In a firelit study half a mile underground, Professor Werner Thomas Cahill sweated and reddened under a councilor’s beady stare.
“It’s a wonder,” Cahill said, “bigger than we ever expected.” His hands rested, palms down, on the massive cherry wood desk in front of him, and he licked his lips, searching for words to convey scale. Towering walls crowded around him and disappeared in the darkness above. He felt like a rodent in a viper pit.
The owner of the desk drummed long, slender fingers across it, and Cahill marveled at how clean it was. A councilor of his standing should have a lot more clutter.
Councilor Ruthers leaned forward. “Professor Cahill, you are aware of what this means?”
“And I trust that you’ve been discreet?”
“You’re the first person I’ve told, sir.” Perspiration condensed on the polished wood under his hands.
“Then you know the complications that would arise if this were to surface.” The words came out like the first sigh of snow in the autumn air, unexpected and chilling. Cahill took the councilor’s meaning and shivered.
“Of course, sir.”
Ruthers paused, waving a hand in the air. “That isn’t all I’m talking about.” What frightened Cahill most was not that Ruthers would threaten his life, but that this was, apparently, least among their shared concerns. “This is your life’s work – your dream. It’s the same for an odd three dozen as well.”
“Actually, sir, it’s about twice that if you count–”
Cahill swallowed. Working with other people was hard enough. But conniving and backstabbing? This was why he tried to avoid collaborative efforts. And politics.
The chair beneath him whispered as he shifted on the velour upholstery. Councilor Ruthers smiled in what he must have thought was a reassuring manner.
“Werner, don’t worry about this. Your job is research – let me handle the politics. Agreed?”
Cahill nodded. That was all you could do when Councilor Ruthers asked if you agreed.
“Excellent. I want you to begin taking inventory. Prepare a preliminary report for Dr Hask, including an estimation of time and manpower. We’ll start next week.”
“Next week, sir?”
“Phase two.” Councilor Ruthers pulled an inch-thick, bound folder from under his desk and slid it to Cahill. It seemed out of place on the otherwise immaculate surface. Cahill took the folder, feeling slick leather under his thumbs. The cover bore one word.
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