I’m not sure if the food really is amazing or whether I’m just so ready to eat that I would gobble up anything at this moment. I’m just as ready to devour the information that Kate is about to give me. I decide to eat and listen.
Sometimes, there’s just so much that you want to know that the only way to satisfy your thirst for the knowledge is to dump that information directly into your brain. That’s not possible just yet – though I’m sure somebody in Silicon Valley will figure it out one day! So I let Kate talk, enjoy my food, and resist the urge to interrupt and take her off at a tangent. And let me assure you, that’s a real breakthrough for me.
‘I know you’re desperate to know what’s going on, Dan,’ begins Kate, ‘and the best thing I can do is to work down the list in order of priorities and try to reassure you as much as possible.’
She’s good at this. She takes control, but not in a bossy way. She’s kind and reassuring, and that’s exactly what I need.
I remember Dad talking in similar terms about somebody in HR who he was dealing with when he left his job. Only his description ended with the words ‘Except he turned out to be a viper!’ Still, at this moment in time, Kate is the best chance I have of moving forward. I’ll reserve judgement on the ‘viper’ bit.
‘The first thing I need to let you know is that your dad, brother and sister are absolutely fine,’ she continues. ‘Nobody was hurt when the sirens went off, they were with us all the time in complete safety.’ I breathe an internal sigh of relief. Three down, Mum to go, and then we’re all accounted for.
‘I know you must be really worried about your mum, Dan,’ she says with a concerned look on her face. ‘We didn’t know there was another member of your family, and at this moment in time, I’m very sorry, but we do not have enough information to be able to tell you what happened to her.’
The feeling of hope that I’d had moments earlier suddenly subsides.
‘In fact, we were really fortunate to have found you, Dan, you’re a very lucky young man,’ she goes on. ‘It’s a good job your dad was able to let us know your exact whereabouts after the lights came on.’
Somehow, I’m not feeling very lucky. Lucky is when a visiting relative draws a tenner out of their pocket and gives it to you as a gift, no strings attached. Lucky is finding that your brother and sister – and mum and dad come to that – have managed to leave that last chocolate biscuit in the fridge for you. Lucky is not getting to spend twenty-four hours alone in complete darkness in the entrance of a Cold War bunker. And having to pee in the corner too. Thank goodness it was dark at the time, I hope they didn’t have night vision on the security cameras. Lucky is not having to watch your mum disappear as sirens wail for some crisis outside and the only doors that might offer her sanctuary are going to close tight before she can reach them. I keep my thoughts to myself, but I certainly don’t feel very lucky at the moment.
‘Now, I’m sure you’ll want to know what’s going on, Dan?’ Kate asks.
I nod and attempt an answer with a mouth full of burger. Not a good move. Kate notices the mess I’m making and thankfully carries on.
‘Dan, I have to tell you that you and your family got caught up in something very high-level. This is not even a national situation; I can confirm that this is an international operation.’
I swallow the lump of burger, but having heard what I’ve just heard, it is not an easy swallow to make.
‘Dan, all of the people working in this bunker were specially trained and recruited for this mission – but even we do not know exactly what is going on yet.’
This is not sounding very reassuring.
‘We know three things,’ she continues. ‘Firstly, the situation beyond the bunker is not life threatening to the people outside.’
More relief. I can tell already that my emotions are going to get a real workout in this place. At least this sounds like positive news for Mum.
‘Secondly, as I said earlier, we have all been specially selected and recruited for this mission, but we have been trained individually to maintain the integrity and the security of the task. We do not yet know what’s going on and we will not receive a full briefing for another eight hours.’
Okay, so far so good, she still hasn’t mentioned ‘imminent peril’ or ‘global annihilation’.
‘Thirdly and finally, Dan,’ she says, as I notice that the technique of using my name a lot in sentences has a strangely reassuring effect on me, ‘you and your family were not supposed to be here when the sirens went off, only essential personnel had been tasked to be present at the time the sirens sounded. Even we didn’t know that everybody else in the bunker at that time was going to be part of the mission team.
‘Here’s the strange thing that we’re trying to figure out though,’ she says, sounding much more serious now. ‘We checked your biometrics when you were in the MedLab, and although your family aren’t supposed to be here, you have full access rights on the database. In short, you were meant to be here.’
Within The Darkness
Although many, many lives had been lost, this was not the worst that it could have been. Just as many lives had been saved by the actions of governments throughout the world. It was not usual for the global community to work together in this way. But the consequences of not doing so would have been unthinkable.
Even places like North Korea, where the leaders and politics are caricatured every day in the western press, and ostracized from the international community, even they were complicit in this. Yes, this global action had already saved thousands of lives, possibly even millions. And most importantly, it would save more lives. Not only now, but in generations to come.
Every military leader understands the term ‘collateral damage’. Deaths, injuries, destruction … lives lost, lives ruined. It is all acceptable, so long as the final objective is attained. When that objective is the survival of humanity itself, any military leader would understand that ‘collateral damage’ is going to be pretty high.
Beyond The Doors
She was supposed to have been gone for just a few minutes. She had to be quick for Harriet’s sake, she was still a bit clingy for her mum. But better to go alone, she didn’t want a scene from Harriet as they passed the sweets and souvenirs in the ticket area. For goodness' sake, the car was only parked just beyond the innocent looking cottage where they’d entered the bunker from the surface about an hour earlier. Five minutes tops.
She’d promised the kids that they could have ‘tech-time’ in the bunker café. Thank goodness they had free Wi-Fi in the bunker. Imagine, a holiday cottage with no Wi-Fi, who even does that these days? She was supposed to be one of the ‘responsible adults’, but even she was getting grouchy without the constant broadband speeds that they all enjoyed at home. And to get a phone signal from the holiday cottage, you had to go upstairs on to the landing and stand by the window. Sometimes even she had to do a double-check to make sure that she hadn’t been transported back to pre-Jacobite Scotland. She had to remember Dan’s phone too, he’d specifically asked her.
At her age, and she was only in her late thirties, if she didn’t write it down or keep chanting it to herself, she forgot it. ‘Laptop, Harriet’s juice and Dan’s phone …’ she kept saying to herself. ‘Laptop, Harriet’s juice and Dan’s phone …’ she repeated as she stepped out of the cottage door into the car park. The first thing that struck her was how overcast it had become. More than overcast, the sky looked thunderous. She’d never seen anything like this before, the weather had been pretty bad anyway in the last few days, but this was really something. Still, it must just be the Scottish weather. As fierce as the midges.
She made for the car, which wasn’t too far away from the entrance, and fumbled for the keys in her pocket. As she looked up towards the car, ready to point the remote at the door, she thought she saw… she was positive, there was somebody in the car. About the same height as Dan, same age or thereabouts, she thought.
Had she had slightly more time she might have experienced a glimmer of recognition as she moved up closer to the car to investigate what was going on. But at that precise moment, where indignant anger had kicked in and she’d started to march towards this youngster like a bad-tempered bull, a blue light, almost imperceptible to the naked eye, had begun to glow beneath the skin of her neck, and that momentary spark of recognition was extinguished in the gathering darkness overhead.
For a task of this size and importance, absolute security was a must. That’s why those chosen had to pass over a hundred psychometric tests before they even became a contender. And they didn’t even know they were doing these tests. We so casually accept the role of the web and the internet in everyday life. A social media ad here, a search engine promo there, a ‘please tell us how we did’ survey popping up out of nowhere; online lives could so easily be hijacked and nobody was any the wiser. Most people got excited about data sharing and privacy issues. If they only knew what his organization was doing – with full global consent – the occasional highly targeted advert from an online retailer would be the least of their worries.
So it was that he’d managed to invisibly deliver thousands of psychometric evaluations and thus target his specialist team. These people had to be very carefully chosen. They weren’t the strongest, the fastest, the cleverest or the wisest. All of the things that society generally applauded or celebrated had no currency when assembling this team. And there certainly weren’t any celebrities in there either. Test after test had shown that the most remarkable people were often the most ordinary people. Sports stars excel at sport, film stars excel at acting, professors excel at being clever and heroes excel at heroism. But in the grave matter of saving the whole of humanity, it was a very carefully selected group of ordinary people who were going to make the final cut.
If it weren’t for the pulsing device buried beneath the skin on his neck, he’d normally have been inquisitive about these two life forms just outside the blast doors. But instead, he calmly ran through a series of routines, just as he was taught to do in training. He was not an automaton in this task. While he was carrying it out, he still thought about Trudie and the kids.
He was aware of his surroundings and he heard in the background the ‘getting to know you’ conversations of a team who were just getting used to their new environment. They didn’t know what their mission was yet, but their workstations were familiar, just as they were in their training and orientation. It was almost as if certain memories, feelings, or emotions, were being suppressed with a deft puppeteer pulling his strings so subtly that you’d barely be aware that it was actually a toy before your eyes. So he just watched the life forms on his screen and switched to camera surveillance. Just blackness. Night-vision mode. Still blackness. Penetration mode. There they were! Two figures.
If he’d looked a little closer, if the camera had given a little more definition in that terrible, dark blackness – and particularly if that implant hadn’t been pulsing away madly – he might have realized that he already knew that woman whose face was currently taking up half of his screen.