The Waking Edge - 1989
The Meeting - David Leigh
(page 6/10)

The Meeting

David Leigh

A long table, ebony black, set inside a panelled room, and surrounded by many high-backed chairs, which look just comfortable enough to sit in for a long while, but sufficiently uncomfortable that you would not fall asleep in them. Paintings on the wall, of men who made history in this very same room, hanging expectantly for the crucial meeting which is about to commence.

The small, almost concealed door to the side of the table opens, and a dark-suited man enters and potters about the table, straightening out papers, removing invisible dust flecks, and aligning chairs. Finally, with perfect arrangements perfected that little more, he leaves the way he came.

Almost immediately, the double doors either end of the room open, and two groups enter. They fill opposite sides of the table. If they had used the same door, you would not have been able to tell the two sides apart. All have grey or greying hair (or are hairless) each is wearing fine dress, and to a man they have that indefinable air of superiority that marks out men who know they are in command. But neither side truly has the upper hand. So they are here, talking. Hopefully, that is all they will do.

The leader of each side carries a large leather briefcase, which he carefully sets down beside himself. Each sits, facing the other, at the centre of his side of the table. Inside each case is a wondrous array of fail-proof, tamper-proof electronics, dreamt up as the best their countries can produce, and in the handle of each case is a concealed button which, if pressed, will set in progress the disastrous events that this very meeting is meant to prevent. Not surprisingly, the contents of the cases are highly confidential and utmost secrecy about their respective constructions has been kept in force. Also unsurprisingly, the two cases are almost identical, except that one is carried in a left hand.

And so the meeting starts, with each group describing their grievances about the other. One side has supplied arms and explosives to guerrillas in Cuba; the other infiltrated armed subversives into El Salvador. One has sent troops to support a friendly regime, Angola; the other has bolstered its allies in Saudi Arabia With a naval armada. In the meantime, both accuse each other of starting the border fighting in Germany. The meeting continues with justifications for all these apparently blatantly unjustifiable acts.

At the same time, strange messages are reaching the massive backup staff attached to each side, who share the huge underground bunker housing the meeting.

It appears that communication with their compatriots in the outside world have been lost completely, and, for some reason, that contact with the surface stations servicing the bunker has also been cut off. Immediately, people are sent to check. Two high-powered men for each side set about assessing the situation. They realise something serious has happened, and double check, afraid of what a mistake at this time would cause.

Inside the conference room, as stray accusations are being exchanged in much the same way as heavy artillery fire, messengers slip in at either end, and two slips of paper pass along from hand to hand, to reach the head of each delegation. They stop talking, and unwrap the notes. Each reads intently, and re-reads. Then each looks up and their gazes meet. "What has he got there?", each ponders. "Confirmation of a successful first strike, perhaps?" they think. "I'll show the bastard" they mutter in their respective tongues, and, offering a prayer to their favoured deity, each reaches down beside his chair.

The clicks of two closing switches echo around the now silent room. The two leaders look up, into each other's eyes, staring as if trying to bore holes six inches deep in mahogany, attempting to communicate the message "Look what you made me do". In his imagination each sees fleets of missiles curving over the poles.

They still stare at each other two minutes later as the roof of the bomb-proof shelter melts into boiling lava and the last room on Earth is destroyed as the rest had been minutes before, by the new nova that had been the Sun.

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