Author's note. These stories were written before I had got a serious grasp of the complexities of the character of Ed Straker. Please forgive me. Archived here after reconsideration. All stories/art work etc available on my website: Lightcudder's World
Our fears do make us traitors Macbeth Act 4 Sc 2 (All times are given in relation to the following event:)
'All rise.' The announcement cut through the quiet chatter amongst the seated crowd, who instantly ceased their idle speculations, and discussions, and gossip.
And they stood, tense and ready, waiting while the three stern and silent men entered and sat, solemn and serious, behind the plain unornamented table. To an outsider it was almost anachronistic, this formality in such a drab, austere room. But the formality was a requirement, a necessity; without the formality there would be no legal standing.
Once everyone had settled into their seats again, silently this time, and the door had closed, they waited, again, patiently. There could be no hurrying, no unseemly haste today. The process was slow, methodical and orderly, and it was only right and proper that it was so. There was too much at stake, far too much, to hurry over the slightest detail, however insignificant or apparently trivial.
The accused, the prisoner, sat at one side of the room, clearly visible at the front of the watching crowd but not appearing concerned that he was the focus of so much attention. Armed guards stood behind him, ensuring that no attempt would be made to escape. As if it would have been possible to escape from such a fortified and secret location.
As the spectators and witnesses waited in silence for the proceedings to begin; the accused, the prisoner, sat uncaringly on the hard plastic chair, at the front of the assembled gathering, not looking at anyone or anything, his eyes randomly scanning the room as if searching for blemishes in the paintwork, or rough patches in the concrete walls. He had seen all that he needed to see, and was content.
He ignored the people sitting in neat rows in front of him, although he must have been aware that their eyes, their thoughts were on him. It was as if he was the only person in the room. He fiddled for a moment with a hangnail on one finger, the cuffs of his rumpled and creased jacket partially, but not quite, hiding the handcuffs on his wrists, while the judge read out the charge against him. There was no reaction from the man in the rumpled suit, no indication that he had even heard the judge, that he was even aware that the judge was speaking to him.
The gathered spectators relaxed. This was the beginning. Now it would all be clarified and justified; the explanations, the reasons and presumably, eventually, clearly; the acquittal. The judge finished reading and turned to the man seated at the side of the room.
'How do you plead?'
There was a moment of anticipation. The accused, the prisoner, didn't even bother to look up as he spoke. 'Guilty.' He carried on examining his fingernails, carefully inspecting them for microscopic traces of dirt or roughness.
His reply was casual, almost an afterthought, and fell like a physical blow into the silence of the room. He crossed his legs and leaned back, staring at the ceiling as if to calculate how much paint it would take to change its colour from fading off-white to something more pleasing, more soothing to the eye. A pale blue perhaps, or soft dove grey. It was as if he was the only person in the room, as if nothing else existed, apart from the hard plastic chair, the handcuffs and himself.
Alec Freeman half-rose at the back of the courtroom, before resuming his seat. He shook his head in utter disbelief and dismay. How could this be happening? He turned to Paul Foster, sitting beside him.
The two men were at the back of the room that, up until this morning, had been a conference room for use by the science and technology teams in SHADO. It had been hastily transformed into its current role. The Court Martial chamber.
The chairs, the tables, the necessary paraphernalia of a court room had been brought in, complete with the rows of seats for the many witnesses that had been expected to give evidence in his defence.
But there would be no persons called to give witness today. The accused had pleaded guilty. The trial was over almost before it had begun.
'Paul, what the hell is going on? He can't do that.' Alec straightened to face the man at the front, the man who had pleaded guilty.
Ed Straker, Commander-in-Chief of SHADO, looked back at the man he once called his friend, Colonel Freeman; looked at him and looked through him, without expression, without recognition, without acknowledgement.
He spoke to the Military officer at the centre of the tribunal. 'I plead guilty to the charge of Treason. I freely admit attempting to collaborate with a foreign government. You probably want to know the reason? Well that's very easy. I have had enough. It has become increasingly obvious that the aliens are going to beat us eventually. In fact I think we should stop fighting them and surrender. Let them have what they want. It will be easier in the long run, instead of wasting time and money and resources in a futile battle we cannot win.'
He stared at the court scornfully, defiantly then leaned back, unconcerned and relaxed, in his hard chair in front of the assembled crowd. There was silence. A heavy, solid silence that reached into every corner of the room. No one moved for a long moment.
General Henderson, shaking his head in anger and confusion, conferred in quiet whispers with the men on either side of him, obviously thrown by the unexpected plea from the accused.
Straker sat, composed, his hands together on his lap, fingers still now, eyes focussed on a point in the corner of the room. The Acting Chief of Security, Mark Butler, stood at the entrance to the room, watching the proceedings, watching his team do their duty.
The crowded room was still, motionless, as the assembled witnesses and spectators waited. No-one had anticipated this.
'You realise what your confession means?' Henderson asked the accused man.
'Absolutely.' The reply was almost contemptuous. The voice calm and controlled.
'Then we have no choice but to pronounce sentence.'
'Of course. I'm not a fool General, I do understand the purpose of a court-martial. I fully accept the consequences of my actions.'
'Very well. The prisoner will rise for sentencing.' Henderson also stood.
Straker rose to his feet, hands clasped loosely in front of him, not looking at anyone. He was perfectly still, perfectly serene. Spotlights glinted off his shaggy, ruffled hair and the ash-blonde stubble that shadowed his jaw. Despite his casual, noncommittal attitude he somehow looked haggard and pale, with dark circles under his eyes.
'Edward Straker, you have pleaded guilty to the charge of treason in that you deliberately attempted to collaborate with a foreign government during a time of war, in an attempt to assist the enemy. Therefore it is the sentence of this court that you be executed for your crime. Sentence to be carried out in five days at an hour and a place to be determined. Do you have anything to say to this court?'
The SHADO Commander sat down, relaxed and at ease, crossing one leg over the other, his hands clasped around his knee. He looked around the room, at the SHADO staff members watching, at the guards, at his friends sitting helplessly at the back of the room.
'Just one request, James,' his insolent tone made General Henderson scowl. 'I really don't fancy dying here in this sordid underground prison that has taken everything from me. If you are really determined to end my miserable existence, please have the decency to do it in a place of my choice. I would prefer it to be at the SHADO Medical Facility, on the hill by the trees.'
He paused, as if contemplating a view only he could see, and continued, his eyes far away, his voice quiet and heartfelt, 'At midnight, so I can see the stars for one last time. Give me a gun and I'll quite happily do it myself. It will save you the loathsome task of having to put together a firing squad.'
He stared at the blank walls, ignoring the faces of all the people in the room, his friends, his colleagues. There was no sign of any emotion in his appearance, not a flicker of regret, or remorse, or even guilt. It was as if he was a robot, his response automated and totally unfeeling.
Alec Freeman put his head in his hands. It was last year when Ed had broken down and tried to kill himself there on that hill, at night. Dear God, had Ed had another breakdown? Is this what all this had been about?
It would be too late to save him from execution. Nothing could prevent that now. Treason was punishable by death, no matter the excuse. But if Ed had finally broken after so long, that would explain everything.