Chapter 42 - NSA
Near the National Security Administration (NSA) headquarters at Fort Meade, in Virginia, the lights had been on all night in the non-descript office a few miles from the base. Three people in the room watched the press conference from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on a live internet feed. The large HD screen clearly showed the despair on the British PR man’s face. As the press conference descended into chaos, the sweat dripped down his face and smeared the poorly applied make-up into his dyed hair.
Dr Ali Palaszwaski, a NASA scientist, and one of Keith’s collaborators, watched the broadcast. An unmarked private jet had flown him direct from Florida to Fort Meade as soon as the news broke. His father was Russian, his mother Egyptian, and in adulthood he had become a short stocky man with a balding pate. His eyes were dark, and darted left and right incessantly as he spoke. The words tumbled out of him as if his brain was racing ahead of his ability to communicate.
Also flown in some eight hours ago was Dr. Mary Morrell a scientist from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. Mary was a specialist in deep space particles. She was of African-Caribbean descent and was one of the largest fattest people Ali had ever met, and he had met some large people. The table in front of them was strewn with empty coffee cup, drinks cans and food wrappers. They had been in the room since lunch the previous day. Mary was eating from a large packet of potato chips as she watched the screen.
The high definition image showed the tears on the woman’s face with Professor on her name card, who was now sat in her chair weeping openly. The male PR man with the orange coloured skin from his fake tan, was franticly trying to bring control to the situation, by asking if there were any questions he could answer that did not involve Aliens.
‘This is utter chaos,’ Ali said, pointing at the screen and looking at the man seated at the head of the conference table.
This man was Admiral Gerald Smythe who was a tall strikingly good looking man with a dark suit and crisp white shirt. He continued to have his hair cut in the crew cut US Navy style. The dark stubble of his beard showed through his tanned skin, and Ali noticed it was almost as long as his hair.
‘I agree’ said the Admiral, ‘we are learning nothing here,’ and pressed a button on a remote control to switch off the screen.
He rose and poured himself a cup of iced water. Removed his jacket and placed it carefully over the back of a vacant chair, then looked at each of them in turn. Mary put down her half consumed pack of potato chips and wiped her chubby hands on a paper napkin. Ali sat straighter in his chair. When the Admiral looked at you with those clear blue eyes, you knew it was time to listen and it wasn’t a good time to eat potato chips.
Ali could see by looking at the two digital clocks on the wall, it was 11.01 AM in the UK at the press conference, and 6.01 AM here in Fort Meade. The room they were in, had no external windows so it was difficult to sense if it was day or night. The Admiral looked surprisingly cool and dignified despite being awake all night. Ali felt tired. He looked across the table at Mary, and saw that her face was drawn with fatigue. Ali thought that he probably looked like that as well. Ali knew that the Admiral had to brief the NSA Director at 8 AM, and he wanted to clarify what he was going to say to him, before they were going to be allowed to go and get some sleep.
The Admiral, put his ice water down on the table on a precisely arranged paper napkin, and looked at his notes.
He said the words that Ali expected and hoped to hear, ‘let’s go over what we know so far, and then I need to take a shower before meeting the NSA Director.’
‘We know there was some concentrated activity of interstellar particles at the exact point and time in the UK where Dr. Keith Maxwell apparently disappeared on Saturday. There is no indication that this was a result of any man-made activity.’
He paused to look up at each of the scientists, for their agreement. Ali nodded his ascent vehemently, and was relieved that Mary also nodded her agreement, and kept silent. Ali hoped that Mary would not say anything to disagree with the Admiral and thereby delay that shower, hot breakfast and some sleep. The Admiral looked down at his notes once again and continued to read.
‘We know that this spot was one of 17 locations where we had previously recorded this interstellar particle activity, but this event was at a higher reading than previously recorded.’
Ali saw Mary wince at the scientific over-simplification of this statement and look at Ali for moral support. Ali shrugged, caught in a dilemma between wanting to correct the statement and his desire for some sleep. His gesture he realised was a coward’s way out, a neutral gesture, so Mary could decide if she wanted to correct it or not.
The Admiral saw the look passing between the scientists and asked, ‘Mary you have a concern with that statement?’
‘Well its sort-of kind-a correct, Ad’mral,’ she said in her heavily accented Alabama drawl. ’But it was a higher reading in some areas of the spectrum but not in others. All we really know is the reading was different to the previous ones. What I would really like to do is run the data through the supercomputers again and set some new parameters.’
The Admiral looked at Ali. Prompting him to speak.
Ali said somewhat reluctantly, ‘Mary’s point is that the higher reading may not mean anything, it could be explained by other variables, so we really need to look at all spectrums to see if instrument failure or something...’
The Admiral stood, stretching his hand out, palm facing directly at Ali. Ali stopped speaking in mid-sentence.
‘OK he said, enough. Go get some rest, I’ll meet you back here at 2 PM today’, and with that the Admiral put on his jacket and walked out.
Mary and Ali looked at each other in dismay. Ali was hoping go home to Florida, he didn’t want another day with the Admiral. However, before he could say anything to Mary there was a knock on the door and four serious looking Marines filed in. One said, ‘we are here to escort you to your quarters’.