Frank Booker sighed, as he read the report lying on his desk, his pudgy finger running down the pages picking out the relevant details. He fidgeted in his seat, not really believing his Director of Research would have had the audacity to turn in such a negative piece of work.
“God damned woman,” he muttered, flicking over another page, scanning it with his steel-blue eyes while wiping his forehead with a man-size tissue. Booker was running to fat and tended to sweat in the enclosed glass cage that was his office.
As he read, Booker tapped a pen on the desktop, his small, almost feminine mouth – framed by ruddy jowls – pursed in concentration. He cursed again, wondering how he had ever employed such an unsophisticated scientist in the first place. A doctor she might be but one with little imagination about positing a resolution. If Booker’s army career had taught him nothing else it had made him realise that fortitude made the man.
Booker’s favourite lament when drinking his evening port at the Duck and Drake was the way that the youth of today expected everything to be handed to them on a silver plate.
“Where is the effort, the drive,” he’d ask anyone willing to listen.
Booker slammed the report shut and removed his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose with a forefinger and thumb. Leaning back in his chair, he swung it around to face the huge picture window behind him, staring across the grounds of the facility he’d managed for the past six years.
The sun was high, glinting from the razor-wire atop a high electrified fence paralleling Military Road. The name always brought a smile to Booker’s lips, reminding him of better times. Military Road ran south-east along the Isle of Wight’s coast line, winding its way through scattered villages. It was a pleasant walk at this time of year but one Booker hadn’t been able to take for some months. The project was burying him under complexities that should have been resolved by his staff.
What the hell was he paying them for, he wondered.
Closing his eyes, he pictured his golden retirement fund disappearing because some stupid bitch couldn’t do her job properly. Breathing deeply he watched two gulls skimming low over the sea, trying to calm himself.
The facility he administered, designated Area 7 by the authorities, but known by the staff as ‘The Camp’, had been set up in the late 1990s to research pharmaceutical methods of improving warfare. Booker was offered the post of Director General after he’d retired from the forces. Sir Craig Holland, an old army comrade, had put forward his name, smoothing the way by reaching out to the numerous government contacts he’d built up over the years. It was the loyalty shown to him by Sir Craig that had carried Booker through his initial doubts about the latest project that they were researching.
The Aggression Stimulation Project, or AspByte as it was quickly christened, had raised some serious doubts in Booker’s mind, but Sir Craig had visited Area 7 personally, explaining how important the Government considered the project to be.
Sir Craig was Chairman of Biosphere Cojoin Ltd, a company supplying drugs to the armed forces. He had assured Booker that there was no conflict of interests in this latest undertaking and Booker had taken his word on the matter – after all the man was a retired General, a member of COBRA, and Military Advisor to the Prime Minister.
Sir Craig explained that The Aggression Stimulation Project was being set up by the army to explore the feasibility of producing a drug capable of raising aggression levels in their troops, going on to tell him that Human Rights issues were chipping away at their success rates in such places as Afghanistan – a theatre where the enemy had no such considerations to worry about. And Booker had to admit that after reading media reports of families lining up to sue the government for not supplying proper equipment to its soldiers, he could understand that point of view.
While Sir Craig continued his inspection of the facility, he expanded on the army’s aim of forming a small, select fighting unit within the Gurkha Regiment. These soldiers, treated with the new drug, would form a compact fighting force that would terrorise any enemy into submission. Despite Sir Craig’s gushing enthusiasm, Booker had a difficult time coming to terms with the doubts forming in his mind.
Bringing his thoughts to the matter at hand, Booker turned back to his desk, dropping the report into his top drawer. Walking to a filing cabinet across the office, he pulled a keyring from his pocket, sorting through it, trying a couple in the lock before finding the right one.
Returning to his desk he sat down, dropping the file he’d taken from the drawer in front of him with little enthusiasm. The AspByte file was thick and Booker spread it open on his desk, wiping his forehead as he searched for any clues as to what pressure he might bring to bear.
The file indicated that the early research had gone well, the subjects – initially rats but later cats – displaying an awesome aggression, attacking their handlers at every opportunity – but the project had stalled. The problem facing the team now was finding a method of controlling the aggression. Something they hadn’t yet accomplished.
Dr Sheena Mckenzie, Booker’s flame-haired Director of Research had even tried advanced viral techniques but to no avail. Now she was convinced that it couldn’t be done, recommending that he close the project down.
Booker didn’t accept her analysis, feeling nothing but contempt for somebody who gave up so easily. If it couldn’t be done one way, they would find an alternative. They had to, a lot of money, and his own future was tied up in this project. She just needed the right motivation and it was up to him to find it. He continued reading her file, pouring over every little detail.
Some time later Booker closed the file and picked up the phone, punching out a number, tapping the file with his fingertips while he waited for it to connect. The problem needed dealing with quickly, he couldn’t afford these doubts about the success of AspByte getting farther up the line.
Booker’s thoughts were interrupted and he scowled at the desktop. “Oh yes. Is that you Dr Vasant? Yes, good, listen. I’ve got this report in front of me from Dr Mckenzie recommending that the project be terminated. Can you explain what the hell’s been going on over there for the past eighteen months? I was given to understand from your reports that it was on schedule.”
Booker listened to the deep voice issuing from the handset, muttering a few, ah ha’s and yes I see’s while the Head of Research for the AspByte Project, Dr Mani Vasant, gave his excuses and recommendations.
Booker cut him short. “Well Dr Vasant, thank you very much. That’s very interesting. I’ll call you again later, after I’ve had a word with Dr Mckenzie.”
Booker replaced the telephone in its cradle, a thoughtful expression on his face. He hadn’t said goodbye to Vasant, but then he never did engage in social niceties with his staff, not seeing the need to.
Gazing at the ceiling, he considered what he’d just been told, then buzzed through to his secretary, ordering a cup of tea before sitting back in his chair to mull things over.
If Dr Vasant was right, then the project could be pushed ahead with just a few months delay. Nodding, he wiped the back of his neck. He could deal with that. Sir Craig knew, as well as anybody, that such research never went smoothly or quickly. Digging in his desk drawer Booker got out his dicta-phone. He’d better get an alternative report drafted for McKenzie to sign straight away, time was of the essence.
Feeling pleased with himself, Booker clicked the machine on. “Report to Sir Craig Holland,” he began to dictate. “Use the crested paper and head it ‘Eyes Only’.
The office door opened and a well dressed woman walked in, placing a china teacup and saucer on his desk. Turning to leave, the secretary’s eyebrows rose when she heard a muttered, “Thank you Sheila.”
My, the old man must be in a good mood today, she thought. Wonder whose head is on the chopping block this time.
Booker picked up the telephone again and punched out another number.
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