A LARGE ROOM WITH no LIGHT
1001 words by Stanley Lieber
Hello, I'm Calbert Whimsy, Master Of Ethics at POLICY SCHOOL: WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT. For twenty-five consecutive generations, the men of my family have stood watch over your children and their education. Granted, twenty of those generations were vat-grown, simultaneously, over the last decade. And yes, we correspond. Ah ha ha ha. I've made a little joke. It is a pleasure to see you here, you all say. Likewise, I'm sure.
As you may have guessed, I'm not really Calbert Whimsy. Somehow, though, they've fitted me in here, floating paralyzed amongst these sharks. The Families. Their publicists, attorneys, clergy. And now I've got to give this speech to the Green Consortium assembled. I've had better days.
Thirty years ago I entered this profession, not knowing what to expect.
THE STRAND is a luxury liner, Old British flag and technically off-limits to agents such as myself. This class of people are not supposed to be subjected to operational trifles such as political assassinations and internetwork intrigue. Let's just say I'm off the clock. The Lunsford affair was a wake-up call nobody wanted to hear. The collective, meaty fist of the Green aristocracy simply mashed their alarm clock and rolled over on their 800 thread count sheets. Hopefully, right into the wet spot.
Overheard from my place behind the podium:
Raucous laughter, all around. These people are far from funny, but they don't even know it.
From time to time, an exceptionally gregarious, obviously very special student will arrive in our class, and vex us all with their easy brilliance. I know what you're thinking. Each and every one of you is smiling now, convinced that I'm talking about your child. Well, I'm not. Ha ha. Let us stipulate that I'm not referring to your particular little brat.
You might say that this is a bit of a roast. I'm not entirely comfortable, exposing myself like this on stage.
But the weak humor is contagious. Someone in the audience gets clever and plays back the sound of crickets chirping. I squint at the crowd and realize that it's my support man, apparently trying to blow his cover. I want to yank on his bolo-tie force-feed him a handful of the ship's platinum salad forks. Connecting us directly in this context is a mistake. But in spite of his gaffe, you simply can't launch a wetwork operation from aboard THE STRAND without a hype-man. Since the script is a shambles, we'll be ad-libbing from here on in.
Mercifully, I complete my monologue without further interruption and I'm cleared to leave the stage. I'm not entirely sure what all I've just said, but the audience seems to more or less approve. My counterpart will have to sort it out later. I warned him I was no good in front of an audience.
I check THE STRAND's operating radius for other ships. This particular sector of the south Atlantic is out of bounds to commercial traffic. In fact, at this time of year, THE STRAND is the only ship permitted to ply its waters at all. But that doesn't mean we're alone out here.
I've got to keep an eye out for Piro.
Before I know it I've been scooped back up on stage. This time the lights are dimmed and I can make out the players from the various fandoms that were listed in the mission brief. I throw in some targeted references to key episodes of the relevant series. It goes over very well.
We've heard from a lot of educators tonight! But no one has even mentioned the litigators! Let's hear it for general counsel!
This brings on a spate of vigorous cheering and I am once again whisked offstage.
Four thespians in black tights approach the boards, each bearing brightly colored puppets sewn onto the fronts of their shirts. The effect, in combination with the carefully controlled lighting, is one of disembodied cartoon animals who glide back and forth across the stage, seemingly disconnected from the floor. The performance itself is protected by copyright. I refer to these creatures as thespians, but in reality they are Consortium members plucked at random from the crowd. An annual tradition with this group. The script, such as it exists, is familiar, and the audience members cum dancers have little trouble falling into the routine. Their friends and family are by this time well and truly soused, voicing their approval at considerable volume. Monitors throughout the ship pipe the performance into corridors, and even into the head. Men are pissing themselves listening to it.
I catch myself drumming on the table and immediately shove my hand into the pocket of my tuxedo jacket.
I'm here for a reason.
Not to participate in the show.
On schedule, I spasm wildly and vomit across the lap of my companion. Over her protestations (etiquette, you see) I am pulled away from the table and assisted to my cabin. Once alone, I remove my outer garments and verify that my stresspants boot up at optimum capacity. Impulsively, I clip the bow-tie from my stage costume onto my wetsuit, directly under my chin. I regard myself in the mirror and then squeeze myself out, through the porthole, exiting the cabin forever.
The ocean is slick with rain, a flickering black mirror of half-reflected moonlight. My visor activates as I dip below the surface, attempting to compensate for the darkness. Short-range sonar detects no walls, floors or obstructions anywhere nearby. I'm momentarily blinded in a large room with no light.
Gradually, my testicles shrink up, triggering my stresspants to activate.
At length, mission intel streams to life, glittering into my field of vision across the back of an enormous gray whale.
It is time.
To be continued...