Important notice to rights owners: I respect and enjoy these worlds. If you object to any of my work within a world you legally control, please contact me and I will remove it.
by J. Stanton
“Max. R Lab. Now.” scrolled into the messaging window on Max’s terminal.
Again? Max thought. Norm is brilliant, but he’s a friggin’ dictator once he gets going on a tough problem. It’s not like he’s intentionally being a jerk, it’s like all the parts of his brain that used to care about acting like a human being get hijacked into doing biochemistry. Well, at least he doesn’t get nicotine fits like Grace did, he remembered, grimacing.
He tucked his terminal under his arm and headed into the airlock, having been working in P Lab, under Pandoran atmosphere. Despite having to wear a breathing mask, Max liked P Lab—probably because no one else did.
The breathable side of the airlock slowly opened to reveal Norm’s shoes, his trousers…and Norm was already talking at him. What’s so important that you can’t even wait for the damn door to open? Max wondered.
“Max, you have absolutely got to see this, right now,” Norm chattered, grinning like a fool as he turned and ran down the hallway.
Puzzled, Max jogged after him, undoing his breathing mask as he went.
Norm was bent over an old-fashioned optical microscope by the time Max arrived, puffing and blowing. “Jesus, Norm, where’s the fire?”
“Look, Max,” he said, still grinning like an idiot.
Max bent to look through the eyepiece, and through it, saw the unmistakable shape of… “It’s just Pandoran soil bacteria.”
“And which lab are we in, Max?” said Norm, practically hopping with excitement.
Max’s jaw slowly dropped as realization dawned. “R Lab…Norm, you crazy son of a bitch, what the hell have you done this time?”
“Shouldn’t we tell Jake?” asked Max. He was still dumbfounded. After the RDA had left, it had sunk in that he and the other remaining humans had just marooned themselves inside a slowly deteriorating Hellgate, probably forever…so what was the point of getting anything done, really? But now, what had seemed like Norm and Jake’s pie-eyed bullshit suddenly became a goal he could understand and help work towards.
“Nah, don’t bother,” Norm replied easily. “He’ll know it’s important because I said so, but Jake can’t really understand anything he can’t see and touch. Then he’ll pretend to be excited because I am, but it’ll bother him to fake it and it’ll hurt his feelings. Let’s wait until we’ve got something bigger.”
Max laughed. “He’s so transparent now, man. Everything he thinks and feels is all over his face now. You ever notice that?”
Norm chuckled. “You know, I never did, but you’re right. None of them can lie worth a damn, or even hide their emotions. I think that’s why I like the Na’vi so much…you always know exactly where you stand, even if it’s in the toilet.”
Max nodded. “There’s never any bullshit with them. It’s either yes, or it’s no. And it might be for the dumbest reason ever, or no reason at all, but at least they don’t string us along forever like the RDA always did.”
“Then give us a third of what we needed and guilt-trip us for asking,” Norm grumbled. “Funny how we’re getting so much more done now, with nothing, than we did before with all their ‘help’.” And he said it with such bitterness that Max could hear the air quotes.
There was a long pause.
“I’ve got to admit, Norm,” Max finally said, “I thought this was all bullshit. I was about two weeks from synthesizing some opiates and turning off entirely.”
“I mean, we’re stuck here, probably for the rest of our lives, and if anyone else comes it’s probably to kill us for being traitors, and …” He blew out a big breath. “I didn’t think you could do it. The smartest biochemists on Earth couldn’t do what you did.”
“Maybe not.” Norm shrugged, but he was grinning. “Anyway, we’ve got years more work to do…even if we’re really that good and this wasn’t just my lucky break. Are you in or out?”
“I’m in, Norm,” Max said, nodding slowly. “Even if I never understand and all I can do is clean your glassware, I’m in. This is…” He paused. “This isn’t just to write a paper, or win a prize. This is real.”
“Not yet,” replied Norm. “We’ve got to make it real.”
Continue to Part VI.
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