“I don’t understand why you’d consider cutting funding now,” he said. It was what he always said when he found himself in that predicament, which had been recurring at an uncomfortable frequency. The damnable thing about it was that he had no one else to pass the buck to; he was where it was supposed to stop. He adjusted his tie and ran a finger under his collar, all for show. Appearing weak had given him the advantage innumerable times before, so it couldn’t hurt to carry on with the tactic.

“As you may be aware, chief,” said one of the glowing heads on the monitor, followed by a long inhale that he could only assume was a pull on a cigar. It could have been Hannes, or Trilby. They were the only two on the board who still smoked the old-fashioned way. Both were bastards of the extreme degree, surviving like cockroaches when more forward-thinking and flexible directors had perished. “Our confidence in Dr. Shradz has steadily eroded over the past ten years to the point where we no longer wish to continue holding out hope that his project will produce worthwhile results.”

“Do the rest of you agree with the director?” he asked the screens. There were murmurs that could have been assent or dissent, but no voices raised in protest. “Very well. Before you rule on the matter, I would like to present you with some late breaking, some might say ’11th-hour’, information.”

“Regarding Dr. Shradz’s work?” a raspy, feminine voice asked. The ancient hag Sheila Durant, no doubt. He wasn’t supposed to know who they were, but over the years he had made it his business to learn everything about the mysterious figures behind the corporation. He felt confident that the dossier he had built up contained more than enough dirty information to accurately indict every one of them. He wondered if any of them knew about his clandestine research. They had to; what else could explain his incredibly long tenure? It had to have been the reason they bothered with the long parleys rather than just handing down decisions.

“Yes, it concerns that,” he said. “I know that some of you must still hold out perhaps irrational hopes for his success.” And who wouldn’t? Dr. Jules Shradz was one of the few minds on the planet who had shown real potential to unlock the secrets of immortality. “As I’m sure most of you are aware, the Goliath aberration has been one of the key factors contributing to the good doctor’s distractions. Such is the way when pioneering; exploring new frontiers will inevitably reveal distant landmarks that beg visitation, if only to satisfy our curiosity. If we were to look just at the fiscal return, it would be an easy matter to dismiss Dr. Shradz’s performance as substandard, even wasteful. But the exploration of uncharted peaks can yield unforetold boons to those brave enough to scale their—”

“Enough with the metaphors, chief. If your objective here is to bore us to sleep so that we might not rule on your pet project, you are succeeding. Get to the point or I shall hold the official vote now.” A long drag. The bastard Hannes or Trilby. Fine.

“Fine. The Goliath aberration has made available avenues of research previously invisible even to as great a mind as Dr. Shradz’s. He assures us that he’s on the verge of a paradigm-shifting breakthrough. There is accompanying data but no compilation of a formal report yet, as we didn’t expect to have to justify the project again for another six months.” That much was true; the sudden call from the board had caught him completely off guard.

The room fell silent, except for the occasional heavy draws and sighs from the cigar smoker. The board was no doubt conferring on private channels, he thought, and felt a genuine trickle of sweat run down under his collar.

“You will compile a report and deliver it to us within the next three days. Failure to do so will result in immediate suspension of funding and you, dear chief, will face a full performance review, the results of which will determine your future with the corporation.” Whose voice was that? He was certain he had never heard it before. Was it someone new? Or some lurker who had never once spoken in the two decades that he had held his post? If so, it would be someone who would have nothing to fear from his dossier, and that prospect withered his confidence.

“It… it will be done,” he stammered.

“Good. It is time to make things happen, chief. Make haste.” And with that, the monitors went dark. He sat down in a boneless slump, put his head on his arms, and considered sobbing. Whether in relief or terror, it was too early to tell.

2015.03.17 – 2023.10.10

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