Authors: Hamish Cantillon
Laura looked up from her tablet as her two roommates entered their cramped sleeping quarters. “You guys finished for the day?”
Anna the shorter of the two women sat down on the bunk facing her and pulled off the scrunchy which kept her long hair in place. “Yep another glorious day over. How come you’re back here already?”
“I’ve got the computer running cluster simulations and they won’t be completed until tomorrow so I came back to read”.
Katherine, Anna’s companion, climbed up the metal ladder attached to the back of the lower bunk where Laura was sitting. She lay back and draped her long legs over the edge “You didn’t fancy the rec area?”
“Too noisy to really get into a book in there. I always feel like I have to engage with other people rather than doing my own thing.”
Anna started taking out her contact lenses “I know what you mean I got caught by Dr Farris at lunch. Much as I love my work, discussing an unusual spike in dark matter neutrinos while eating a baked potato seems a bit much even for this place.”
Katherine grunted from her perch above them. “I heard Brian Morrison saying something about his team losing track of a number of celestial masses as well. Sounds like the radio telescopes are going to need checking tomorrow morning. I can’t wait - there’s nothing I’d rather do than a full inspection check in minus 50 degrees”.
Laura shifted her position on the bed. She’d not been feeling that great over the last day or so. Her throat felt tight and there was a pressure in her chest that hadn’t dissipated even after the consumption of several anti-acids. In fact if anything it was getting worse. As a child she’d been hospitalised following an allergic reaction and had always been sensitive to changes in her environment. The discomfort she was currently feeling however seemed less about her physical well-being and more about a vague sense of unease. Her heart appeared to be beating too quickly for an afternoon spent reading the latest Louise Mensch. “Anything else going on” she asked.
Anna picked up her laptop and started tapping away on the keyboard. “Not that I know of. Ben and Tony were arguing about funding allocations for the new Cray but that’s nothing new. Everyone else seems pretty cool. There’s a bunch of Raytheon contractors due up from McMurdo tomorrow and we’ve been told to expect power cuts and lots of noise.”
Anna stopped speaking and all three of them looked at one another as a sudden deep rumble could be heard reverberating through the structure that made up the accommodation module. The bunk beds knocked heavily against the walls and Anna’s computer slid from her lap and banged on the floor as the building shook.
As the shaking subsided Laura felt pain in her right hand and realised she’d been clenching the metal frame of the bed too tightly. “What the hell was that?”
Anna stood up and Katherine jumped down from her top bunk. Both women looked uneasy. “It must be an earthquake.” Anna said. “I haven’t felt anything like that since I attended an astrophysics conference in LA about 5 years ago. To be honest I didn’t know we had earthquakes here, we’re so far from any tectonic plates”.
Laura unclenched her hand and shook it slowly to restore the blood flow. “Maybe we should go and ask Dr Griegson about it”. As she said this the tannoy in the corridor came on followed by the muffled voice of Dr Griegson “All staff please be aware that we have just experienced a minor earth tremor. There is no cause for alarm and Mr Podolski has been asked to check the external leg supports to ensure no damage has occurred. We may experience some minor aftershocks over the next couple of hours. Dr Osborne is downloading the data from his sensors as we speak so feel free to harass him in the geosciences lab if you’re interested”.
Katherine looked out of the small triple glazed port hole positioned in the centre of the back wall of the sleeping quarters. “I think I’ll pass on that, I’m not sure Dr Osborne has heard of antiperspirant and he could do with showering more regularly. I wonder if the tremor affected the radio telescopes? We’re definitely going to need to check them out now. Hey have we got some teams out to the East”.
Anna replied. “I don’t think so, everybody’s back inside for the day as far as I’m aware, why?”
“Can you see those lights moving towards us, like loads of reflections, but it can’t be from any of our teams, there’s too many of them.”
The pressure on Laura’s chest increased and she was finding it hard to breathe – she hoped she wasn’t having a panic attack. Anna pressed her face against the glass “You’re right there are loads of tiny lights and it looks like they’re coming towards us. Is it some sort of weird refraction off the ice perhaps caused by the tremor?” Laura knew even without looking that it wasn’t. She knew without a shadow of a doubt something awful was about to happen. “Anna I think you better lock the door”.
“Lock the door what are you talking about we’ve never locked the door. The guys know this room is off limits?”
“I have a bad feeling. A really bad feeling. Would you just humour me and lock the door…”
Katherine gave a start at the window “Shit it’s not a refraction it’s some sort of…..I don’t know what it is but Anna maybe you better lock that door, whatever it is it’s heading straight towards us…..”.
Anna picking up the concern in both Katherine and Laura’s voices crossed the two steps to the door and closed it firmly and then slid the locking bolt across. As she did so Katherine let out a short shout from behind her and jumped back from the window. There was a sudden sound of scratching noises underneath the floor of their room, sounds which quickly rose up the sides of the moulded plastic walls. Within a moment the light from the small port hole window was obscured leaving the room lit by the fluorescent strip lighting in the ceiling. The pitter patter scratching sounds went up and over the roof of the building like a stampede of angry ants and then down the other side in an almost deafening roar. Katherine had moved back to the lower bunk and was holding Laura’s hand tightly “I don’t know what they are I don’t know what they are, I don’t know”... The tannoy suddenly kicked in again followed by a burst of static and then a scream. Anna started to cry and moved back from the door on to the bed with Laura and Katherine “What’s happening? What the hell is happening?” The scratching noises could now be heard on the outside of their door and then slowly the locking mechanism was pulled back seemingly of its own accord. Laura screamed in unison with the other women as the door fell open and a mass of silvery death flowed inexorable into the room.
The TV news anchors had started calling the results 2 hours ago. As usual the states in the North East managed to report their results quicker than the rest of the country. The time zones were in their favour and they had a small geographical footprint. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut all rushed to get their ballot boxes to the counting stations as quickly as possible in order to get their official results out first. Of course in most of those states the result was already a foregone conclusion. There was little doubt about who would win what. Entrenched voting habits combined with the burden of modern technology, polling organisations and social network profiling meant that the days of waiting with baited breath to hear the official announcement were long gone.
In the South however the pace of politics was somewhat more leisurely. Oh sure technology had reached into almost every corner but it hadn’t taken hold like it had in the tech savvy more impersonal north. People still took the time to discuss their opinions with their neighbours; to reflect upon what their family, friends and work colleagues were saying. They also listened to the key members of their community. If the pastor said they should be voting for a particular person or party then they took note of that. While candidates in the north were hitting the twitter feeds and TV slots candidates here in the south were still meeting union leaders in bars, attending church meetings and getting out on the stump to put their message across.
Louisiana was a largely rural state and even in the urban areas people retained close links to their country roots. The rural heartlands were largely conservative, interspersed here and there with more liberal towns and the large very liberal city of New Orleans. If he’d been trying to get elected in District Two where New Orleans was located he’d have been trounced at the first hurdle. Fortunately he wasn’t. He was on the District Three ticket – Baton Rouge, Lake Charles and the surrounding blue collar, farming parishes. Even then there was no guarantee. The families in these areas had been here a long time. They remembered their forefathers telling them of the great depression and in more recent times had once again experienced the negative effects of capitalism: the foreclosures, the seizure of land and houses, the collapse of the local economy and high unemployment. It was these people, who despite their natural instincts against big government, were glad that they were there when they needed it. Nevertheless his run had coincided with a super storm of circumstance giving him the best chance he’d ever have to win the seat – a sitting black president, fears about gun control and increased taxes, health care policies which favoured the urban poor and finally the rise of the Christian right. Nevertheless at the end of the day that was all it was, a good chance. The polls put him and the Democrat candidate neck and neck. He had the religious vote, the farmers and the gun control lobby, while his challenger had the black, liberal and urban vote. It would be a close run thing and the final announcement on who would represent district 3 for the next four years wasn’t going to be one of the first to be announced.
The people around him were saying things like ‘Good luck’, ‘I’ve got a good feeling David’, ‘There’s no way that Democrat donkey is going to be representing my views in Washington’. Despite what they said he could feel their tension. They weren’t sure. This was no Rhode Island. His campaign manager Matty Clark was by his side. Matty’s shirt and tie were getting slowly more rumpled with each passing hour. Matty’s top button had been undone for some time and his once immaculately gelled black hair was beginning to dry out ruining his normally impeccable appearance. The look had not been improved by continuously running his hand through his hair while his eyes remained fixated on the screen. Matty was an idealist. He truly believed in right and wrong. The ‘wrong’, in his eyes, was everything the liberal bureaucrats in Washington were doing – ruining this once great country by imposing unnecessary laws and regulations. Regulations that were self-serving and removed the rights and opportunities for free thinking entrepreneurial American’s who wanted nothing more than the opportunity to own a gun, work hard and keep themselves to themselves. David was somewhat more realistic than this. He was nevertheless a conservative, a true blood Republican through and through but he was also smart enough and pragmatic enough to know that the world Matty wanted to see existed only in the movies and minds of the Tea Party leaders - who seemed to have taken their manifesto straight out of Little House on the Prairie. Of course he’d made sure to play on his Republicanism; he after all needed his core vote to get out for him. However unlike some of his contemporaries who’d been seduced by the Tea Party and their more extremist views he’d studiously avoided getting himself pushed into a tight corner on any of the key issues. He knew his success or otherwise depended on getting the vote of the independents; the small percentage of voters who swung from one party to another depending on the direction of the wind that particular morning. As a result he’d made sure to praise the work of teachers, the police, the armed forces, the fire department, local hospitals and community groups. He’d spent time and effort getting the normally Democrat voting municipal staff and local government officials on his side by assuring them of his desire to keep local services running. All of which had been reinforced by pointing to his track record of doing just as he said while Mayor of Lake Charles.
As well as his pragmatism and hard work ethic he had other assets on his side. For a start he was young; young enough that when he met with students and youth groups he was able to respond to what they were saying. Young enough to join in with their soccer, basketball, hockey or American football games. Young enough that the guys thought he was a decent guy and the girls would have been happy to have him as a dinner date. He was also charming and though not stunningly good looking had a strong face that people responded well to. Additionally he had the ability to chat with the older generation, picking up on issues that they liked to talk about – immigration, the state of the roads and crime levels. If he didn’t have the old women laughing and offering to be his wife by the end of a trip to a nursing home he was hugely disappointed. Of course his lack of a wife was seen by many in the party to be a huge disadvantage. His main rival had a wife and 2 ‘wonderful children’ and had made a big play about being a ‘family man’ and understanding ‘what it’s like for all the hard working families out there’. The fact that he didn’t have the right partner on his arm nor a bunch of kids running around a garden inside a white picket fence wasn’t ideal but then what did people expect from a 31 year old? He’d had enough girlfriends to persuade the voters and the press he wasn’t gay; which would have been a political death sentence in Louisiana whichever side of the political fence you were on. Only in states like New York and California could you hope to win as a practicing homosexual. Fortunately his relationships had not been so numerous that he could be portrayed as a playboy. Of course he’d had a few ‘fleeting encounters’ but his longer term relationships had largely been with sensible well thought of women; a teenage sweetheart, a lawyer, a nurse and a public relations executive. All of whom he’d visited personally before announcing his candidacy. It was important to make sure they were on side and on message. In fact he’d actually kept on good terms with most of them. Only the relationship with the lawyer had ended badly and she was smart enough to understand that if she kept quiet and he was elected she’d have a nice in on a cushy political appointment in the DA’s office. He’d dated Shelley for 4 years on and off. If she hadn’t been so career minded they might have ended up getting married. In the end though it had been conveyed to him in no uncertain terms that if he was serious about politics he needed to find someone who was prepared to put their own career on hold while he advanced his own. Shelley just hadn’t been that girl. She’d taken it badly when he’d ended it and there had been one or two ugly scenes at their apartment – minor enough in the greater scheme of things but enough that the police had been called by the neighbours on one occasion and a report filed. A report which had ‘disappeared’ during a document electronification exercise a few months ago.
To get over the lack of a wife and family he’d played the ‘Listen if you want to talk to me about families then fine let’s talk about my 4 brothers and sisters and 7 nieces and nephews’. He’d also come up with the now oft repeated line ‘My passion is this great state, my children are the citizens of this district and my dream is to sweep those Washington bureaucrats and their corrupt cronies out on to the front porch. After that if you know of anyone who’s looking for a clean living honest and hardworking guy feel free to give her my number and ask her to give me a call.’ Of course the party switchboard had been jammed within minutes, which had in turn infuriated the party big wigs but only for as long as it took the media to get behind the story. They turned it into a ‘politician looking for love’ story. The attention had meant priceless airtime minutes on chat and radio shows as well as thousands of column inches in both the left and right wing press. His profile had gone from nothing to sky high within an afternoon and his Democrat challenger had been left ruing the day he’d married and had a family. The only downside had been keeping the ‘prospective wives’ out of his hotel room while he was on the road campaigning. The last thing he wanted was to be caught sleeping with someone during the run up the election. His bachelor status had actually become a positive and until he was elected he was smart enough to realise that was how it was going to stay.
The commentator had announced the result for districts 1 and 2; both wins for Democrat candidates. Districts 4 and 5 had gone to fellow Republicans and now everyone was waiting for District 3. He suddenly had the surreal experience of watching himself on TV as one of the major networks zoomed in on him. He tried to look relaxed and ready for anything but he wasn’t sure he got away with it, his stomach was churning and his brain was reliving all the bad meetings, stump speeches and awkward encounters he had while campaigning. Then this was it, the world seemed to fall silent as the commentator announced that they’d called District 3 Louisiana by a margin of 52 to 48 per cent and that David Mitchell would be elected congress member for South Central Louisiana. His tensed shoulders fell back down. His stomach unclenched from its position up against his diaphragm and his face moved from a stony grimace to a broad smile. The feeling of relief was almost overwhelming and for a moment he thought he might faint but that wasn’t going to be possible as he was overwhelmed by a crush of people shouting and cheering and hugging him and shaking his hand. He’d done it; his life would never be the same again.
Several weeks later he was sitting at a table outside a Lake Charles coffee shop waiting for two of his largest financial backers. Tessa he knew reasonably well, she’d been an ardent supporter for the last couple of years and he counted her as a close political friend. The other backer Chad McGovern was largely unknown. Tessa had brought McGovern in shortly after he’d won the primary for the Republican nomination. McGovern was apparently a business associate of Tessa’s. Other than getting Matty to do a quick check on him to make sure he was above board he’d largely put him out of his head. Now that he’d won the seat McGovern had requested a meeting. The request had come through Tessa and he knew if Tessa was involved he was obliged to meet and hear what McGovern wanted to say. Prior to the meeting he’d checked to see how much McGovern had actually contributed to his campaign. Though McGovern’s donations had been through a series of companies as opposed to individual donations, in total it was close to a million dollars. That sort of money definitely bought you a meeting with a newly elected member. He just hoped McGovern wasn’t looking for something that as a freshman congressman he was unlikely to be able to deliver. He spotted a black Mercedes pulling up to the kerb. Tessa and a well-dressed Texan gentleman wearing a beige Stetson got out and approached the table.
He rose to meet them. “Tessa great to see you. You look wonderful. Have you fixed your hair differently? I like it” He caught the hint of a smile on Tessa’s face as his natural patter kicked in. He kissed her on both cheeks and she greeted him.
“David good to see you again I see you’ve lost none of your charm”.
He then turned and put out his hand “And this must be Mr McGovern. A pleasure to meet you sir, please take a seat”. As they shook hands he indicated a seat to the left of where he’d been sitting and then moved round the table to pull a seat out for Tessa before sliding the chair underneath in an unconscious show of gentlemanship.
As he sat McGovern replied in a deep southern drawl. “Good to meet you too….Congressman Mitchell, but please ‘Sir’ is my father, I prefer Chad”.
“Of course and please David - Congressman Mitchell still sounds somewhat strange. I haven’t quite got used to it yet. Now what can I get both of you to drink?”
While they were waiting for the drinks he exchanged comments with Tessa about various people they knew and Chad seemed happy to settle back in his chair and let them talk. Once the drinks had arrived however Tessa turned to Chad and said.