As he sat waiting in the reception area outside Billy Joe Wilders office, Eugene Northrup kept his feet together on the floor, with his hands folded in his lap. He was dressed in a dark blue suit with a white shirt and a dark red tie. Occasionally Wilders secretary would look over and, when he caught her doing so, smile at him, and hed return her smiles. She glanced at him when hed been waiting about ten minutes, and said, "It shouldnt be much longer, now."
Thank you, maam," he replied.
Sheila thought he was a very handsome young man muscular, about 23, shed imagine, six feet tall with dark, close-cropped hair and she found herself wondering what the muscles under his suit and shirt looked like.
Northrup thought the secretary appeared to be a proper Christian woman, attractive and in her early thirties, dressed demurely and very polite.
At about the 20-minute mark, the phone on Sheilas desk rang. She picked it up, listened for a moment and then turned to Northrup with a smile. "You can go in now."
"Thank you, maam," he replied. He stood up and strode to the door, and Sheila couldnt help but notice his ramrod-straight posture as he crossed the room.
As Northrup entered the office, Wilder rose from behind his desk and came around to meet him.
"My boy, its good to meet you. Im Billy Joe Wilder. Thanks for coming."
"Its an honor, sir," Northrup answered, shaking hands.
"Have a seat, son. Would you like anything? Some coffee, a soda?"
"No sir, Im fine," Northrup answered, waiting until Wilder had taken his seat before sitting somewhat stiffly in the chair across the desk.
"Good, good. Professor Palmer tells me youre one of his best students."
"Thats very kind of him, sir."
"Why dont you call me Billy Joe, son."
"Yes sir. Thank you, sir."
Wilder peered at Northrup over the top of his reading glasses for a moment, and then referred to the notes from his conversation with Palmer.
"I understand youre working on an advanced degree in physics."
"You were also a Captain in the ROTC."
"Yes sir. Ill be entering the Army as soon as I complete my masters degree."
"Very impressive background. Your daddys a preacher too."
"Yes sir. First Baptist Church of Tysonville."
"Excellent, excellent." Wilder took off his glasses and looked straight at Northrup.
"Im assuming that Dr. Palmer gave you some idea of why Ive asked you to drop by."
"I know it has to do with the discovery in Antarctica, sir."
"Well, thats right. Tell me, what do you know of whats goin on down there?"
"As I understand it, sir, a team from U. C. Berkeley uncovered what appears to be a city buried under the ice. They then discovered what appears to be writing on the wall of one of the structures, which doesnt appear to be in any known human language. Theyve speculated that the artifacts may be of alien origin, sir."
This repeated "sir" stuff was beginning to grate a bit on Wilder, but he supposed that with a boy whod been a top-rank ROTC cadet, it was part of the package.
"And tell me, what do you think of that."
"Im not sure, sir. I havent given it much thought."
"Youve heard that theyre sayin that this city theyve found is 60 or 70 million years old, havent you?"
"Yes sir, I have."
"And whats your take on that?"
"According to our best biblical scholars, the Earth is only around 6,000 years old, so I dont see how that could be correct, sir."
Wilder smiled broadly. "My point exactly, son. I wish more people would accept the truth like you do."
"Now, Eugene or do you go by Gene?"
"Now Eugene, we dont feel like we can just sit around here twiddlin our thumbs while those scientists down in Antarctica go distortin the truth as revealed in the Holy Bible. At the very least, we feel itd be best if we had one of our own people on the scene someone who could make sure that the true facts were bein presented."
"Let me come right to the point. How would you feel about going down there and joinin the research team as the official representative of HMU, and the unofficial representative of the Church of Clear Light?"
For the first time, Northrups composure relaxed a bit, and a smile crossed his face. "Why, Id be honored, sir."
Wilder smiled broadly. "Outstanding, my boy, I was hoping youd say that."
"When would I go, sir?"
"Ive already set things up with Dr. Palmer. Youll be on leave from your current work, and youll be receiving special credit for your efforts on this assignment. Well have your gear ready within three or four days, and then youll fly to Tierra del Fuego to board the boat for Antarctica. You should be there within ten days at the outside."
Northrup couldnt believe his good fortune. As the middle of five children of a not-very prosperous country preacher, the only place hed ever been besides his home town was HMU. Hed always wanted to travel, which was one of several reasons hed gone through the ROTC program. He figured the Army would give him a chance to see other towns, perhaps other countries. But Antarctica was far more exotic a place than hed ever hoped to visit.
"Now, son, theres something serious that we need to discuss before we go any further."
Northrup leaned forward slightly in his chair. "Yes sir?"
Wilder knew he had do deal with what would come next very carefully.
"These findings down there, well, they could represent a challenge to what we know to be the truth as revealed in the Scriptures. And Im particularly worried that what were seein here is the work of the Devil himself. Do you understand?"
"I think so, sir."
"Son, Ill be honest with you. One of the reasons you were picked for this assignment is your military training. Frankly, you may be walking directly into the lions den. If this indeed is the Devil at work, well, it might just become necessary for you to take actions in the name of the Lord to defend our entire planet against old Beezlebub." Wilder watched Northrups face closely, trying to judge his reaction. A slight frown appeared, and then Northrup responded.
"Sir, I stand ready to fight for the Lord if necessary," he said with conviction.
"Excellent," Wilder said softly. "Youre a true Christian soldier, my boy."
Wilder proceeded to go over some of the details of the assignment. Northrup had been accepted as an observer, and wouldnt have specific duties on site. It was expected, however, that hed help out as necessary and possible, under the direction of the U. C. Berkeley team and Dr. Harold Reynolds in particular.
When they got around to the possibility that he might be forced into taking aggressive action, Northrup brought up the question of weaponry.
"Weve got a fellow whos a commander in one of the God-fearing militias who tells me he can fix us up with whatever you need," said Wilder. "Your gear will be packed in a shipping case and shipped as cargo, and he says he can package everything so that theres no way itll be detected."
"Excellent, sir," Northrup replied.
After a few more items were covered, Wilder thanked Northrup for his participation, and promised to be in touch over the next few days. It was everything Northrup could do to keep himself from saluting as he left, but he managed not to.
On his way through the reception area, he smiled at Sheila Eakins and said, "Good afternoon, maam." "Good afternoon," she replied, watching him leave through the outer door. My, but he was a good-looking young man!
Her phone rang with the intercom light flashing, and she picked up the receiver.
"Sheila, is there anything or anybody else on my schedule for the rest of the day?
"Why no, Billy Joe, everythings clear."
"Then I wonder if you might come in and help me with somethin for a little while."
"Why, of course, Billy Joe."
Before she entered his office, she closed the outer office door. Entering Wilders office, she leaned against the door as she closed it, turning the lock as she did. When Billy Joe needed her help with somethin for a while, it wouldnt be good to be disturbed.