It took all of his effort to stop himself spurting the cocktail all over the table and Captain Reeves. ‘Woah,woah. Wait a minute! You weren’t the first person to enter the Barnard System?’
She finished her cigarette, briefly considered lighting a third and then closed the packet. Without a hand and smoke obscuring her face, he took the time to examine her face. The lines she had were fairly typical for a woman in her sixties but seemed enhanced by the stresses of her high-pressure career. ‘Clearly not.’
‘Did you find any other sign of somebody there?’
She turned the food packet over several times. Pulse hammering in her chest, it was all she could hear above the subsiding wind. She folded the packet twice and slipped it into a free side pocket. Temporarily abandoning her search for a way up the cliff face, she carefully paced along the black sand looking for further signs of foreign material. After three circuits, she was satisfied nothing alien was on the beach and returned her attention to the cliff face.
Had she felt a little more nimble and been blessed with the genetics of her father’s rather than her mother’s stature, there were several places she could have scaled the cliff. As it was, she identified just one place where she could climb safely and it was back at the western end of the beach. Checking one last time that there really was no other way up or around it, she began her slow and steady climb.
The rock was black and smooth and she was in no doubt that it was indeed obsidian. She took care with her hand and foot grips not to slip on the smooth, glassy rock. The wind picked up slightly, whipping past her as she moved upwards. It was only about twelve feet high and the weather conditions and smoothness made it difficult to scale.
It took Captain Reeves five minutes to scale the twelve-foot cliff. When she reached the lip, she pulled herself the rest of the way, dragging her feet along the ground. She pulled herself clear, rolled onto her back and sat up. Taking a few moments to catch her breath, she let the environment envelope her, imagining for a moment she was back on her favourite beach in Scotland in winter, seagulls cawing and waves lapping the shore, but not another soul around. That’s the way she preferred it.
When she’d been a teenager and experienced her first breakup, she went to that beach. It was a cold and windy February morning and she sat on a rock at one end of the beach with her sketchpad. At one point, she looked to the grey cliff at the other end and thought she saw another lonely soul sitting and staring out to sea. At first she thought it was a boy about her age and constructed a story in her mind about how he too had been dumped by a girlfriend who didn’t deserve him. She would ask him if he wanted to go to the milkshake bar to talk about their breakups, they would get on very well and then he would ask her out on a date.
But that day had brought only disappointment. The “boy” was just two rocks lying side by side and she cursed her mind for playing tricks on her and cursed herself for desperately wanting such a silly fantasy to be true.
Finally she stood up and something caught her eye. On the beach beneath her, something had moved – something that looked as if it was desperately trying to remain still – a human-shaped figure. At first she thought it was her mind playing tricks on her because of the memory that had resurfaced just moments before. But the more Captain Reeves looked at it, the clearer the figure was. It was crouching on the sand, not far from the shore. It was dark, human-shaped and wearing a suit similar to the one that Captain Reeves wore.
Most of all, it appeared to be looking straight up at Captain Reeves.