Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyways.
“Colonel Freeman,” Ford’s tinny voice blared from the intercom in Straker’s office. “Could you please come to the control room, sir?”
Alec looked up, puzzled. It was, as Straker usually called it, the graveyard shift, and up to now it had been dead quiet indeed. He rose much more fluently than a man his size and mass usually would have. The time in Canada had done him good, physically and mentally.
He was scanning the monitors already while striding along the computer aisle, two of the screens showing six small blips of light each.
“Coming in over Greenland,” Ford said calmly. “Flat arc, if they continue like that, they’ll overfly southern Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and England, landing somewhere in southern England, right now either Kent or Surrey.”
“Well, what happened to the Interceptors?” Freeman asked, after some quick, mental arithmetics.
“That’s the reason I called you, sir,” Ford answered. “There were a full dozen when they passed the moonbases. The interceptors took out six of them.”
“Did you launch the Skydivers?”
“Yes, sir. But only 2, 3 and 5 are close enough to reach them before landfall.”
In situations like this Freeman understood Straker’s constant gripe with the late financial problems S.H.A.D.O. had. Of the four additional bases he had wanted, he had gotten just one, and the amount of defense vehicles had been barely doubled. As a consequence it took just a dozen UFOs to slip through where they wanted to slip through.
Something struck him about the flightpath.
“Exact trajectory again, Keith?”
Ford looked up at Freeman, unperturbed. He would have counted out the runner beans in his backyard, if one of the ranking officers had asked him. He had found his very own niche at S.H.A.D.O., nothing would faze him here.
“Exact trajectory….,” he played with the computer-pad for a moment. “They’ll be passing Gjunnbjoern Fjeld and the Denmark Strait in 10 minutes. Then Bolungarvik, Myvatn and Djupivogur, on to Cape Wrath…”
“Wait a moment,” Alec had called up a map on one of the monitors, following the trajectory with the end of a pen. Tapping the screen where it showed Iceland he turned towards Ford. “Where exactly are Commander Straker and Colonel Foster right now?”
“Somewhere between Myvatn and Djupivogur,”
Alec ran a hand through his hair. He did not believe in coincidences.
“Are we able to connect to them?”
“No, sir,” Ford answered. “Commander Straker phoned in via satellite the evening before yesterday. But already then the connection was bad. He said he would take only his mobile along, but I can’t even do a GPS location on it currently.”
“Order the skydivers in over Iceland,” he finally decided. “I want them to keep them from landing or firing on the island.”
“Very well, sir.”
“Oh, and Keith,” Alec shot over his shoulder already halfway back to the office. “Try to inform Straker of this and keep me abreast of things. I’ll be in the office.”
Straker woke. It was not morning, the rest of the camp was quiet, there was no obvious reason why he should have come awake. Yet he was wide awake.
He listened for the horses. The evening before it had taken him time to grow accustomed to the gentle yet constant stream of small sounds emanating from where they were corralled. After a while his unconscious had filed these and he had been able to fall asleep. Now he revisited what he had stowed in memory and found the discrepancy: the stallion was walking around the camp, free, his breathing heavy and sharp.
It was another White Night, the landscape bathed in a silvery shimmer, though this time there also were Northern Lights playing across the night sky in curtains of greens and reds.
Noiselessly he slid from his sleeping bag, into a crouch low to the ground, taking the Glock from his backpack. Still as low as possible he moved over to the corral and traced the fence of the stallion’s enclosure. It was unbroken and showed no sign of how or where the horse had breached it.
He moved yet farther away from the others, leaving the camp’s inner perimeter behind. The noises from the sleepers, the horses and the fire were inaudible now. Straining Straker heard the constant, even rustle of the wind through the grass, the lapping of the water from the stream and the regular, lowkey hoof beats from the stallion, which sounded filled with single-minded purpose. His pace had picked up, he was trotting now.
At long last he was able to make him out. Black against the dark background the stallion was nothing more than a vague shape propelled forwards in an inexorable perimeter watch. Straker caught his breath, as that was what the horse was doing, he suddenly realized.
Another movement caught his eye, near a spot of underbrush close to the streamlet. Silently he crept forwards, discerning a human shape stretched out flat in the grass. Before he could finish the approach, the figure turned around, motioning him to drop down. It was Unnur, a Sig Sauer Pro gleaming dully in her hands. Straker dropped beside her, close enough so their shoulders were touching.
The woman turned her face into the light, enabling him to see the seriousness of her expression. With deliberate slowness she straightened out again, allowing him to sight down where her gaze, and her gun, were pointing. When he finally grasped what he was seeing his heart missed a beat, just to start pounding furiously in his chest.
There was no mistaking the red suit and helmet.
Straker scanned the sky and the nearby landscape, there was no aircraft in sight. The alien was making directly for the camp. He carried no gun, instead there was something resembling a miniature radar antenna in his hands. A low hum emanated from it, just barely audible. The alien was traversing from left to right and back with it, covering the camp from side to side. Although there was no ray or beam visible, the effect was immediate: the horses grew even more restless yet.
The last pan brushed both Unnur and him. Straker gasped in response, and heard her groan. He felt a deadly rage flare up inside him, the wish to turn and hit the chief across the face intense, the deed already in front of his inner eye. In this vision blood was streaming from her face, to his deep satisfaction, goading him into hitting her again and again. These emotions, these pictures in his mind were so vivid and compelling, that all he felt able to do was to lock himself into a fetal position, prone on his side, trembling with the struggle not to attack the woman. She was hugging herself in imitation of his efforts.
As suddenly as this had started, it stopped again. The alien had passed them by. Straker licked at the blood on his lips, the coppery taste strong where he had bitten down on himself. Breath still coming in a ragged strain he was on the move now, making for the alien who moved closer to the others. There were sleepy moans in the air, what he did affected those around the camp fire just as it had them.
A blur of motion at the edge of his vision told him Unnur was following. There was no need for consultation, they tackled the alien in a perfect match. Unnur slapped the device from the alien’s hands, then spun him towards Straker, who felled him with a kick to his knees, the crunch of breaking bones audible. Unnur pulled a serrated combat knife from one of her boots, and barely pausing to obtain his approval plunged it deeply into the heart of the alien, twisting it twice. Both of them watched the man die, the green fluid in his helmet tainting with the blood which oozed from his mouth in a thin trail.
Unnur crouched down beside the alien, shining a small pocket light at him, openly curious now.
“We need to hide him,” she said at last, straightening. “There is no need for my men to see him.”
Straker nodded. He picked up the device and turned it around in his hands.
“I wonder what we would learn if we asked the ex-partners of your agents about violent behaviour,” he said in a low voice.
He shuddered, he could feel the violence still reverberating within him. Looking up into the eyes of the chief he could see his emotions mirrored. For an instant they acknowledged what had nearly happened, then she narrowed her eyes, shutting him out resolutely.
“Come on, let’s find a place where to bury him.”
“And just where did Carlin lose it?” Alec was pacing the control room angrily.
“Near the mountain range here,” Ford had called up a map of Iceland and pointed at a spot in the south east. “According to Captain Carlin it dropped so rapidly under the cloud cover that he had been unable to follow. When he’d made the descent there was no sign of the UFO.”
“Where are the other five?”
“Two were taken down by Skydiver 3, one by Captain Carlin and the rest by Skydiver 5 when they cleared Scotland.” Ford said. “Captain Carlin is executing a grid search pattern at high altitude, but he’ll have to refuel with the hour.”
“Tell him to continue until he needs to refuel, after that he can rejoin with the sub.” Alec sighed. “If it hasn’t resurfaced until then, it won’t do so soon anyway. Station Carlin and Waterman just off Iceland’s coast. They should consider themselves to be on a 24/7 yellow alert until that UFO is found. Any contact with Commander Straker?”
Ford shook his head. “No, sir.”
Freeman stalked back into Straker’s office and picked up the outside phone. It rang several times, before the other end picked up.
“Virginia? What are you doing just now?”
“Alec! Knee-deep in ironing,” she answered. “Give me an excuse to come to work early?”
“Yes. We’ve a touchdown in Iceland.” He said. “I’d like you here to run a computer-assisted radar survey. The new stuff you and Barton have been working on.”
“Isn’t Ed currently up there?”
The terse answer was all she needed.
“Be right over.”