Chapter 8

The singing died away, slowly fading to a gentle humming, a soft, lullaby of sound that soothed and comforted and eased away their worries and fears.

Alec, protective as ever, moved closer to Rachel Philips, carefully positioning himself between her and Ed Straker. The sound diminished, died away, and Ed still stood there, eyes brilliant with expectation, with joy, the sheer unadulterated happiness that only a child, reunited with its parent, can ever truly experience.

And the room was suddenly full, not of noise, or singing, or people, but full of light. A light so powerful it was as if the sun itself had shrunk to fit inside this small insignificant little space, had dimmed its brilliance to prevent the walls simply disintegrating under the strength of its light and had become a fragment of its real self, the merest fraction of its true glory. And Rachel, through her tightly closed eyes could see the brilliant glow of the light, like golden, sunlit eyes staring at her.

Nothing could surprise them now, not the sight of their Commander, standing, eyes blazing with blue light, arms outstretched as if waiting to embrace and be embraced, not the sudden appearance of further lights, dimmer now, as if they had realised that these puny, ephemeral humans could not cope with their everyday magnificence, not the voice that filled the whole of SHADO HQ with a majestic, glorious chiming ring.

'Edasich. I was worried about you. It's time to come home. You don't belong here.'

Straker stepped forward and encircled the centre of the illumination.

'Mummy. There was a nova. I had to find somewhere safe…..I've hurt my hand. Are you cross?' Straker's voice was as splendorous, as resonant, as full of grandeur as his mother's.

'Edasich.' The voice was infinitely patient, loving, forgiving. 'Cross? No. Never. Give me your hand.' Straker held out his blistered, bandaged hand and light burned away the clean white dressings, burned away the reddened and swollen blisters, leaving pure new skin, unmarked by any scars or damage.

Ed smiled and looked around the control room and at Rachel and Alec as if for the last time. 'I'm so sorry,' he whispered. 'I'm really, really sorry.'

He began to shimmer, to cast off his physical form, and the blurred and indistinct outline that had once held the shape of Ed Straker melded into a sphere of sparkling blue diamond-bright light.

Rachel's eyes filled with hot, agonising tears as she realised that this supreme creature, this wondrous being was her own Ed, her own true love. And now he was not hers. Not anymore. She turned away too distressed to watch further.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and leaned against the comfort of the contact. Alec. As always. There to support. And she would need him. Dear God, she would need him. How could she manage without Ed? How would she go on, day after day?

'Wait.' A hesitant voice, concerned, caring. 'Edasich. My dearest Edasich, these creatures? They have cared for you? Looked after you?'

'Yes. They're my friends. I've been happy here. Why?'

'Perhaps it is wrong to just take you from them without telling them. Perhaps they will miss you.'

A different voice, colder, more clinical interrupted. 'Zeta, this is not what we agreed. We are here to get your son, Edasich. Nothing else matters. These are mere humans. Their world is no concern of ours. We must go now.'

'No, Freya,' Edasich's mother blazed with indignation. 'No. My son has been missing for some hours and they have looked after him. And although they are weak, and small and insignificant and their lives are but a tiny infinitesimal spark in the immensity of the universe, they have cared for him. They have the right to know where he is going. You are not a parent yourself. You do not understand these things.'

Freya was silent, her light dimmed in acquiescence.

'Edasich, my beloved son, you must tell me what happened to you. Tell me everything.'

Her light diffused until it was almost bearable to look at her. Straker, no longer a tall slender figure in a cream suit, no longer the SHADO Commander, now an ethereal light named Edasich, a hot helium star from the constellation of Draco, son of Zeta and Giauzar, of that same constellation family, Ed Straker resumed his former appearance and, once again in human form, sat on the steps in the control room, smiling at the people around him. His blue eyes were still bright, but with emotion, not fire. He looked up at Rachel and Alec, at the staff in the SHADO Control Room. All silent, all overcome with awe.

'My friends, my very best friends. What can I tell you? How can I make this easier for you. I have to go sometime you know.'

'Please Ed, what happened to you, tell us what happened. That way we can begin to understand and … …oh God, I don't want to lose you. Please, don't leave me.' Rachel clung to him, sobbing, her tears staining his cream suit. He kissed her gently, caressed her face with his fingers, pulled her close to him to hold her head against his shoulder and let her cry.

'Rachel, Alec. I've learned so much from my brief time here. You taught me the value of laughter and friendship and trust. I will miss you. I will miss you all.'

'Ed, who, what..'

'Me? That's simple Alec. My name is Edasich. I'm the offspring, in the truest sense of the word, of two stars in the constellation Draco. Guiazar and Zeta. I have been in existence for more years than you can possibly imagine, but in terms of a star's lifetime I am still only a child. In fact I am only just now reaching the stage where I might be considered a mature star. But stars are not simply balls of gas, despite what your astronomers might have you believe. Stars have, over the millennia, evolved and transformed to become living, sentient entities, with thoughts and desires and feelings.' He paused for a moment to let them assimilate the information. 'Adult stars are able to take on forms of other living creatures so that they can learn about the universe. This is my mother, Zeta,' and he smiled at the woman who had appeared there beside him. A woman with golden eyes, and flowing wheat-coloured hair. 'I have only just gained the ability to take on human form, and yesterday I was playing….'

'Playing? You, Ed , playing?' Alec Freeman tried to smile even though he too was close to tears.

Edasich smiled tenderly, 'yes Alec, strange though it may sound I was playing. I am only a child after all. And children need to play. I was out in the field. The star field to be precise. Where new stars are born. Unfortunately I got caught up in a nova. It was unplanned and unexpected and I remember very little of what happened. I do recall an explosion, and being hurt and I did know that I needed to get to a place of safety before the field was engulfed by an approaching galaxy. I didn't have very long and I couldn't recall who I was or where I belonged, but we are taught at an early age how to protect ourselves.' He paused, looking down at the concrete floor, thinking, remembering.

'Ed? What did you do? How does a star protect itself?' Rachel put her hand on his arm.

He turned to her, smiled, with those gloriously blue shining eyes. 'Simple. We become babies.'

'But, you, you are forty years old, You're not telling me that you've been missing for forty years are you?' Alec gasped.

'Alec. I'm a star. How long do you think I will live for? Ninety years? More like ninety thousand million years. This life here on Earth, these forty years I have spent as a man, as a human among you all, have been but the span of a few hours, if that, in my world. And now I must return. I regret that more than anything, regret that I must leave you, leave you all. You have all meant so much to me here in this time, this place.'

He smiled sadly, and stood up, straightening his jacket as if for one last time.

'Oh, Keith. I'm sorry about the computer earlier. It was my fault I got burned, I wasn't thinking and my mind was focussed on making it work properly. And Alec, that glass of whisky? It is real. It's your favourite brand. Enjoy it. I have that power now. It started to come back to me when I banged my head the other day. The ability to create things out of star-matter. After all, everything; all of us, you, me, the entire universe in fact, is made from the stuff of stars. And if a star can't manipulate star matter, who can? That,' he grinned at Rachel with child-like little smile that was so endearing, 'That is how I came to the drive the Spyder. That was such fun.' And he laughed out loud. 'And it was fun to see you get cross, Rachel. I haven't seen you get angry like that before. Something else I will take away with me when I go home. Although I never got to drive that powerboat.' He paused, pensively. 'I will miss that. Miss seeing new things, miss being here, with you all. I would have liked to see SHADO succeed. To beat the aliens and free Earth. To marry you and have children with you. To watch my family grow up. To learn what it feels like to grow old.' He looked up, sadly, at his mother. 'Mummy?'

'Yes dearest?'

'Can we help them stop the aliens? Please?'

'Edasich. You know the rules. We cannot interfere with other worlds. Much as we might want to, it is not allowed. I'm sorry.' She held out her arms to him and he hugged her tearfully as she stroked his blond hair and kissed his head.

Rachel watched, watched as he clung to his mother, watched as the two shapes slowly began to glow again, to transmute back to pure light. Her hands were clenched tightly, and she held her breath. She would not break down now, not here. She would look at him one last time, with love and then…. then she would carry the memory of him with her. Forever.

But suddenly Edasich stepped back from his mother, his head tilted to one side. 'Is Daddy here?'

'No. Why?'

'I wanted to ask him something.' Edasich was subdued, deferential.

'Go on. I think I know what you want.' There was a note of acceptance, of resignation, but also of pride in Zeta's voice.

'Mummy, would you and Daddy mind if I stayed here a little bit longer? Just till tonight? I promise…' his voice was pleading, 'I promise to be sensible and come home straight after. Please?'

Rachel interrupted. 'Ed, Edasich I suppose I should call you, don't stay. I couldn't bear to spend just a few more hours with you, knowing jhtat you will be leaving later tonight. It's going to break my heart when you go. Please, don't make it any harder, just go now, before….'

'Rachel, my dearest Rachel,' Straker's voice, soft, deep, cultured, 'Oh Rachel. Tonight? Tonight, for a star, could be in a hundred years time. Plenty of time for you and I to live our lives together, to marry, have children. To grow old together, you and I, to do all those things that we both want to do. Break speed limits, drive powerboats, fly to Mars, and, most importantly, help this small insignificant little planet, this wondrous world that has given me so much, to help this Earth throw off the threat of the aliens. I can stay. With you. If my parents will let me, but more importantly, if you want me to. You and Alec and all my friends here. Well?'

'Stay, please stay,' she whispered as she clung to him, her hands caressing his face, the stubble still there on his jaw, rough under her fingertips. He bent to kiss her gently on her lips, his hands framing her face, his touch tender and caring and compassionate.

He looked questioningly at his mother.

'Mummy?' the voice of a child, not the SHADO Commander.

'Very well, Ed. But you know the rules. You must give up being a star while you are here, and you must come straight home afterwards. Promise?'

He beamed with delight, with excitement. 'I promise. I'll behave. I always do. And I'll see you later. Tell Daddy I'll be home in time to go the beach with him will you?'

Alec interrupted, 'But how can you do this? We've seen you, we know what you are.'

'Don't worry about that, friend of Edasich, you won't remember this. In fact this will not happen. Edasich will simply stay here for a short time, in our idea of time. He will grow old here and die here, probably after a very long and very successful life. Stars tend to do that you know. His life will blaze across the world and leave a shining path in its trail. A path that with be remembered for a thousand years to come and more. And then he will come home, this evening, and play with his father and tell us all about the exciting day he has had, and the friends he made here. Very well, Edasich. Go and play with your friends. I will make everything right here. Oh. One more thing,' she bent to kiss him fondly.

'Yes Mummy?' his face eager with the anticipation of being allowed to play for longer, and he listened, and nodded seriously as she whispered in his ear, before kissing him one last time and fading away. The Control Room in SHADO HQ filled with light, a brilliance that blinded everyone, and filled with noise that deadened their senses with its intensity and strength. They closed their eyes, covered their ears, closed their minds to the almost physical sensation of light, of noise, of power. And then…..darkness. Silence.

Epilogue

Ed Straker intended to drive his Saab home. But his mind was tumbling over the events of the last few hours and it was late, very late and he was tired, so he decided to be sensible and safe and boring and get someone to drive him home.

Once in the back of the new X5; he hated BMWs he remembered with a wry grin, he strapped up and picked up the early morning edition of the Telegraph that his driver had collected for him.

There was time to catch up on any important news, if government spending could be considered important news. If it wasn't about aliens or the SHADO budget for the next fiscal year, he wasn't really bothered at the moment.

The driver slowed almost abruptly, and Straker frowned.

'Sorry sir, fox in the road. Didn't want to hit it.'

'No problem,' Straker replied aware that he too, would have braked instinctively, although probably not in time to avoid an accident.

He turned to the next page in the paper.

And then he saw the advert.

Dark, glossy grey, streamlined, fast, responsive. An Audi R8. Oh not a Spyder, that would be a waste of money, and the waiting list would be horrendous, even with his studio connections, but an R8? He could have one in crimson. He leaned back in his seat. Why not? He could afford it.

But it was an expensive plaything, an unnecessary luxury and he could manage without it. He would be sensible, he decided and folded the paper away, and put thoughts of breaking the speed limit in a crimson R8, firmly at the back of his mind.

Then somewhere, in the back of his mind Ed Straker, Commander-in-Chief of SHADO, heard a woman's voice, soft and gentle, a mother's voice whispering in his ear before it faded away. 'Don't forget to have some fun.'

And he opened the paper again and looked.

And smiled.

Wolfishly.

LtCdr

I read through this story again and was in two minds whether to add it here. It doesn't really fit in with the Rachel stories and yet it was a lovely story to write ( and researching the honeycomb ice-cream was great!) Anyway, I decided to add it here warts and all.