By the time Kate and the guards arrive at the entrance, whatever happened here seems to be over. There is no sign of Mum. That is a huge disappointment for me.
However, slumped against the wall with a fresh trickle of blood from a nasty wound on his head is the man I’d been watching only a short time beforehand. The bunker doors are firmly shut, the wonderful blanket of light across the entrance has disappeared, and there is no sign of anybody else.
Kate is taken aback by this. ‘James,’ she says, ‘what happened here?’
It’s strange to see her refer to James’s name badge on his uniform. Here we are in a hi-tech installation, yet all the people around us are only just getting to know each other and still have to resort to what are effectively supermarket name badges to figure out who they are talking to. As if she is about to ask him where the cabbages are.
James rubs his head melodramatically and gives the appearance of being dazed. I’ve seen acting skills like that before. In fact, I’m the master of them!
‘I was running a routine inspection of the doors and cameras,’ James explains, ‘and I think I must have hit my head on the panel here.’
Kate looks uncertain and turns to the security team for guidance, but there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot to say here.
‘We’d had a problem with the cameras,’ James continues. ‘I’m sorry, I should have flagged it in the Control Room, I just put it down to routine teething problems.
‘At least I managed to sound the alarm to get your attention,’ he adds, almost pleadingly.
Kate appears hesitant, but reasonably convinced by this. What he is saying seems unlikely, yet only hours earlier she’d had to send a team to retrieve me from this very area, so it’s certainly not impossible that another problem has occurred here. They’d used biohazard suits when they came for me because they didn’t know that the area was fully clear from the darkness outside at that stage. I decide to help this James guy out. I can see through his bad acting, and I want to get a chance to talk with him in private.
‘Kate, that head wound looks pretty bad, I wonder if he should get that looked at?’ I propose.
With nothing else to suggest, Kate nods agreement, then asks one of the security team to check system records to make sure that James’s story checks out.
James is escorted away from the area, towards the MedLab, to get the head wound looked at. The security guys make sure that the control panel is secured, then leave the area. I am lurking, and nobody seems to have noticed. I hope that they won’t spot what I’ve just seen hiding away in a shadowy edge of the corridor. It’s my phone. Mum has been here. And James is covering something up. As the security team start to head off down the corridor, I grab the phone and tap the screen to force it back into life. The battery is really low. They can power a fluffy pink rabbit with a cymbal for several days in those TV adverts but they still can’t make a mobile phone stay charged for any decent length of time.
Fortunately, because we’ve had no internet in Scotland, all the connectivity was switched off, so I still have a little bit of life left in the phone. There is a new text message waiting for me. Actually, it’s a multimedia text message; if it had just been a text, I might not have looked. It has been sent from Dad’s phone. I open it up hurriedly, cursing the battery life on my phone. Could he have sent me this when we were separated? Would the text service even work down here? I open up the video. It is Dad. In the background is Doctor Pierce. It has been filmed outside our front door. It was dark outside when this was recorded.
This must have been filmed that night we got the strange knock at the door, when I thought I’d heard Doctor Pierce’s voice. It had been Doctor Pierce. I play the video, and Dad’s voice comes through the speaker. It’s not that long since I’d last seen him, but it feels reassuring to hear his voice. ‘Dan, it’s Dad,’ he begins. I actually laugh at that.
‘Er … Dad, I can see you!’ I chuckle to myself.
My mood changes when I hear what he has to say. ‘Dan, you can see that Doctor Pierce is with me now. He’s asked me to film this because it’s all going to make sense to you in a couple of days’ time.
‘First, Dan, you mustn’t worry about any of us, we’re all going to be fine.
‘Doctor Pierce has told me some of what’s going to happen when we’re in Scotland. I don’t like it, but we get to go to the bunker this way, it’s best for the family. And Mum needs this.’
His face moves in and out of focus. I can tell that he had been shaking as he recorded the message.
‘You need do a couple of things, Dan, and I just want you to trust me with this, okay?’
I hope like hell that my battery holds out.
‘Dan, you must get to Level 3 in the bunker. You’ll be able to make contact with Doctor Pierce there. He’ll explain more, okay?’
I am completely confused, but I keep listening. I know when Dad is being serious, and he is being serious now.
‘Dan, there’s something special about you that makes you really important in all this. It’s about you, it’s all about you and …’
Damn phone! The battery dies and the video dies with it.
After all these years and after all that worry, concern, doubt and regret, the first thing that she’d done was to whack Roachie on the head with her laptop. They had to buy more time, cause a distraction, find out what was going on. It would need to look convincing, so unfortunately, blood would be required. There’s something about the presence of blood that means that no questions are asked. People immediately respond to it, even if it’s only a little bit. So when she’d hit Roachie on the head, it had been a calculated move. To give him an alibi, something to distract from what had really been going on here.
She thought that she knew the bunker layout from her visit earlier in the day, so she was a little taken aback by the appearance of the corridor. It had completely transformed from something grey, dark and made of solid concrete to a lighter, cleaner and very hi-tech appearance. No time to ask why. So much was unusual about this day already that nothing surprised her now. Roachie would have some time to figure out a good story. He wasn’t unconscious, she knew that. In fact, it shouldn’t have hurt him that much. It probably damaged her laptop more than it did his skull. After all, she should know. Roachie’s head was made up mostly of metal plates. It was because of her that they’d had to be put there in the first place. A careless shot with a gun years before.
Well, she had no intention of using a gun ever again, but in this case, a laptop would do very nicely. Giving her and the child just enough time to make it to the end of the corridor and conceal themselves before the guards arrived.
He was ready for this to play out now. More than twenty years involved in this project. So many tests and so much planning. He’d felt the strain of responsibility many times before. And he’d nearly been removed from the project altogether, after that incident with the botched simulation.
But the future of the entire world rested on the success of this operation. And it felt to him like the final scene of a play, with all the key characters gathered on the stage. There was the boy, Dan, and his mother. Dan was a sharp kid; he’d have a lot of growing up to do as all of this played out, but he was sure he was up to it. He’d spent a lot of time with the child already, albeit under a pretence.
His mother was an amazing woman, and in spite of all the incredible things that he’d had to do leading these events, he could still take the time to admire a person like her. The wound that she’d sustained in the simulation, the way she’d reacted all those years ago. He admired her all the more for the way that she’d got on with her life afterwards, almost as if it had never happened. But she’d given him an excellent opportunity – a chance that he never thought he’d need all those years ago.
This woman and her son, they didn’t know it yet, but they were the key to this entire thing. And as he looked at what was happening in the top level of the bunker from the display on his terminal, he was really going to need a backup plan if the planet was going to get out of this in one piece. Yes, they were his backup plan: the woman and the twins.