I can’t say that I really understand the meaning of the word ‘protocols’ but I certainly get the sense of Kate’s last sentence.
‘You mean I can’t see them at all?’ I query. Kate’s eyes narrow. ‘The viper?’ I wonder to myself.
‘Dan, I’m sorry, but until we receive a full mission definition, we have to observe the protocols.’
That word again. And she’s using my name in each of her sentences. That’s wearing a bit thin now. I can hear the words coming out of your mouth, I can hear you trying to get some rapport going here, but what you’re telling me is not making me happy.
‘What’s mission definition?’ I think to myself. I’m learning a lot today. I didn’t hear the words ‘mission definition’ very often when Dad and I were laughing at online videos of cats as part of my home education. In fact, there wasn’t much ‘mission definition’ in my life at all until I started talking to Kate. I decide to focus on what’s important.
‘So, where does that leave me?’ I ask.
‘You have the freedom of the bunker, and you may access all Green Zone areas,’ she replies, ‘But Red Zone areas are out of bounds to you.’
Funny how you can find yourself in the most hi-tech place you’ve ever been, yet you can’t beat the colours red and green to tell you what you can – and can’t – do.
‘I also need to give you a tour of the bunker. I’m guessing it looks pretty different since you last saw it?’
‘A bit of an understatement that, Kate.’ She’s got me at it now, I’m using her name in my sentences. It helps to build rapport, you know.
‘What about Mum?’ I ask again. I’m not sure what I mean about Mum, I just want some sort of action plan. Some ‘mission definition’.
‘As part of standard, start-up schemata, we sweep the perimeters to check for life forms outside the bunker gates,’ Kate answers. ‘That process will be underway as I speak to you now. It’s a basic security measure, but in this case we’ll be looking for your mum.’
Schemata. Another new word to add to my vocabulary.
‘If I hear anything, I’ll let you know straight away.’
Had he recognized that face on the screen, he might have moved with more urgency. He certainly would have been very surprised to see that particular person on the screen in front of him. They were connected. It was some years ago and at the time it was very significant to both of them.
For the person who’d engineered this reunion, it couldn’t have had any more significance. It was as if a puppeteer was working through the script in a performance, each step carefully devised and planned to make sure it moved carefully towards the crescendo, the plotted course, the final outcome. It was no random thing that they happened to be in this place at this time. But when they’d first met, neither of them had a family, it had genuinely been a chance meeting back then. He now had Trudie and the kids. She had Mike, David, Harriet, Dan and Nat … not Nat. Nat had died. But it was almost a lifetime ago for both of them. So much was different since then. So much water under the bridge, so many changes.
An apparent arbitrary meeting that had been working up to this reunion all these years later. What could have made this event so crucial right now? It made no difference to either of them at this moment. He was unable to recognize her because of the device implanted in his neck. She was unaware in the terrible darkness beyond the bunker blast gates that she and her young companion were even being watched.
Yet what was it that linked these two people so inextricably that it should be crucial to the world beyond the bunker that they met once again at this place, inside this underground shelter? If they had met each other again under normal circumstances, they would have worked it out straight away. It was those terrible events that they got caught up in while they were both serving in the Army.
Ordinary people for an extraordinary job. The future of humanity no less. The problem with the ‘high achievers’ is that they tend to be too good. Brilliant – at only one thing. They spend hours, days, months and years honing their skills, ridiculous amounts of time mastering every element of their profession and then they become masters. But in becoming exemplary at one thing, they lose their focus and skills in many other areas. And ordinary people were exactly what he needed right now, for this particular mission.
Sure, these recruits had to be fit, bright, sharp and intelligent. But they also needed to be average. Not just any kind of average though. They had to be the very best at being average. Being average means that you can do many things to an average standard. One minute you can be fit, the next you can be strategic. You can pivot from that to being an average problem solver, an average technical operator or an average fighter. Yes, in this scenario being average at many things was exactly what he required.
This mission had never been attempted before and even he could not anticipate what skills, challenges and problems lay ahead. So in this scenario, average was about as good as it was going to get.
He was used to being impartial about his work. He knew it had to be done, most of the time it was just surveillance or moving people from one place to another. But this was something else. He had not been responsible for the car swerving. His hands were off the wheel, the car took over the minute that was detected by the sensors. The car’s internal computer knew to adjust speed, maintain distance from the kerb, scan for all life forms and ‘anticipate’ other vehicles. It could ‘recognize’ double yellow lines, ‘Stop’ signs, ‘Give Way’ road markings and even a school crossing attendant. And this was a military-grade vehicle.
While commercial organizations made a big deal about driverless cars and how they were ‘the future’, they were wasting their time; the military had been on to this concept for many years. If it works with drones, it works with cars. ‘Military’ might not be the right word to use though. It was definitely ‘military-like’, it felt governmental and it was certainly top- secret. But he wasn’t quite sure who he worked for. And that didn’t matter to him before he – before his car – hit that child. But it’s all he’d thought about since then. He was no killer.
He had no instructions to kill on that day. He’d been unable to stop it, just forced to look into the eyes of one of the children and watch it happen. The only way it could have occurred is because of computer error. Unlikely. He hesitated to say ‘impossible’, but it really was pretty well impossible. As impossible as anything could be. No, he was sure it had something to do with the man who’d distracted the mother as he’d just driven by. The face that he recognized straight away, in spite of the disguise and even though he was completely out of place. He should not have been at that place at that time. It was his boss, Doctor Pierce.