The Rats In The Walls
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
not come down here," the colonel said. He keyed in a code into a panel set in
the wall, and the armoured door swung open. "You have never been here, if
anyone were to ask you. This place does not even exist. I hope that is clear."
The astrophysicist was small, grey-haired and more than
slightly overweight. He glanced at the officer from the corner of his eye.
"Nobodyís actually told me anything. So I have no idea why you thought fit to
order me here."
"Youíll find out." The colonel waited for the armoured door
to swing shut behind them. The corridor was stark white and brilliantly lit,
without a scrap of shadow. "Before we go any further, let me inform you,
officially, that youíre now under military jurisdiction. Anything and
everything you see or do here is classified, and any violation attracts
"Oh?" The astrophysicist raised one eyebrow, a skill of
which he was secretly rather proud. "What are you going to do? Rap me on the
knuckles? Stop my magazine subscriptions?"
The colonel didnít even blink. "Oh no. You breathe a word of this, and we are
going to shoot you."
The astrophysicist didnít have anything to say to that. He
followed the officer down the corridor until they reached another door. The
colonel opened it and stood aside. "There you are," he said."Go in."
"Arenít you coming?" Suddenly, the tall colonel in his green
uniform seemed to be an old friend, an anchor to the world outside.
"No. The generalís waiting for you. Heíll brief you himself."
The colonel inclined his head, smiled slightly, and closed the door behind the
It was quite an ordinary office room. The carpet was green,
and on the wall behind the desk there was a flag with a golden emblem which he
didnít recognise, but apart from that it was an ordinary office, with a
computer monitor on the large desk and filing cabinets along the walls. There
were no windows, of course, but then it was all far underground.
"Welcome, professor." The astrophysicist was startled by the
voice. He turned quickly, and found the speaker standing near the door with a
file in his hand. "I hope I didnít startle you."
"No, itís all right." The astrophysicist studied the
general. He seemed surprisingly old, with a deeply lined face and
unmilitary-looking grey hair. His eyes were bloodshot and tired. "Could you
explain what this is about?"
"Yes. Sit down, please." The general motioned towards the chairs
set before his desk. He casually slapped down the file in his hand on the
desktop, turned so that the scientist had no difficulty reading his own name on
the beige cover. "Youíve been told, of course, that this has to stay completely
"I have." The astrophysicist eyed the file as though it was
a possibly dangerous animal. "What is so important about this?"
The general said nothing for a moment. His fingers clicked
away at the keyboard of his computer, placed on a recessed shelf below the
scientistís view. A picture appeared on the computer monitor. "You know what
this is, of course?"
The astrophysicist glanced at the screen. The bat-like shape
on it was midnight black, its edges jagged and irregular. "Itís the hyperspatial
craft," he said. "Itís been all over the news recently. What about it?"
"Yes, itís the hyperspatial craft, as the media dubbed it.
For our purposes we call it the X Craft. You know its significance, of course."
"Iím not privy to the details," the astrophysicist said,
"but from what I gather itís meant to create and exploit a wormhole, so that it
achieves virtually instantaneous transport across space. Weíre told that it
holds out our only hope for reaching the stars."
"Thatís right." The general seemed agitated. He stood up and
began pacing behind his desk, his hands making odd spasmodic movements. "The
media do indulge in a lot of hyperbole, but theyíre probably telling the truth
when they claim itís the most significant revolution in transport after the
wheel." He turned to the astrophysicist suddenly. "You know about the
successful test, of course."
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