really built for this sort of thing. The pressure was uncomfortable.
"Aren't you just gorgeous? Such eyes. I wonder if they ever transplant eyes? What do you think?" She ran a finger along the sharp edge of his cheekbone, her long pale nails coming very close to his eye. "Probably not. So if I poked you, it wouldn't really matter, would it?"
He locked gazes with her. There was no way he was going to let her see how disturbed he was, how genuinely frightened. He was no stranger to torture. But losing his sight was not something he wanted to contemplate. He mumbled through the tape.
"What? Oh, why? Well, for one thing, it pays well." She grinned at him. "For another, well, I'm not too fond of men in power. They abuse it so easily. And you, you keep fighting this losing battle. You sacrifice people to this insane desire to keep the aliens out. It's stupid. And I really don't like stupid."
She got off his lap and began pacing. "Like that idiot Ford. God. What a fool!" She faced Straker, her back straight, her figure thrown into relief by the flickering light of the lamp. "I mean, look at me." She ran her hands over her breasts, down her stomach, across her belly and hips. "Look. Could you believe that something this good would be interested in that little fox faced bastard? Of course, not. How could he possibly believe that I found him attractive? I'm a damn good actress, that's how."
She picked up a pistol from the top of a small table on the far side of the room. It gleamed silver. She checked the safety, clicked it off, pulled the clip, nodded and slammed it home. She worked the slide, dropping a round into the chamber. She turned back, drawing a bead on Straker's forehead.
"Pow. Right between the eyes." She lifted the gun. "Nope. Not you. They want you alive. You're valuable. But fox face? Well, he gets it right between the eyes. After all, they don't need his brain. Just his organs. Such a really nice, tidy solution. You'll be gone. He'll be gone. No answers. Your people will fall apart."
She laughed. "Oh, my. How fierce. You're the Lion in the mix. Without you, your people will fall apart." She smiled. "Why bother with that little fox faced bastard Ford? Well, he's a nuisance. All those codes. Just a little more disarray."
A board creaked behind her. She turned, gun coming up, finger tightening on the trigger. Crack. Crack. She stood there smiling for a moment, then her face changed. She looked down. A red stain was spreading across the front of her shirt. She looked up at Keith Ford's shadow hidden face. A look of "how? Why?" crossed her face. She shifted her weight, as though to step forward, then went limp and toppled face first to the floor. The gun slid out of her hand and came to rest against the toe of Ford's shoe.
He took a breath and released it. He holstered his own gun before turning to the task of releasing Straker. "Sorry, sir. I should have known better," he apologized softly as he stripped off the duct tape across Straker's mouth. He cut the rope holding Straker's body to the chair back. Then he set to work on the wire.
Straker watched him in silence. For just a second, as the tape came off, he had wanted to agree with Ford's apology. He looked at the woman lying dead on the floor behind his operative. He looked at Ford. The man's long face, with its prominent nose and dark eyes was not the stuff of which movie heroes are made. But it wasn't an ugly face. It didn't deserve the "fox" epithet the woman had used. And none of his operatives deserved to have this kind of a trap set for them.
Ford pulled what looked like a thick silver pocketknife out of his pocket. He opened it to reveal a plethora of tools neatly locked inside. Ford caught the curious look. "Leatherman tm. Very handy." He cut through the wire, adding as little damage as possible to the welts around Straker's wrists and ankles.
He helped the pale man to his feet. Straker frowned as his head complained. Ford, noting the wince, slid under his left arm and supported him out of the building. They were about halfway back to the road when one of the SHADO Mobile units rumbled into site. Ford turned the Commander over to the medics without a word.
Paul Foster looked from the younger man to Straker and back. "All right. Ford found your car parked and abandoned, the door open. Now Ford is assisting you to return to it, and you're damaged. There's been no alien sighting. What happened?"
Paul waited for more. Silence. "That's it? Human agent?"
Ford and Straker looked at each other. Ford's shoulders sagged even more. "It was Kitya."
"No, it wasn't. It was the woman we knew as Kitya. She admitted to killing the real Kitya Harris. She was a pro."
That made both Paul and Ford frown. Paul looked at the other man with something akin to sympathy. He was glad he wasn't the one who'd been targeted by the woman. Damn. And Ford had waltzed in there and - and?
"She had a gun on the Commander."
"She was going to kill Ford."
The answers came simultaneously.
Paul looked at Ford. "You -?"
"We fired simultaneously. I was a little better." It hit home then. Kitya was gone. He'd killed another human being to save himself and his commanding officer. Why did it feel like he'd died himself?
"Come on. We'd best get you both back to HQ."
Paul looked back over his shoulder as he followed Straker into the Mobile Unit. "Follow us in," he relented.
Ford nodded. He walked back to his car, got in and sat. A single tear of mourning trailed down his cheek. He dashed it away roughly. The woman had played him for a fool. And he'd fallen for it, hook, line and sinker. Damn. He slammed his fist into the dash of his car. Ouch. That hurt. And it didn't seem to do a lot for the dash, either.
He drove to HQ, parked and went in. God, he was gonna get laughed at. Nope. The first Control Op he ran into was the dark haired beauty he worked with most of the time. She put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a friendly squeeze.
"Better luck next time," she said softly.
"Yeah. Like there's going to be a next time?"
She smiled. "Of course, there is. You didn't know. Security didn't catch it. And you found the Commander. If you hadn't called in when you spotted the Commander's car, we might never have known what happened to him. Guess what, you're the hero." The smile turned into a big grin.
He laughed. "Yeah. A hero with amnesia, probably." But he returned her smile. Maybe he wouldn't get drummed out of SHADO after all? He squared his shoulders and went to get his debriefing over with.
As he walked away, a slender, pale haired young woman with wide blue eyes watched him walk away.
She jumped, although the words were uttered in a kind voice. "Sorry. Just – uhm – wondering who that was?"
Ayesha looked at the retreating back. "That is Keith Ford. He's part of Control and Security. You'll get to know him." She looked back at the pale young woman. A smile flitted across the sometimes too serious young face.
"I hope so."
"Back to orientation."
"Yes – sir?" She made a funny face. "I will get used to this, really I will." But the other operative couldn't tell if she was reassuring herself or her current companion.