Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sudden Short Story 61

"So you must be the inspector," declared another worker, as he sat on the cafeteria bench across from the inspector. 
"I'm beginning to suspect that you've a crew of geniuses," he commented to the operations lead.  "What gave it away," he asked the worker, "the tie, the clipboard, the nametag that says 'inspector' on it, or the fact that I'm the only new face that you've seen in two years?" 
"A smart ass, this one is," commented the worker.  "Well, maybe your smart ass can figure out how to get some parts out here.  We had to shut down dome B last week due to the fires." 
"Fires?" asked the inspector.  "Wait, dome B shouldn't have even been in use:  It's outdated!" 
"Well, it was cheaper to start that one back up than to keep running oxygen to dome F after corridor F went out." 
"You're gonna give him information overload, Gran," chimed in the lead.  "I was going to go over this after we got him settled in." 
"Hold on," piped up the inspector, "What in the names of the Ennead happened to corridor F?" 
"Fires," said Gran, bluntly. 
"Don't your fire suppression systems work any more?" 
"Oh, they do," chimed in another worker, "On the inside."  This led to some low chuckles around the cafeteria. 
"It's all those hydrocarbons outside," filled in Gran.  "It's sort of backwards here:  Think of oxygen as the fuel.  On Earth, you keep fuel away from oxygen, since oxygen is what's everywhere; down here, fuel is everywhere, so you keep oxygen away from it." 
"Which is what we normally do, anyway," interjected the other worker - none of them bothered to wear nametags, despite regulations - "since we like to breathe it." 
"So what's the problem?" asked the inspector.  
"The problem is the leaks!  We've been rationing our sealant materials for almost a year, and we're about to run out, anyway.  When a leak springs, we bleed oxygen.  When the leak catches fire, we bleed oxygen fast, and have to seal and vent the area just to stop further losses." 
"We eventually started shutting down domes," volunteered the operations lead, "but you can only shut down so many domes before you get close to the quotas.  HQ doesn't like it when we get close to quotas, and I don't want to know what they'll do if we ever go below quota.  So, we do what we can to keep up." 
"Parts shouldn't be failing that fast, though," began the inspector. 
"Now hold your horses," interrupted another of the workers.  The inspector hadn't even seen him leave the table, but he'd returned with a tray of shot glasses filled with clear liquid.  "You've got plenty of time to worry on this trip, and you'll want to ease yourself into it:  We've got a decade of problems down here," he said as he passed the drinks tray to the others to pass around.  He'd taken two, though, and set one in front of the inspector.  "But let me be the first to offer you a drink." 
"Honestly, given the supply problems that you've been having, I'm almost surprised that you're still supplied with alcohol." 
"Actually," he said, sitting down next to the inspector, "that's one of the few perks of this job.  It occurs naturally out here.  We call it 'the rough stuff.'  It's even the source of our unofficial motto." 
"And what's that?" asked the inspector, eager for any information that wasn't about how his job was going to be harder. 
The workers in the cafeteria, glasses raised, all shouted, "THERE'S BOOZE IN THEM THERE LAKES!" 
The inspector wasn't expecting that, but took it in stride.  "I'll drink to that," he said, and joined the others in the pseudo-toast, throwing back his shot. 
"He's going to regret that," commented the operations lead, holding his arm behind the inspector, who instead flopped forward into the table.  "Newbies.  Well, someone help me get him to his quarters.  It's a bit of a hike." 

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