‘Are you ready, Doctor Collins?’ said the attractive young lady with the clipboard.
Her sleek brown hair was piled on her head, somehow twisted up with a ballpoint pen. Stephen wondered how it defied gravity but knew asking would make the situation awkward. He’d never learned much about women really. Suddenly embarrassed by his own inexperience, he stared down at his hands.
Straightening his prompt cards, he said, ‘It’s time, is it?’
He was starting to wish he hadn’t shaved. Not because of the half dozen nicks on his neck and chin or the razor burn that made him feel like he’d been sunbathing, but because of the trickle of moisture on his top lip.
The girl laid a hand on his arm. ‘Nervous? Is it your first keynote speech? They say you should imagine the audience naked.’
Stephen couldn’t help but laugh. ‘Naked? I’m struggling not to imagine them all dead.’
Her hand slipped away, eyes changing from warm concern to something colder.
She cleared her throat. ‘Professor Allen is just finishing your introduction.’ She forced a smile, but that spark of connection was gone.
It didn’t matter. None of it mattered now. If he couldn’t persuade his fellow scientists to listen today, in a few months the lovely girl would be dust. The thought was suddenly horribly upsetting, much more so than the prospect of his own destruction or the billions of others who would lose their lives.
‘… can I welcome your keynote speaker for today, Doctor Stephen Collins.’
Stephen licked the salt water from his lip and walked onstage.