Read Scuzzworms Online

Authors: Ella Mack

Scuzzworms (9 page)

Igor went back to eating his meal, unconcernedly.  The humans around the table laughed.

“Well, if you don’t like what Post says, you can always sic Igor on him,” whispered Grady.

Imelda smiled. “Not a bad idea.  I’ll keep it in mind,” she answered.

#

It was a month later.  Imelda looked at her work in satisfaction.  The information from the aerial surveys had been scanty, but she had neatly summarized every insignificant datum into an incoherent whole.  She still didn’t know much more about scuzzhogs or Iagan life than she had known the first day she started the study, but her ignorance was now outlined in detail.

Caldwell had left with Jinks three weeks before to return to corporate headquarters on Syned.  She wondered briefly why Caldwell had gone too, but figured that it was none of her business.  Jinks had simply gotten lonely for a golf course. She doubted that he would return before the project was completed, if then.

Caldwell
depended on Trefarbe to attend to details in scheduling the groundbase operation.  Kreiss, a biologist specializing in primitive cellular species, was supposed to take over Caldwell’s post in his absence.  The few times that Imelda saw him he looked even more uncomfortable than Caldwell at administrative tasks.

She glanced at the clock.  Time for her meeting.  She walked down the long hallway to Trefarbe’s office resignedly.

Trefarbe had called Imelda in to discuss her study results to date.  Kreiss was supposed to be present but he had apparently completely delegated the project to Trefarbe.  She sat down with a faint dread.  Trefarbe had a real power look on her face.

Trefarbe shook her head solemnly and said, “Only six hundred gigabytes here!  Six hundred gigabytes!”  She looked up at Imelda with an expression of woe.

“Everyone else has logged a minimum of twice this data! You know that you must perform a complete analysis of the aerial surveys prior to approving groundbase!  Groundbase operations must be efficient and minimally disruptive to the local ecology.  You haven’t logged nearly enough of a database to assure me that your work is complete! It is impossible for you to have performed an adequate analysis when your database is smaller than that of the least active researcher!   I can’t approve an invasive procedure based on six hundred gigabytes!”  Trefarbe’s voice rose.

Imelda frowned. CHA was supposed to approve groundbase.  Trefarbe had no such authority.  All she was supposed to do was transmit the data to the CHA base maintained in outer orbit around Iago.

“I hope you realize that we must be absolutely certain that we are not ignoring an intelligent civilization hidden down there.  How am I to know that those mud things aren’t intelligent with only six hundred gigabytes?  You have obviously been lax in your work, Dr. Imelda.  You are holding up the entire project!  We can’t move forward with groundbase until you can assure me without question that we won’t be in violation of regulations!”

Trefarbe was very pleased with herself.  Unfortunately, this was the sort of thing that Imelda expected from her.  Admin types didn’t bother to look at the quality of work, only the quantity.  Trefarbe was not capable of judging quality, in any case.  It was unimportant to her that Imelda had thoroughly investigated all the available data. She wanted memory storage to prove it.

Not enough gigabytes? Since when had the merits of research been determined by gigabyte occupation?  After all, E = mc2 took up hardly any bytes at all.  Neither did Mendel’s laws. Trefarbe was an idiot.  Imelda had arranged her data compactly only to make it manageable.

Trefarbe shook her head disapprovingly.  “This is simply unacceptable, Dr. Imelda.  CHA has very strict rules regarding initiating groundbase operations, and I must be able to show them that we fully investigated the surface of the planet for evidence of higher intelligence.  Why, where is your report on marine forms?”

Imelda scrolled through several chapters of the report. “Right here.  A water-spawned civilization would be extremely limited.  Fire-based technology, chemical industry, and electronic development would be nearly impossible in such an environment.  Such a civilization has never been reported, and the data we have collected does not support its occurrence here.”

Trefarbe was not appeased.  “You say this, but where are the storage bytes to say that you looked?  I will hold you personally responsible if we initiate groundbase and discover that we are in violation of regulations!”  Trefarbe gave her a triumphant sneer. 

Trefarbe seemed less concerned about adhering to CHA requirements than finding chinks in her armor.                She considered raising more of a protest, but decided against it.  Trefarbe’s manuals would too easily refute any argument she could give. Trefarbe would have her way, for the time being.  She would log more data, mostly repetitious or irrelevant, just to meet the requisite gigabytes of memory storage.  Admin would be pleased by such a show of hard work.

“I am going to send a message to Dr. Jinks about your sloppy approach to your work.  Delays like this cost our company enormous amounts of money.  I’m not saying that you are incompetent, you understand, but I am not sure of the appropriateness of choosing you for the review.  CHA was willing to provide a reviewer for us, but the premium was too high.  Dr. Caldwell went out on a limb to assure us that you were qualified for the task.  I represent company interests first and foremost.  You can be replaced if you cannot do the work.”

Imelda moved her head in a brief nod.  CHA must really charge a premium for their reviewers if Caldwell had insisted on her for the job.  She’d been told her salary was close to the max for a non-supervisory biologist.  “CHA regs have been met by the report as it is submitted.  Amending the report to meet your criteria will take approximately six work hours.  I will resubmit it as soon as it is completed.”

“What about your groundbase request?”  Trefarbe snapped back.  “You were equally incomplete in preparing that.  All I see here is a vague request for a stationary camouflaged probe!  You will decide on placement after you see the data from roving units?  This is ridiculous!  Where are your budgetary projections for the next year?  You give no estimate for a time of completion!  Surely the university you worked for wouldn’t accept anything as sloppy as this!” 

Imelda paused, keeping her face unexpressive.  “That will take a little longer.  It has a lower priority, in any case.”  She took her leave of Trefarbe in silence. The door hydraulics wouldn’t allow it to slam behind her.

Grumbling to herself, she rearranged the data into formal graphs, tables, and pretty graphics, importing abstracts of every report filed by a research team.  Her storage requirement grew rapidly.  After a few quick hours work, the required gigabytes of storage were occupied.   Her groundbase request?  Two minutes of reckless invention resulted in a work plan with completion dates put as far into the future as she thought she could get away with. Imelda sat back, contemplative.

Trefarbe appeared happy only when she could criticize her.  The CHA report required urgent approval, but defining her next phase of study would better await the initial groundbase runs.  The simplest course was to hold on to her groundbase request and give Trefarbe her bone to pick.  In any case, CHA required close monitoring of all initial groundbase reports for any additional evidence of civilization.  They imposed rigorous time limits for submitting the reviews.  She was going to be too busy to worry about mudbeasts and bogs anyway.

With a sigh, she officially logged the CHA report, making sure she met average values of compliance and leaving no unfinished details for Trefarbe to find fault with. They met criteria to utilize unrestricted mobile units from the very beginning of groundbase, which should please Biotech greatly.  This meant a job completed under budget.  Even if Trefarbe continued to put up a howl, her bosses would be pleased. 

Her job accomplished, she sat back and rubbed her eyes.  There would be several weeks wait while CHA reviewed her report.  There was no point in continuing at the workstation.   She shut it down.

She was tired of playing other people’s games.  She was tired of Trefarbe and Caldwell, and Jamison, too.  She couldn’t bear seeing Post anymore, or the sick feeling in her gut that he gave her.  She just wanted to do her work, pure and simple.  She wanted no more social contact at all.

Instead, she got drunk.  For the next month.  The arguments over requisitions for groundbase units shook the walls in the meeting rooms.  Imelda attended only electronically, falling asleep during most of them. Kreiss chaired the meetings with white knuckles, unable to get consensus on anything.  Caldwell eventually returned, to find the department in chaos. 

Caldwell
was again a regular visitor to her apartment, utilizing the back door to Jamison’s apartment freely.  Preoccupied, he hardly spoke to Imelda at all.

Imelda did not drink while he was watching but did whenever he was not.  She was disgustingly, sloppily, drunkenly depressed and she knew it.  She did not care.  

It was during one of his visits that she was watching an insipid video and crying.  She was not crying about the video, unless it was due to her sorrow that anything so poorly done would ever be publicly released.  She locked herself in front of the wallscreen whenever she was awake, keeping herself from thinking by killing time with games, vidseries, stinky movies, anything.  Bored frustration was destroying her, one exasperated neuron at a time.

Igor slept in her lap as usual.  She had been through three packs of cigarettes and a half-liter of wine and was deep into self
-hate.  Caldwell had been with Jamison for several hours.  Since he usually slept over, she figured she had plenty of time to indulge in hating herself.  It was one of her major occupations since her research had come to a grinding halt.

A knock came on her door.  Startled, she debated whether or not to answer it.  She looked through the peephole.  It was Fish, with Post.  Wiping away her tears hurriedly, she opened the door.   

“Well, hello boys.  To what do I owe the pleasure?” She knew it was pretty obvious that she was not sober.

They muscled their way in.  Fish looked around at her apartment disdainfully.  “I see what you mean, Post.  This is pretty bad.”

“What’s the matter, Fish?  I thought our encounter sessions were going well.”

“Only if complete denial that anything is wrong can be considered ‘going well’.  Imelda, what is it?  You are one of the most talented researchers here.  Post tells me that you have hardly been to your workstation.”

Imelda moved back to press the silent alarm warning Caldwell that someone was in her apartment.  “I have been investigating filth and sluggishness on a personal level in order to understand the scuzzhogs better.  Remember, I’m an ethologist.  I must delve into the subconscious evolution of their behavior.”

Fish did not smile.  “Doctor Imelda, I would not joke about this.  I am here officially as a representative of Biotech.  Do you have any reason for not reporting to your workstation?”

“I haven’t had anything to do there,” she said.

“That is largely your own fault.  I checked with Director Trefarbe.  You haven’t completed your groundbase request even though everyone else is ready for implementation.  Post came to me because of his concern for your behavior.”

Imelda turned to look at Post, surprised that he had cared.  “Thanks, Postman. I have been taking an intellectual vacation and you had to spoil it.  Don’t you know enough to keep your nose out?”

Fish interrupted.  “Imelda, I am responsible for maintaining adequate functioning in everyone here.   Director Trefarbe is also concerned.  You have been erratic in the past, but you have always been able to complete your work.  You will be taken off the project and financially penalized if you can’t convince me that you are functional.”

“Promises, promises,” she muttered.  Louder, she answered, “I am completely functional Fish.  I am merely resting.”  She walked over to a counter and picked up a bottle of sobriety pills, popping one in her mouth. “Have a seat, boys, while I come back into focus.”

She examined them carefully.  Fish was solemn, almost happy to have found her so clearly in need of his services.  Post was acutely uncomfortable and she could sense his anger.  Fed up with the free ride that he thought the company was giving her, no doubt.

“If you must intrude, I HAVE been doing my work.  I’m monitoring the requests that every one else is logging and certifying that they’re in compliance with CHA regs.  That is my job, if you will recall.  I want to wait until I have a pretty good idea of the classification of other species before going any further myself with the scuzzhogs.  You see...” She looked at them measuringly.   “I have been concerned that my species assignment is a waste of time from the beginning.  The most efficient way for me to proceed is to wait until the major classifications have been established, then determine where scuzzhogs fit in.  You can’t develop a classification system by looking at a single species.  I’m required to monitor the reports anyway.  There is less duplication of effort this way.”

“So why were you crying?”  It was Post, his face expressionless.

“I was watching a crummy movie and I hated it.  I don’t have a non-debasing thing to do except dissociate into a video haze until I begin groundbase myself, and the selection of games and videos is terrible.”

Post obviously didn’t believe her and neither did Fish.  “Imelda, if you have been working as you say, show me.”

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