“Perfectly contained. It’s completely secure.”
The man that some called Hatchet waited, drumming his fingers on the table. His suit was crisp and freshly ironed, and his bland features wore a look of barely contained boredom. His fit body aside, the man looked totally unremarkable. No one would ever pick him out of a crowd.
“We’ve set up dozens of redundant protocols,” the scientist across the table tried again. “Forget Fort Knox. This is definitely the most secure installation in the country.”
“It’s true,” his colleague chimed in, looking as anxious as his fellow. “The entry procedures include a half dozen different checkpoints. Nothing comes in without our knowledge.”
Hatchet waited another beat for the silence to build before he asked his question. “And things going out?”
The two scientists exchanged a look. “Out?” one of them repeated blankly. “Nothing goes out.”
The man in the suit could have asked more questions, here. He could have inquired about the details of their security checkpoints, about how they screened incoming cargo, physical connections to the installation site.
He didn’t, however. Instead, he just let the silence stretch out in front of him.
The men across the table from him waited, and fidgeted. They reminded Hatchet of young teenagers who’d managed to get their hands on a negotiation manual, he thought to himself. They knew that silence was a tool to be used, but they weren’t yet comfortable with it.
Hatchet, on the other hand, had all day.
Finally, caving to the pressure, one of the men across the table from him opened his mouth. “We’ve been instructed to give you all the help that we can offer,” he began, before his mouth ran out of steam. He lapsed into silence, clearly wishing furiously that this expensive consultant across the table would start doing something.
Finally, Hatchet gave a little nod, more to himself than to his clients. “Something got out,” he said.
Both of the men nodded.
“And I’m here,” the consultant continued, “to retrieve it for you.”
Another set of nods.
This time, Hatchet nodded back. “Okay,” he said, settling back in his chair and reaching for the bottle of Fiji water on the table in front of him. “Tell me about it.”
Both of the men, either from relief of concern, started babbling at the same time. Hatchet said nothing, merely listening attentively until they both eventually ran out of comments and slipped back into uncomfortable silence.
“Four crystals,” he repeated, watching for the expected nods. “Enclosed in glass tubes.”
The nods came, just as he’d anticipated. “Still contained,” one of the scientists insisted. “Totally secure.”
“But still secure.”
Hatchet let this minor matter pass. “And what happens if someone opens one of these glass tubes?” he asked.
“Um, they shouldn’t. It’s secure-“
The consultant’s glare was enough to make the scientist’s words wither and dry up mid-sentence. “If they open it, you probably won’t have to worry about retrieval,” he admitted, looking down at his lap.
Waiting. It stirred tongues to looseness.
“If they somehow opened the tube,” the poor man began, looking miserable.
“-and they removed the crystal-” threw in his companion.
“Yes, and if they removed the crystal, there would be a… a significant explosion.”
Hatchet waited. “Significant,” he prodded after a moment.
Both men nodded. “Perhaps sixty megatons,” one of them offered.
For once, Hatchet had to struggle to keep his face blank. A man in his line of work had to know conversions, especially regarding dangerous weapons. “Sixty,” he repeated, before he could hold back the words.
Two more nods. “But no one should open the glass tubes, so it should be okay,” one of the scientists interrupted quickly.
“Yes, the tubes fully prevent any unfortunate reaction. Perfectly harmless, in the tubes.”