AnneACK's fault. All AnneACK's fault. Okay, the fact that I introduced her to Straker and company is my fault, but the brainstorming between her current obsess...really focused interest and my current really focused interest (hey, SHADO Library moved! And they didn't tell Fanfiction on the net where they went, so it's been a couple of years). Anyway... Anne's current obsess...really focused interest is a little mercenary-turned-cop, Kermit Griffin, hacker supreme. This is what happens when there are only two of us to chat.... I know, had there been more of us, it may have become a chatfic, necessarily shorter than this might conceivably become.
As always, the characters I'm using belong to others, to whom I am grateful for their genius and particularly for their forbearance in not suing me in this unauthorized use of their intellectual property. As always, I receive no monetary gain from these brain-cell exercises, just (hopefully) a note or ten from people who read and like said story.
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Kermit Griffin looked at the IM message and frowned. He began typing in the window to respond. 'what is it?'
*'Just go there and take a look. It's really wild, froggy. Like something out of X-files.'*
Curious, Kermit clicked on the link. A screen came up and he frowned. Going back to his IM window, he asked 'what's SHADO?'
*'Type in 'alien autopsy' and take a look'*
He did so, and there was a moment of nothing, then there was a video. The guy on the morgue slab had green skin and looked like he was several hundred years old. There was no audio, but there were subtitles. He watched in fascination as the autopsy occurred. Afterwards, he shook his head and returned to the IM window.
'cute. where'd you find this?'
*'It's real, frog man. I've been trying to hack further into the site, but haven't had much luck. I thought maybe you'd give it a try and let me know what you find?'*
Kermit thought about it. The site certainly was different. According to the information he'd seen, these aliens were very much like us, but with some very subtle differences. 'i'll see what i can do and let you know'
He closed the window and watched the autopsy again. Then, he shook his head and backed to the initial screen. He frowned at the logo of a humanoid figure with a shadow, and the word SHADO beside it. He wondered what the acronym stood for. Fingers poised, he thought about it a bit longer, then typed in 'alien aggression'. To his surprise, a series of pictures came up, showing mutilated bodies and honest-to-goodness flying saucers. He shook his head and smiled.
"Cute," he muttered. After looking at all the pictures, he exited the site and just sat there for a while, thinking about it. It had certainly looked real, well, the bodies had; he wasn't too sure about the UFOs, however. With a shrug, he glanced at his watch and smiled. Powering down his computer, he rose, snagged his jacket from the coat rack by the door and headed out.
He went home by way of his favorite Chinese restaurant for some take-out. His evening was uneventful and he made an early night of it. For once, he didn't have any nightmares creep in from his past, despite the gruesomeness of his earlier internet perusal.
He got a few odd glances when he got to the station, but nothing unusual about that, really. He grinned, which made most everyone look away. He had a well-deserved reputation, after all. Like the dog that only wagged its tail when about to attack. Entering the bullpen, he dropped the bakery box on the chief's desk and headed into his tiny office to begin work.
He sipped his bakery coffee and nibbled on a cherry Danish as he powered up his computer. He glanced at his notes from the previous day and started to work. He worked steadily for a couple of hours before anyone interrupted him. At the hesitant knock at his door, he shifted back in his chair and looked towards the opening.
"Come." He smiled when Peter Caine poked his head in.
"You're back. Everything okay?"
Kermit frowned. "What are you talking about? I haven't been anywhere."
Peter shook his head, a concerned expression on his face. "You've been gone for two weeks, Kermit. Paul said you probably got a call and didn't have time to let anyone know. I'm not asking where you were, just if everything's all right."
Kermit stared at his friend blankly. He shook his head as though trying to clear the water from his ears and asked, "What are you talking about? I was here yesterday. I haven't gone anywhere and nothing's happened."
Peter frowned. "Kermit, what's the date, today?"
Kermit sighed. "Friday, the thirteenth, actually." He smiled. At Peter's continued frown, his smile faded. "Isn't it?"
"Well, it's Friday, all right, but it's not the thirteenth. It's the twenty-seventh." He watched as Kermit checked the date on his computer and backed quickly out of the way when his friend stood up and barreled for the door to snatch the paper from the hands of Strenlich, the chief of detectives. He stared at the date on the paper and shook his head in disbelief. Thrusting the paper back at the chief, he headed for the stack of old newspapers in the recycling box by the coffeepot. He dug through them, checking the dates. When he was finished, he stood slowly up and turned to the now staring detectives, who were all looking at him with concerned curiosity.
The door to the Captain's office opened and Paul Blaisdell stepped out. Seeing the faint tremors Kermit was having, he motioned for Peter to bring the shocked computer expert to his office.
Peter gently took Kermit's arm and guided him into the privacy of the captain's office, where he pushed him easily into a chair before closing the door, while Paul drew the blinds.
Paul crouched before his friend. "Kermit? What is it?"
Kermit looked up and removed his glasses to gaze at his long-time friend. "I went to bed last night and woke up two weeks later, Paul." He shivered.
Paul frowned. "Kermit, I don't know where you've been, but it's not your apartment. I've been over there several times, hoping to either find you, or something you'd left," Paul said softly.
Kermit shook his head, a stubborn expression on his face. "No. I went to bed last night...and lost two weeks, Paul." He looked up, a desperate expression in his eyes. "What the hell happened to me?"
Paul rose, frowning and shaking his head. "I don't know, Kermit. But let's see what we can find out." He looked at his foster son and said, "Peter, get Blake and let's head over to Kermit's place to see what, if anything, we can find." Peter nodded and without a word left the office. Paul turned back to Kermit.
"I don't know what's going on, Kermit, but we're going to do our best to find out, okay? What's the last you remember? What happened here that could have made someone come after you like this?"
Kermit scowled. "My computer. Hold on." He rose quickly and strode to the door, flung it open and headed for his computer, Paul on his heels. Sitting down at his desk, he searched his previous day's activities and discovered that parts of his files were missing. With a growl, he started hacking his own system and finally found the missing information, at least part of it. He searched his buddy list for his friend, but he wasn't online and he wondered if maybe something hadn't happened to him, as well. He looked up at Paul.
Paul frowned. "Never heard of it. Why?"
"Bucky sent me an url, it's missing, but the rest of the IM session is still here. I..." His face screwed up as though in pain as he tried to remember, but he couldn't. "Whatever SHADO is, they're the ones who did whatever happened." He looked up at his friend. "I'm going to find out, Paul. One way or another." Paul nodded his understanding.
"How can I help?"
He grinned and put his sunglasses back on. "We're going to do as you suggested and go search my apartment." He stood and snagged his coat from the rack and slipped it on. Then he followed Paul out, where they found Peter and Blake waiting for them.
Paul picked up one of the tiny devices and examined it. "I've never seen anything like this before. Have you?" he asked Blake.
Blake pulled out a jeweler's loupe to examine one. He shook his head. "This is fantastic. Camera and microphone in one. Ingenious. Also highly technical and beyond state-of-the-art." He put the loupe back in his pocket. "I'll take a look under a microscope and let you know what I can find out."
"We need to find out who, Blake," Paul admonished. Blake simply nodded and carefully placed his finds into a plastic evidence bag. Finding nothing else, they headed back to the station, where they tried to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
Peter wished his father, Kwai Chang Caine, was in town, but he was off on another of his trips to who-knew-where. Needing to talk to someone, anyone, he headed to Chinatown to speak to the Ancient.
"Ah, Peter, it is good to see you. What brings you to see such an old man, today?"
"Hey, Lo Si. I, uh, have a problem. Well, I don't have a problem, but a friend of mine has. He's somehow managed to lose two weeks. He remembers going to bed and going to sleep, and the next thing he knows, it's morning, but two weeks later."
The old man listened in fascination. "He has no memory of the time at all?"
"None. He does remember not having any nightmares, though."
"Remarkable. What have you learned?"
Peter shrugged and accepted the cup of tea the elderly little man handed him. "Not much. His apartment was bugged with some really fantastic little gizmos, complete with a fiber-optic camera, no bigger than a fly. Blake traced the components to England, but that's all we know."
"England? Fascinating. What else have you discovered?"
"Well, the only other weird thing, like there aren't enough already, is that someone tampered with Kermit's computer at the station and erased some stuff. The only thing he remembers is something called SHADO, now."
Lo Si looked surprised. "SHADO? What is that?"
Peter shrugged. "I've no idea. We need some help, but nobody's talking. Paul and Kermit have gone through everyone they know in the business and nobody's admitting to knowing anything. Whoever this SHADO group is, they've got great security."
Lo Si nodded. "Perhaps not so great, if Kermit managed to hack his way into their files, yes?"
"Perhaps, if he is willing, I can help. Bring him here and we will meditate. Perhaps we can go back and find that missing time, yes?"
Peter smiled and set his cup down, still untasted. "Thanks, Lo Si. I'll go tell him. What time should I get him here?"
"The sooner, the better. I have a very strange feeling about this, that time may be of the essence." Peter nodded and, with a wave of his hand, headed out to get his friend.
He smiled at the guard at the gate, who passed him through without comment. He was aware, of course, that the moment the gate came down behind him, that the guard was passing the word that the boss was back. He pulled into his assigned parking space and exited his car. His step was light; already the physical proximity of his sole purpose for existence eased the stress of the enforced leave. He smiled, thinking that probably no one else on the planet reacted to down time like he did.
"Good morning, MS Ealand," he said brightly as he passed through his secretary's office on the way to his own.
"Good morning, sir. Back a bit early, aren't you?" She smiled up at him.
"I suppose I am, but I got bored. I guess I'm just not the peace and quiet type," he admitted. "Anything I should be aware of?"
She frowned. "Well, there is one thing, I'm afraid. Our computers have been hacked."
He froze, his face losing all expression. "Oh? When did this happen?"
"Four days ago. A team traced the hacker and he's downstairs in interrogation. He's very uncooperative, I'm afraid. Dr. Jackson wants to try some new experimental drug on him, but Colonel Freeman is still saying no."
MS Ealand wouldn't meet his eyes. "It's, uh, usually fatal, I'm afraid. Colonel Freeman is afraid that if this man just up and disappears for good, his friends will come looking."
He frowned. "So?"
She winced, "His friends are mercenaries... good ones, I'm afraid. They're not the sort to just take things easily. Remember Bosnia?"
He thought for a moment, "The rescue of those UN delegates?"
"Yes, sir. He was part of that."
He scowled. 'That' had never even made the papers, but it was well known in certain circles. No, it wouldn't do to kill this man, despite their need to know what he'd discovered. "Don't tell them, but I'm on my way." He spun on his heel for his office.
"Yes, sir." She pressed the button that opened the office door automatically.
"You're supposed to be on holiday for three more weeks, Commander," he said sternly.
"Thank you, Alec, but if I'd spent any more time on holiday, I'd have started shooting at things." He grinned. "So, who won the pool?"
Alec tried to look innocent, and failed miserably. "Pool? What pool?"
"The one that guessed how many days I'd actually stay away, of course."
"Ah, that would be me, I'm afraid. I had five days. This being what was to be the seventh day you should have been gone, and knowing it took you a full day to get here, I win." He grinned. "So, can I buy you dinner?"
Straker laughed. "Yes, but later," he said. "Tell me about our guest." He placed a hand on Alec's shoulder and turned him towards the door, instead of the bar by his desk.
Alec sighed. "He's a tough one. Been interrogated before, I think. No, I don't think it, I know it. Got his background yesterday, as a matter of fact. We can kill him, but I don't think we can break him. He's tough."
"Anyone can be broken, Alec. We know that. What's in his file?" He accepted the file from Alec as they walked through Control and down the corridor towards their destination, Dr. Jackson's office. Alec watched as he read through the file. It was really quite impressive, considering. "Mercenary, eh? What do you think of him?" he asked as he closed the file.
"Stubborn. Determined. Scared shitless, but he's holding on. He's been refusing to eat, and when he was restrained, he went berserk, hurt a couple of guards...and wait until you see Jackson."
Straker raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
Alec couldn't help himself and chuckled. "The guy was restrained in a straightjacket, and he still took out two guards and head-butted the good doctor."
Straker stopped cold and stared at his friend. "Two guards and Jackson? What happened then?"
Alec looked annoyed. "Unlucky for him, I was on my way in to talk to Jackson about his request to try that experimental drug on him. I just barely managed to subdue him, myself. I felt rather sorry for the poor sod, actually."
Straker stared at him. "Whyever for? He hacked into our computers. For that matter, how did he manage it?"
"We're still trying to find out." He pondered for a moment and then continued. "I'm rather wondering if we might not have gotten further with him by being polite."
Straker frowned. "Go on."
"He's a soldier. A former mercenary turned policeman. He protects people. Under other circumstances, I could see us recruiting him." Seeing the commander's interest, he continued. "We've never been hacked, before. I'm not sure how, or why he bothered. He got from the sign-in screen to both the alien autopsy and the ufoe photos. He then left, but the cookies traced him for us. We had people on the way to get him before he even finished looking."
Straker frowned. "Let's see what Jackson has to say, first, shall we?" They continued on their way.
Straker had a hard time keeping a straight face when he saw Jackson. His nose had obviously been broken and both eyes were blackened, and it wasn't until he tried to speak that Straker realized that the doctor's jaw was broken and wired shut. He turned his head to look at an almost hysterical Alec Freeman.
"Well, I can see why you'd like to kill him, but what have you learned?" he asked the doctor, maintaining his cool expression.
Unable to be understood, Jackson scowled and handed over the file he'd made. Straker looked through it and noticed the results of the various things tried. He frowned. "He's still in a straightjacket?"
"Yessss," Jackson hissed, still scowling.
Straker glared at him. "Did anyone simply try talking to him?" Jackson looked surprised and Alec coughed. Straker turned on him. "Well?"
"No, sir. Not that I recall. Mr. Griffin was brought in when I was off duty and brought straight to Dr. Jackson."
Straker shook his head in disgust. "Where is he?" he growled.
"Open the damned door and dim those lights." He stalked to the room and entered, ducking to get into the tiny cell. His breathing caught with his own fear, but he fought it down. The man looked towards him, obviously having difficulty seeing him. Straker reached for him and had to dodge the man's feet as they came flying for his head. "Stop that. I've come to take you out of here," he snarled. When the prisoner frowned at him, but left his feet on the floor, he reached forward and pulled him out of the cell. He pulled him to his feet and guided him down the hall towards another room. Kermit stumbled and was caught before taking a header into the wall.
Straker held him up and took a good look at the prisoner. His eyes were tightly shut and there were tears of pain streaking his unshaven cheeks. Realizing that the man's eyes were injured, he took his own sunglasses from his pocket and placed them on the man's face. "Sorry. I'll see if we can't find something more suitable in a bit." The eyes behind the lenses blinked open and he watched as his prisoner straightened up, trying to maintain his balance.
"Better?" he asked. The prisoner nodded, watching him mistrustfully. "Come on, then. Let's get you out of that thing and then have a talk."
"Griffin, Kermit. Sloanville PD, hundred and first precinct."
"Yes, so I've been told. That's not exactly what I need to know, however." He guided Kermit through another door and pushed him gently down on a chair. "If you give me your word that you won't attack me, I'll take this thing off of you," he offered, indicating the straightjacket.
Kermit looked up at the man. He hadn't seen him before, and he wondered who the hell he might be. "Who are you?" He noticed the grimace of annoyance and his head came up, indicating his insistence.
"I'm the one in charge here."
"Yeah? Where've you been?"
The smile was a thin line showing no amusement. "On 'holiday'...enforced, I'm afraid." His smile turned fleetingly genuine, "The edict came from Dr. Jackson...You've met him, I understand."
Kermit looked at the man. "Slimy guy with an accent? Wears a doctor's smock and likes to stab needles full of crap into helpless people?"
"That would be him."
Kermit looked away. "Damn."
"About your promise?"
Kermit looked up at the blond man in surprise. "Promise? Not to attack you?"
"Yes." The two men's eyes met and after several long moments, Kermit nodded.
"Okay. I promise."
Straker nodded and began to unbuckle the straightjacket. "You've been here three days, by the way," he informed Kermit. "I'm afraid I have to agree with Colonel Freeman, they should have simply asked you, first."
"The man who stopped you after you head-butted Dr. Jackson."
"Oh, him." He remembered the man. He'd been laughing, even as he'd stopped him. He frowned up at the blond man. "So, Mr. In Charge, why did he laugh?"
Straker leaned close to whisper into Kermit's ear, "Dr. Jackson is not one of his favourite people, either." He finished with the last buckle and helped Kermit out of it.
Kermit, arms and hands aching from the pain of being in restraints so long, weakly rubbed his shoulders. He was surprised when the blond man began to rub his shoulders and arms to get the circulation going again. "Name's Straker, by the way."
"So, what is it you wanted to know?" Kermit asked uncertainly. He planned on continuing his resistance, but this was a hell of a lot better than what he'd been through so far. The simple fact that the guy didn't have any needles full of crap to make him sick and talk helped a great deal, as well.
"That can wait." He stepped back. Indicating a door, he said, "Shower's through there. While you're indulging, I'll see about getting you some clean clothes. After that, I'm sure you'd like something to eat. Then we'll see." He turned and left the room. Kermit didn't bother to check to see if the door was locked, that was a given. The promise of a shower, however....
The water was hot, the soap mild; there was even a razor. He shaved before he stepped under the hot spray, luxuriating in the feeling of getting clean. He heard the door open and his benefactor, Straker, spoke.
"Here are some clothes for you. I'll be back in a while with some food. Anything in particular you'd like?"
"Just food, no rice, though."
Straker smiled. "'Nam?"
"Me, too." With that, Kermit heard the door close and paused, looking towards the door, wondering.
Finally having had enough of the soap and water, he got out and toweled off. The clothes were just sweatpants and a t-shirt, with a zippered sweatshirt to match, but it was better than what he'd been wearing for the past three days, which had just been his boxers and t-shirt. They'd obviously gotten him while he slept in his apartment. He wondered how they'd managed that? He'd have to check his safe-guards when - if - he ever got home.
With nothing else to do, he put the borrowed sunglasses back on and stretched out on the bed. Within moments, despite his intentions, he was asleep.
"I'm not sure this is such a good idea," Kermit muttered as he sat cross-legged on the floor. He watched as the Ancient slipped easily into a full lotus position and shook his head. No way were his legs bending like that. Paul sat on the floor beside him, offering his support, while Peter sat on his other side.
"Do not be so nervous, Kermit. You will be perfectly safe. Now, take a deep breath, in through your nose, out through your mouth. In. Out. Deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out."
Kermit tried, he really did, but meditation simply wasn't something he did, or was comfortable with. Not even the guided self-hypnotism worked, any time they attempted to access his missing memories, he'd end up in a panic-attack... and Kermit didn't have panic attacks... at least, not normally.
The second time, Kermit became aware only when Paul was holding him. He'd heard himself screaming, but still had no idea why. He was shaking violently and still had no idea what was causing it. The missing time remained a blank, but there was a great deal of fear associated with it, whatever else it may have been. At Lo Si's suggestion they try again, Paul stepped in and said an emphatic no. He could see how much Kermit was affected by just the attempt and decided that his friend needed something else, instead. Finally, the elderly man agreed and suggested a relaxing meditation, instead, one intended to soothe instead of remember.
It worked. The memories were blank, however, like a degaussed hard drive. When Kermit was brought back, they were just as confused as before, but at least Kermit was no longer afraid. They did, however, manage to extract the url for the SHADO site. Kermit used his laptop, hooked up the modem and, using all the safeguards he knew of to prevent being traced, re-accessed the site. The four men looked at the pictures in shock.
"Are those real?" Peter asked, aghast.
Paul looked closely and frowned. "Yes, they are, I'm afraid; the bodies at any rate." He looked at Kermit. "What the hell is this, Kermit?"
Kermit shrugged. "Got me. What do you think of the flying saucers?"
Lo Si gaped in horror. "If they were real...." The four men looked at each other and Kermit quickly disconnected the modem.
"Somehow, I kind of doubt that whoever grabbed me wanted us to be looking at that," Kermit softly said, shivering.
"If those were real..." Peter shook his head. "That's...that's really scary."
Paul frowned. "If it's real, and it certainly looked like it was, then the people who grabbed you, Kermit, are probably involved in combating whoever or whatever did that."
"If that's true, then why destroy Kermit's memories?" Peter countered. They pondered the question for a bit, then Lo Si nodded.
"Think. If this were to become known, the panic that would happen. A most secret war, yes?"
Kermit's eyes met Paul's and both men nodded. "Oh, yeah," Kermit whispered.
"So, now what? Can they trace you again?"
"God, I hope not," Kermit shook his head. "I'd better get home with this thing, though, just in case."
"Stay at my place," Peter offered. "That way, they won't be able to find you so easily."
Kermit shook his head. "No way. I'm not putting anyone else in danger."
"Kermit," Paul said very softly. When the younger man looked at him, he continued. "You'll be safer if you're not alone. We'll go to your place and stay with you. With any luck, they won't expect us to be there."
Kermit stared at them and saw the nods of agreement. With a sigh, he gave in and nodded. "Okay, but you get to tell Annie."
Paul chuckled. "Agreed."
Straker didn't show anything as he closed the door behind him and set the tray on the table. He lifted the covers from the dishes and the smell immediately got to Kermit. He hadn't eaten in three days, and he was certainly hungry. He frowned as he watched as plates and cutlery were uncovered, as well.
Straker grinned at him. "You serve. That way, you can have control over it and you'll know it's not drugged." Kermit came closer and took a look. There was salad, beef stroganoff over noodles, soup, and a cobbler for dessert. Glancing cautiously at Straker as he sat down at one of the two chairs, he lifted a plate and examined it. Then, he took the plates, bowls, and cutlery to the bathroom, where he rinsed them again, just to be sure. He watched Straker surreptitiously as he dished the food up. He handed one plate and bowl to his adversary and sat down with his own.
Straker understood Griffin's fear and as soon as Kermit sat down, Straker dug in. Kermit watched him for a few moments and began eating. The food was good, but not great. However, hunger is indeed the best spice. They ate in silence and afterwards they sat quietly over coffee.
"Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defense Organisation," Straker finally answered his earlier question.
Kermit froze, his cup halfway to his lips. He stared, frowning at his captor. "You're serious?"
"The pictures? They're real?"
"Yes." Straker watched him, curious as to how he was going to react.
Kermit frowned. "What do you want from me?"
Straker didn't smile, although his eyes lit up a bit. "How did you find the website?"
Kermit shrugged, wondering why the hell they hadn't simply asked him? "Got it from an IM buddy. Bucky's what he goes by. He IM'd me with the first url and told me to go look and to use the password 'alien autopsy', which I did. Then he said he was trying to find other parts of the site and couldn't. I went back to the first page and put in 'alien aggression'. That's how I got into the UFOs and mutilations. Then I logged off and went home. And woke up here. Where is 'here' anyway?"
Straker's smile was genuine, albeit thin. "You have no need to know that."
Kermit nodded. "I figured. So, did I pass?"
Straker stood up. "With flying colors. I apologise for Dr. Jackson's... overzealousness."
"Is that what you call it? I kind of felt like a lab rat with a rather sadistic scientist studying me." He remained sitting.
"Yes, I can imagine. Again, my apologies. We'll see about returning you to your home, soon."
Straker looked at him, frowning. "Probably will be a couple more days, I'm afraid."
Kermit frowned. "I'll be missed."
Straker nodded. "I'm afraid it can't be helped." He looked at Kermit for a moment. "I'm afraid I can't allow you to contact anyone, but if you'd like, I can provide you with a television and reading material."
"Got any Tom Clancy?"
Straker grinned. "As a matter of fact, I have, an advance copy of his latest, in fact. I'll see to it that you get it."
"Thanks." He watched Straker as he reached for the door. "One question?"
Straker turned back, his head tilted in question. "Yes?"
"How can you be sure I won't talk?"
Straker smiled a bit sadly. "Because that's something I know for a certainty."
"The only way you can be that positive is if you plan on killing me."
Straker shook his head. "No. You'll be waking up back in your own bed with no memory of any of this, actually. I just need to wait until those bruises fade and we'll give you the amnesia treatment and take you home."
Kermit scowled. "You're kidding, right?"
Straker smiled again. Kermit couldn't suppress the frisson of fear that ran up his spine. "Not at all, Mr. Griffin. You'll probably be wondering what happened during the time you can't remember, but you'll never recall any of this," he waved a hand to indicate the room and the surrounding area. He nodded to Kermit and exited the room, leaving a very confused and worried man behind.
Straker had compared the answers Kermit had given him with the results from the drugged interrogation and found them consistent. It annoyed him all the more that all of this could have been avoided by simply asking the man, perhaps using the studio as a cover and claiming the site had to do with a movie they were making; but Jackson had over-reacted and now they were going to have to erase this man's memories... and hope to God he didn't get too curious and try to find out what had happened to him. That was the primary reason to keep him until his bruises faded.
After a week, he realized that he was going to miss the evenings spent playing chess and talking about Viet Nam and their time spent there, sharing cigars and war stories. Straker thought about it and said, "I've a friend I'd like you to meet."
Kermit looked at him. He was still wearing Straker's sunglasses. "Oh? Who, and why?"
"The guy who grabbed me after I head-butted that doctor?"
Straker grinned. "Yes."
"He pulled three tours in 'Nam."
Kermit winced. "Three? And I thought one was two to many."
"Besides, he'll bring you something stronger than coffee to drink."
Kermit looked at him. "You don't drink at all, do you?"
"Self control. I don't like the feeling it gives me, that I'm not at my best, not in control."
Kermit nodded. "I like good beer."
"From what country?"
"Anywhere but the US, if you don't mind."
"Light, dark, bock, pilsner, stout?"
Kermit perked up. "Any, all," he grinned.
"Be right back. Alec prefers the hard stuff."
"I like that, too, but I'd prefer beer."
Straker nodded and opened the door. Kermit looked at the chessboard and considered his next move. Both in the game before him, and the bigger game around him. After all, he hadn't promised not to attack anyone else....
He looked up when the door opened a few minutes later. Straker entered first, with the larger man whom he recognized as having been the one to stop him when he had tried his earlier escape. The man looked a bit uncertain, but his smile was genuine, if a bit aloof.
"Alec Freeman, Kermit Griffin," Straker introduced the two men, then sat down and looked at the chessboard. "You move yet?"
Straker nodded and looked at the board and plotted his next move or six. Alec was carrying a box from which the sounds of glass bottles rattling together could be heard. Kermit watched with interest as the box was set down and opened.
"Thought you might like a few of the rarer brands," Alec softly said.
Kermit looked and pulled out a bottle randomly. He grinned. "St. Pauli Girl? Good stuff." He twisted the cap off and took a long, satisfying drink. "Oh, yeah." He looked up at the older man. "Thanks."
Alec grinned. "You're welcome. I'm afraid that Ed, here, doesn't indulge and doesn't even think that others might."
"I've other things on my mind, Alec, as you well know," Straker replied, moving his rook. "Checkmate."
Kermit turned to look. "Shit."
Straker grinned. "You set yourself up, Mr. Griffin, by castling."
"Yeah, I can see that, now. Talk about a rookie mistake."
Alec chuckled. "Maybe you were anticipating the beer too much?"
Kermit chuckled and started setting the board up again. "Could be." Alec sat watching them play, quietly nursing his drink. After a bit, Kermit looked at him.
"Sorry about before."
Alec looked at him and grinned. "I'm not. I rather enjoyed watching our Dr. Jackson bleed."
"If you don't like him, why is he here?"
Straker sat back and pulled out his cigar case and offered them around. He lit first Kermit's, then Alec's and finally his own. "I'm afraid he was foisted on us. We don't have any choice."
Kermit nodded and moved his rook. "Check."
Straker closely examined the board. Kermit looked at Alec.
"I understand you were in 'Nam?"
Alec nodded. "Yeah. Three tours. I was young, dumb, and stuck on stupid, at the time. You'd think that I'd have had better sense."
Kermit chuckled dryly. "Oh, yeah. Where were you?"
"Flew out of Saigon, for the most part. I was lucky, mostly."
Kermit nodded. "Spent a few days there, myself. When we were evacuating the place. It seriously sucked."
"That entire war 'sucked', as you put it," Straker countered.
Alec got a far-away look in his eyes. "Oh, there were a few bright spots."
"Like what?" Kermit asked.
"There was this girl...."
"Seems like a nice man," Alec noted.
Straker grinned wryly at his friend, "For a mercenary, you mean?"
"For a former comrade in arms," Alec countered, then shrugged. "For a mercenary, for a cop, for a man. I can see why you kept him company."
"Where are the tapes?"
"Secured. Jackson won't be getting his slimy paws on them."
"Thank you, Alec. See he gets home safely, would you?"
"Yes, sir," Alec replied with just a trace of mockery in his voice. Straker smiled, took one final look at their guest, made one final move on the chessboard and left.
Alec stared at the game are realized that Straker's last move had resulted in checkmate. He grinned and made the call that would start in motion the return of Mr. Griffin to his proper place in the world.
It was another hour before others arrived. The three men stared at their prisoners. The small, weasel-faced man glared at them. His nose had been broken and the bruises around his eyes were still fading. When he smiled his malicious little smile, they could see that his jaw was wired. The second man didn't look at all happy, he was the tallest and oldest of the group and wouldn't meet anyone's eyes. The third man, although slightly built, was the one everyone focused on, even the guards. He had a presence about him that positively screamed 'command'. His silver-blond hair and piercing blue eyes focused on each of the prisoners, one after the other, coming to rest on Kermit.
"I'm sorry we have to meet again, Mr. Griffin," the man said softly. "How did you find the url this time?"
Kermit's head came up, his chin thrust out belligerently. "I remembered it."
The man scowled and glanced at the weasel-faced man, whose smirk had disappeared. "Oh? Did you, now? Doctor Jackson?" He didn't say the words, but it was obvious that he wanted an explanation.
"Impossible. He could not possibly have found it again. Our people erased the information from his computer." The words were slurred from having to speak without using his jaw, but it was fairly clear, none-the-less.
"Obviously, he got it somewhere." He turned to the third man, frowning. "Alec, weren't the logons and passwords changed?"
"They were supposed to have been. I'll have to call Davidson to double-check." He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and hit a speed dial, turning away to speak softly to whoever answered at the other end.
The blond man turned back to the prisoners. He looked them all over with a critical eye. From the marks on their faces, it was obvious that they'd put up a valiant fight, but the sheer numbers against them precluded any possibility of success on their parts.
"I had hoped that this wouldn't become necessary. I'm sorry it has, though." He turned to his agents. "Identities?" One of the guards stepped forward with the identification on the four. He examined each item, the three police officers he'd been expecting, but the elderly Chinese man was something of a surprise. Their earlier investigation on Griffin had brought the name of Blaisdell to their attention, so it was no surprise to see him there. The man seemed cool enough, but that could be a front.
Kermit scowled. "So, now what? You gonna kill us all?" He couldn't understand his fear, but he knew, without knowing how he knew, that this man had been a part of his missing memories.
The blond man ignored Kermit for the moment and focused on the elderly Chinese man. "May I ask why you're involved, sir?"
Lo Si gazed calmly up at the stranger. "I see great power in you. But you are not a monster who kills indiscriminately. You have much responsibility on your shoulders. Partly by choice; partly by happenstance. Once you make a commitment, you will die before giving it up."
The blond man smiled thinly. "Close enough," he replied. "But that doesn't answer the question, now, does it?"
"I am involved because my friends needed my help."
Straker gazed at him for several moments and then nodded. He glanced at Kermit and smiled. "You were right, you do have friends who would miss you."
Kermit growled. "What the hell did you do to me?" he demanded.
Straker ignored him and turned to Peter. "Detective Caine, why are you here?"
Peter's head came up and his hazel eyes glared right back into their captor's cold blue gaze. "He's my friend. This is what friends do for each other. Help them."
Straker glanced at Jackson and smiled as though he'd won something. "And you, Captain Blaisdell?"
Paul's steel blue gaze locked with Straker's and they two men stared calmly at one another. Neither man blinked or looked away; two alpha males clashing, neither giving an inch. After more than a minute, Straker smiled and nodded. "I see." He turned away, looking down at the floor, his hands clasped behind his back. "I'm afraid I have something of a dilemma, gentlemen." He turned to meet each of the prisoner's eyes once more. He noticed that Kermit, unlike his companions, looked more confused than angry. "My problem is that Mr. Griffin, here, keeps hacking in where he doesn't belong, only this time, he brought friends with him."
"You know what we should do, Commander," Jackson hissed. When Straker turned his coldest glare on the man, he stepped back.
"Should do, Doctor? What about what you should have done? If you'd handled this problem properly from the beginning, we wouldn't have to be here, now." Straker's tone was sub-zero in temperature. He looked at Alec as he turned back to them, putting his cell phone in his pocket. "Well?"
"It's being done, now. URLs changing, logons and passwords, as well. Unfortunately, they don't think they can keep the system from being hacked again, if someone's determined enough." He gazed down at Kermit and shook his head. "For such a smart man, you certainly weren't very bright about pursuing this."
"What the hell did you do to me?" Kermit growled. "Why can't I remember?"
Paul answered him, "Because those stories we've heard about amnesia drugs are true." He gazed up at the blond man. "I've seen your picture somewhere, before. Who are you?"
"Name's Straker." He smiled, but there was no amusement or friendliness in it. "And yes, we have amnesia drugs. Usually, they work a bit better than this." He turned to Kermit. "So, how did you remember the url?"
"Lo Si helped me meditate. Once I got past the fear, it was right there." Kermit's expression had gone from belligerent to resigned.
Straker gazed down at the four men and sighed. Turning to Jackson, he frowned. "The reports already show how you botched this entire thing, Jackson, but I'm sure your masters will continue to foist your presence on us. Perhaps I should let Mr. Griffin have another crack at you?"
Paul frowned and looked at Jackson, wondering... then he grinned. "What'd he do, head-butt you?"
Alec chuckled and replied. "Oh, yeah. Took out two guards and head-butted him, and in a straight-jacket, to boot."
Paul glanced at Kermit and chuckled. "Good for you, Kermit." He turned back to their captors. "So, what now, Commander Straker?" Seeing Straker's raised eyebrow, he grinned and pointed his chin at Jackson. "He called you Commander, so I figured that must be your title, if not your rank. You're military, American. Alec, there, is Australian, according to his accent, and Jackson, despite his difficulty speaking, is from Eastern Europe, somewhere. Some of these others are English, and the bugs you put here in Kermit's apartment were of English manufacture. Obviously, you're international in operation, which makes sense, seeing as how you're at war with something from another planet." He paused; he had everyone's complete attention, but spoke to Straker, their eyes once again clashing. "The pictures on that site are real, aren't they?"
Paul nodded. "It must be hard, trying to keep something like that a secret. May I ask how long your organization's been in operation?"
"We were formed by the United Nations in 1970 and been operational since 1980." Seeing the shock on all four men's faces, he smiled grimly. "Yes, we've been fighting this war for nearly thirty years."
"How long have you been in charge?" Peter asked in curiosity. He flinched when the blue eyes focused on him.
"From the beginning. Not that I was supposed to, of course, but the General was badly injured in a ufoe attack and I was chosen in his place."
"What's your rank?"
"Officially? Commander. Militarily? I finally got my second star three years ago. Technically, however, I should be retired...I've got too many years in; but you don't quit a war like ours. It's a lifetime commitment."
Paul nodded. "I can imagine. So, what are you planning to do with us?"
"That is yet to be determined." He raised a hand to forestall Jackson's protest. "No, doctor. Not this time." He looked at Alec, who was frowning as well, wondering what on earth he was up to.
Peter was watching in fascination. He suddenly grinned. "Hey, Kermit, which is worse, Shambala or aliens?"
Kermit flinched, his gaze breaking from Straker as he turned to look at his friend. He grinned. "Well, since I don't remember the aliens, I'd have to guess them. At least I remember Shambala."
Jackson scowled. "What is Shambala?"
Lo Si answered, "It is a place of light, a mystical place where we once had to go to fight evil. Are these people from another world evil?"
Straker looked at him. "They've been coming her for decades, if not centuries. They take humans and mutilate them for their organs, which they then transplant into themselves. We're nothing more than spare parts factories for them."
The four men stared at him, horrified by the implications. Finally, Paul spoke. "Sounds to me like you have a hell of a war on your hands."
Straker nodded. "Yes, we have. Our problem at the moment, however, involves the sudden interest in hacking into our systems." He looked at Kermit again, "Of course, it's my fault that I believed...hoped, really, that you wouldn't try quite so hard to track us down again."
Kermit frowned. "What happened during those two weeks? All I have are memories of being afraid.
Both Straker and Alec glanced at Jackson and Kermit knew. He didn't remember, but he knew. He glared at the doctor. "What did you do to me? Torture? Drugs? What did you do!?"
Jackson looked at him like he was something unpleasant. "I did what I thought necessary."
Straker scowled. "Yes, and far exceeded his parameters, I'm afraid." He looked at Kermit. "I'm afraid that I was on holiday when you were brought in. You'd already been interrogated, using several varieties of truth serum we've developed. Dr. Jackson wanted to try something experimental, but Alec said 'no'. Lucky for you."
"Why?" Peter asked, glaring at the doctor.
Straker turned to him to answer. "Because so far, the serum works very well, but kills. Alec was right to deny the use of it."
Jackson looked like he wanted to argue, but Straker continued. "It wasn't necessary. And the other drugs worked just fine." He turned back to Kermit. "Of course, as Alec suggested, we'd have gotten just as far, if not farther by simply asking for the information." Straker cast a quick glance at Jackson and then asked, "How are your eyes, by the way?"
"My eyes?" Kermit frowned. He wasn't wearing his sunglasses, as they'd been taken from him when he was restrained. Thankfully, the lights weren't too bright.
Straker glanced at Jackson again. "Yes, you were having trouble with the lights, before. Are they all right, now?"
Kermit's head came up and he glared at him. "I'd be better if I had my sunglasses, but don't let that worry you."
Straker looked at Alec and motioned with his head. Alec nodded and went in search of the missing sunglasses. He found them on the nightstand by Kermit's bed. He brought them out and gently put them on Kermit's face. There was a collective sigh of relief from the prisoners.
"To get back to our problem, gentlemen," Straker began, "Our security has been breeched. Not once, but twice."
"Three times, actually," Kermit corrected.
Straker tilted his head in question. "Oh?"
Kermit nodded. "Bucky IM'd me and gave me the url and the first password. I found the second access route on my own."
"Who is Bucky?" Jackson asked. Kermit didn't even look at him, keeping his eyes and full attention on Straker.
Straker turned to Alec. "Were there any other signs of unauthorized access?" Alec frowned and shook his head.
Kermit grunted. "You saw the IM session, after all, you had someone remove the url from my computer."
Straker scowled at Alec, who looked surprised and shook his head. "No, we didn't."
"Then someone else did," Straker said. He thought about it for a moment. "Is there any way to track down this 'Bucky' person?"
Kermit thought about it and slowly nodded. "Maybe. I'll need my computer, though. And be online."
Straker looked at him for a moment. Then he smiled, slightly, with genuine amusement in his eyes. "Promise not to try and escape?"
Kermit froze for a moment and scowled at him. "Excuse me?"
"I need your promise that you won't try and escape, or call for help."
Kermit thought about it for several minutes. No one moved while awaiting his answer. "Under one condition."
Straker's eyebrows rose in question. "And that is?"
Kermit stared into his eyes. "Your word that you won't hurt my friends."
Straker didn't hesitate. "Agreed. I promise that neither I nor any of my associates will harm you or your friends in exchange for your help in finding Bucky."
Kermit could feel Paul, in particular, stiffen, not wanting him to deal. He turned to his old friend and mentor. "It's all right, Paul. He's as much a man of his word as you or I are."
"How can you be so sure, Kermit?"
Kermit smiled and shrugged. "Because I am."
Straker smiled at him and motioned for one of their guards to turn him loose. He slowly stood up, rubbing his wrists to get the circulation going in his hands again. He moved slowly so as to not startle their captors and got his laptop out. He plugged it in and turned it on. Attaching the modem, he booted onto the net and opened his IM box. Somewhat to his surprise, he saw Bucky was online. "And there he is." He pointed at the name on his buddy list.
Straker looked at the screen and leaned over Kermit's shoulder to see it better. "So, how do we track him down?"
"Easy. Watch." Kermit typed in a message saying he'd found some more interesting pictures on the website. Bucky immediately replied, asking for details. Kermit grinned and started to string him along, all the while using another window to track him down. Straker, Alec and Jackson watched in amazement as Kermit's fingers flew over the keyboard, tracing one clue after another until, somehow, he brought up a name and location. He sat back with a grin and waved at the screen. "There you go."
Alec looked and pulled out a pen and a small notebook to write down the address. Unfortunately, it was quite a distance from Sloanville, but he got on his cell phone and called out the troops to go and get the guy.
Kermit waited until Alec was finished and asked, "So, what now? More amnesia drugs?" He watched Straker, wondering what the man was thinking.
"Not this time."
Jackson had a smarmy smirk on his face, which turned to one of shock as Straker continued.
"I'd rather have everyone's promise to act and pretend none of this ever happened." He looked from Kermit to Paul, ignoring Lo Si and Peter, for the moment.
"And if we don't?" Paul asked softly.
Straker's face showed no emotion, but his eyes held regret. "I'd rather avoid that if at all possible."
Paul understood what was not being said. He could tell by the set of Straker's jaw and mouth that they'd only get one chance to survive. He glanced at the others, gauging their willingness to agree. Peter's expression was stormy, while Lo Si's was calm and accepting. Kermit's was the only one he couldn't read easily. "Kermit?" Paul asked softly.
Kermit looked up at Straker, standing beside him. "Will you at least tell me what happened to me during those two missing weeks?"
Straker's smile was gentle. "We played a lot of chess."
Kermit frowned. "Who won?"
The smile brightened. "It was about even, for the most part. You're quite a good player."
"Meaning I lost a lot more than I won," Kermit grinned, recognizing the ploy. With a quick glance at Paul, he suggested, "You should play Paul, here. He's the chess master."
Straker turned to Paul, his head tilting to the side. "Oh?"
"I'm an adequate player. Far from being a master, however."
Straker glanced at his watch and then looked at Alec, who smiled and shrugged. They had time. "Gentlemen, let them go, please. Dr. Jackson, you may go with the team back to base."
Jackson was shocked. "But Commander!" Straker turned his coldest stare on the man, who backed up half a step.
"Do you really want to argue about this, Doctor? Or should I simply allow Mr. Griffin the opportunity of taking you on, on more even terms than the last time?"
Jackson glanced at the former mercenary and paled. With his mouth pressed into a disapproving line, he turned for the door and left, to await the attack squad. With a nod from Alec, they turned the other three prisoners loose and silently left. Kermit stood up and got out his chess set and set it up at his dining room table.
"Would anyone like anything to drink?" Kermit offered.
"Coffee, if it's not too much trouble," Straker said. Paul agreed, while Lo Si requested tea and Peter asked for a beer. Looking at Alec, Kermit grinned. "Scotch, rum, or bourbon?"
"Bourbon, if you don't mind."
With a nod, Kermit put the kettle on to boil for tea, set up the coffee maker, handed out a beer for Peter, and poured a tumbler full of good Kentucky Mash for Alec, before grabbing a beer for himself. They settled around the table to watch the game.
Paul got black, so Straker opened with the traditional move of pawn to Queen four. The first several moves were classics, without much strategy to begin with. Then Straker made an unorthodox move, and Paul frowned, studying the chessboard.
"How many moves do you think ahead, Commander?"
"Eight to twelve, usually, Captain. And the name's Ed."
Paul looked up at him and nodded. "Paul, then." He turned his attention back to the board, frowning. Making his decision, he moved his knight.
Straker smiled. It wasn't exactly what he'd expected, but it was a good move, designed to throw him off. He considered the board very carefully, if he moved his bishop there, then his opponent might move his queen there, or there, or his knight there, or one of those pawns... He did the same calculations for several of his other possible moves, then smiled and moved a pawn.
Paul frowned. That had not been a move he would have expected. He looked over the board, trying to decide what move to make next, when he suddenly smiled and moved his rook.
Ed grinned and immediately moved his bishop to the space vacated by the pawn. "Check."
Paul grinned and examined the board. He took Straker's bishop with his knight and sat back, a faint grin on his face. Straker was smiling as he examined the board. His next move was more deliberate, but Paul didn't fall for it. Eventually, they realized that neither of them was going to win and they both sat back, grinning at each other.
Straker pulled out his cigar case and offered them around. Paul recognized the Cuban brand and accepted, as did Kermit and Alec. Peter and Lo Si simply shook their heads and watched. When they were contentedly puffing away on their cigars, Straker softly asked, "Did you teach Mr. Griffin to play? I think I noticed a similarity in style."
Paul glanced at Kermit and grinned. "Well, I tried. He's still a bit too impetuous, although, not as bad as Peter is."
"Hey, I've managed to win a game or two over the years, Paul," but he was smiling as he said it.
"Are you sure you won?" Lo Si asked, with a smirk. "Are you certain that he did not let you win?"
Peter shook his head emphatically. "Nope. No way. Paul wouldn't do that. Now, I'm not saying that he was necessarily at his best those times I won, but he did not just let me win."
"You sound pretty sure of yourself," Alec said mockingly.
Peter looked at him, annoyed. "Paul would consider it cheating. And he doesn't cheat. Ever."
"Peter, come on, now. I'm not nearly that noble." But it was obvious that he was pleased by the young man's praise.
"Come on, Paul. You know it's true. I mean, who taught me not to cheat at solitaire?"
"Well, that's like lying to yourself, son. You should never lie to yourself."
Straker picked up on the endearment. "Son?" he asked, a faint shadow crossing his face.
"Well, foster son, technically," Paul admitted. Seeing the curiosity on Alec's face, he explained. "Found him in an orphanage. Had an attitude as big as Texas, and a mouth to match."
Peter smiled. "Yeah, and this guy comes in and actually listened to me, got to know me, and eventually took me home with him."
"Like a puppy from the pound," Kermit said, teasing; which only got him a fist to his shoulder for his humor.
Paul was the one to answer him. He shook his head, looking at Peter with genuine affection. "No. More like adding the final, necessary piece to the puzzle." He looked at Straker, "He was definitely worth the trouble."
Paul noticed the faint shadow of pain in Straker's eyes, but didn't ask. There was obviously something there, but it was none of his concern. He reached for a black and a white rook, held them under the table and then brought out both fists, offering another game. Straker tapped his left hand and again got white. They set the board up and began to play. Lo Si watched in fascination, while Peter encouraged Paul. After a bit, Kermit wandered into the living room and plopped down on the sofa. Alec followed him.
"So, what else did we do during those two weeks I can't remember?"
"Compared notes on Viet Nam. Seems we were all there about the same time."
Kermit nodded. It was so obvious to him that these two were military, although with a subtle difference. There wasn't quite the same forced respect that the armed forces required. The respect was there, that had been obvious from the way the assault team had stood at near attention from the moment Straker entered the room. The man definitely had a commanding presence.
"So, what now?"
"Now, we wait to see what you're friend Bucky has to say for himself."
Kermit nodded. "I figured that much. After that?"
"That's rather up to the commander."
Kermit frowned. Knowing that this group was fighting a very secret war, and had been for a very long time; and without ever losing security before, he wondered why they didn't just kill them. That would be the safest thing for them to do, after all. "What's SOP?"
Alec shrugged and took a sip of his drink. "It's very dependent upon the risks. You're all highly respected members of the community and people will believe whatever you say, simply because it is you who say it."
Kermit nodded. "That would, to me anyway, indicate that you should kill us. But he doesn't want to. Why?"
Alec shook his head. "Kindred spirits, I suspect. When I found out Jackson'd had you brought in without telling me, I was a bit upset. After reading your file, I felt that he'd made a mistake. When Ed came back early from his holiday, he agreed." He grinned at the younger man. "He took quite a liking to you. I think he could see himself having become a mercenary, if it hadn't been for this damned war of ours."
Kermit shook his head. "Nah. Not a mercenary. Some kind of knight-errant, perhaps, but not just an ordinary mercenary. He's got that noble 'it's up to me to save the world' thing going."
Alec smiled. "Yes, I suppose he does. He's very good at it, too. Except that he forgets to take any time for himself."
Kermit gazed at the older man and shook his head. "What else does he have? No family, I presume. Maybe one or two friends. No women in his life, right?" At Alec's surprised nod, he continued. "They'd better not ever try to make him retire, is all I have to say. I've known a few like him. You take away the one thing they live for, and they shrivel up and die. If they ever try to replace him, he'll make them kill him to do it."
Alec looked a bit grim. "You're very observant."
Kermit smiled a bit grimly. "Oh, yeah. I know whereof I speak. If it weren't for Paul, I'd be like him. As it is, I mostly live for hacking. It's something I'm very good at."
Alec smirked. "So we've noticed." They puffed on their cigars a bit in companionable silence. At a groan from the table, they returned to see that Straker had Paul's queen in jeopardy. Six moves later, the game ended with Straker the winner.
"One more?" Straker asked. Paul nodded with a grin and began setting up the board again. More cautious, now, he still played aggressively and managed to lure Straker into a brilliant trap and win. Straker studied the completed board and nodded. "Excellent game, Paul." He glanced at Peter a moment, then turned his attention to Lo Si. "Do you play, sir?"
"Oh, a bit. When you are as ancient as I am, you learn many things through the years."
Straker smiled. "You must have learned the game back in Persia, then, yes?"
The wizened little man smiled broadly. "Why, yes. How did you know?"
Straker chuckled as he put his cigar out. "It is the sign of a truly ancient soul to have learned to play chess in Persia, Master Lo Si."
"Ahhh, yes. You are most observant. So, shall we play a game?"
"I'd love to." Before Paul could even stand up to trade places with the old man, Straker's cell phone rang. He stood up and moved away from them.
"Straker." He listened for several minutes and frowned. "Really? Interesting. No, go ahead and take him and the equipment. Take him in for questioning. We'll see what he has to say before going any further." He listened a bit longer and then said, "We'll be there tomorrow, with any luck. See you then." His face was grim when he turned back to the others as he slipped his cell phone into his pocket. He looked at Kermit. "We found Bucky. You aren't terribly surprised that he set you up as the fall guy?"
"Not at all," Kermit agreed.
Straker nodded. "He really didn't get any farther than the autopsy page, but he somehow managed to make it look like you were the only one to get in. Something to do with cookies and blind drops?"
Kermit nodded. "Probably. There are ways to make it look like you weren't the one who did something. You need to do something with your firewalls and password encryption to make it harder to hack you, though. The passwords are too easy to guess, for one thing. And if only authorized people can access with using both a logon ID and at least one password, it would help keep it from happening again."
Straker looked at Alec and they exchanged grins. "Would you care to take on the project, Mr. Griffin? I assure you that it would be a most lucrative offer."
Kermit looked at his friends as he considered. Lo Si smiled enigmatically, Peter scowled, it was obvious that he thought he should say no after the way they'd just come in and taken over; and Paul; Paul was looking at him and almost grinning, as though he knew the answer already. Kermit met his gaze and saw the infinitesimal nod. He returned the gesture. Paul had always steered him correctly on what the right thing to do was. He wasn't going to start second-guessing his advice now. "Under one condition."
"Which is?" Straker was looking at Alec, instead of Kermit and the others. He wasn't holding his breath, either.
"My friends are safe."
Straker looked at him, then slowly turned to look at the others. "How do I know I can trust them to remain silent?" His gaze rested on Peter, rather pointedly.
Paul sighed, knowing that Straker was right. Peter was a great kid, but he was not someone he would trust with such a secret. It wasn't that he was stupid or foolish, just a bit reckless, still. He caught Straker's gaze and nodded in agreement. Straker tilted his head and his eyes widened a bit in surprise. Then he looked at Kermit again, who also nodded.
"When can you come?" Straker asked softly, with a telling glance at Alec, who headed for the kitchen to replenish Peter's beer.
"That depends, I suppose," Kermit replied, looking at Paul.
"How about this weekend? Will that give you enough time?" Paul asked.
"That depends. We're talking about two days travel time, in total, plus however long the programming takes."
Alec set the fresh bottle of beer in front of Peter, who automatically took a drink, while most of his attention was focused on Kermit and Straker. He was scowling and he turned to say something to Paul, when he suddenly felt dizzy. "Paul?" he asked in a frightened little voice.
"It's all right, Peter. You just moved too fast," Paul assured him, surprised that their drugs worked so quickly. He was right there to catch him when he slumped. With an effort, he lifted him and, with Alec's help, moved him to the sofa.
"How long will he be out, and how much will he have forgotten?"
Alec glanced at the beer and then looked at Straker and shrugged. "Only about the past couple of hours, I'm afraid. How far back do we need to go?"
"Yesterday afternoon. Can you be that precise?"
"Yes, we can." Straker pulled a hypodermic syringe and a small bottle of a yellowish liquid from his pocket. He carefully measured the proper amount and after swabbing Peter's arm with an alcohol pad, he slid the needle into the muscle and pressed the plunger. "He'll sleep a good six hours and should wake up with no memory of the past day and no problems, particularly if you all act like nothing's happened."
"And what of me?" Lo Si asked softly. "Is the word of this old man sufficient for you?"
Straker looked at the elderly Chinese man and smiled. "Somehow, I have the feeling that you could tell me secrets that few if any could imagine."
"Ah, yes. I am, after all, a Shambala Master."
"What is Shambala, exactly?" Alec asked.
Surprisingly, it was Straker who replied. "It's a mystical land of light. Similar to heaven, or more closely, Nirvana, isn't it?"
"It is a land of truth. Occasionally, evil tries to take over, but so far, it has been repulsed each time."
"And how do you get to this place?" Alec asked curiously.
"Trust me, man. You do not want to go to Shambala unless you have to," Kermit said with a shudder.
"You've been there?" Alec asked.
"Oh, yeah. I've been there and I still don't believe it."
Straker regarded the elderly man for several more moments. "I'll leave it up to you to decide."
"Commander?" Alec asked worriedly.
Straker looked at him and shrugged. "You've read the reports on them. What do you think?"
Alec's expression turned pensive. "I'd prefer to have them as friends, rather than enemies."
"Exactly. But to be friends, there must be a certain amount of trust involved. Unfortunately, Peter, here, is not someone we can trust, but the rest... I'd rather have a few friends on the outside, if you know what I mean."
"Right." Alec nodded and grinned. "In that case, we'll contact you with the information on your flight time, Mr. Griffin."
Alec's smile widened. "Kermit, then. We'll be going now and let you return to your interrupted rest, gentlemen." He drank down the rest of his bourbon and headed for the door.
Straker turned to follow him, then paused and turned back. "Thank you for a most pleasant evening, gentlemen." There was a twinkle in his eyes, but no mockery.
"Any time," Paul replied. "Although, next time, a simple phone call will suffice."
Straker laughed softly. "Yes, I suppose it would." He turned to Lo Si and bowed, "Master, it was a pleasure meeting you."
"As it was my great pleasure to meet you, Commander," Lo Si replied, returning the bow.
Straightening up, Straker turned towards Kermit. "I'll be seeing you in a few days, then. Thank you." He paused. "Don't you want to know how much you'll be paid?"
Kermit gazed at him for several long seconds. "What happens to the families of the victims?"
"Sometimes, they never learn what's happened to their loved ones, because the aliens take them, leaving no evidence behind. One of my men's sister was such an abductee. We later found her heart in one of the aliens. Carlin is one of my best pilots, because he's got a personal vendetta against the enemy. There are thousands of others who will never know what happened. We need to keep it that way, you understand."
Kermit glanced at Paul and then back at Straker. "Any orphaned kids left behind?"
Straker nodded. "A few. Not many. They've taken to stealing children as well, that way they can fit extra organs in."
"What happens to kids left behind?"
"Most of them go with relatives of one sort or another. The rest are put into foster care and a few go to orphanages."
"Whatever you feel like paying me, give to the kids."
Straker's eyebrows lifted slightly, then he nodded decisively. "All right, if that's what you want."
"Very well. Good night, gentlemen, or should I say morning?" They all glanced at the windows and could see that the sun had risen. Straker turned and silently left the room, softly closing the door behind him.
The three men looked at each other, still a bit surprised at what had happened. Finally, Paul spoke. "Now, what do we tell Peter?"
"They came, they saw, they conquered?" Kermit asked, smirking.
"Perhaps just tell him that nothing happened?" Lo Si suggested.
"Yeah, and tease him about his snoring," Kermit added, looking at Peter, who was definitely making some noise in his sleep, although whether it could be called snoring or mumbling was a tossup.
Paul chuckled and stood up, stretching. He looked down at the chessboard and smiled. Straker was a good chess player, but his own unorthodox methods of attack had thrown him, a bit. He was a worthy adversary, but he liked him better as a friend. Hopefully, they wouldn't be seeing him on business again, but if they did, they'd continue to keep it friendly. He knew that Kermit and Lo Si were as trustworthy as they came when it came to keeping secrets. He hoped that some day, Peter would grow up enough to be a part of that. At least this time, he didn't have to hide his actions from his wife. He'd simply tell her that he'd played some chess and leave it at that.
"Well, much as I've enjoyed the company, I think I'd like to go home. Lo Si, can I give you a ride?"
"Ah, thank you very much, that would be most welcome," Lo Si replied with a smile.
"Sorry to stick you with Peter, but I don't think I want to try hauling his sleeping carcass anywhere at the moment."
Kermit chuckled. "That's okay. I'll just tell him he slept through everything important and tease him unmercifully over his inability to stand a bit of guard duty."
Both Paul and Lo Si joined him in his laughter. "Give me a call when he wakes up, Kermit, and I'll come and get him. Keep me informed on your project for them and I'll keep you covered at the station."
"Thanks, Paul. I wonder what might have happened if they'd found me alone?"
"I don't even want to think about it, Kermit. Take care and I'll see you later."
"Oh, yeah. Me, I think I'm just going to dump the rest of Peter's beer and hit the sack. Drive safely."
Paul and Lo Si left and Kermit quickly cleaned up, leaving the chessboard set up. He wanted to study it and try and backtrack the moves to see what he could learn. He got out a light blanket and, after pulling Peter's boots off, covered him; then he went to bed, himself.
"I think you've either made some friends, or sold us out."
"I suppose it might look that way. Let's wait and see what Mr. Griffin can do for us first, though, shall we?"
"Good idea. You know that Jackson's as unhappy as a bear with a sore paw."
"Yes. I suppose he is." He suddenly grinned. "I don't suppose you have the video of Kermit taking him out, do you?"
Alec chuckled, "As a matter of fact...."
There were advantages to having a devious, paranoid, master hacker setting up the security protocols for their system. Their own programmers were awed by the intricacies and blind alleys he set up. Plus, he'd put in a wonderful series of virii and worms to infect any system that attempted to access their site. Ingenious was the least of the descriptions. Of course, Bucky was interrogated and released, with certain portions of his memory erased. Unfortunately for him, however, he'd left himself notes. When he tried to access the system again, his computer developed terrible problems, necessitating his having to replace his entire system and losing everything, as Kermit's little guard dogs tended to corrupt not only programs and systems, but files as well. And there was no cure except to degauss the hard drive and start over.
SHADO was pleased and Commander Straker, upon hearing about Bucky, went around for the entire day with a pleased grin on his face, much to everyone's relief.
"Are you sorry you gave it all away?"
Kermit gave him a lopsided smile. "Not really. I just never though it would be anywhere near that much, is all."
"I can imagine. But I'm sure it will go a long way towards helping the children."
Kermit stared at the six zeros after the pound sign and the five and replied, "Oh, yeah."