“Sir Roger de Lyons! Oscar winner, BAFTA fellowship, three Olivier awards, and a knighthood for your services to British theatre” the General entered the bunker with a smile of welcome. The octogenarian actor got to his feet and looked the uniformed man up and down.
“I suppose you want me to salute you, do you, darling?” A suggestive pout played on his famous lips.
The General stiffened. “That won’t be necessary.”
Sir Roger looked around the small grey room disparagingly. “Where’s this you’ve brought me to? Some underground club? I’ve played in some dives in my time, I can tell you. There was a time when this kind of thing was all the rage. Your more intimate kind of venue.”
The General cleared his throat. “You are correct about the underground part at least. We are three miles below the earth’s crust. Our defences are impenetrable. What I am about to tell you is classified information. Any disclosure on your part and you will be facing charges of treason.”
“I’ve had agents like you,” Sir Roger twinkled. “You don’t scare me, love.”
“It is not my aim to frighten you,” the General nodded to a subordinate, who activated a screen. “But what I’m about to show you just might.”
“I’ve heard that before, ducky!”
The screen showed outer space with a grid superimposed. “Here,” the General used a laser pointer, “is Planet Earth. Our moon. Mars… and here,” the image scrolled and scrolled and scrolled, “is the boundary of our galaxy.”
“Lovely at this time of year,” quipped Sir Roger.
The General’s eyes closed briefly as he summoned his last shred of patience. “We have intercepted a signal from beyond this boundary. It’s a message. I shall play it to you now.”
“Oh! And I have to guess who it is! Is that what’s going on? I bet it’s Dickie. Or Judi. It invariably is when I’m not available.”
“Sir Roger, this is not a game. Please, listen to the message and give us your analysis.”
“Alright, love; keep your shirt on.”
The General nodded again. The subordinate pressed Play.
The bunker was filled with a booming voice, the fruity tones of Sir Roger himself.
“…stout invasion! Be Mercury and set feathers to thy heels, and fly like thought from them to me again…”
Sir Roger mouthed along. “Why, that’s me!” he pressed a hand to his breastbone. “How gratifying! I thought you’d brought me here to do This Is Your Life again. I’ve done it twice already. Once with Eamonn and once with Michael. I don’t know who they’ve got to do it these days. Probably some perma-tanned twonk from one of those Essex programmes.”
He suppressed a shudder.
“And the message? How do you account for it?”
“Account for it? It’s Shakespeare, man. It’s a King John I did for Radio Four, yonks ago. Dickie was in it, too. And Judi. Where are they now?”
“So, it’s not a threat? That talk of a ‘stout invasion’?”
“Set it to music and bung in a dance number and it’s a triple threat I suppose!” Sir Roger laughed. “I can’t believe you’ve dragged me down here, all cloak and dagger, to play back some old radio thing nobody listened to in the first place. I’ve read about this kind of thing. All the broadcast material we’ve sent out, bouncing back at us. It’s not little green men at all.”
The General and the subordinate shared a look.
“We’ve explored that possibility. And discounted it. We firmly believe a hostile force is on its way to invade Mercury.”
“Let them,” Sir Roger shrugged extravagantly. “Dreadful place. No atmosphere.”
“They could set up a base there from which to observe and possibly attack Earth.”
“Everyone’s a critic, love.”
“Sir Roger, it pains me to say it, but the fate of humanity rests on your narrow shoulders. We are putting you in a craft on an interception course. You can communicate with these beings.”
He nodded to the subordinate, who pushed a button. Two military policemen arrived and escorted Sir Roger from the bunker.
“Well,” chuckled the general. “That’s got rid of that insufferable old ham.”
He peeled off his prosthetic nose. The subordinate took off his beret and shook out long blonde locks.
“Oh, Dickie!” laughed Judi, unbuttoning her uniform. “You were marvellous, darling.”
“You too, love,” Dickie wiggled his epaulettes. “You see, the Method can get you anywhere. All those months of masquerading as top level personnel have finally come to fruition. Now come over here and watch the lift-off.”
A launchpad appeared on the screen, shown from a distance. At the top of a crane, a tiny Sir Roger was being manhandled into a space shuttle.
“Want to pop to the Ivy after this? Drop of champers to celebrate?”
“Rather!” Dickie enthused. “But first, I want to make sure he’s gone.”