Anchors No More #5: Nooses Are Made To TightenFeb 17, 2014
Gary felt that he should respond to the man’s statement, but when he tried, his lips moved impotently, a few muted grunts staggered from his throat. Holly’s eyes darted back and forth, from the strange man to Gary to Restrepo to the man again. “Doctor Vanderhoff, right?” she asked, tentatively trying her own luck at verbalizing her confusion. “You know who we are?”
Vanderhoff nodded his head, the tight corpse-like smile on his face seemed anything but welcoming. Gary glanced at Holly and she at him, the look they shared spoke volumes concerning the fact they realized they had fucked up beyond the scope of explaining their way out of their situation by claiming it was all a simple misunderstanding. Holly adjusted the neck of her wetsuit, feeling suddenly flushed. “We’re here because of the machine,” she said, more proclamation than question.
“You’re here because of the machine,” Vanderhoff confirmed, tapping the clipboard against his open hand. “You’re here because you did something that warrants repercussion.”
The three of them silently scrutinized one another during the silent pause that followed. Restrepo stood to the side observing the scene with a detached omniscience, his palms were sweating but he did not shift his grip on the rifle; he was well-trained and professional. Of course he was curious, he had read reports, taken seminars, heard rumors, and he was obedient not stupid. He knew where it was he had been assigned and what it was he was supposed to do, but he didn’t know everything. After all, he was only Level 4 clearance, the main R&D labs and their immediate administrative support were strictly off limits to him. He knew enough to be intrigued, though one would never know it. He was a statue, an invisible presence, a golem in grey khaki and black ballistic armor waiting to be brought to life by the incantations of duty and protocol. It didn’t matter that he thought the two scientists seemed scared in an innocent way and they were going to be unimpeachably prosecuted and punished. Months ago, Restrepo overheard a few doctors talking offhandedly about the possible need for experimentation if and when Doctors Neff and Marshal suddenly reappeared, to see if exposure to wormhole physics and radiation affected them in any way, but he wrote this off as speculation and nothing to be concerned with, especially not now when they were finally here, when the two were finally flesh and blood before him.
Vanderhoff stood, laying the clipboard on the table as he smoothly stalked towards Gary and Holly. He hovered, his sharp eyes glaring at them as if they were oddities, inhuman and out of place. He reached out his hand and wiped a finger across the shoulder of Holly’s wetsuit, examined the slimy residue, measuring its viscosity as he pinched it between index finger and thumb. “Hm…” he muttered, casting a glance at Restrepo as he stepped to Gary and loomed. As he looked up at Vanderhoff, a pit formed in Gary’s stomach and his mind scrambled for something solid to cling to; he knew they had little defense against whatever retroactive legal process their showing up had triggered. Vanderhoff inspected him a moment before turning his eyes to the backpacks slung across Restrepo’s shoulders. He turned thoughtfully, wiping his fingers off on a napkin he pulled from the pocket of his lab coat. “Tell me, which one of you has the notebook?”
Holly tried, but could not, suppress the shock in her eyes. Vanderhoff noted this and the facsimile of a smile he had been brandishing turned up slightly at the corners. Gary remained expressionless but his panicked mental duck feet paddled manically under his still exterior. Holly spoke, hoping to sound convincing, “What? What notebook?”
Vanderhoff would have sarcastically applauded her poor performance if he had been a more petty man, but he checked his condescending impulse and picked up his clipboard, maintaining his menacing casualness. “The notebook,” he repeated, “or perhaps notebooks that contain your personal work.” He flipped a page on his board and read, keeping the scientists in his peripheral vision, “We have everything else from your former lab and homes, but we could not seem to find this one thing. So, before we get on with our procedure I would like to get this out of the way.” He paused and looked up at the two, energizing himself on their fear. “Your cooperation will be taken into account.”
Gary felt less than relieved by the possibility of Vanderhoff’s positive remarks on his report, certain that it would not matter in the final assessments. He noted that the military had not discovered the secrets of the quantum that Holly had unraveled and he himself had helped refine, they still needed what the books contained to finish whatever work had started in their absence. It was a flimsy ace up the sleeve, but at least it was there for the chance of a desperate play should it come down to it, which it certainly would. “I don’t know what you mean, everything was there,” Gary said nervously. “Everything was in the basement, or in my safe at home.”
Vanderhoff was unimpressed, “Not everything, Doctor.”
Gary tried again, “Well, everything I know of.”
Vanderhoff gave them his first genuine smile, “I doubt that,” he said walking back to their sides. “Now, any second I will go through your backpacks and I am quite certain I will find exactly what I am looking for. So, I am giving you one last chance to have it recorded that you freely offered your cooperation in this investigation. Who has the notebooks?”
Gary looked at Holly whose defiance was crumbling in the face of reality. There was no hiding, no stalling, the calculations and equations they sought were one zipper and a few millimeters of waterproof fabric away from their grasp. Gary swallowed hard, his throat dry as he spoke, “We both have one, hers and mine. They’re in the backpacks.”
Vanderhoff’s grin broadened on twisted lips, he gestured towards Restrepo to hand him the packs. “Good,” he said, unzipping one of them and rummaging around until he latched on to the notebook tucked down deep under some clothes and dried food rations, “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
© David Edward Wagner 2014. All Rights Reserved.