'The Science Station Saga'

by Phineas Redux


Summary:— In 1948 Claire 'Ricky' Mathews and her lover Gabrielle Parker, both members of a secret British Security Department also active in Canada, operate the Atalanta Haulage company in Saskatchewan, using trucks and various aircraft. They supply a remote secret Government facility with equipment before something dramatic crops up.

Disclaimer:— copyright ©2023 to Phineas Redux. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution:— There is some light swearing in this story.


The area around Waterbury Lake in northern Saskatchewan, Canada, was bleak and barren, excepting of course the horizon searching ranks of trees constituting the forest which covered the entire area in this September, 1948. Station 84, a Governmental Scientific Group, was operating under the usual rules and requirements; meaning top secrecy from all but a few selected military organisations. The place sat amongst the trees looking as innocent as a childrens' Summer Camp, though rather more heavily guarded. 9 low single-storey huts gave cover to the residents, who numbered at any one time around 50, mostly scientists of international repute and experience—in areas, of course, which remain to this day highly secret and unreported, if you fancy your daily freedom.

All the inmates, however, needed ordinary everday items such as food, water, wine, various items of equipment, and toilet rolls unnumbered; well, in the hundreds. All this being outsourced to a variety of ordinary businesses, one of which was Atalanta Haulage, based further south on the shore of Lake Seclusion. The owners of which, Claire 'Ricky' Mathews and Gabrielle Parker, were long term partners both in business and Love—as well as being agents of a secret British Security Group also operating in Canada; which complicated their lives no end.

An Atalanta convoy comprising 3 large trucks had just arrived at the main gate this morning and were awaiting the long drawn-out procedure necessary to actually passing through said gate; and as usual Gabrielle was unimpressed with the situation.

"Here we are, yet again; and now we sit here wasting most of the afternoon in paperwork before we can drive thirty yards further to off-load." She expressing her opinion in a sarcastic tone which echoed her position implicitly.

"Always hard t'please." Claire smiling as she stood by the foremost truck awaiting the approach of the gate guard detail. "What drew me to ya the first I set eyes on ya, babe!"

"Har-har!" Gabrielle shaking her head, though smiling in her turn. "Wish I could believe that, lover. OK, Corporal! Which bit of colored paper d'ya want us t'sign first? Red, blue, yellow, or tan? An' do any mean anything, anyway; or are ya just fillin' yer day?"

"Miss Parker, how nice to see you yet again." The officer standing in front of them with the expression of someone who knew they were in for a hard time. "When was it last? Three weeks? Why couldn't it be longer!"

"Our thoughts, too." Claire nodding agreement. "So let's get the hell on with it. Haven't you compressed the procedure some since our last call? Took us over half an hour then!"

"And will do so again, ladies." The officer shrugging as he shuffled the pile of papers in his hand. "I'm a Lieutenant, by the way. Let's begin with the identification procedure. You are Claire Mathews, and you are Gabrielle Parker, both Directors of Atalanta Haulage, Lake Seclusion, a company of dubious origins whose antecedents we will not go into at this juncture? I take it those facts haven't changed since three weeks since?"

"Yes—that is, no." Gabrielle, uninterested, getting wholly mixed-up from the get-go.

The officer sighed, extending a grey sheet of paper to Claire.

"Sign at the top and the bottom, over the dotted line, thanks. Same for you, Miss Parker."

"And so Eternity flows on from here, eh?" Gabrielle waxing cynical.

"Just about; yes, ma'am." The Officer ploughing on regardless. "Now, this new two-page blue docket, if you both just—"


The organisation of the Station was split between the civilian, mostly scientific, and military aspects of the enterprise; resulting in the usual opposition between the two. Gabrielle and Claire sat within the office of the Chief Scientist, Doctor Harold Kurchner, trying to understand exactly how this dual antagonism could result in anything like smooth operation, and failing comprehensively in doing so.

"Looks t'me like the military have you all by the short hairs, Doc." Claire saying it as she saw it. "Took us over thirty-five minutes t'get in t'day. One of my drivers, Helen Greig, is still being put through the wringer as we speak. What sort'a cock-a-mamy set-up is this?"

"Yeah," Gabrielle not backward in wanting to air her own grievances. "My partner an' I went through the War t'gether, an' never met with quite the blockade-minded outlook the uniformed brigade seem t'be operating here."

Kurchner raised his arms in agreement with his visitors.

"It's all because of what we're doing here, of course. All highly secret, and all that guff. Very scientific, don't get me wrong; but, on the other hand, effectively militaristic in its outcome, quite clearly. Nothing I can do but hunker down and struggle through. I go through the same procedure every day, or almost every day, whenever I leave and re-enter the establishment, y'know. Dam'med time-wasting, certainly, but necessary, I'm afraid."

Gabrielle sniffed superciliously.

"We, Ricky an' I, both know pretty well what's going on here—"

Kurchner sat forward at this, an anxious expression crossing his lined features.

"Well, for God's sake, don't let anyone else here hear you say so! You'll be in the camp hoose-gow before you can draw a second breath to complain. I know you both know; Colonel Conrad knows you know; all you need do is not, I repeat, not let anyone know out loud that you know. That way a plausible level of deniability can be upheld—suits everyone that way, you understand."

"Bloody nonsense!" Claire snapping this with tight-lipped determination.

"Think of the Russkis'!" Kurchner frowning as he sat behind his loaded desk. "It's all designed to make sure the dam' Reds don't find out what we're up to. National security, an' all that."

"Yeah, well." Gabrielle only half convinced of this aspect. "Who was it said some politician of yore had been sent abroad to lie for his country? I feel for him, whoever it was!"

Kurchner shrugged, almost with a defeated mien.

"You'll all three be spending the night here again; so, when it all kicks-off round about midnight as usual, don't come out your billet with torches, spotlights, and cameras: that won't go down well with the local militia, fair warning."

Gabrielle snorted contemptuously.

"As if! Can't wait t'shake the dust of this place off my boots!"

Five minutes later they were both in their room in Hut 17, the Visitors' accomodation, discussing their options.

"Better fill Helen in on the local etiquette, when she's finally released."

"Yeah," Claire agreeing, busy laying out her clothes on the bed from the suitcase she had brought. "She's got the room along the hall, so won't be far out of sight. You sorted, yourself?"

"Yeah, got everything I need here; thought of bringing my pink silk jim-jams, but figured ordinary plain cotton ones'd be more in line with local customs."


"What's the schedule for the cargo we've brought this time?" Gabrielle touching on the more mundane angle of their reason for being there.

"The usual." Claire shrugging disinterestedly. "Unloaded by the soldiers this evening, re-loaded through the night, then we head back home in the late morning t'morrow, like always."

Gabrielle glanced suspiciously round the room before asking her next question in a low whisper meant only for Claire's near ear.

"Think this dump's bugged?"

Claire raised an eyebrow, considering her partner with her own gimlet eye.

"What makes ya think it is, ducks?"

"Oh, only wondering's all." Gabrielle attempting an air of innocence she hadn't been able to successfully pull-off for the last twenty years past.


Pushed to it Gabrielle came clean, though still in a pale whisper.

"You know the last three rockets they've fired from here all fell out'ta the sky within half a mile of the perimeter? One, that one last month, causing a forest fire that loomed wise t'take out most of the Province before the rain storm providentially soaked its aspirations that way. We were exhaling smoke for a week afterwards, remember?"

Claire shook her head sadly, recalling the grotesque event.

"As if anyone could forget! Let's hope they've learned a thing or two since!"

Gabrielle again snorted off-handedly.

"They're Canadian scientists, lady! What d'you think?"

Claire leaned over to plant a tender kiss on the cheek of her loved partner.

"Come on, let's get a pot of cocoa brewing, for us an' Helen. Then we can hit the hay; remember, the launch-pad's only a quarter mile t'the west. We'll be woken somewhere around one in the morning for sure."

Gabrielle sniggered, pointing to her own suitcase.

"I brought two steel helmets along, just in case. Reminds me of the old days, don't it, babe?"

"Dear God!" Claire shaking her head sadly. "Come on, let's get the cocoa goin'. I know someone who needs it!"


The midnight hours in this section of northern Saskatchewan were normally quiet and dark—really dark, there being no light from townships or cities to washout the night sky. But around Station 84 things were different, it not being possible to operate a scientific rocket establishment without all-round 24 hour work and noise. The rockets in question, derivatives of the original V2's, were far smaller and less powerful, but not so precisely directed as yet: the results being some dramatic, if embarrassing, failures.

The launch times for Station 84 were generally midnight to 1.30am depending on whether they were attempting to fire one or more missiles. They were all, of course, blanks; meaning they had no live warheads, even Canadian scientists having that modicum of commonsense. The directional flight paths which the missiles were meant to take were aimed towards the nor-west, over mostly empty forested terrain—and the flights were not meant to last for more than six to ten minutes so the scientists could rely on the return of quick results. The main camp, where Claire and Gabrielle were presently lying in bunk beds trying to sleep, held the larger group of workers, whether scientists or others. The preparatory camp, where the missiles were put together and fuelled, lay half a mile west surrounded by thick forest. The actual two launch pads lay another few hundred yards to the west again, set in a cleared glade of a circular nature some three hundred yards in diameter. There were no launch towers, just open concrete pads on which the rockets sat on launchers on the backs of military trucks; again unlike the earlier V2's. To say the Station's success rate so far however, over almost 6 months of trials, was pale to insipid wouldn't be exaggerating the position.

Most of the workers were now out at the peripheral sites, though enough were still in the main camp to make sleep for the truck drivers hardly viable.

"This is impossible!" Gabrielle revolting at last after two hours of restlessness. "Can't get a dam' single wink."

"We knew it'd be this way, gal." Claire pragmatic about it.

"Yeah, but it just means I'll fall asleep on the return journey in the morning an' drive off the trail into a ravine. Be warned! I'd like red roses on my grave, lover!"

"Idiot! Nothing we can do, anyway. I mean, we can't go over t'the Colonel's office an' complain about the noise an' lights every dam' where, can we?"


"Yeah, well."

Just at that moment the sky outside the window of the cabin was lit by a flickering fire which gradually increased along with an elemental roar which itself rose in volume along with the light.

"Oh, God! They've started!"

The roar grew to almost cataclysmic levels before there was a sudden failing of the noise as well as light; a bright almost noon-time brightness in the sky lowering to a faint reddish glow; then came a sudden swamp of intense light which hurt the eyes, along with a dull roar that seemed to go on for ever before finally decreasing—the light flickering to a dull crimson glimmer in its own time.

"Another dud." Gabrielle nodding as in the know. "Blew up on the launch pad! Well, that's the launchs' over for the night while they clean up. Be able t'get some sleep after all!"

Claire snorted disparagingly.

"That all ya got t'say about the failure of a important scientific experiment that might well, if successful, kick-start Canada in'ta the Big League?"

Gabrielle paused to think about her answer.




Next morning the Colonel was unyielding.

"You're under contract—Government contract! Much like bein' back in the Army, really. We need more fuel, and two more rockets, so go to it, ladies. By next week would be good. You know the route to the Government Armaments Factory down south; try'n be quicker than last time, weeds growin' on the launch pad by the time y'returned then!"

"We ain't miracle workers, Colonel." Gabrielle standing-up for her dearly beloved firm. "An' we ain't in the dam' Army, so quit with the bullyin', thanks. We'll do what's required, but in our own time, with all the safety regulations followed to the dam' letter, an' that means if y'have t'wait then wait is what ya do!"

"Huumph! So much for discipline. Wish I had you two under my command; soon show you what takin' orders meant in real life!"

"Goodbye, Colonel!" Gabrielle turning on her heel to make a dramatic exit. "See ya when we get back, whenever the hell that'll be! Come along, Ricky."

An hour later the Atalanta haulage convoy was ten miles south on the only road leading to or from the scientific Station; road blocks every 10 miles.

"Here we go! First block." Gabrielle, in the first truck, on the intercom to the other two behind her.

"Just be polite." Claire trying her best to tame the wild beast. "Remember, on our way here yesterday, the first security platoon we met nearly put you in irons for talkin' back."

"An' I'll do so again, if pushed!" Gabrielle taking no prisoners herself. "OK, here we go."

The block was the standard white pole laid horizontally across the narrow road with a small hut to the right hand side where a couple of jeeps and half a dozen bored soldiers stood watching the approaching line of trucks—knowing perfectly well what and who they were.

A soldier, easily identified as a Lieutenant, stood in the centre of the road hands on his waistbelt waiting confidently for the lead truck to pull up before him. The fact that, for the barest instant, Gabrielle actually considered driving on over him not making itself known to him probably being for the best. Instead he walked casually round to the driver's door, looking up with a jaded expression and raised hand.


Gabrielle was ready for this and in the mood, too.

"Which one's?"

"Wha'ya' mean, lady?"

"I mean, what papers do you want? I got stacks, from all sorts of Government Departments. So, which one's? Be specific."

The Lieutenant sighed, he having had previous confrontatins with Gabrielle and knowing how snappy and precise she could be if pressed.

"Look, Miss Parker, do we have to go through all this yet again? You know me; I know you. Just show me your papers so we can both bid each other a fond farewell, OK?"

"Which one's?"

"Oh, God!"


"Your security pass; the pass for the Agency; the pass for carrying military equipment; the pass for your security level; and the passes from both the Province Military Command and the Governmental Military command. That's all."

Gabrielle looked daggers down at the officer but rummaged amongst her glove-box for the appropriate papers all the same.

"Read 'em quick, I got places t'be before the sun goes down, buster."

The Lieutenant, not wanting to become engrossed in this situation any longer than necessary himself, gave the multitude of paperwork the merest off-hand glance before handing them back up to the truck's driver.

"OK, go!"

"Thanks nuthin'!"

Gabrielle drove on only another twenty yards before stopping to wait for the other two trucks to negotiate the bottleneck of security themselves before, they having been successful in this activity, the convoy could continue.

"Only another three like that!" Gabrielle on the intercom again. "Tell ya, babe, we could drive a hundred miles further in the same time it's taken t'drive this first ten mile. Some dam' way t'run a country! Wish I was back in ol' Blighty, so I do!""

"Me too, lover; but duty calls, y'know!"



The Armaments Factory located 10 miles east of the aptly named Battleford, southern Saskatchewan, was almost as strongly protected as its little cousin, the Scientific Station 84 so many hundred miles further north; at least it seemed so to Gabrielle when she drove her 8 ton White truck through the heavily guarded main entrance two days later.

"Driven the whole length of the entire Province, and just t'deliver a bunch of defective fireworks to a bunch of crazy scientists who've lost their collective minds an' think they're halfway t'landin' a man on the Moon!"

This diatribe having found its public voice via Gabrielle's intercom it was left to Claire, in the second truck, to cast oil on troubled waters—an activity swiftly becoming, she thought, an unwanted but ingrained habit.

"Gab, give it a rest, your dam' needle's stuck again. Just give the man the papers an' let's get on, dam'mit!"


Ten minutes later the two women stood together in the wide hangar at the rear of the main offfice building where the rockets were assembled, staring at the latest addition to the roster of evil-looking weapons of death to feature on the trials list.

"What the hell is it?" Gabrielle rather shocked at the malevolent seeming machine.

"Hermes Two!" George Chapman, scientist in charge, looking pleased as punch. "Those things you've been taking north, and Station Eighty-four have been so industriously destroying out of hand, were Mark Ones'; these new affairs are Mark Twos'—much more refined."

Claire raised a disapproving eyebrow.

"Refined? In what way?"

"The Mark Ones' had a one hundred pound warhead—or would have in a realistic situation." George smiling happily. "The Mark Twos' have the capability to carry a warhead twice as heavy; and in this burgeoning nuclear age you know what that means ladies, eh!"

The women exchanged glances showing that indeed they knew perfectly well what this meant, and were wholly disapproving of the new step forward.

"I don't think I care much for this advance—if indeed it is an advance. Sounds much more like a giant leap backwards t'me, seein' you've asked!" Claire putting on record her inward feelings.

George, already having skirted round this moral problem with Claire on earlier occasions, merely shrugged while casting another loving glance at the assembly-line behind him.

"Anyway, we've dis-assembled four and crated them. that's them over there; all ready for you to transport to Station Eighty-four. Just hope they have better success with these than the previous. Our men'll load them on your trucks in a flash; should be ready for you to take away in two hours or so."

"Great," Gabrielle bucking-up tremendously. "Time for a visit to the Commisariat. Come on, Ricky, I'm starved!"

In the restaurant, at a table by themselves, the women discussed their situation over a light meal.

"This fish could do with a good wine."

"Military base." Claire clarifying their position. "No alcohol, just water or carbonated soft drinks."

Gabrielle gave her partner a sniffy look.

"If you think I'm gon'na drink coke with this fish y'can think again, lady. Gim'me that bottle o'water, please."

"Sure thing, ducks—do ya the power of good; nothing like pure water for the digestion; keep your bodily fluids up t'the mark an' peppy as all heck!"


"Yes, my lover dear?"

"People can go off people, y'know."

"Oh, can they?"

"Yes, they can—me presently bein' livin' proof!"

"Oh, dear!"


The road to Station 84, having been made at top speed and under trying circumstances, was less than perfect in every conceivable way and was now showing its imperfections to all and sundry as Gabrielle's White 8 ton truck sat lopsidedly with it off-side wheels in the drainage ditch. She and Claire standing by its side contemplating the fiasco.

"How'd ya manage that?"

Gabrielle sighed mournfully.

"I didn't do nuthin', boss! The truck ran itself off the dam' road; if this dirt track can be called a road—which it can't!"

"Oh," Claire coming to the crux of the matter. "so you ain't t'blame in any way, lady? Just askin'."

"I refuse to consider that question, as a question; you gon'na radio ahead for assistance, or what?"

Claire sniffed officiously, turning to go back to her own truck sitting confidently in the middle of the road.

"Wait for me, don't go off gallivanting anywhere, the boys'll be here in around an hour or so. If you're polite I'll meb'be let you sit in my cab t'keep warm, OK?"

"Thanks a million!"

On finally arriving at Station 84 all was a hive of expectation at the thought of the new missiles, Dr. Kurchner actually hopping from foot to foot in anticipation of great things to come.

"These are the thing and no mistake! Do much better than their forebears, for sure. Can't wait t'get 'em on the launch pad. You waiting to see the send-off tonight, ladies?"

"No, we ain't." Claire speaking for both. "We got bett—other important matters t'see to. We'll just bid you a fond farewell when the things are off-loaded an' be on our way. See you in another fortnight, OK?"

Kurchner nodded, although obviously focused on his new toys.

"Yes-yes, certainly. May need you back earlier, mind; if anything, y'know, crops up."

"Then let's hope it don't." Gabrielle being as cold and mean as the situation demanded. "If we drive fast we ought t'make it home before midnight. Good luck!"


The poky office at Gatch's Point, Lake Seclusion, in the southern flat area of the Province, was a scene of discontent as Gabrielle let her inner feelings taste the cold sharp air of freedom.

"This dam' Government contract's all very well but—"

"We work for the Government, remember."

"Yeah-yeah, I know; but there are limits!" Gabrielle refusing to be soothed. "These are dam' weapons of death—or, at least they will be if the scientists can get 'em t'work properly. Goes against my principles; I mean, all that effort we both put in during the War, flyin' all over Europe dropping bombs on everyone an' their sainted Aunts! Now, in my latter years, I was hopin' for some peace an' quiet; not bolstering the efforts to bring on the next dam' conflict!"

Claire, well used to her partner's pacifist tendencies, shrugged unconcernedly.

"We ain't the ones'll be firing the dam' things, after all."

"That don't help one iota, an' you dam' well know that, sis."

"OK-OK! Look, let's change the subject, OK?" Claire having had far more than her daily ration allowed. "What about that haulage down t'Regina t'morrow?"

Gabrielle looked up with a frown from stirring her coffee.

"What about it? Helen's takin' it, ain't she?"

"Yeah, but I just wondered—"

"Don't, then!" Gabrielle being officious for once. "Wonderin' never got anyone anywhere; jus' let Helen do her thing with the dam cargo t'morrow an' it'll all work itself out smooth an' fair, you'll see. What I've got t'worry about is these dam' missiles. Ain't there anythin' we can do t'get out'ta the contract?"

"All down t'security." Claire shaking her head. "They need their contractors to be at the head of the line in that area, which means us. SEC-2B back in London have passed us for inclusion in this set-up, so we're f-cked, babe."


"According to our schedule, here, the next missile run'll be a month from now." Claire consulting a sheet of paper on the desk before her. "Unless the scientists muck-up again, scatterin' debris across half Saskatchewan."

Gabrielle snorted meaningfully.

"Very likely! Is it true of ten launches so far only three were successful? Those actually reaching the drop zone a hundred miles west?"

"So I've heard." Claire nodding agreement. "I hear they, the scientists, film each launch, but I haven't seen any playbacks yet."

Gabrielle was dubious.

"Probably never will, dear. They'll most likely keep such secret for the next forty years or so."

"Well, no skin off my nose; I'd sooner watch Barbara Stanwyck in a movie any day than some puerile missile misfiring on the launchpad."

"It'll take the best part of the month, anyway, t'repair the rear axle of the eight ton truck," Gabrielle reverting to the drama of the previous day. "Slidin' in'ta that ditch didn't do it any good at all."

"Yeah, another expence!" Claire ruefully thinking of the company accounts.

"We gon'na get the repairs on expences?" Gabrielle almost reading her lover's mind.

Claire looked up with determination writ large on her forehead.

"I'm puttin' in a chitty for same, sure; an' if it kicks back I'll have something t'say in reply that'll make the red-hot line t'London hotter than Hell, believe me!"

"That-a-girl!" Gabrielle smiling broadly. "You show 'em! Don't worry, I'll back you up all the way; from a safe distance in the rear, of course."

"Very funny." Claire already on her feet, armed with a reply that held no recourse. "I'm just about t'make mornin' coffee, an' there're only two of those cookies with the pink icing left in the jar. What makes you think you're gon'na get one, babe?"

"Oh, come on! You wouldn't?" Gabrielle giving her lover an appalled look. "I mean, you wouldn't?"

"Watch me, baby!"



As missiles the Hermes I and II models only just managed to meet the necessary criteria, being rather smaller than otherwise; they being meant to be air-fired missiles when in use and, thankfully, not meant to carry nuclear warheads. Which didn't make them any the more less lethal, especially when they were turning out to be so difficult to control in their prototype form. Three weeks after their last journey Claire and Gabrielle found themselves in two large White flatbed trucks transporting six more of the devices to their secret destination—TOA now around 1 hour and the forested road encroaching and difficult to traverse; the intercom between the trucks hot and snappy with invective and expletives.

"More dam' potholes than a Gruyère cheese!"

"Gruyère doesn't have holes." Claire replying via her radio.

"Whatever, then." Gabrielle not to be mollified by this minor hiccup. "Surprised neither of us has gone off the road so far!"

"Just keep it that way for the next twenty miles an' we'll be safe, babe."

"Do my best."

As if to make bad even badder the first of the roadblocks hove in sight in the distance; red and white barrier pole down and a group of soldiers lined-up across the road in readiness for the coming fray.

"Here we go again." Gabrielle up for it like a hero.

The Lieutenant in charge, a different one from their previous meetings, was obviously determined to go by the book and nothing else—including basic common-sense.

"Ya got the yellow Compliance Certificate; need one fer both o'ya."

Gabrielle, standing by the front axle of her truck alongside Claire, glanced at her companion.

"Compliance Certificate, never heard of it. You, babe?"

"Nah, me neither." Claire showing little interest. "When'd this come in'ta play, buster? Anyway, we ain't got 'em."

The officer glanced at the women in a manner expressing less than confidence.

"Ya ain't got the Certificates, ya don't get past this barrier. Ya try anything funny we shoot t'kill, so there!"

Claire, from long experience, tried soothing the savage beast.

"Come on, Lieutenant; we got a secret cargo that's bein' expected every passin' minute by the lads in the white coats up at Staion Eighty-four. We don't get there there'll be questions asked in panelled rooms in Ottowa before the day's by; an' you'll be the first they come to looking for answers. You got a good answer, that'll keep your career on the mainline an' not shunt it in'ta a desk-job siding it'll never get out of again—just askin's all?"

Having given the soldier something personal to think about the outcome was a long pause while he went into the small office at the side of the road to telephone to Base for instructions. The result being, ten minutes later, the trucks carrrying-on through the road-block pursued by a glance from the Lieutenant that could curdle fresh milk but had no effect whatever on Claire or an openly triumphant Gabrielle.

Having been forewarned the remaining three road-blocks ostentatiously ignored the question of the yellow Compliance Certificates, focusing instead on the usual paperwork alone: again, the result being that just over half an hour later than they had planned Claire and Gabrielle finally rolled up to Staiuon 84 where the Main Gate had long-held instructions to let them through without comment. Five minutes later the women stood in the Head Scientist's office listening to Doctor Harold Kurchner on his latest mental burden.

"I think we may well be on our last legs here, ladies. Just giving you the latest scuttlebutt, as it were. I've had Reports from Ottawa dealing with our work here that state the bods in the Capitol are far from happy with our reports. To put it categorically we may well be on the stony path to being closed down in the horribly near future. Just so you know."

Claire raised an interested eyebrow.

"Bods not happy with your fail-success rate?"

"Not by a long way, I'm afraid."

"What is your rate of failure, if I may ask?" Gabrielle hungry for facts, like a real-life Mrs Gradgrind.

"Well, it's more or less secret but—" Kurchner shaking his head. "frankly, of fifteen firings twelve have gone wrong. To put it bluntly the Hermes, as a practical missile, fails across the board."

"Oh, dear."

Kurchner in response shrugged silently.

"So this might be our last hurrah?" Gabrielle taking the clear message to heart.

"Wouldn't be surprised, yes." Kurchner admitting the fact. "I fancy the Station's days are numbered, certainly."

Later that night, just after midnight, the women lay in their bunks in their private barrack listening to the usual frantic comings and goings related to yet another launch sequence being underway out at the pad.

"Bet it gets about a hundred feet in the air before it goes AWOL an' nose-dives in'ta the forest."

Claire sighed sadly.

"Always the optimist, baby? Give 'em the benefit of the doubt—with these new models meb'be they'll have better luck."

"Wait an' see, lover!" Gabrielle confident in her position. "Any minute now."

It was in fact just over half an hour later that the distant night sky was lit by a flickering orange flame; but instead of it focusing into a steady light as the rocket flew high in the air there was instead a continued flickering light intermittently highlighting the tops of the forest trees on the outskirts of the Station before there was a final immense brilliant flare accompanied by a roaring explosion and encroaching darkness as the light failed. This also accompanied by a tremor in the ground almost as if an earthquake was in progress.

"Sh-t!" Gabrielle leaping out of bed and grabbing her clothes. "That was terminal!"

"Pretty much, yeah." Claire following in the footsteps of her partner. "Let's get out there an' see what the f-ck's happened!"


Doctor Kurchner, having been argued into the decision to allow them access, now stood on the edge of the launch pad accompanied by Claire and Gabrielle all three staring at the surrounding destruction. The area of the launch pad was a wide circle around five hundred yards in radius, covered in concrete in the middle of which the heavy military trucks carrying the firing equipment for the missiles were placed. But now, after the event, instead of such a truck there was instead a large blackened patch covered and surrounded by pieces of wreckage simply denoting the remains of one of these trucks. On the edges of the area some of the surrounding forest trees lay on the ground, obviously newly fallen by flying shrapnel. All round a number of crew and scientists stood in varying stages of shock.

"Anyone hurt?" Gabrielle looking round for victims.

"No," Kurchner shaking his head. "From the initial reports it seems no-one was in the truck, unmanned y'know, and everyone else was in the bunkers."

"Just as well." Claire nodding in reply. "All this destruction down to one of those missiles? Seems excessive t'me."

"No." Kurchner on clear ground with this. "We were trying a different method tonight; were going to fire all four missiles in the launcher together in sequence for the first time. Didn't quite work out as we wished, apparently."

"Yeah, would've taken at least that number to effect all this mess." Gabrielle looking round with an air of experience. "If it'd been in the War I'd have said a five hundred pounder, judging by the crater in the middle there and the wreckage all round!"

"What does this mean for the Station, Doctor?" Claire staring at the man with interest.

"Have t'wait an' see, I suppose." Kurchner sounding less than positive.

"If I was you," Gabrielle having the answer to hand. "I'd start packing my suitcase t'night, Doctor. This place's just a bed an' breakfast establishment now an' it's just run out'ta breakfasts, my opinion. It's been fine knowing you."

"Oh, dear!"


Gatch's Point, Lake Seclusion, a week later, was a haven of peace and quiet; a seaplane sat on the water by the low jetty, the Hudson aircraft sat on the concrete of the nearby runway, in the small hangar the Norduyn Norseman was undergoing repair at the hands of the trusty Helen. To one side two large trucks awaited their next cargo while, in the small accompanying one-room office, the owners of the Atalanta Haulage company were discussing their present circumstances.

"Well, that's that Government contract gone down the Swanee."



"Up the Swanee, that's the metaphor." Claire determined to be pedantic.

Gabrielle frowned uncertainly.

"Y'sure? Doesn't sound right t'me."

"Well, it is, so there."

"Oh, if you say so, dear." Gabrielle off-handedly sounding like someone soothing a pernicky child.

Claire merely sighed in return, being well used to her lover's sometimes curious logical gymnastics.

"The Government, back in Ottawa, have a mighty conservative manner of giving one the heave-ho, judgin' by the letter they sent us."

Gabrielle agreed, holding the offending missive in her hand.

"Yeah, full o'legalese even a lawyer'd have trouble decoding. But comes t'the same result in the end—sayonara, goodbye, au revoir, auf wiedersehn, an' kindly get lost; our services no longer required—"

"Till the next time."


"Till the next time, when our services'll be of paramount necessity t'them." Claire looking into the all too likely future. "Some minor Department in the Corridors of Power in Ottowa'll suddenly find that we represent the only useful tool in their armoury, an' so send us on some other impossible mission only a retarded circus clown'd think was viable!"

Gabrielle thought about this possibility for a few seconds.

"Yeah, more'n likely. Iirrph—wan'na go over t'the hangar, see how Helen's gettin' on with the Norseman?"

"Sounds good." Claire rising from her chair. "Whatever's wrong with the dam' machine can't be worse than taking missiles to a God-forsaken desolate site in the middle of nowhere just to have them fall on our own heads. Y'know, baby, I think rocket scientists, contrary to public opinion, are some of the most idiotic members of society ever allowed to walk an' talk an' chew gum at the same time; just my opinion."

An hour later, all three women, covered in grease, oil, and accumulated grit and dirt, were draped over varying parts of the massive Norseman aircraft trying to do three things at once and more or less failing in their concerted efforts when Claire stopped banging a pipe with the wrench in her hand to cock an ear to the outside environment.

"Hey, gals! Stop makin' all that racket for a while will ya? Thanks."

"What's up?" Gabrielle sticking her head out the cockpit window.

"Think the office phone's ringing."

Gabrielle had the answer to this at her fingertips.

"Well, go an' answer it, then."

Claire gave her heartmate a glance full of sorrow and regret, which she already knew would have not the least effect, before turning to head for the office as commanded.

"Yeah, what?"

The telephone buzzed excitedly for a minute before falling silent again.

"Are ya sure?" Claire hardly impressed with the incoming message. "Is this a memo, a request, or an order? Oh, the latter! Ya sure? Only lookin' for clarity, don't get stroppy! Yeah, I hear; yeah, I know that too. Look buster, don't try to tell me how t'do my job, I already know; probably been at this sort'a thing from before you were born, laddie. Yeah, I meant it t'be mutinous an' liable to a court-martial; just try same mate, an' see how long your career lasts afterwards, sonny. Yeah, I heard: tell ya what, me an' my partner'll think about the thing for a while, give your Department our answer in a few days, OK? Oh, you want a reply in the next hour? Listen, you jumped-up jackanapes, I don't give a dam' what you want, we here at Atalanta Haulage work out of London, England; you wan'na have an argument with my Higher Authorities you need to phone Department SEC-Two B, see what sort'a answer y'get from them, sonny. G'bye, I got important things t'do a'whiles."

The stroll back to the hangar was just long enough for Claire to recover most of her temper before having to fill her companions in on the content of her phonecall.

"The bods in Ottowa want us to act as security for a Senator goin' on a political safari in Saskatchewan?" Gabrielle hardly believing of what she had just heard. "That's a come down. Hope y'told them where t'stick it?"

"Tried, but they brought up, oh, y'know, contracts, agreements, an' suchlike; had t'agree in the long run."


"Yes, quite." Claire accepting the inevitable. "Helen, looks like you'll need to bring the Norseman back t'life on your own from tomorrow."

"Story of my life, gals; best of luck with the Senator."


The End

Another 'Atalanta Haulage' story will arrive shortly.