Monday, September 21, 2009

The Horsell Commons Affair/ A Sarah Jane Drake story









The Horsell Commons Affair

Spring brought a burst of sunshine and renewal to London, and not even Sarah Jane Drake was not immune to its effects. On a warm Sunday in early April, she found herself on a walk with an old friend, a Professor she had worked with years before. The man was a walking history lesson; though Sarah Jane sometimes found his version of history a bit different than the accepted versions.

This particular Sunday found the two of them walking on the Southwest side of London, near Woking. "Why Horsell Common, Professor?" asked Sarah Jane, pushing her dark brown locks out of her eyes for the fourteenth time that afternoon. "And particularly, why here? This is a bit off the beaten path."

Indeed it was. The paths had long given way to overgrowth, then dense trees. Here and there, the forest cover had little flecks of red.

Professor John Smith, PhD, Royal Geographical and Historical Society, paused for a moment. His formerly stocky frame was smaller now, his dark brown curls gone grey. He smiled a crooked smile at Sarah Jane and pointed a crooked finger at her. "History is ALWAYS found off the beaten path, my dear. Those signs, those paths, those museums are all part of the official record, yes, but sometimes the truth is covered up. Or in this case covered over." He moved his walking stick a bit, uncovering a length of barbed wire. A wooden sign drooped from the wire and Sarah could just make out the warning.

"Do not cross this line, under the orders of Colonel Adonijah Washburne, Queen's Royal Regiment, Second of Foot. August 29 1898." Sarah paused a moment. "Do you think that order still stands Professor?"

"It's never been rescinded to my knowledge, Sarah Jane. But then I've never been one to listen to the rules of others, now have I?" His gray eyes twinkled with mischief as he pressed the wire to the ground. "After you, my dear?"

Sarah smiled and crossed the wire. "I really shouldn't you know, Violating a military order is grounds for having my license pulled." She looked at the thick brush then decided she was all right. "But I doubt they'll be too harsh on a trespasser. Besides, you've piqued my curiosity."

The professor stepped over the wire and lifted his stick. "This way," he said, setting a brisk clip across the brush. Sarah Jane hurried behind him, not noticing the burn marks on the back of the sign. She would have fallen into a deep hole had the professor not stopped her with his walking stick.

"Mind the Gap, Sarah Jane," he said affably.

"We came out here to see a hole?" asked Sarah Jane.

"Not just any hole, my dear. This hole is all that remains of the great Martian Invasion of 1898." He held Sarah Jane's gaze with a serious stare.

Sarah Jane couldn't stifle her laughter. "Oh come now Professor. Surely you don't mean...I mean you couldn't possibly...but that's preposterous!"

"Can you imagine the terror, Sarah Jane? The large Heat Cannon rising up out of the pit; cutting down the constabulary and the soldiers? The panic as the people fled, fearing for their very lives? It was real, Sarah Jane. Just a little creative accounting to justify it in the books, to broom it all under the carpet.

"Remember what I said about official and unofficial histories Sarah Jane? The official history is that nothing happened. The government covered it all up. Thousands dead, most of the war machines destroyed, the Empire nearly fell. And it's all the stuff of a popular fiction."

"You mean its all the stuff of HG Wells," Sarah Jane retorted. "Professor, it makes absolutely no sense. If Wells wrote about it as fiction, then how can you stand there and say it's fact? After all, it was over one hundred years ago."

The Professor studied the hole once more. His chest rose and fell heavily, as a great weight was unburdened from inside. "I know because I've been working on the cover up for fifty of those years. I've been part of the Mercury Radio Project, which has been working to uncover and reverse engineer these weapons. Remember when I said most of the war machines were destroyed? National security demanded it. But it also demanded a defense. Our purpose was to develop them both as offensive weaponry and defenses against them. Why do you think we changed from a steam economy to an electric one?"

"WHAT?" asked Sarah Jane, incredulously. "In all these years you never once mentioned it to me. Why now? Why today?"

"About three weeks ago one of my colleagues, Roger Ainsley was found murdered just outside his home. He was still in his auto, but his computer and papers were missing. The Metropolitan police and the Mercury Radio Project security have both investigated, and concluded it was likely a murder to commit robbery. But the computer hasn't turned up anywhere yet."

The Professor fumbled in his coat pocket, and pulled out a press clipping. "Then yesterday, I saw this in the evening Standard."

Sarah Jane took the press clipping and quickly scanned it. "The Carthoris Corporation announced a breakthrough today by demonstrating a sonic device capable of shattering stone at a range of 100 yards."

"Don't you see, Sarah Jane? The Carthoris Corporation has Martian technology. Those big machines were Tripodal in nature. We had almost made the breakthrough on controlling them when Ainsley died. I'm certain that the patent that Carthoris is seeking should properly come to the Ministry of Defense, and under strict classification. But without breaking secrecy laws and my oath to the nation, I can't accuse them."

"So what do you want me to do about it?" asked Sarah Jane. "I can hardly waltz into the company and inspect their most secret documents."

Professor Smith's face fell. "Then we've lost it all. Ainsley had a complete overview of the War Machine in his files, and now, those are gone. The nation is now at risk from both Outer Space and potentially hostile nations. Ah well, perhaps it was time for the great coverup to come to an end."

Sarah studied the crestfallen face of her friend. "I didn't say I wouldn't do it, Professor. Just that it wouldn't be easy. How long do I have?"

"About one week, Ms Drake. You'll need to get the plans or destroy anything they may have done already."








"Professor, you can't expect me to waltz merrily into a high security place like the Carthoris Corporation," Sarah said indignantly as the pair walked out of the dense thicket. "And even if I DID manage to get in, what could I do in there?"

"You're an investigator aren't you? Investigate! There must be something linking them to the death of Roger Ainsley."

Sarah Jane knew that tone of voice well. Despite her better judgment, she also knew she'd not prevail against the Professor's determined will. "All right then," she acquiesced. "Then how are you going to get me in there?"

The Professor led Sarah Jane to his small Audi wagon. He opened the passenger door and rummaged in the glove box. "Here," he said, handing Sarah Jane a thick envelope. Inside were credentials, indicating Sarah Jane was a security consultant from the Ministry of Defense.

"Where did you get this?" she asked suspiciously.

"Oh don't worry so, Sarah Jane. It's all perfectly legitimate. After all, I still work for the ministry; so it's only natural that my security consultant do likewise. I ran it past Brigadier Gordon, and he agreed I needed an assistant and bodyguard. How did he put it?...Oh yes 'Smith, you're far too valuable an asset to be left unescorted, so I'm assigning you a bodyguard.' "

Sarah Jane giggled at the Professor's impression of his superior. "Yes but I'll wager he didn't count on me?"

"Well he DID say I could have anyone. He might have indicated from the staff security team, but you know I sometimes have trouble hearing. Anyway, Carthoris has their public demonstration in Manchester Tuesday morning. But we members of the Ministry get to come in first for a private look see, tomorrow afternoon. Would you care to join me?"

Sarah felt the tension leaving her shoulders. "All right Professor, as long as I don't have to answer anything more than A level science. I'll pick you up though, I'm not too trusting of your car."

Later that evening, Sarah Jane skimmed through HG Well's classic The War of the Worlds. The novel was still as gripping as it had been when she was 11, and reading it for the first time. But the description of the cylinder on Horsell Commons drew her eye, and for the first time she imagined it in the crater. "That thing must have been MASSIVE" she thought to herself. Well at least I know it won't be easy to hide." Satisfied with that comment she turned to the computer for a long look at Carthoris.

The Carthoris Corporation was started by an elusive John Carter, shortly after the Second World War. It had been a metallurgical operation at first, turning out precision knives, medical implements and high quality castings for many applications. But over the years, it had grown, and pursued more military applications. The company was still privately held, did not trade on the markets; and it appeared that Mr Carter was still firmly in command.

"If that's true, he must be nearly eighty now," figured Sarah Jane. There appeared to be no recent photographs of the elusive owner, however, and the estate house was on the grounds of the factory.

"Curiouser and curiouser," thought Sarah Jane. "I wonder what he's hiding? Or if he'll even appear tomorrow?"
*****

Monday broke, and Sarah Jane drove her Mercedes 350 to the office for an early start. After shuffling some papers and paying some bills, she stretched and straightened her business pantsuit. The new suit was dark, coloured in charcoals and greys, but a white silk blouse added a bit of brightness and femininity to the look.

Sarah Jane pulled up to the Professor's flat and was met by a uniformed Sgt Major. "Sorry Ma'am, but I need to see your credentials," he said.

Unfazed, Sarah handed over both her PI license and the Security credentials Professor Smith had given her the previous afternoon. The soldier took them, studied them, then smiled. "Ahh, the sly old dog. I'll bet he hand picked you for this assignment didn't he?" He handed Sarah Jane her credentials, then waved at the front door. The door opened and Professor Smith trundled out, very annoyed at the attention.

After he'd climbed into the car and buckled his safety harness, he told Sarah Jane to drive.

"My goodness," she said. "Is it ALWAYS this secure?"

"No," grumbled Professor Smith. "But the Project is taking the threats a bit more seriously now."

"Threats?"

"Death threats. Against me, against the Brigadier, against the facility. Someone has broken through the Mercury Radio project, and even scored a major blow against our computers."

"Was anything essential lost?" asked Sarah Jane in a worried tone.

"No, our main database is too well encrypted for mild hacking." The professor sighed and slid back against the leather seat. "But it did wreak havoc with our messenger and outward facing systems. Shaw was none too happy to have to rework the systems I tell you. But Gordon upped security on all of us. You're only here because my vouching of you was firm."

They continued the drive in light banter, both of them working out their nerves on the way to Manchester. Finally though, Sarah Jane brought the sedan to a halt at a security gate outside the Carthoris Corporation. The guard duly tallied them on his sheet and waved them through.

The Carthoris Corporation was a large stone building, crafted in some reddish stone Sarah Jane had never seen before, and with a very unique and distinctive architecture. They walked into a long, cool atrium, lit by several windows and found the small auditorium where the initial tests were to be performed. They found seats near the front, where the Professor could badger if necessary.








Professor Smith found a seat toward the front of the auditorium, and Sarah Jane grudgingly settled in beside him. She had a hard time following the mathematics, though Professor Smith seemed intrigued. He nudged her once, saying, "Those are Quatermass' equations, though I don't see how they can possibly apply here." Sarah Jane just nodded politely and Smith took it as agreement.

But when they wheeled a large device on the stage, both Sarah Jane and Professor Smith sat up. "That's a direct copy of the heat cannon," hissed Smith. "Those villains stole it!"

"Calm down, Professor," warned Sarah Jane. "Isn't it possible they've been working on a similar device? After all, Wells' book can be had in every bookseller in London."

"An exact duplicate?" growled Smith. Still he sat still until the young looking technician stepped to the podium.

"Thank you all for coming this afternoon. My name is Jed Taran. We at Carthoris Corporation take pride in revealing to you our newest device, a heat cannon." There was a general titter in the crowd, and a few people were overheard shouting, "That's nothing but a folly of science fiction."

But Sarah Jane could sense the tension in Professor Smith's arm as he gripped the rest between them. She saw the veins in his neck pulsing through the skin.

Taran motioned and a large block of airplane titanium was wheeled in. "This is titanium," he explained. "Imagine the heat cannon being used against it." Taran pressed a switch and the heat cannon warmed up, then a bright, red beam shot from the nose of the cannon, striking the titanium plate. The plate glowed red, then the beam broke through, shooting into a large log and igniting it. Taran flipped the switch and turned to the thunderous applause of the audience.

"FRAUD!" shouted Professor Smith. His face was beet red with rage. Before Sarah Jane could restrain him, the professor leaped onto the stage and caught Taran by the sleeve of his lab coat.

"No one should be able to do that!" shouted Professor Jones at the stunned young scientist. "We haven't been able to do that of over 100 years! It's only recently we've been able to make the breakthroughs!"

"Unhand me sir!" said Taran, indignantly. "Security!"

Two armed guards came running toward the stage at the same time from opposite sides of the room. The Professor paid them no mind as he continued to assault Taran. "Tell me how you did this! Tell them how you killed Ainsley!"
Behind him, a security guard brought a ton-fa down on Professor Jones' bare cranium. The professor slumped to the floor, unconscious. Sarah Jane leaped from her seat. It had all happened so quickly.

"Oh, please don't hurt him," she said.

"Who are you madam?" asked Jed Taran. "And who is HE?" Taran added, jerking a thumb at the prone form of Professor Jones.

Sarah reached for her purse, aware of the hands reaching for guns. "It's just my id," she said calmly and unhurried. Sarah Jane handed the two pieces of id to the gurad and he stared intently at it.

"Sarah Jane Drake, Ministry of Defense and Professor John Smith, Ministry of Defense, scientific advisor?" He studied the pictures once more, then handed the id's to Taran who glanced at them and handed them back to Sarah Jane.

"All right, we've seen the bona fides, but that still doesn't answer why Professor Jones just attacked me."

"Can't we get him some medical attention first?" asked Sarah Jane. "I promise I'll fill you in." Taran nodded and a small gurney was wheeled into the room. Professor Jones was trundled onto the gurney and wheeled out. Taran took Sarah Jane to a small commissary and sat her at a table. A moment later he returned with two coffees and an assortment of creamers, sugar and other sweeteners.

"He's a bit high strung," began Taran.

Sarah added two packs of Splenda to her coffee and smiled. "I think he's allowed. One of his friends was murdered, and his life's work was compromised. He was working on something similar to your heat cannon. I think the similarities had him convinced that the Carthoris Corporation had something to do with the death of his friend."

Taran sipped his coffee, and Sarah studied the young man. He seemed to be in his early thirties, with a thatch of dark brown hair and a boyish smile. By his blinking she could tell he was wearing contacts, though his vision seemed rather acutely focused on her chest. "So where is Professor Smith?" she asked.

"Hmm?" asked Taran, a bit embarrassed. "Oh he's in the medical bay. I imagine Dr Sullivan will be about finished with him now. Shall we go see?" Sarah Jane agreed and Jed Taran escorted her through the hallways toward the medical section. She noticed very exotic art and some interesting red plants growing in the window ledges.

"What are those?" she asked.

"Oh they're good luck plants from my part of the world. Quite exotic really," grinned Taran, giving nothing away. As they passed closed office doors, Sarah Jane took careful note of her way through the building. Presently they reached the medical bay.

"There you are, right as rain," smiled Dr Sullivan. Professor Smith had a small plaster on his head, but otherwise looked all right.

"Are you all right, Professor?" asked Sarah Jane.

"Quite, Sarah Jane. Dr Sullivan worked all sorts of wonders on my wounded noggin!" Smith tapped the side of his head. "Yes sir, better than ever."

Sullivan flashed an embarrassed smile. "All I did was apply a bandage and some aspirin. Most healing is in the mind you know."

"Well we've taken enough of your time," apologized Sarah Jane. "Come on Professor, you promised me a roast beef at your club tonight."

"I did? Well, a promise is a promise. Let's go Sarah Jane."

Sarah rolled the Mercedes back onto the roads and headed back from Manchester to London. On the drive, Professor Jones was transcribing his thoughts to the Mercury Radio project via his cell phone. Sarah was focused on the rad and wasn't paying too much attention, but it sounded like the professor was a lot calmer than he had been when they first saw the demonstration.

They were about 30 miles out from the city when the Professor began gasping. Sarah noticed the sweat pouring down his face and saw him unbuttoning his shirt and loosening his tie. "Professor? PROFESSOR!!" The professor was fumbling for his cell phone and it slipped from his hand, landing near Sarah Jane's left leg.

She scooped it up with a rapid movement, then hit redial. "Radio Mercury, what's your pass code please?" said a pleasant voice.

"I don't have a bloody pass code," said Sarah Jane.

"I'm sorry ma'am, but this is a high security installation, and we don't have time for prank..."

"I"m Sarah Jane Drake, the assigned body guard for Professor John Smith. The professor is having a heart attack. Now get me someone I can give information to." Sarah calmed her breathing, eyes on the road rather than the professor. Presently a gruff voice got on the line.

"This is Brigadier Gordon," he said.

"This is Sarah Jane Drake," Sarah repeated. "Professor Smith is having a heart attack."

"Good God, woman! Can you bring him in?"

Sarah Jane looked at her passenger. His skin was turning grey. "I don't think so," she said. A blue sign with an "H" loomed in front of her. I'm right at St Alban's on the northwest side of London. I'm taking him in there."

"All right Ms Drake. But don't leave until we're there to relieve you, please?"

"I couldn't possibly leave the Professor, Brigadier. I'll be here." Sarah Jane shut off the cell phone and pocketed it. She turned the wheel and pulled into the emergency section of St Alban's hospital. "I have a heart attack victim!" she said, bursting into the ER.

The doctors bustled and soon Professor Smith was placed on another gurney, wheeled out of sight. Sarah was soon buried in admission paperwork, worrying about the fate of her friend.




Sarah waited anxiously as the crash team carted Professor Jones into the ER. "Sorry ma'am you can't go any further," an orderly warned as Sarah Jane attempted to go through the heavy double doors to the Emergency Ward. "Why don't you wait in the commissary or there's a chapel?"

Sarah Jane scowled and sat in the waiting room. An aide with a clipboard prodded her for information until Sarah Jane barked at her. "Look, I don't KNOW the answers--I'm only his driver!"

"Well excuse me!" said the aide and she waddled back to the station.

Chastened, Sarah Jane rubbed her head and replayed the events of the previous day. The rumbling in her stomach reminded her she was hungry. She slipped down to the commissary and ordered a salad and iced tea, then sat to eat. The food did her good, and Sarah's mood and optimism began to return.

As she returned her tray to the conveyor belt, she was suddenly flanked by two large men in dark suits. "Yeats and Benton, ma'am, with the Ministry," said the tall man with a roguish smile. "Would you come with us please? The Brigadier would like to speak with you."

Sarah accompanied the two gentlemen down the hall, and was surprised to find them turning toward the chapel. "Oh no!" she said. The door opened and Sarah Jane saw the room was empty, except for a grizzled man in a wheelchair. He turned to Sarah Jane and harrumphed.

"Well don't just stand there with your mouth open. You'll swallow a fly like that! I'm Brigadier Gordon, in charge of the project." Sarah sized the man in the chair up. He was built like a barrel, and there was no doubting his physical power would be great. His hair was a dark grey, and his suit was almost a match for it. The Brigadier exuded an air of authority about him.

"I'm..."

"You're Ms Drake, John's bodyguard and babysitter." The brigadier eyed her up and down and Sarah Jane felt a bit uncomfortable at the close and unwarranted inspection."

"It appears Smith made a good choice. You're well toned, not overly muscled. I daresay you've got a healthy workout routine. I guess I can forgive him for overriding my authority," he sighed. "Again," he added.

The Brigadier motioned for Sarah Jane to sit on the front pew, and she did so.
"Now fill me in on the day's events."

In concise fashion, Sarah Jane recounted the demonstration at Carthoris. The Brigadier didn't interrupt, merely nodding his head and following her narrative.
As Sarah was finishing her tale, Yeats stepped into the chapel.

"Sir, Professor Smith is asking for you. He's going to be OK."

"Thank heavens!" said Sarah Jane, along with the brigadier. They stepped toward the ER, where the Doctor stopped them.

"The professor is resting--so please do not get him excited. "Brigadier Gordon, Ms Drake, he was asking for both of you. If you'd step this way?" The doctor led Sarah Jane and the Brigadier to a private room, with a military guard.

"Just a security precaution, Ms Drake," said the Brigadier. Professor Smith was laying in a hospital bed, with an oxygen mask covering his face. Sarah was shocked to see how weak he looked. But the Professor smiled when he saw Sarah Jane.

"Good show old girl," he said. "I told you we were on the right track."

The brigadier looked at Sarah Jane with a quizzical expression. "What does he mean?"

Sarah Jane smiled. The professor is convinced that Carthoris stole your designs."

"What do you think?" asked the Brigadier.

"I think that they've been working on a similar design. I've seen it happen a lot in industrial security. Company A develops a new product, only to find Company B has developed an almost identical device. Satellite Radio for example. or the different types of digital recordings."

"Wouldn't that confirm at least industrial espionage? Does the Mercury Radio project have a mole or a leak?"

"I don't believe so," said Sarah Jane. "Usually its just a product of two highly trained minds working down similar pathways."

"But the possibility remains," said Smith weakly.

"Excuse us a moment, Smith," said Brigadier Gordon. He motioned Sarah Jane out of the room and followed her. In the hallway, he said, "I trust you know you're on very thin grounds here, Ms Drake. If anything gets out regarding the Mercury Radio project, or the invasion; well lets just say the penalties for violating the official secrets acts are very grave indeed."

Sarah Jane let the words sink in, carefully considering her reply. "I think I understand Brigadier. You'd like me to go home and forget this ever happened."

"Precisely Ms Drake. Nothing untoward happened. Your good friend and mentor Professor John Smith had a heart attack, and you brought him to the hospital. Nothing more."

Sarah Jane nodded, opened her mouth, then closed it. "Tell Professor Smith, I'll visit him tomorrow." She turned on her heel, then left the hospital. She slipped into the car, painfully tired and aware of the lateness of the hour

Back on the nearly abandoned freeway, Sarah proceeded toward her Croydon home. She checked the mirrors and noticed two non-descript dark sedans following her at a not quite discreet distance. One sped up and passed Sarah Jane and she breathed a sigh of relief. She wasn't being tailed.

Sarah Jane relaxed for just a moment until she saw the front sedan slamming on the brakes. Shocked, the sexy detective hit her own brakes, and felt the Mercedes go into a skid. Sarah Jane turned her wheel to the left, and felt the bone jarring crunch of the second sedan hitting the rear end of her car. Sarah Jane shrieked as the Mercedes rocked, then dropped off the berm. He car steadied itself but slammed into a large maple tree, Sarah jerked forward, but her forward progress was stopped by both the air bag and the seat belt.

She sat back woozy, and trembling. From behind her she could see the bright red and blue lights of the police car looming up behind her. "Thank goodness," she thought. Moments later, though, she was having second thoughts."

"Ma'am are you all right?" asked the police officer.

"I think so," said Sarah Jane. "Though my head seems to be a bit sore."

"Have you been drinking tonight Ma'am?"

"What? No! I'm coming home from St Alban's hospital. I left my friend Professor John Smith there. He had suffered a heart attack and I took him to the nearest hospital." Sarah Jane gave him all the information, including being run off the road.

The officer wrote it all down, then called the incident in over his radio. A moment later, he replied. "It all seems to check out Ms Drake. I'll have a breakdown lorry here in a few minutes. He waited with Sarah Jane until the truck appeared, then tipped his cap.

"I've put out a bulletin for the two sedans Ms Drake, but I doubt we'll find them. No doubt a couple of young punks out for a joy ride. But I'll make certain that if we gat anything on them you'll know." Sarah Jane thanked the officer, then climbed up into the cab of the breakdown truck.

The driver dropped Sarah Jane at her home, then said, "If you'll call down tomorrow, Ms Drake, we'll have a driver drop off a rental to you. I'll have my lads call with an estimate later in the day if that's all right with you?"

Sarah Jane stifled a yawn. "I...That will be fine, thank you!" She found her key and let herself into her townhouse. Kicking off her heels and slipping out of her black dress, Sarah Jane climbed into bed, exhausted.








Sarah Jane Drake awoke, uncertain if the ringing was in her head or coming from the front door. Deciding it was the latter, she slipped into a pair of tight blue jeans and slipped a bathrobe around her bare breasts, then ambled barefoot to the door.

The ringing stopped when Sarah Jane began fumbling with the locks. Swinging open the door, she beheld a large swarthy man, with a dark pallor to his face and an affable smile. He held a clipboard in one massive hand and in the other hand a the ballpoint pen seemed almost delicate.

"Ms Drake? I'm Tarkas vrom de car rental. Here is beink your rental car. Come mit please!" Curious about the strange accent and the prompt service, Sarah Jane followed the man outside and saw a silver Mercedes, very similar to hers, sitting in the parking space.

"There must be some mistake," protested Sarah Jane. "My insurance would never pay for this much rental."

"Is no mishtake...is Mercedes!" said Tarkas, pointing at the familiar logo. And bill approved for two weeks by..." he studied his sheet, "Stewart Gordon." Tarkas harrumphed, billowing his big mustaches.

"The old darling," Sarah Jane smiled and took the proffered clipboard. After signing the contract, she exchanged it for the keys to the car.

"You aren't from around here, are you?" observed Sarah Jane.

"Yes! I'm from Leister!" protested Tarkas. He laughed, and Sarah Jane could see massive muscles rippling beneath the coveralls Tarkas was wearing. "But yes, am Immigrant. Brave soldier at home, then regime was...how you say, deposed. Came here many years ago. Speak English good, no?"

Sarah Jane covered her smile with an polite nod. "Indeed you do."

"Well, be seeink you," said Tarkas cheerily. Then he paused. "Excuse. I hate to be troublink you but is no one to take me back to car lot. Would you...?" he asked sheepishly.

"I'd be delighted," said Sarah Jane. "Please, give me a moment though. She invited Tarkas to her living room, then slipped back to her room and quickly changed. Sarah slipped into a clean rugby shirt and slipped into some comfortable sandals. She ran a brush over her thick, dark hair, smoothing down the flyaways and contemplating a new haircut.

Five minutes later though, a somewhat refreshed Sarah Jane Drake followed Tarkas once more to the waiting Mercedes. She climbed into the driver's side and buckled her harness snugly around her. Turning the key, Sarah Jane smiled as the motor roared to life, then settled into the satisfying, growling purr.

Tarkas provided terse, concise directions, and in no time, Sarah Jane was dropping him at the lot. "Hmmm, Dejah Motors. I don't recall ever seeing this place before," she said.

"Is new, maybe six months?" said Tarkas proudly. "Is named for former ruler of my land. My thanks to you Ms Drake, for bringing me back, and happy motorink!" Tarkas exited the car and waved before going back toward the offices. Sarah Jane proceeded up the boulevard until it intersected with the cross street to her office.

Tarkas watched as Sarah Jane drove away, his mustaches bristling. Looking down at his watch, he spoke softly, "She is away. Observation devices are all operational now."
*****
Sarah Jane heard the pea gravel crunch under the tires as she pulled into the parking lot of her converted cottage office. She was grateful that she hadn't converted the small bathroom. Dropping her purse and keys on the desk, Sarah stepped into the bathroom and out of her hastily attained attire. She slid into a hot shower and felt some of the muscle tensions from the previous night begin to slip away.

As she was showering, a small device rose menacingly from her handbag. A small sphere on spindly legs crossed the floor utilizing a unique tripodal ambulation. It pulled itself behind Sarah Jane's' filing cabinets, hiding itself. Wit deft motions, the little robot cut into and spliced itself into Sarah Jane's telephone line and internet cable. It gave a little bleep when its task was completed and began its waiting.

"Is someone out there?" asked Sarah Jane from the bathroom. She stepped into the office, glancing around. Satisfied nothing was amiss, she padded across the thick plush carpeting in her bare feet, reveling in the soft feel of the carpet. Sliding her feet underneath her desk, Sarah Jane sighed contentedly. Bare feet were one of the joys of Sarah Jane's life, though she generally preferred the cool tile or moist grass.

After handling the morning's tasks, Sarah Jane picked up the phone to call Brigadier Gordon. She used her photographic memory to recall the number from Professor Smith's telephone. When the Brigadier came on line, Sarah Jane beamed over the phone, "Thank you so much for the expensive car rental. I don' t know how you knew about the accident, but it's much appreciated."

"What the devil are you talking about, Ms Drake," answered a confused Brigadier Gordon.

Surprised herself, Sarah Jane recounted the previous night's events, ending with Tarkas arriving with the Mercedes. "And he said it was paid for by Stewart Gordon," she said. "I assumed it was from the Mercury Radio group."

"Now why would I do that?" asked Gordon. "There's a budget minded minister overseeing almost every expenditure. I have to get requests for office supplies and staples done in triplicate. We have to account for every pound. I certainly can't be giving it away; especially for rental cars to unofficial bodyguards.

"Now on the other front, there's good news. Professor Smith has been evaluated. His heart attack was relatively mild and he's expected to make a full recovery. You did capital work getting him to the hospital so quickly. We've had him moved though, security precautions you know."

"Where is he now?" asked Sarah Jane.

"We've moved him to our sickbay for now. Can't have him sneaking off again, now can we? Why don't you drop by in a few days and visit? I'm sure he'll be ready for guests by then. He's already beginning to pester the nurse for a laptop to continue his work."

Sarah Jane smiled, knowing that the brigadier was probably not exaggerating. She agreed to come down and rang off. Fumbling in her purse, she found the invoice for the breakdown truck and checked with them. Finally, she called the metropolitan police to see what needed to be done regarding getting her accident report. After those two calls, though, an uneasy feeling gnawed at her gut.

There was no record of Sarah Jane's accident with the police, and the towing company had no record of a truck in her vicinity all night.

She forced herself to sit still long enough to record her notes from the day before, storing them in her computer. Frustrated, she then made herself pay bills, then made a pot of coffee and settled in at the computer for a more intense research study on Carthoris. She added terms to the search, broadening it to include the Mercury Radio Project, HG Wells, and Brigadier Gordon, looking for any connections.

She wasn't half surprised to discover a link between Mars and Carthoris, as well as a similar connection with John Carter. Sarah Jane sat back from the computer, and rubbed her eyes, realizing the lateness of the hour. She looked at the notes she'd scribbled all afternoon.

"Brigadier Gordon, Heat Cannons, Tarkas, Wars of Worlds, Carthoris and a warlord from Mars. Even Mars itself! This all adds up to a military and dangerous situation. There is definitely something more going on here than industrial espionage." Still she remembered the Brigadier's warning about the secrets act.

"But he didn't say I couldn't investigate my own accident," she said. "I can't believe this isn't all related somehow. And I think the place to begin is Dejah Motors."








Sarah spent a busy morning at her office, catching up the case files and reviewing her notes from the visit to Carthoris. She had the uneasy feeling she was being watched however, despite being alone in the office all day. Finally, though she decided enough was enough. She forwarded the telephone, locked the office and headed back out to the rental car.

Sarah drove back toward her flat the way she'd come that morning. As she passed Dejah Motors she was surprised at how little activity was actually occurring. The car lot took up a whole block's worth of space, but there were very few cars actually for sale and no customers. She drove on home, stopping only at the grocers to get the ingredients for a simple dinner.
After cleaning her apartment and doing dishes, Sarah Jane zipped up a dark hoodie over a white tank top. A pair of tight black lycra pants hugged her waist and thighs, framing her body like an inky silhouette. She laced on her running shoes and clipped a small light to her waist. In the dark streets, her dark outfit would not stand out, and Sarah Jane didn't feel like getting hit by any cars tonight.

She stepped out onto the pavement and stretched briefly, warming up, then headed east down the route laid out by Tarkas earlier that morning. Sarah set an easy pace; her run had more purpose than just exercise tonight. She jogged up about 1 mile, then angled over past Dejah Motors. The building sat dark. Sarah noted the security cameras set up around the perimeter in the front of the building, as well as the high fence that separated the car lot from the convenience store in the back. Without breaking stride, Sarah passed along the side of Dejah Motors, then ran across the front of the lot, observing without breaking stride or being obvious. she continued up the street another five blocks, then cut back and ran along the next street back toward home.

She pulled up short on the way home, dipping into the back of the convenience store that was behind Dejah Motors. The store's dumpster was flush against the thick privacy fence behind Dejah Motors. Sarah's nose wrinkled at the acrid smell, but she had to know. She climbed up the huge metal dumpster, then with an easy grace jumped into the service lot behind Dejah Motors.

It didn't look like any service lot Sarah Jane had ever seen. Aside from the dearth of automobiles, there were no oil drums, no stacks of tires, none of the accessories that indicate cars were serviced there. Sarah crossed the lot, and stood next to the service bay entrance. She opened her jogging lamp and pulled out her small set of skeleton keys.

"I really shouldn't," she said to herself, "But there's just something too strange about all of this." The lock came open easily and Sarah looked for the pad that would shut off any alarms. But there were no pads--nor any alarms that she could see. But in the service bay, Sarah Jane spied a large ovate spheroid on the jack.

"No...it couldn't be. A flying saucer?" Behind the sauce stood something Sarah Jane recognized immediately though, a version of the Carthoris Heat Ray. She slipped into the service bay to examine it more closely.

"I am tellink you I have something heard!" Sarah recognized the booming voice of Tarkas coming from the front of the building, but heading her way.

"Don't be silly, Tarkas, the locks are tight, the building is secure. Look! Nothing on the monitors. "

"Then please, humour me. Help me the service bays check."

"All right." Sarah's blood chilled. The service bay had only the one exit. She scanned the room quickly, and found a trailing wing on the saucer. With the graceful skill of a gymnast, Sarah Jane pulled herself onto the wing then pressed herself flat against the saucer, high above the floor. She could hear Tarkas and the unknown man searching the bay below her.

"There, you see? Nothing."

"Still does not right feel. Are we something missing?"

"Tarkas, there's nothing here. Come on, I'll stand you a round."

Sarah listened as the two sets of footsteps left the bay then counted to fifty. Slowly and noiselessly she slid her spandex covered body over the edge of the saucer again and dropped to the floor. Her trainers moved quietly across the concrete floor. Sarah moved cautiously, but the voices remained in the front of the building.

Cautiously she turned the knob that would release her to the back of the service area again, and stepped onto the concrete stoop. Carefully closing and lcoking the door, Sarah stood up and began to turn toward the fence.

BWAHHHM!!!!! Suddenly the night sky seemed full of fireworks and stars. Sarah almost didn't notice the pain as the tire tool dented her cranium. Her body folded almost instantly, spilling onto the cold asphalt outside Dejah Motors.

"I told you something we are missink," said Tarkas.

"Yes, but NOW what do we do, asked his unknown friend."

Sarah reached for the back of her head, trying to stand, willing herself to motion. But another heavy blow tattooed the back of her head, and the gorgeous detective drooped to the ground; her chestnut hair spilling all around her head.








(do I need to add, to be continued?)

4 comments:

  1. Great story so far! Poor Sarah Jane always seems to get into trouble, and getting conked on the head!

    ReplyDelete
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    Gracias

    ReplyDelete