“Joe, did you just see what the Hubble and the Mt. Palomar telescopes just recorded?”
“No Rob, I was out freshening up my coffee. What’s the news?”
“A flash large enough to be a comet impacting the atmosphere of Jupiter.”
“Really? How come the phones aren’t ringing off of the hook? We are NASA after all.”
“It appears that the NRO has stepped in to put a lid on the event until the recordings can be analyzed.”
“Umm, I thought you said that it hit Jupiter not Earth. Why would the NRO need to clamp down on that?”
“I don’t know but look at your email and see if you just got the same message that I did.”
NASA to All Employees,
You are forbidden from leaving your work stations except to visit the restrooms. Supervisors are responsible for collecting all personal communicators, if you do not comply then security will have to detain you and forcibly take said devices. Your families will be notified of the situation according to Agency guidelines.
“Rob, I think we better just go along with the message. The news just announced a fire at Mt. Palomar and everyone there is dead.”
“Freaking awesome Joe. This is why I went to MIT.”
“Well what the hell dude? Maybe we should just try to get some work done while were stuck here?”
“Once again, this is NASA not private industry. There are rules about this you know.”
“Okay much too angry co-worker. What would you like to do with the time we are stuck here?”
“Instead of working on what they assigned us why don’t we try to find out what is so important to the NRO?”
“I don’t know, let me list these reasons; my family doesn’t want me dead, I make good money and I don’t really like you that much. Is that enough?”
“Oh you wound me you trifling little minion. You’re doing it anyway, I just used your stations IP address to examine SPACECOM.”
“Just because I have a pocket protector and a three hundred dollar calculator I know how to program you think I won’t resort to physical violence?” Joe emphasized his point by breaking his station keyboard over Rob’s skull resulting in a fairly dead nerd on the floor with a growing pond of blood and grey matter.
Joe wiped the blood off of his glasses and walked over to the computer three stations down. The blood had not traveled that far. He logged in and began typing his confession.
To whom it may concern,
Rob Sternman was using my ID to hack into secure government files and I was forced to take preemptive action for the sake of our nation. I killed Rob Sternman as a Patriot in the crisis brought on by the imminent threat posed to this planet by the events that have unfolded at Jupiter.
Joe pressed the save icon. Then he send an email to the entire staff of the agency office with his letter of confession attached. Upon pressing the send button he swallowed all of his nitro glycerine and prescription pain killers, forty three he remembered counting. He chuckled “One more that the answer to everything.”
He felt a smack on his shoulder five minutes later and a blood covered Rob confronted him “I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be sitting there moping if I had killed you.”
Joe spun around in his chair freaking out “You’re dead.”
“Really? Looks real doesn’t it? Vanessa wanted us to hold back on the blood thinking it might lead you to have another heart attack.”
“You should be dead.”
“Yeah, we covered that. Look at your screen there Joe.”
Joe spun around and gazed at the home screen “All Clear. This was just a test. All Clear. This was just a test.”
Joe’s vision was blurring, he began to feel a tingling in his left arm. “What about the NRO and the Jupiter business? The fire at Mt. Palomar?”
“The fire happened but it was a broom closet with mislabeled chemicals that accidentally combined and combusted. No one was hurt.”
“And the lock down?”
“That was all part of the gag. We’ve got two dozen people in on this including the director.”
Joe was listing in his chair, one side of his face had gone slack and his head was bobbing. The third time his head bobbed, Rob finally was paying attention to his coworker, he seized gripping his chest with his right hand as his left arm cramped and shot out into the air. Joe rolled onto the floor out of his chair into the mixture of red dye and black molasses he had thought to be Rob’s blood.
Vanessa and the director came in to enjoy the surprise sprung on Joe and found the corpse laying in the puddle on the floor. Director Smarmy had gone along with this in the new agency air of trying to loosen things up around the office before someone snapped policy. “Well Rob, it looks like he had a break down and attacked you. The stress was too much for his heart.”
“Umm, Director he’s dead as a result of a practical joke. We can’t cover that up.”
“Joe is dead as a matter of National Security because he became a danger to himself and others. That will be the story, got it?”
An official email went out to the Agency staff list explaining how Joe had a breakdown and expired due to poor health. When the rest of the staff went to their homes and the Director, Vanessa and Rob were the only ones left the Director spoke.
“He was the last of the unchanged. We couldn’t trust him to keep our secret. Pushing him over the edge was the best way to handle it.” The screen on the work station behind Rob was showing footage of the impact on Jupiter’s atmosphere with a shadowed echo of a giant spaceship the size of one of Jupiter’s moons. “I have already sent a transmission that the damage is contained.”
Rob spoke “Who thought it was a good idea to conduct pilot training for the mother ship in this system? Has that individual been exposed to vacuum yet?”
The director fixed his steely kaleidoscope eyes on Rob, his ire pushing him out of disguise “I think the Admiral might be interested in how you think he should be punished. Shall I relay this?”
“No, I misspoke myself Director. Please disregard and I am happy to be of service.”