Coronet – Episode 2: Unity by Chris Boyce

Story Notes:Note from Administration:

I believe the writer of this story, Chris Boyce, has passed away (if indeed the Chris Boyce who wrote this is the scifi author Chris Boyce which by judging by e-mail addresses is true). This story has only been available on one  place AFAIK, the Dark Skies fanfic site Chris Boyce started on freehost website. The Dark Skies fandom is for all intents and purposes dead except for my Dark Skies site, and I decided to archive it here on this site because I feared it would be partially or completely lost. It is too good of a story, told by a talented writer, to suffer that fate.

I’m making no profit by posting this story here, nor do I make any claims on it. I’m simply posting it for other Jeri Ryan and Dark Skies fans for reading.

3rd October 1957

Manhattan

New York, New York. The Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, Central Park, the glitter of Broadway… how Rebecca hated it.

Coming to the one place on Earth you would normally do anything to avoid is, apparently, just the thing for stiffening one’s resolve. A twenty-four hour plane journey from London in a DC-4 with two stopovers would be a doddle to a chipper young thing like her. Or that at least was what Coronet had told her. Why did they need her here? Rebecca had been fighting their high-handed dictatorial style since she joined Section seven. She belonged to the top level of Coronet’s organisation, a decision-maker, a strategist – and they treated her as little more than a tea-girl most of the time.

Her opposition to coming had been pooh-poohed. She was going to have a wonderful time. Just think of all the wonderful shopping opportunities. Rebecca hated shopping. Her mother shopped for her, and her friends at University said it showed. It was so typical of Coronet thinking.

They were right, of course; that was the really maddening thing. This was the only possible venue for the kind of meeting that lay ahead. She also knew she really had to be here, be where the big decisions were about to be made. She wanted to help make them.

The ‘theatre district’ hotel just off Times Square had been selected because it, supposedly, gave good cover. Quite coincidentally, three of her fellow ‘Section seven’s had booked tickets for Broadway shows at the same time. Rebecca was chauvinistic only up to a point. Watching the occasional play in Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre had given her a taste which had grown rapidly to a full-blown appetite since her move to London and access to the West End. She and Jamal had taken in a number of shows during the first six weeks of her stay, before he had been posted to Amsterdam.

Hmmmm…she thought, some of those shows really did look rather tasty and the reviews West Side Story picked up on its opening night last week were nothing short of adulation. She sighed… Not much chance of seeing it, though.

As the yellow cab made its way along 42nd Street through the Wednesday morning traffic towards the East River she blocked out the driver’s incessant chatter. She’d never heard of a television programme called ‘I Love Lucy’ which, he complained, was coming to an end. The merits of a third tube on the Lincoln Tunnel were equally meaningless. For all that she kept experiencing a curious sensation almost like déjà vu. There seemed something nearly familiar about this place, about the bustle, the people who could be at once warm and forthright, even abrupt. There was the toughness she had expected but also a generosity of spirit that surprised her. On her first night she had seen a couple of drunks bounced out of a bar on Columbus Avenue and her first reaction had been, ‘just like Glasgow’!

And that was it! This city, which she regarded as a combination of Sodom and Gomorrah, reminded her of home!

She struggled with that thought as the cab dropped her in front of the UN building’s reception.

As she paid off the driver a voice at her side said, ‘Good morning.’

A man in his late twenties stood there in a US Navy uniform, hat tucked neatly under his left arm and his right hand extended. ‘Welcome to America,’ he said with a tight closed mouth smile, ‘It really is great to see you again.’

‘Lieutenant,’ she said shaking Albano’s hand. ‘Hope I didn’t keep anyone waiting?’

‘Oh, no. Not you,’ he said, leading her up the steps and through the glass doors. ‘Aura-Z on the other hand… Well, that’s part of the game they play. Only one of them’s turned up.’ He presented their documentation to the duty clerks and took her past the security checkpoint towards a lift. ‘And of course they’re not even booking a hotel. No, they’re staying in the Soviet Embassy which is fronted by the three wise monkeys – say nothing, saw nothing and know nothing. We can’t even find out if they’ve arrived in the country yet.’

‘But I thought the first session was scheduled for this morning. In about ten minutes in fact?’

The lift doors closed and its descent began.

‘Their head honcho’s here, which means they’ll all be here. Thirty-five minutes late, I bet, but they’ll be here. What about Cancer?’

Rebecca shook her head irritably. ‘Phil, I find Majestic’s codename for Commander Crabb tasteless and ghoulish in the extreme. I don’t suppose you had anything to do with it?’

Albano smiled his little smile again. ‘Me? Come on. Whatever gives you that idea?’

She sighed and shook her head. Albano could be charming and infuriating all at once. ‘No, he won’t be attending. He’s busy. Something came up, er, overseas.’

‘New Delhi, according to the Company.’

All of this spy-talk was new to her but she had a grasp of the basics by now. ‘You have the CIA following him? I’m sure he’d be amused,’ Rebecca snorted.

The doors parted and they stepped out into an empty but brightly-lit corridor. The bulbs were naked and housed at regular intervals in safety cages sticking horizontally from the tops of the pallid gloss painted walls, fresh painted if the smell was anything to go by. Rebecca wondered why anyone would paint a corridor pale grey. Apart from a bright red fire extinguisher and alarm bell this place was colourless. She was certain this paint ‘scheme’ had to have been chosen by a man!

‘And what would Cancer find so funny?’

‘Oh, I think what he’d find funny is that your friends lifted one of his dummy trails. He’s in Moscow, Phil.’

Albano grunted and smacked his right fist into his left hand. ‘Yesss!’

‘You seem pleased,’ she said, surprised.

‘Well,’ he grinned properly this time. ‘They can be such smartasses. Regard us as amateurs.’

She was surprised. ‘They know about you?’

‘Naa,’ he chuckled. ‘They think we’re assigned to Project Blue Book. They’ve been keeping tabs on Cancer for us – running it as a training exercise.’

‘Don’t enlighten them.’

‘Not a chance.’

They approached an opening to their left just beyond the fire extinguisher. A flight of steps led down to a door displaying a large white sign with bold black lettering:

Conference Room XXIV – 6c
UN GATT sub-com:
Anglo-Canadian Free Trade Area Proposal

Another couple of guards stood on each side. Phil said, ‘Black Rebecca doctor and Albano Philip lieutenant,’ and they surrendered their laminated IDs for a brief inspection. One soldier checked off on a clipboard list, saluted and unlocked the door. Did these guards ever wonder why so many military people but no one from Canada seemed to be attending a Canadian trade conference, she wondered. Probably not.Rebecca pushed it aside and they stepped into a brightly-lit room, long and narrow with a polished rosewood conference table extending almost the full length from the far end. A dozen or so people stood around in small groups, each a huddle of hushed conversation.

‘The French are here, I see,’ she said. Two men she recognised as from the Direction de la Sécurité du Territoire, the DST, were talking intensely to a poised gentleman with a meticulously trimmed black beard. ‘Who’re they talking to?’

‘Aura-Z,’ said Albano. ‘They’re talking to the Soviet.’

‘At least they’re consistent,’ she said. The same two men had met with Coronet himself as well as Rebecca, her boss and Crabb only a week earlier. The French were determined that policy should change, that the public should be educated in the reality of Flying Saucers. Their logic was that people might otherwise mistake unidentified flying objects for some kind of secret enemy aircraft and trigger a nuclear war. They said they were happy to go ahead themselves but the politicos had sat on the idea of any purely unilateral action. If they couldn’t drum up some support amongst other members of the UN Security Council, the proposition would not be adopted. It didn’t look as if the Russian was particularly impressed either.

As they drew closer, Rebecca could hear the tall Russian speaking.

‘… if there was a chance, but there is none. Even if you went back from here with all other members of the council on your side nothing would come of it. No government would do it. It’s political suicide. Surely you understand that?’ There was an amused twinkle in his eye; an elegantly handsome man who gave off an air of being cultured and cosmopolitan, but intense – very intense. Not exactly what she had expected of a Soviet military officer.

‘Not for the Soviet Union,’ insisted one of the DST men. ‘You merely make this pronouncement and the people of the USSR have to go along with it…’

The Russian jerked his head back and barked a laugh that caught the attention of everyone in the room. He shook his head, grinning and said. ‘Ah, what faith you have in us. If only we had it in ourselves! But no, it couldn’t work, my friends. Not even in the days of Stalin. You see the Soviet Union exists because our people believe that it is the ultimate power in the Universe. We’re all atheists, you understand,’ he chuckled. ‘It can deal with anything because it is always in complete control of whatever is happening. Nothing, no nation, no army, no conceivable problem can prevail before its awesome power. Now suppose we tell the people, “Well, it turns out there are beings from other worlds with technology we can barely dream of and they come and go through our country as they please, doing whatever they wish whenever they want and there is nothing we can do about it. Our Red Army, which we constantly tell you can never be defeated and our Air Defences through which no enemy shall ever pass are useless against them. Oh yes – and we know they are hostile. So sorry!” A statement like that would completely undermine the masses’ confidence in the country’s political leadership, in the Politburo, in Communism. The results would be catastrophic.’

‘But if people mistake OVNIRS for enemy aircraft …’

‘Yes, then maybe we would go to war. Then again, maybe not – in fact probably not… But within a matter of weeks of informing the Soviet people about our little grey friends, it is an absolute certainty that we would be in total chaos. No maybes about it. We would have brought about the results of a major nuclear war without actually declaring one. No, the present stance is the best of a bad lot, I fear.’

A broad shouldered middle-aged American, again in naval attire, was leaning back on the table, arms wide at his side and hands clutching the edge. He spoke up.

‘And in the West every politician has a career structure that’s only going places so long as his party stands a chance of election or re-election. Just as soon as the party in Government admits that EBEs are flying about in spaceships and they are helpless to stop them, the other party or parties go for their throats and declare them incompetent and get them kicked out. Political suicide, just as the colonel says. But there’s something far worse. Let me assure you that within weeks of admitting that flying saucers really are alien spaceships the American public’ll be screaming for blood. They’ll demand we hit them with nuclear weapons. Once we’re talking A-bombs we’re on the brink of oblivion.’

‘Closer to it than all the flying saucers mistaken for jet bombers are going to get us,’ Albano chipped in. ‘Gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you all to a new member of the British Coronet organisation, Dr. Rebecca Black.’

The Russian leaned forward, courteously and extended his hand. ‘Charmed, Dr. Black.’ She moved her hand forward to shake his but he took it lightly and kissed it. ‘Colonel Dimitri Mironov, Director of Aura-Z. I am delighted to make your acquaintance.’

And he was! Rebecca was sure of it. It was not that he was attracted to her, just that the burning eyes and predatory grin made it evident he genuinely seemed pleased to see her here, extremely pleased. Very odd, she thought. You’ve got more than your fair share of Rasputin’s blood coursing through your veins, colonel, and no mistake.

‘Doctor Black,’ Phil Albano cut in, gently – but not subtly – moving her away from the tall, intense Russian with the glittering smile. ‘I’d like you to meet my own boss, Captain Frank Bach, the operational manager of Majestic. Frank, this is Rebecca Black, the young woman I’ve been telling you about.’

Bach’s face was blank. He leaned forward offering his hand. ‘Dr. Black,’ he said. His grip was firm and the handshake brief. ‘I take it you are not alone?’ His eyes, pale and grey-blue, scanned beyond her shoulder.

‘My boss should be here for this afternoon’s session. I’m here with his remit and his instructions. You know, to discuss the Agendas for this afternoon’s session and tomorrow. I’m very pleased to meet you. Phil has mentioned his boss on a few occasions. Always discreetly, of course,’ she said giving her best smile.

‘Right,’ he said and turned away. Was that a sigh? He moved over by Albano and took him aside. And whispered. She even heard her name! God, how bloody rude! Then like a whip snapping in her face she distinctly heard Bach mutter the words “Ranald Black”. Blood rushed to her head and she smartly moved off along the table looking for her place. She was almost dizzy with rage and she knew her face was blazing red. Quite unexpectedly she suddenly knew Mironov’s eyes were burning into her. She looked up and caught a smile playing on his lips. He arched an eyebrow slightly and nodded, then turned back to speak with the Italian.

Rebecca could not help but feel that – in some oblique tenuous way – she’d become a piece on a chessboard and that the good colonel had just moved her into play.

There was a tinkling and she turned. At the top of the table a small dapper man was shaking a handbell. She recognised him as the Coronet contact at the British UN Embassy. What was his name? Jeffers? Jeffson?

‘Gentlemen, gentlemen. Ah, and ladies,’ he called in a light high pitched voice. Ostentatiously flicking his left hand he brought the wrist up, inspecting his watch through the gold rimmed half-moon spectacles perched part way down his longish nose. ‘Please to be seated? The morning session begins in under one minute.’ He smiled and removed his spectacles. Flourishing a large cream silk square sporting a coloured monogram, he then proceeded to polish them with exaggerated care.

Ladies? She looked around as she took her place in the middle of the five seats set for the British delegation – each place set with a writing tablet, a ball-point pen and a small carafe of water. Atop each writing tablet was an envelope bearing a name carefully typed beside a small Union Jack.

Every country seemed to have five seats, France, the USSR, Britain, the USA, West Germany and Italy, all the countries that were known to each other as running operations against the NTI. Presently only two French, one Italian, one Russian, a full complement of Germans and three Americans had turned up.

Then she realised the other ‘lady’ was the third American, a tall bespectacled brunette, slim and far too good looking by half. She was already seated and setting up something on the table before her. Rebecca glanced down the list of participants and found the name.
Miller, Unity – Lieut. USN (steno)
Hmmph. Trust the Yanks to bring along their very own pin-up girl stenographer! Bach drew out the chair immediately to her right and indicated Phil Albano to take the next one further along at his side.

Her boss had told her to be chary of the Americans, not that she needed reminding. They would try to dominate proceedings from the start and they would probably succeed. He’d told her that UN bureaucrats tended to kow-tow to them, regarded their interests as sacrosanct. So far all she had seen appeared to confirm this. If the Coronet team could not hold ground against Majestic influence on the other Europeans, they were instructed to seek a clandestine alliance with the Russians.

The little well dressed man who, according to the participants list, was Jeffrey, J Merton, OBE (UK) – session chairman, said, ‘If you would all now be so good as to open your envelopes, I think we can begin.’

The envelope contained a sheet with a typed list of proposals from the various organisations in no particular order. These were the basic submissions and the purpose of this meeting was to flesh out some and weed out others, sort the meaningful from the insubstantial, compile any complementary proposals into a single proposal and add anything new.

After this morning’s session the Agenda for the two days would not be substantially changed.

She quickly realised that almost half the twenty-five proposals had to do with international liaison, one way or another. Oh dear, she thought, and I’d hoped this would be easy. The recommendations ranged from the setting up of a permanent full-blown UN organisation to deal with NTI, to a submission from Coronet that the status quo should be maintained with only a superficial pooling of low-level information via encoded signals and absolutely no contacts between personnel.

Her boss had explained that both Majestic and Aura-Z were going to push hard for some form of active personnel co-operation. This was not the position of Her Majesty’s Government. In fact HMG’s attitude was completely the opposite. Coronet himself had stressed this to them before they left. She could remember his words clearly…

…The problem is the nature of our enemy. The NTI are capable of travelling between the stars, so it would be foolish to assume that Earth is the first world they have moved against. The chances are they already have abundant experience of operations just like this, something humankind completely lacks. The enemy’s ability to recruit and completely take over individuals means they are equipped to penetrate and subvert the organisations by which the victim societies operate, maintain and defend themselves, including groups such as our own. This poses a threat of major importance. You see, with dynamic channels of communication all this becomes critically dangerous. Their penetration and subversion could sweep through human societies like a runaway plague. They are a disease, highly intelligent, with impressive technology, but nevertheless a disease! Voluntary quarantine between our groups is an absolute essential… ‘First order of business,’ Merton’s thin little voice piped. ‘Do we have any late additions or amendments to the list?’A member of the French delegation raised his hand. ‘Monsieur, I would like to withdraw proposal five.’

Merton scanned the list. ‘I see… the proposal for open information – acquainting the public at large with the truth about flying saucers and their extraterrestrial creators. Anyone disagree that we should drop this?’

A few heads shook.

‘Very well then …’

‘I have an addition, a supplementary proposal.’ Rebecca looked across the table. It was Bach… and she could feel something building…

With a nod of his head Merton invited the captain to continue.

Bach managed to cast a general glance around the table without actually looking her straight in the eye. Remarkable. ‘First of all,’ he began, ‘I would like to make it clear that this is no reflection on any organisation represented here or any individual present, but …’

Here it comes, she thought.

‘Where Majestic is concerned, we feel that assigning young women to work as field operatives is inappropriate no matter how physically and intellectually capable they may be. War has traditionally been fought at the front line by infantrymen. Make no mistakes about this, field operatives are the infantry of this covert and cryptic war we are fighting against the aliens. It is not a game; it is as cold, brutal and bloody as any war ever fought in human history. As I say, this is not intended to reflect on any particular woman or on the capabilities of women in general. The simple fact is that any male operative working with a female colleague will not react towards her the same way as he would a male colleague. He will automatically spend more time looking out for her, make decisions in which her presence weighs more heavily than it should. He will be less inclined to take necessary risks. On the other hand he’ll be tempted to take unnecessary ones in order to safeguard her.’

No one at the table looked Rebecca’s way even in passing. She could feel the blush return to her cheeks. She felt like walking out and slamming the door. Hard. But she had to stay, had to sit through this. She knew her career depended on being forever cool-headed. As a woman they’d always be watching for signs of erratic ‘female’ behaviour to use against her. Stay calm.

‘In short,’ Bach concluded. ‘Majestic would like a motion tabled to that effect.’

‘If I could raise a counter proposition,’ one of the Germans began only to be cut off.

‘No no,’ Merton squeaked. ‘This is not the forum for debate merely to set the Agenda.’

It certainly looked as if her boss was right about the UN bureaucrats. Where they could block challenges to the American position they did so.

‘But surely,’ the German came back, ‘surely this is a matter for the internal policy of each individual organisation? No?’

The French and Italians looked decidedly uncomfortable. The strange smile continued to play on Colonel Mironov’s lips, his mind apparently elsewhere.

He said, ‘I take it some evidence will be presented for our consideration?’

‘This is debate!’ insisted Merton, looking slightly cross. ‘No, I think it is up to the general meeting to make such decisions. I’m tabling it for tomorrow afternoon after lunch unless everyone agrees with it – which is obviously not the case – or no one wishes to discuss it further – again, not the case.’

‘I merely wish the Captain to present us with some evidence,’ reiterated the Colonel with a shrug.

Bach leaned to the side and whispered something to the stenographer. She nodded and glanced briefly at Rebecca. And what was all that about?

Then the door opened and another four Soviet officers entered conversing loudly with the two Italians following them inside. She looked round at Albano and they exchanged smiles. Thank God for a friendly face, she thought.

As the morning progressed she brooded over Bach’s hostility, introduced two Coronet motions – one against rationalising terminologies, another against any further UN meetings – and all the time Bach avoiding her eyes and Mironov staring that eerie stare of his, sometimes fiery and sometimes like ice.

Eventually Merton wound things up.

‘The first full session will commence in just over two hours at fourteen hundred hours this afternoon. Ladies and gentlemen, I expect to see you all here then. This meeting is adjourned.’ He stood, favouring them all with what he probably thought was a sparkling smile and began tidying the papers before him.

Rebecca looked around for Albano and found him standing with Bach, obviously holding an intense conversation. The pin-up brunette was gone. Well, it looked like lunch was going to be a solitary affair. There was a phone call she had to make to her boss back at the hotel and after that, well, there were plenty of diners in this city. The food was supposed to be good and the coffee nothing like the stuff she made at home from a bottle of Camp.

She tidied the notes she had made and packed them into her briefcase. Making her way to the door she brushed roughly past the ill-mannered American without an ‘excuse me’ – she could be every bit as discourteous as he. He glanced at her in surprise but she looked icily right through him – or at least that was the effect she tried achieving. Frankly delivering a good sharp kick to his shins would have been a damn sight more satisfying!

The Rockefeller Center had plenty of eating places which was well and good as the twenty minute walk leading back up East 42nd Street past Grand Central Station had left her with an appetite. She hadn’t particularly intended coming this far but when she left the UN building she felt like a steam engine running on a full head of steam. She just had to keep going and going until the pressure eased, until she felt nearly like a normal human being again.

Seated at a table in the plaza, admiring the sunlight play on the gold curves of Paul Manship’s Prometheus Fountain sculpture, Rebecca at last felt her tensions begin to ebb away. Here she could enjoy views which tickled the amateur architect in her and appreciate the Americans’ different approach to something as simple as a chicken salad. The coffee was also all she’d expected and more.

`Can I butt-in on your lunch?’ Albano was standing there, a plate in hand and a wary expression on his face.

`Of course, Phil,’ she said.

‘Look,’ he said, taking the chair opposite. ‘I just don’t know where to begin apologising. A couple of days back Captain Bach actually told me I’d made a mistake when I mentioned that you were on the Coronet delegation team. I should’ve picked up on it then. And you probably have guessed that he really doesn’t want women as field agents. That’s true but there’s also the fact that he is specifically wary of you.’

`Uh huh, I gathered that much and it obviously has something to do with my father. Can you tell me what, exactly?’

`Have you talked to Coronet about your father?’ He worked his fork into the meatloaf on his plate.

She shrugged. `Coronet told me that there were great hopes riding on my father’s work, that it was extremely important that we develop our own space faring capability. If we are to go after the NTI seriously, we need to use our most powerful weapons – nuclear weapons – and they can only be detonated safely outside the Earth’s atmosphere. That means developing really powerful launchers. We drove down to the Isle of Wight where Saunders Roe were running tests on the Gamma rocket engine. He said Dad’s design was revolutionary that it was years ahead of anything we even have today. Everyone was interested in it. Majestic heard about his work. They came over and offered Dad a fortune to bring his work to the ‘States. He turned them down the day before his test run. Twenty-four hours later he was dead and all the details of his work were gone.’

Albano mopped some runaway sauce from his chin with a napkin. ‘Really?’ he said. ‘My understanding was that Majestic tried to halt work on the rocket engine. They tried to pay your father not to develop it further.’

`What? That’s crazy, Phil. We need to develop missiles that can go deep into space if we’re to take the enemy on.’

He nodded, ‘I know, but the Majestic position is that we’re inviting trouble if we go down that road. Twinning spelled it out to us. Now, the general may be getting older but there’s nothing out of order in the brain department. He pointed out that whatever the aliens are looking for, it’s not a fight. They have the technology to travel between the stars, for God’s sake. If it looks like we’re getting ready for a shooting match, the kinds of weapons they might use against us are unimaginable. So, Majestic’s policy is that building bigger and better rockets is too overt, too openly threatening. By going down that road we’re just begging them to zap us! We’ve been trying to get the government to back peddle our rocket development programs and Ike is one hundred percent behind us. Our International Geophysical Year satellite launch has been postponed until 1958.’

‘And what if someone else launches a satellite first? Have you considered that? Have you considered the clout, the sheer respect that country would have not just internationally but in our own community, amongst the groups working against these creatures?’

He smiled. ‘Seriously, who? The Russians? The French? The nearest we know of are your people working on the Black Knight launcher and it’ll be at least a couple of years before that flies.’ His eyes were focusing on something or someone behind her, probably a pretty girl coming down the steps, she mused.

‘Hmm,’ she said, ‘Don’t be so sure. The Gamma 301 – ’

Suddenly Albano grabbed the coffee and threw it over Rebecca’s shoulder. He leaped forward and pushed her violently off her seat to the ground as he dashed past. She tumbled and rolled, a coffee cup bouncing off her hip, her hands and knees scraping along the concrete flagging. There was shouting, a lot of shouting and a few screams somewhere, a commotion.

`Get a cop! Somebody get a cop!’ Albano was shouting.

Confused and shaken, Rebecca sat up. There was meatloaf and salad everywhere. Her hands were scuffed, nails broken, her knees gashed and stockings torn and there was coffee all down her skirt. Still there was shouting.

Looking round she saw Albano pinning a man to the ground, holding his arm in a half-nelson lock. The man on the ground was squirming and spluttering, his dark European features gleaming wet and steam rising from his thick black hair. Albano’s coffee had caught him squarely in the face. Lying before them was an object which, before a few months ago, she would scarcely have recognised – an automatic pistol fitted with a silencer.

Watching too many American films had evidently distorted her view of things. The police precinct house was much quieter than she expected. Perhaps Wednesday lunch time was their serene period?

The police officers who questioned her had some trouble with her accent. Perhaps she should try speaking like Deborah Kerr, she thought briefly. Obviously they were of the opinion that she had to have eyes in the back of her head as they kept asking her questions about the gunman which she could not possibly answer. When did she see him coming down the steps? When did she realise he had a gun? What was so special about the man that made her notice him? And so on. They even asked her if she knew why anyone would want to shoot ‘Loo-ten-int A’baano’ Eventually the message did penetrate. She had been the surprised party and she had no idea of the context behind the incident.

And time was going on. The hands of the clock were moving forever forward, relentlessly, toward the start of the afternoon session.

Eventually Phil Albano appeared, talking with a plain-clothes officer. Another policeman came over to where she was sitting waiting in a corridor and told her she was no longer required for questioning. She could go.

‘That,’ she said as they walked down the steps to the street, ‘That was an experience I would not care to repeat and I don’t just mean the gangster with the pistol!’

‘Could really have spoiled lunch,’ he said, smiling. ‘Especially if he’d gotten a round off.’

‘Ugh,’ she shuddered and climbed into the waiting police car. A very kind woman police officer had helped clean up the cuts and bruises, applied dressings to her hands and knees but they still stung. Oh but she had to get out of these clothes and into a shower.

Albano sat himself down in the back of the car beside her and closed the door, the car pulled out into the flow of traffic.

`Please, can we go to my hotel first?’ Rebecca asked. ‘I’ll have to change and clean myself up.’

‘That’s the plan, ma’am,’ said the uniformed cop behind the wheel.

‘I have to get a taxi back to the UN urgently,’ said Phil. ‘These officers will stay with you until you’re ready. Then they’ll take you to the meeting.’

‘Oh, that’s all right. I can pick up a taxi too.’

‘I don’t think so, ma’am,’ said the other cop in the front. ‘We’ll be with you until you get to the UN and we’ll be there when you leave. We’re your security detail for today.’

‘Pardon?’ She looked enquiringly at Albano. ‘Security detail?’

‘Ah, Dr Black,’ he said, fidgeting slightly. ‘Look, I can’t hide this. You have to be told. That gunman wasn’t pointing the piece at me.’ he said quietly. ‘His target was you.’

Why did it not come as a surprise? It was a confirmation of something she had just known, deep down inside. There was no icy shudder of fear or anything like that. Maybe it was being in section Seven that did it. Maybe her ghastly, bloody introduction to this shadow world only a few months ago had left her insensitive to violence, to the threat of death …

Whatever it was, she didn’t flinch. Not then.

Fifteen minutes later when she was in the hotel, in her bathroom – about to step into the inviting hot shower – she suddenly shuddered deeply, turned just in time to find the toilet bowl, and was violently sick.

She kept telling herself she was calm, collected and ready for the afternoon, now. She was standing before the lift door. She could hear it approaching, slowing to stop at her floor. Then she remembered she’d left her bloody ID on the wash stand! Racing back for it she had to keep telling herself to calm down, take things easier, think about what she was doing before she did it. She could hear her mother’s voice saying “The more hurry, the less speed, Rebecca.” That summed up her life these days one hasty step forward and two hasty steps back. And that fracas at the Rockefeller Center had not helped one little bit!

She burst into the bedroom raced across to the wash stand, picked up the ID and seconds later she was – once again – running down the corridor towards the lift with one officer at her side. Only this time the other one up ahead on the landing was shaking his head.

‘Elevator’s stuck between floors. We gotta take the stairs. I’m going down one floor. Stay here. I’ll call if it’s all clear.’ He unholstered his black revolver and started down.

Rebecca groaned. The meeting had been postponed until three o’clock but it looked as if she wasn’t even going to make that deadline. Still her room was only on the fourth floor, so taking the stairs might actually be quicker.

Going downstairs passed without incident, other than a few guests giving the three of them strange looks. No one seemed to realise there might be an element of danger present. No one even blinked at the uniformed officer holding a firearm in their midst. As she strode smartly across the foyer she could hear the muffled cries from the people trapped in the lift. Poor souls, she thought, and as she took her seat in the back of the police car, she heard the sound of an approaching fire engine.

‘Now, with those boys on the case, those people’re gonna be outta there in jig time,’ said the policeman behind the wheel as they moved off once again into 42nd street, this time with the siren blaring.

‘Hopefully,’ she said.

But her own trials were far from over.

As she rushed through the door of the UN brandishing her pass she was abruptly stopped by a security guard.

‘Miss Black, you’re to go to Interview Room 27b. That’s down the corridor right over there. The room’s on the right hand side about five yards down.’

‘But.. I’m expected…’

He showed her the pink paper with the signature and countersignature. There was the name that carried the clout – “Cpn. Frank Bach” and, of course, “J.J. Merton”. What in God’s name was going on now?

The Interview Room was small, big enough for no more than two or three people. There was also a desk with a microphone which connected to a tape-recorder built into a cabinet in the wall and a pair of headphones hanging on a peg. And, of course, a clock so she could remind herself of how much she was late and how much time was dragging on down there in the conference room without her.

Ten minutes passed. What was she doing in this room? Was someone going to take some kind of statement from her?

She kept looking at the clock. The big red seconds hand seemed to mock her as it swept round the dial. Then the door opened behind her and a striking woman in uniform walked in. It was Unity Miller. The Majestic stenographer was lugging a heavily stuffed briefcase!

‘Can you tell me what’s going on here?’ Rebecca asked. Always take the initiative, she thought.

‘Uh… I…’ Miller stuttered, heaving the briefcase onto the desk. ‘The security guy, he told me to come in here since I was late. Something to do with Captain Bach.’

‘Shouldn’t you be down there? What kept you?’

‘Well, there was something I had to do and then the elevator got blown out.’

‘You were in that elevator? I almost got in it myself!’

Miller nodded and sat down. ‘You don’t have a cigarette you could spare, do you?’

‘Sorry, I don’t smoke. You poor thing. You must really be shaken. I wonder if you can get a cup of tea or anything around here. What was wrong with the lift?’

‘God, it was horrifying. We were on our way down when there was this really loud bang and the elevator started dropping and it made this awful noise. That was the brakes. Did you know elevators have brakes? No? Me neither. You know when the firemen got us out somebody said it was a bomb in the elevator cable room!’

‘What?’

Unity Miller nodded rapidly, her eyes wide behind the spectacles. ‘A bomb!’ she repeated.

Then Rebecca remembered. She had been about to step into that lift. Whoever had set off the bloody bomb had been out to kill her! Police guards and all!

Don’t be sick! She could feel the jitters starting up again and fought to control them. Be professional. Spewing over the nice walnut veneer desk will achieve nothing. Breathe in slowly and stay calm. Take your mind off it all. Focus on something else.

But what?

‘So,’ she said, calmly. ‘What kept you busy all lunch time? A really big lunch was it?’

Miller looked at her blankly. ‘Confidential business.’

Rebecca looked at her and remembered Bach whispering something to this woman. Then Miller had glanced back over in her direction. It had been something about herself. She looked across at the bulging briefcase.

‘How many copies, lieutenant?’

‘Copies of what?’

‘You know. Everything relevant you people have on me. A selective copy, several sets made for the members of the other delegate countries. So that means one for Russia, one for France, one for Italy and one for Germany. And what else? Copies of the Majestic files on my father too? Copies for everyone?’

The energy built up by all the day’s tension suddenly focused on the briefcase. She stood and grabbed it. Miller leapt up to wrench it back but too late. Rebecca hurled it to the floor and the bulging frame burst, disgorging a flurry of papers and photographs all over the floor, pictures of herself, pictures of her father. Everything was stamped with the words

MAJIC – EYES ONLY

She scooped up a handful and strode through the door. Miller was screaming after her, ‘Give me that! Come back! Come back!’ while trying to gather the rest of the scattered papers back inside the ruptured leather bag. Rebecca smiled, grimly.

Like herself, Unity Miller was having a really bad day!

Rebecca stormed down the corridor towards the lift. She knew what this was all about now. She was not supposed to be present. It had nothing to do with being late. That pig, Bach, had left instructions that she was to be kept out of the conference while he passed round the dirt on her.

The lift doors opened as she approached and to her surprise she saw a small figure bustle out and head rapidly through security for the doors. Was that J.J. Merton?

What in the name of God was going on here?

‘Mr Merton?’ she called.

He froze and slowly turned and looked back at her. His jaw dropped and he gasped. Suddenly he was running in a wild panic, slamming his way through the doors and out of the building.

‘Give me those!’

She felt the documents in her hand pulled from behind.

‘Let go!’ she shouted at Miller, jerked free and stepped into the lift. The American stumbled in behind as the doors closed.

‘What was all that about with Merton?’ Rebecca asked pushing the basement button. The lift started down.

‘Give me the papers, Dr. Black. Give me them now and I won’t mention this when we get down there!’

‘Go… go boil your bloody carrots!’

‘This is a major breach of protocol, Doctor, and you’ve compromised Majestic security. Captain Bach – ’

‘He was running away! Merton was running away! Why? What’s going on here?’

‘You’re also going to lose me my damn job! You think Bach’ll give me any kind of reference when he kicks me out of Majestic? I’ll be lucky – ‘

‘Here!’ Rebacca slapped the papers onto Miller’s chest. ‘Take them and listen! Something’s wrong. Deeply wrong.’

‘Uh?’ Miller was clearly confused. She snatched at the handful of documents and scurried alongside Rebecca as the doors opened and they made their way down the corridor. There was no way she could stuff them back into the ruptured bag so she had to carry them in her other hand.

‘Merton’s one of them!’ snapped Rebecca.

‘One of who?’

‘We should’ve thought of this, damn it! It’s too good an opportunity to miss. Who’s all in there with Majestic now?’

‘Er… well, Captain Bach, Lieutenant Albano, Mr Bush and General Twining.’

`Exactly! All your top people. Mine too!’

‘What do you mean? I don’t understand?’

‘All the top people from the world’s foremost anti-alien organisations, all together in the one room. Remember Rastenburg, the July Plot to kill Hitler?’

‘Oh my God,’ Miller gasped. She dropped her bag and the documents and began running alongside Rebecca.

They rounded the steps and hurried down, Rebecca calling, ‘Get everyone out! There’s a bomb inside! Move!’

Instead the two guards raised their machine pistols.

‘Stay right where you are!’ one of them shouted. ‘Don’t move or we’ll open fire!’

‘There’s a bomb inside, you idiots!’ shrieked Rebecca.

‘Hands in the air!’ shouted the other guard. Both men readied their weapons.

At the top of the steps Unity Miller gave squeal and began running off, out of sight. Suddenly there was a loud ringing tumult, the fire alarm!

‘Jesus!’ snapped one guard. ‘Keep this doll here, Frank. I better get that one.’

He took the eight steps four at a time and as he reached the top there was a hard metallic bong. As he collapsed back down the stairs, the other guard, Frank, turned his head a second too late. A large red fire extinguisher came flying straight into his face.

Unity Miller stood at the top of the steps. ‘Get the keys, doctor!’ she yelled over the din.

Rebecca turned the groaning ‘Frank’ over. His face was a bloody mash of torn skin and broken bone. She swallowed hard, released the key clip on his leather belt and took the door key.

Slipping it into the lock, turning, she pushed through.

The room inside was smoky and packed with men in suits. They looked at her in an hiatus of astonishment. Sitting at the top of the table, in front of Merton’s empty chair was a large closed briefcase.

She pointed and spoke in a clear penetrating voice. ‘That is a bomb! Everyone out!’ She looked at them as they gazed, paralysed, back at her. ‘Move!’

Abruptly they were all hurrying through the door.

Less than thirty seconds after the last one was out, up the stairs and scurrying down the corridor, the building shook and the clamour of the fire alarm was lost in the rhythmic boom of a detonation.

A row of trees was arrayed along the banks of the river which bordered this splendid Rhode Island estate. Their leaves ranged from lemon to crimson, some falling onto the slow waters, gliding along the lazy surface. The almost warm air was scented with woodsmoke and replete with birdsong.

Sitting here, admiring it all from a swinging double seat on the veranda, or ‘porch’ as the locals called it, Rebecca had made a minor decision. Early October in New England, she concluded, was actually quite pleasant. Maybe America wasn’t so bad after all.

Now, ‘iced tea’: there was another surprise, another something she’d thought she’d hate that also turned out to be rather agreeable. She took another sip. God, it was so good to relax after the chaos of yesterday.

Behind her, in the dining room of the big house, she could hear the rumble of the men’s voices. They too were relaxed now. The tensions that had sprung up in the wake of yesterday’s homicidal madness had come close to ruining the entire meeting. The Italians had only been persuaded to return when they were ready to board an aircraft at La Guardia. Even the Coronet team was checking out of their ‘Theater District’ hotel when Albano finally persuaded her boss to stay as guests of Majestic. The US operation would foot all the bills and Vannevar Bush would personally guarantee their security.

Of course mentioning the name of the ex-president of the Carnegie Institution was precisely the right move.

Bush, her homework said, had been with Majestic since its inception immediately following the Roswell affair. He was widely respected and his attitudes were one’s which Coronet felt could form a basis for some kind of common ground. Bush was insistent on the operations within Majestic being compartmentalised. He felt this was imperative to ensure the organisation stood the lowest chance of being compromised. Bush wanted the various elements to be effectively autonomous units. He also felt that no one should know the whole picture, that instead of one substantial wholly integrated Majestic operation, there should be tiny ‘pocket-size’ Majestic type operations, one based in each state. None of these should know any another. Information would be collated by a small secretariat of the main committee.

No one else in Majestic saw things this way but Coronet regarded his attitudes as supremely sensible and saw him as their friend in the Majestic camp.

The drive from Manhattan had taken almost five hours and no one had tried talking shop over the light supper laid out for them on arrival. Even Colonel Mironov had been less than his grinning predatory self of earlier that day. At breakfast, however, he was back in wolfish mode, rounding on Bach as the American helped himself from the heaving salvers on the serving tables.

‘Captain, I don’t think my contingent will be voting with you on the matter of female field agents. I don’t think anyone will. Do you? After all, but for those two quick thinking and very fast acting young females, there really wouldn’t be anyone here to vote. Now would there?’

Again she had felt her cheeks redden. She glanced up at them from her maple syrup soaked pancakes; pancakes for breakfast – how utterly decadent!

Bach grunted and moved away, his face a thundercloud.

She smiled at the memory. The porch door swung open and Phil Albano stepped through. Rebecca was about to call him when she noticed a second figure follow him, a stunning figure even in uniform, Unity Miller. They stood at the top of the steps talking, their voices hushed but intense. Miller’s hands were moving in sharp gestures and she was shaking her head. Was there something going on between them, Rebecca wondered. She knew Albano was single but that didn’t mean he was uninvolved and Unity Miller certainly had film star quality looks. If that was the case she could hardly blame him…

She coughed discreetly and their heads turned. She waggled fingers at them in a little wave and smiled.

Phil gave her an immediate smile and waved back. He said something to Miller and stepped past her, walking over to Rebecca. Behind him the brunette leaned back on the stoop upright, dug a pack of Camel from her handbag and lit up a cigarette.

‘An English girl sipping American iced tea? Now I’ve seen everything,’ Albano said with a smile.

`Well, we’ve been going at it for nearly seven hours, Phil. A break’s definitely in order. I just didn’t expect it to last this long,’ she looked at her watch. ‘One hour forty minutes.’

He nodded, spread his hands palms up and shrugged. ‘That’s the Russians for you. We’ll get things going again just as soon as Mironov’s back.’

‘Do they always act like this in meetings, Phil? They all nit pick. All of them, not just the Soviets. And all the time. They dance round the issues instead of addressing them. Anyone sensible could finish this whole thing off, have it signed and packed up in a couple of hours.’

‘No doubt,’ he said, leaning on the balustrade rail. ‘But Mironov has something up his sleeve. And, let’s face it, he’s gonna need it!’

Of course Mironov had been quite right in his remarks to Bach over breakfast.

They’d all gone into the morning session and seated themselves around a couple of large polished dining tables laid side by side in what was evidently a ballroom. No sooner was everyone in place than Bush had stood and taken Unity Miller by the hand, walking her round the table to Rebecca. He had then taken her too by the hand. She rose, apprehensive and slightly embarrassed.

‘Gentlemen,’ he’d said. ‘In the war we all fight there are no decorations, no citations. No one walks home with a new ribbon on their chest fighting this campaign. But, for all that, it has its heroes. Those who put the cause, the greater good and the survival of the species before their own well-being, their own lives.’ He released their hands and stepped back. ‘I give you Dr. Rebecca Black and Lieutenant Unity Miller – above and beyond the call of duty!.’

He started clapping his hands and the others followed. Her boss was the first to stand then the rest of Coronet, then the Russians and finally everyone – Frank Bach last of all.

And it felt like the damned blush was roasting her face off!

‘You’re thinking about this morning,’ Phil said.

‘Daydreaming, more like. That standing ovation nonsense was just so embarrassing. I felt like sinking into floor or something.’

‘That’s politics for you, Doctor.’

‘Call me Rebecca, please. We are reasonably well acquainted. Tossed together by the vagaries of war and all that stuff.’ She sipped the tea.

‘Rebecca it is, then.’ The little smile again.

But he was right. The Russians certainly were up to something and, curiously, they had been backing every stance that Coronet took this morning. They were particularly aggressive about taking the fight to the enemy.

General Twining had been abrupt with both of them. ‘Unlike the rest of you, we at Majestic are in a position to make valid statements about the EBE’s technologies. We have examined them in great detail. We’ve got their stuff and we say don’t challenge them. They are so far ahead of us, getting into an armaments war will not go in our favour.’

‘I don’t mean to cast a bad light on what you are saying,’ said one of the Germans. ‘I believe you are sincere but we would have our own experts examine this material before we can agree.’

Bach spoke up, ‘Well, this is exactly why we feel a unified approach would be beneficial for all concerned. Common standards, improved communications, a single international command structure. That implies common resources, including what alien technology we’re holding right now.’

Twinning was nodding. He said, ‘This is not like Korea, y’know. We’re not top dog in this fight. There’s a genuine urgent need for compartmentalising when you have valuable secrets to loose. Now, Vannevar Bush here,’ he indicated his colleague. ‘has a background in managing secret research, particularly where weapons are concerned but our weapons are a joke to the EBEs. If they wanted to wipe us off the planet, we couldn’t stop them, believe me! And it wouldn’t take them years or months or even weeks. It would take hours!’

‘So we should be in a position to defend ourselves as best we can!’ said Mironov.

Leaning forward, Rebecca’s boss addressed the Majestic group in his paper thin voice, ‘I think it’s well known that you’ve been systematically working on your government’s attitudes in this matter. We had an agreement put in place with the United States three and a half years ago – ’

‘If we wanted to build missiles,’ snapped Bach, ‘we wouldn’t need you to help us! But that’s not the point. What do we have? Compare a V2 rocket to one of their space vehicles and you’ll see what I mean. We need efficiency and communications, not bigger bombs or faster rockets! So you see, it really is much more important that we’re well co-ordinated and use all our resources to the absolute best of our ability. We need a unified international structure – ’

‘What say you, we start small?’ It was Mironov.

Bach paused and leaned back in his chair. ‘Explain,’ he said.

‘Start with a compromise situation,’ Mironov continued. ‘Say a token exchange of operatives, one from each organisation takes up duties with one of the other organisations for a few years acting as a liaison, say?’

Bach smiled. It was a chilling sight, no warmth, no feeling, just bared teeth.

He said, ‘Well, I’m not really comfortable with your liaison idea. Coronet brought it up too. I think its too much like just welcoming a spy into your headquarters. I mean if we’re not all just going to share information, what’s the point? And if we are going to fully exchange information why would we need them?’

‘Well,’ said Mironov. ‘It would mean that the spies we all have in place right now would be out in the open, Captain Bach. Like Lieutenant Albano running around London and having to be rescued by Coronet. Very embarrassing. Oh yes,’ he turned to the Coronet delegation, to her boss, and said. ‘And, by the way, your Commander Crabb will be out of touch until Aura-Z has finished interviewing him.’

Rebecca felt a sudden shiver at the thought of ‘Buster’ in the hands of Aura-Z.

‘In this struggle, we are supposed to be allies,’ Bach snapped.

‘And right now, your two agents are being handed over at the gates of your embassy in Moscow, Captain!’ Mironov growled icily.

Bush frowned and shook his head. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Maybe we can do something about the illegal field agents in Europe, but establishing official liaisons is going too far.’

Mironov smirked. ‘Just in Europe?’

Albano spoke up quickly, ‘I don’t think anyone is going to believe a spy on Majestic’s turf, Colonel.’

Mironov replied, ‘You are so good, eh? Agent Codename J has said as much.’

Albano smiled his professional smile and said, ‘Nice bluff but it won’t wash.’

Rebecca heard her boss clear his throat. He leaned forward and said, ‘Can we just put this to a vote, please?’

Mironov shook his head and rose examining his wristwatch. ‘Niet – no, not just yet. I have to postpone the vote until after we take a break. There is information I need.’

Sighs of frustration broke all round the table.

‘So,’ said Rebecca, pushing the floor boards with her foot and letting the swing chair rock back and forth gently. ‘Tell me Phil. What makes Majestic impregnable to spies?’

‘We only hire God fearing Americans,’ he chuckled.

‘Seriously. You must have some reason to be so confident.’

‘Meticulous background checks and – ’

There was a sudden change in tone from within the house. The voices were louder. Someone shouted. She baked the swing and looked at Albano. He shrugged and eased off the rail.

‘Better go check out the commotion, doc – oops, Rebecca.’

As he went through the door Unity Miller dropped her cigarette and ground it into the top step with her shoe. She turned and walked across to the swing seat.

‘Can I join you?’ she asked. ‘I’ve always wanted to try one of these.’

‘You certainly may,’ said Rebecca with a smile.

The chair definitely felt different with two people in it. Momentum she thought, we have Sir Isaac Newton on the swing with us.

‘What do you think the chances are?’ Miller asked.

‘Chances? Of what?’

The woman lieutenant removed her glasses and began cleaning them with a handkerchief from her handbag. God, thought Rebecca, this woman could be a bloody model.

‘Of them making me a field agent now? I mean being a stenographer is just not what I want to do now, okay? Yesterday in the UN? Hey, that was the last straw! Albano seems to think it’ll take something really special to convince Bach. It’s so unfair.’

‘I would have thought yesterday was something really special. That bit with the fire extinguisher. Really impressive.’

‘I doubt Bach thinks so.’

‘Anyway,’ said Rebecca. ‘With your looks you should be in pictures, Unity.’

‘Pictures of what?’ she said, puzzled.

‘Films, the cinema. You could be a film star!’

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I see. No, I’m er … Well, I just don’t have that kind of psychology, Dr. Black.’

‘It was meant as a compliment.’

‘I’m sorry. Yes, I know and thank you,’ she smiled and that was just excessive! It was what the Americans would call a “million dollar” smile and Rebecca felt like screaming.

The door of the house burst open and a man went rattling smartly down the steps. It was one of the Majestic committee, Berkner. Rebecca remembered him talking enthusiastically over breakfast this morning about the possibility of tracking down the EBEs homeworld by searching the heavens methodically for their radio emissions. He’d called it the Quest for Extraterrestrial Communications or QUEC. She’d thought it sounded like a duck.

As she watched, a car came round the side of the house and screeched to a halt. Berkner dived in and the vehicle took off wildly down the drive.

The porch door banged and they both looked round. It was Albano, seemed to be slightly stunned.

‘Phil,’ Rebecca said. He looked up and just gazed at them. ‘Are you feeling all right?’

After a second he nodded.

Well?’ she went on, ‘Are you going to tell us what all these histrionics are about?’

He approached slowly, frowning for a moment and stopped.

‘You both might as well know, Berkner’s just zoomed off there just now to break the news to the American people … ‘

‘Break …’ whispered Unity Miller. ‘What news?’

‘It’s been confirmed, Doctor. The Soviets have just put an artificial satellite into orbit.’

‘They’ve what?’ barked Rebecca. ‘That’s not possible!’

‘What are you talking about?’ asked Miller, puzzled. ‘A satellite? You mean like Estonia, Czechoslovakia? In the Soviet orbit?’

Rebecca turned to her. ‘Physics, Unity, not politics! Phil’s saying the Soviets have launched a rocket that put a package of scientific instruments into space, a satellite. It is circling the Earth, what?’ she turned to face him. ‘Every ninety minutes or so?’

He nodded.

Unity Miller just looked blank.

‘It’s an artificial moon going round the Earth, Unity,’ she said. ‘Like Dan Dare?’

‘Uh?’

‘Like Buck Rogers,’ explained Albano.

‘Really?’ said Miller. ‘Like Buck Rogers?’

‘Like Buck Rogers,’ Rebecca agreed.

The two women sat in silence on the porch after Albano went back inside. Rebecca got the impression the stenographer cum field agent really couldn’t fathom what all the fuss was about. Rebecca was too shocked to explain the ramifications. It just seemed … impossible.

After a while they heard more car noises and they looked round to see two limousines coming down the drive.

Unity rose from the swing chair.

She said. ‘Well, this changes everything, Rebecca.’ There was something new in the tone of her voice.

‘Oh, I agree,’ Rebecca looked at the cars coming to a halt and the doors opening. Mironov climbed out and looked across at them. ‘The Russians have shown just what they’re capable of achieving. Aura-Z is now clearly the biggest and strongest player at the conference. I think the Colonel’s going to get his way on everything now, female field operatives, liaisons, everything.’

‘Personally, I never doubted it.’

‘Hmm?’

She turned and saw Unity flick her spectacles off out into the garden. Both hands went up to her head and, like something out of a weird dream, she started lifting and twisting her thick black hair. And it came off!

Rebecca gawked at her. The woman standing before her was different, cool and confident and most decidedly a blonde – a great sheaf of pure gold hair spilling down the nape of her neck, spreading out across her shoulders. She offered Rebecca her hand and raised an eyebrow.

And said, ‘Let me introduce myself properly, Rebecca, Aura-Z Agent Codename J. But you can call me Juliet.’

Then she strode over to where Mironov was waiting at the top of the porch steps, took his arm and, together, they walked through the door and into the house.

END

Chapter End Notes:Historical Notes.

  • The musical ‘West Side Story’ by Elmer Bernstein opened on Broadway to rave reviews in the last week of September 1957.
  • Project Blue Book the United States Air Force official investigation into the UFO phenomenon. It ran from 1942 to 1969.
  • In April 1954 the Americans proposed that the United States and United Kingdom should explore the possibility of a joint programme for ballistic missiles, and that while the United States should develop an ICBM of 5000nm range, the United Kingdom should develop with the United States support a MRBM of 2000nm range. The proposals were at once accepted in principle, and led to the Wilson-Sandys agreement of August 1954 which provided inter alia, for close collaboration, exchange of information, mutual planning of development programs, joint discussion of technical questions and encouragement of firm to firm collaboration.
    • By early 1955, the initial conception of the missile was sufficiently far developed for the main features to be envisaged and for an Operational Requirement to be drawn up by the RAF and accepted by the DRPC.
    • Concurrently preliminary negotiations with the main contractors were started.
  • The so-called ‘Space Age’ was inaugurated on the 4th of October 1957 with the launching of the Soviet satellite ‘Sputnik 1’. This was a 184 llb capsule which orbited between 584 miles and 143 miles above the Earth every 96 minutes. It burned up on re-entering the atmosphere in 1958.
  • The current explanation of why the Soviet Union was first to orbit a satellite is that US President Eisenhower actually wanted them to be first as, once they had a satellite travelling over the continental United States, the Soviets could not object to a subsequent American satellite travelling over their own country. This sensitivity to the Soviets’ feelings about US craft overflying its territories is in flagrant conflict with the American use of the U2 spy plane which began overflights on 4th July 1956. These spy plane flights were desperately needed to provide maps for the newly developed B-52 bomber – a task ideally suited for a US satellite. Eisenhower’s supposed desire for a Soviet first in satellite launching also clearly conflicts with his publicly avowed and frequently reiterated doctrine of containing the influence of the USSR wherever possible.
  • Lloyd Viel Berkner was president of the International Council of Scientific Unions in 1957. A widely respected atmospheric scientist who did ground breaking work on the ionosphere, in 1950 he proposed that there be an International Geophysical Year. This was accepted internationally and went ahead 1957-58. His enthusiasm for radio SETI is attested by the SETI luminary, Frank Drake, in his autobiography ‘Is Anyone Out There?’ (Pocket Books, 1994). He tells how Berkner, as the head of Associated Universities, was the ‘political driving force’ behind the setting up of the Green Bank radio telescope observatory (p 25). In the summer of 1959, over a lunch with a couple of his colleagues and Berkner, Drake casually suggested that they might make use of the telescope to try detecting radio emissions from ET civilisations. The other two were dumb-struck at the suggestion but “Berkner floored me with his enthusiastic response… before the waitress brought our check, he gave authorization to proceed.” (p 27) According to Stanton Friedman’s ‘Top Secret / MAJIC’ (Michael O’Mara Books, 1997) like Vannevar Bush, Berkner, who broke the news of the Soviet Sputnik launch to the American people, was a member of the Majestic-12 committee (p 48-49).