This is the second part of my short story about unexpected encounters at Pluto. I hope you like it and any feedback is welcome.
Henry hadn’t called into the control centre before he left, the missed calls on his phone told him something was going on and he would rather deal with it in a place where he could do something about it. Besides with the probe millions of miles away, if something was really wrong then there wasn’t a lot that could be done anyway. He strode up to his office door, hoping to sneak in before his was noticed.
As Henry turned he shuddered in shock. There was a man sat at his desk! He didn’t recognise him, he was serious looking, pale skin, his hair was dark but the greying lifted it a shade or two which also gave a little away to his age. He stared at Henry with is dark eyes, almost as if he was scanning him with them. Henry guessed he was some kind of government official, but what was he doing here? The man stood up and extended his hand in greeting, he allowed himself a small smile “Good morning Doctor Jeffries” His accent was strange, clearly had a southern influence but there was something else Henry couldn’t place “I’m John Hanson and I’m here on behalf of the government”
Still confused and shocked by his presence, Henry took his hand and shook it “Hi there, how can I help?” Not really knowing any possible reason why he would be here, Henry didn’t know the kind of answer he would get from his question.
“You really are doing a great job here aren’t you? I’m excited about seeing Pluto and you guys have made it all happen!”
“Yes, I’ve got a great team…” Henry tried to reply.
“The situation is this simply” John interrupted. Henry’s uninvited guest was becoming rapidly annoying, but at the same time his air of authority and manner only made him threatening. For the sake of courtesy, curiosity and for safety’s sake Henry stayed silent “we have a potential security issue and I’m here with a few colleagues to help you with this”
“I don’t see how I can help…” Henry’s bewilderment was obvious “How can anything we’re doing here be a threat to national security?”
Just then the door flew open and a young dark haired woman burst in, all five feet something of her “What are you doing Henry?” she demanded “We’ve lost contact with New Horizons!”
“Fucking hell!” Henry blurted out “I knew this would happen! How long ago?”
“Just over four hours ago”
“Lets have a look, I will be over in a minute Sarah” Henry turned to his unexpected visitor “If you will excuse me, I have work to do” Henry, flew out of his office following after Sarah as best he could, as a man in his nearly 50’s he was never going to keep up with the young woman as she almost sprinted to her terminal. As Henry got closer he found a small crowd around the communications consoles, as he started to push through the gathering made way for him. Karl was working away as Henry came up he looked up at him. He reeled off his report with his typical efficiency “I don’t know what’s happened, there hasn’t been an impact I know that much, there was no data from the sensors to indicate anything close to the probe”
“So we’re looking at a hopefully temporary communications blackout?” asked Henry earnestly.
“Let’s hope so” answered Karl
“Could anything have triggered the malfunction?” Henry knew all that could be done was being done and all that anyone could do was wait and see if communications were restored.
“We had just uploaded the data collection changes to the probe and we were running some tests” Karl Explained “All of a sudden we lost communication”
“That’s not all” Sarah interrupted “ Just as the communications went down we registered a spike in the communications signal. It was like a huge radio signal from somewhere in the locality of the probe was reflected onto the probe’s signal”
“Sarah you don’t know that…” Karl tried to add
“I know, but how else would you explain this” Pulling over her laptop Sarah showed a line graph of two radio signals overlaid onto each other, the small signal from the probe was dwarfed by a much bigger signal. As Henry looked over this a cold yet commanding voice from behind him brought him back from his thoughts.
“This is very interesting doctor, we need to finish our conversation now!”
“It can wait, there are no problems with national security at the moment and nothing’s going to blow up in the next few minutes.” At that moment Henry couldn’t care less about his government official, the project could fail and some kind of security nonsense wasn’t on his list of priorities.
“No doctor – I said NOW!” Half shouting at this point the official’s anger at this rebuff was clear. All the eyes of the assembled gaggle were on the government official, Karl turned round and with a rarely seen vigour confronted him.
“What are you even doing here and who are you? You know you have no right to be here so take your friends and GO!” Karl was shouting at the official, his face red with obvious anger.
“I have every right to be here and if I want to I will fire you and shut this project down doctor Drieger” Was the reply, this only enraged Karl further, he launched at the official, Henry tried to intervene holding him back while Sarah then tried have her go. In the seconds that followed was the chaos of the team holding back their colleagues while the officials’ entourage appeared, making their presence known and pushing off the angered scientists. Henry squared up to the official, both of them locked in a stare, almost daring each other to make the next move. Henry wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, he was a scientist and not used to this kind of confrontation, but he wasn’t going to him take control of it without putting up some kind of fight.
“If anyone tries that again” The official started “They will be thrown out of here and won’t see this place again” He threatened.
“You throw out anyone and I for one will walk right out and I bet the rest of this team will too. I’m not used to being treated like this and neither are they” It was all Henry could come back with without making things worse, he hoped that this wasn’t how it would end.
“I don’t care what you or anyone else here does” was the officials response “You will do what I and my colleagues tell you” The official looked around at the team and announced to them all “Please wait for your team leader in the board room, I have to make a few things clear to him that he will then need to make you understand”
“Go on, do as he asks” Henry insisted as they started off one by one towards the board room. Henry watched Karl giving the official a disapproving look as he walked off. Henry then watched the blinds pulled in the board room and the door shut.
“You have to understand me” the official started as he sat on a chair, lifting up Sarah’s laptop and handing it to a small man dressed in plain clothes “I cannot have a democracy in my line of work, people just need to do as their told, even if they don’t trust me or like what I tell them to do”
Henry watched the small man walk off with the laptop he seemed very interested in the data Sarah had collected.
“ What possible harm could we be to national security John?” Henry asked earnestly “We’re discovering new world and frontiers at the edge of the solar system.”
“Yes, it does seem odd doesn’t it?” lighting up a cigar the official made himself comfortable in the seat, now puffing smoke up into the air “But there it is”
“No explanation?” Henry replied. The official raised his eyebrows in an amused fashion.
“You’re actually asking me that? If I was going to explain it all I would have sent you an email and sat in my office watching all of this going on.”
“What am I supposed to tell my team?” Henry pleaded, looking for some kind of reasoning behind the man.
“Anything you like I don’t care, just make sure they know that if I ask them to do something that they do it” was his cold reply.
“Ask?” Henry added. The official shrugged his shoulders “If I’m in a good mood, it depends on them to a great degree”
“I don’t have time for all this now, but I’m going to make sure that my lawyer talks to -”
“Oh please don’t! I thought you were an intelligent man doctor Jeffries!” Henry gave up trying to reason in any way, it was clear he wasn’t going to win this he turned to walk to the board room.
“Oh, I forgot to mention, no one leaves until I say so” The official added “I’ve also made sure that no one is going to be contacting the outside world, except for the probe of course” Now seething again Henry clenched his fists and gritted his teeth.
“What the hell are you looking for?” another amused look and raised eyebrows came from the official, but not another word. Henry saw the small man bring back Sarah’s laptop, now folded and placed it back onto her workstation.
“ I suppose you won’t tell me what he’s just done?” demanded Henry
“You suppose correctly” The official blew a cloud of smoke into the air, got up and Henry watched as he made his way into his office, shutting the door behind him he saw the official pull out his phone and start a conversation. The rest of his men stood around, the bulges in the jackets clearly showing they were armed. Turning again he made his way to the board room, opening the door he went in, just as he was about to close the door, one of the officials men followed him in.