The road had grown narrower and thinner until eventually it was no longer a road just a track a lane, flanked by thick hedgerow as sharp as razor wire. The sky was a thick black umbra like a giant pillow lowered over the face of a murder victim. No moon, precious few stars visible not even the wink of a police chopper, did the cops even come out this far?
Little Chipping said the sign, a place that was 20 miles from anywhere, a backwater a dead end and the very last place Nick Carr wanted to be on a cold, drizzly Thursday evening.
He was still smarting from the conversation with his editor Andy, "I need you to go here," handing over a sheet of paper Andy had studied Nick's reaction with this big, frog eyes of his.
"What for," Nick had asked innocently?
"People have seen lights in the sky."
"Oh Jesus Andy, it's a UFO story?"
"One was the local plod; there might be something in it."
"This is a rookie's story, a beginner, someone green around the gills and everywhere else; you send some lame arse intern to cover UFOs."
Nick was beyond pissed off; he couldn't believe someone with his experience was being lumbered with this crap. It was all about the new boss flexing his muscles, one week into the job and Andy was still cupping himself. He was Nick's age but he was the editor the big cheese.
"We're short staffed thanks to the flu, there's no one else I can send."
"This is a nothing story," Nick had objected. UFOs like ghosts, witches, doppelgangers and assorted other paranormal junk went nowhere and Andy knew it, he was dumping on his senior reporter big time because they didn't like each other.
Nick saw him as a crawler, a suck-up, a slimy two timing little career worm who'd married the publisher's daughter. Andy saw Nick as a maverick, a wild card, an outspoken free thinker who was everything he wasn't; in other words a real journalist.
"It's your story Nick," Andy had said flatly in others words it's an order so get over yourself, I'm the boss and you're my bitch.
So Nick was wasting time and petrol heading for nowhere'sville looking for a fictional spaceship seen by drunken yokels and some bored cop with nothing better to do with his time before retirement.
Two miles said his SATNAV and his suspension was taking a real beating as he found every pothole in creation. Bloody Andy Gilmartin he was going to be a lot of fun to work for and Nick was already farming out his CV trying to find something better, not a step up just another rag he could make a name on.
He'd been with the Post since college and at 28 felt he was treading water; he was seeing younger writers climb over his back and move on to larger towns and radio stations, one a 23 year old was now on TV. Still with her looks it wasn't a major shock but Nick felt old and underappreciated.
Time to move on kiddo he told himself because you'll sink without trace under Andy, he's a smug self-important wanker who'll just promote his drinking buddies and leave you to rot covering UFOs, which everyone knows are a load of...
It exploded through the windscreen blinding him, a nuclear explosion of super white brilliance, a rising sunburst of incandescent fire. Even with his arms up, head turned and eyes squeezed shut he could see it burning into his brain. Christ was it an explosion, but if so why no sound no blast, his car wasn't rocking and there was no glass in his hair.
The light blotted out the entire world consuming road, hedges and sky totally erasing them all from existence. Nick couldn't even see anything in his vehicle; it was like his car had gone to.
The darkness returned and it was just as bad as all he could see now was a crimson and violet after burn, his retinas totally scorched and brain buzzing. He had no idea what had just happened or where the light had come from, there were no other cars, no buildings and no people.
Wait – there were people on the road ahead – he could just barely make them out, a line of them stood facing him.
Eyes watering he blinked and swore, the small group of 4 or 5 had just appeared out of nowhere. All he could perceive was that they all had large hair seventies or eighties hair thick and long with fringes and it seemed to be platinum blond. Despite the cold they wore no coats, hats or scarves their clothing was tight fitting, figure hugging.
Nick thought of overalls or uniforms maybe party clothing but he couldn't make out style, fabric or colour just the way the outfits hugged these people. 3 were clearly male the 2 female and bizarrely they were all the same height, exactly the same height.
He was about to get out to confront them when...
It punched him back in his seat covering his head which he dipped then took down below the dash into a foetal crouch, his knees drawn up and an agonized moan escaping his throat. Just as strong as before the brilliance climbed inside his brain to fry every synapse.
He got the impression he was coming from above but there was nothing above him, the sky was as empty as the ground had been. Despite his pain he wondered if the people outside were crouching down just like him?
Just as soon as it came it ended but still blinded by after images Nick remained in his foetal crouch weeping uncontrollably and feeling very sorry for himself, why the hell did this stuff always happen to him. Damn Andy and his idiot assignment, he should be here putting up with this.
They were gone. Nick couldn't see the 5 people anywhere unless they had crawled into a ditch but the lane was so narrow he'd still be able to see them and there was no way through the hedge no gate or style.
Who the hell could they have been? They hadn't struck him as locals and it was too late for ramblers. He tried his engine but it just coughed three times feebly and failed, "Oh come on," Nick groaned gunning the engine but getting no life from under the hood.
The last thing he needed to be stranded on a country lane with a dead car, he tried his mobile but predictably there was no signal. It was 2 miles to the village could he walk that in this drizzle?
Something caught his attention in the dark umbra above a sort of motion, possibly a ripple in the fabric of the night. There WAS something up there but it was dark, as dark as the night and therefore invisible.
He got the impression of size something vast, wide and curved moving silently but with impressive speed, faster than any chopper. The ripple reached the forest about a mile to his north east then he got the impression of descend, a vertical drop into the tree line.
Was something coming in to land?
Then the entire forest lit up from within, a strong white glare that cut through branch and stem, leaf and bush and the forest was a couple of miles in diameter at least yet the glow filled it.
Something coming in to land, Nick mused, a UFO was he witnessing a UFO? His sceptical reporter's mind rejected the notion as absurd, there were no such things he was pandering to imagination and panic, getting carried away.
Opening his door he got out and began to hop from foot to foot, bloody hell the road was blazing hot like a griddle or a barbecue. Skipping around in a kind of wild dance he got onto the narrow grass verge, slipped off balance and fell throu8gh a previous unseen gap in the thicket landing in a field on damp, muddy grass.
"Shit," he cried lying there with a wet back and smoking shoes, bloody hell the leather of his shoes was curling and melting. Why had the road been so hot as though it was cooking in an oven?
With a bang one of his tyres burst then in succession the others went – bang, bang and bang – he had lost them all now he really was stranded.
Picking himself up and patting his clothes of mud and twigs he looked about. Now what did he do?
He was closer to the village than civilisation and the village would have phones and people, a pub most likely or failing that a church. Garrulous by nature Nick could talk to anyone, it was why he was so good at his job; people trusted him he made friends easily.
Squelching through slime and puddles he made his way along the line of the hedge not trusting the road again. He cursed his bad luck until – after about a mile – he came to the road block.
Had he been in his car or on the road they would have seen him and he'd have been detained. As it was he was invisible to them, three cops manning a vehicle lying right across the lane. They were stood around in a loose group one smoking, one eyeing his phone and the other chatting about football.
None of them was over 25 and all seemed bored like they'd been there for ages, but why was there a road block who was it they were looking for? Nick wasn't aware of any major crimes any robberies or terrorist threats.
"Bloody diabolical that first goal," said the talking cop to no one in particular as the others weren't listening, "He was off-side."
The one smoking rolled his eyes like he didn't give a toss, "Aren't they always," he muttered to himself.
"The ref must have been blind," said the bore, "He should have disallowed it and as for the second goal..."
Zoning out Nick began to ease past the men hoping he wasn't squelching too loudly. By rights he should announce himself and flash his card but instinct told him that if he did his night was over; and it had just turned very interesting.
Maybe there was a story here; maybe Andy hadn't given him a pony after all. Could these cops be here because of the UFO? Surely three men were over the top for a simple road block on a country lane.
Nick moved on his heart pounding not with exhaustion but with excitement, he felt he was really onto something. Maybe this was the story that would get him off the Post and onto better things; he could still remember the snide remarks as he moved through the news room.
"Hey Nick, you going by car or trades?"
From another wag, "Nick, you taking Fox Mulder with you?"
It was like they'd been primed by Andy, they were in on the joke and for the first time Nick had felt like an outsider, like he didn't belong on the Post anymore; as though Andy wanted to squeeze him out. Maybe it was better to jump before he was pushed.
He came upon the village almost before he knew he was there, two lines of tiny white chip houses, a microscopic post office, a doll sized SPAR shop, a pub called the Hangman (charming name) and a church St Simon.
Oddly there were no lights in any of the windows, no blue buzz of large wall mounted TVs and nobody on the streets no dog walkers. It wasn't that late in fact it was fairly early so there should be somebody about, even if it was only idle youths drinking cider and smoking.
Going to one of the small house she peered inside it looked empty and derelict, ditto the next house and the next so he made his way to the reassuringly named pub; this ought to be doing a roaring trade but was also in darkness.
No lights, no television, no music and no punters either he found as he moved through the gloomy, shadowy interior.
"Hello," his voice didn't quite echo but it might as well have, Nick felt like he was on the set of some 'end of the world' movie. Going up to the bar he peered over this, not only were there no punters there was no staff either.
Surely the only pub in town wouldn't be shut at 7.30. Turning he surveyed the tables, on them sat beer glasses with beer still in them half supped pints and shorts. He edged over using his nose and taking the odd sip – lager, bitter, gin, scotch – all of them left unfinished.
He went to the snooker table still festooned with red, pink and blue balls the cues lying crossed over the blaze.
It was like everyone had just upped and left mid drink, mid game and the owner had buggered off leaving the place unlocked which seemed unlikely to Nick.
"Anybody here," he shouted at the top of his voice sure someone would hear him but nobody did or at least nobody responded. A ghost pub he thought, it was eerie and unnatural. Where the bloody hell was everyone?
Realising he'd get no answers here Nick went back out into the street, the SPAR shop was closed and the post office so he made his way over to the only other logical port of call the church.
Climbing six white stone steps he reached the main entrance, Jesus peered down at him mournful and silent hanging from his cross but he wasn't giving anything away. Nick tried the handle, it refused to budge. He banged on the thick oak door with his fist hoping the parson or curate would still be on duty; when did churches close?
Nick had no idea, he hadn't been inside one since he was thirteen since that big bust up with Tom his step father a man he'd never really liked or respected for stealing mum away and taking over the Carr household.
Circling the church Nick looked for another way in, there was always a back door of some kind and eventually he found it narrow and brown, made of cheaper wood with a poorer quality lock.
Easing something from an inside pocket he peeled open the black wallet to remove a slender tool from within. Burglars and reporters both needed to be able to get into places they weren't supposed to.
This lock was cheap and rusty, it didn't frustrate Nick for long as he'd been trained by a pro; dodgy Dennis in his case an old school cat man who one afternoon had schooled him in the art of breaking-in. It wasn't as hard as you might imagine and Dennis had been a patient mentor.
Light, a weak naked bulb but light nonetheless, and voices, Nick could hear people talking in hushed whispers men and women. Thank god he thought there are some human beings in this village after all.
Moving towards them he made out different accents, gruff, high pitched, stuttering, apologetic and angry.
"Hello," his voice silenced all the others and moving into a chamber lit only by dozens of large white candles he saw a huddle of frightening looking people, their eyes wide with shock at the sight of him.
"My name is Nick," was all he got to say before they shushed him urgently with shaking heads.
"Keep your voice down lad," said a man with a shock of ice white hair the same colour as his bushy beard, he was thin and wore a paisley jacket with darker elbow patches.
"Who are you," asked a plump woman in a peach coat and gun boots with windswept light brown hair then, "You're not from around here, are you with them?"
"Of course he isn't, you can see that he's a civilian like us," said a young acne scarred man nearer to Nick's age with a blond buzz cut and a gap in his top set, "You're an outsider aren't you," taking Nick's hand he pumped it, "How did you beat the road blocks?"
Blocks plural, was every road in and out of here blocked Nick wondered, "I came across country," he said, "I'm Nick Carr I work for..."
But someone else interrupted a reed thin man with greying black hair bald on top, the dog collar made it plain who he was, "You shouldn't be here," he disapproved, "If they find you we'll all be punished."
"Oh be quiet Peter," said the plump woman, "It isn't our fault he's here."
"You think that'll make a difference," said Peter, "You heard what they said about reprisals."
"Who said," Nick butted in getting confused now, "Why are you all crammed in here and why are the lights off? I went to the pub but its deserted drinks unfinished."
Looks were exchanged nervous and furtive like they were considering what to tell him, if anything at all. It soon became obvious that these folk were terrified, that they'd been herded into the church and told not to leave by somebody, taken from their homes from the pub and intimidated.
"What's going on here," he demanded?
"Didn't you see it," asked the man with the shock of white hair, "The light in the sky?"
Blinking at him Nick said, "I saw something, it came down and landed in the forest," dear god now he was sounding like a UFO nut, what a good job his colleagues couldn't hear him talking like this.
"So it's finally landed has it," sighed Peter, "We wondered if it would."
"Look," Nick cut in, "Somebody here rang my newspaper claiming to have seen lights in the sky, my editor thought it would be a good use of my time to check it out."
""You're a journalist," buzz cut seemed animated, "Thank Christ."
"Really Adam," the parson objected but Adam ignored him.
"Now maybe the truth will get out," he sounded like someone who would report a UFO, "If you've seen it yourself you'll know we aren't mad or making it up."
Yes thought Nick that was a good point he couldn't deny the evidence of his own senses or what had happened to his car, and who had those 5 mysterious figures been stood in the road; not any of these people he was sure not if they were confined to barracks.
"I saw the police road block, did the cops put you in here," he asked?
"Soldiers," said the plump woman, "The police came first then the soldiers followed."
Having not seen any soldiers Nick frowned at her, why would the military be involved?
Adam took up the theme, "We're totally sealed off, the army are in charge giving orders to the cops but all of them are armed."
The parson cleared his throat dramatically as if trying to reassert his authority, "They put us in here for our safety."
"Oh come off it," Adam snorted clearly no fan of the churchman but Peter spoke over him.
"We must trust the authorities, they know what's best."
"Then why threaten us," demanded the woman, "They said they'd shoot anyone who left the church."
Astounded by this Nick rubbed his temple, "The army threatened to kill you," he couldn't believe it, this didn't sound like the British army he'd heard about.
"We're in danger," Peter insisted taking the official line, "It's for our own good."
"A cover up you mean," clearly something of a radical Adam struck Nick as a typical sky watcher, a conspiracy buff no doubt a big fan of the X-Files.
"Covering up what," he asked gently?
"An alien contact," Adam confirmed all of Nick's preconceptions about him, he was an anorak. However, this didn't explain what Nick himself had seen or the heavy handed official presence.
"It might be an invasion," said the woman.
"What one ship," Adam derided?
"There might be more on the way," said white hair.
"So why not evacuate you," Nick reasoned seeing no sense in corralling people into a church at gunpoint and threatening them? This lot were harmless civilians as far a she could see simple village folk.
Something else was going on here; his reporting instincts told him that, "How many of there are you in the church," he asked?
"The entire community," said Peter, "56 people," he added, "Most are through there in the front of the church, some are trying to sleep."
"Has anyone been hurt," Nick asked?
"Not so far," said Adam like he thought things were going to turn a good deal nastier and he might be right, "But they were pretty brutal," rolling up his sleeves he revealed arms blue and purple with bruising, "Do as we say or else," he added.
"Where are the soldiers now, only I saw none in the main street?"
"In the forest most likely," said a new voice, female and a bit more cultured than the others, calmer to it belonged to a tall striking brunette in a green woolly jumper, cream slacks and chunky looking trainers.
She was a bit younger than Nick with high cheekbones and arresting light blue eyes, a real looker he decided with intelligence gleaming from her penetrating stare, "I'm Eve Babcock," she said, "Post mistress."
I'll just bet you are thought Nick getting a good eyeful of Eve Babcock who had a good figure under the bulky clothing and long, well tapered legs that spoke of a high degree of fitness maybe she was a keen jogger.
"Why do you say that," he asked?
Her smile was knowing, "I saw the thing land through one of the stained glass windows, now the entire forest is lit up like the fourth of July."
Then that was where he needed to go next, he would learn nothing inside a dank, dusty church, "Nick Carr journalist and I need to see whatever it is for myself, I also need to get some evidence some photos; sadly my phone doesn't work."
"Nothing does," said Eve, "phones, tablets, TV even the net is offline."
Adam piped up, "The army said they're jamming everything, that this is now an exclusion zone."
But going over to a big satchel on the floor he took out something Nick hadn't seen since his childhood, it was a pentax telephoto lens camera with a flash, old fashioned but it should work, "It has zoom, its own flash and a new roll of film."
"Anal," Eve snorted meaning Adam, "He and his mates spend their nights chasing lights in the sky."
To which Adam replied, "Yeah well we were right, weren't we?"
Ignoring this Eve sauntered over producing what she brought to the mix, it was a lightweight, streamlined Sanyo digital camcorder, "This still works," she said and Nick was wondering which to take when the woman said, "I'm coming with you," in a tone that brooked no argument.
"Me to," said Adam, "I wouldn't miss this for anything."
"No," snapped the parson, "I forbid it, we were told to stay in here; that if we left we'd be shot."
Still having trouble getting his head around the army shooting civilians Nick eyed the man sensing his fear and understanding it, "I can't write a story based on hearsay, I'll need proof for my editor," although in truth he had no intention of sharing this scoop with Andy it was too way too big for a regional rag.
"You go if you must," said Peter, "But Eve and Adam should stay here."
The post mistress shook her head making her long hair cascade sensuously, "I'm not being pushed around by goons in uniforms reverend, anyway we can't leave Nick to deal with this on his own."
Feeling a hot flush from face to crotch Nick couldn't keep the smile off his face and Eve matched it.
"I hate fascists to," said Adam, "I'm not hiding in here like church mouse while the authorities cover everything up."
Said like a true conspiracy buff thought Nick, just knowing that this kid was one of those internet whistleblowers that his colleagues took the piss out of. Journalists were so cynical so pig headed and so closed to all this stuff, yet here he was in the thick of it.
"Okay then let's go," he told his two new friends aware he was going into danger with a couple called Adam and Eve; how was that for irony?
"It's insane," said the parson, "What if you get hurt or killed, what will they do to us?"
"Nothing," Nick reassured, "You don't know anything just play dumb."
"As usual," said Adam sourly then he and Eve followed Nick outside; it was a relief to escape the cloying atmosphere of the church and the suffocating sense of fear.
"They really are spooked," said the reporter.
"You should have seen the round up, the way they treated us, we were like cattle," Eve grimaced, "Some people were cuffed; one guy got badly beaten up for just demanding his rights."
Adam was nodding, "They took my laptop, my printer, my notes and all my files," he sounded glum, "I'm the head of Sky Focus," he added not surprising Nick at all; the guy looked like a typical sky watcher.
"Well tonight the truth is on the ground," he said, "What's the quickest and safest route to the forest?"
Eve led the way saying she was a rambler who had memorised the layout of the area and she impressed him by her speed, stamina and the way she used natural cover. It soon became obvious that she knew how to blend in with her environment.
"Ex girl guide," he asked her struggling to keep up and aware of Adam panting behind him?
"I do extreme sports in my spare time," she replied not remotely out of breath.
"Oh, like what," he was intrigued?
"Abseiling, sky diving, white water canoeing," she answered and Nick felt like a blob; all he did was a bit of jogging and occasionally swam some lengths in the local pool. He wasn't out of shape, not like Andy, but nor was he in this girl's league she was an athlete.
Not an athlete Adam held his side, "Hey slow down," he complained.
"Too many donuts," Eve whispered.
"I heard that," said the aggrieved sky watcher but he didn't deny it. Then Eve was waving them back into the shadows and just in time as a boyish soldier carrying an armalite rifle stepped out from a doorway smoking a cigarette and looking profoundly bored to be on guard duty.
British army uniform Nick noted but the black helmet and armband were something he hadn't seen before. The man had a small white scar bisecting his left eyebrow and was stamping his booted feet against the chill.
Adam gritted his teeth, "Now what," he whispered, "We can't get passed him."
Oh yes we can thought Nick a she picked up the largest stone he could find. Eve's look was telling not that old cliché.
But in his experience the old tricks where the best, balancing the stone he took aim and threw. His missile flew right by the soldier and struck a distant wall with a loud bang.
Spinning around the kid unslung his weapon and went to take a look, now Nick nodded setting off at a jog with Eve close behind, neither making much sound, Adam huffed and gasped as he followed but none of them were seen.
"Lucky sod," Eve hissed and Nick nodded yes he had been, that could have gone horribly wrong. Thank god the young soldier didn't have much sense.
"Where next," he asked and let her resume the lead, "You okay Adam?"
Holding his side and breathing hard the sky watcher gave a reluctant nod but didn't have the wind to speak, Nick suspected a largely sedentary life style was to blame, too much time in front of a PC.
Eve made her gate to an open rusty gate and through this to a narrow track flanked by cedars, "This is a short cut into the forest, it isn't overlooked by any properties."
Unable to see anymore soldiers or any CCTV Nick nodded, it seemed like a good idea, "Adam's struggling a bit," he said and glancing over the post mistress sighed.
"He isn't too fit, must be all those burgers he stuffs down."
Nick would have sent the guy back but he was holding the telephoto lens camera and he could use all the evidence he could get, "Maybe we should slacken the pace," he suggested.
She thought about it, "Okay but not too much."
Waiting for the kid to catch up and slapping him on the arm encouragingly Nick said, "You can make it."
I hope so said the doe-eyed look he got in return, "Close thing with that squaddie."
"Yeah good job there weren't two of them," the reporter agreed. They didn't encounter anymore problems for the next 200 yards not until reaching a small clearing.
Nick jerked behind a thick trunk probably an oak; two coppers in flak jackets were stood around chatting; automatic weapons nestling in their arms. Good grief thought Nick the official presence was intensely heavy, this added weight to the conspiracy theories that something untoward was going on.
Eve pointed, "We can get around them," she indicated a narrow winding path going through some bracken, "It won't be easy but it's that or turn back."
Having come too far for that Nick nodded for her to lead on, he had the scent of a huge story in his nostrils maybe the biggest expose of his or anyone else's career.
The bracken was thick and dense with lots of evil scratching claws to snag hair and clothing, slim bodies and supple Eve snaked through it without too much difficulty but Carr was bulkier and clumsier.
"Jesus," he felt thorns tear at his face and hair forcing him to squat lower, his knee cracked loudly.
"Okay," Eve hissed?
"Not really," he hissed back.
"Can you make it," in truth he wasn't sure as more thorns snagged a sleeve and the bottom of his coat.
Pulling free he heard fabric tear and knew the coat was going to be ruined; good job it wasn't new.
"Your turn," he told Adam who was sweating and gulping like a marathon runner, if the kid got stuck now...but surprising him Adam squirmed and twisted his way through the evil bracken without so much as a hitch.
Bleeding from cuts to wrist, neck and face Nick was disgusted with himself, his coat was torn in a dozen places and he'd lost two pockets.
It didn't help that Eve was smirking at him smugly, she like Lomax was totally unharmed, "Townie," she remarked.
"Yes I admit it," Nick could do little else as she dabbed at his cuts with a tissue soon stained crimson.
"Nothing too serious," she decided.
"Cut himself shaving," Adam snorted and Nick inwardly cringed, hoping they didn't have to come back this way or he was screwed.
The odd glow was much stronger now causing them all to squint, it was painting the tree barks silver and the leaves an odd majestic gold. Nick noticed that colours here were sharper and more vivid than he'd ever seen them. Each leaf was a large page of many hues, each twig stood out in relief, each blade of grass distinctive.
He also felt like he was moving through some kind of resistance, something denser than just air that weighed on his flesh and clothing like he'd entered a film of some kind or the air pressure was different here.
"Yeah me to," said Eve in response to his look, "weird isn't it?"
He could only agree then Adam said, "It's the Oz Effect; abductees report it often this twisting and deforming of known reality."
"Trust you to know that," Eve said with an eye roll and Nick chuckled.
"Read the testimony if you don't believe me," the kid barked defensively.
"Let's keep the noise down," Nick advised just before his heart jumped into his mouth and he almost filled his pants. Pulling the other two down he stared in horror at the bizarre figure that had just stepped into view. It was a person in a spacesuit, or least a suit with a helmet, boots and breathing apparatus.
Then he saw the word hazmat and understood, it was a decontamination suit and formerly orange it was now covered in a thick film of grey crystals.
Having not seen them the man marched straight forward for about a yard and turned sharp right before trudging away, his rasping metallic breaths loud in the silence.
Bloody hell thought Nick that was close and rising he wiped sweat from his eyes, "Let's try the way he came from," he muttered seeing shock on the faces of the other two.
It took about five more minutes to find it, a huge depression in the heart of the forest like a vast crater, it was many meters across and other people in hazmat suits were spraying some kind of thick foam from industrial sized hoses onto a long curved metallic object.
Nick counted 25 to 30 of them and an outer ring of men were armed soldiers, also in breathing masks. However it was the object lying on the gouged earth that caused his eyes to bulge and senses to reel.
Dear god it was a craft, a vehicle; some kind of exotic machine. Both ends were curved as where the sides and top, it had no wings, no landing gear and no obvious engines or turbines. He couldn't even see any portholes or windscreen or way in or out. It was completely unlike any spaceship made on earth and bore no resemblance to an aircraft or weather balloon.
Nick knew in that moment that despite his professional cynicism he was seeing a real genuine UFO. This was a vehicle from another world and it was the reason for the extreme security measures and death threats.
He had no idea what they were spraying it with but the stink in the air was strongly anti-septic and reminded him more of a hospital than a crash site. He couldn't see any bodies, no sign of the crew.
"Jesus," this from Adam, "Look at that," like they'd be looking at anything else.
"You were right all along," Eve was big enough to admit.
"Get this on film," Nick's voice was very dry, nobody would believe them unless they produced footage and stills, proof that couldn't be denied and even then he would hear the word 'fake' hurled at them by the debunkers, the disbelievers and maybe even his editor.
Eve raised her camcorder and started filming; Adam picked his spot and raised the Pentax.
Just stood there Nick felt all his training, all his sceptical defences, all his years as a reporter slipping away. Like the rest he'd made fun of people who saw UFOs calling them flakes, idiots, liars and worse. But there was no dismissing the thing before him now it was unquestionably real, it was solid and vast.
"Who will you take this story to," Eve was asking?
Not the bloody Post he was thinking, this was way too big for a cheap regional rag or an arsehole like Andy.
"Nationals," he muttered, "TV perhaps," he had to think big, he had to think major scoop, he had to start thinking like an award winning top class journalist because this was going to be the biggest story of all time, certainly of his life time it would make his career; he could write his own cheque.
"What about them," Eve was nodding at the troops with their rifles and helmets and the armed cops?
"If they don't see us what can they do," Nick responded but he knew deep down that they could still do a lot – injunctions, a D-notice, a subpoena; they might even arrest him using the National Security legislation.
"I need to get closer," said Adam.
"Just be careful," Nick warned.
"I need a better angle because of the glare," the kid objected.
"Be careful of sensors and trip wires," Nick was sure the area would be hot. Ignoring him Adam continued to creep lower and closer to the activity determined to get a more detailed shot, maybe an award winning picture.
I'm not the only one with ambitions thought Nick, then inwardly censored himself. This wasn't about personal glory; it was way bigger than that.
Taking out his notepad he began to sketch the UFO or tried to, it seemed to be a series of plates welded together vertically to create the classic saucer shape he'd once so derided in his student days; how little he had known.
"I wonder what can be aboard," he murmured, "Why haven't they come out."
"Look at the reception committee," Eve indicated the troops and guns, "Would you come out?"
It was such a good point that he offered a nod of acknowledgement. If the troops couldn't get in the aliens were probably safer where they were.
"What is that foam they're spraying everywhere?"
"Some sort of decontaminant," Eve offered, "They must be afraid of alien germs or viruses."
A sudden shouted curse made them both look up, having lost his balance on a loose rock Adam had pitched downwards into some brambles that had cut his face; he'd also dropped the Pentax.
Bloody fool Nick raged a she went to help the youth, catching him by the arm. There was no sign of the Pentax but Nick could see some uniforms looking around cops and soldiers, then one of them pointed, "Up there," he shouted, "intruders," and the rest raised their weapons.
Oh shit thought Nick we're busted, he pulled a struggling Adam up the ravine.
"My camera," the lad objected.
"Leave it," Nick snarled but pulling free of him and going back down Adam hunted for his prized possession.
Gunshots echoed all around them causing Nick and Eve to flatten themselves down, Adam cried out and dropped.
This time Carr didn't go back for him, there wasn't time not with a mass of green uniforms and flak jackets heading his way. He didn't need to say anything to Eve as she was ahead of him sprinting for all she was worth.
There was no telling if Adam was alive or dead and no time to find out, as bullets whizzed around them shattering twigs and branches to matchwood and digging up great gouts of earth.
Nick knew he'd be lucky to get out of this alive as gunfire deafened him, the sharp reports merging together into a wall of clattering noise.
"Stay where you are," an amplified voice harsh and baritone, used to giving orders. Yeah right thought the reporter as if we'd be stupid enough to do that.
But the foliage clawed at him, sharp things snagging his collar, sleeves and pants to slow him down. Unencumbered Eve flew on ahead opening up a gap between them. He didn't call her back; what would be the point? If one of them was to get away better it be her, she had the camcorder.
Hearing boots closing in on him Nick twisted this way and that to free himself but he just seemed to be getting more tangled up, his arms and neck being cut.
Realising something was wrong Eve turned back. He shook his head, "No get out of here."
I'm not leaving you said her face until the bark to her left exploded into a series of chips and holes causing her to rear back with a cry.
"Run," he snapped finally pulling himself loose just as gloved hands reached him and strong arms yanked him back and up, He saw masks and goggles and behind the goggles angry mean eyes.
Eve was gone but the cops handed him over to their military colleagues, who were just as rough dragging and shoving him back the way he'd come with grunted curses and orders.
Nick feared he was being propelled back to the crater but they diverted down a narrow path hauling him almost off his feet to a large camouflaged tent he hadn't seen before as it blended perfectly with bark and leaf.
Thrown inside he landed on his knees feeling bloody and bruised and very, very scared.
The soldiers around him yanked their masks off and gazed down at their dishevelled prize, they did not look pleased in fact the atmosphere coming off them was one of pure menace and Nick feared for his life. They might just as easily kill him as question him.
"Stay there," one snarled he had a Midlands accent and wore sergeant's stripes.
"You can't treat me like this," it was worth a try but Nick held out little hope of clemency.
"Who are you," another voice made him look around and he was stunned to see a civilian in a dark pinstripe suit and blue Cambridge tie, a smart efficient looking guy of about forty with thinning dark hair and narrow grey eyes?
Coming to attention the soldiers deferred to this man who was clearly in charge, his soft smooth skin pale and wax-like.
"Nick Carr," Nick gasped.
"Not a local," the man deduced probably from his accent.
"Reporter, the Post."
"Oh god that rag," the tone was derisory.
"He had this sir," one of the soldiers handed over the lost Pentax.
"Destroy it," said pinstripe with only a cursory glance.
"It belonged to Adam, a guy who came with me," Nick gulped.
"He's dead," said the sergeant without much interest and Nick shuddered with disgust.
"That," he said, "Is murder."
"That," said pinstripe coldly, "Never happened, nothing you've seen here ever happened, this event Mr Carr is about to be erased from history," he paused to add, "Well official history anyway."
He waved and Nick was hauled upright by two men who flanked him.
"My name is Saunders," said Pinstripe, "And that's all you get," what could he be MI5, some other shadowy corner of intelligence.
"You can't just kill people Mr Saunders," Nick began but he was cut off.
"We," he was informed, "Can do anything we damn well like," such was the overwhelming arrogance of this statement that Nick actually found himself smiling.
"I've done nothing wrong," he huffed knowing he had.
"You," Saunders countered, "Are an unexpected and unwanted complication," he sounded like a man who solved such problems with brutal efficiency, "Was there anyone else with you?"
"No," Nick didn't have to think, there was no way he was betraying Eve.
"He's lying sir," said the sergeant, "We saw another figure, patrol 5 are still searching."
The icy grey eyes of Saunders bored into the prisoner, "We will find him Nick never doubt it, nobody can escape my men."
So they didn't know about Eve at least not her gender that was one piece of good news, "You can't just keep me here," he tried defiance.
"We can do whatever we like," almost dismissive Saunders waved for the men to search Nick which they did with vigour finding his NUJ card, his dead mobile and some loose change.
"You did well to get past the road blocks," Saunders admitted studying the NUJ card in its tatty wallet, "Who's your editor."
Silence, the old stone face, find out yourself but the victory was short lived as one of the soldiers held up an Ipad for Saunders to read.
"Oh yes Andy Gilmartin," he said like he knew Andy, "He's very amenable."
What the hell did that mean? "You should speak to him," Nick said.
"We will; there is a total media embargo on everything happening here."
It was news to Nick; he'd never heard of such a thing how could you embargo a UFO story?
"You can't gag the press," he spluttered and the men around him broke into cynical laughter even Saunders seemed highly amused.
"Oh Nick you have no idea how this country really works do you, who's really in control of it."
A young soldier ran in eyes wild and cheeks pale, "Sir, I'm sorry but something's happening to the craft."
Losing all hint of amusement Saunders became brisk, "Tie him up," he ordered.
A hard backed chair was produced and Nick was thrust into it, his arms yanked behind his back. From a drawer some plastic yellow ties were produced to bind his wrists. Also in the drawer were some clippers and a stop watch.
Taking the watch Saunders checked it then headed after the young soldier, pausing to look back with a chilling message, "You have only 2 possible futures Nick. One is that we bury you out there in the crater with a hole in your skull. The other is that you forget all about this and everything you've seen."
"There's an alien spaceship sat only yards from us; how do I forget that," Nick demanded feeling the circulation to his hands being cut off?
"How would you like another thousand pounds a year or two or three, an editorial job on a bigger paper; we can make that happen," Saunders boasted.
"Who are you," Nick shot back?
"The deepest tier of deep government, the real power behind the throne, you don't need to know anymore than that."
Oh yes I do thought the journalist I want to know a hell of a lot more.
"I'll be back shortly for your verdict," and the civil servant was gone taking all the soldiers with him. Wondering what could be happening outside Nick tugged at his bonds.
So it was a straight choice death or promotion, but he knew there would be strings they wouldn't just throw money and the big chair at him unless they wanted something in return.
They'd own him from that point onwards, he'd be their puppet their mouthpiece. He would in effect be like Andy Gilmartin, an obedient little toad, a crawling thing who simpered and lied to get ahead.
Yet did he really want to join Adam in a shallow grave, shot and buried and soon to be forgotten? What had he achieved with his life so far? He was a minor provincial reporter who wrote about trivia, no big scoops, no earth-shattering exposes and no obvious line of progression from where he was now to where he wanted to be.
He was Nick Carr, nobody and it rankled.
Outside was the biggest story of all time, proof positive of alien visitation and he was sat on his arse, hands tied doing nothing not even filming it.
Then he heard a rustle behind him a slight breeze, the tent wall rippled then a shadow moved towards him stealthily. He detected a familiar perfume and the next instant a voice said, "How do I get this off you?"
It was Eve, she'd come back for him; he couldn't believe it.
"Cutters," he gulped nodding, "In that drawer."
Finding them she snipped away at his binds trying not to open an artery, sweating and slightly out of breath she had smudge son both cheeks and twig cuts on her arms.
"You're taking a hell of a risk," he said but not ungratefully.
"I wasn't going to leave you to the mercy of these fascists," she said cutting and clipping away, "Is Adam," she began?
Nick nodded sadly, "My turn next."
"I heard what that bureaucrat said, the offer he made to you."
"We have to get this story out Eve, I won't let them brush it under the carpet," it was clear in his mind now what he had to do, what kind of reporter he was and where his loyalty lay.
"You'd turn down an editor's job," she seemed surprised?
"I don't want to end up like my boss Andy, sucking up to the brass forever more."
She nodded, "A man of principle, I like it."
Was that what he was an idealist, Nick Carr the crusader; it wasn't how he'd seen himself in college a trendsetter he'd always been ambitious but now that he'd learned the price of ambition he wasn't so sure.
"What about you Eve; you're an odd sort of Post Mistress."
She laughed at that and with one more snip had him free; blood burned back into his fingers making them sting and pulsate. He stood up, "camcorder," he asked?
"Stashed it somewhere safe," she said, "You still intend to report this?"
He owed it to poor Adam, "I'm not letting the biggest scoop of all time just slip away."
"But what if these guys can just bury it?"
Nick doubted Saunders had that much power and in any case it was time to learn just who actually ran the Fourth Estate, "Someone will print this," how could they not, how could all editors just ignore a real live UFO?
They left the way she'd entered through the side of the tent and once again Nick saw the glowing saucer pulsating and brilliant. It didn't look any different from the last time so what was the panic about?
He saw Saunders stood on a ledge with some senior officer type who was pointing and talking but nothing was obvious.
"I found this," easing a berry bush aside she produced something that made his heart sing – the Pentax – and it was intact, a bit scratched but no obvious damage and the film was still in it.
"How the hell," he began but finger to her lips she silenced him and took cover. Moments later two flak jacketed cops walked by shuddering in the cold.
Once they'd gone Eve cocked a thumb to indicate the way they should leave. Lifting the Pentax he zoomed in on the UFO and clicked 3 times then he focused on Saunders and took 3 more shots. You bastard, he thought, I'm going to make you famous.
"Nick, come on," Eve hissed so he ran over to her.
"Got him," he gulped.
"Saunders," she seemed appalled, "He'll really come after you now."
Let him Nick thought, let him try to gag me and cover this up; he won't find it so easy. Then something happened that caused Nick to freeze in his tracks, a different kind of light poured from the left side of the ship, a blue/green corridor that caused the watchers to look on enthralled.
"Eve look at this, I think an airlock has opened," certainly Sanders was waving and pointing like mad barking orders.
Joining Nick Eve peered down, "You could be right," she said pensively raising the camcorder, "Maybe someone is coming out."
Not if they have any sense thought Nick, not with all the armed men stood around.
"I can't see any aliens," he said, "Mind you – what do they look like anyway?"
A team of soldiers moved forwards in a line, they looked suspiciously like a boarding party and their weapons were all cocked in readiness.
"Looks like the jar heads are going in," said Eve, "But why would the aliens let them?"
Maybe they had no choice Nick mused, possibly the military had triggered an opening sequence or threatened to mine the ship.
Again his retinas and corneas were scorched by a blast of super brilliance like back on the road, he and Eve both turned away and covered their heads as the forest became a whiteout; everyone deleted by the blaze.
Nick risked a look but had to blink the purple haze from his eyes several times before he could see what had happened. The boarding party had vanished; a lot of the soldiers ringing the craft were also gone. Saunders was on his knees holding his head as where many of the cops, it was clear they'd been caught totally by surprise.
"Oh my god, "Eve was shaking, "Where did they go, are they dead?"
Having no idea Nick rubbed his watering eyes, they felt cooked as did his brain. Saunders had a phone out and was screaming into it; how come his phone worked?
Nick pushed Eve along, it was time to go to get the evidence online or in print, dazed he lost his footing a couple of times as he was still dazed by the light blast. Had it been a weapon, had the troops been disintegrated?
"We need to get out of the village," he muttered?
"I have a car," Eve volunteered.
"It would never get past the roadblocks."
"It's a 4x4 we could go cross country," that sounded much better but an engine might alert the cops on duty, then again what were the options they could hardly walk out of here.
"Something conked my car out totally," said Nick, "It was a light like the one we've just seen," he again the recalled the 5 strange figures in their tight uniforms and big hair, who had they been not cops or soldiers and not locals?
"I think mine's working okay," Eve insisted.
"Okay it's worth a try," he conceded.
"Where do you want to go," good question not to the Post as they were probably gagged, and not home as is flat was most likely being watched. They could try Paul he supposed, Paul was a good mate a big of an internet nerd but through him Nick could contact some national editors and contacts he had in London people he trusted.
"Kenton," he said.
"What's there," she sounded dubious.
"A mate with a phone and access to the web," Kenton was 25 miles away just far enough outside the exclusion zone and media blackout, "He's called Paul Braintree and I trust him far more than any of my journalistic colleagues."
"Will he believe you," a fair question, would Paul buy into a UFO and a military lockdown? He was fairly open minded and a bit 'out there' in his thinking, a believer in all kinds of weird ideas and conspiracies so he should be receptive.
"Paul's a bit off the grid a bit weird but he's harmless and this should be right up his tree," especially as they had proof.
"Why not go straight to a London editor," she asked?
"Based on what Saunders told me they might be under surveillance or even gagged, he talked about a media embargo."
"Do you believe that," Nick still wasn't sure it seemed farfetched but was it crazier than what they'd seen so far? To be honest he wasn't such a sceptic anymore, all his comfortable assumptions and his cosy worldview had been blown aside.
Eve lived just on the edge of the woods in a small cottage, approaching it slowly and carefully they looked for cops but saw none. The place was homey with a thatched roof and white pebbled ash, "Nice," he decided.
It was 2 stories and looked like it had 2 maybe 3 bedrooms, there was also a garage attached. A drive way wound its way to a quiet side road, on the other side was a 3 bar gate leading to a field.
Stood alone the cottage was impressive and must have cost a bit, did Eve live there alone or was there a boyfriend?
"Came with the job," she admitted "I've been here for six months."
"Before we go in," he said, "Let's check for hidden sensors," he didn't trust Saunders not to bug the entire village but they found nothing and soon she was unlocking the frosted door to let him in.
Lovely odours like coffee and stew reached his nose plus lemon and lavender, "I need to get some stuff," she said, "Kitchen's through there if you want a drink."
He did he was parched and the kettle was soon filled and boiling, finding two mugs he put a tea bag into each then found a tin of biscuits, he was munching on his third ginger nut when Eve returned with an overnight bag and a small suitcase.
"Thanks," accepting a mug she drank greedily not saying if there was enough milk or that she preferred sugar; Nick drank without.
"You could lose your job over this," he said.
"You to," she fired back and Nick wondered if this would be such a tragedy given that he hated his job anyway and didn't fancy going back to reporting the town hall, missing dogs, football or obituaries. It was all so mundane and pointless after what he'd seen tonight.
Real aliens, an alien spaceship, soldiers shooting civilians it was incredible stuff yet he couldn't deny the evidence of his own eyes or what they had on film, still less what the creepy Saunders had admitted.
"Maybe this will make me a better reporter," he responded.
"Not in the mainstream perhaps," she qualified. To be honest he'd been finding the mainstream rather limited, it seemed focused on a few small areas and seemed to ignore everything else.
"Saunders said the press were totally controlled," this flew in the face of everything he'd learned at college and been told as a rookie but what if he'd been lied to and things were not as they seemed?
"Maybe not all of them," she offered then blinked as the outdoor security light came on. They both flinch, oh god had the army found them where they outside right now?
Going into the long lounge Eve peered through its main window, "Nick," she called. Joining her, heart thumping, he turned to look and saw...nothing.
"What is it?"
"I saw someone."
"Soldier, cop," he quizzed feeling sick with fear?
"I don't think so just the one guy, I think it was a guy."
"What did he look like," with knees like water Nick felt like he was trapped. Going to a draw Eve took something out and offered it to him. The binoculars looked expensive, top of the range and quite professional.
Impressed he took them and lifted them to his eyes but all he could see was a spruce, an ash, some berry bushes and lots of grass, "Nobody there now," he said.
"So why is the light still on," she had a point something was tripping its sensor then a figure moved from behind the spruce and with a kick of shock he saw a tall person (sex impossible to discern) in a tight silver one piece outfit unlike anything he'd seen before.
Very pale skinned with thick bushy blond hair the man or woman stared right back at him, and he was reminded of the people on the road – the same stillness, the unblinking gaze and the lack of fear.
"That's him," stood right beside him her breath hot on his neck the woman grabbed Nick's arm and she was trembling, "Who is he?"
Having no idea Nick swallowed his panic, "I'm going outside," he said and she looked at him like he was mad.
"No way, are you insane."
"He doesn't look armed," of course that didn't mean anything, weapons were easy to conceal then there might be others in hiding.
"No Nick, it's too risky."
"He doesn't look like one of Saunders' goons."
Handing the binoculars back he looked around for a back door, Eve directed him to a French window and he turned the key in its lock, "Is he still there?"
The glasses were raised, "Yes."
Okay he thought here goes nothing and out he went into the chilly night air, seeing the tall blond man watching him intently. Up close he was even stranger, the very pale anaemic skin had glitter on it or something that sparkled, the hair wasn't moving in the breeze and the silver get up had no seams or creases it looked sprayed on like a fake tan.
Nick made himself step towards the stranger, who was a good 4 inches taller than him, then halted before saying in a strained voice, "My name's Nick, I'm a journalist."
If the guy was impressed it didn't show on his face and it struck Nick how odd the man was, sort of out of place his eyes spaced wide apart and larger than normal with lozenge-like pupils.
"Who are you," was the guy as scared of him as he was, "Do you have a name?"
Then an odd musical note filled the air, a sort of two-tone warble. The strange touched his left temple, gave a nod and stood back.
"No wait," but as Nick made to approach he was blinded.
Fierce and intense it wiped out the trees and the land beyond, erasing the entire countryside. It was just like before on the road and near the ship, the same light the same energy, unearthly in its power.
"Nick," a voice reached him as he staggered back, then the light was gone and Eve was holding him in her arms, hugging him to her, her touch and scent intoxicating. It was some seconds before he could make out any details of her face and it was stiff with concern.
"One of them," he mumbled incoherently as she led him back indoors.
"What," guiding him to a chair she looked into his eyes?
"Alien," he gasped not sure what he was saying or if he was delirious, but he felt he was right, he had just seen one of the beings from the ship.
"How do you know," she asked?
"That light, I think it's how they travel. I saw it before on the road, then when those soldiers were disappeared."
Not disputing his claim she sat back features pinched and manner serious, "I'm really scared," she admitted.
"Me to," there was no point denying it.
"You could have been killed Nick."
No, some part of him denied it, as if he knew the aliens weren't hostile. If they'd wanted to kill him they could have done it on the road or in the forest; they seemed to have the power, a power beyond anything the army possessed.
"I think he was trying to communicate," bit of a leap but then he'd always been an optimist.
"With you," she sounded doubtful, "Why you?"
That he didn't know, they could far easily talk to the army. Nick just got the impression that he was hear experiencing all this for a reason that had nothing to do with his job.
"Hey look at that," she pointed and looking down he saw that his jacket and pants were glittering with the same stuff that had been on the stranger; it was as though it had been sprayed on him.
"No don't touch it," running into the kitchen she came back with a comb and a plastic bag and began to carefully scrape the glitter off him into the bag saying, "Evidence," and, "DNA."
He hadn't thought of that, did he have DNA sprinkled all over him? "It's coming off easily enough," he noted, "Funny I wasn't anywhere near him and he didn't throw anything at me."
"Maybe he projected it some other way," she offered, "Like he projects himself."
"So you believe he was an alien," Nick challenged and she considered this.
"Well he wasn't a local, I know all them, and he didn't look military so what else could he have been?"
Nick wished the man had spoken or communicated in some way, "We should get out of here; people need to be told."
"Will they believe us Nick; I mean it is pretty fantastic?"
He had seen it and he was having trouble believing it all, "We have to try," he couldn't let the army cover this up or Saunders had won.
"Fine let me get a bag and then we can use my SUV," she said taking the plastic bag of glitter with her, "Are you hungry?"
He was starving but they couldn't risk taking time to have a meal, when he nodded she said, "Sandwiches and some pork pies in the fridge, pack them up and we can eat on the way."
She wasn't kidding he saw loads of pre-packed sandwiches, sausage rolls and pork pies like she'd been stockpiling them plus a good few cans of Pepsi so he put them all into the biggest carrier bag he could find, one of those voluminous green bags for life.
By the time he'd finished she was with him lugging a fat suitcase and a shoulder bag, "Everything I need," she panted.
"Do you want anything else any photos or stuff, any correspondence," he asked?
All here she told him patting her bags, "Need a shower?"
He did but that too could wait, he checked his phone but it still wasn't working; maybe they had to get right outside the army's jamming frequency.
Leading him into the garage Eve patted her big Shogun Challenger affectionately, "Fully fuelled and ready to roll, open the garage door will you."
She had money that much was obvious from the big Shogun to the 3 bed cottage to the Louis Veitton luggage. Did she come off money, but if so what was she doing in a hole like Little Chipping?
Maybe her husband or partner had been wealthy but then where was he; no longer around by the looks of things and he was too British to pry into her background. Maybe later when they were safe and could relax, then they could swap life stories and relationship histories.
"Open the 3 bar gate," she told him after packing the Shogun.
"We're going over the field," he hoped it wasn't too slippery or muddy after last night's rain?
"We can't risk the roads or tracks," she yelled back navigating the big beast out of the garage, up a small track and into the field; pausing to let him climb aboard.
"Wagons roll," he muttered and with a smirk she changed gears.
"Yeah I'm a western fan to," she admitted as they lumbered forwards over the grass, weeds and bumps the Shogun's suspension taking a battering that no normal car or van would be able to sustain.
"How far to that roadblock you mentioned," he'd been thinking about that himself and wasn't totally sure.
"A mile maybe two," he offered, "It was on the main South road," he tried to think that far back it seemed like days not hours since he'd crept past those 3 cops and he wondered if they were still on duty or had been relieved?
"At least there are no soldiers out here," she observed.
"None we can see," he qualified sure the army would have posted lookouts, sentries and snipers.
"Oh you're a Joab's comforter," she remarked making him smile, it was an old fashioned term his mother had often used.
The truth was he was half expecting bullets to smash through the windscreen from a posted sniper, but nothing happened as they transverse the field, crashed through a timber fence and entered a downward sloping field.
He saw the approaching light moments later, a small golden orb high up in the sky at their two o'clock, when he pointed Eve bit her lip but kept going.
"What do you think it is," she asked? Nick wasn't sure as the orb came closer and he made out two smaller lights beneath it silver and orange then he heard a familiar sound a low whine.
"Police chopper," he'd seen it before circling the area.
"Has it seen us?"
"Turn your headlights off," Nick advised, doing so Eve came to a halt and the lights continued to approach, the chopper was losing height as it banked in their direction. Blood turning to ice Nick watched the three lights swing down then sweep across the windscreen right to left. He could hear the blades now the insistent drone of the engine.
Didn't the cops have night vision cameras, where they recording this?
The chopper began to gain a little height ass it swung to their left, god was it moving away?
"They're leaving," unable to contain her relief Eve let out a deep sigh, "They didn't see us."
Nick was puzzled, how could the cops have missed them a big SUV sat in the middle of a field?
"They should have."
"What do you mean?"
"With infra red cameras and heat seeking equipment they should have nailed us easily."
Offering a shrug she said, "So, we got lucky."
Too lucky it made no sense, "They must have been blind to miss us."
"Who cares," lights on engine on Eve hit the accelerator and they rumbled forwards. Twisting in his seat he watched the chopper disappear over the tree tops, it wasn't even coming back. Had it radioed in their position, would someone be waiting up ahead?
"We'll be back on proper road in about 5 minutes," she told him, "Relax Nick we're going to make it."
Wishing he shared her optimism he kept his fists clenched and face impassive, this was too easy how had the cops missed them?
He could see the road now the one he'd come in on, no sign of the road block but there was his knackered car. With 4 blown tyres it wasn't going anywhere, odd the cops hadn't towed it away.
"There's some old fence we can crash through to get back on the road," Eve enthused; "then it should be plain sailing."
"Doesn't this all seem a bit easy to you? I mean a military exclusion zone, armed cops and soldiers and we just cruise away?"
"Stop looking for problems Nick, we got lucky it happens."
Not in his experience, not with a lockdown this tight and heavyweight like Saunders in charge. "Just keep your eyes peeled," he told her, "I've a feeling this isn't over yet."
"Stop fretting," she began but the words dried in her throat as they both saw it at the same time and treading the brakes Eve brought the Shogun to a skidding halt.
Just up ahead on the road a heavy vehicle was lumbering into view, it was squat and armoured with a round turret and strong lights front and aft, it seemed to be moving on some kind of track like a tank but the main gun was odd. On the end of it was a big bulb like a vast quartz crystal and the gun barrel was glistening.
Shit he thought what the hell is that thing? Face pale Eve gazed at the odd vehicle with its strangely futuristic gun it was rattling up the road heading their way but not leaving the road.
"Has it seen us," she asked and Nick shrank down in his seat, he had no idea. What kind of gun was that and what was it going to be used for?
Slowly the military craft glided past so far then stopped, just sitting there with its engine rumbling. Then an airlock opened on the side and someone got out, he was in uniform with a peaked cap, an officer of some kind.
He lifted something to his lips and spoke rapidly before listening, Nick's heart almost stopped a she watched the man speaking again and gesturing.
Slowly the big gun began to pan sideways and Nick flinched, it was heading their way; would it fire on the Shogun?
"It's acquiring a target," said Eve.
"So long as it isn't us," he shivered then said, "You got those binoculars?"
Through them he peered at the landscape on their other side seeing just trees, bushes, more trees, a clearing, some water and...What was that, a building? It looked like a disused old barn but he couldn't be sure, "There's something about 2 miles away a barn I think."
"Why would they target a barn," before he could even answer a blinding red light cut through the gloom, a vision crimson scar that made them both flinch. It came from the crystal on the end of the gun and when it hit the barn there was a brilliant flash of burning light as the dry timber ignited into a massive fire ball.
Jesus thought Nick knowing he was seeing something classified, a terrible new land weapon some sort of mobile industrial strength laser, a death ray.
"Oh my god," wiping tears from her cheeks Eve blinked several times, "What are they doing?"
"Field test," he decided, that had been a trial run on a harmless target.
"What do you mean Nick?"
"I think they're going to use that against the UFO."
"But why would they?"
He was guessing of course but if the aliens weren't cooperating then the army would do what armies always did, "Get some footage of that tank thing," he said sorry they'd missed the death ray that would have been very dramatic.
By the time she had her camcorder ready the armoured vehicle was on the move, sliding past them it continued on up the road a bit then crashed through the hedgerow flattening it as it entered the field.
Now it was behind them about 15 yards away and Nick steeled himself, if that laser fired at them from this range – but the tank was heading away.
"Yeah it's going to the landing sight," he said, "They're going to threaten the aliens."
"Wonder what the response will be," said Eve, "What weapons that ship has?"
Yes he'd been thinking about that, did the aliens even have weapons? He was half inclined to follow the tank to see what happened, but that would be stupid when they had a chance to escape.
"Let's go Eve, while the military are distracted."
She got the Shogun in gear and drove up onto the road, "They must be missing you by now Nick, so why no panic?"
Good point, Saunders hadn't struck him as the type to let anything slide, "Either they don't see me as a threat, or they have some way of gagging me."
"Like what," she asked?
"I'm not sure but Saunders wouldn't just let me walk away without some sort of insurance, some way of tracking my movements."
"You think he's put a bug on you," Eve was appalled?
"Not on my clothes I've checked but they could have other ways of surveilling people."
"Such as," she asked and turning he looked at what was on the back seat picking up the Pentax. It had been odd the way they'd just found it lying on the ground. Surely Saunders wouldn't just discard it, so turning the camera over he checked it out, and then he thumbed it open. The film was still there and that in itself was very odd, why not rip the film out and destroy it?
"What are you doing, do you think there's something in the camera?"
He couldn't see anything amiss; maybe he was being paranoid, although after tonight who could blame him?
"Looks clean," he concluded closing the mechanism, "But I'm sure I'm missing something obvious, Saunders isn't the kind of guy to just give up."
She shrugged, "We escaped, can't it be as simple as that?"
It could but he wasn't convinced, life wasn't that easy at least his wasn't. At least once they were on the road progress was swifter although Nick didn't feel like he was escaping, more like he was being allowed to escape with conditions; time would tell what these were.
The block of flats was in darkness but then it would be at this hour of the morning. Nick's phone had returned to life about 5 miles outside of Little Chipping and he'd rung Paul to ask if he could come over, hinting that he wasn't alone and that he had something groundbreaking about a UFO on the ground.
Not needing anymore convincing Paul had promised him a warm reception and cool beer, "I'll be up all night."
Always nocturnal Paul usually slept through the day, so it was odd Nick couldn't see a light, "That's his flat up there on the left near the back," he pointed.
"It's in darkness," Eve shrugged, "Does your friend like to sit in the dark?"
Not normally thought Nick feeling a twinge of disquiet, he rang Paul's number again but after a lengthy delay it went to voice mail. This felt all wrong, Paul wouldn't go out.
"You stay here Eve, I'm going to sneak in and have a look around."
Not happy about being left behind she looked on the verge of objecting then nodded reluctantly, "Be careful."
Saying he would Nick jogged over to the gloomy Victorian building, he tried the intercom for flat 57b but there was no answer and his unease deepened. Where are you Paul, what are you playing at?
He tried another number at random on the same floor, "Pizza delivery," he was buzzed in by someone who didn't even speak. Old trick but it was amazing how often it worked.
Nick had first met Paul at a conspiracy symposium, back then he was a rookie and this was seen as a bit of a joke. The conference was all about freemasonry, the illuminati, how 911 was an inside job and so on.
Paul's talk was how Princess Di had been murdered in accordance with astrology, numerology and the kabala. In truth Nick had barely understood any of it' bollocks in his view.
Later though when he met Paul at the bar he found him friendly, funny and very down to earth plus an absolute wiz with IT. He'd gone on to fix Nick's phone and tablet and shown him how to get a website at a knock down price.
. was still up and running although the only things on it where his CV, some photos and a tentative blog. Well he'd have lots to add now wouldn't he?
Taking the lift he was on the 5th floor in no time it hung before him dark and silent, oppressively so. Emerging he edged along the musty corridor with its faded blue walls and threadbare carpet. Paul's flat was right at the end, a red door and it was slightly ajar.
Nick took a deep breath and crept over, he couldn't hear a thing no games console, no TV and no movement. Instinct stopped him from calling Paul's name, but he did toe the door further open.
The usual fast food smells were absent but there was an odour something sharp and pungent that he didn't like.
"Paul," he whispered easing his way inside. He saw the damage at once, the wonky PC with its screen cracked from corner to corner, the gut so a cell phone littering the carpet stamped underfoot, drawers wrenched out and papers everywhere.
Paul had the biggest collection of Big Finish Dr Who audio plays Nick had ever seen; now they were scattered hither and yon many broken.
Cushions were ripped, chairs overturned and cups smashed. The place had been raided and turned over but of Paul there was no sign. Not going in any further he withdrew shaking and shocked, that his friend had been abducted was obvious but by whom, and why?
The army, the cops, some secret government agency? All were possible and making his way back outside he wondered what he was going to tell Eve; if she'd stick by him in the light of this?
Reaching the Shogun he opened his door and was about to get in when he froze, sat there waiting for him wasn't Eve but Saunders and the gun he held bore a silencer, "You took your time," he said almost amiably, "Do get in old boy it's a chilly night."
Slamming the door instantly Nick turned and ran, no way was he letting that creep taking him captive like Paul and Eve. God only knew where they were but he couldn't help them now.
Crossing the road he shot past Paul's building took a right, vaulted a low gate and kept going kicking cans and fag packets out of his way. Nick was fit, he had been fitter a tone time but he wasn't in bad shape and was sure he could outpace a pen pusher like Saunders, who didn't even seem to be following.
Reaching as tall gate he began to scale it, the gate was high and slick with rain but a determined man doesn't let that stop him. Scrambling to the top, lungs burning he swung a leg over.
That was when the torch blinded him, a bloody strong thing a big flashlight most likely. Dazed and caught cold he squeezed his eyes shut before the voice said, "Get down Nick."
He knew it, "Eve," barely able to contain his delight he swung down to land clumsily, "I thought Saunders had you, he was in the car."
But as the torch dipped he saw what she held in her free hand, another gun with a silencer, "Sorry Nick," she said and seemed to mean it, "It wasn't the Pentax that was bugged it was me," she admitted and a crushing sense of being played overcame him.
"You work for," he began but couldn't finish the sentence so gutted did he feel so stupid, why hadn't he worked it out.
"Of course," she sighed, "We wanted to see what you'd do, who you'd turn to."
He'd led them right to his friend, "Is Paul dead?"
"He's in custody."
"You mean the spooks have him, are you a spook," stupid question of course she was?
"He'll be fine," why wasn't he reassured by this?
"You mean like Adam," he threw back?
"That was an accident, the men panicked," oh that was okay then the jar heads had over reacted so everything was okay.
"You were a plant all along," so obvious now, "Keeping an eye on the villagers," and me he thought and like a fool I fell for it, "You certainly took me for a ride."
She had the good grace to look embarrassed, just for a second, "Shall we return to the Shogun Nick."
"Will you shoot me if I say no," he asked?
"Best not to find out the hard way Nick," that would be a yes then, she was just like Saunders some cold blooded intelligence clone.
"All this to cover up a UFO," part of him still found it hard to believe, the reporter who'd laughed at all those conspiracy nuts now caught up in a conspiracy of his own.
"The aliens are a threat," she said waving him ahead of her.
"To whom," he threw back, "The powers that be the ruling elite," that was a phrase he'd picked up off Paul who had schooled him in conspiracy-speak giving him a lecture of the secret ruling class who manipulated every government, the super rich blue-blood families who owned everything.
"If you like," Eve sounded almost bored now.
"Who are you really Eve, is that even your real name," he didn't expect her to tell him and she didn't, she would have many names maybe many homes, she was part of the invisible, unseen but ever present security web Paul had often warned of, who listened to every phone call, read every email and had detailed file son everyone.
When they reached the Shogun she indicated the rear left passenger door, "In the back Nick."
Once he was in, she entered via the other rear door. Saunders was still in the front but didn't turn a she spoke, his voice sounded different somehow, still smug but guarded.
"I must admit you're a surprising man Nick, I had you down as a run of the mill by the number shack but it seems I was wrong; you're someone of hidden depths."
Not interested in honeyed words Nick wondered if his life could be measured now in hours or just minutes, "So is it to be an accident – like a fall or drowning – or am I going to commit suicide leaving a suitably lucid note for the cops," he asked?
"Neither," Saunders said, "You're going back to Little Chipping."
Now that he hadn't expected, in fact it was the last thing on his mind, "Why?"
"Your presence has been requested."
"By the army," he couldn't believe that, "The cops?"
"The visitors," said the civil servant leaving him utterly stunned and sure he hadn't heard that correctly.
"What," the man couldn't be serious, "The aliens want to see me?"
"They do," Saunders agreed.
"They spoke to you they said my name?"
"They communicated their wishes powerfully."
"And they want to see me – what for," he was nobody, a provincial reporter and not even a well known one?
"So it would seem," Saunders gunned the engine taking a moment to familiarise himself with the controls, "By the way we have an escort so don't try to escape again."
Why would he, where would he go. The aliens had demanded his presence; it made no sense why would they care about him?
"You're lying," he decided.
"No we aren't," said Eve, "They've revealed themselves to you and nobody else."
"You mean you haven't seen them, they didn't come out of their ship; what about that death ray thing you've got?"
Swapping a look his two captors said not a word so he made up his own mind, "They destroyed it didn't they," he had to laugh, the damn thing had probably cost millions digging a big hole in some black ops budget, "They vaporised it or something and now you have to dance to their tune," it was a real turn around.
Saunders said, "We still control events Nick don't ever doubt it, this is our turf and we won't surrender one inch of it."
"This is how you see things is it, in terms of power and territory?"
Eve said, "This is our back yard our planet," but for how much longer?
"So what happens now, do I go into the ship or will they come out; how do we establish a dialogue?"
Quiet for a moment the civil servant who could have been MI5, MI6, Home Office or something even more cryptic pulled out on to the road and big powerful headlines followed him from some yards back the famed escort, no doubt armed to the teeth.
"We were just told to bring you back to the village; I'm not sure what happens after that."
"Must be galling," Nick provoked, "To lose control."
"We haven't lost control," said Eve.
"Haven't you," he looked at her hard and she broke off eye contact first, "Sounds to me like we're following their agenda not yours."
Nick had no doubt that if the aliens hadn't wanted to see him he'd be dead in a ditch or languishing in some jail cell forgotten by everyone.
"There's no escape for you Nick," Saunders warned, "When this over we'll still own you, we will decide your destiny if you have a career or not even if you live or not."
That was a bleak thought, to have these spooks watching over his every move from now on reading his mail and tapping his phone, "Does my editor know what you're doing?"
"Good old Andy," Saunders chuckled, "He's been an asset of ours for years, most editors are if I'm truthful but especially him, he's so desperate to get ahead to climb the greasy pole that he'd never rock the boat."
Nick wished he didn't believe it but he did, he knew exactly how shallow Andy was how he sucked up to the brass at every opportunity and never tried to offend his Masonic mates be they in politics or big business.
"I'm going to break this story," he said firmly.
"There is no story," said Eve, "The UFO will leave and the area will be sterilized, the villagers frightened into silence, you will be left with no proof to back up your claims."
Saunders nodded, "Just another crazy tabloid fantasy."
Only it wasn't not this time it was real, there was a ship there were aliens; Nick couldn't ignore these facts and he wouldn't he would do something with this episode he had to, he owed it to Paul and all those like him – the believers in impossible truths.
Nick saw a lot more cops in the village this time wielding big guns in their high resolution jackets and looking important. No locals so maybe they were still cowering in that church wondering what had happened to their neighbours.
There were two new cars parked in Little Chipping, one was an impressive metallic silver Mercedes 4 door with blacked out windows, it looked expensive and important and the registration was UKGov 3. The other car was one Nick felt sure he knew, a bright red VW Passat.
Looking at the Mercedes Saunders drew in a sharp breath then unlocked his own door taking the car keys with him; "stay here," his curt command was followed by a slam of the door then walking over to the merc he tapped on a rear window.
A door opened and in he climbed looking deferential and nervous.
"Who's that," Nick asked not really expecting an answer but he got one anyway.
"Minister," said Eve.
"A government minister is here," he didn't know why he was surprised but he was, he thought they kept their distance and gave orders over the phone not turned up in person, "which one?"
"Probably defence," she said.
"Is that who Saunders reports to," Nick raised an eyebrow, "You too?"
Meeting his gaze she offered him a neutral smile, then glancing beyond her he saw someone get out of the Passat, overweight, unshaved, baggy jeans, dark cargos and a bit bleary eyed.
"That's my boss," he said nodding at Andy Gilmartin, his voice full of shock, "I need to talk to him."
"Saunders told you to stay put."
"Come on Eve, where can I go the area is crawling with troops and cops?"
Giving it some thought she unlocked the doors but got out with him, staying by the car.
Andy shook his head when he saw Nick, "Christ Nick trust you to poke a hornet's nest," he said his breath reeking of booze.
"There's an alien spaceship here Andy, it's real I've seen it, aliens to," but he was waved down.
"No there isn't Nick, there's nothing here," sighed the editor wearily.
"What are you talking about; I've seen the damn thing."
"You're not hearing me Nick," meeting his clear gaze with a bloodshot one the editor of the Post patted him on the arm, "This whole thing is going to be deleted from existence, wiped from history; I'm not publishing it and nor will any other editor – this whole thing is beyond toxic."
Totally stunned by this and feeling not a little betrayed Nick gazed at his boss as if seeing him for the first time and maybe he was, the real Andy Gilmartin not the image he projected at the office.
"They've bought you off haven't they Andy, bribed you with promotion or money or both."
"Nick listen to me, this is the real world and in this world you do not rock the boat, you do not bite the hand that feeds," waving at the merc Andy said, "The man in that car could end both our careers with a phone call, he could shut the Post down for good. This whole thing is way beyond me and you, and if you want any kind of career after tonight you'll keep your mouth shut."
A cover up pure and simple, it was all being brushed under the carpet, "They want to see me, the aliens they've asked for me."
Now it was Gilmartin's turn to be stunned, "Jesus, you're kidding me."
"No I'm not," said Nick flatly, "And whatever I seem, whatever they tell me I'm going to write about it, if not for you then someone else."
Stunned into silence the editor just blinked at his reporter, then the merc opened and a tall grey haired man in wire rimmed spectacles got out, thin faced and sharp chinned he wore a homburg hat and black leather gloves.
Nick's jaw sagged, it was the Home Secretary Henry Stapleton newly appointed after a recent reshuffle, he'd been a QC and former chair of the Law Society Making his way over with a black suited bodyguard in tow he gazed down at the two news men with obvious distaste, "Before you go in Carr," the plumy voice had a patronising timbre that hacked Nick off no end, he hated being talked-down to by the old school tie brigade, "You need to understand this," the MP sniffed before continuing.
"You will be fully debriefed after your meeting with these creatures by the intelligence division," that no doubt meant Saunders, "They will want to know everything that happens every single detail, after which you will be given drugs that will enable you to forget everything you've seen tonight."
Appalled Nick met the man's piercing gaze, "no," he said flatly, "No drugs."
"It's either that," said Stapleton, "Or the military will arrange for you to disappear and believe me that won't end well."
"Murder," Nick didn't try to hide his disgust, "Is that what the British army has been reduced to, killing a civilian?"
On TV Henry came across as affable, a sort of Avuncular uncle but right now he was an iceberg, a cold unfeeling android of a man, "I'm not going to argue with you Carr, these are the options and you will be given nothing else," the tone was pompous and superior in the extreme winding Nick up no end but jumping in Andy said quickly.
"That will be fine sir I'm sure Nick will cooperate."
Having no intention of doing so Nick turned on his boss, but was hustled away by a strong jerk on the arm who hissed, "Don't be bloody difficult, do you have any idea how trigger happy these people are, how easily they could dispose of someone like you."
Around them armed soldiers and cops looked on, there were dozens of them and they all looked twitchy to Nick who realised Andy could be right. That said just caving in to someone like Stapleton went against the grain.
Next instant Saunders was beside him and with a curt nod said, "This way," and he headed towards the forest flanked by two flak jacketed cops, there was no sign of Eve and Andy didn't try to tag along to offer moral support.
"I've just been threatened by the honourable member for Braze Norton," Nick told him, "But I'm sure you know all about it after your cosy little chat in his flash motor."
Not even breaking stride the security man replied, "Don't bother trying to provoke me Nick it won't work, I'm a clog in the machine like everyone else."
"Why; can't you think for yourself," not done provoking Nick was still angry at how he'd been spoken to.
"For your information young man keeping you alive afterwards was my idea; you should be thanking me."
"What, for amnesia."
"It beats euthanasia any day," Saunders rebuffed as Nick once again entered the strange light and felt a push on his skin like he was moving through heavier air a different barometric pressure.
"Why are you treating these aliens as hostile," he asked, "They haven't done anything aggressive?"
"They're intruding on our territory without our permission."
Nick shook his head, "But think of the benefits they could bring to us, higher technology, cures for disease maybe an end to hunger and poverty."
The reply he got was stunning, "But we don't want these things to end, they are useful tools of statecraft."
Dazed by this Nick actually came to a halt and glared at the man's back wondering if he had really heard this remark, "Tools," he echoed, "Starvation cancer, drought – you're not serious."
Stopping himself to turn and study his prisoner the civil servant wore an almost pitying expression like he was dealing with a mental defective, "For a ruling elite to maintain its power," he said in a low voice, "The majority must be totally dependent and submissive."
He was justifying the unjustifiable – privilege, tyranny, fascism – Nick didn't know whether to laugh or scream in outrage. Was this how everyone in the upper echelons thought, was Saunders the establishment view, did Stapleton think like this and the rest of the cabinet, what about the PM?
"Come," Nick was told, "We don't have time to debate," he seemed flustered and Nick was glad to see that something could unsettle the man, that he wasn't totally unflappable despite the arrogance of his beliefs.
The ship was unchanged as far as he could tell but the spraying had stopped and the men in hazmat suits were gone, the soldiers stood further back. A path had been cut and lined with black plastic tiles that were easier to walk on, the route led straight to the side of the UFO and once he reached the end Saunders halted and waved him on.
"Hurry man," he sounded nettled.
"Why, got you spooked have they," the joke fell flat so Nick moved to stand beside a man he had grown to despise, "What now?"
"Now," said Saunders, "I withdraw."
"Do I approach the ship," Nick enquired seeing no opening in its smooth pristine carapace?
"Stay where you are, the aliens will take over from this point."
"Have you met them," Nick was suddenly curious and pausing the older man studied him, he seemed about to say something but thought better of it and departed.
My god he really was spooked, whoever these beings where they had put the wind up Mr Whitehall and it there was no sign of the Home Secretary either, he hadn't even come to watch; maybe he'd been warned off.
Heart hammering Nick eyed the immense other worldly craft feeling a mixture of awe and terror. Never in his life had he seen himself doing anything like this, he was Nick Carr a 28 year old undistinguished regional hack. Why would beings from beyond the stars want to make contact with him, what did he have to offer that a man like Stapleton didn't?
Nick felt a sense of something opening, he couldn't see anything there was no obvious door just the sensation of access being allowed and of forward motion; not walking as such more like floating like a nugget of metal drawn to a magnet.
Then he was somewhere else, another place and it wasn't what he'd been expecting at all.
Around him the room acquired shape and texture, colour and dimension. It was the newsroom at the Post – tables, computers, phones and chairs but no people not a single reporter or editor he was alone.
A curious silver mist hung on the floor and flickering lights hovered above him but he was definitely back at work. Over on his left was the place where Steve did all the sports stuff, to his right was the crime desk where Stephanie worked, ahead was the political section manned by Dave and Gina.
His own work station was behind him but on the screen wasn't his usual screensaver the Post logo of a large letter P but something called TRUTH TELLER it seemed to be a private website and his name was prominent.
Having never heard of TRUTH TELLER he edged closer and saw the hint of a contents list
Exposing the elite agenda for Brexit
Secret lies and lives of the rich and entitled
Interview with a military UFO contactee.
Nick frowned, what the hell was this; it didn't seem to have anything to do with his job nor was it something Andy would sanction or agree with?
All the articles seemed to be written by him yet their style and tone was more suited to Paul or one of the other conspiracy nuts. On the desk was a letter dated a week ahead and headed RESIGNATION it read in part I no longer feel part of the mainstream media lie industry and therefore must tender my resignation effective immediately as a journalist with the Post Group and its affiliates.
But I'm never going to just quit he thought, journalism is my career my life, how would I support myself what would I do? Yet here before him now seemed to be proof that he would quit and in 7 days time, quit to write some kind of weird alternative online blog.
Nick felt someone behind him a definite presence but when he tried to turn his head he couldn't. Nor could he move his legs. In the computer screen he saw his reflection clear enough and a blurred outline devoid of detail. The man was very close and his breath was warm on Nick's neck.
He was taller Nick felt and looking at the back of the reporter's head as if studying his reactions.
"What is this," Nick demanded feeling the outrage in his voice, "I'd never give up my job," he felt defensive and offended.
From the stranger came no words no argument or justifications just a sense of being right, that what Nick was seeing would happen and there was no avoiding it, that events had been set in motion that couldn't be stopped.
"This is an illusion," Nick argued, he'd been in the forest and now he was sure he was inside the UFO; his perceptions distorted, the aliens playing a mind game.
It is real this strong mental impression filled his mind again not so much in words but a strong emotion.
"How can it be, I'm not a conspiracy theorist," but at that precise moment he wasn't exactly a cynic either, how could he be, his sceptical shell his reporter's armour had been stripped away.
"You're tricking me," he accused, "I want to see you."
See yourself he felt this echo across his synapses and on screen his face appeared, he had longer hair, designer stubble and wore some kind of dirty cream collar his skin smudged and lip cut as though he'd been in a fight.
He was older, not too much older maybe a year or two with wild eyes and a breathy delivery like he was in a hurry to get the words out, "The three craft were seen by airport staff including pilot Stuart Longbridge; who was later forced to deny it under threats from the security services but I have him on video speaking the truth and you need to hear this."
The screen cut to Nick in a green bomber jacket and wellingtons, he was close to a high security fence tagged MOD KEEP OUT and holding a cigar microphone he was saying, "Britain's air strikes on IRAN using spent uranium have been confirmed to me by two separate military sources who wish to remain anonymous, a serving RAF pilot and a senior scientific advisor."
It's me thought Nick, this is me telling these stories, stories that would never get into the mainstream media that would be spiked or gagged; that no editor would touch certainly not play-it-safe Andy.
Is this my future he thought, is this what I'm going to be doing with my life, stepping out into the firing line to expose what's really going on as opposed to keeping my mouth shut and playing the usual media game of 3 wise monkeys?
I look crazy he mused, I look and sound like a lunatic but my voice rings with conviction, I'm doing what I believe in I'm speaking the truth my truth. Okay maybe it could happen like this, perhaps he would resign and devote himself to telling the truth but how could he support himself without a salary without benefits?
You will survive again this utter certainty in his mind that the die was cast and he would be doing this that there was no avoiding it. Sticking it to guys like Stapleton and Saunders, going where Andy feared to tread.
"Who are you," he asked, "Why can't I turn around and look at you, what is it you're hiding?"
The man took a step back and Nick heard other footsteps, more aliens were close by watching this encounter observing in silence. Then he could move he could turn and he did, spinning around ready for the worst for horror for monsters or bald grey gnomes or something even worse.
Instead he found himself looking at a face, a human sort of face with larger wide spread eyes that seemed to glisten several colours at once from violent to blue to red to gold.
The smooth skin was also gold and seemed to be lit from within giving it a soft focus glow. The hair was platinum and thick, longer than currently fashionable for a man being on and over the collar.
He was slender in build and a good few inches taller yet with less muscle mass and no fat, age-wise he could have been anything from 25 to 40, the smooth unlined face bore no wrinkles, sags or blemishes.
Dressed in a very tight, one piece garment with no joins, buttons or zips the man regarded him with an open expression that was curious and expectant.
The others with him were 2 men and 2 women, all the same height and wearing the same garment, which was so tight it could have been sprayed on. Their features looked very similar as though they were related with the women having smaller noses, fuller lips and even larger eyes.
They were not ugly or shocking to his eyes; in fact if he'd passed them in the street his first impression would have been how handsome they were even glamorous like models.
They were not the aliens of popular fiction of TV or movies being devoid of fangs, claws, antennae or armour plating. They didn't look like insects or reptiles or yetis they were people; humans well humanoids.
The one nearest to him parted his lips and spoke in a soft voice for a man, "I think it would be easier if we used sounds as it's what he's used to, hello Nick."
He was startled by the use of his name but then hadn't they asked to see him in person. He had thought his mind would be loaded with questions but at that moment he couldn't think of a single one.
Here he was face to face with aliens and he was mute; some reporter you are he told himself. This was the interview of a life time, he should be bombarding these people with who, what, why and how? Yet only one thing came to mind,
"Why could I not see you before," he asked, why did you mask yourself from me?"
This was greeted with a smile from all of them then the spokesman responded, "We don't hide from you Nick, your kind hide from us; you place barriers in your minds against things you don't want to see."
"So why can I see you now," he returned?
"Because your mind has grown in recent hours it has opened and expanded, the barriers have come down."
He thought about that and realised how much he'd changed from the rather cynical and defensive employee who'd been sent on this job, angry with his editor for what he saw as the brush-off. He no longer felt like that, this no longer seemed like a waste of his time.
"Is that why you asked to see me in person?"
"Partly yes," the speaker nodded, "We see in you someone who is honest and open, receptive to the greater reality of life beyond earth. You are very different from the others around our ship who are only interested in denying our existence and clinging to an old political system long past its use-by date."
Thinking of Stapleton and Saunders he could only agree, "How can I help you, I'm just some regional reporter?"
"You are so much more than that, in the days and weeks to come you will move away from your job and become a beacon for truth."
TRUTH TELLER he recalled the banner on the computer, of the stories he would write and exposes he would work on.
"You mean I'm going to become a conspiracy nut like Paul and his friends, a guy who writes about cover ups, corruption and the paranormal? I'm not sure that's how I envisaged my future."
"Nevertheless it is how your life will evolve," replied the alien, "And what you write will have a profound effect on all those who read it."
Nick could see himself becoming a laughing stock, dismissed and derided by his contemporaries in the news industry, a bit of a saddo like Paul out of the fringes of the media.
Then he realised how narrow he was being how unimaginative, here he was inside a UFO talking to a man from another world, what if he could share that with the world, what if he could provide proof?
"May I take your picture," he asked, "May I film your ship?"
"You can photograph us if you like," he was told, "As for the ship there are aspects of it that must remain secret for now to protect both us and you, elements we do not want your government to know about. They are only interested in technology that gives them more weapons and more power to enslave."
He lifted his phone finding that it now worked, he lined up the speaker and took a head shot then a full body shot then he turned to the four others and snapped them each in turn then as a group.
It was a shame about the ship but he kind of understood their caution, their reluctance to have military experts studying it in minute detail, figuring out its power systems and construction.
"Where are you from," that was a big question that had been foremost in his mind, what planet, what star system and how far had they come?
But instead of answering the speaker led him to one side of the newsroom, which he figured was some kind of hologram, maybe this was a part of the ship like the holodeck in a well known sci-fi series.
He was surprised to see a large screen TV on the wall that showed the interior of a car, the Mercedes perhaps given that Stapleton was sat there, Saunders next to him and Andy facing them looking very at home and cosy with the government minister.
The video had sound and Andy was peaking, "I can control Nick Carr," he said, "He likes to come across as a bit of a rebel but the truth is he's a weak man with a strong desire to fit in that I can work on."
Bloody charming thought Nick infuriated by Andy's analysis of him as tame and controllable.
But Stapleton wasn't convinced, "No I'm sorry he's too much of a wild card for me, I think he should be disposed of once we've scoured his mind for useful information. We need to maintain absolute security around this incident and I don't trust Carr to keep his mouth shut."
"An accident," Andy asked and came across as way to enthusiastic for the idea?
"Or a suicide," said Saunders, "Suicides are good with a suitably doctored note saying whatever we want."
"Is Carr depressed," the minister enquired like he didn't care one way or the other?
"He will appear so once my people have done their job," Saunders assured.
"Very well, I'll leave it in your capable hands."
Nick turned away disgusted, his life his future had been taken from him in the time it took to have this conversation. Was this really the country he'd grown up in and been proud of, dismissing him as irrelevant as fit for nothing more than a fake suicide?
Then Saunders broke in, "What about the ship?"
"I've ordered an air strike the moment Carr is retrieved," said Henry as though ordering a library book.
"Do you think an air strike will succeed," Andy was asking?
"We'll use focused uranium warheads," said Stapleton, "I don't foresee a problem."
"What about Little Chipping," Andy asked?
"Never heard of it," Saunders chuckled, "Have you sir?"
He got a low guffaw in response and Nick felt anger burn low in his stomach.
"Can they destroy your ship," he asked the spokesman, "Or can you defend yourself?"
"We will not be harmed by their crude aggression."
"Will you shoot the missiles down?"
"They will never be launched."
Impressed he looked again at the 3 men on the huge TV. This, he felt sure, was a live feed direct from the car but he couldn't imagine how it was being done. Could the aliens survey any site they chose?
"I may not be so lucky," Nick ruminated but the being smiled at him.
"You will not be killed by these men Nick, you are too important to us and to the future of your species for that."
Am I thought the reporter; having never seen himself as important, "The moment I leave your ship they'll be on me," he said.
"That," he was told, "Depends on how you leave."
How ironic he mused that his future now depended on beings from another world he hadn't even believed in before tonight, "Do you have a name," he asked?
"I have a designation; I am called Lon the initials stand for Lightbeing for Open-contact Navigation."
"Is that what your people are called – lightbeings," Nick asked?
"It is how we wish to be known, we define light as information, liberation and healing," Lon waved to one of the females who stepped forward, very attractive she seemed to be in her late twenties with a superb figure and arresting eyes that glistened brightly.
Lon said, "This is Lira her designation means Lightbeing for Integration, Regeneration and Ascension."
"So all your names...I mean designations have a meaning," Nick judged.
Lon nodded that this was so, "We are all here for a reason and we are all volunteers."
"To help the human race," Nick asked?
It was Lira who answered in a soft, sing song voice, "To help all the beings on this planet and the planet herself, for earth is a sentient life-form herself and we are here in response to her call for help."
To Nick earth had always been a rock floating in space, that was how he saw all planets just lumps of rock and minerals but maybe he was wrong.
"The earth asked you to come here," he couldn't keep the disbelief from his voice.
"She did," Lira agreed.
"How," surely they weren't going to tell him that earth could send out a cosmic SOS?
"She spoke to us with these," said Lon waving again at the TV, upon which now Nick saw a procession of strange geometric designs some simple and some very complex.
"Crop circles," he recognised a few.
"A symbolic language," said Lira quite seriously, "A universal code understood by all advanced beings."
If he'd ever thought about crop circles, and he hadn't much, Nick usually dismissed them as fakes produced by new age hippies or pranksters, maybe farmers out to drum up trade. He had never once thought of them as a celestial call for help.
"What does the earth want you to do, what can you do," he demanded? Surely not much against the military might of the world if those in power didn't want aliens turning up on their doorstep.
Lira swapped a smile with Lon before answering, "Raise the vibration here to higher more spiritual level. Earth is so dense, so heavy everything is so slow at the moment which is why corrupt governments can get away with so much. Humanity must be free of them if it is ever to evolve and ascend. Our mission is to assist in this process of liberation by bringing fresh energy in our ships."
Lon nodded, "Each craft or UFO as you call them alters the frequency here bit by bit adding more vitality and new ideas, a different perspective. This is what your leaders fear so much, they dread losing control over the masses and being challenged because they've grown used to their tyranny."
Taking up this theme Lira said, "Mankind is not free everywhere your people are in chains – mental, emotional, spiritual and financial – this cannot continue. As lightbeings it is our duty to help, nobody else will and change will not occur naturally. Unless we come here your world will die, your people will cease to exist."
Stunned for a moment Nick tried to digest this and wondered if he believed it, even if he did what could he do, "So how can I help?"
Lon nodded, "We will lead you to information and events orchestrated by us and other aliens, events you can report and discuss with others building a database of truth and enlightened thinking to challenge the propaganda of the media machine. Its lies must be overcome and only profound truth will do this backed up by evidence."
Nick was nodding that sounded all very well in theory but he could see several problems, "What kind of evidence," in his experience such things were always shot down by debunkers and cynics as fake?
Leading him over to a display on one wall Lira pointed to a series of shapes of designs, "These are the UFOs currently visiting earth," she said referring to a mix of discs, saucers, ovoid's, spheres, triangles, rectangles and polygons of various sizes and colours.
Nick photographed them in close up and long shot, "Are these your ships," he asked?
"Some are," the alien woman agreed, "Others belong to the galactic federation we belong to, a collection of planets and universes dedicated to helping and saving your species."
"How many alien races are coming to earth at this time," Nick wondered out loud?
"More than 500," said Lon and the reporter blanched, 500 races was a hell of a lot.
"Do they all look like you, I mean humanoid?"
"Mostly," said Lira, "The humanoids will establish open contact first to prevent mass shock and psychosis. It's a delicate operation that can't be rushed, we don't want humans to go into shock or denial or to set up religions around us we are not gods and don't require worship; worship isn't freedom."
Lon nodded, "Your race has worshipped enough false gods," he said but did not add any details.
"And now," said the woman, "We have some good news for you," leading him to a door that opened automatically she smiled, "The dark ones cannot win their time is almost over, they will not be allowed to murder the truth or those who speak it."
The room beyond was a small office and sat on a recliner was someone Nick knew, a short guy with long brown hair flanking a chipmunk face. He wore a Ramones t-shirt and blue jeans with ripped knees.
Carr gave a gasp of shock and delight as the odd little figure rose, came over and hugged him.
"Paul," he cried, "Christ man I thought Saunders had you, he said you were in custody," another lie no doubt one of many. Tears stung his eyes and he could see that Paul was emotional to.
"He told me you were dead," said the undersized conspiracy addict and Nick thought – that might still happen if the government get their way.
"Not yet," he wiped his face, "Hopefully not ever."
"It's good to see you Nick it really is."
"And you Paul, they really trashed your flat," he recalled all the damage everything broken.
"So I understand," Paul confessed, "Luckily Lon and Lira transported me out of there before the goon squad arrived, I've been here ever since."
"Well we're not safe here," said Nick, "The air force are on the way to blast this thing to atoms."
Paul shook his head, "I don't think they'll be able to do that," he said.
"Why not," in Nick's view the RAF had some fearsome fire power; they might not only destroy the ship but the forest and even the village itself.
"The lightbeings won't just let themselves be destroyed, their centuries ahead of us when it comes to science."
"Maybe," not convinced Nick had images of fighter jets firing missiles and lasers at this area destroying everything within range. He recalled images from Iraq when the allies bombed and pulverized Baghdad in 2003, shock and awe some arse had called it gloatingly.
"Look," said Paul, "The aliens can beam us anywhere and a friend of mine has gone to Dubai for six months, you and me could flat-sit for him."
Nick knew he couldn't go home not now and Paul certainly couldn't, the flat sounded like a great alternative.
Turning he saw Lira watching them a slight smile on her attractive face she said, "If you wish to leave before the planes arrive we totally understand."
"You're not going to shoot them down," asked Nick?
"Violence," said the woman "Is repellent to us."
"Can't you just take off," Nick worried wondering if the ship could outmanoeuvre a squad of jet fighters?
"There will be no need for that," Lira didn't seem worried at all.
"Modern smart bombs and rockets can be devastating," didn't these people know what they were up against?
"They are toys," Lira's total dismissal startled him.
"I think we should stay," Paul's interruption startled Nick.
"Stay, are you mad?"
"I think we'll be safe Nick."
"Paul this whole area is going to be wiped out," how could he take this so calmly?
"Then they'll think we're dead, don't you see what an advantage that would be."
Not if they were actually dead and Carr felt a choking panic rise up inside him at the thought of modern high explosives ripping the forest to burning fragments.
"You are in no danger," Lon had appeared now and stood next to Lira he seemed as calm and unruffled as she was. He waved at a portion of wall and an exterior view took form showing six pulsing lights approaching over the hills, when he pointed at one it magnified into a terrifying vision a winged engine of death.
Nick saw missile tubes, bomb doors, forward cannons and something like the laser weapon he'd seen on the tank before.
"Christ," he said and felt his knees begin to shake.
One of the jets peeled off and banked pointing itself right at them, there was a sudden flash of white and something sped from one of the wings a slim, black dart with a silver warhead.
Nick flinched backwards his whole body shaking, he knew a missile when he saw one and this thing was going to shoot down and hit them in seconds. Panic tore at his mind at the thought of imminent death.
Yet a she watched the rocket became somehow vague and less substantial as though it had entered bank of fog then to his amazement it just vanished from view as though plucked out of the air.
Lon and Lira were smiling; they had clearly expected this to happen.
"But how," Nick cried not understanding?
A second flash of light and another rocket was launched, this one seemed to be moving even faster than its twin but the same thing happened it grew blurred then transparent then foggy and finally it was just gone.
The jet flew overhead and s second peeled off to continue the attack, this one fired 3 rockets at the same time and these fanned out each assuming its own trajectory, three messengers of death thought Nick each with a huge payload.
All three vanished at the same time, melting away before his eyes as if by magic.
"How are you doing this," he cried having not seen any signs of an alien weapon?
Then the RAF jets began to fade, becoming so transparent he could see their inner workings their circuitry and fuel lines even the rivets that held them together and the pilots sat in their cockpits/
Then they were gone too wiped from the sky as if by a giant eraser.
"Are they dead," he asked?
"No merely relocated," said Lon.
"Sent elsewhere," Lira added, "The pilots have not been harmed but we sent their rockets into space."
"Some kind of teleportation," Nick guessed just like their travel device only on a larger scale.
"Just so," Lon agreed, "If they try again we will respond in the same way until they give up."
"Now it's time for you and Paul to leave," said Lira, "Do you have somewhere safe to go?"
Nodding Paul came over to supply details naming the apartment and where exactly it was. As he did this Lira moved over to Nick and asked him to raise his right hand turning it over palm uppermost.
"I'm going to give you something special," she said, "It will lead you to important and relevant events," in her own hand was this odd pink light a tiny neon bright sphere that pulsed strongly and was quite beautiful, "This is a link between you and us," she smiled, "An energetic thread."
When the pink sphere floated from her palm to his Nick felt this tingling warmth a current of energy that was both strong and pleasant that ignited all the nerves of his arm.
As he looked the light sank into his flesh passing right through it until it disappeared, the hand flashing pink from fingertip to elbow briefly before returning to normal.
Nick woke with a slight headache and for a moment didn't know where he was, the double bed wasn't familiar or where the cream walls, the blue blinds or the digital clock.
This wasn't the alien ship, he remembered flashing out of that but had no memory of what came next and sitting up he rubbed the sleep from his eyes just as the door opened and in came Paul fully dressed carrying a tall glass of orange juice.
"Freshly squeezed," he smiled, "At least that's what it says on the label," offering the glass he went over to the blinds and carefully eased them apart to let in a weak sun.
"That clock cannot be right," Nick said even his voice had a croak to it.
"Sure is," Paul sounded very chirpy.
"I've been unconscious all day," Nick hadn't slept so long since his last flu?
"All two days actually," his friend explained and Nick started so much that some of the juice spilled onto his bare chest icy cold.
"Two days," he cried for a moment thinking he needed to call the Post until it dawned on him that he didn't work there anymore.
"Relax Nick there's no urgency to get up, in fact while you've been out I've done something for you; bring the juice."
Glad he was in his boxers Nick sought and found a pair of slippers, then he followed Paul into a long lounge festooned with paints of African landscapes, mountains, valleys, lakes and wildlife. A huge cheetah head glared at him, beside it two antelopes grazed, a croc was emerging from scummy water, an elephant spraying a baby elephant with water from its trunk.
"Impressive," he said "Does your friend travel a lot?"
"Loads," Paul agreed, "Over here," he led Nick to an LG flatron computer on which were some words and a logo. Blinking in astonishment Nick read the words TRUTH TELLER, the logo was a big letter T that had been customized to look like a flying saucer.
"I made you a website," said Paul bashfully, "Bit basic at the moment but something to build on, we can add extra features."
Not knowing what to say Nick continued to gawp at the screen those words TRUTH TELLER he'd seen them before. Was this what he was now a truth teller, a conspiracy oddball like Paul and his friends, a guy who ranted about high level corruption, phony wars and alien abduction?
"Some aspects will be free but others will be by subscription only, which is how I make my dough," Paul was saying.
"But who'd pay to visit a site like this," Nick wondered knowing he wouldn't have done in the near past when he was a tabloid reporter?
Eyes twinkling Paul said, "You'd be amazed, I have over 500 subscribers and growing all the time. I can give you a plug on my site and get my friends to do the same."
"By friends you mean the conspiracy boys is that it," Nick said ruefully thinking of the strange people he'd interviewed and their bizarre beliefs about mind control, vaccines, satanic worship and so on.
"Hey don't knock the network," said Paul losing some of his smile, "I get most of my leads from these guys, we help each other chase down stories, hack files even break encrypted material."
That sounded illegal to Nick, "How illegal?"
"FBI, CIA, MI5, Home Office."
The name Saunders jumped into his mind, now there was a man he wouldn't mind exposing, "There is a man a spook really, his name is Saunders he was in Little Chipping trying to contain the situation."
Paul frowned, "Anything else, just Saunders?"
"Eve Babcock, she was posing as a villager but she was a spook too."
Writing both names down Paul chewed on a lip, "Your best bet for this is Chewbacca," he said.
"The Star Wars character," Nick boggled?
"He hacks UK government databases for fun, if anyone can find Saunders and Babcock it's him. I'll send an email to him in a moment."
One thing Nick he wanted to do for sure was expose the cover up in Little Chipping; for god sake a government minister had ordered his death he wasn't going to let that slide and he wanted to find Eve again; if that was her real name and he intended to find out.
He sensed she'd be easier to track down than Saunders, although he didn't know what he'd do if he found her, how he'd make his approach and how she'd respond.
"Thanks Paul," he said drinking his juice, surprised by how dry he felt, his headache was probably dehydration if he'd been out for so long.
"No sweat," the little man looked pensive, "You can never go back you do know that don't you Nick, to your old life I mean to the Post."
No going back; this was his reality now he was supposed to be dead. Doubtless Andy would tell everyone that, poor Nick who'd had a tragic accident of some kind.
Who'd miss me thought Nick, not many if any, good riddance would be the general view certainly from Andy and he thought about turning up on Andy's doorstep just to give the guy a shock.
No perhaps not a good idea, Andy was small fry anyway compared to Eve she was a spook, a ghost in the machine she knew stuff had access to secrets and he intended to wheedle them out of her any way he could.
"I need a shower," he sighed followed by some fresh air and coffee, a strong coffee with a sugar rush to follow.
"Just through there," said Paul, "I'll email Chewy then we'll do breakfast, I guess you could do with something to eat."
Stomach growling Nick could only agree. He stole one last look at his website then with a smile headed for the bathroom.
They retired to a small place Paul knew cosy and cheap with the name Conundrum and it didn't seem to be too busy at that time of day. A waitress in an orange waistcoat took their order and threw Nick a beguiling smile, women often did he noticed although he rarely took advantage of it.
What was she 22, 23 at the most she might even be still at college for all he knew?
"So," said Paul, "Aliens," he smiled, "lightbeings, I still can't get my head around it."
Nor me, thought Nick still stunned by what he had seen on the ship and by the ship itself. The very idea of aliens was mind-blowing and he watched people going by, all blissfully unaware of the truth. He wondered how they'd react, what they'd say. No doubt most of them would just sneer at the possibility or make some asinine joke; like I once did he mused.
"We need to expose this," he said.
"Some of us have been doing that for years," Paul pointed out referring to his websites and seminars; his network of conspiracy and UFO buffs.
"Yeah I know," Nick conceded knowing he'd poked fun at them, "But there must be something I can do that you can't, otherwise why did Lon and Lira trust me."
"I'm not entirely sure on that point," Paul admitted, "But the fact they did trust you means you have to take this seriously now Nick, no pissing around, you must get this info out there," he waved theatrically.
What I need to do, thought Nick, is tie the government to this the authorities; they know what's going on that aliens are real despite their public indifference.
"Saunders and Eve are the keys," he muttered thinking allowed realising he had to reach them somehow, to prize them free of their veil of secrecy.
"You could be right," Paul agreed, "But be warned Nick these people are dangerous, if you go after them they'll come after you."
"I'm dead," Nick scoffed, "What can they do?"
His friend was serious to the point of grim, "Plenty, the shadow government isn't hampered by any rules or laws; they can do whatever they like – kidnap, torture, murder – they're ruthless and have massive funds. People like Saunders are beyond any law any court, totally protected by terrorist and national security."
Not totally protected thought Nick rubbing his palm where he'd been implanted, there must be a way to get to them to make life difficult and he had to find it.
"How reliable is Chewbacca," he asked?
"Never let me down yet," Paul bragged as their juice and bagels arrived, Nick's smothered in cream cheese and pineapple, Paul preferred blueberry sauce due to his sweet tooth.
Again the girl in orange smiled at Nick, just him and not Paul. A pretty blonde with a dimple on her chin and silver shadow above her eyes, she wore loop earrings and had a tattoo on her left hand – it looked like orobourus the dragon eating its own tail.
"She's hot for you," Paul whispered once the girl had gone in a waft of sensuous perfume Nick was sure she hadn't been wearing before.
"Jail bait," Nick shrugged.
"No way, she's just broken up with some guy so she's available, I could get you her mobile number if you like."
Carr waved this aside, the last thing he needed was the complication of a new relationship at this stage.
"How soon can Chewy get back to you," he asked trying not to think of that dimple or those smiling green eyes?
"A day or so he's fast and good but this will take some digging."
Okay thought Nick so what do I do in the meantime, well he could write about his recent experience put it all down in some kind of blog, the aliens had let him take photos so he could post them as well. If he was going to build this new website into something worthwhile then his own close encounter was a good place to start.
He bit into the bagel, god it was fabulous so succulent and filling, he was going to be coming back to this bistro again he realised wondering what shifts the girl did?
"I don't know what my father would make of all this," he said between bites. His old man had never approved of his career choices seeing journalism as a step down.
Nick had been planning to read literature at university with a view to becoming a tutor even a professor – the route his father had taken – but he soon grew bored and frustrated with classrooms preferring the give and take, the cut and thrust of a newsroom.
"Aliens you mean," said Paul.
"This whole thing the cover ups and lies, exposing topics most think are insane."
"Welcome to my world," said Paul with an edge of sourness.
"How do you get on with your dad," Nick was curious realising he knew next to nothing about Paul's family or background?
"We haven't spoken for years," the other man took a sip of juice his gaze drifting away, "He was a Labour MP did you know; did 3 terms in a safe constituency until his heart attack. He thinks I'm a disgrace, I've let the side down not like my successful sisters a doctor and a lawyer."
Astounded Nick tried to think what it must be like to live in the shadow of such a high profile father, having a top rank academic as a dad was bad enough.
"So you don't see him, what about your mum?"
"Slavishly follows the party line," the reply was grimly ironic, "We swap phone calls and emails now and again; behind his back naturally."
So they were both cut off from their families from normality, outcasts, misfits, heretics he supposed.
Glancing across the road for a moment Nick noticed a grey Taurus parked outside a Chinese deli, he didn't think too much of it after all the owner might inside getting his own breakfast. That aid the car bothered him for some reason. He thought of mentioning it to Paul but reasoned he'd come across as paranoid.
It was a parked car, big deal.
Catching his gaze the little man turned in his seat, "What is it?"
"Nothing I'm just jumpy," Nick tried to downplay things.
"The Taurus," Paul took out his phone, thumbed the photo function on and took a couple of snaps, "Could be nothing but you never know."
"Are you going to check the plates," Nick never ceased to be amazed at his friend's connection and resources?
"I know someone who can; I've been shadowed before by government people."
But I'm dead thought Nick nobody can be following me; nobody knows I survived that air strike.
When it came time to pay the bill the lovely blond handed it to Nick not Paul offering him another luminous smile, "Was everything okay," she asked sweetly like she really care done way or the other?
Paul said with heavy irony, "fine thanks," but was completely ignored.
"Yes," said Nick flattered by the attention.
"Oh good," the girl cooed gathering the plates, "I'm Gem by the way," she smiled again.
"Nice to meet you Gem," Nick responded not giving his own name, "You work here full-time?"
"Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday," she answered quickly turning the bill over to write something on the back, it looked like a mobile number. As she sashayed back inside Paul shook his head.
"Lucky you, I've been coming here for weeks and don't even get a look."
"This has never happened to me before, honest."
Disgusted Paul took the bill, "You're not going to call her, she looks like a school girl."
Grabbing the bill back Nick rose, "I'll pay," he said, "And maybe I will," he teased having no intention of doing so. His gaze again drifted to the Taurus, someone was sat behind the wheel totally still peering across at him but he couldn't make out who it was only that they weren't eating anything.
Nick decided to tell the story of his recent experience on TRUTH TELLER, the arrival and build up would be free to view but the rest of it the aliens, the ship and the military involvement would be for subscribers only.
This was Paul's idea, "Make them pay for the good stuff, don't give it away."
Uploading all the photos he had Nick wrote his impressions about what he'd seen and was still doing this when Paul returned from grocery shopping.
"Did you do these," he asked breaking Nick's concentration. Turning the reporter saw his friend rifling through some A4 sheets of paper. He went over, having not seen them before and stopped dead in his tracks.
Drawn on each sheet was a blond alien lightbeing, Lon, Lira and others, full frontal head shots, profiles and full body sketches of amazing detail. There were also sketches of the ship exterior seen from various angles.
"I didn't do these Paul; I've never seen them before."
"But you must have, I didn't do them and they weren't here when I went out shopping."
But Nick had no memory of drawing anything, he was no artist and couldn't draw a face he certainly didn't have this level of skill. Whoever had done these was highly talented.
"Honestly Paul I was working on the website."
"But who else could have done them," Paul argued, "These sheets were blank when I went out and I can't draw."
Me neither, thought Nick, but then there was nobody else who could have done them, so why did he have no memory of these endeavours?
He shook his head impressed by the alien likenesses; someone had caught Lon and Lira to perfection.
"I don't know what to say Paul I can't explain this," he sat down studying the ship which was exactly right. Could he have fallen into a trance and done this stuff without knowing?
"Get them on the website" said his friend, "Stuff like this is too good to leave off."
"I'll need you to show me how to scan them in," taking them over to the computer he sat down and the thing bleeped at him. Already his website had a rash of 'likes' and two subscriptions one from Alice of Leicester and other was by EB who didn't give her location.
When he clicked on EB, up came a photo of Little Chipping with KEEP OUT signs, police tape and a long shot of the church, "Look at this," he told Paul who came over with a scowl.
"EB," he mused, "Eve Babcock?"
Surely not thought Nick how could she have found the website so quickly, or had launching it raised a red flag somewhere?
"If it is then she knows I'm not dead."
"That could be a good thing," Paul decided, "Might bring her out into the open."
Not just her either thought Nick but the full force of MI5 and that would mean Saunders too.
The top floor office stood alone in an ocean of whiteness, the door had no lock but a device to read the palm and another for the retina. Once scanned she heard the mechanism click and she was in.
Colour greeted her, a light blue carpet, some lemon walls, a curved mahogany desk and behind this a portrait of the current Prime Minister. Saunders didn't look up as she approached but she was there at his instruction.
"Nick Carr," he said studying a typed report, "He's still alive," it wasn't a question so she felt no pressure to answer, "The aliens."
Yes she thought it had to be, Carr was working with them he had been co-opted in some way. At last Saunders glanced up, "How do you plan to proceed," he asked without much concern like Carr was no threat to him?
"Infiltration," she responded, "It's already begun."
"You know where he is," asked her boss?
"He wasn't difficult to track down."
"Is he alone?"
"No that conspiracy geek is with him," the geek was expendable and she would deal with him swiftly.
"What about this website of Carr's, TRUTH TELLER," Saunders spoke with distaste?
"We can destroy it with a virus my people are working on this now."
"What has he put on it?"
"All he knows about the recent encounter including photos of the aliens; they look genuine, there are even some sketches."
Giving a snort of annoyance Saunders sat back and closed the file, "Weirdoes aside has anyone else logged onto the site?"
"A journalist of note, a low level defence employee; we can sort them out easily enough."
"How," the question was sharp?
"The usual ways career, pension, reputation," there was always plenty of leverage with small people.
He eyed her, "I want this matter closed as soon as possible, no delays and no excuses; Carr must be shut down and his odd little friend."
Assuring him it would be done she left, always relieved to escape his scrutiny and that awful office. Her phone trilled, "Yes Larry?"
The image of a stick thin, beaky man in poorly fitting shirts with a rash of zits on his neck appeared. Larry worked in records; somebody had to.
"There's a red flag on your personnel record Eve," his voice squeaked slightly with apology."
"It's been hacked," heart cold in her chest and mouth drying fast she leaned against a wall to collect herself, "How?"
"Someone beat the inner firewall."
"Again," it had happened twice recently, "Same guy?"
"Same signature moves so yes I'm fairly certain."
"Why didn't the stalk and slash shut him down," this was a powerful and aggressive counter virus?
"No idea, he's good,"£ Larry sounded impressed.
"I thought you were good," temper snapping she barked into the phone, "What did he get?"
"Why aren't you sure," if she'd been exposed she was no use to 5 and Saunders would act ruthlessly, "Can you track him?"
"We're trying but he uses lots of dead drop, funk zones and..."
"Spare me," she was in no mood for techno babble, "Yes or no Larry?"
"Yes, maybe, I hope so," he fudged.
"I want an update ASAP," she instructed, "Talk to me personally," meaning it went no higher.
"Got you," he agreed and she closed her phone feeling sick and weak, bloody hell MI5 were meant to be impregnable, they had used professional hackers to test their system when setting it up, the best or so they claimed, could there be someone out there who was better?
It was time to deal with Nick Carr she decided once and for all.
Nick needed to exercise to keep fit, it would not only pass the time but calm his nerves he often took refuge in sore muscles to overcome jangling nerves. "I'm going out for a run Paul?"
Emerging from his inner den with a bag of Doritos the little man frowned, "Run," he asked like it was unknown to him.
"A jog, just a couple of miles."
""There's an exercise DVD in here somewhere, Davina I think."
That wouldn't do Nick needed fresh air, the wind on his face, "You should try jogging," he eyed the Doritos but Paul just grimaced.
"No thanks," the little man wolfed down another mouthful crunching hard.
Outside a light drizzle had begun, nothing too serious and ignoring it Nick began his jog taking himself up the street, around the corner and up towards the park. He would do a few circuits of this, if the rain got any worse there were some shelters to hide in.
As he reached the park a grey Taurus cruised to a stop some yards back and the man behind the wheel touched his right ear speaking rapidly. Gulping for air Nick began to circuit the wide lake, he could already feel a stitch knife his side and his leg muscles felt leaden.
You're out of shape mate he rebuked himself, you need to get back to this regularly. He had gone two thirds of the way around the lake when the rain hardened, wetting his top and plastering his hair. Bugger it; seeing a shelter he increased speed breathing heavily his side hurting more the knife more like a machete. As he drew nearer he noticed a shape inside the shelter, some other poor soul caught out in the downpour.
He could run on to the next one but he was getting soaked and an icy wind was making things worse so he risked a smoker or some idiot jabbering on a phone.
As it turned out he had to suffer from neither, he received a pleasant surprise.
"Oh hi," she said turning towards him and he blinked in surprise, it was the girl from the bistro the waitress, "Gem," he remembered just in time.
"And you're Nick," she said with a flash of teeth, "I asked Paul," the confession made her cheeks pink. He could see she was in jogging gear to - a pink top, sport pants and a good quality trainers Adidas.
"Bloody rain," he complained palming moisture from his hair, reaching into her kit bag she took out a pink towel and tossed it to him, taking the scented fabric gratefully he began to rub hard.
"I didn't know you ran here," she said.
"I don't usually," should he tell her he was billeted with Paul, did that sound a bit gay?
"You look fit for your age," she said then caught herself, "Oh sorry, that came out wrong."
Shrugging it off Nick realised he probably did seem old to this girl; he hoped she didn't think this was some kind of chat-up.
Why was his palm itching so much, glancing down he saw it was a bit red was it infected, the flesh looked slightly swollen in the centre like he'd been stung.
"Let me tell your future," Gem suddenly said reaching out for his wrist.
"What," startled he blinked at her.
"I can read palms," she said, "It's a gift."
"Are you serious?"
"Totally," she smirked, "Let's see what's in your future."
The moment she touched him his palm began to throb, slowly at first then faster and a tingle went up his arm from wrist to shoulder the whole arm seemed 'live' in some way, charged up.
Nick snatched his hand back, "Sorry but I don't believe in fortune telling."
If Gem was offended it didn't show on her young face, "Pity, I'm good at it. Like to know what I saw," she asked.
"You can honestly predict the future," the cynical reporter in him was back.
"You bet I can and very soon your future," she said her other hand shooting out too fast for him to stop. Nick felt a sharp prick in his bicep and with a cry fell back his legs turning rubbery and mind beginning to fog.
"...will be over," said the girl, no longer smiling no longer friendly, her eyes glacially cold and voice hard.
Grabbing his bicep Nick glared at her, what the hell did she think she was going? His brain was screaming at him to get out of the shelter, to run for his life but he found he couldn't walk let alone run he couldn't move at all.
Watching him coldly Gem took out a cell phone it already seemed to be on and she spoke into it calmly, "This is snare," she said, "Lure taken."
Nick had no idea who she was talking to but he didn't like this. Gem didn't seem much like a waitress in fact she reminded him of someone else he'd met.
"Who are you," he was shocked at how slurred his voice was?
"Just doing my job," she rebuffed.
"Which job would that be," he was sinking, going down his knees caving in like his body was too heavy to support him. Whatever she'd drugged him with was strong and fast-acting.
"My real job Nick," Gem kept her distance, "You're not dying, not yet at least, if they want you dead someone else will do that; I'm just bait."
Why was he thinking about Saunders and Eve, had MI5 tracked him down was Gem MI5. On his knees he gazed out at the lake, which was coming in and out of focus.
Someone was walking around it, a woman he guessed, hood up and head down she was gliding along at an impressive pace yet she didn't seem to be running. As she was the only person out in the rain she held his focus, it was sleeting down now the rain bouncing off the concrete yet oddly the woman's long blue coat didn't seem to be getting wet.
"How long to pick up," said Gem like she'd lost interest in him already, "Carr will be out cold in 20 seconds."
No thought Nick I have to hang on I can't lose consciousness or I'm dead meat. If he ended up in some MI5 safe house he was finished, they could question and suicide him with impunity like they'd done with so many others who'd rocked the boat.
Down on his hands and gasping, weak as a baby he saw the woman in blue draw nearer. Gem could see her now too and was alarmed, her hard eyes narrowing as she reached into her jacket for the needle.
"I've called an ambulance," she yelled at the woman, "Be here soon, nothing to worry about, I think he's having a hypo."
So that was it was it, he was a diabetic with low blood sugar. Trying to speak Nick found his throat was useless his tongue paralysed, no way could he counter the lie.
But ignoring these words the woman drew ever closer thrusting back her hood to reveal long platinum blond hair and golden skin. At first Nick thought it was Lira, for it was certainly one of the alien lightbeings, but then he saw that this woman was slightly older with more red in her complexion, larger eyes flashing light green and a wider mouth.
Gem must have realised the newcomer was alien to because she took out her pen needle and thrust it at the woman's midriff. It made contact and it didn't, the needle going in but not touching anything.
She jabbed again and again but it was like stabbing a hologram a shadow. Reaching Nick the woman squatted down, ignoring Gem and taking his right hand in hers.
She felt real she felt solid, her flesh soft and warm, silky yet strong. His implant was pulsing madly faster than ever as her hands covered it.
He felt strength return to his arm and full feeling to, he could feel it and move it the muscles no longer leaden. Then his neck was free and his jaw, he could look around.
Life returned to his chest and sides, to his shoulders and hips and soon even his legs began to regain their former vigour. It was like the drug was being washed or burned out of him, the toxic filth cleansed from his blood.
Gem fled, dashing away into the rain and he thought of following but the alien woman held him back with a smile, Gem wasn't important she didn't matter she was just a foot soldier obeying orders.
"Thank you," Nick grunted his voice almost back to normal, "I don't know what that stuff was but it's powerful."
Nodding and still smiling the woman helped him up and he wondered how she'd turned up at just the right moment and where she'd come from.
"How did you find me," he asked but instead of answering she caressed his palm his implant; could they track him with that like a tagged animal in the wild?
"We need to get out of here," he said fearful of Gem returning with help, armed help but the woman showed no fear like they wouldn't be able to harm her, "I have to get back to Paul, they might come after him too."
Rain chilled his face and ran down his neck, it was really chucking it down now stronger than ever and he was going to get soaked.
"Maybe we should stay here after," but when he turned he was alone, there was no sign of the woman. Looking in every direction yielded nothing, she had completely gone.
Reaching the Taurus Gem yanked open the door and got in next to Boyd who didn't even look at her, instead he just offered a mobile phone which she took seeing the codename on the screen 'queen' it could only be one person.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I had him, I drugged him but somebody came, I think it was one of them."
Eve's voice was cold so cold that Gem began to shiver, "So you failed."
"No, well yes but it wasn't my fault, this woman turned up I tried to jab her but it was like she wasn't solid."
Eve was silent for a moment, "Carr will go back to the apartment, we can get him there."
"What if the alien is with him," Gem looked at Boyd for support but he was studying his gloved hands?
"Then we deal with her," Eve responded.
"Do you want me at the apartment, "Gem hoped the answer was yes so she could redeem herself.
"No Boyd will take you somewhere else."
"I'm sorry Ma'am I did my best."
"Boyd has his orders," cold and uncaring the voice of the boss reflected little interest. Others would try now better people with more experience; Gem had blown it and was out of the loop. She inwardly grimaced wondering what her fate was to be where Boyd would take her but he said nothing as they drove off.
There was nothing for it, Nick threw himself into the driving rain and was soon soaked to the bones. Not slowing down he made himself increase speed ignoring the damp and chill that ate into him. He could hardly see, there was so much rain going in his eyes, but he had to warn Paul to get him to safety he owed him that much.
Once out of the park he crossed the road and shot forwards able to see the block just ahead of him. Then his hand began to throb angrily, it was his implant and for some reason it was going crazy.
The next thing he knew he was squatted behind a florist's van, clinging to it for dear life. He didn't know why until the man appeared, stepping out of nowhere, a normal looking guy of about thirty with light brown hair cut very short. He seemed very ordinary but the more Nick studied him the more out of place he seemed.
No hood no hat he was dripping wet through yet it didn't seem to bother him, he wasn't discomforted and the pale green eyes were scanning the pavement in a cool predatory fashion.
Nick instantly sensed danger from the guy, who was not there by accident he was watching and waiting, he looked trained and alert a man on a mission. Taking out a phone he spoke into softly, "no," he said, "not yet," and he looked around.
Looking for me Nick realised and then a car pulled up a yellow Lexus and another man got out, older and chunkier. Going over to green eyes he spoke hurriedly but Nick couldn't make out the words, both glanced in his direction then chunk waved at the block.
He headed off towards it a phone in his left hand, his partner remained static and Nick knew that if he moved he'd been seen, the man would nab him yet he had to reach Paul.
Cursing he rose and steeling himself he stepped onto the pavement, he was spotted at once and green eyes advanced him fit and capable, no doubt skilled in unarmed combat and possibly armed too.
"Mr Carr," the voice was soft and pleasant, "Can I have a word."
Suddenly Nick's right hand came up and he touched the guy on the arm, the implant grew very hot and current jumped between them. The next second the guy was down, he buckled and slid down a wall eyes rolling and jaw slack hit by a burst of power.
Nick hadn't hit him, there'd been no need. Startled he lingered for a moment but green eyes was out of it, getting a shift on Nick made for the block.
Driving a pool car Eve was six minutes from her destination; she had decided to take direct charge of things knowing she couldn't trust underlings they just let you down.
Her phone trilled, "Yes Larry?"
"We've got him the hacker, calls himself Chewbacca," a short timid laugh.
"You know where he is," her spirits began to lift?
"Send a sanction team," Eve instructed, "I want him dealt with today."
"On it," the geek was always eager to please.
"I'm about to shut down our other problem," she said.
"Ah yes Mr Carr," of course Larry knew about Nick he knew everything, "I doubt he'll be much of a challenge for you."
Crawler but he was right, Eve had plenty of back up some of her best people; better people than that stupid girl. If only this damn rain would give over, if anything it was getting worse with more forecast for the week.
She and Saunders had risen up through 5 together but she had no illusions about him, he'd drop her like a stone if she blew this, people only ever looked after themselves and there were plenty of ambitious rats chasing her coat tails eager for her job and salary.
The chunky guy was outside the block, he hadn't gone in maybe he couldn't get in or maybe he had orders to stay where he was and wait for back-up.
Nick didn't know and didn't plan to wait around to find out, approaching the guy he felt his implant throbbing fiercely, would the same trick work twice?
"Excuse me," chunk spun around astonished to see him, recognition in his eyes, he knows who I am thought Nick. The man started to reach inside his coat, probably for a weapon, so Nick just touched him on the shoulder.
Down he went, eyes rolling and mouth slack, switched off like a light. Carr then inputted his code and entered the block, there wasn't much time the two agents would soon be spotted and doubtless more where on the way.
Reaching Paul's place he let himself in calling his friend's name, not pausing he went to his computer and shut it down, unplugging the unit and printer to take both with him. They were on the run again but where could they go next, where was safe from MI5?
"Paul," he shouted checking loo and bedrooms; all were empty, "Paul," a knot in his guts he emerged realising he should put on some proper clothes, at least a coat and shoes maybe a hat as it was still sloshing down.
Then he saw the gun and the hand holding it, slender with painted nails. Eve Babcock was regarding him from the doorway, hair up in a knot and clothing more autumnal, a dark blue coat and brown boots with a sombre expression.
She was still very attractive though, a deadly beauty he thought, "What did you do to my men," she asked but before he could answer she went on, "Others will soon be here."
"Where's Paul," no need to bother with small talk, she hadn't used any?
"Long gone," she said coolly like he didn't even matter.
"Gone where," he had to help his friend if he could?
"You'll be seeing him soon," the reply was not meant to offer comfort?
"In prison you mean, a cell?"
"The facility does have cells but it's more of a laboratory for examination and dissection," the words were chilling.
"What kind of people are you," Nick spat taking a step but the gun stopped him?
"We keep the lid on Nick we maintain order."
"For crooks like Stapleton," he threw back but this didn't offend her, was that even possible?
"Men like him are useful, they do what we want, they have to with our extensive files on their misdemeanours," she smiled.
"He ordered my death," Nick spat.
"Your life and death will be down to us not him."
"So what happened to the UFO Eve, did the RAF finally destroy it, did you murder the aliens as well?"
Now her features did shift, the eyes becoming furtive and lips a narrow line. No he thought you didn't destroy the UFO you couldn't.
"I'm not going with you," he announced like he had a choice.
"Don't be foolish I have a gun, my men have guns, of course you're coming with us, at the facility they'll peel back the layers of your mind bit by bit extracting anything useful."
"Sounds like fun but I'll have to give it a miss."
Unimpressed she studied him, maybe wondering if she should put a bullet in his arm or leg just for old times' sake.
"By the way," she purred, "We've infected your website with a virus which, by now, should have destroyed everything on it all your little pics and drawings."
"You can't bury the truth Eve, not forever."
"Yes we can Nick, we do it all the time; it's our function our reason for being, we decide what the truth is then we tell the masses through our tame media."
"Then thank god the lightbeings are here to offer us an alternative path out of the dark maze you've created."
Nick wasn't quite sure why he said this or even if he believed it, could Lon and Lira remove the elite and their security lapdogs; he didn't know.
"Lightbeings," Eve repeated, "Is that what they call themselves, how pretentious," but she sounded rattled and a little unsure of herself.
"You've heard that name before haven't you," he was guessing but from the way her cheek gave a little tick he felt sure he was onto something, "This isn't your first UFO incident is it Eve?"
Not responding she stood aside and waved him to move past he rout of the flat, Carr held his ground, "Where is Saunders," he demanded flatly?
"You won't be seeing him again," cold now, prim and business-like a pro doing a job.
"Is he your boss," he read her reaction, "Yeah I thought so, what is he your department head in 5?"
"That doesn't concern you."
"I think it does, doing his dirty work for him are you; his little errand girl?"
Cheeks flushing and nostrils wider she altered her stance, he knew he'd hit a nerve, "You don't like him," a guess but it felt right, "Promoted over you was he, the old-boy network?"
"Let's go," the voice was icier than ever.
"You're not going to make me disappear Eve, I'm not going to be swept under the carpet."
"Yes you are," the gun extended an inch, "Must I put a bullet in your leg or arm Nick, I will if I have to."
"What's happened to the people of Little Chipping, been bullied into silence have they, warned to keep their mouths shut?"
"The site has been secured and nobody will be talking."
They should all be talking in his view, singing like canaries, "I'm going to write all about it Eve in as much detail as I can, and interview the witnesses; you could be the first if you like."
She smiled at that, irony mixing with contempt and a little pity just a drop, "Andy Gilmartin has already replaced you Nick, I think it took him a couple of hours to find a new reporter to do your job. People like you are expendable, irrelevant."
"You're people like me," he tossed back and heard a sharp intake of breath.
"We're going now, walk ahead of me to my car and don't try to run. I don't know how you overcame my two men but you won't overpower me."
"Is Eve Babcock your real name," he took a step towards her and another?
"It's my name now," was all she would tell him.
"A fake name for a fake person," he jibed and saw her eyes narrow just a bit.
"You talk too much," she told him.
"I wonder who you were before you sold out to 5," he speculated, "Before you ditched every principle you ever had and took the money."
"Spare me the moralising Nick, my conscience is clear."
He doubted that very much, "How long where you undercover in Little Chipping, did they come to trust you to respect you, did you ever respect them – decent hard working honest people."
She gave a small snort of derision, "I think I've heard enough."
He was at the door now, her perfume strong in his nostrils, "Someone you used to be when you were younger and more honest."
"I was never that naive Nick; even then I knew how things worked."
"Secrets and lies, smoke and mirrors," he remarked just before he reached out for her – and she shot him.
Pain arced through his body a white hot burning agony, then he was down fighting for breath, legs twitching, mouth open his right hand moist and sticky where he held it over the wound.
He could see the shock and disbelief in her eyes too, she was trembling, cheeks pale and breathing ragged. She hadn't meant to do it and was terrified; this was all too raw too real for her, she gave orders and played mind games but she wasn't a ruthless assassin for all her talk.
"Shit," coming to him she squatted down, "Oh shit," her eyes glistened, "I'll get help," this wasn't part of the plan and phone out she tried to hit keys with shaking fingers, having to cancel and redial several times.
He struggled to breathe, his left lung felt like it was made of lead and he could taste copper on his tongue, his legs wouldn't move and his vision was slowly misting over.
How bad was it, where had he been shot; was he going to die was this the end for Nick Carr ex reporter?
"Medical emergency," Eve spluttered, "Code alpha red one," tears ran down her cheeks black was mascara, "Carr has been shot," she did not say by whom did not accept blame, "Upper torso, right hand side."
She listened, nodded, listen and silently swore then lowered the phone, "Be here in minutes, hold on," the icy indifference was gone washed away by panic.
Nick could feel his implant throbbing faster and stronger than ever like it was trying to burrow out of his flesh. Oddly his gunshot wound was throbbing in synch with it.
Palm – chest, palm – chest, palm – chest. A tingling heat rose up his wrist to his elbow, over his bicep and into his shoulder then it fanned out across the right side of his chest. He could feel it inside the lung spreading and grow, increasing in power.
"I'm sorry," he blinked up at Eve amazed by her words, she was what...?
"What," he could barely get the croaked past his lips.
"This wasn't meant to happen; you were supposed to come along peacefully."
To some secret lab to be experimented upon, not a prospect that filled him with hope.
"Maybe I'll die," he gasped, "Solve your problem."
"You're no use to us dead Nick we need you alive," she replied in a rush.
"A lab rat," he almost laughed but his lung wasn't up to it. His chest continued to tingle and throb.
"The aliens selected you; we need to know why, why you especially?"
Good question it couldn't be for his brains or his looks, the room went out of focus for a moment becoming all blurred and soft edged.
"Stay awake," Eve urged, "Stay with me," she shook him gently.
"What do you get out of this," he whispered, "Promotion?"
She said, "I get to stay in the loop, remain part of the inner circle. MI5 is compartmentalised, you're either an insider going places or you're nothing."
So it was ambition, "You want to be like Saunders," he coughed, "Maybe you want his job."
No denial, "Yes one day and why not; I know I could do it."
"Burying the truth, covering up and murder," Nick couldn't hide his disgust and didn't try.
"You don't know anything," Eve panted. But he knew enough, he was working out how things worked behind the scenes.
"There are things you don't know Eve," the pain was receding and the weakness in his lung it was re-inflating, working, coming back online.
"That's why you're going to the facility Nick."
Only I'm not he suddenly thought, I won't be your lab rat. Then they heard shoe son the stairs clumping their way up. A suit appeared all smart and starched with stiff red hair.
"Ronald," Eve greeted him, "It was an accident."
Behind Ronald two paramedics appeared a corn blond woman and a black haired guy, wordless they crouched over Nick to examine him, explore his wound and check his breathing.
"Hospital first," Ronald was saying, "Private naturally."
"Moorfield," Eve asked and got a nod, presumably this was an MI5 controlled hideaway.
"Can he be moved," Ronald was all business, voice clipped and eyes hard; no sympathy?
"Not yet, we need to intubate," said the female PM.
"Quick as you can," Ronald touched Eve's arm, "A word," he stepped outside taking her with him, Nick heard voices mostly his all calm and censorious, hers high-pitched and on edge.
The PM's worked quickly cleaning Nick up and fixing a mask, they took his vitals and gave him two injections, pain meds he assumed.
"Bullet is still in there," said the man, "He'll need surgery."
Nodding the woman leaned closer to Nick, "We're going to take you down to the ambulance now Nick, the pain should be under control soon and the bleeding has stopped for some reason which is good news."
He was put on a spinal board, secured then loaded onto a stretcher, Ronald and Eve came back in to lend a hand. The journey down would be tricky, the stairs narrow but Nick felt he was in good hands, his fear have evaporated. Maybe getting shot wasn't a total disaster after all it may buy him some time.
"Easy now," the male PM was in the lead, "Not much room and we can't jerk him not with a bullet wound to the lung."
Grunting and gasping the four carriers eased Nick down the stairwell; he felt like some ancient king being carried by loyal bearers, a not unpleasant experience.
Oddly there was no one around no witnesses, where was everyone surely not at work and someone must have heard the shot, so why no nosey parkers coming for a gander?
If only he could escape but if he tried he wouldn't get two steps, he had no strength in his legs, his lung was collapsed and he was bleeding out. He was, in short, helpless. Wherever they were taking him he was going there.
"Not much further now," said the female PM.
Ronald spoke next, "We'll follow in your car," he was talking to Eve.
"Shouldn't one of us go with him in the ambulance," she had to grunt her words with effort?
"No need," he grunted back as daylight appeared, "It isn't like he's going anywhere."
The ambulance was bigger than he'd expected, gold not white with a long back section one entire side of which was crammed with equipment, defib pads, an ECG, oxygen tanks and cabinets of drugs and portable equipment including hypos and even bags of plasma.
Carefully they hauled him in and laid him out on a long shelf, to which the gurney was clamped into place. Then the male PM went around to the driver's seat while his colleague remained with Nick attaching electrodes and checking his vitals.
An oxygen mask went over his face and he saw the sine wav eon the ECG start to oscillate.
"Just take it easy," said the woman, "You're going to be fine."
No I'm not he wanted to shout back, I'm never going to be fine again I'm about to become a lab specimen. Eve popped he rhea din to check on him but she didn't say a word, she didn't have to her eyes were expressive enough just doing my job and better you than me.
Nick lay back with a groan as the back doors were slammed and locked and the big ambulance got under way, a surprisingly smooth ride.
Reaching up he removed the mask an inch, "Where are we going?"
Turning to look at him from the ECG the female PM offered a smile, "Somewhere safe."
The irony of this remark wasn't lost on him, "Somehow I doubt that," he gasped.
"We're here to take care of you Nick," she replied her voice sing song and melodious or maybe it was the drugs in his system. Everything was now soft focus; even the woman who seemed to blur in and out of his vision.
"I'm a prisoner," he got out his voice slurred like that of a drunk.
"No you're not," she answered and he blinked at her thinking how much the vehicle was flowing along without bumps or rattles.
"You know who Eve and Ronald are surely," he challenged, "MI5," he added just so that she totally understood.
"That doesn't matter," funnily her hair was lighter now or maybe it was the light in here, she looked blond a platinum blond and she seemed taller and slimmer, younger to.
Good grief what had she injected him with, some kind of happy juice?
Long before the ambulance seemed longer and wider now he was inside it, smoother and more rounded with concave walls and a high ceiling.
"I think I'm tripping out," he said as she drifted nearer.
"No harm will come to you Nick you're too important," said a voice he knew not the paramedic but...hang on her face had altered, lengthened and acquired a golden hue and instead of green scrubs she wore loose fitting robes like those he'd seen on the ship.
He was looking at Lira the lightbeing and he wasn't in a medical vehicle anymore but something much bigger, smoother and luminous that seemed to be...
My god they were rising, leaving the road and taking to the air; the vehicle was lifting off. He was sure he heard a car horn behind and below but that was falling away, the MI5 agents unable to follow.
"What is this, what's going on," but he felt he knew. The couple who'd come for him hadn't been paramedics at least not of the human variety; this was indeed a rescue mission.
"Lira," he gasped.
"We're going to repair you Nick to remove the bullet and regenerate your body in a way human science can't."
"So you weren't destroyed by the planes," that was obvious.
"Humans cannot harm us," she smiled, "Or you from now on," she added smoothing his brow.
Eve felt her eyes bug and my mouth fall open, a cry filled the car and she realised it had been made by her. Ronald just swore and hit the brakes, there was nothing else he could do as the vehicle before them glowed, changed shape and rose diagonally into the air.
Now an elongated egg of lighter material it left the road behind and took to the sky easily clearing the lamp posts and roofs.
I don't believe it, Eve wanted to say, but she did believe it. The aliens had outplayed them posing as medical staff brilliantly to snatch Nick Carr right from under the nose of MI5.
"What now," she heard herself squeak as though Ronald had any ideas.
"We tell the boss," he said in a resigned tone, "He's going to love this."
He's going to need a scapegoat Eve was thinking and it wouldn't be golden boy Ronald.
"RAF," she suggested but realised there'd be no point, by the time they got here the ship would be long gone.
"And to think," said the man beside her, "You had such a rosy future," it was the closest thing to a eulogy she'd ever heard.
Opening a file marked NICK CARR TOP SECRET Saunders studied the photo with a scowl, he couldn't remember a time when a civilian had caused 5 so many headaches or escaped their clutches more than once.
It would be easy to blame Eve but he knew it wasn't her fault, that when she got hung out to dry it would be nothing personal just good housekeeping.
Under the question ACTION TO BE TAKEN he drew a red cross, this meant subject to be eliminated at first opportunity; whenever that would be.