Date: April 8th, 1973
Location: Kennedy Space Center, USA
The huge gleaming Saturn V rocket sat on the launchpad which dominated the skyline.
In Mission Control, images of the vehicle were relayed to monitors and screens being observed by the control staff.
The rocket was almost ready for liftoff. The three astronauts were already in the command module high atop the launch vehicle and in less than 30 minutes they would be bound for the Moon on a very special mission. Establishing a permanent lunar outpost had always been a distant dream, but with Apollo 18 it was set to take another giant leap forward.
But at least one person didn’t want to see the mission succeed.
A few miles from the launch complex, at the edge of a highway, Father Stanley Unwin sat on a striped deck-chair beside his car amid an excited crowd of onlookers waiting for the big moment.
He knew better than anyone that time was running short to prevent the sabotage attempt. But he could never hope to get past the tight security cordon around the perimeter.
Thankfully, Matthew’s current stature had made the task easier. Unwin’s trusty field agent had once again been miniaturised to approximately one third human size thanks to the late Professor Humbert’s remarkable Minimiser gadget.
The Bishop himself had briefed the pair on their assignment before they left for the States. Initially Father Unwin had questioned why B.I.S.H.O.P. was being used on a mission that appeared to be outside their usual jurisdiction. The Bishop explained that there were ‘certain factors’ that made Unwin’s intervention a necessity. The launch had to be safeguarded, but at all costs he should remain strictly incognito.
Shortly after the briefing the pair left on their transatlantic flight from London. They landed at Orlando Jetport at McCoy before picking up a hire car and proceeding to their hotel, where the fine details of the operation were planned.
Matthew would be minimised, then stow away inside a routine delivery truck due at the launch complex the morning before the scheduled launch. It would be tight for time, but there was no option. Security precautions made it impossible for Unwin to provide assistance on site and he had grudgingly accepted that his role on this assignment would be surveillance, moral support and, if necessary, a fast getaway.
And so the plan progressed. Matthew made it inside the perimeter of the launch site after stowing aboard the delivery truck and was able to have a good look around thanks to his reduced size.
But as the hours passed he found nothing to indicate a sabotage attempt. Apollo 18 appeared to be safe.
Until just after dawn, three hours before the scheduled launch time. That’s when it happened.
Matthew was having a last look around when from his concealed position behind some equipment, he saw a man enter the room and proceed to the restricted area. The man had been wearing the uniform of a security officer, but his face had been unmistakable.
It was Blake. Agent Blake, another operative from B.I.S.H.O.P!
What on Earth was he doing there? Matthew had no idea, but The Bishop had said nothing about Blake’s involvement on the assignment.
Matthew reported to Father Unwin via his miniature transmitter.
“Get after him, Matthew!” Unwin’s voice was urgent, “This could be exactly what we’ve been looking for!”
Keeping to the shadows and doorways, Matthew followed Blake as the corridor led outside to a waiting jeep.
Blake jumped into the driver’s seat and set off across the concrete apron towards the distant launch pad. He didn’t notice the small figure of Matthew take a flying leap onto the rear bumper as the vehicle pulled away.
Arriving at the huge mobile launch platform under the towering rocket, Blake got out of the jeep and strolled purposefully towards the metal stairway at the base of the assembly.
Matthew watched from the rear of the jeep, but could seen nothing after Blake went inside at the top of the stairway.
A few moments later, Blake reappeared and came back to the jeep. He got in, started the engine and left, heading back to the control building.
If he had looked in his driving mirror, he might have seen the small indistinct shape of a man receding in the dust from his wheels.
As the jeep moved into the distance, Matthew looked up at the mobile launch platform. Even if he had been at his normal size, it would have been enormous. At his current stature it was impossibly gigantic.
He rushed to the steps of the metal stairway and started to climb slowly. Each step felt more like using a pull-up bar than climbing a set of stairs and he was acutely aware that a slip would mean more than just a few bruises.
Once he finally got inside, he was able to locate the object he knew must have been planted by Blake. A small box-shaped affair with an antenna sticking out of it.
He didn’t know if it was a bomb, or a radio-controlled device for some nefarious purpose, but one thing was for sure; it wasn’t supposed to be there.
Matthew didn’t spend too long wondering what sort of game Blake was playing, or why. He knew that his priority was to remove the device and fast.
Already an hour had passed since he had first spotted Blake. That meant only two more to go until the rocket blasted off.
He had to hurry.
Briefing Father Unwin, Matthew began the task of hauling the device from its hiding spot.
An hour and forty-five minutes later Father Unwin was getting worried.
Matthew still hadn’t reported in. What had happened to him?
There were only fifteen minutes until launch. Should he try to bluff his way inside? Stop the launch?
No, that would be futile. Whatever was going to happen, he must have faith that Matthew would come through.
Ten minutes to go.
Then, with a burst of static, Matthew’s voice came through on Father Unwin’s earpiece.
“Father Unwin! There’s no time to explain! Blake’s getting away! You must get to the main entrance and stop him!”
Father Unwin didn’t hesitate. He jumped into the hire car, threw it into drive and pulled out onto the highway, zooming along to the entrance of the Space Center.
He arrived just as a bright red convertible pulled out of the gate. There was a lone figure at the wheel and Father Unwin recognised him at once. It was Blake.
Before the convertible had a chance to get up to full speed, Father Unwin overtook it and pulled in sharply in front before slamming on his brakes.
There was a crash of metal on metal and tinkling of broken glass as the convertible smashed into the rear of Unwin’s car.
Blake got out of his vehicle, with an irate look on his face.
“Hey buddy! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Well, it looked like Blake, but it certainly didn’t sound like him.
In other circumstances, Father Unwin might have been tempted to spout some gobbledygook to baffle the man. But there was no need. Instead, he simply spoke in a quiet voice.
“I’m afraid the game is over, my friend. I shouldn’t put up a fight, this gadget puts the odds squarely in my favour.”
He drew an odd gun-shaped object from the glove compartment and aimed it casually at the man.
“What are you talkin’ about? What’s that thing?”
“As I said, the game is over.”
As he spoke, there was a distant roar and a brilliant flash of light. Then the Saturn V rocket blasted off the pad and hurled itself into the cloudless deep blue atmosphere. Both men watched until the roar had faded to a quiet grumble and the glare of the exhaust flame was a pin-prick in the sky.
“Your plan, whatever it might have been, has failed. As for this,” he indicated the device, “It’s a gift from an old friend. Quite harmless in the long run, but it’ll send you off to sleep in seconds if you decide to be difficult. Now, if you’d be so kind as to remove your mask.”
The man stared at him.
Unwin steadied the stun-gun, “If that’s how you wish to act, then you leave me no choice.”
“Alright! Alright!” the man said.
Slowly he raised his hands, taking hold of either side of his chin. Then, with one clean motion, he pulled the skin upwards.
The mask came away from his face. The man who moments before had been Agent Blake was now a completely different person.
“Very revealing,” Father Unwin remarked with a trace of irony.
Matthew’s voice sounded in his ear, “Father Unwin! I’ve just reached the main gate, have you got Blake?”
“The situation is in hand, Matthew. It’s not Blake, but someone has taken great pains to make us believe it is. In vain, I’m relieved to say. You can rendezvous with us a little further along the highway.”
“Who are you talking to?” the impostor asked, baffled.
“A little voice in my head. Don’t trouble yourself about it. Now, in you get. We’re going for a little drive.”
A few days later, Father Unwin and Matthew were seated across the desk from The Bishop in his London office.
“After I’d dropped the blasted thing, I lost radio contact with Father Unwin and realised it was some sort of jamming device, not an explosive, so I managed to put it out of action.”
“But Matthew’s transmitter had been damaged and he couldn’t contact me until just before the launch. Thankfully when he managed to get closer, the signal was able to get through in time to alert me to the impostor’s movements.”
The Bishop nodded, “A rather notorious fellow. We know him by the alias ‘The Faceless Man’, but his true identity is something of a mystery. However, we had managed to gain intelligence that he had taken the identity of Agent Blake. You can imagine how badly things might have gone if such an important space mission had apparently been sabotaged by an agent of B.I.S.H.O.P.”
Unwin nodded, “Far from an ideal situation, I’m sure.”
The Bishop sat back in his chair and clasped his hands together, “Well gentlemen, once again I offer my thanks and congratulations on a job well done. Any idea how you’ll be spending your time before your next assignment?”
Matthew grinned broadly, “As a matter of fact, Bishop, Father Unwin’s had me sewing lettuce in the vicarage vegetable patch. I’m happy to report we’ve now got a bumper crop of rocket.”