T H E B E A S T W I T H A M I L L I O N E Y E S
Written by Greg Kiss.
There he sat in his Chesterfield Captain’s Chair. He swirled his two thirds full glass of brandy clumsily and splashed a good mouthful of the amber liquid onto the smooth, worn oxblood leather. Gazing up at the stars through the high bay window once more he shuddered and cursed himself. “You’re a fucking moron Richard fucking Kiefs!” With a pronounced slur he continued hopelessly, “Interfering with something that you can’t even begin to fucking understand.”
The knock on his office door startled him. His assistant entered and advised him in her normal concise tone, “The Commander has regained consciousness sir and would like to see you to be briefed on events since -.” Her voice tailed off. She didn’t know what to call it. “His episode.”
“Episode?” asked Kiefs. “I suppose that’s as good a way as any to put it. Tell him I’ll be there in a half hour.” She turned and was just shutting the door behind her when he called out, “Miss Briggs! Has the Commander spoken about what happened before,” he too paused, “The episode?”
“He was interviewed officially in the hospital wing under the influence of Sodium Pentothal sir. He has no memory of the last 48 hours” confirmed Briggs.
“Good” said the General. “Send me the logs from Mission Control and the CCTV footage from the last 24 hours. I need them both within five minutes.”
She looked alarmed and fumbled for a fresh page in her notebook, pulling a biro from the top pocket of her standard issue military tunic at the same time. “Footage of the mission control room?” she queried.
“Of course, the fucking control room!” He was a man of infinite temper and once it was released, it would be impossible for it to be tethered in a hurry. “Tell the worthless rat-fuckers in security that they will do it immediately. Tell them; do not ask them.”
She began to scurry from the room and he stopped her again. “I apologise for my tone. Send Stratton and the two audio technicians who were on duty today once you have gathered my information. It will be helpful for you to join us if you can spare the time. I know it’s late.” He looked at his watch, it was approaching 02:02. Six hours had passed already. “Tell them to meet me here at 02:15. It will only take 10 minutes and they will be free to go home afterwards, as will you.”
She nodded and he noted the pink blush creeping up her neck. “Have I upset her or angered her?” he asked himself quietly after the oak panelled door closed. Either way he would have to resolve each strand of this sordid little soap opera if he was to shut down the whole operation under the same veil of secrecy that it had thus far existed.
Alone again he prowled around the room. It was not the severity of the situation that was sobering him up. It was the sense of opportunity. He knew he would have to be at his best to artfully seize it. It was the type of scenario for which he thought God had made him. God. The thought plunged him back into the abyss. His hand trembled as it reached for the brandy again. No. “Not the time General,” he said to himself and was surprised by how the words caught in his throat, on the brink of tears.
He moved the Captain’s chair back behind the large old fashioned writing desk and stared at the bottle again. With a decisive move he grabbed the bottle and picked up the half empty glass using the ring finger of the same large plate like hand and strode across the room, resting them on the corner cabinet where they would now stay for the rest of the night. He was tired and was worried by how easily he had been startled minutes before when Briggs had knocked. Now was not the time to be caught off guard.
He opened the door to his office, sat in his chair and pretended to look through some papers. The situation had ‘I have nothing to hide’ written all over it; the desired impression. Within a minute Briggs was back with a document folder and a USB stick. She approached the doorway cautiously but found him in an open and polite mood, far more similar to what she would usually expect.
“Sir. I have the transcription; hard and electronic copies. The USB stick also contains the security footage.”
“Thank you Briggs.”
“And sir, I should probably point out that there are no other copies either of those items elsewhere. I ensured that any records of them have been removed.” She risked a smile and appeared as a young girl trying to please a father. Obviously being in his bad books had not sat easily with her.
“What would I do without you Miss Briggs? Once again your subtlety is invaluable to me.” He gave her a smile of genuine warmth. He desperately hoped that he wouldn’t have to kill her.
“I’ll be back at 02:15 sir. Would you like me to shut the door?”
“Yes please Tam.” He chanced the informal greeting and she smiled. He thought it was slightly too friendly. He mused that at best she might think that her own position in this situation was more pivotal than she had at first realised. At worst she might mistake it for romantic intention. Neither scenario would play out well. The latter had certainly never played out well in the past.
He checked the footage and read the transcript simultaneously. It was like watching a subtitled silent film and was just as he remembered it. He removed the USB stick from the laptop and placed it with the document folder into the safe hidden in the corner cabinet. At 02:12 he positioned himself in the back left hand corner of the office and adjusted the notes that he would need to take to a briefing in less than six hours’ time.
There was a knock on the door and he called out in his loud baritone voice, “Come in.” He relished the look of surprise on each of the four guests’ faces when they realised that he was behind them. Satisfied that he had already outmanoeuvred his enemy he invited them to sit on the four brown leather club chairs facing his desk. He did not take his seat, choosing instead to remain standing and pace calmly back and forth behind his guests.
“Despite our military affiliation I have greatly enjoyed overseeing a project team comprising of mainly, if you don’t mind me saying, civilian disciplines. After all, a task of such significance and humanity should represent the whole population, not just the old military guard such as I.”
Taking his considerable inebriation into account, his speech was flowing impressively and momentarily he imagined himself as Cicero addressing the court, such was the spell that his words were casting. His audience, not knowing whether to turn and look at him or face forward, seemed as though they were squirming, trying to catch sight of him over their left, then right shoulders as he traversed the room.
“We are the architects of our own extinction,” he exclaimed, “and without reaching out across the stars for new ideas and information, that demise is likely to reach us sooner rather than later.” He paused and stopped moving. “Today we have made more progress than I considered possible within our first year together, yet here we are just two months into my involvement in the project having made first contact. It is an achievement greater than man taking his first tentative steps on the moon.
“The episode today however has brought about a great number of questions due to the way in which our new friend has been able to respond to us. Until we can assess the effects that this may have had on our Mission Commander we cannot continue our work. It is to be temporarily closed for the same reason it was opened: human prosperity. Until we can guarantee the safety of all of you we cannot continue the mission and you will all be temporarily reassigned.”
He moved behind the desk and sat down. He could see the disappointment in their eyes; it was after all, cutting edge work and these were the excellent people required to make it happen. “I am sure that I need not remind you of the agreements you made when entering this team,” he said in a cold malevolent voice. He was speaking quite quietly now flicking his eyes to each of them in turn, watching their disappointed expressions give way to fear.
“You are employed by the military now and you will find out, I assure you, of how your employers reward trust, honour and secrecy. In World War II we told people that loose lips sink ships, but in truth the first person to sink was the one talking.”
He let the silence play out and there was an audible gulp from one of the technicians. He smiled at them, trying to regain a fatherly persona.
“Now, I have kept you long enough and I myself am long overdue to visit our colleague in the hospital wing. I wish you a good night and I hope that you enjoy your temporary reassignments as much as I have enjoyed working with you. Miss Briggs will be in contact with you before 10:00 tomorrow to disclose the details for your new projects. I will be in touch as soon as we can guarantee our operatives safety in carrying out this most important task. Until then, goodnight.”
He stood and they followed suit, rising to their feet one by one and accepting his offer of a firm handshake. They politely said, “Thank you sir, goodbye,” leaving him alone. He once again gazed out of the window taking in the city skyline and raised his eyes to see a new phenomenon; a grey, blue smudge appearing in front of the stars, fading yet vibrant. Was there something out there looking back at him?