The Other Brigadier.
Brigadier George LeForth waited while Major-General Newlee finished his telephone call, and looked over the senior officer's desk. On the corner closest to him, in front of a stack of files, were a couple of model tanks; a British Centurion along with a Swedish 'S' tank.
"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, George," Newlee told him after finishing the call. "But I had to take it. We need to take you away from the Cybersecurity team for hopefully just a few weeks, for something just as much up your street."
"Oh, does it involve going somewhere exotic, sir?"
Newlee laughed. "I'm sorry, you'll be staying right here in London for this one. It does involve something special, though."
"Yes. I seem to remember that you have read quite a bit of science fiction."
"I still do."
"That's good, it will make it easier to take in some of the things you will be dealing with. We are putting you in charge of a small team planning for what might be described 'unusual threats' to the United Kingdom -this file will give you your briefing." As Newlee said this he handed George a folder. "I'll introduce you to your team tomorrow afternoon but you will need to attend the Met's Special Assessment Unit to be made 'Falcon' aware in the morning."
"I've not heard of Falcon before."
"No, very few people have. It covers all aspects of magic."
"Magic?" George said after a pause. "Are you serious?"
"Yes, very much so." Newlee said as he passed a slim red file to George. "This will give you an appreciation, I'll need it back before you leave this evening. You will be meeting DCI Nightingale at the SAU in Russell Square; he is the last official practitioner in the country although he has an apprentice. He is opposed to the military use of magic but he has agreed to give you a briefing."
"Should I wear 'civvies'?"
"Yes, I think that would be in order. A Regimental tie might be appropriate."
George sat and read through the red file. Its title -'Briefing notes on FALCON'- and security classification 'Top Secret/Cosmic' made it sound like a new weapon or a military operation. In fact it gave an overview of the Special Assessment Unit and its head, DCI Thomas Nightingale, along with his 'apprentice' Peter Grant.
The following morning George dressed in a smart grey pinstripe suit, a white shirt and his blue MOD tie, and then put the folder of briefing notes into his canvas shoulder-bag along with his work smartphone and a few other odds and ends. As he used the Underground to get to the Main Building he normally wore civilian clothes and changed into uniform when he arrived, but today he travelled on to Russell Square. It was a short walk to the building known as 'The Folly' and he self-consciously adjusted his tie before ringing the doorbell. The door was opened straight away by a tall, elegant, grey-haired man wearing a smart three-piece suit.
"Good morning; you must be Brigadier LeForth." He said.
"I am indeed, sir." replied George as he shook the proffered hand.
"I am Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale, do come in."
George followed Nightingale into the building and when they came to a central atrium Nightingale introduced him to the two people standing there.
"Brigadier, this is my assistant Detective Constable Grant, and our housekeeper Molly."
"Good morning." George said to both of them. He took in the incongruous trio's appearance; an immaculately dressed elegant man about six foot tall appearing to be in his late forties, a casually dressed young man of Afro-European background who was slightly taller, and a slender woman perhaps in her thirties or forties, wearing an Edwardian maid's dress with long black hair half-way down to her waist.
"Brigadier, would you care for some tea?"
"Yes please, that would be very nice."
"Molly, would you please make some tea for us."
Molly nodded, and silently glided out to her kitchen.
"Brigadier, do take a seat."
"Thank you, sir."
"Is that a Combined Operations tie you are wearing?"
"No, it is the old 'informal' Ministry of Defence emblem."
Thomas took off his jacket and sat on the small sofa, leaving the two armchairs to Peter and George, before speaking.
"Now, magic has been around for a very long time but the first person to really study the field and codify it was Sir Isaac Newton. All of our current spells originate from his work but, as Peter here has done, existing spells can be combined in various ways to produce different effects."
"I take it that they can be harmful?"
"Oh yes, an impello can be used to push hard or to hit with a blow, and a fireball is just as it sounds; I have rendered a Tiger tank a wreck with one." Nightingale then gave George a history of magic, although he avoided his involvement in the Second World War.
"Would it be out of place to ask for a demonstration -to move some objects for me?" George asked.
"Not at all -ah, here is our tea."
Molly had appeared as if out of nowhere with a tray. She placed cups in front of the three men along with some slices of cake.
"Thank you, Molly." George said. "Ah, some Battenburg, that looks very tempting."
Molly just nodded and left the room, her black dress swishing behind her.
"What objects did you have in mind?" Nightingale asked.
"These." George said as he took a selection of large dice from his bag, all of them 30mm across.
Nightingale looked at the dice and picked one up. "Hmm, steel. I think Peter and I can give you a demonstration. Do you have anything electronic with you?"
"I have my mobile and my work smartphone but they are both switched off."
"You'll need to remove the batteries, magic has nasty effects on solid state electronics that are powered up. Oh, what about your watch?"
"My watch is an old Seiko mechanical self-winder -no batteries to run out at an inconvenient time." George replied with a smile as he removed the battery from his smartphone he then produced his penknife; selecting the large screwdriver he opened the back of his small yellow-and-black mobile. Peter raised his eyebrows at this before he noticed the rubber seal around the battery cover.
"Ah, Peter and I both have mechanical watches for this very reason."
Nightingale then lined the dice up at one end of a long wooden table and gestured for Peter to stand at the other end.
"This will be a slightly complex impello, Brigadier, to handle the dice together without jostling them. Are you ready, Peter?"
The line of dice slid along the table and dipped slightly as they passed off the end, before they rose under Peter's control, and gracefully described a slow parabola back to Nightingale. He held them in the air for a moment, "Catch, Brigadier." before passing them one-by-one to George. George was able to catch each one and place them in turn on the coffee table.
"Was that an adequate demonstration, Brigadier?" Nightingale asked.
"Very much so, thank you. Actually the dice are of different materials although almost the same weights, so I know you haven't used magnets."
"What are they made of, Brigadier?" Peter asked.
"Well, this one is polished granite, this one is foil-lined wood with a lead core, and these two are aluminium with off centre lead cores. Try rolling them, they are distinctly biased!"
Peter and Nightingale both tried and were soon reduced to laughter by the dice's behaviour.
"I must remember not to play dice games with you, Brigadier!"
"Call me George, please. You warned me that magic can damage electronic equipment, what sort of distance is this over; I mean inches, feet, yards...chains?"
"Well, it does depend on the power of the spell, but I don't think it would affect anything a chain distant. Peter here has been doing some research into these effects."
"Er, how long is a chain?" Peter asked.
"Twenty two-feet or about seven metres," George told him, "Ten chains to a furlong, eight furlongs to a mile.
"Yes, there wouldn't be much effect at that distance. Of course it depends on the strength of the spell as well as what the equipment is made of; integrated circuits suffer more damage than discrete components, and valves seem unaffected." Peter told him.
"That is interesting, it sounds like a mini EMP then -an electro-magnetic pulse. I think it deserves further investigation."
"It only affects equipment that is powered up." Peter added.
"Well, we would be happy to assist you. Now, would you care to see a fireball or two?" Nightingale asked.
"Yes, I would," George replied, "But surely not in here."
"No, we have a suitable room downstairs; follow me."
George followed Nightingale and Peter down to their firing range and watched as each in turn cast a fireball at a target; after the second one, Peter used his 'party trick' water bomb to extinguish the burning embers of the target.
"Very impressive. I like the water bomb, that would be very useful for stopping someone in their tracks without the risk of injuring them. Are you able to control the size of the fireballs? I suppose I am asking if there are standard sizes." George said, and after a pause he continued, "Is it just me or is there a scent of sandalwood? I thought I smelt it earlier upstairs."
"There are often smells or sensations connected with spell casting or their casters but normally only practitioners can sense them." Nightingale told him. "Fireballs of various sizes can be created but there isn't the equivalent of, say, a 'number 3' fireball. Has this demonstration been of help to you?"
"Yes it has. I understand your reticence to get involved with the military; from my point of view we just need to understand the possible threats to the United Kingdom and work out ways of protecting the population."
"You know about Ettesburg and the Black Archive then?" Nightingale started to walk back to the Atrium and George followed him.
"Only that its retrieval was done at a great cost of life. I understand you have the Archive in a secure place.
"I do, Nightingale replied. He stopped and turned to face George, his face and voice becoming stern. "But I will not let you or anyone else see it."
"My apologies, sir. I am not seeking access to it, I am just surprised you didn't destroy it given its background." George said as they started to walk back to the atrium.
Nightingale's expression softened. "Unfortunately the documents themselves have themselves become magic in an unpleasant way, and trying to destroy them would have serious...shall we say 'fall-out'".
"I see. I am put in mind of the scene at the end of the first Indiana Jones film where the Ark is being wheeled into a vast repository, with the implication that no-one will ever find it." The two men stopped in the corridor.
"Yes, that is a good metaphor. The Germans had followed up the work that the Vikings had done, harnessing the power of a dying animal to 'power' a booby trap, except they used human beings."
"The horrors of man's inhumanity to man." George said. He paused for a moment before continuing. "I have seen film of the nerve gas tests they carried out on concentration camp inmates." They looked at each other contemplating the horrors of the concentration camps, before completing their return.
By the time they had reached the atrium Molly had refilled the tea cups. As they sat down Nightingale continued, "You should also know that there are two other sorts of occupants of this country that have abilities in the magical field. First are the Fae who are not really human; they keep largely to themselves and will not normally interfere with us, but there are also the Genius Loci, they are the spirits associated with natural things; for example there are two for the river Thames. Father Thames gets his power from the river above Teddington weir and Ma Thames below. They have normal human form and do interact with our world and deserve our respect."
George drank some of his tea before replying. "There is a small stream at the bottom of my garden which flows into the Thames. I feel even more glad now that I regularly fish rubbish out of it!"
"If it has a Genius Loci then it will appreciate your actions, but I can't promise it will necessarily have noticed."
"Can anyone learn how to cast spells or does it take an innate ability?"
"Well some people take to it better, there were practitioners in my family but young Peter has none, he has just learnt from my teaching."
"I see, thank you for taking the time to explain this to me. I might need to contact you, could you you let me have your phone numbers?"
"Yes of course." Nightingale fished a business card out of his waistcoat pocket. "You can use either of our mobile numbers; if you want to use e-mail then I would suggest you use Peter's as he is always checking it."
Peter watched George put the batteries back in his phones. "Is your phone something special? It looks as if it is made by JCB."
"Sort of, it is a rugged phone but a cheap version I picked up in an Aldi store; it is supposed to be waterproof and shock resistant and it has certainly survived me handling it roughly for four years." He turned back to Nightingale, "Could you thank Molly for the excellent Battenburg, I've never tasted one with such delicate lemon and cherry sponge before!"
"I will certainly pass on your thanks, she does like her cooking to be appreciated."
After George had left Nightingale turned to Peter. "Could you spend a little time to see if you can produce one or more standard sizes of fireball for the Brigadier, I suspect he will want to test the effects on electronic equipment. We must make sure he gives you a copy of any results if he does so, it will probably help in the research you are doing."
"I will. Did he sense your signare? I thought only practitioners could do that, or someone with their own magic."
"Now that, Peter, is an interesting question. It may be that he can sense magic users in the same way that the Genius Loci can, as you know with the friendly chats you have had with Lady Ty. I think I shall investigate his background, he may turn out to be a natural."
George went back to Main Building to report to Major-General Newlee, and be introduced to his staff, in one of the secure meeting rooms.
"This is Colonel Whyte, Group-Captain Thwaites, Commander Miller, Major Watson and last but not least, Corporal Percival."
George then gave them a run-down of what had happened at the Folly, Newlee knew what to expect but the others were incredulous, even when George displayed the dice that had flown in front his own eyes.
"Did they wear pointy hats?" Corporal Percival asked.
"No, they did not," George said, trying not to laugh. "The DCI was even more smartly dressed than I was, and the Detective Constable was just how you'd expect a junior detective to dress."
"Was Molly still wearing her uniform?" Newlee asked.
"Yes, she was. They made an incongruous trio."
"Right, don't get bogged down with magic, you have many other possible threats to deal with. George, can you let me have an update every Friday lunchtime, and we can discuss when you are able to make a full report. Oh, yes, building services have allocated you bay thirteen on the third floor, and should have moved your desk pedestals round for you by now. Good luck!"
As he left the room he handed a small file of briefing notes to George.
The six of them then spent the next hour bouncing ideas off each other while they still had use of the room, from alien invasions to epidemics, from earthquakes and tsunamis to volcanic eruptions. When they reached the office section that had been set aside for them, they found that the building services team had contrived to make it secluded by the careful use of cabinets, bookcases and potted plants without making it obvious; an impressive task given that most of the floor was open-plan.
After their lunch break Commander Miller asked if anyone wanted a decent coffee.
"I certainly do," George told him,"“Café Fresco do a marvellous 'Black Tie' -it's Thai tea with a double espresso."
"Right, that's us two sorted. You three?"
The others told Miller what they wanted and he set off.
"Is there really a coffee called 'Black Tie?" Percival asked.
"Google it." George told him as he walked over to the Corporal's desk. Lowering his voice he continued, "When we do a coffee run order what you want, when it's your turn to get them one of us, probably me, will give you the money. I don't expect you to fund officers' coffee drinking on your Corporal's pay."
When Miller returned with the coffees he told the team that Café Fresco were offering a small discount for those turning up with re-usable cups.
"Well," George said, "I am obliged to support such ecologically friendly moves; I'll have to find a suitable cup and bring it in tomorrow." He saw the look of concern on Corporal Percival's face and stroked the side of his nose; Percival caught the sign and nodded an acknowledgement.
That evening he looked for a pair of of mugs but in fact found three, and put them ready for the morning before settling down to read the notes he had been given about Major Watson and his PTSD.
The following day he waited for Percival's 'Good Morning, Sir' before telling him to come to his desk. 2I looked out for a coffee mug last night and I also found this -would you like it?" George held the cup up, and Percival broke into a broad grin.
"Thank-you, sir. I shall treasure it!" He showed it to the others. "I'm Captain Scarlet!"
As the officers laughed George turned to his colonel, "And I have the ideal mug for you."
Andrew took it from George and grinned, "Colonel White -perfect."
"I'm sorry I couldn't find any for either of you." he said to the others.
"Did they ever make mugs with any of the Angels?" Thwaites asked.
"They must have done."
"I'll have to find myself a 'Rhapsody'."
"What's your mug?" Andrew asked him.
"Something very different." George replied holding it up.
"Mornington Crescent?" Miller said.
"Are you a player, sir?" Percival asked.
"Yes," George replied, "I was Aldershot champion in 1993."
The four officers looked bemused at this.
George's team had finished a morning conference in one of the break-out areas, and had just returned to their desks when the normal quiet was broken by the crash of a stack of boxes falling from a trolley. With a partly-suppressed yelp Major Watson hurled himself under his desk.
George waited for a moment before speaking. "Roll call -Whyte?"
"Everyone's okay, all clear."
Watson got up and returned to his chair, and the others continued their work as if nothing untoward had happened.
Later George sent an e-mail to a lady on the first floor asking for an exercise reference and a weapon code, giving details of a spurious magnetic flux device. About five minutes later he had a reply, 'Deep Gully' and 'MH577'.
"Right, listen up chaps, we are going to need some electronic devices to use in a destructive test. It doesn't matter what they are, they just need to be powered on and testable so we can see what has happened to them, and we'll need quite a lot. Can you all use your contacts to see what you can get. If anyone wants to know what it is for, tell them it is a for a test of MH577."
While the four officers set to work Corporal Percival spoke out.
"Boss, I heard the Comms guys complaining that they have a load of Blackberries that are going to have to be securely destroyed as they can't be used any more but have had classified data on them."
"That is exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for. Can you find out if they are still around, we might be able to save them some money."
"Yes Boss." Percival said as he left his desk.
It turned out that there were over a hundred Blackberries which were to be disposed of, and the Comms team at Main Building were able to provide limited functionality SIMs for them so that the Blackberries would be capable of being 'live' during the test.
Group Captain Thwaites came up with some out-of-life electronic modules for the Rapier missile, these would need a low voltage supply if they needed to be 'live'. George told Thwaites to get the details of the power that would be needed. Once he had these details he spoke to his contacts at the experimental range at Shoeburyness and arranged for some buildings to be made available. Once the Blackberries and the Rapier modules were ready they were shipped out and set up in an arrangement that had been drawn up by George.
George e-mailed Peter Grant to ask if he would be available to conduct some tests on the electronic equipment at the experimental range at Shoeburyness, and suggested some dates. Peter replied in the afternoon to say that Nightingale was very happy for him to assist with the tests and they agreed a date.
"I'll sort out train tickets, we'll need to go from Fenchurch Street; will it be okay to meet you at the Folly at oh-nine hundred?"
"That's fine by me." Peter replied.
"We'll be in smart civvies, can you manage a jacket and tie?"
"Yes, of course."
During the afternoon before the trial George told Corporal Percival that he would be coming.
"Take this form down to stores and get coveralls for both of us along with a holdall; on the way back can you pick up an empty box of printer paper. Bring sandwiches tomorrow, there may not be canteen facilities at the ranges."
That evening Nightingale and Peter discussed the Brigadier's proposed test.
"Just do as the Brigadier asks, I'm sure he will have taken steps to keep the fact that the trial involves the use of magic a secret."
"Have you found out anything about his background? Is he a natural, a man with a touch of the old Palladino?"
Nightingale smiled, remembering Peter's account of the the ghost of Nicholas Windrow at the Actors' church. "Nothing magical that I could see. He comes from good Sussex stock but there is nothing in his background, no genius loci and he's definitely not fae. He lives in Twickenham and his house backs onto the river Crane."
"Morning, sir." Percival greeted George.
"Morning Percival; spic and span I see. Ready for our adventure?"
"I am, sir."
"You've got the coveralls in the holdall?"
"Good man." George turned to his Colonel, "Andrew, we'll have our phones on except for when the tests are being carried out. We should be back at Fenchurch by sixteen hundred." Turning back to Percival he continued, "Is your watch electronic?"
"Yes sir, it is."
"You had better leave it here, you don't want it ruined! Right, to Russell Square." George led Percival out of the building and they walked across to Embankment underground station. They met up with Peter at the Folly, and as he went to leave Molly suddenly appeared in front of him, holding out a bag. Peter took it from her and after they had left the building he told the two soldiers that it was his lunch.
"If she knows I'm going to be out all day she will make sandwiches; there is just no way of knowing what she will put in them. How are we getting to Shoeburyness?"
"Underground to Fenchurch and then the oh-nine fifty-one to Shoeburyness, it takes about an hour; I've got the tickets for all of us. I've arranged for a vehicle to collect us and take us out to the ranges. The most walking we'll have to do is from Tower Hill to Fenchurch Street."
After surviving the crowded Underground trains and then walking to the mainline station they found that they almost had the carriage to themselves, George remarked that although the trains were alternately a stopping service and a 'fast' train, they seemed to take almost exactly the same time. Percival said he thought it might be due to track occupancy as faster trains were often held up by slower trains in front of them.
Peter took the opportunity to check his sandwiches and found them to be an almost ordinary combination of sliced roast beef with fine slices of beetroot and a generous helping of horseradish sauce.
When they arrived at Shoeburyness station they found a corporal waiting for them and followed him to an old Landrover. The corporal drove them to the ranges; there was a moment of confusion at the gate until the guard realised that Peter was actually on his list and issued a visitors pass to him. The driver took them to one of the office buildings and they met the range safety officer as well as the admin staff. They confirmed that the arrays of circuit boards were ready with power supplies set up, some protected by RCDs but most with basic fuses, and had been set up in three separate buildings.
"Do we need to wait for any length of time after the test before we can enter the buildings?" The safety officer asked.
"That's your call Peter." George replied.
"There is no problem with you going in to a building as soon as we leave it. There will be no residual hazard." Peter said.
They went to the first building, a long brick structure with no windows and a light reinforced plastic roof. Once inside the three men quickly checked that both the Blackberries and the Rapier boards were powered up along with the USB memory sticks in the light that filtered through the translucent roof panels, and then stood to one side.
"What are the wooden uprights for?" Peter asked.
"They have been coated with heat and light sensitive paint; partly to measure the relative outputs of the fireballs' heat but also to help prove that it isn't thermal damage ruining the chips." George answered.
"Right then, make sure you have taken the batteries out of your mobiles." Peter told them.
Both men confirmed they had done so and Peter readied himself; he cast a fireball at the target in the centre of the array, which burst as a bright yellow flash.
"Great Scot!" Percival exclaimed.
After waiting a few moments they walked across to the target; the card square was burnt out and the cases of some of the nearer Blackberries had started to melt, the black plastic wrinkled and sagging. Their screens were blank and the units unreactive and this was repeated for up to several metres away from the target.
The three men then left and walked down to the next building. The scene inside was similar but the boards etc., were in a slightly different arrangement. After checking the power supplies Peter again cast a fireball.
"What would happen if one of those hit someone?" Percival asked as they left the building.
Peter stopped and looked at him, "Oh it would kill them," he said. "Inspector Nightingale taught me this spell earlier than he originally intended so that I can defend myself from a particularly nasty character called Martin Chorley."
They then continued towards the third building. The set-up was similar but this time Peter cast a strong werelight for a few seconds; the strong bluish-white light throwing the array of electronic devices into sharp relief.
After this they returned to the main office, the range staff provided tea and coffee and they talked of electromagnetic pulses and the sorts of damage they caused.
"The equipment we've just tested is still at an early stage," George told them. "It can be used by one man but requires a great deal of skill; the bigger problem is that it has limited range and does not appear to be capable of being scaled up."
George confirmed some details of the assessments for the report that was to be made, and after finishing their sandwiches they were driven back to the station.
On the return journey they had the carriage to themselves, and Peter recounted how he became an apprentice.
"I prefer the term 'apprentice practitioner', the word wizard puts everyone in mind of Harry Potter." He told them.
"I haven't experienced anything like that," George said, "I left school with three A levels, 'A's in Chemistry and Physics but only a 'C' in Maths so I ended up going to Portsmouth Polytechnic to study Chemistry. I got a first, though. Then I decided to join the Army and spent a year learning to be an officer."
"I thought you had a degree in computing." Percival said.
"That came later, the Army paid for me to study Computer Science with the Open University and I got another first."
"I must remember that next time Lady Ty reminds me she has a double first." Peter said.
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Last updated: 14th September 2019.