‘He was a clone wasn’t he?’ The question in her voice was unmistakeable, the repugnance in her eyes palpable. ‘A replica. I should have seen it earlier. How the hell did you do it? You must have started this what… more than forty years ago? That’s impossible. Alec….’ she turned to him, ‘are you part of this? Please, tell me the truth.’
Jackson stepped forward, one hand reaching out to her, ‘Sit down, Dr Harper. Let me assure you, Mr Freeman has nothing to do with clones, nothing at all. We merely require your assistance in what is a simple matter.’
Scornful laughter echoed through the room as Sara vented her abhorrence. ‘Simple matter? Who the hell are you kidding? You created a clone; only it died didn’t it? How inconvenient, especially after what, nearly forty years of nurturing? What do you want me to do? Show you where you went wrong? You know where the door is. Now leave.’ She turned back to stare out at the darkness, the emptiness ahead of her on the other side of the window. ‘Go on.’
Dr Harper, I will tell you the truth….’ Jackson put a hand up as Alec opened his mouth to interrupt, ‘No, Colonel Freeman, Dr Harper is the sole person who can give us the assistance that we need. You know that our Commander would agree with me if he were here right now.’ Head tilted he regarded Freeman, as if anticipating the objection that was about to be spoken, and under that piercing gaze Alec Freeman sighed with acceptance.
‘I don’t suppose we have much choice.’ He put a hand out to Sara, hoping that she would listen, would understand and would forgive him for what he was going to do to her. He knew that she would forget everything about clones and SHADO later on, after she had helped them and after Jackson had given her the amnesia drug, but he mourned the fact that she would forget him, Alec Freeman, and yet he would still remember her and last night.
Sara had twisted round, her brow furrowed with uncertainty, ‘Colonel? I thought you were a film executive, Mr Freeman.’
Alec could hear the derision in her voice but there was now a faint undertone of intrigue. He held his hands out to her, hoping that she would listen, would allow him to explain. ‘Sara, it’s not what you think. We have nothing to do with making clones; in fact we are trying to stop it. You can help us, I hope. Please, let us explain it to you.’ His eyes stared at her and she saw the honesty in them, and also the sadness and desperation, and she remembered the way he had held Ed Straker.
‘Very well. It had better be a damned good explanation though,’ and she sat down, on the single chair this time, facing them, her arms folded in defiance.
Jackson smiled. ‘Excellent. Now, tell me Dr Harper, what do you know about aliens…………’
It was after eleven before all Sara’s questions had been answered to her satisfaction, although she suspected that she had not been told everything. She had refilled their glasses and later made sandwiches and coffee, before going back into the living room, though this time sitting next to Alec on the sofa in a silent gesture of apology. Jackson looked tired; she could see the strain in his eyes, although she felt that the mysterious doctor was a man who would strive to conceal any sign of weakness. Alec was yawning, despite the caffeine and she glanced at him, ‘So, you need me to help identify any possible clones that may have infiltrated SHADO. That won’t be easy you know. The clones would be human, just like you and me. There should be no obvious discrepancies. That replica of Mr Straker, sorry, I mean Commander Straker, that was perfectly normal, scars and all, apart from that one small one that no-one had thought to record.’
‘Ah, but you see Sara, you are forgetting,’ Jackson stood up, stretched and smiled, ‘these clones are not human, at least not as we know clones. The aliens must have perfected a method of progressing their development over a matter of months, maybe even weeks, until they reached maturity. Imagine the resources that must take, the knowledge, the advancements in science.’ His eyes gleamed for a second before he continued, ‘there has to be some evidence of that, some slight indication that you may have overlooked. We are resting our hopes on you. And so, now I will go home, and rest. Colonel Freeman will remain here, to answer any further questions that you may have, and to escort you to SHADO in the morning. Goodnight Dr. Harper.’ And he nodded one last time, a quick jerk of his head, before leaving.
They stared at each other, Alec loathe to speak, Sara still almost overwhelmed with the shock and the disturbance of her calm and ordered existence. ‘You’re staying here to make sure I don’t contact anyone aren’t you? I wouldn’t worry, after all who the hell would believe me.’ Her voice was dull with fatigue and despondency and she pushed herself up off the sofa to stand there looking down, her face expressionless. ’Come on,’ she said, her voice weary, ‘let’s get some sleep.’
Alec didn’t move, his head lowered, eyes downcast. ‘You go to bed. I’ll sleep on the sofa.’ He paused, ‘Goodnight.’
She stood there, silhouetted against the light in the hall, as if she was about to say something else, or waiting for Alec to speak, but nothing was said and the moment passed.
He heard her muttering to herself as she left the room, but he was too dejected to listen, aware that there was precious little chance of building a future between them now. He had lied to her and that was no basis for any serious relationship. He could hear her clattering about in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher and turning off lights before she went upstairs. The house settled into quiet, no noise disturbing the dark emptiness of the living room as he shifted cushions into place and lay back, closing his eyes in an effort to at least get some rest and thinking back over the day.
Sleep was impossible.
The fire ticked as it cooled. In the distance a siren blared. A car drove past. Straker was alive and safe now. Would Paul stay awake all night, to protect him? The aliens were making clones. Who could he trust? How had Shroeder allowed Ed to wake up in the scanner? Would the plan to try to flush out any traitor work? And Sara would be given the drug and she would forget all about him.
The thoughts wouldn’t let him rest, wouldn’t leave him alone and he sighed and sat up, massaging his shoulder. Memories of Ed leaning on that shoulder earlier, his head heavy, his body slumping. Freeman stood up and looked out of the window, rubbing his tired face with a weary hand, seeing the stars and wondering if, even now, another UFO was on its way from a planet that circled one of those stars. And he shuddered as he recalled the bodies he had seen.
He turned. Wiped his eyes with one hand. She was there, looking at him. He hadn’t even noticed the light outside in the hallway.
‘This is ridiculous. You look shattered.’ She paused and gave a hesitant smile, ‘Come upstairs. You need to get some sleep and you won’t do on that sofa. Believe me, I’ve tried it myself.’ She held out her hand, ‘Look, it’s late, and I…well…. I’ve had a shock tonight. I need to think about things. But that can wait until tomorrow. Bed. Now.’ And she took his hand and led him out of the room and upstairs.
She was half-asleep by the time he had undressed, half-asleep and facing away from him, so he slid under the covers and lay there next to her, not touching, not even close as he tried to relax, knowing that he needed to be ready for the morning.
An unexpected coolness disturbed him as Sara tugged the covers around herself and he reached out to tuck the duvet against her shoulders, his fingers just grazing against her skin. He felt her flinch with the touch, and he flinched too, aware that she was awake and no doubt lying there hating him for what he had done, maybe even hating herself for sleeping with him last night. He was about to ease himself out of the bed, and return downstairs, then she spoke, her voice sleepy and muffled by the duvet.
‘For goodness sake Alec, you’re bloody freezing. Snuggle up and get warm. Here.’ And she wriggled back against to him, until she was pressed against his chest, her legs against his, spooned together, companionable, trusting, caring. She reached back with one arm to pull him against her and with cautious movements, he wrapped one arm over her to nestle even closer. ‘G’n’t’ she murmured and sighed with contentment.
And so Alec slept.
Rebecca unlocked her door, jerked her coat off and allowed it to fall to the floor, before she dragged shoes off aching feet and let them too, lie in careless abandon. She’d eaten at the shelter, a drab meal of cheap mince made into cheap chilli, tasteless and unsatisfying, but at least it saved her the bother of making a meal and eating it by herself once she got home.
Another late night. Her overtime must have clocked up at least four weeks now, but there was precious point in trying to claim the time back. And anyway, what the hell would she do if she did take time off? Go on holiday? It would have to be by herself as well. Sara wouldn’t be able to take the time, and anyway, it looked as if Sara had found the man she had been waiting for. Alec Freeman seemed nice enough, although…………………
Rebecca felt ashamed of herself. There, deep down, she had wanted it to fail. Wanted Alec to stop seeing Sara, not because she envied Sara, but because Alec was Ed Straker’s friend. And that meant that one day she, Rebecca Steel, might bump into John Shepherd again. She couldn’t bear that.
Too soon to go to bed. She roamed the rooms, tidying random things, straightening books, wiping dust from shelves with her fingers until she was found herself back in the lounge where she turned on the TV and began flicking through channels for something mindless to watch, but it was full of senseless reality programmes about inadequate families or hospitals or …… weddings.
Enough. The television was switched off, the remote dropped onto the sofa. She would have a bath and then maybe read a book in bed, and with any luck she might sleep.
Ed Straker woke up with a feeling of unease. There was something that he needed to do, something important, that only he could deal with. It was there in the back of his mind at him, a niggle that would not go away and that was preventing him from settling down again. He thought back over the day, the terror of the morning with Mason’s arrival, then waking up in the scanner. He sat up with a sudden desperate need to be free, looking around the small isolation suite where Jackson treated patients and where he had fallen asleep. The dim lighting was enough to allay the sharp jerk of panic that coursed through him, but even so he was reluctant to lie down in case the memories returned.
He listened to the sounds outside the room, but there was nothing, not even a hum from the air conditioning. No footsteps outside, no distorted sound from the television in the background, nothing that even reminded him of that small room that had been his sanctuary for the last week. Even the walls were a soft muted shade of grey. He sat there, his hands clasped round bent knees, thinking.
Then…. yes, that was it. He knew what he had to do. Foster would be in the outer office, and Straker could avoid being seen by him, as long as Paul didn’t come in. That was unlikely though; his provisional ‘bodyguard’ had been adamant in his instruction to his commander to get some sleep despite Straker’s half-hearted protests.
He opened the door, reached for the laptop and carried it back to the warmth of his bed. It was easy bypassing the security codes although he froze at one stage when he heard someone outside. It was just Paul though, moving across to the bathroom with stealthy steps so as not to disturb his charge. The window opened and he started typing.
Dale should have gone to the pub. It was his Friday night routine. Every Friday night without fail. Pub, take-away and then a few drinks in a quiet corner on the street with his mates, scrounging fags off them and arguing about football managers and referees. Not tonight though. His excuse was that his head was still sore, but once the common room was empty he switched on the computer and sat down, hoping that he would remember how to do the next part of the task that John had set. Website design.
He opened the screen and looked at what he had done so far. It looked… well, childish, and in a sudden fit of pique, he was about to delete it when a small screen opened and words began to form: Dale. John Shepherd here. This looks very promising. The design is simple, which is exactly what is needed. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Nice work, but you have a few too many hyperlinks. It shouldn’t take anyone more than four steps to get to anywhere on your web site. I’ll show you how to reduce these. Okay, now, what you need to do is…………….
Dale, smiled, read on and began to type.
The cylinder was open, for once. It didn’t happen very often, and when it did it was almost worse than when it was closed. At least then she knew that she was alone, that they would not be doing more to her. The light blinded her, and she opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out. How could it?
But Chloe Rimmer screamed anyway.
09.04.11 – 21.5.11
Damn, this was meant to be a brief almost ‘epilogue’ story that began with Straker back in HQ and starting to renew his relationship with Rebecca. I envisaged him turning up at the shelter in his new car, rather diffident and shy. And the two of them fumbling (Not physically!!) to come to terms with the fact that he is now no longer John Shepherd, but a different person.. although still with the same hang-ups. Rebecca is too good a character to simply let fade away, and I wanted to explore how she had changed since John Shepherd had been in the Shelter. I even had the final moment all planned ,.,. and at the current time I might JUST be able to make that work as well.
But, no.. my beta decided that it was too easy to do that. (and hell it would have been SOOO easy!!) so instead I am slaving away, (sometimes only managing a couple of sentences a day!) to write about the immediate aftermath. What is great fun though is trying to develop the characters, not just the obvious ones such as Straker and Rebecca, but the peripheral ones, who haven’t really been important so far. Miss Ealand for example. Not an easy person to do and I have rewritten some parts at least three times, and I don’t mean ‘tweaking’ them, I mean complete re-writes.
Jackson has been an utter delight to do. A wonderful character to write although he has a tendency, like Sheybal, to steal the scene.
I have gone against my beta-reader, which is a very rare thing for me to do, by ending this story at this point. I had intended carrying on to the events of ‘tomorrow’ but mentally, I was ‘finished’ at this point and I couldn’t summon up the energy to continue.
So, a new story..Shepherd: Grafted. My current thinking is that it will be more violent, (really?) and will hopefully resolve some of the issues raised in Drafted.
‘Grafted’ is the term used to describe the means by which a shepherd will fool a ewe into accepting a lamb that is not her own.. sometimes by rubbing it amniotic fluid from the ‘foster’ mother, or even skinning a dead lamb to put the skin over the orphan, so that the ewe thinks the lamb is her own. There SHOULD be another story after Grafted. Just need to think of a title now.
(A lot has happened since I wrote those notes, and Shepherd is complete now, apart from one small scene.)
This article has 1 Comment
My!!! This story is so good…Lightcudder, you gave me great pleasure with it. You write so vividly that I could always “see” all your characters in front of my eyes… Rebecca, Sara and our SHADO-men. I’m very glad that you will continue the Shepherd, because without that, something would be missing for me in the Herald!