Home > Fiction > ‘A funny thing happened on the garden path…’ Part 8

‘A funny thing happened on the garden path…’ Part 8

It’s been how long? Oops. I’ll blame uni. Uni made me do it.

 

Four hundred and twenty-eight days before Day 0

The doctor and his associates were already there when I returned with the cheaper, commercial store-bought wine. Like I had the money to search far and wide for a bottle of Granlion Champagne. On top of that, I recall drinking with the good doctor, but not what we drank.

The doctor stood out like a sore thumb, which was still impressive when he was sitting in the chair opposite James. He was short and balding, but his hair stuck out from his head like it was trying to escape him, which had the effect that sitting at this table was a mad scientist. He was frowning at James, and gave me the distinct impression that no one tended to speak out against him for fear of hearing him reprimand them for wasting his time.

Two steps into Max’s apartment, I had a very bad feeling about the rest of my life.

The doctor turned towards the visitor that had entered, “And this is?”

“Oh don’t worry.” James spoke up quickly, and he seemed a little flustered. “He’s my associate.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow. Only one. It was creepy.

“Doctor Forrest?” James tried to bring the focus back to him. “We were discussing the expedition you hired us for.”

It was like someone had opened a hose of water in my face. I remembered last night, we had been in the bar talking with this guy, getting drunk. No, I was getting drunk, James was drinking less than usual. And then, Dr Forrest had been there, and we were drinking, and James him were talking about doing something for him, and, and…

“Mr Cufts, I am not an idiot. In fact, I didn’t become the most respected archaeologist in New Michigan University because I treated every whimsical opportunity that passed me by with the experience of an undergraduate desperate for glory.”

“You can’t back out Steven.” I knew James well, and he sounded brave. But I knew that right now, it was a facade, needing to puff out his chest and seem in control in the presence of this mad scientist. “You signed the contract, which makes you obligated to fulfill what you promised.”

“A masters in Law was it Mr. Cufts? I would have expected a more airtight agreement from one who passed as well as you. I have every intention of fulfilling your request of fifty million credits for archaeological research in the Sigma system. But you see, you appeared to have failed to research my department throughly.”

“How so?” James voice was weaker. I could probably get less for only being an accomplice to fraud.

“Well, the department has final say over any research, especially if any new proposals were to say, tread over old ground. Can’t have people running around, doing nothing but copying their forefathers. New Michigan University retains it’s right to withhold research grants or in cases such as yours… redistribute your efforts towards a more valuable, undiscovered area of study.” Forrest was looking at his fingernails like the conversation bored him. It probably did, if he was turning down grants like this all the time.

I spoke up, since James appeared to be much paler than when I had returned. “What do you mean?”

He turned to look at me, with the eyes that saw me as trash, something disgusting that had to be put up with for a time. I might have shivered.

“I did my research. I know you two were planning something along the lines of accepting the grant money, probably use some it to take a plane across the ocean to Galeon and live out the rest of your lives as rich bachelors. But you seem to have overreached your grasp. Fifty million is not a number we just give away to anyone who asks for it.”

I didn’t hear it with my ears, but something told me James was cursing constantly.

“The contract forces me to uphold my end and sign over the grant money to you. But as for where you will be performing your research, you may not have heard of RX-5T0.”

Not quite. I had heard of it, it was a small planet closer to the star than Sigma was. Despite having a breathable atmosphere, the proximity to the star caused it to have less resistance to solar radiation, and acidic soil made colonization far less appealing than Sigma. Also, there was Sigma, which was apparently like Earth had been before the Great Polluting, which more or less matched all the criteria like ‘Ideal’ and “Colonize now’ and ‘What are you waiting for?’.”

“You will be going there to explore the planet for any signs of life, animal or alien, and document your recordings. The University expects the task to take the two of you approximately fifteen years, and we are very happy for you to perform the task that unofficially, we have been putting off for decades, mainly because satellite scans have currently shown no signs of life at all on its surface.”

“But it’s fine” said James, looking at me. “Fifty million will still go a long way right?”

“Oh no” interjected Forrest. “We gave you the benefit of pre-purchasing all the equipment you will need, and booking an FTL Shuttle to get you there as quick as possible. In fact, the University has never had such eager participation in such a necessary but pointless task.”

He stood up and moved to the door. James and I didn’t move. It was the shock. Also, I didn’t think I could knock him unconscious to the point where he didn’t remember meeting us today.

He turned at the door and grinned,gesturing to the two men that had come with him, but had said nothing this whole time. “This is Chuck and Danners. They will be collecting your things and taking you to the port. Don’t worry, we’ll be in touch.”

James screamed like a little girl. It might have been me.

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