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

Castled

(a chess move designed to put the king in a place of safety)

'Coffee, Commander?' Keith Ford held out a Styrofoam mug to the tall, silent man standing at the edge of the room, whose mind was clearly on other more important things.

'Hm? Sorry? Oh yes, thank you Keith.' Straker took the cup, sipping it as he watched the radar screen displaying the flight pattern of the incoming UFOs. He had been here, in the control room for nearly five hours now, trying to make sense of the random erratic flight paths that the UFO's seemed to be following.

It wasn't as if they were heading for any important area, or even a highly populated zone. South-west Scotland was what you might call low in terms of UFO desirability; few people, especially out of the brief holiday season; poor resources, unless you valued pine trees and the thin fishing stocks left in the area; and very poor communications. Mobile network coverage was dire, unless you had a SHADO mobile, linked to some of the most secret and technologically advanced satellite systems.

All in all not the sort of place you would expect to be a UFO target. But here they were, again. The sixth time in as many months. It was all very perplexing. And he didn't like being perplexed. It made him feel as if he were merely a pawn in their games. An insignificant piece of the puzzle. One of those minor pieces that you could afford to discard without affecting the bigger picture.

He liked to be in control, to see where all the pieces went, where they were going to end up, and how his actions could affect the final result. He liked being able to affect the final result. It was the only thing that made his work worthwhile.

He finished his coffee and headed back to his office, to sit. You could solve quite a few problems by just sitting around, as he had often told Alec. Leaning back in his chair, fingers interlaced, he let his gaze wander around the room, idly, not really looking, just meditating.

He caught sight of his chess board in the corner of the room. It was a fairly new addition to his office and somewhat of an anachronism really. He usually had little time to spare for playing chess, much as he enjoyed it, but after his visit to Tracy Island he had found it a very therapeutic activity; hence the chess board.

He was currently involved in an internet match with theTracypilot, Virgil, and it was beginning to get interesting. He studied the board, anticipating Virgil's next move; probably Qh6 – g5. If so he could really make things difficult for Virgil by moving Nb7 – d6. That would put the cat among the pigeons. Anyway, he had other things to think about now. Chess would have to wait.

And he focussed on the more complex and important problem at hand.

UFOs. Always heading for the same area, always flying over the North Sea up theSolway Firthand then; well, generally, then they were shot down, to crash in the sea. The only problem was that it was becoming too predictable, too easy.

And more often than not there was little or no wreckage to be found. It was getting to the stage where he felt like stationing a Skydiver almost permanently off the coast of the Isle of Man, or perhaps the zone to the north of Rathlin Island would be better; it was more isolated and further off the major ferry routes.

Maybe it was time to send in the big guns. Time for Alec Freeman to earn his salary. He smiled ruefully and picked up the phone.

Chapter 1

Opening Game the formal sequence of moves at the start of a chess game

'A weekend in a Scottish country hotel. What strings did you pull to get this Ed?' His Chief of Security leaned across and smiled enthusiastically

He had to lean close to her to be heard over the noise of the rotors. 'I promised the owner I would give his mistress a leading role in the next adult movie we make,' and grinned at her, knowing full well that she did not believe him for one second.

'Ed.' The tone in her voice was enough.

'Alec told me about this place last year after I sent him up here. There had been some fairly concentrated UFO activity locally and I wanted him to investigate. He didn't find anything, apart from this hotel which he visited briefly and raved about. I always wanted the chance to come here and this seemed like the ideal opportunity, although I have my suspicions that he was more interested in its range of single malts than its accommodation. With that UFO last month also heading for this area, I decided that it was about time I came out myself to see what was going on. Although I hate to say it, Alec must have missed something, but I have read all his reports, and went through the evidence and I can't find anything amiss. Still, two heads are better than one.' He looked at her, smiling, until he saw the annoyed look on her face.

'So I am only along to help you solve a SHADO problem,' she complained, then grinned at his abashed expression. 'Don't worry. Ed, I know how important this is. If we manage to get a short break as well, that is a bonus.' She smiled at him and leaned across to give him a brief kiss. 'I just hope you haven't booked separate rooms.'

He smirked at her, 'Actually, they only had a double left. I hope you don't mind? As my subordinate you will have to sleep on the sofa,' and he had to duck quickly as she reached out to hit him in jest.

He looked out of the window at the view below. TheSolway Firth, glistening with the perfect early afternoon sunshine; an armada of yachts all nestled in the small bay opposite the hotel. It was the ideal place for a short break.

He had almost been glad of the most recent UFO assault in this area; it had given him the opportunity to get away from HQ for a while. He didn't see what Alec Freeman could possibly have missed in his investigations, but it did give Straker an excuse for a holiday with his fiancée. It was a good thing that SHADO and the studios were relatively quiet; otherwise he would have been unable to justify taking his Chief of Security with him on what would turn out to be, hopefully, a casual break.

Straker was relieved that the hotel did not have facilities for a helicopter landing pad. It would have made them far too noticeable and he intended that for this weekend they would both be just another ordinary couple on holiday. Arriving in a well-equipped, almost military-style helicopter would have been rather ostentatious. The Shadair copter was to land at a nearby army airfield, adjacent to a military shooting range, instead and Straker had arranged for a hire car to be waiting there for Rachel and him.

The helicopter touched down and they waited for the rotors to slow.

'Good afternoon Commander, Colonel,' the Base Captain greeted them, unaware of their exact status, but having been forewarned of their titles by his General. The Captain had been distinctly unhappy when he had been ordered to provide landing facilities for what to all intents and purposes were a couple of civilians. He had soon been put right, though. He remembered the uncomfortable telling-off he had been subjected to after complaining about the army providing facilities for wealthy Americans who had more money than sense.

'Captain Moore, you will accord the two passengers the highest respect and regard. Although I am not at liberty to divulge any further information, you will be meeting the Commander-in-Chief of the most important organisations in the world. One of his Colonels will also be accompanying him. Please ensure that security is at maximum. I do not want to hear one whisper of this visit escaping from the barracks. Is that understood?'

'Perfectly, General.' and Captain Moore did. He watched as the two passengers disembarked and headed for their nondescript hire car. Definitely one military person; the man, tall, slender, and with military bearing despite being dressed casually.

She however was harder to define. There was that same aura of determination about her, a sense of toughness and what he would call presence, but her attitude towards the man she was accompanying was far too…. how did one define it? Deferential certainly, but also more than that. Intense? Passionate? Surely not.

And then she stopped and looked at the Commander and Captain Moore knew without a shadow of a doubt that they were deeply in love with each other. He wished his wife looked at him in that way. He wondered what it was like being loved by a woman like that.

One of the security guards provided by the Base Captain loaded their cases into the trunk, or boot as Straker remembered it was called here, before saluting smartly and getting into the jeep to escort them to the main exit.

Straker had given the map a quick glance, and that was all that was needed for him to fix the route firmly in his mind. He switched off the bland, androgynous sat nav

Once off the base the roads were clear of traffic; only a few heavy lorries, heading from the ferry terminal at Stranraer, to overtake. It was a pleasant journey, being able to drive himself, with no escort car trailing behind. SHADO's Chief of Security had been adamant that additional agents were unnecessary, especially as she was travelling with him. Besides, this was hopefully going to be more of a holiday than work, and she most certainly did not want to be spied on by secret service men, not when she was with her fiancé.

Rachel Philips had definite plans for this weekend.

The hotel, at the end of a long road, single track with occasional passing places, was on the very edge of the bay. White painted walls, grey window lintels and gravel pathways. A typical Scottish country house with a gentle rolling hill behind leading to dense woodland on the top. Forestry Commission woodland, from the looks of it; with regimented rows of evenly spaced pines lined up like chess pieces on a board, ready and waiting to be harvested.

He parked the rather jaded Mondeo next to the row of expensive cars, personalised number plates in abundance, that fringed the car park.

'Perhaps we should have brought the Saab,' he said dryly, as they paced across the gravel to the Reception area which was as splendid as expected; expensive chequerboard patterned carpets, heavy antique furniture beautifully polished and maintained, with original oil paintings hanging in every available space on the wood panelled walls, and with that indefinable aura of grand country living permeating throughout.

They went through the usual formalities, credit card, signing in, and Rachel tried hard not to laugh when Ed realised that he had no idea of the registration of the car.

'Honestly Ed,' she smiled, 'you can recall all the command codes for every section and yet you can't remember a number plate.'

'It's not my fault.' he pleaded, grinning ruefully, 'I just drive the thing. I don't have to remember silly details like registrations.'

His American accent caught the attention of a burly, thick-set man entering the wide welcoming hallway.

Straker heard him mutter disparagingly, 'Americans. Think they own the place. Typical.'

Ed watched him go up the curving staircase, noting the way he held his partner's arm possessively and controlling, the way he spoke to the small child following them, barely disguising his contempt for the young boy.

'Hurry up Michael. Do you have to dawdle everywhere? '

Straker felt a hand on his arm and realised that he had been tense with anger at the other guest's behaviour.

'Forget it Ed. He's not worth the effort.' she spoke quietly and he relaxed and turned back to the receptionist.

'Car registration? Oh yes…..'

Their room was perfect. A huge bay window overlooked the beach with a headland to their right; there was a bathroom with a tub big enough for a rugby team, and the room itself was dominated by a luxurious four poster bed. He raised an eyebrow at this and she smiled with sheer delight, glancing up at him mischievously.

'Come on. Let's get out and walk along the beach. I'd like to get an idea of the layout of the area and I could do with some fresh air after the last few days. I don't think I saw daylight at all during the whole week.' He put on his leather jacket.

The beach was shingle; small, neat water-rolled pebbles slithering and tumbling underfoot as they walked. She picked up various ones, admiring the smoothness, the colours, the banding, then tossed them away to join the thousands of others lying on the sea washed shoreline, commenting on their origins and formation. He watched, amused at her interest; to him rocks were just rocks and he told her so.

'Philistine.' She mocked him in jest and tossed the next pebble at him, and he caught it almost absent-mindedly.

He walked beside her, enjoying the feeling of freedom but, as always, keeping a part of his mind prepared for any eventuality. Even in jeans, sweatshirt and leather jacket he still wore his holster and gun. He might be on holiday, but the aliens didn't take any notice of that.

Unfortunately.

Perhaps next time he decided to have a holiday he would send the aliens an advance notice.

Commander Straker invites you to join him on his vacation.

Details as follows; …..

RSVP

At least then he would be ready for them.