“Attribution theory, Michaels, that’s what I’m on about.”
“You ascribing this holdup to external factors, to that goddamned Fight for the Earth brigade!”
“Well, why else have they stopped drilling then?”
“Maybe, something internal, like the idea that it’s dangerous, something we shouldn’t be doing.”
“Why wait till now then?”
Cooper took a last lungful of smoke and threw the cigarette stub onto the snow where it glowed like a used firework. “I dunno, anyway, one way or the other, Leibowitz has pulled the plug.” Cooper looked over to the towering rig among the jumble of huts, lights glowing in the otherwise dark landscape with just the snow-covered mountains in the distance for company. Beyond them lay Dawson city, the nearest thing to a town for hundreds of miles.
Cooper couldn’t understand it. Helen and her vociferous group had been opposed to the drilling from day one. But the protests had fallen on the deaf ears of politicians and scientists, the drilling had to go ahead. The scientific project of the decade, to tap the solid iron and nickel, and who knew what else, at the centre of the Earth.
“How far is she down?” Michaels asked.
Cooper spat onto the snow. “Last I heard, near enough seventeen hundred miles.” He had long since ceased to be amazed by the technology the Japanese had invented. Drills designed to go down thousands of miles, able to withstand crushing pressure and stellar temperatures. They could drill into the Sun, if they could only get there.
Helen Cooper faced the cameras, her eyes scanning the teleprompter where her speech scrolled slowly. “And, despite this, presumably temporary halt, we implore our scientists to call for an end to this dangerous experiment. This unnatural invasion of our planet’s inner depths, this invasion to the privacy of our dear Mother Earth!” She gave a cough and cleared her throat. “We, Fight for the Earth, have made a decision. If this project isn’t terminated permanently within seven days, then we, the women who support and care for our planet, will step up our protest action and one way or another bring this crazy scheme to its knees.”
Cooper watched his ex-wife on the small screen in the canteen. Hard to imagine her as an attractive sexy woman now, although not completely unattractive Cooper admitted to himself, but bloated and powered by bile. By a seeming hatred of men and science – and men of science for good measure. Their kids were all grown up now, Allan a company lawyer and Suzie a veterinary surgeon, and he had as little to do with Helen as possible.
An alert sounded over the PA. “Attention all personnel. All personnel are to proceed to the main hall at twenty hundred hours. Dr Leibowitz wishes to address a meeting. Attention all personnel ….”
What the hell! Cooper couldn’t believe it. He’d arranged to play Michaels at pool in the mess. Instead he’d got to go to some crummy meeting with Leibowitz. What in god’s name was going on?
Leibowitz stood on the stage, tapping the microphone. A resounding thump came through the speakers that surrounded the nearly two hundred, predominantly male, scientists, technicians and riggers.
Leibowitz was short, thin-lipped and bald, and wore thick black-framed glasses. He was renowned for having no sense of humour whatsoever. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced. The hall fell silent. “No doubt you are all wondering why the drilling has stopped at such an advanced stage.”
“Damn right we are,” called out a rigger named Smith. There was a ripple of laughter.
A screen flickered into life at the back of the stage. It showed one of the drill bits attached to a length of drill collar. It was covered with a brown jelly-like substance. “We’ve hit a problem,” Leibowitz announced. “This substance was encountered at a depth of fifteen hundred miles, it goes on for twenty miles or so and it’s impeding the drilling.”
“So what,” called Smith. “We’ve had worse.” There was a murmur of assent.
Leibowitz coughed. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve tested this substance and … it’s alive!”
A startled hush fell over the assembly.
A startled hush fell over the assembly.
“Furthermore, it shows a response to certain stimuli that shows … a kind of … er, intelligence.”
Smith opened his mouth, then closed it again.
“You are all under orders to keep this to yourselves. Strict secrecy of this, er, this development must be maintained whilst we fully evaluate the situation. Whilst the drilling is halted you will all continue to be paid in full.”
Cooper suddenly felt happy. His ex-wife and her vociferous crew had been lulled into a false sense of triumph, he’d be on full pay whilst the boffins consulted this blasted intelligent gunge, and for now, the pool room and beer were waiting.
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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