Regular readers will recognise this as the story that I wrote for last month’s ‘Cluedo’ prompt – but now with added #scifi.
The Colonel lightly waxed his moustaches with 4D kinetic product, and the smart long chain polymers caused the hair to twist and curl up at the ends. He’d been playing the role of a slightly bumptious senior officer for so long that it came as second nature these days. He looked in the e-mirror, through habit rather than necessity. As he knew they would be, the moustaches were perfectly even. He was more concerned that his hair seemed to be even thinner than ever, although he’d turned off the mapping function that would have confirmed this. It might be time to start a treatment. Either that or he should shave it all off. He didn’t like the idea of that though, because it would show off the implant scars, which he really didn’t want to do. At least his clear hazel eyes still held the bright alertness that had earned him his nickname all those years ago: he’d always been as keen as mustard, so Mustard is what they’d call him.
He’d had a different code name during the war of course, but that had been rarely used. Ostensibly he’d just been a junior staff officer, supporting the General Staff to the best of his humble ability – the hackneyed phrase was engrained in his mind, the number of times he’d used it in conversation over the years. In practice his was a Security role, ensuring that no undesirables got close to the plans that were being formulated for Africa, the Middle-East, the Med, and finally France… In some respects, it was impossible to know how successful he’d been. Who knew how many attempts had been made to access this vital information? He’s been responsible for blocking a few agents, uncovering a few moles, but he had a lingering suspicion that there’d been someone, a ghost, who’d managed to evade him. Had they been in the background directing the operations against him? Or had they been actively probing the defences he’d put in place, penetrating this cordon, but ultimately unsuccessful in finding anything of use?
He gave his head a shake, as if to dislodge this thought. Time to dress for dinner. Things had changed since the War, no doubt about that, but Septimus Black was an old fashioned cove and he liked things to be just so. There’d be a cocktail hour or so before dinner, and a very good dinner it would be too. All sorts of things that were difficult to get hold of under the current legislation, like meat, were standard fare for Black.
The Colonel completed his preparations. A vague sense of uneasiness had encroached as soon as he’d received the invitation for tonight’s dinner, and it had only got stronger as the week progressed. Now it was a positive itching of his subconscious. True to form, with only a few minutes before he needed to leave, he placed himself at the writing table and dashed off a note to the Chief Constable. Colonel Gregory was an old friend and thoroughly deserving of his current appointment. There were any number of ways that the information could have been forwarded, none were terribly secure, but the Cardinal cypher was as close to unbreakable as you could get, especially on the limited timescale available. The Colonel rang the bell and whilst he was waiting for an answer to the summons, he withdrew a gun from the drawer of the desk. By rights it should have been his Service blaster, but the Webley 500Z, whilst able to drop a battle-droid at 30 meters was too big and bulky – it would have complete ruined the line of his jacket as well as being rather obvious. Instead he slipped a slimmer Beretta Sorpresa into his jacket pocket. This was more subtle, elegant even, if no more civilized: this was a flechette pistol, recoil-less, and capable of delivering either a single large needle at a velocity that the Webley could only dream of, or a cloud of smaller needles so fast it would make a fighter pilot’s head spin. In for penny, in for a pound: he slipped a couple of spare ammunition clips into the opposite pocket.
Capes had come back into fashion for some reason, and his valet entered with a plain black one draped over one arm, anticipating that his Master was ready to leave. Plain it may have been, but it could absorb the whole gamut of physical threats, however much kinetic energy they had on arrival. The valet, as was traditional, was his former batman, not so much reprogrammed as…augmented. The Colonel swapped the letter for the outerwear, walked down the stairs and out of the front door and into the summonsed taxi-pod. It would be some time before he returned home.
© David Jesson, 2019
I went for a different tack to David, writing a new story. A normal one – for me – about people, life, emotions … and then added a #scifi event. That’s the great thing about prompts & writing – we all go off in our own different directions :o)
The nausea in the pit of his stomach was back – ever present at this time of year. Angus absolutely hated September, for with it came the first day back at school. An army brat, Angus had never experienced anything other than being the new boy. Everyone else had been going to the same school all their lives and knew each other. Knowing they’d soon be off again, local kids largely ignored army brats. After all, there was little point making friends – unless you were looking for a pen friend.
Lots of army families bought a house near one central base – giving wives the company and support of their peers, their children a settled run at school and the opportunity to develop friendships – while fathers travelled to ever changing postings. Angus had begged his parents to do so this time last year. His Dad had seemed to understand, but his Mum just said “maybe” and “your Dad ‘n I will think on it.”
The next day, his Dad said “sorry mate, I tried …” before heading out. Angus pursued his Mum, trying to talk about it, but she kept fobbing him off. Desperate, he locked himself in his room, refusing to come out, to eat or drink. His Mum just kept saying is “you don’t understand”. Finally, the CO’s wife visited. She’d made it clear he had to support his Mum as she was having a difficult time. Angus had no idea what she was talking about, but he was army, and when the CO or his wife spoke, you didn’t argue.
It’d been a quiet summer in the new posting. With his Dad away on exercise a lot, it was just him and his Mum. She was off doing stuff with other wives, spending evenings at the NCO’s mess, so Angus was left largely to his own devices. They’d bought him off with the promise of an X Box for Christmas but, till then, he’d been making the most of the local library. When the weather was half decent, he’d go off on hikes. The surrounding countryside was made for walking and the library was stocked full of books about local places to explore. Catching the bus with his rucksack packed for the day, Angus often didn’t get home till just before dark. His dinner on the kitchen table with instructions for warming up, he’d go to bed having spoken to no-one all day. Sometimes he’d catch himself staring at the other kids on the bus, joshing and joking amongst themselves, almost overwhelmed with loneliness.
His parents were arguing a lot. But one night it all blew up. Starting out as a low rumble, it quickly became scarily loud. Soon the neighbours were round, knocking loudly on the door. After a while, things calmed down and he heard his Mum leave with Jennie from next door.
Angus didn’t sleep much that night, so was up early the next morning. Finding his Dad’s by the front door, his stuff all packed up, he’d cried out “why’re you going back on exercise so soon Dad?”. He’d got a shrug from his Dad and a “I’m sorry son, you know it’s got nowt to do with you, don’t you?” Without the faintest what his Dad meant, Angus stood there bewildered – how could his Dad going away on exercise be anything to do with him? “Your Mum’ll come over when she sees I’ve gone – she’ll explain.” With that, he gave Angus an awkward hug and left.
It wasn’t his Mum who explained in the end, but Jennie from next door and the CO’s wife. His parents were having a trial separation. If things didn’t get better, there’d be a divorce. Hiding in his room, Angus kept away from his Mum for the rest of the day. When she went to the NCO’s mess with Jennie that evening, the CO’s wife appeared at the door – this time with a scruffy young lad by her side. She introduced him as Matt – her nephew – staying with them for the next few months. She asked Angus to take him out on a hike the next day.
While out there, they got talking. Turned out Matt’s Dad was in the army too. He’d been sent home with a serious injury, so Matt was staying with his aunt and uncle to keep him out of his Mum’s hair. Angus could see Matt was pretty cut up about it, so shared his own bad news.
Having someone in the same boat as him – in the same class – made September an easier experience. He and Matt got along pretty well as it happened. Matt was a reader and a walker too. He’d gone camping regularly with his parents, so they were soon allowed to get away on overnight camps at the weekends – so long as they’d done their homework.
As the weather turned cold, Matt’s aunt insisted their camping trips would soon have to stop so they decided on one final trip to a favourite destination where they could shelter inside a cave. Having gathered a huge amount of fallen wood their previous visit, they’d be able to keep warm and dry. Packing up their supplies, they were successful in cadging a lift from the CO’s driver so didn’t have to lug their heavy supplies too far.
The little stream which ran past the cave was useful for fresh water, but – as Matt mused out loud to Angus – it didn’t half make you go more often. Laughing, they’d gone off to their separate spots. Hearing Matt yelp, Angus assumed he’d tripped over something and chuckled, till he heard his name being called repeatedly and urgently.
Hurrying to Matt’s spot, Angus found him crouched down behind some brush. “What’s going on?” his voice sounding more high pitched than he’d like for, while they both carried mobile phones, the signal wasn’t always that great near the cave. Matt pointed into the darkening distance. Angus could make out some lights – pulsing regularly on and off. But they were white, rather than blue or red – so, not emergency vehicles then.
“What is it?” he hissed.
“Dunno. It came in over my head, ‘n made me jump …” Matt pointed to a wet patch on his lower leg.
“Yeah I know, but … what should we do?”
“Hide? Call home? I dunno, what d’you think?”
“Shall we get closer and try to take a look?”
“Is there an exercise going on?” With his Dad living in baracks, Angus had no idea when exercises were scheduled.
Matt shook his head “Nothing planned, although could be one of those snap inspection thingies.”
They retired to the cave and stoked up their fire, agreeing to take turns to keep it going. If there was an exercise – for what else could it be – that would ensure they were seen and be safe. Neither slept well, to be honest, so when dawn arrived, they ventured out to the brush for a look see. There seemed to be a fair bit of activity in the distance. They still couldn’t see much, but they could hear the sound of vehicles and people moving around.
Agreeing it must be one of the snap exercises the army is so fond of, they returned to the cave for breakfast. When it was properly light, they took their day packs and headed off to investigate, being careful to stay in clear sight. Striding along the path, chatting quite loudly to each other, they found their path blocked by a couple of guys in NBC suits as they rounded a corner. Stopping and holding up their hands, they expected masks to be ripped off and a bollocking to follow. Except, it didn’t. Gesticulating with their weapons, the like of which neither boy had seen before, they were frogmarched into a clearing.
In the clearing were loads more men in NBC* suits, all rushing about. Several turned and looked at the boys, making Angus wonder if one was his Dad – with those suits on, you couldn’t recognise anyone. Passing a bunch of strange looking vehicles, Angus realised why they were so odd – none seemed to have wheels. Exchanging decidedly worried looks, they were dragging their heels now, Angus admitting to himself he was actively hoping to face an angry Colour Sergeant, even a furious CO.
Pushed right into the centre of the clearing where there was a veritable blur of activity, they saw brush and branches dragged and heaped up over a large … something-or-the-other. On and on they were pushed towards the something-or-the-other, through an opening to face lights so bright they were blinded. Shading their eyes with their hands, they were pushed through a doorway, and pressed face-down onto separate bunks. As Angus tried to turn, he became aware of a prick in his thigh and … the world went dark.
When Angus came to, the lights had been muted. He saw Matt stirring and swung his legs over the side of his bunk to walk across. An ear splitting alarm shrieked out, not stopping till he lifted his feet clear of the floor. Matt, now fully awake, Angus warned him the floor was alarmed. Both boys started fidgeting. “Need to go?” asked Angus, Matt nodded. The door opened, an NBC suited man walked in and handed each some sort of bottle-like receptacle, gesticulating how they should be used. The man waited till they had, then took both away.
When either spoke a need out loud, they were met by a wordless NBC suited man. No explanations, no questions. Just silence. At what seemed the end of a day according to their watches – two men entered. Folowing a brief prick to the thigh … darkness. This happened for three days. On the fourth day, having finished eating, their NBC suited visitor was collecting their plates and glasses, when – much to their surprise – he dropped everything and ran. “What’s going on?” Angus exclaimed just as Matt – nearest the door – asked “Was that gunfire?” Deciding the safest thing to do was lie flat on their bunks, the boys waited.
They heard a lot of noise outside but, it being muffled, they couldn’t make head nor tail of what was going on. Both hoped it would lead to their release – but from what and who exactly – they’d no idea. Eventually, the door started to glow as a small opening was cut. It seemed like an interminable wait till the hole was pushed through, setting off that ear splitting alarm. “Now” yelled Angus, and they rang for it, climbing rapidly through the hole.
The CO and Angus’s Dad were in the group of armed men waiting on the other side. The boys were whisked away in an armoured Land Rover, spending the next week in the Medical Centre, being poked, prodded, having blood taken and multiple x-rays. In between all the medical activity, they were asked a lot of questions by the CO.
It rapidly became clear that although they were curious and had seen some stuff, they didn’t know what it was. He told them very seriously that everything they’d seen was Secret. They’d have to sign The Official Secrets Act and couldn’t talk about it – to anyone. Not even to their parents.
“Was it a flying saucer?” Matt asked cautiously.
”Is that what you saw?” replied the CO.
Matt nodded “When it first flew over.”
The CO looked enquiringly at Angus who shook his head. “I never saw it properly – it was either dark, too far away or covered up. Are they gone – the … people?”
The CO nodded.
Life returned to normal, as it’s wont to do. Matt’s parents came to collect him and Angus’s parents got divorced. Angus attended the same school for the next 5 years, before heading to University – where he joined Matt. For they’d become firm friends. They’d shared something big – very big – and they couldn’t talk about it to anyone else.
They’d returned to the cave to camp every summer since. They’d never admit it to anyone else, but there was hope – a small one – that they’d be there to witness the return visit. For they were sure there would be one.
© Debra Carey, 2019
*NBC suits are protective gear worn in the event of potential nuclear attack.