Reuben zoned out. He was clearly in his interface checking the feeds and messages instead of monitoring how close they were to the schematic drawings displayed all around them. Luis Rodriguez tried to ignore it, operating the bots as they assembled and secured yet another pathway of ventilation ducts. Once the ventilation extension was done they’d be able to enclose this branch of the structure. The dirty, cavernous underground space with partially finished rock walls would soon become a hive of rooms. “Smoke break?” Reuben asked.
“Out of stimsticks,” Luis said. The spider bots were crawling up and down the ducts, their welders sparking furiously.
“Me too, but I have a pack of hashtags,” Reuben said, smiling devilishly. “It’s quitting time in two hours, I don’t think it’ll hurt …”
“Fuck it,” Luis said, putting the bots into pause mode. He took off his control gloves and optics. “Is this a special occasion?”
“Not really,” Reuben said, the two of them walked over to the tool and bot storage room in the corner of the vast open space, the only place they could have any privacy. Reuben pulled out the hashtags. The blend of genetically manipulated tobacco and marijuana was perfectly legal, but certainly not allowed on the job. Luis and Reuben activated the electronic cylinders and began inhaling.
“We’re 65% done, according to this,” Luis said, checking the earned value estimator in his interface. “When I saw the drawings, at least the part I was allowed to see, I thought this project would never be done. But here we are, on time.”
“65% done building an underground mansion for Aliens,” Reuben said. “It still fucks me up thinking about it.”
“Not exactly what you imagined when you signed up for an illustrious career in facilities?” Luis asked.
“No, can’t say that it was,” Reuben replied. “And as for that 65%, that’s damn near all you. All those extra hours you worked off the clock, making us all look bad.”
“I’m a professional, Reuben,” Luis said, letting the soothing and focusing puffs of the hashtag hit him. “I take pride in my work. I want it to be right.”
“You know what the difference between a professional and an amateur is, Luis?” Reuben said. “Professionals get PAID for the work they do. You’re turning yourself into one with all those unbilled hours.”
“You get paid for work you don’t do. What do you call that?” Luis said.
“A genius,” Reuben said. They both coughed out a few laughs. “What do you think is down there?” Reuben asked. “Those ventilation ducts go hundreds of meters down to that core, or hub, or whatever it’s called.”
“No idea,” Luis said. “The whole six months of this project I’ve never been down there, I’ve never encountered anyone who’s been down there except for maybe the Tarrare. They’re not exactly forthcoming. It’s classified past our clearance level. That part of the building drawings was redacted except for the outline of the outer wall.”
“Whatever it is, it’s going to draw a lot of power,” Reuben speculated. “I know some people on one of the other work crews, and ALL they’re doing is installing generators. Apparently they even brought in a few of the Tarrare’s own generators in a few levels below us.”
“It’s not my place,” Luis said. “I just want to get this damn thing built and move on. The sooner I can move out of those barracks out there and back home, the better. I told Daimon it would only be another three months and I’m keeping my word. The back and forth to Pittsburgh on the weekends is killing my ass.” The hashtag was good. Reuben hadn’t bought the cheap shit.
“I can see that,” Reuben answered. “But doesn’t it bother you? I mean, why are we doing all of this in the first place?”
“From what I understand, it was part of the deal,” Luis answered. “They’re helping us, technical assistance or something with that big data dump. This is sort of like their embassy or whatever. It’s all above my pay grade.”
“Why underground?” Reuben asked. “It seems unnatural.”
“I read that’s the way they live on whatever planet they’re from. They prefer it this way. You really should read the guidebooks, Reuben. We’re in the middle of goddamn nowhere,” Luis responded.
“They’re like a million pages, though,” Reuben protested.
“Whatever, man. I’m sure you’re even getting bored of porn by now. You might as well learn yourself something.” They puffed out the last of their hashtags, the lights growing dim as the vapors coming out were thinner and thinner. “We should get back to it.”
“I suppose,” Reuben answered. “I’ll be there in a minute.” He pulled a second out. Luis shook his head, not really ready to do two hashtags. He certainly wouldn’t be productive after that. He walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him and leaving Reuben inside.
He froze when he saw two of them had suddenly entered the worksite. Tarrare, both inspecting the ventilation ducts. “Oh, excuse me,” Luis blurted. “My … associate and I were just taking a quick break.”
They turned to look at him, those mantis heads with compound eyes and their height causing him to crumple defensively. “Don’t be concerned, Luis,” one of them said through its synthetic voice aide. She was a faint purple hue, indicating a female. He’d read his guidebooks enough to know that. “We were simply admiring your progress. You are a very diligent worker and everyone deserves a break from time to time. Productivity suffers otherwise.”
“Thank you,” Luis said, unsure what else to say. She strode toward him, getting uncomfortably close as the Tarrare tended to do, the compound eyes with the glowing displays and goggles over them scrutinizing him.
“I am the Colony Administrator, Krand-Vie, this is our chief Science Officer Ophen Lon.” The pale green male turned his head to look over at him, then went back to examining the ventilation ducts. “We were just discussing your future.”
“My future?” Luis asked.
“Yes,” Krand-Vie said, striding around on her flexible legs. “You have made better progress than any of the other teams or workers, despite the fact that your associate seems prone to lower levels of productivity. We would like to recommend you for a promotion if you’re interested.”
“Promotion,” Luis said. “My company would have to approve it …” His mind immediately raced to how pissed Daimon would be. Then again, Luis’ mom was sick. And on a project like this, it would be a huge pay bump to help with that sort of thing.
“Yes, Intelligent Evolution,” Krand-Vie said, fixating her eyes on the IEI logos affixed to Luis’ orange jumpsuit. “They have generally accepted our recommendations in the past, so we would be surprised if you did not receive it. Are you interested in taking on greater responsibilities in this project?”
“It’s a great opportunity …” Luis started.
“Excellent!” Krand-Vie interrupted him, signaling to her colleague. Luis didn’t get the chance to finish his “but that would depend on what you want me to do, I need to consult with my husband …” Not that it really mattered. “We will be seeing you on the lower levels tomorrow. I’m sure the appropriate clearances will be granted. There is much exciting work to be done in the core of this facility. Especially with the new expansions we will be negotiating tomorrow.” The Tarrare left, taking their time at it as their antenna twitched and heads looked over every part of the place.
A few minutes passed before the door to the storage room opened and Reuben stuck his head out, Luis slowly suiting back up to resume work. “What was that about? I thought I heard those simulated voices …”
“You did,” Luis said. “They were just in here.”
“Shit!” Reuben said. “Are we about to get fired?”
“No, as a matter of fact I’m about to get promoted,” Luis said, still awestruck.
“Then why do you look like you just stepped in Alien shit?” Reuben said. “This is great news, man. Maybe you can put in a good word for me, too.”
“I’m supposed to go down there tomorrow,” Luis said. “Way down to the secret part.”
Reuben paused, before fully emerging from the closet and clapping his hand on Luis’ shoulder. “Well, it couldn’t’ve happened to a nicer guy,” Reuben said. “I just hope they use some quality seasoning on you before they dig in, though. Otherwise it would really be a waste.” Reuben kept a solemn look for around five seconds before cracking up.
“Fuck you, Rueben,” was all Luis could say for a comeback.
“What is Daimon going to think?” Reuben asked. “I doubt he’s going to want to move from Pittsburgh to this place. It’s an hour from anything worthwhile. It’s like they looked at a map of the entire UAS and tried to find the most boring and vacant place they could.”
“He’s not going to be happy, that’s for sure,” was all Reuben could manage. He was already thinking about how he would explain it. Daimon already hated that he only saw Luis on the weekends when he got back home. “I’ve got a lot of long commutes in my future.”
NASA, ESA, Martin Kornmesser (ESA/Hubble)