By six pm, Elena had finished all the checklists for the day, and laid out the rest for the week in the control room. She had done all these tasks before, but not all by herself without backup. This wasn't a drill, and her career hung on the results. The season change would bring a hot dry spell to her ocean, and the expected growth of algae that week alone would be part of a dynamic equation. They had programmed in the algorithms for more waves as well. She hoped her little parrot fish friends would survive. The algae bloom had killed off most of the biome. Only the algae eating fish had survived.
Elena was nervous about Derk's visit, mostly because of the attraction thing. She knew her data was solid, and also that her position was practically a shoe in. She had already spent a semester there as an assistant, and the chemistry between her and Derk had been obvious. Well, to her at least, he had been dating someone else and she had been heading back to Arizona. He offered to be part of her dissertation team, so she knew he had his eye on her. They exchanged emails several times a month, and the content seemed to be more and more personal lately. No mention of the girlfriend or anyone else.
Richard was another matter entirely. He had spent an evening chatting her up and getting very very flirtatious with her. She had thought he was interested, and let herself be led around by him all night as he dazzled everyone with his brilliant remarks and naughty jokes. It was a holiday party, lots of eggnog and the like had been had. She returned from a trip to the ladies' room to find him kissing someone else under the mistletoe in the hallway. In front of the whole party. Who saw her walk in on them. She left in tears, and he left with the other woman. Ever since then, when he'd see her, he'd somehow bring up the Christmas party. And let her know she could still have a chance for another round, if she still wanted.
Elena walked into the meeting room where she had run into Richard in the morning, he wasn't around. She opened the fridge and scouted for food, but there wasn't anything around. They had all planned to be gone this week, and Hans usually cooked in his apartment. There were still a few pieces of fruit and some energy bars, and a coke. She picked up the coke and cracked it open, walking back over to the couch and staring out the ceiling. Right now the lights were on in the green house, though soon they would be down. Rain had been pounding them all day, with heavy thunder and lightning; the flood lights had to be used so they could finish their work list. She could see Richard on top of a lift at the apex of one of the ceilings. He was installing a new type of telescope, several in fact. She picked up her walkie talkie and buzzed him.
"I was going to order some pizza for dinner, do you want any?" Normally, she'd ignore him but it was down to the two of them, and he'd be up late on this project. They had just a few hours left to finish up. Lightning was causing static on the channel, and she didn't hear anything back.
"Okay, Richard, I'm going to order some pizza for both of us, I'll make it veggie with sausage, okay? Anything else?" Still only static. She thought it might be nice to have some wine handy tomorrow if Derk was going to stay the night. The pizza delivery guy knew them really well up there, and he had made more than a few stops at the liquor store on the way up. She called in the pizza order from the landline, her cell phone had no connectivity inside the facility. One large pizza, two bottles of cabernet sauvignon, a large greek salad, and a 2 liter of coke. That ought to do it.
She walked to her apartment across the complex to get her money, and got completely drenched in the downpour. She changed into the red coverall worksuit that they would wear inside when they were doing more involved work. She might have to help Richard finish up tonight before bed and her big day tomorrow with Derk. On the way back to the building, she saw the delivery driver and picked up the food. They knew to drive around the side entrance and up to the greenhouse door. She tipped him well for his extra work, and walked back in.
Elena picked up the walkie talkie and buzzed Richard back. He picked up, and mentioned he was in the thick of working and could she be a dear and bring the food up there.
"Sorry, can't bring food in, it'll be in the lounge." she buzzed back. She put the wine on the counter, and opened up the cabinets for plates and forks. She put some salad on her plate, and pulled a slice when Richard walked in not five minutes later. He was also wearing his red coveralls, and was quite a bit sweaty from the work up at the ceiling by the lights. His hair clung to his head in ringlets, like the styles of old roman statues, and he wiped droplets of sweat off his forehead before sitting down.
"Finally, dinner for two." he smiled at her, picking up the pizza.
"It's just dinner, nothing more. Almost done?" she asked, pushing the pizza into her mouth and making a point of chewing loud. Why was she doing that? she thought. Oh yeah, so he'll buzz off.
"I'm going to need a hand with something, if you don't mind. I need you to hold down some wires for me while I tighten them in." He was standing by the window, his back to her, looking up through the leaves and pointing to the scaffolding he had been standing on not long before. "There is some rust up by the ceiling, not sure if it is from the vapor or a leak, I had to clean that up first and take some samples. Sorry it's taking so long." Elena was surprised in his tone. Not cocky, and he was apologizing for taking up her time. It was unnecessary, really, as that was why they were both there, but she appreciated the effort. She nodded, then said,
"Okay, let me check my email first and I'll meet you up there in ten." She finished chewing and left the room to go down to the computer lab. Her laptop was plugged in to the ethernet there, and she wanted some privacy to read any emails from Derk. Her inbox had a few messages, and one from him.
"Sorry for the delay. Christie sprained her ankle, need to drive her to Urgent Care and home. Will leave on the 730 am flight tomorrow. Derk."
Christie? Elena's heart sank and hit the floor. That was the name of the woman he'd been dating when she was his assistant. Why no mention of her all this time? Her hand went up to her forehead, pushing away the bangs, and touching the plucked eyebrows. She quickly typed in a reply, "Okay, I'll be here in Oracle. Got stuck on shift for the week, you'll need to drive up. I'm at the greenhouse building." The flight was less than an hour. Then another with getting a car and then driving up the back roads from Tucson to the campus, maybe he'd be here at 1030. She hit send, but the connection didn't go through. Thunder and lightning raged outside. The message sat circling her outbox, so she left open her laptop. It would go out soon enough.
Elena found Richard back in the greenhouse, waiting at the bottom of the lift for her to arrive. She climbed on the platform and he raised them up to the ceiling near the telescope. She loved the view from this point, she could see the desert, the mangroves, the ocean and the fruit trees from here. Lightning forks outside seemed to be striking very close to the building. The lift sputtered and stuck a moment, as if a power surge had gone through it. The Biosphere had its own electrical supply, in huge enclosed generators in another building. Almost all their systems were attached to this, there were three redundancies built in to prevent total failure of the grid. The project was aiming for self sustainability. Yet, for the lift and a few other large devices, the power supply was separate and connected to the rest of the campus. City energy. They could not deplete their stores in a such a huge purchase as these machines could pull on a busy day. The lift continued to the top, and Richard put the brake on. Their harnesses were clipped in place and they quickly fell to work on mounting the equipment.
After an hour of steady work, they were done, and Elena declared it was time for a break for the night. They had nothing else to do in the greenhouses and she wanted to be back in the air conditioned lounge with the pizza and the tivo. Richard surprised her instead, by pulling out an uncorked bottle of the cabernet and two cups.
"I know this is against the rules and all, but I couldn't think of a more perfect way to cap off the week." She tried to refuse but he insisted. "I was hoping to show you a meteor shower tonight, but the rain has interfered. And tomorrow we will be gone. Or, I will, for now." Elena hadn't considered the fact that he'd be leaving for a week as well, she'd been so focused on Derk. Now she'd really be alone this week. She accepted the glass of wine, and sat down on the platform leaning against the rails. He sat next to her, pouring himself a glass. They were right up against the ceiling glass, above the lights, and could see out into the night sky. The rain had stopped, and there was a parting of the clouds forming overhead. They sat together, staring out at the night sky. He pointed to the stars and talked of constellations and galaxies, comets and supernovas. Elena nodded and sipped.
His voice was hypnotic, and she felt warm and soft listening to him. Her mind was buzzing with the wine and getting lulled into the mystical spell that was Richard when she realized it was probably getting late. Her watch was on her nightstand, next to her charging cell phone. She mentioned it was time to wrap it up, and he got up to release the break from the lift but it wouldn't budge.
"I don't understand, it was just working earlier."
"Quit horsing around Richard, we need to get down from here." Elena wasn't afraid of heights, but there was no other way down without climbing down the scaffolding bar by bar. She could do it, but after half a bottle of wine she didn't want to. She went over and grabbed the brake handle, but it wouldn't budge. The power had gone off again, apparently. The platform was completely still.
"Well, we could stay up here and wait for the power supply to kick back on, or we could climb down, what should we do?" he asked. Elena was a bit panicked now. She was trying to map the route down the side of the angled walls, and calculate the time it would take. They'd have to leave the bottle and cups up here, and then there'd be evidence of it left for when everyone came back. If they stayed on the platform, who knew when the power would kick in?
"I'm going to go down," she replied, and started to point the route for him to follow after her. As he leaned over to see the trail, the lift lurched and the wine bottle fell over and rolled off the side. The sound of glass breaking below pierced the silence of the massive room. Elena flinched, and gasped.
"You idiot, you total freaking idiot. I can't believe you let that happen!" her mind was a swirl of images, picking up glass shards, getting rid of the evidence, scrambling to make sure no one found it, getting it all this done with a few glasses of wine in her. Again, Richard had made a fool of her. She was furious.
"Hey, slow down there. I didn't make this platform jam up," he cried out. Meanwhile, he manoevered them down to the floor. Within a few minutes they were parked at the bottom and searching for the missing bottle. Elena hadn't seen where it had fallen, she had been looking at Richard when it went over the side. She was petrified. After ten minutes, they had located it and picked up most of the shards, carefully tucking them into Derk's tool bag pocket.
"Elena, what time do we need to be out of here?" he asked. Elena stood up suddenly. She had completely lost track of time.
"One o'clock, why?"
"Because it's two minutes to one right now and I think we ought to be going." They started towards the closest exit, but Elena realized all of them were locked. The prep had been done by her earlier today. The only door open was the one they came in through, which was across the bridge, by the rainforest. They'd never make it in time. She started to run, and he ran after her, until they got to the exit. The door was closed and she couldn't move the handle. The light in the hallway was flashing, which meant the airlock had been activated already. Elena couldn't remember if there was an emergency procedure to deactivate it, but it didn't matter now.
They were sealed in.