May 26th 2010

Commander Straker tidied up the pile of folders on his desk and stacked them in the tray. He sighed. Back to normality, if ever SHADO could be called normality.

Lt Johnson brought him a mug of coffee, milk and sugar, just as he liked it. He looked at her, smiling conspiratorially, 'Good to see you back at work Ayshea. How are you coping with the nightmares?'

'Oh, easing up now Ed, sorry, Commander. It's almost as if the whole experience is fading into the past, as if it never really happened. It seems so … distant somehow.'

'Keith tells me the same. I know you've spoken to Dr Jackson and he's happy for you to be back at work, but let me know if you need any more time off, won't you?' he smiled at her.

'I'll be fine Ed… sorry, just habit I suppose. I think, as the memories fade, it will be easier, but there are so many things that I don't really want to forget, so many good times. And yes, it was horrendous, but there were good times, weren't there?' she asked him anxiously.

'Oh yes there were. A lot of good times, but also…' he paused, unwilling to drag up memories. 'Ayshea, why don't you take a few more days off work anyway? Spend it recording what you can remember. I started writing down the things I wanted to recall, before I forget them. Jackson thinks we should have forgotten most of it in a few days from now, and there are so many things I need to do as a result of our experiences.'

'Paul, you mean?' she looked at him, honestly.

'Yes, Paul for one. I need to move him to a post where he can develop his skills, where he can become a leader. And Alec. He needs to have his workload lightened. Since we came back I ordered him to have a full medical examination. The fool had managed to get away with just the usual cursory check-up. He has myocarditis. Treatable, and hopefully we have caught it in time, but he will need to be monitored closely. So there are lessons to be learned from our stay in that other time. And we have a chance to do things better this time around.' He smiled up at her. 'Thanks for the coffee, Ayshea. Lieutenant.'

She smiled, at him, knowing that it would probably be the last time he would call her by her name in such a familiar, friendly way. She turned to leave, just as Keith Ford came into the room.

'Commander, can I have a word? Ayshea, please stay, this concerns you as well.' Keith was clearly distressed, his hands shaking slightly, his voice agitated.

'Certainly, come in.' Straker closed his office door as they sat, Ayshea watching Keith with concern. 'Now, I presume this is something to do with the past?' He leaned back.

'Ed,' he paused, hesitantly.

'Keith, stop worrying about names, it's all going to be fading from your mind soon enough. I think I can cope with my friends calling me Ed for a few more days.' And he grinned at them.

'Sorry, …Ed. Look. I've spent the last week worrying. I need to talk to you both. Seriously. This is something I can't talk to Jackson about, or anyone else. Only you two would understand.' His eyes were filled with horror, with fear, with memories which he could no longer cope with, alone.

Straker stood up. Went over to the table and poured a glass of Alec Freeman's whisky. Brought it back and handed it to the Lieutenant. Keith took it in shaking hands.

'I know what you want to talk about, Keith,' Straker told him a quiet voice. 'You need to talk about what you would have had to do if Janus hadn't worked. If I had disappeared and you had been left there, alone. And the world hadn't changed.'

'You always were the clever one, Ed.' Keith smiled grimly. 'I can't deal with the thought of that final decision. Of having to do the only possible thing left to me. The only sensible solution. To have to kill Ayshea and then myself.'

His hand shook and the amber liquid in the glass swirled around. Ed stood up and went around the desk, to stand beside him. 'Drink it Keith, it won't do any good in the glass,' he ordered.

Keith gulped down the whisky, and leaned back, sighing. 'What would you have done Ed?'

'Me?' Straker stared bleakly at the mural behind his desk. It had been dark and motionless for so long, but now the bright swirling patterns illuminated the room. 'Me? I made the decision for you Keith. I was hoping we would not remember what had happened. But I should tell you, now, for your peace of mind more than anything.' He took a deep breath. 'That last drink of whisky, before you activated Janus, the drink to toast our friends to wish us success? Your glass and Ayshea's were laced with hydromorphone tablets that I had crushed up earlier. You would have felt sleepy shortly after I had left, would have gone to sleep quite quickly in fact, and then,' he paused, thinking, 'you would have, quite simply, never woken up.'

There was silence.

'Oh Ed.' Ayshea stood up and hugged him, tightly. 'I can't imagine how hard that must have been for you. Knowing what you were doing, and what you might have returned to, if Janus hadn't worked.'

'But it did. And we are here, and the world continues.' He hugged her in return and then let go and stepped back, before pouring another drink for Keith. 'We have a chance to make sure we are better prepared in the future, prepared for any eventuality. Let's hope we take it.'

'Have you any idea why we remembered what happened? None of the others have any recollection at all?' Ayshea asked, as Keith sipped the rest of his drink and thought about what his friend had told him.

'There are lots of theories, but it's usually the simplest ones that are most likely.' Straker sat back behind his desk, its Perspex surface tidy and organised. 'It's probably best to think of time as a piece of string. It goes in a line, but Janus made the string loop back upon itself, to rejoin the initial line and start a new path from where we managed to change history. May 19th to be exact. However, we travelled along the whole of the string, unlike everyone else, those who died. They were not on the string at the end of the loop, so they don't remember. Because we survived, we still have those memories. Don't worry too much about it. Just enjoy each day.'

He opened his office door. 'Keith, Ayshea, if you need to talk to me again I'm here, but I think you will find your memories soon fade, soon become a bad dream. That loop of memory that we three experienced will probably detach itself from the mainstream of consciousness, much like an oxbow lake separates from the main river channel. And then it will gradually cease to exist. It will be as if it never happened. At least I hope so.'

He watched them leave, then picked up a folder on his desk and read through it again, and, nodding to himself, signed the final page. There. The orders for Paul Foster to transfer to Warton, to the secret Aircraft Design Operations unit that was based there, to begin the development of the Fighter Task Force. That was where Paul needed to be, where his skills would be utilised properly.

It was not going to be an easy posting for Paul, but it would give him real experience in leading. Leading his own team. After all, Ed owed it to Paul. Without Paul, Ed would not have survived to finish the final work on Janus.

And SHADO would benefit. The organisation would get a better trained man at the end. That was the main thing.

Then there was the problem of James to deal with. James needed to be watched, closely. Given support if necessary. But certainly James could not be relied upon anymore. And Laura. He would have to order frequent psyche evaluations on both of them, and possibly move them to other, less vital posts in the organisation. Still, he would deal with that later.

He put the folder back and leaned back, steepling his fingers and thinking.

He closed his eyes, remembering, recalling, the long, long months, over two years in fact, of work; the fear, the horror, the friends, the losses. The terrible moment when he watched his friends drink that final drink, knowing that, should he fail and return, he would return to find them asleep and slowly, peacefully, dying. And he would be alone, one last solitary survivor in a dying, nightmare world.

He picked up his personal journal and leafed through the many pages, skimming over his neatly written account of the events of that now no-longer-existing time. Sighing, he closed it and put it in his briefcase. He would continue it tonight. It was important to get it down, before the memories finally disappeared for good. He had learned so much, about himself and others. And they had been given a second chance.

Enough. Enough of the past and the memories.

Commander Ed Straker flicked his intercom. 'Miss Ealand, can you tell my driver I'll be leaving in a couple of minutes? Thank you.'

And finally, thankfully, he put it all behind him, and went home.

To Rachel. To his future with her.

LtCdr June 2010

Author's Notes on Lightcudder's World