Richard Phylum had been working at the International Scientific Research Facility in Antarctica, or ISRFA, for eleven years and three months, but tonight, she was lost. She couldn’t believe she was lost in the facility where she had worked for over a decade, but she had no idea where she was, and there was nobody around to help her.
The lights were off, but it was only six at night. Richard could see nothing in the dim hallway; the displays beside her were dark, and the howling winds of the outside faintly blew through the dome’s sound barriers. She couldn’t help but think she was in some sort of strange dream, though she knew she was fully conscious.
A scrape against the floor made her jump; she turned around, only to see the heating system turning on in a nearby vent. Everything was made to look like it was powered down, and yet the facility seemed to be working at optimal capacity… Richard did not enjoy this situation one bit.
What she wanted to do right now was get back to her bedroom, log her activities for the day, and go to sleep for seven hours and thirteen minutes. Then she would be able to leave. But now, she was lost.
A single LED on the floor turned on next to her, almost on cue. Then another in front of it. A series of lights came on, leading up to a corner. Was it some sort of glitch? Or was someone trying to lead her somewhere? Richard could only decide to follow it, because maybe she would actually find somewhere she recognized, rather than endless hallways of glass and soft tile.
Around the corner, the lights lit up halfway down the hall, and stopped at a door, marked “201.” This was one of the many lecture halls in the facility, and she wasn’t sure what could possibly be in there. Nevertheless, she scanned her key card, the door slid open, and–
The lights to the lecture hall came on and thirty people sprang out of hiding. Richard jumped and yelled an obscenity, which everyone laughed at. A large banner was spread across the room and hung from the ceiling, reading “Thanks for everything, Richard!”
“All of this, for me?” Richard asked. She was legitimately surprised at this reaction from her coworkers.
A young man, a prodigy from Somalia who had recently been hired, presented her with a large card signed by dozens of people from the entire facility. She read the encouraging good-bye messages and almost teared up when she saw short letters from people like Becky Randall and George Brannon who she had worked with since the beginning.
“I can’t believe you’d do this all for me,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Well come and join the party, then,” said one of the newer employees.
“I’ve always wondered what happened to that kiwi,” Richard said with a laugh. She and several others were sitting at a table trading stories, and eating large pieces of cake. Stephen Harris, the facility’s communications director, sat next to her, sipping at a glass of white wine.
“I have never really understood much about all the science stuff here, but I know it’s phenomenal. And I think you’re phenomenal for doing so much of it,” Stephen said.
“Just because she’s a scientist doesn’t mean she’s socially inept enough to fall for that,” Hannah Kline, one of Richard’s assistants, said. “That’s the most blatant hitting on I’ve heard in ages.”
“Is that because nobody’s hit on you in ages, or because you’re always too busy to do anything but work?” one of the men that Richard didn’t recognize asked with a jeering smile. Hannah glared at him, but laughed along with him.
“We are all here for a reason,” Richard said, in a more serious tone than the others were expecting. “It’s fine if she focuses on her work over her personal life, while she’s here.” The table grew quiet suddenly. “But if you’re saying Hannah doesn’t get three times as much pussy as you, then you’re deluding yourself.” Everyone erupted into laughter again.
Dmitry Levchenko, one of the lab technicians, walked into the lecture hall, carrying his pet deinonychus Rupert on a leash. “You were not going to leave without saying goodbye to Rupert, were you?”
“Of course not,” she said, petting the dinosaur on the back of the neck, ruffling its feathers in the process.
“That thing would have eaten you alive if it had its claws and teeth,” Stephen said. “I do not trust a single one of the animals you people brought back.”
“Rupert could not hurt anyone,” Dmitry said. “He is too sweet to do anything like that.”
Stephen shrugged. “What do I know, I’m just the communications director.” He stuffed his mouth with cake and began chewing quickly in case he had to say something else. Richard chuckled.
Richard and Stephen walked down the tourist exhibit hall, mostly powered-down for the night, though a few of the nocturnal animals like the flying squirrel-raccoon hybrids danced around in the darkness. The LED lights lining the floor were finally lit across the entire hallway, so Richard could actually see her way around now.
“When I first got here, there were only three major animal exhibits open” she told Stephen. “Now there are twenty-nine. A lot’s changed in a decade.”
“I’ve only been here for… two, I think?” Stephen said. “The pterosaur aviary is the only thing to open that I can think of.”
“Yeah.” Richard looked at the darkened glass in front of her and saw through to the red panda family sleeping in a small tree. “It’s been hard to come up with more stuff to impress tourists lately. It’s a slow process.”
“One day you’ll get that stegosaurus herd shown to the public, don’t you worry,” Stephen said.
“How’d you know about that? What security clearance do you have around here, anyway?”
Stephen laughed. “You gush about it all the time. It’s hard not to know about it.”
“Oh.” She laughed along with him.
Stephen sat down at a bench in front of an aquarium tank full of manta rays. “I wish you hadn’t always been so focused on work all the time. We probably could have been good friends, gone out to drinks sometimes, that kind of thing.”
She sat down next to him. “Maybe. I don’t regret working as hard as I did. I accomplished a lot, and I think that was worth it.”
He looked at her and grinned. She returned it.
Richard laid in her bed, with Stephen laying next to her. She pulled the sheets up to her neck and stared at the ceiling. “My parents were ecstatic when I told them I had gotten recruited here. I hardly thought of it before I took the plane down here. I don’t know if you were the same way, or anything.”
She giggled quietly. “It’s weird. Nearly every scientific publication I’ve had since my doctorate came from research from this facility. I have no idea what I could do to top that. Maybe I’ll have an incredibly early retirement and go live in the Florida Keys, studying alligators.
“Do you know how long alligators and crocodiles have been around, in basically the same form as they are now? Well, crocodylomorphs. I think it’s amazing how little they’ve changed in the past hundred million years, while humans have only been around for a couple million years at best.
“Maybe that’s why I’m leaving, because I don’t want to end up like a crocodile. That makes no sense.” She chuckled, then turned her head and realized Stephen was sound asleep. “Well, at least he’s not going to be sobbing over me in the morning or anything.”
“Richard? I thought you were going to spend today packing, weren’t you?” Hannah asked as Richard walked into the observatory hall. She looked out the west window and gazed out at the stegosaurus enclosure. They started with two specimens, but now had a small herd. She had no idea what they would do when they started overcrowding, but for now, it was a remarkable achievement.
“I don’t have much to pack,” Richard said. “I thought it would be better to spend one last day doing my duties and making sure everything is primed for my successors.”
“Fair enough.” Hannah walked off to check up on the Chinese giant salamanders that were brought in for repopulation purposes last month. Richard had tried to distance herself from any recent acquirements, though she was still very curious about some of them…
She paced over to the screen showing a view of the low-gravity habitat, where the facility was testing the adaptability of certain flora and fauna to conditions on the moon, in preparation for a potential terraforming project in the near future. It was most likely a completely unreasonable idea, but as the funding was unlimited, it was a good experiment to attempt.
As a supervisor on her final day on the job, Richard studied each of the gardens, micro-ecosystems, biological experiments, and conservation sanctuaries, and made sure they were being run optimally and efficiently. She was not at the helm of any specific experiments now, so she did not have to closely observe or record anything, simply make sure each experiment went according to protocol.
It was fine being simply a supervisor, but Richard missed the day when she watched day-in and day-out for signs that her first hybridization projects would prove her original hypotheses correct– and they did. Or walking into the animal enclosures just as the animals were being released into their artificially-constructed habitats, and seeing their joyful faces. Or, of course, nursing poor Patty–their first stegosaurus–back to health after a bad illness. She had a much more fun time back–
Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and jumped around. The person gripping her was a woman who looked to be in her late fifties, with graying hair and a mischievous smile. It took a second before Richard realized who this was. “Ms. Moore?”
“Dyan Moore, at your service,” the woman said. Dyan Moore being Dr. Dyan Moore, Founder and President of the International Scientific Research Facility in Antarctica, of course. The eccentric billionaire that had been supporting the facility’s eye-poppingly high-budgeted experiments.
“Ma’am, what an honor it is to see you,” Richard said. Dyan Moore almost never showed up to the facility in person, much less talk to anyone lower than the highest-ranking employees on-site. Why she was talking to her, she had no idea.
“And you.” Her smile faded and she became more calm. “Why don’t you step into my office in a few minutes? I’d like to talk with you. And call me Dyan, only my ex-husband calls me ma’am.”
“S-Sure,” Richard answered, though she had no idea what any of this was about.
Dyan’s office, bigger than Richard’s living space by a fair margin, was filled with strange pieces of artwork, oddly-angular pieces of furniture that looked like experimental technologies, and a giant arthropod of some sort, like a mega-sized ladybug, crawling on one of the metallic chairs near her desk. Richard sat down in the chair next to it, which was decidedly non-metallic and probably not nearly as dangerous.
“Have you ever seen one of these before?” Dyan asked as she picked up the large bug and hoisted it on her shoulder. “Probably not, because they’re from the Devonian period, and the fossil record for them is almost nonexistent.” It crawled down her right arm, and she extended it towards Richard. “Do you want to hold her? Her name is M’tsargh’i, I forget why I named her that. Yes, she’s harmless.”
“I don’t mean to be rude,” Richard said. “But I would like to know what you wanted to speak with me about.” She tried to say this with as much courtesy as she could, though her irritation at this time-wasting was still apparent.
“Okay, fine,” Dyan said. She sat down behind her desk and propped her legs up. “I’ll try to speed the conversation up as much as I can… Uh, let’s skip past the reminiscing-about-the-facility stuff… Yeah. There’s a project I am going to begin immediately; not only do I want you to join it, but I already know you will.”
What? “What? What do you mean?”
M’tsargh’i crawled on top of a stack of papers and knocked it over, sending them to the floor en masse. “Have you ever wondered why I opened this facility in the first place, Ms. Phylum?”
“To have an open scientific community brought together under no banners, no ideologies, except the advancement of the body of knowledge and the freedom to enact our dreams?” Richard had recited the ISRFA Mission Statement almost reflexively; it seemed she had given the facility tour a few too many times over the years.
“Yes. Pay attention to the ‘enact our dreams’ part. We’ve done some incredible stuff out here, from creating massive controlled-climate ecosystems in the middle of a shitton of snow to figuring out how to clone goddamned dinosaurs. All that’s nice, but do they really approach the ‘enacting your dreams’ aspect?”
“Dyan, sorry. Yes, everything we’ve done here was mere science fiction, the stuff I’d watch on a Saturday morning cartoon. To see it all come to life is astounding.”
Dyan removed her legs from her desk and sat up. “Oh. I should have thought of a better speech to lead up to my pitch. Well, anyway, I’m about to start a new experiment, alright? That’s what I mean by all this. And it’s going to be huge.”
“Huge enough to make me stay in Antarctica on the day before I take a plane back home?” Richard asked incredulously.
“Absolutely huge enough,” a voice coming from behind Richard said. She turned around and saw… another Dyan Moore, standing in front of the door, arms crossed.
“What the hell is this?” Richard asked the Dyan at the desk.
The Dyan at the desk clasped her fingers together and grinned. “Science.”