Chapter 3

Written by: Anna Zhigareva

The fog of the morning had Penny’s bus unintentionally driving off its lane, squashing a little unsuspecting sedan into the safety barrier. Although she was on another bus in a matter of minutes, Number 10 didn’t go as close to the central square of the University as Number 2 did. As she explored her way through the fog, she weirdly felt as though there wasn’t anything around her and that if the fog suddenly cleared all she’d see would be a deserted plain, devoid of infrastructure, skyscrapers, public transport.

 

When at last she reached her destination, the classroom was already glowing with the lights beaming from students’ computer screens. She was late. Professor Long detested latecomers. And what if he had discovered that some of the contents of his in-tray had gone missing overnight? Penny breathed deeply, clipped her heels together and walked in.

 

There was no Professor Long at the teaching stand. Professor Deer from the same department but who usually taught First and Second Years stood awkwardly before the white board, her voluminous hair bob blocking a sizeable portion of the title on the projected slide.

 

“Where’s...”

 

“And this is how we were able to calculate the size of Olympus on Mars. Everyone clear on the explanation, or do you want me to go through it one more time?”

 

Professor Deer whizzed on, cutting through Penny’s question as if it was piece of paper about to be recycled. Unimportant, recyclable paper that didn’t deserve to have its say.

 

Penny sat down and looked around for Hubert. He was sitting all the way at the back, only his forehead sticking out above his laptop screen. He was clearly studying something on his lap. The files!

 

Penny and Hubert shared a few classes together as they’d chosen some of the same electives. He liked to dabble in astronomy, too, while she was just an all around Miss Curious. 

 

She cursed the fog. They could have sat together and whispered further reasons as to the satellite’s coordinates. Was it stationary? Had it been moving? Why would someone record its coordinates at a certain time? Unless something had gone wrong? Unless something was supposed to happen when it reached that exact location.

 

Where was…?

 

***

“Professor Long, I don’t understand what is so difficult. We simply asked that the climate exchanger be activated when it reached a certain point in orbit. You said it was all under control.”

 

The booming voice of the man in the dark green suit echoed through the underground meeting room.

 

They were thousands of feet under the University campus, out of sight, out of earshot, out of harm’s – or safety’s? – way. Long shuddered from the still chilliness of the dark-panelled meeting room and looked around. He’d never been in this room, which made him nervous. He’d met this man before, but only via video conference calls. He seemed to always wear his dark green suit, while the others wore military uniforms or black suits. He was the important one, clearly.

 

“Sir, if I knew what exactly was happening…” the Professor ventured, trying to stop his voice from trembling dramatically. He was a renowned astronomer after all. A force to be reckoned with. His brain told him to chuckle at the pun, but he held it back just in time as the man in charge approached. “I don’t understa-”

 

“You don’t need to understand, Professor,” the man’s deep, booming voice formed ripples on Long’s face, he was so close.

 

He circled Long as if he was courting his prey, ready to pounce on it, but not before it had fulfilled its services.

 

“I gave you simple instructions. You agreed. We signed a contract. The University gets funding for your new what-do-you-call-it programme? Anyway, your programme.” He paced a few steps back and forward beside the polished wooden table in the centre of the room where a couple of black-suits were sitting drinking their now-cold morning coffee. There’d been discussions going on before Long had been brought in.

 

Long raked a hand through his greasy hair. He hadn’t showered since yesterday. He hadn’t had the chance to. They’d kept him in an accommodation overnight. More like a prison than a BnB, but he wasn’t going to complain. His calculations had failed, and if they pressed too strongly he’d have to tell them why. He couldn’t do that just yet. Not before...

 

“So, Professor Long,” a black-suit spoke suddenly, obviously bored by this whole charade. He stood up and paced his way to the professor. The man was small, but his straight-backed posture and mischievous grin made Long’s impressive height and breadth of shoulder wane in comparison. “How long should we wait until it can be launched? We don’t have much time.”

 

“Ah, soon,” Long’s left leg had begun to tremble and he stepped his right foot over his left to try hold the limb in place. “Very soon, Sirs. I promise. No problem this time.”

 

“And what are these papers, Long?” Green-suit spoke again, turning his face to the Professor once more. Long noticed that his lip was jerking a little, as if he had a nervous tic or perhaps a withdrawal symptom. The papers were rattled in front of Long’s face and he slowly took them, afraid the other man wouldn’t let go, but they came away easily, and Long folded them protectively, yet as discreet of his emotions as possible, under his arm. “Why is there another set of coordinates on them? We agreed only on one.” Green-suit’s brow furrowed suspiciously, but his tic had intensified. He needed to smoke, was that it?

 

“Just in case, in case the first time it backfired! And it did!” The professor exclaimed, only too glad to lie so smoothly through his teeth. “I promise it will work this time.”

 

“Two days, I give you. Two. Don’t fail. This is a matter of national-” green-suit paused for a moment, then decided to continue proudly “and soon-to-be global importance.”

Comments

As she explored her way through the fog, she weirdly felt as though there wasn’t anything around her and that if the fog suddenly cleared all she’d see would be a deserted plain, devoid of infrastructure, skyscrapers, public transport.....and....Professor Deer whizzed on, cutting through Penny’s question as if it was piece of paper about to be recycled. Unimportant, recyclable paper that didn’t deserve to have its say.
To write a long chapter in a serial as we do is quite a challenge. To write it with such well thought out character inner thought and emotion shows a writer with great creative imagination and one who enjoys writing. I love this chapter and for me this is one of the best chapters I have read in a long time. Loved it, Anna.
Well done Anna. This chapter is alive with real people with real concerns and those are shared seamlessly. Three dimensional characters are difficult to create but you have done it. This is a masterclass in character development.
Great chapter Anna. The story is moving forward real fast and in this chapter you introduced a twist - about Long hiding something that may change the plot line in the coming chapters. This will add interesting layers to the story.
Just a small observation that needs amendment to maintain continuity - in a previous chapter it was mentioned that Prof. Long was a Meteorologist but here is referred to as a renowned Astronomer. Not a big deal but need to rectify it.