The room was that fussy kind of quiet that comes with waiting for the final and, more notably, the tardy member of a group to arrive; there was the usual shuffled papers, clearing of throats, and drumming of fingers. The warmth of the room only added to the overall discomfort of the four men who sat at the small conference table.
As a career military man, there were few things that could make General Enric Aewa think instantly less of a person like being late; it was a vice for which he had no patience, being one of the very few vices in which he did not himself partake. He sent a glower of disapproval across the table towards Senator Holdrick, who cleared his throat.
“I’m sure she’ll be here shortly, General.”
“She had best be,” he said, fingering the scotch glass before him. “I am not accustomed to having my time wasted, not by the likes of you and certainly not of her.”
“I’m sure she has a good reason, General,” The Senator said, always the politician. “May I remind you of the knowledge she is bringing to this meeting? You will do well to listen to her when she arrives-”
“If she arrives,” General Aewa interrupted.
“Oh will you two stop acting like a couple of bulls circling,” Doctor Carl Lansing admonished. “I’m sure our tardy Doctor won’t give much thought to which one of your dicks is bigger.”
The fourth member of the room gave a low chuckle, and the General’s eyes flicked to him uncomfortably.
“Let’s just remember why we are all here,” Dr. Lansing continued. “Or, my dear General, has there been some new breakthrough that I have not been made aware of?” When the General’s only response was to deepen his frown, Dr. Lansing nodded.
“As I thought. Then while we are waiting, may I take the moment – without placing blame, of course – to remind everyone of the catastrophic failure of the Spectrum Project.”
The General sat up a bit straighter. “I don’t think that’s at all necessary, Doctor.”
“Now, Doctor Lansing,” the Senator said in his most conciliatory tone, in no great hurry himself to be reminded of the event. “I don’t believe any one of us is likely to soon forget the…” he paused and rubbed his palms together nervously, “the unfortunate events which took place, bringing the project to an untimely end. However, I am certain- ah!”
The attention of all four men was drawn to the opening of the door. They stood as an armed guard escorted their final member into the room, then exited, shutting the door behind him. The Senator stepped forward first and shook her hand.
“Doctor Hargrave, it’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“It’s my pleasure, Senator.”
“You know Doctor Lansing, of course,” he said. “General Aewa…”
“How good of you to join us at last,” the General said, not bothering to even feign courtesy as he sat down again without offering his hand. Her gaze traveled to the fourth man, but he only gave an unnerving smile.
“I’m not here, Ma’am,” he said. She nodded, though didn’t like the idea of briefing unknown persons on sensitive information.
“I apologize for being late,” she said as she put her brief case down. “Security has gotten tighter than I remember it.”
The General gave a grunt. “I’m sure those men checked you over quite thoroughly.” The Senator began to protest but he waved him off. “Now that we are all here, or aren’t,” he corrected, glancing at the fourth, “can we please get on with whatever it is you’ve called us all here to hear?”
“Of course,” Doctor Hargrave said, opening her briefcase. “I need not remind you that nothing you are about to see here today leaves this room. This goes beyond national security; it goes beyond any security threat we have ever encountered before.”
General Aewa gave a contemptuous snort but took the brief she passed to the four of them, glancing over the first couple of pages before turning a raised eye to the Doctor. The Senator looked somewhat pale by the information before him, Doctor Lansing as well. Only the fourth did not even glance at the report.
“Gentlemen,” she said, once they’d all had a moment to let it sink in. “As of a year ago, we became aware that we were no longer the sole intelligent life forms in our galaxy. As of today, they know this, also.”