Read Scuzzworms Online

Authors: Ella Mack

Scuzzworms (5 page)

The friendly expression was changing back to forbidding.  “Well, if you must know, Dr. Imelda, we were short on space and each wing on the research floor contains four workstations.   The usual procedure is to separate each research unit into separate wings.  Since you are the only individual scientist to be assigned an entire unit for study, it wasn’t economical to keep three workstations empty just so you could have your own wing.  This was the best compromise we could come up with.”

“To put me into an empty administrative office?”

“I told you, Engineering....”

“Hogwash.  It can’t be done.  I don’t need my own wing, anyway.  I’m perfectly willing to share one.  I’m sure there’s a workstation empty somewhere over there.”  Imelda had Trefarbe’s game figured out now.  Rather than just come out and tell her that she would have to share a wing with someone else, she had assigned her the dismal alternative.  Imelda detested having her time wasted in this fashion.

“I don’t know. 
Caldwell was insistent that you be located over here.  Any change in assignment would have to be approved by him.  I’m not sure the other biologists are as willing to share as you are.”

Imelda was thoroughly impatient with the discussion now.  She had controlled her temper just about as long as she cared to. Trefarbe’s classic good looks had acquired the icy sheen of a witch hag in her eyes.  With a voice potent with threatened violence, she said, “Why don’t we discuss it with Dr. Caldwell himself, then?  I have the right to hear his opinion on the subject directly.”

Trefarbe’s answer matched her own in her voice’s overtone of threat.  “Dr. Caldwell is very busy.  I’m sure you will be happy with the arrangements as they have already been made.  There is no need to involve him.”

Imelda faced Trefarbe unyieldingly.  Had she been made of less stern stuff, she would have backed down at this juncture.  But Trefarbe’s insistence that they not involve
Caldwell meant that it was just the thing to do.    Afterwards, Imelda remained uncertain of what might have happened next had not Caldwell himself rounded the corner just then.  His slight face split into a goofy grin as he spied Imelda. 

“Ah, Dr. Imelda, I’m so glad you’re here.  I wasn’t sure if you’d go by your workstation first or come to your office.”

‘Office’? thought Imelda.  What did she need an office for?  He took both of her hands and shook them eagerly.  Imelda was somewhat taken aback by his effusive welcome.  Out of the corner of her eye she could see Trefarbe shaking in outrage.  Calliope, on the other hand, was stifling a hyena reaction.

“Your work on Eldridge was marvelous, simply marvelous.  I know it didn’t receive much public notice but your observations on feeler adaptation in acanthopods were exceptionally astute.  You don’t know how pleased I was when Biotech agreed to hire you.”  He pulled her towards her empty office, and halted in amazement when he pushed the door open.

“Why, where are the furnishings?”

Trefarbe turned purple.  “Uh, they’re on order,” she lied.

“On order?  We have plenty of desks and office supplies in storage from the project at Heisle.  Have this office equipped immediately!  Dr. Imelda’s work cannot be delayed!”  He cleared his throat uncertainly.   “I apologize, Dr. Imelda.  I assumed that there wouldn’t be any problem.  I suppose Central supply is busy gearing up for the technical teams and hasn’t gotten around to your office yet.  Why don’t we go by my office, then?  I’m so pleased to have a real biologist out here.  This is an exciting planet, very exciting.  I have some videos that you will find incredible...”

As they walked away, Imelda glanced back at Trefarbe. The black look she got in return was worth the entire trip to Iago.  Imelda was thoughtful as
Caldwell led her away.  She had made a truly powerful enemy now.  She’d be lucky if Central would send her a stylus that worked with Trefarbe approving the orders.  She debated telling Caldwell that she’d changed her mind and wanted to quit, but decided against it.  She might not complete any research that merited even a byline on this project, but she could be assured that she wouldn’t be bored.

Caldwell
’s enthusiasm continued unabated as they entered his office, his hand behind her shoulder.  He certainly was a touchy/feely sort of fellow.  She moved away from him a little.

“Come, come, have a seat over here.  The fly
-bys we have are marvelous.  Let me get this thing cranked up.”

Imelda noticed his hand wave her eyes toward a corner of the ceiling behind him.  She caught a glimpse of a shiny black dot there.  Okay, so, a video bug.  Someone was spying on him.  Nothing unusual in that.  This was, after all, a research project.

She watched his hands fumble with the controls on the video monitor and caught a glimpse of a sound distortion device.  Apparently, this was to be a secret conference.

With a loud crackling, the monitor hummed to life.  The volume was turned to maximum and he fiddled with it briefly before sitting down.

He leaned close to yell.  “I always have trouble with machines.  I hope you don’t mind the volume so high.  I can’t find the knob to turn it down.”

Imelda glanced at the monitor.  The volume control was plainly labeled.  He was apparently testing her knowledge of research techniques.  She shrugged.  “Guess we’ll have to speak by PC,” she yelled.

He nodded, smiling.  He produced the cable to make the attachment.  “I was truly pleased that you agreed to come,” he typed.  “I had a long talk with Caldwell, your former project director.”

Imelda was cautious.  “You a relative of his?” she typed back.

Caldwell’s face split in another grin, almost laughing.  “Heavens no!  He’s from a totally different cell line I am pleased to say.  The only similarity we share is in our call names.  I spoke with him before deciding whether or not to hire you.”

“What did he say about me?”  Imelda did not expect the truth but asked anyway. 
Caldwell was not the lost professor that he had appeared, and seemed to want to take her into his confidence, a dangerous proposition.

“Um, I believe the word he used was scumbucket, or perhaps scumbag.”

“Scumbucket.”

“Um, yes. He claimed that you stole his ideas.”

“After he stole them from me.”

“He also claimed that you were a devious trickster and incapable of telling the truth.”

“He should be familiar with such traits since he has them himself.”

Caldwell
nodded.  “I checked on him as well.  He did everything he could to destroy your career.”

“Did a damn good job of it too.” 

“I found it strange that he was so reluctant to allow you to leave his team in view of his poor opinion of you.”

“I suspect he was afraid of running out of good ideas after I left.”

“Hmm.  I would not be surprised.”  Caldwell’s eyes were piercing as he glanced towards her.  Both of them were careful to keep the back of their heads toward the videobug so that their expressions couldn’t be read.  Imelda was still unsure just what this was all about but knew she didn’t like it.    

“I also spoke with Gerald Golden.”

Imelda’s stomach tightened at the name.  A knot formed in her throat.

“He’s an interesting fellow.  He had a lot to say about you, after he had a few beers in him.”

Her expression remained frozen as she stared at the video.

Caldwell
’s eyes turned back to the video as well, his expression bothered, uncertain.  After a pause, he cleared his throat.  “I have a favor to ask of you,” he typed.

Imelda nodded.  Now she would find out why she was here.

“You met director Trefarbe.  What do you think of her?”

“Suborder Serpentes.”

“My feeling precisely.  She has already decided that I am easily manipulated and too absentminded to resist her.  In addition to trying to control me and my job, she has campaigned heavily for my bed as well.”

“A predictable ploy.”

“I am a scientist first and foremost.  This is a huge project and an important one.  I will have all that I can do supervising the research program, ensuring its efficiency and accuracy.  I need an able management person to take care of the day-to-day operational details, and that she can do.  I don’t have the time to waste with her shenanigans.”

“Why don’t you just go to bed with her?”

“I am already involved with someone else.”  His look was earnest.  “Someone I care about very deeply.”

Imelda nodded thoughtfully.  “Contractual?”

He smiled.  “Sworn fealty, penalties for infidelity.  A full contractual relationship.  My friend worries that her fellows would resent her if they knew.  She is devoted to her work, just as I am.  She does not wish to be known as my wife.”

“She lacks your Director of Operation’s manipulative talents, then?”

“She would be dead meat for someone like Trefarbe. We long ago agreed that we would not talk business when we were alone.  She has gained no unfair advantage from her association with me.”

“Verifiably nice, then.”

“Extremely so.  We have been together for a long time.”

Imelda nodded.

Caldwell remained silent, hesitant. 

Noting the discomfort on his face, she sighed.  “So you need some way of keeping Trefarbe out of your hair.  Go ahead, ask.  You want me to pretend to be your girlfriend, take the heat off of you and save your marriage.”

His face turned bright red as he read the words.  After a pause, he typed, “Do you mind?”

Imelda shrugged, thinking.  Normally she avoided social entanglements, but this one sounded invitingly offensive.  “Yes, but I’ll do it anyway.  Trefarbe already has her claws out for me. This will give me something to scare her with.”

Caldwell breathed a sigh of relief.  “I was afraid...  I know what you’ve been through, Imelda.  I did not reach my position without earning a few scars myself.”

Imelda shrugged.  “No explanations necessary.  Trefarbe could use a little shaking up.  Let’s not be too flagrant about this, though.  Neither of us are exactly extroverts.  It would ring false if we started carrying on in public.  Trefarbe would catch on.”

Caldwell nodded thoughtfully.  “I would prefer it that way myself.  We will pretend to have a secret affair then, in order to conceal my true secret affair.  An unholy circumstance.  I suppose, for Trefarbe’s benefit, we should now examine each other’s health certificates?”

Imelda hesitated.  The exchange of health certificates was usually an intensely private and emotional
event.  For most couples it marked the first serious step towards establishing an intimate relationship.  The relationship she was establishing with Caldwell was strictly business.  She could not help but suspect that he had some ulterior motive in forcing this involvement with him.  She was cooperating partly out of curiosity.  If his real intent was to completely bollix or steal her research, then maybe the symbolism of the ceremony was entirely appropriate.  She nodded slowly.

“That should raise her blood pressure,” she typed.

She read the information that printed out on Caldwell’s wristband.  Virus free.  She could have figured.  She held out her own wristband to be examined.  Caldwell was silent as he read it, his expression awkward.  He pulled her chin toward him and kissed her on the forehead. 

She turned back to face the monitor again, a little unsteady.  “How are we to work this, anyway?  Am I to pretend to sneak to your apartment or do we both creep over to your friend’s place?”

“Well, actually,” he cleared his throat again.  Funny how he felt he had to clear his throat before typing.  It was clearly another form of communication.  “Would you mind moving to the apartment next to hers?  There is a door connecting the two.  It is a little larger than the apartment you are assigned.”

Imelda felt a ray of hope.  Maybe her life wasn’t completely doomed after all.  “Is it green?”

“Green?  Is what green?”

“The apartment.  Is it green?”

Caldwell was perplexed.  “Well, certainly, if you would like for it to be green.  You can set the color modulator for any color you...”

“Never mind.  Igor would appreciate having more room to sleep in.  It’s a deal.  I’ll move.”

“Igor?”

“My cat.”

“Oh.”

“Trefarbe hasn’t assigned me a workstation yet.  She led me to believe that you wanted my office to be fitted with one.”

Caldwell’s expression revealed how ridiculous he found the idea.  “I am not surprised.  She gets angry when I show any evidence of independent thought and tries to make me look foolish.  Do you have any preference as to location?”

Imelda smiled wryly.  “Tell you what.  She wants to believe that you’re an idiot, so let her, at least on this.  Let me have a little fun with her.”

“Now Imelda, I’ve heard what you are capable of.  I need her functioning.”

“I’ll be subtle.  She’ll never know what hit her.”

He glanced at her uncertainly, and then smiled as well.

“You make a fine addition to our research team, Dr. Imelda.  I’ll instruct Trefarbe that you’re changing apartments.  It will be number 382, in case she tries to subvert this plan as well.”

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