Maddens waved a hand and the woman sat down in the chair in front of his gleaming mahogany desk. He had his back to her, staring out of the open windows at the endless view of skyscrapers placed rigidly as far as the horizon, like gigantic metallic fingers reaching up towards the sky. The sky itself was stubbornly grey, but even so the sun shone through a crack in the clouds, its shimmering rays illuminating a once-bright, now bare park of skeletal trees standing tall through the autumnal frost. At the centre, encircled by dead roots and bushes, was a half-frozen inky-black lake, empty but for the bones of dead fish bobbing on the surface, swarmed by flies and a variety of thin, starving birds with grey, wispy feathers stuck onto their paper-like flesh. Maddens shivered despite himself. It was the coldest autumn he cou ld remember. He was sure that it was the coldest autumn anyone could remember. He was secretly dreading the winter.
He swivelled back to face the woman. He was a majestic figure, silver hair swept back from his scrawny face dominated by bright, green-yellow eyes above a pointed nose and a taut mouth with thin, pale lips. He was wearing a black suit with a white shirt and a maroon tie. His jacket was unfastened to show off his severely distended belly. He clasped his gloved hands together and coughed politely. It was an old man's cough. He straightened himself in his high-backed, leather chair and stared across at her.
She was quite a small woman, probably in her late-twenties or very early thirties, wrapped up in a thick lather coat lined with white-grey fur. Her delicate hands tipped with sky-blue toyed endlessly with the purple, scaled handbag in her lap, but her eyes, almost hidden beneath a mop of black hair, were determined and confident.
Maddens leant forward to check the list lying on the desk in front of him. "So, you must be Mrs... Kingston," he croaked, smiling slightly. "My name is Edmund Maddens. In understand you have some... evidence for me." She nodded and he beckoned for her to begin.
"I have clear evidence," she began, "that the Great Flood of 2204 was no accident. The asteroid, known to experts as HAL-26, had never been registered as an asteroid before. That's almost impossible; we had a dozen craft monitoring the skies above London alone, yet not one of them had ever seen it. After nigh on 300 years of space-travel, don't you think that it is a bit odd? What's more, the estimated trajectory of HAL-29 doesn't make any sense." She unrolled a detailed digital map of the Solar System onto his desk. It was dominated by a bright green ellipse drawn in by a pen by hand. She pointed it out. "See?" she exclaimed triumphantly. Unfortunately Maddens did not see; his eyesight had been getting worse over the last few years yet he had rejected glasses time and time again. "Look!" she exclaimed again, pointing at the ellipse and drawing her finger along the squashed circle until she reached the point where it coincided with another planet, far out from Earth. "If the asteroid had been on on its estimated course, it would have collided with Saturn about six months ago! The only way it could reach us is if it had been fired..."
Maddens was about to interrupt; fired? He had an uneasy feeling that she was reacing the truth.
"...from the planet itself. The research station, in orbit, serving as a base for missions to Enceladus. It would have the ability to fire an asteroid after it was captured in the planet's pull; whether it was directed at Earth is a different matter, they may have just been trying to get it out of their path and... directed it at Earth." She blushed slightly; she knew how stupid it sounded to someone who didn't have the facts.
Maddens breathed a heavy sigh. She was close enough to the truth, so there was only one course of action to be taken. She could not spread the word to anyone else. Slowly and silently he slid open the top drawer of his desk.
"But there's more!" she added. "If the asteroid was fired six months before the impact, that would be around the same time the Freeze occurred system-wide. Afterwards the station officially closed down, with the crews dead. Curious, don't you think? Anyway, I have been working with my husband's research team on Mars for the last few months and over that time I have discovered a lot of fresh evidence to support this. They were trying to un-freeze the systems on a dead Wi-Fi Base Tower by the Web colony and we found something looping the system. A computer virus. What appeared, at first, to be a living computer virus.
"It attacked us. It caused havoc with our vacuum suit systems and switched off the oxygen supply for the shuttle we'd taken to get there. Three of our crew suffocated three miles underground in the Caterpillar. The journey back was a nightmare; crawling along the tunnels with little suit oxygen; all but five of the research crew were dead by the time we reached the support hatch leading up to the security tower. We had sealed off the base as best we could, but not before we'd studied the virus in depth. It was like nothing we had ever seen before; look!" She handed Maddens another piece of paper with a group of symbols scrawled over the paper in untidy handwriting.
Maddens looked down at the symbols. "But they look like..." he muttered in awe.
"Crop circles," she finished for him. "Exactly like the ones found on the Martian plains. Slightly less slanted and rounder, but the markings are identical. They are the same. They are all linked, the Flood, the Freeze, the crop circles. I request a full inquiry into this; I am sure this is some form of elaborate government conspiracy."
Maddens took something cold and hard from out of his drawer and weighed it in his hand. "Government conspiracy?" he almost sighed. Then, "Have you told anyone else about this?"
"Only my husband. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the evidence clearly shows a link..."
"It doesn't sound ridiculous," he interrupted. "In fact, it is completely plausible. But, I'm afraid... it's wrong."
The gun exploded. The bullet hit Mrs Kingston in the chest and her lifeless body hit the desk with a crunch of bone. The mahogany wood was much harder than it looked.
Maddens spoke into the microphone at one side of his desk. "Mrs Kingston and I have finished our... little conversation. Make sure you dispose of her body quietly. And kill the husband too, apparently she told him too."
"Of course, sir." There was a pause. "Was she right?"
"Not entirely. But even we don't know all the answers!" He fingered the files on his desk carefully, his gloved hands leaving no mark on the fragile paper. "Some fresh evidence has come to light. I request a full investigation. File the papers on my desk and send them to the research lab."
"Of course, sir."
Maddens turned back to the window. A slight draught was whistling through it so he shut it solemnly, his eyes resting on the lake. The sun was gone now and the park was bathed in desolate shadow once more. "Throw the bodies in Anderson Lake," he added at a sudden impulse.
"Is there anything else for me?"
"Yes, as it happens there is, sir. The President would like to see you now."
"Good. Tell him I'll be along in a moment."
"She has a son too. Shall we dispose of him too?"
The woman jerked awake. "You'll never get him..." she gasped with her final breath, "for there... are three..."
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