A wave of air passed through the tunnel and swept over the crowd, signalling the arrival of the metro. He found the high-pitched humming comforting as the maglev train slid gracefully into view. Looking left and then right he stopped forward to join the crowd waiting to board.
‘The men’s toilets are at the back of the platfom.’ the feminine voice muttered as something hard pressed at his back. ‘Go there. Don’t do anything stupid. I’m watching.’
He stiffened. ‘Ok.’
He cautiously made his way to the toilets, feeling momentarily relieved to see an OUT OF ORDER sign but realised the one to place it there was probably the person waiting for him. Heart thumping, he pushed open the door.
He was taken aback to see just one person and was equally shocked when the big, burly man – the one from the bar – greeted him like an old friend, shaking him firmly by the hand. ‘Forgive the cloak and dagger, we don’t usually do that sort of thing. Basically, I need just two things from you. Firstly, please give me whatever Captain Reeves gave you in the bar and secondly, you need to tell me where she is.’
He clutched his briefcase tightly. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
The man held out his hand, pointing at the briefcase. ‘May I?’
His heart sank again and tentatively handed it over. The man snapped it open and removed the metal container. ‘This isn’t what you think it is.’
The reporter gave the second man a blank look.
‘Captain Reeves is delusional – clinically. She needs help.’
His only response was to raise an eyebrow.
‘It’s all in here, please read it.’ He picked up a file that had been stacked behind the taps and handed it over. ‘She did land on Barnard IV. She did find her grandmother – but not alive. It’s one thing to encounter the ruins of a previous mission, quite another to find the body of a blood relative who disappeared on that mission. Captain Reeves was never the same after that. We tried to care for her, but she concocted a fantastical story for the Doctors at the psych facility.’
‘If that’s true, why has it taken 30 years to find her again?’
He shook his head. ‘She broke out last week when a cleaner obsessed with conspiracy theories believed her and helped her escape.’
The reporter shrugged.
He raised the container. ‘She told you all about the miracle goo I suppose?
The reporter looked down at his feet.
‘I see she did. I’m afraid this is not alien technology. It’s military grade coolant. She probably syphoned it out of her landing vessel.’ He prised open the lid and showed the reporter the contents. ‘See, it’s empty. She didn’t want you finding out what it really was – and you would have done after a cursory investigation.’
He pondered for a moment, lost between the story he had heard over the last two hours and this plausible alternative he’d just been fed. He had no reason to trust this man and on reflection he had no reason to trust Captain Reeves either – being a formerly famous astronaut didn’t make her incapable of lying or being insane.
‘Please.’ he pleaded.
The reporter drew in a deep breath but he was interrupted by the man’s communicator. He didn’t speak, but communicated by text. His brow furrowed and after a few minutes he shut it off. ‘I’ve got to go. I no longer need you.’ He pushed the metal box back at the reporter.
‘Wait, what’s going on?’
‘It seems Captain Reeves has hijacked a light freighter. One guess where she’s going.’
He breathed a sigh of relief as the door closed, leaving him alone.
It was late when he arrived back at his hotel, a 5-star Hilton at the heart of the business district of Londinium Plaza. His two-hour train ride back revealed no more unpleasant surprises; he was finally satisfied that he was no longer of interest.
He ate a quick meal and retired to his room, noticing he still had the metal box. Irritated, he turned it around several times and opened it. After everything she had told him, why had she lied? He wanted to believe Captain Reeves, she had seemed sincere but then aren’t delusional people often convinced they are telling the truth?
As he slammed the box on the table, a cover on the inside shook and came loose. Frowning, he picked the box up and noticed it had a concealed compartment. It came free easily; inside was a note. He unfolded it and began to read.
I’m sorry I deceived you, but I needed you to be my decoy and it was better for both of us if you were an unwitting decoy. I am embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t the only thing I lied to you about. I was not on the run for nearly thirty years, I have been in a successon of psychiatric hospitals and somebody helped me escape last week.
I’m not crazy. I know what and who I saw.
By now, I will probaby be on my way back to Barnard IV. I want you to begin writing my story. By the time you finish and find somebody willing to publish, I should be back with proof. If not, then it can be my obituary.
He screwed up the piece of paper and threw it angrily into the bin. After a few moments of consideration, he switched on his laptop and began to write.