“The disappearance has raised some security issues,” Sir Henry told Professor Johnson. “I want to make a full inspection of your security measures. You will take me on a tour of the facilities and then perhaps Miss Middlebottom will be kind enough to make us a cup of tea, over which we can discuss the security threat and Professor Greywood’s disappearance.”
“Well, I...” began Miss Mabel Middlebottom.
“I wasn’t asking,” said Sir Henry. “I’ll have Earl Grey, naturally.”
Leaving Miss Mabel Middlebottom performing a passable guppy impression, Sir Henry Montague Ponsenby-Brown waved Professor Johnny D. Johnson III into action. Johnson turned and indicated a bank of monitors behind Miss Middlebottom’s chair, throwing the receptionist a grimace of apology as he did so.
“The monitors behind the reception desk can patch into any of the centre’s CCTV cameras,” he explained. “Every room in the building, except for the offices, are monitored and there are a further eight cameras outside covering the compound. Camera footage is taped, naturally.”
“The centre itself is surrounded by a high voltage electric fence. Motion sensors and floodlights are spaced evenly round the perimeter and the gate is guarded twenty-four hours a day. A backup generator in the outhouse supplies power in the case of a Mains failure.”
Johnson pointed to various features in the foyer. “Access to the main building is restricted by swipe-card and security codes. The doors themselves are bullet-proof and there’s an infrared intruder-detection system in reception that is activated when the building is empty.”
Sir Henry nodded. So far, so good. “And the laboratories?”
Johnson gave an internal sigh of relief and pointed down a corridor to his left - the opposite direction to his messy office and fire-damaged legwear. “I’ll show you.”
Sir Henry was already striding down the corridor with purpose and Johnson scurried after him, catching up as he halted at the large metal door at its terminus.
He pointed at the wall. “This has a higher clearance level swipe-card and keycode.”
Sir Henry waited expectantly whilst the Professor swiped his card through the appropriate slot and punched in his code, each key emitting a different tone like a cluster of slightly depressed Clangers. Using touch-tone keypads could be seen as a security risk, allowing spies and whatnot to hide around corners and hear the entry codes. They were, however, standard issue in all government buildings following the Montreal Treaty on international espionage countermeasures. Professor Johnson also found the tones useful on days like today, when he had forgotten his glasses.
The door slid open with a low hum and a stock science fiction female computer voice purred: “Welcome, Professor Johnson.”
“The computer logs all entries to the laboratory area,” Johnson explained, stepping through the door.
Sir Henry started to follow Johnson through the door but stopped when a red light started flashing above the door, accompanied by a loud buzz.
“Please identify,” said the female computer voice, oozing disembodied sexuality and yet being somehow clear that failure to identify oneself may lead to someone else having it do it for you. In a morgue.
Sir Henry frowned and withdrew his leg from the doorway. (Sir Henry did not approve of female voices for computers. In his opinion all computers should sound like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was convinced that they shared HAL’s psychotic tendencies anyway.) The buzzing stopped but the red light continued to flash.
“Sorry,” apologised the flustered Professor. “Only full-time BRC staff have clearance.
I’ll sign you in too.”
Johnson leant round the doorway and swiped his card through again, this time keying a security code of a different tune that in other circumstances might have seemed quite jaunty. The red light ceased flashing.
“Welcome, guest of Professor Johnson,” said the computer.
Sir Henry stepped tentatively through the door and it hummed shut once more. He found himself in a clinically clean corridor of pale-grey that stretched away to the left and right. In front of him was a large window into a spacious laboratory. The lab was spotless with very little visible equipment. Several empty animal cages sat on the benches.
This window was the central one of three equally spaced down the corridor. Next to each window was a door, each with its own swipe-card and keypad lock. At one end, to their left, the corridor cornered to the right. At the other end, it ended in a very sturdy-looking Emergency Exit.
“There are eight laboratories,” explained Professor Johnson, “including two with level four containment facilities and the animal house. Every lab has restricted access and only those with the highest security clearance can enter the Level Four labs. Doors and windows are bullet-proof, naturally.”
“Naturally,” nodded Sir Henry. You could not have a madman with a gun interrupting important research. Not unless it was him, anyway.
Johnson pointed to the Emergency Exit. “Emergency Exits are locked and cannot be opened unless there is an emergency, in which case the computer will switch them onto manual release. In a power failure, they also switch to manual. Like the main doors, they have infrared intruder detectors.”
He looked around in approval. “I must admit, Professor, you have gone some way toward allaying my fears. Except for some slackness on the gate, security seems to be very acceptable.”
“Thank you, Sir Henry,” replied Johnson, relaxing slightly.
“Could probably do with changing the voice of the computer, though.” He tensed again. “Excuse me?”
“Can’t have a woman running the show.” Sir Henry told him flatly. “Most improper, what?”
“Um, er, quite so, Sir Henry.” Johnson lied. Even if it was not utterly politically incorrect, reprogramming the security system would cost thousands of pounds. Johnson just smiled and nodded, hoping Sir Henry would continue the tour and forget about it. Better still, he would never be back to find out either way.
Sir Henry peered through the window ahead of him into the lab. “So tell me, Professor. How goes the research?”
Johnson coughed. “Actually, Sir Henry, what with all the security measures we’ve had installed and the recent government cut-backs, we haven’t had the money to do any experiments. But we do have very well equipped labs and Professor Greenwood was confident that once we could afford some consumables, we should be able to make great advances.”
“Marvellous,” said Sir Henry, who had not really been listening. Instead he had been trying to work out what the little grey box on the bench nearest the window did. “Can I see inside one of the labs?”
Johnson was taken aback. “Certainly, Sir Henry. To see inside that lab, however, you will need to suit up fully and go through the airlock. Perhaps one of the Level Two labs or the animal house would be more to your liking?”
“Lead on, Professor.”
Sir Henry followed Johnson down the corridor away from the Emergency Exit and round the corner into another stretch of corridor. This one looked much the same but had doors and windows on both sides – three on the left and two on the right. At the far end was another Emergency Exit, in front of which was a man mopping the floor. The man was dressed from head to toe in a bright yellow biohazard suit, complete with hood.
Sir Henry pointed. “Who is that?”
“Oh, that’s Ricky. The Janitor.”
Sir Henry scowled. “You mean the Caretaker? Just because most of the money for this place came from those ghastly Americans, it does not mean that we have to start talking like them.”
Professor Johnny D. Johnson the Third’s jaw dropped slightly. “But I am American, Sir Henry.” “Don’t be ridiculous, man. Do you think I would forget the nationality of my own staff?”