Anchors No More # 6: Of Frying Pans and FiresFeb 24, 2014
Lieutenant Vanderhoff leafed through the two notebooks, understanding nothing within them except for the fact that it was what he was looking for. The equations, the figures and schematics, it was all beyond his training, but that’s why he had a team of theorists, scientists, and engineers under his charge. He was the conductor, they were the virtuosos; he didn’t have to understand the physics of the music, he only had to exploit to the fullest the talents of his orchestra.
Holly watched the military man pour over her notes first, then over Gary’s. She glanced at her partner and he gave a slight raise of his eyebrows. They were in trouble way over their heads, that much was obvious. Any number of metaphors would serve, she knew, but her mind latched on to the frog and the boiling water and the fact they had just been tossed into a scalding cauldron. She fidgeted with her wetsuit, it was growing uncomfortable in the warm stagnate air of the room. When she finished, she examined her fingertips, now glazed with the tacky substance coating them.
Gary told her once that it was her strength as a scientist that she could get lost in a thought, able to block everything out as her mind ran its imaginative obstacle course. Greatest strengths are often greatest weaknesses and so it was with Holly whose personal life had suffered as greatly as her professional life had flourished. But there, in that situation, she was grateful for her capacity to be mentally anywhere else and the opportunity to speculate on the nature of the sticky residue was a perfect chance to check out of reality for a while. Her wish to be somewhere else was further realized one silent minute later when Vanderhoff turned to Restrepo and unceremoniously said, “Take them to the holding cell outside Lab Five, I’ll have them transferred from there.”
Restrepo nodded and poked Gary in the back with his rifle, “Move,” he commanded. Gary was unsure what to do so he just moved as he was told, feeling no other option than to unquestioningly surrender to the flow. It took Holly a split-second to come back to what was happening, snapped back by Restrepo’s hand giving a slight nudge on her shoulder, “Move,” he repeated. She looked back at Vanderhoff as she instinctively began walking and saw him continuing to browse through their work. Her eyes grew wild with a sudden flush of anxiety, what was going on, what had happened, where were they…
“Where are you taking us?” she yelled out, her change of step towards Vanderhoff instantly curtailed by Restrepo’s strong arm in her way.
The Lieutenant smiled, glancing up from the notebook, “You’re going someplace safe,” he said, “We have several examinations and debriefing sessions to schedule, as well as some legal proceedings to begin. You’ll be comfortable enough in the meantime.”
Holly doubted the comfort level of whatever dark corner they had planned for them, but that concern took a backburner to the knowledge that Vanderhoff held the notebooks, her life’s work. “We need our notebooks,” she said, “I have to write down what happened while its still fresh, I need to get it all documented.” The ongoing surreality of the past half hour had finally wrapped her in a fear and fatigue nourished state of panic, she struggled against Restrepo as he continued prompting her out the door, “You don’t understand,” she shouted, trying to wiggle out of the guard’s sphere of physical influence, “It worked, we’re here, you have to give me time to…”
“I,” interrupted Vanderhoff forcefully, stopping Holly in mid-thought and mid-struggle, standing as he spoke, letting his brutish frame say as much as his cool baritone voice, “understand, Doctor Marshal, and this is no longer your project. This is a military matter now and you under arrest for high treason.” He walked to her like a predator, brought his face down close to hers and for a flash she thought he smelled good, like Old Spice and cigars, like her father. Unfortunately, that involuntary memory was instantly eviscerated by its trigger as Vanderhoff growled, so near she could feel his breath on her chin, “And the last thing you need is time to do anything. We’re living everyday with the results of what you do in your spare time. You are just going to shut your mouth until we tell you to open it and you are going to move where and when we tell you.” He straightened himself and stood intimidatingly over her, glaring down upon her like a malevolent god, “Now,” he said, a wince of a smile on his lips, “Do you understand?”
She looked at him with pale fear. Restrepo halted Gary, waiting for his superior officer to dismiss this pissing match. Holly could not speak, but her eyes, so fierce and defiant, slowly submitted, turning heavy with defeat. They drooped from Vanderhoff’s staring eyes to his chest, to the notebook in his hand, and finally, beaten, to the floor. She saw his feet move as he turned away, “Get them out of here,” he commanded, “And bring them an extra piece of bread each…” she heard a door open as he left the room, “… for being so cooperative.” The door shut and it was silent.
Neither scientist offered resistance or comment, acquiescent and morose they followed Restrepo’s commands, turning left, going through doors, down stairs. It was a fifteen-minute journey from where they were to where they were going and on the way Gary took mental notes of their course. Just in case. When they finally reached an isolated door at the end of a wide hall, they waited while Restrepo pushed a button on the intercom, the security cameras above their head zooming in for a closer look. “Restrepo, 5-79-4, transferring prisoners Neff, Gary and Marshal, Holly at request of superior officer 5-07-6.” Holly looked at Gary, defeat morphing once more into fear on both of their faces. Gary sucked in his terror and offered Holly a supportive head bob, we’re gonna make it, we’re gonna make it…
The buzzer signaling the lock release buzzed and Restrepo opened the thick steel door and pointed them through it with his rifle.
© David Edward Wagner 2014. All Rights Reserved.