Chapter 3

Paul Foster stared glumly at the paper. Nine. Nine of the buggers. Sod. Each one requiring extensive mathematical calculations just to ensure that the Hubble would be accurately positioned, and then further demanding programming to enable the correct functions to be put into operation.

Bugger.

Still, at least he was getting his car upgraded. Eloise would be pleased. She had been definitely dismissive of his lilac BMW. He would take her somewhere fancy tonight, somewhere pretentious and ostentatious. Dark grey paintwork. He could fantasise that he was the SHADO Commander-in-Chief, in his classy, newly-upgraded car.

Perhaps he would wear his new pale suit, not the cream one, that was still a little too presumptuous, but the ecru coloured one, that set off his eyes.

'Ok, Keith, I need to take over your console now,' and he started to input the first set of co-ordinates into the programming system.

'Right Ascension; 00hr 42.7m Declination; +41degrees 16 minutes.'

It seemed to take forever. He couldn't leave the Control Room while the data was being processed, there were too many variables to consider, but eventually Hubble was positioned. And then he had to take the photographs.

Easier said than done.

Shit. Why the hell did Ed pick today of all days to stuff his knee up? On any other day Ed Straker would have simply stood here and dictated off by heart, without having to resort to calculations or tables, a set of logarithms and spatial points that Paul would have entered, and presto – the job would have been finished in a fraction of the time.

For the first time Paul Foster wished he had spent more time studying the finer points of stellar navigation.

Done. At last. It had only taken forty-five minutes. He hoped he would get quicker with the other data.

He took the first set of details through to the commander. Spatial co-ordinates, star maps, images, nearby singularities, dark matter regions. Everything.

'Thank you Paul, just leave it on my desk.' He didn't even look up.

Ungrateful sod. Paul cast a fleetingly brief look of sheer hatred at his commanding officer, sitting comfortably there behind his desk. Straker chose that precise moment to look up, his blue eyes focussed on Foster's face. 'Anything the matter Paul? Are you able to manage? Let me know if you want any help will you and I'll ask one of the techs to come in and show you how it's done, if you need it.'

There was simply no answer to that. He grunted a curt response and headed back to the Communications console armed with the list of co-ordinates for the next eight points in space.

R.A. 23 h 28.8 m Dec. +14 deg 45 m

R.A. 05 h 14 m 32.2s Dec -08 deg 12 m 06 s

R.A. 00h 57 m 42.4.s Dec+61 deg 04 m 59.8 s

R.A. 23 h 05 m 52.0 s Dec -35 deg 51 m 11 s

R.A. 22 h 57 m 39.1 s Dec -29 deg 37 m 20 s

R.A. 13 h 26.8 m Dec -47deg 29 m

R.A. 11h 14m 47.7 s Dec +55 deg 01m 08.5 s

R.A. 12h 45 m 07.83 s Dec -45 deg 26m 24.92 s

It took forever.

Everything that could go wrong, did. Hubble refused to move, moved the wrong way, rejected data input, read it incorrectly, spat out the bits it didn't like. In other words, sulked like a toddler who wanted an ice-cream and wasn't allowed to have one.

'Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble,' they called it in SHADO. The inability of the immense telescope to obey the simplest instructions. It always seemed to work perfectly when Straker programmed it, but there again the damned machine was probably as terrified of Ed Straker as most of the SHADO operatives were.

And through it all, throughout the swearing, the cursing, the frustrations and the infuriation, Ed Straker sat calmly in his office, resting his twisted knee and unable to move far without the aid of a walking stick. Damn. Ed Straker could have done this job in his sleep.

But Straker had hurt his knee.

Paul Foster worked on, not daring to take a break in case the dratted machine decided, once more, to go on strike in the middle of a set of calculations. The last time that happened, it formed a causal loop that rendered all the inputted data null and void. And created even more work for him.

And Straker sat in his office, his leg up on a stool, reading reports, drinking coffee and quietly catching up on paperwork. He even had Keith Ford in his office, helping him do the financial accounts.

Shit.

Eleven forty. Finally. Finished. The last piece of datum. The final computation. The ultimate image. All done. And in the allotted time. Straker would have no complaints this time. Surely.

He took the completed calculations through to the commander.

'Thank you Colonel.' Straker smiled at him. Well, that made a change. At least the boss acknowledged his presence. Straker returned his attention to the paperwork on his desk, dismissing Foster with a brief nod. Foster grinned to himself. There was still time, before noon, to put some of his plans into action.

As Paul left the office he heard a cool, almost amused, voice. 'Oh, and by the way Paul. I need to you find the official name of the principal stellar object at the centre of each area that you mapped. Can you have that additional information for me in twenty minutes?'

Bugger.

It was simpler to get out the starcharts and use those. He commandeered the large chart table in the centre of the Control Room and, armed with the list of co-ordinates, started.

R ; 00hr 42.7m Dec; +41deg 16m Andromeda,

R.A. 23 h 28.8 m Dec. +14deg 45m Pegasus

He wrote the list out, neatly

Andromeda R.A.; 00hr 42.7m Dec; +41deg 16m

Pegasus R.A. 23 h 28.8 m Dec. +14deg 45m

Rigel R.A. 05 h 14 m 32.2s Dec -08 deg 12 m 06 s

Indus IC59 R.A. 00h 57 m 42.4.s Dec+61 deg 04 m 59.8 s

Lacaille 9352 R.A. 23 h 05 m 52.0 s Dec -35 deg 51 m 11 s

Fomalhaut R.A. 22 h 57 m 39.1 s Dec -29 deg 37 m 20 s

Omega Centauri R.A. 13 h 26.8 m Dec -47deg 29 m

Owl Nebula R.A. 11h 14m 47.7 s Dec +55 deg 01m 08.5 s

La Superba R.A. 12h 45 m 07.83 s Dec -45 deg 26m 24.92 s

Oh Shit.

Shit . Shit. Shit.

He had planned this all along.

The clever bastard.

And even Paul Foster had to admire the man.

Prologue

Then, exactly at noon, the office door opened and Ed Straker walked confidently out, not limping, not leaning on his cane; instead, twirling the stick as if he were leading a marching band.

He grinned at Paul. 'Oh Paul. I'm sorry, I made a mistake earlier. The colour scheme for the new SHADO Colour Adaptation Modification for your car? It isn't cinder. I got confused. I knew it was something to do with fire. It's Blaze. Hope you don't mind having a fluorescent orange BMW.'

And the Control Room, and in particular Keith Ford, so often the butt of Paul Foster's jokes, exploded with laughter

LtCdr.

April 1st 2010

I do not own these characters. Just borrowing them for a while. I'll return them when I've finished.

Maybe. If they are in any fit state that is. The galactic co-ordinates are, I hope, accurate.