The room was bland and white. Not the glaring white of fresh paint, but a tired, dulled white, as if it had been awake too long, and seen too much, to bother trying to be bright and alert any more. As if anyone really cared anyway. There was a table and two chairs in the middle. The floor was there. That was all you could say about it. It knew that it didn’t feature to a great extent in the account, so it lay there, trying to be unnoticed, trying to blend in with the walls.
The chairs, well they were chairs, and everyone knows what chairs can be like when they really set their minds to it. The table was plain, but didn’t mind that. Plain was good. Plain generally meant that nothing unpleasant happened to you. After all, she was the creator of all this and everyone knew that she could be very, very dangerous .
He entered the room, a little confused, looking around at the blandness, the nothingness. He stood for moment, back to the door, searching for hidden cameras, tricks, boobytraps. Nothing. He pulled out one of the chairs. It made a scraping sound on the floor and he sat, carefully, half-expectant. He was wearing his cream suit, with the brown turtle-neck sweater. He waited patiently, mentally counting off the seconds, minutes. He knew she would be arriving when she was ready, and not before, so there was no point in trying to hurry things along.
She opened the door, frowning as she saw him, sitting there, hands clasped and resting on the table, confident, relaxed. She pulled out her pen and notepad, scrawled hurriedly and suddenly he was wearing his dark charcoal grey suit, with the crisp white shirt, pristine white cuffs with platinum cufflinks framing his slender wrists. He blinked, startled for a second, but recovered his composure almost immediately. She walked over to the table and sat down. The floor, unnoticed by her, sighed gratefully and hibernated. It knew it would have no further part to play, at least for a while.
‘So, we meet at last,’ he said, his soft American accent filling the room.
Yes. And about time too. Do you mind if we dispense with the speech marks? They give me endless problems. We can indicate speech by bold italics if that’s alright with you?’ she asked him, almost hesitantly.
I suppose so, although it’s a little irregular. But it’s your story so you can make the rules. And even if I said no, you’d probably go ahead and do it anyway, he replied, a hint of bitterness in his voice, his hands tightening ever so slightly.
Why the cynicism? she asked. It’s not as if I ignore you, or make you unimportant, do I?
He looked at her, his blue eyes cold, his expression grim. She almost flinched from his gaze. She knew that he had a piercing look, but she had never expected to be on the receiving end of his glare. Come on, now. Ignore me? I wish you did. Do you have any idea what it’s like, waiting for you to decide what you are going to do to me next? I’ve lost my home, my sanity and my health at your hands, in your stories, and you expect me to be grateful? What’s next? Rachel? Are you going to take her away as well? He leaned back on the hard chair, rubbing his face tiredly.
Ed! She was shocked that he had spoken to her so harshly. I would never do that. She’s far too important for me to simply cast her aside. I know that I only used Elizabeth Anderson a couple of times, and I have killed off several others, but they were all minor characters, not the focal point of a whole series of stories. Rachel plays a central role in the chronicles. You should know that by now.
He looked at her. I am armed, you know. Oh yes, of course you know. You have me wearing my Glock nearly all the time. I even sleep with it under my pillow. Very uncomfortable at times as well. I could shoot you. Here and now. I could put an end to all this fanfiction writing. The Tracy family would be delighted no doubt, especially as you have tormented them several times. What have you got planned next for Alan? That ‘nasty rash’ you gave him several stories ago keeps cropping up despite everything the doctor prescribes for him. Let me warn you, Lightcudder, and his voice became cold, hard, icy; try anything like that with me and I will retaliate.
She looked at him sadly. I’m sorry, truly sorry. I never really thought about the effect it would have on any of you. It’s too late now to undo the stories that are already on line, but I’ll bear it in mind with the ones I’m currently working on. She thought for one heart-stopping moment about the secret story, the one under passwords and codes and multiple locks and safeguards. What if he found out about that story? She pulled out her notepad and pen and hastily scribbled a few lines.
He twitched as if something had pulled at his shoulder, then undid his jacket and reached inside to his holster. So, you’ve removed my gun? Do you honestly imagine that would stop me? I could kill you with my bare hands if I really wanted to. Do you think I don’t know about the story you’ve kept hidden? The one where I break that young man’s neck? He looked at her contemptuously. Don’t take me for a fool, Lightcudder. You should know better than that.
She looked down at the table, contrite, unsure what to say next.
So, why did you bring me here? What reason have you got this time? Fed up with tormenting Paul Foster, or do you want to see me plead with you? Forget it. I won’t beg for anything, least of all to fanfiction writers.
The scorn in his voice was hurtful. She stared at him, her hands still now, pen lying on the table, notepad forgotten. I just wanted to see you. She replied. You have been an important part of my life for so many months now that I thought it was about time we met, properly, face to face. I just wanted to thank you for being there for me, when I needed you, and to see if you were as I imagined.
You mean as you have made me? Do I come up to your expectations? Tall enough? Blonde enough? You can always change me if you don’t like what you see. That’s the advantage of being you. You can wipe me out or re-draw me any time you like and there is nothing I can do. He put his head in his hands despairingly, leaning on the table and shuddering as he thought about what she might write about next.
Look, she said, quietly, why don’t we just sit here and talk. You can ask me about my stories and I can find out what you would like me to write about in future, although, she hesitated for a moment, I won’t guarantee that I will do the stories that you want; oh, and let’s get one thing absolutely clear from the outset; no slash, ever. Understood?
He breathed a long sigh of relief. Thank God. Yes, alright, I’d quite like the chance to ask you a few questions, to maybe get to know you a little better. Maybe even to understand what makes you tick.
Right, She pulled the chair closer and opened her notepad, picking up the Lamy pen, not the grey one with the fine nib, but the red one, broad nibbed and with a new cartridge. Fire away. She waited for his first question.
First of all. Why Lightcudder?
Why not? It’s as good as any other nom-de-plume. It’s different, it’s unusual and no-one else has used it. And I can hide behind it. Next question?
He smiled at her in understanding. Playing a part are you? That’s why you keep your identity secret? What do you have to hide?
There’s a lot in my past I want to keep hidden Ed. Lots of things I have tried to keep submerged. Occasionally something floats to the surface and I have to deal with it, but, to be honest, I couldn’t have done it without you, particularly over these last few months.
He tilted his head to one side as if looking at her for the first time. Secrets? Well, don’t tell me, unless you want the UFO readers to know them. He sat there, considering her, looking at her tired face. Not been a good few months for you has it?
No, she said bitterly. But enough of that. What else do you want to know?
Alright, you don’t want to talk about yourself. I can take the hint. I’ll make my questions less personal then. He smiled at her, a gentle smile, full of compassion. Low Earth Orbit. It’s a phrase that keeps cropping up in your stories. Why? Are you obsessed with LEOs, or is it your birth sign – not that I pay any attention to those? I can’t see you as being someone who takes any notice of astrology.
She giggled, and he was pleased to see that she had regained some of her composure. It’s silly really, Ed. LEO is not an astrological sign as far as I’m concerned; the letters LEO are my initials. It’s as simple as that! When I put the phrase Low Earth Orbit into a story it’s almost as if I am signing my name to it. Or is that ridiculous?
No. He paused, considering. I think it’s actually rather sweet. At least you know what your name is. Oh, everyone seems to assume that I am called Edward, Ed for short, but Ed could stand for several different names; Edgar, Edwin, Edmund, Edred, Edlin, Edrien……, Alright Ed, I get the picture.. Eddrick, Edan, Edison…. Shall I go on? He grinned at her, his mouth crinkling in amusement.
She stuck her tongue out at him. But surely somewhere there must be an authorised account that gives your full name? No. Not that I’ve read yet. There are plenty of accounts that call me Edward, but none of them are by the UFO writers. The Century 21 gives a rather good account of my life, but it’s their version, and not necessarily the real one. He stopped smiling. I would like to know what my name is one day. I’m quite happy to be Edward, but is that really who I am? The blue eyes were sad now. Don’t our names define who we are? Is so, how can I be who I really am, if I don’t know my real name?
But do you like the name Ed? she asked him, one hand reaching across the table to touch his fingers.
Yes, it’s as good a name as any, and better than Aloysius for example. He raised one eyebrow at her and she blushed and turned away in confusion, remembering that she had used that very name in her hidden, secret story.
I’m sorry, she muttered, looking down, ashamed, at the table surface.
Why? Why be sorry for writing? You needed to write that story. Really needed to. And I know you are still working hard on it. It’s good to have an escape route for one’s nightmares. It’s not as if you have put it on line yet. That’s when it becomes reality, when it becomes either canon or fanon, I think the phrase is. When we, your characters, have to act out the scenes, and play our roles in your dramas. Let me tell you, Lightcudder, you have done terrible things to me, truly terrible, and I know that there is probably more of the same to come. But, by the same token, you have given me Rachel. And that must be one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It’s so wonderfully amazing to have a developing relationship, to get to know a partner, a lover, over the course of several stories. I hope we manage to get married. And perhaps a family? Or have you not planned that far ahead yet? His hand held hers, comfortingly, forgivingly.
Well, actually…she began, but was interrupted.
On second thoughts, don’t tell me. I’d like to wait to see what happens. I must be honest, your stories do have happy endings, very happy endings, although I tend to spend rather too much time in a hospital bed. Try to avoid that if possible in future will you? Please?
He grinned at her again, that wonderful infectious grin that lit up his face, and she realised all over again what it was about this maddeningly handsome man that had attracted her in the first place. I can’t promise you that, although I will try. Sometimes our stories run away from us and we lose the ability to dictate what happens in them.
Ah, a bit like trying to keep Paul Foster under control. You can do your damndest to organise everything perfectly and then he goes off at a tangent and all your plans are worthless. He smiled ruefully.
Exactly! And she laughed.
He was pleased to see her laugh. She had been too solemn recently. So, LtCdr, tell me a bit more. Why no SHADO parodies? You’ve done a few Thunderbirds ones and they seem to go down well with some readers? Why stop there? Surely you could have some fun with SHADO? His voice was light, but she could hear an undercurrent of, not anger exactly, but seriousness, behind the jest.
Ed, would you ever forgive me if I made fun of SHADO? It’s far too serious an organisation for me to be able to do that. Thunderbirds is perfect for mocking. Those guys are so …I don’t know, perfect. Everything always works out for them. Besides, there are oodles of other writers doing Thunderbirds. They won’t suffer if I do the odd parody. UFO however, well, there’s very few of us, although it does seem that our numbers are slowly increasing. You are all too important to me for me to waste time writing parodies. Although..she hesitated, unsure,…. Does this count as a parody?
He stood up and stretched. These chairs give me backache. The chair quietly smirked. No this isn’t a parody. It would probably be considered an alternate universe story by most people. As long as you don’t end it by having me wake up and it all being a dream. That is such a slovenly and appalling way to reach a conclusion in a story. Anyway, back to you. I notice that you are wearing a medical bracelet. Why? I have one as well.
Yes, I know. I was told at work that I really needed to wear one. I’m allergic to a couple of antibiotics and some other very common drugs. I started wearing it in July. I almost forget I have it on most of the time. She twisted the fine steel bracelet on her right wrist, self-consciously. Did you think it was a fake? That I was trying to copy you? Or that I had made you wear one because I have one?
No. I was just curious. I know that several previous writers have given me one, so it fits in with my back-story; but I don’t meet many other people who have them. Do we have anything else in common?
His question made her think. Well,…..I’m claustrophobic, very much so in fact, she admitted with a grimace.
Yes. Precisely. Bummer. And I wear two wedding rings, like the General, but fortunately not for the same reason. She paused for a moment, wondering how honest to be with this man who had been, and still was, so important in her life. There are some aspects of the stories I write that reflect things that have happened to me in the past. But I suppose that’s true of any writer. We put our own experiences into our work, into our stories.
He was quiet for a while, thinking about Surrendered and Redacted, Rescued and Separated, and Valentine’s Kiss. He wondered what part of her life she had put into each story. He had a horrible feeling that he would have been able to guess correctly had he needed to. Standing there, he felt a great wash of sympathy for her. He walked round the table next to her.
Stand up, he ordered her. She looked at him. She was used to giving the orders around here. But, he was the SHADO Commander-in-Chief, and she was only a lowly LtCdr, so she stood, facing him; and he took her in his arms and held her tightly for a long time, one strong hand holding her head against his shoulder, holding her as if his embrace could wash away the pain of past events.
She smiled up at him when he finally let her go. I needed that. Thank you. She touched his face, gently. So you understand don’t you? You’ve experienced enough pain in the past, to be aware of others. It’s what makes you a great person, a great leader. At least I try to make you out to be that. She tilted her head questioningly. Do I do a good enough job? Are you pleased with the way you are portrayed? Is there anything you would like me to change?
He went back to his chair and sat, and resting his chin on his steepled fingers, staring at her. I don’t think so. The things I would want you to change are part of my back-story so you can’t alter them. I wish I’d never married Mary. That would have made a big difference to my life, but it’s written, so I did. And I wish I’d had my appendix out when I was younger. He grinned across at her. You know why.
She had the good grace to blush. Anything else? Taller? Stronger? Faster? No that sounds like an Olympic motto; forget it!
No. I’m quite happy as I am thank you. If I was any taller I’d stand out too much I think, and Rachel wouldn’t like it. Stronger; I have Alec if I need a strong man. Faster; Excuse me. I am running nearly every day now, and you keep making me wait for my secret service agents to catch up with me! Faster? Definitely not. Any faster and I’d be running a three minute mile. Some days I can’t enjoy my run because you have me going so fast. He shook his head gently at her in fake irritation.
Oops. I’ll slow you down then shall I?
Heavens No! he said forcefully. That would probably involve me breaking both legs or getting shot, or involved in some accident, knowing you. Just let me run at a reasonable pace in future, will you. Some of the pedestrians are beginning to notice that I seem almost superhumanly speedy.
Okay. What about playing the piano? That okay with you?
Oh yes. I love that. Very romantic. Thankyou. His eyes had a far-away expression as if he was remembering one specific moment in time.
My pleasure. I love a man who can play the piano. Properly, that is. It’s something I always wanted to do, but never got the chance.
Ah. He looked at her, thoughtfully. So you are fulfilling your fantasies through writing. What else have you put in the stories? Let me think. He closed his eyes for a moment and she watched him, the even movement of his chest as he breathed slowly, his blonde hair catching the reflection of the light, the pulse in his throat………… You’re doing it again. He opened his eyes and glared at her.
Fulfilling your fantasies. Stop thinking about me. About showers and shared baths…. he paused, staring at her in amazement. You don’t!
Don’t what? She was becoming defensive now, her voice developing a slight tinge of annoyance. He knew that he had to be careful. This was when she was at her most dangerous, when she was annoyed or upset.
He changed the subject, aware that he was treading on very thin ice. Nothing. It doesn’t matter. Let me tell you though, I do sing, and sing quite well. And I enjoy long, hot showers. Very therapeutic especially after a hard day in HQ, so yes, carry on letting me have those, please. They are always appreciated. However, he paused, wondering how blunt he should be. However, when it comes down to writing about….his voice trailed away.
Oh. I wondered if you would want to discuss sex.
He stared honestly at her. You’re the one who writes about it. At least you don’t go into graphic detail. You tend to leave it at the bedroom door, thankfully. I did like the scene in Valentine’s Kiss, you know where I pick Rachel…… Yes, I know the part. I liked that bit too. I was quite pleased with the way I handled that scene, romantic yet not too much information.
Her eyes glinted with amusement. What are you not happy about?
I understand you have plans for zero-gravity sex in a future story. No. Absolutely not. Not even low-gravity in a Moonmobile. Understand, LtCdr? And he focussed his eyes on hers.
Alright. But it would have been fun researching it. I’ll find another romantic episode instead, she sulked.
Good. How is the writing coming along anyway? I hope you aren’t thinking of quitting anytime soon. I enjoy being alive again, if you understand me. I only seem to be real when someone is reading about me, or watching one of the programmes. Of course your UFO world is different from Anderson’s. I quite enjoy living in this era. Mobile phones, fast cars, decent places to live. By the way, I liked the farmhouse, but my new apartment is infinitely preferable. Did you design it yourself? he queried.
She looked embarrassed. Actually, it’s based on a place near to where I live. I go there often, just walking with my husband. It’s quiet and peaceful and I’d quite like to live there. But it would be horribly impractical for us. So I’m afraid you live there instead. She looked up at him, wondering what his reaction would be.
That’s alright. I’m very content where I am. My life is good. I have people around me, close friends; Rachel, Alec, Ginny, even Paul. He smiled a knowing smile. You’ve even made me wealthy, which is a bonus. I have nothing to complain about, really. What about you?
She was silent for a moment, thinking. I lead a very isolated life at times. I sometimes spend long hours alone at work, which is where you come in. I can fill my time writing and drawing, and time passes. Even if some people belittle what I am trying to do with my life I am enjoying myself, which is the most important thing I suppose. She looked at him, her eyes telling him that she would not go any further with this line of conversation. Enough of me. This interview is about you. And I’m running out of time. Any more questions? Oh and can we meet up again sometime? I’d like that very much. I hope I haven’t been a disappointment.
He smiled ruefully. Well, you’re not exactly what I expected, but then again, most writers are very different from the image they portray. And you’ve changed a lot in the last months, I understand. No. You haven’t been a disappointment; in fact it’s been interesting to finally meet you, to put a face to the person who writes. By the way, the drawings are coming on well. Don’t be put off by comments from others. Learning a new skill takes time and patience, remember. And I think you are, finally, learning to be patient. His voice was gentle, and for a moment she felt tears fill her eyes. How could he understand her so well? And, yes. I’d like to meet up with you again in the future. Even if it’s to make sure that you aren’t planning some more unpleasant events for me! He laughed and handed her a handkerchief. Here, wipe your eyes.
The handkerchief smelled of his cologne, an expensive scent that perfectly matched his character. She breathed in the scent, trying to capture it in her mind so that she would be able to recall this moment, later.
He leaned across the table and took her hand one last time. By the way, what was with the request to find out when my birthday was? There seemed to be several different answers floating around. Were you going to send me a card?He laughed gently, sadly. I haven’t had many birthday cards over the years Nobody ever bothers with my birthday. It would be nice to have a proper celebration. I suppose now I’m settling down with Rachel I can celebrate my birthday with presents and maybe even a cake. He looked hopefully at her.
That was the general idea when I tried to find your birthdate. In the end I decided to stick with the one that was given in that episode that was never filmed. The Patriot I think it was called. She recalled the episode, although as she had only read the transcript it was difficult to visualise the actual events.
Ah yes. A bit radical for my liking. Can you imagine me willingly sending that medic Chapman off, knowing that I was going to order Sky 1 to blow up the convoy that he was in? I don’t think so. I know I’m hard and calculating, but I draw the line at cold-blooded murder. Anyway, back to birthdates. Why stick with that one? September 21st wasn’t it? St Matthew’s Day. Why that day, LtCdr? You were given quite a few viable options if I recall correctly .He leaned across the table, looking at her, perplexed.
Ed, we have a lot in common. I hope you realise that now, after this meeting. There’s one more thing we have that unites us both. It’s my birthdate as well. And standing up, she went round the table to hold his face in her hands and to kiss him, gently, affectionately, and with love. For the man who had changed her life last year.