17375 / 50000 (34.75%)
I SO ROCK. More than a third of the way there! Yeeeahhhh! (And there's 1/3rd of the month left! I have symmetry, if not pacing!) For a section that I wasn't convinced even needed to be in this story at all, I managed to get out a bunch of words, and I think I figured out these characters. (Mind you, the next time we see them, they're about 10 years older, so I'll have to figure them out again.)
My friend Storm told me a story this morning over brunch about some author (Harlan Ellison, I think she said?) who used to write his short stories in a cafe, and as soon as he was done with a page, he'd post it in the window so he couldn't go back and change anything. In that spirit, LJ is my nano cafe window. Read at your own risk. :)
This section is R-rated for sex and language. It's probably also rated D- for made-up science.
Part 1 of Ares is here (and show bible is here)
They shut the freeway down 20 minutes before he even hits Pasadena. All the laying on the horn in the world won't get the traffic moving, but it distracts him from his car's pedantic advice to drive another .81 miles and exit to an alternate route to "avoid congestion."
"Fuck," he curses, and goes to sound the horn once more for good measure, but misses and just ends up smacking the fake-leather steering wheel.
"Would you like some music?" the car asks, its algorithms apparently determining that a complete standstill on a major thoroughfare should lead it to offer distractions.
He chose a sultry female voice for the UI because it pissed Lacey off, and by the end, hate-sex was the only kind she was offering. When they went their separate ways (either prematurely or six months too late, depending on his mood), he renamed the car after her.
"Traffic report," he says, and because ever since the last time he drove up to the Bay Area, the car's computer has developed an annoying habit of starting with the whole damned western frontier and backing its way into relevancy, he specifies, "Local. See if you can keep it in this time zone, Lacey."
The map that pops up on his screen shows red standstill traffic snaking outward along half the major interchanges before changing its view to suggested alternate routes that are already crawling with orange. Lacey reports a fatality accident involving at least ten cars. "All lanes are currently blocked, with the shoulder reserved for emergency vehicles."
"No ETA? They're not clearing it yet?"
"Updates will become available once emergency crews have evaluated the scene."
"Jesus. They're better than this in Staten Island."
Eager to oblige, the car asks, "Would you like to hear the morning accident report from Staten Island?" in a voice of slippery silk, like it's offering him a bourbon. He should really look up whatever programmer they used to voice-act this thing.
"I would like to get the hell off the freeway."
"In .79 miles, exit right for an alternate route."
It's going to be a long damn day.
The JPL campus is buzzing with activity when he gets there, forty minutes after the project launch meeting was supposed to start. There are still a handful of nametags left on a table at the front of the conference room from the other stragglers still stuck in traffic and he picks his out - Gary Acton – Structural Engineering. In smaller letters in the bottom corner, over the decorative photo of the moon, is his team assignment: Ames – Habitat Team 4, a reminder that he'll be relocating to Northern California at the end of the month. The move isn't set to be much of a hassle – he never even bothered to get a decent couch after moving to the Los Angeles area a year ago – but he thinks he's still going to miss L.A. He's from New York originally – Brooklyn – and lived in Chicago and London and Baltimore when he was collecting his degrees, and there's something a little too laid back about the Bay Area for his tastes.
He doesn't recognize too many of the people chatting in seats or mingling around the refreshments table, and most of them are older than him, but neither of those things are too surprising. Gary has been with the space program less than a year, brought on for the tail-end of the space station expansion project. Most of that time he has spent jetting between a basement lab in JPL and Cape Canaveral, shoring up other people's structural designs for zero-G assembly and dealing with egos and agendas of a whole host of people who saw him as nothing but a new hotshot, still polishing his newly minted doctorate. The Lunar Colony task force is the first time he's entering a project on the ground floor, the first time any part of a mission will be his, and he can't wait.
Though there are still a few empty chairs, it's only ten minutes or so after Gary arrives that people start calling everyone to seats. The former NASA director stands at the podium up front watching everyone assemble and laughing with the people in the front row before she signals someone to dim the floor lights and beams out at the crowd to get the day started.
"Congratulations to everyone who made it through the traffic from that ten car pileup outside," she says without introducing herself, though Gary can't imagine that anyone here doesn't at least know of her. Jane Wilder's tenure as director of NASA was controversial from start to finish, and her media notoreity is probably why she's launching the project instead of the actual sitting director. "May our journey to the moon be much smoother sailing!"
Everyone cheers, including Gary. While he tends to fall on the side of her detractors most of the time, the group of scientists who complained that she was turning hard science into series of television gimmicks and reality shows, he has to credit her for the change in public opinion. Ten years ago, the popular support for a permanent extra-terrestrial settlement was practically nonexistant – now, this project is getting off the ground thanks to a major national push toward the moon, Mars, and beyond.
There's even a video crew in this room, he notes, which probably explains the fluff presentation Doctor Wilder is giving. She talks over holographic footage of the 20th century moon landing videos and the modern pushes into space (including, he notes with disgust but not surprise, a clip of a pre-film-career Landon Cruz doing drunk zero-g backflips on the space station from the Independence reality show, and photo of Jane Wilder's Boy Wonder meeting the President on Space Apprentice: The Wright Stuff). Her speech is just as predictably cheesy, full of quotable phrases about manifest destiny and how the moon is not the goal but a stepping stone for man's bold steps across the horizon of outer space.
She ends the pep rally by reading off a list of the key names involved in the project – Gary's isn't mentioned, but he assumes he's included in her general shout-out to "the best and brightest rising stars." He recognizes most of the names she mentions from their reputations – Warren Bramhall, the Ames campus pre-launch lead; Adam Khalib, the landing site coordinator; Cara Demetriades, whom Gary never met even though she designed the radiation shielding for the space station expansion.
After everyone in the room is done applauding, Jane reminds them that Bob Greaves, the current NASA director, will be giving a keynote speech that evening after a day of seminars and individual team orientations. She ends with:
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the moon!"
He meets Diana Jacobsen for the first time while he's complaining about cold coffee.
It's hardly the most important thing on the agenda. Ares Team 4 is sixteen people – or, during their team orientation, fourteen people and two empty chairs.
"We can set people up to live on the moon, but we still can't find a way to keep coffee fresh for more than twenty minutes," he grouses to his neighbor, a pretty Korean woman who, so far, isn't giving him the time of day.
"So far, we haven't done either yet," Gary's new team leader replies with a generous smile, "but you can consider that your side project." Doctor Warren Bramhall, who's probably younger than his receding hairline would indicate, is a bit of a legend in his own time, at least in the scientific community. Gary heard of him first as an undergraduate, where he actually did a term project on Bramhall's sectional design of the space station. Gary lost a bit of respect for him when he kept showing up on Jane Wilder's inside-NASA reality shows, but Bramhall is definitely respected as a leader, and is probably the most ambitious champion for colonizing Mars in the near future ("the moon is destined to be a way station for tourists and scientists," Bramhall said in an America Now clip that Jane Wilder showed in her orientation presentation that morning, "but Mars is the new American frontier.").
Besides, Bramhall hired him on for this task force, and with only a year of NASA credentials to his name so far, so Gary's now his biggest fan.
"Since the refreshments are less than satisfactory, let's turn to business," Bramhall is saying, eyes twinkling with excitement, when the conference room door opens. "I didn't think you were going to make it! Is everything all right?"
The first thing Gary notices is her legs, striking even in a wrinkled pantsuit. The second is that her arm is in a sling. When he makes it to her face, she's rolling her eyes.
"Just a scratch," she says, in a alto voice that reminds Gary, strangely, of the UI of his car. "Believe me, I wouldn't miss this."
Bramhall claps a few times. "Diana Jacobsen, everyone, just off the plane from the MIT bio-dome."
Everyone joins in clapping, and she smiles like she expects this sort of treatment she slides into the empty seat next to Gary. Her blonde hair is pinned up, loosely, and he should be wondering about what role she played in the MIT dome, but instead he's guessing at how long it is. He's always had a weakness for blondes; it's his favorite part about California.
There's still a hospital fob bracelet around her wrist, so he introduces himself in a whisper and asks, "What happened?"
"Ten-car pile-up," she replies, and holds up four fingers. "Car number four. Welcome to California."
"Well, that's L.A. for you."
She smirks. "I always like to start things off with a bang."
The keynote speech is fairly dull, actually. Bob Greaves, though a less polemical director than his predecessor, isn't nearly as charismatic a public speaker and relies far too much on notes.
It's okay, though, because Gary's exhausted by 8 pm and the seminars and team meetings have given him plenty of information to roll around in his head. The deadlines are ambitious – impossible if they aren't able to come up with a workaround for some of the bigger design challenges. In theory, low gravity should be an easier platform than the minimal gravity of orbital stations, but the structure itself isn't the only concern. Until the site team picks a final location, they don't even know if they're building on the light or dark side of the moon – something that's less of a problem for the actual structure and more, as Diana Jacobsen pointed out, an issue of life support.
"It's a matter of energy versus radiation," she explained. "If the ultimate goal is a viable, truly self-contained outpost where people could stay indefinitely, the radiation is among the first problems I'll be working to overcome. The safety factor for the human inhabitants is only part of the concern – we can't forget plant life, food production... there's a lot more to a true independent biosphere than we've got on the space station."
He caught the way some of the others were looking at her when she gave her brief introduction presentation, and it reminds Gary of the way the space station expansion team sometimes treated him. In this case, he can't tell yet if the superior attitude deserved or not. Diana is clearly well-informed, and intelligent enough to field questions without the help of the portable computer she lost to the car crash, but she's also cocky as hell for somene Gary never even heard of before that morning. He can't decide yet if he likes her as a fellow Young Turk looking to upset the status quo, or if he can't stand her.
She's nice to look at, he'll give her that – but there are plenty of attractive, well-spoken blondes in California who don't deserve to be on a project of this magnitude. He'll reserve judgment on whether Diana Jacobsen does or not until he sees what she can handle.
Director Greaves' speech gets a standing ovation more for the cameras than because it was particularly rousing – the man made the challenge of colonizing space sound like a dull, cerebral puzzle rather than one of Jane Wilder's Space Adventures – but at least there's an open wine bar afterwards. It's not really his kind of party and the wine tastes cheap, but he hangs out for a while anyway, rubbing elbows. Diana is the first to leave of the faces he recognizes from Ames Team 4, slipping out even before the first toast.
Jane Wilder is making the rounds, tailed by a hanful of vid reporters. He sees her talk to Bramhall and a few of the other big names, and is pretty surprised when one of the cameramen points in his direction and Wilder stops in front of him.
"I've heard about you," she says, smiling the PR smile he recognizes from the news. Everyone says she's different off-camera, and he dimly wonders how often she has even been off-camera in the last three years since the Malcolm Wright story blew up. She glances down at her portable screen – he can see his profile picture in the reflection in her glasses – and then she tells the vid reporters behind her, "This is Gary Acton, coming over from the Independence stage six project. He'll be one of the key structural engineers for the new Lunar outpost." Then, ostensibly to him, she soundbites: "Daley – Doctor Erin Daley, project lead of the space station expansion – says you're going to make a heck of a splash on this one. Everyone tells me your designs are some of the most innovative we've ever seen."
"An outpost on another planetoid has never been done before," he points out a little dourly, annoyed that she's pretending to know who he is. "So you'd better hope I'm being innovative."
She laughs, and gives him a look like that's the last time she's going to put him on the news sites. "Well, then, I'll leave you to it."
San Francisco isn't as bad as he thought, mostly because he never leaves the campus. The drafting computers are just as good in Pasadena, of course, and they're hooked up to the same network of information, but the technology is actually being built here. He's always been a hands-on designer, as much as he can be when he's designing modules for planetary orbit or beyond. He enjoys handling the materials and physical models. The holographic ones are more accurate in that the computer compensates for the different environment and shows everything as it will appear with lunar gravity, but he still likes the old-fashioned, tactile approach.
He's not starting with a blank slate, of course. The official project launch might have been on the first of the month, but the initial proposals are over a decade old, so he knows the general physical requirements. The biggest problem he forsees for the structural components – whatever they end up being – is getting them there, either in pieces to be assembled or in larger sections.
On the ground, the biggest problem he faces is waiting. He could throw out a footprint for the complex tomorrow and a list of materials and specs by Friday, but all of that is subject to change as the other researchers weigh in with the needs of different sections.
"You're not good at working in a team," Diana tells him, three days in. She has been driving him crazy dictating notes to her portable since she came over to his section of the lab to discuss the radiation skin problem with him. He isn't sure if she always thinks out loud or if it's just because her arm is still immobile in a sling from the car accident on orientation day.
"That's because a team is usually a waste of time. Just send me the specs and I'll take care of my part." He indicates his screen with the haphazard computer sketch she sent him of a potential hull cross-section with layers for shielding and solar energy collection and air ducting. "Or drawings, if you have to."
She looks like she can't decide if she's pissed off or amused. "I didn't ask you to hold my hand and sing kumbaya."
"Having the ducting like that isn't going to work with individually pressurized compartments."
"I'm trying another approach," she says. "We're going to create one unified environment."
"Not a chance with hard vacuum outside. One good hit from space debris and you've killed off the whole colony. This is nothing like a bio-dome on Earth." There's something appealing about the idea, though, of simulating a seamless environment, if only it were practical.
"Nothing like this has ever been done before. The only choice is to think outside the box."
He rolls his eyes at the corporate cliché, even though she's not wrong. "What part of the MIT dome did you work on?"
She shoots him a look, like she expects him to know. Maybe he should; he heard his colleagues on the space station project talking about it as 'groundbreaking,' but from what he knew about it, it was mostly designed as a testing ground for environmental changes and not particularly relevant to his line of work. Apparently, whoever hired Diana thought differently.
"I worked on all of it," Diana informs him. "It was my project."
"As a grad student?"
"The artificial ecosystem design was my master's thesis. I oversaw everything except the fundraising." Her smile is smug. He can't really blame her.
"So what you're saying is you're not good in a team either. Unless you're the boss." He's not going to say it aloud and ruin his point, but as his mind turns her proposal over, it seems less impossible. As a rule, he prefers to avoid taking design ideas from the Titanic, but if they put in pressure-triggered bulkheads along the outer hull and between sections and had sectionable cutoffs in the ductwork... regardless of its ultimate practicality, the design is inspired.
"You're kind of an ass, you know that?" Diana crosses her arms over her chest and tilts her head sideways, like she's studying him while he studies her design.
He glares at her. "I've been called worse."
"So have I," she says, and then tilts her chin upward. Really, it shouldn't have surprised him that she was in charge at her last job. "I'm glad we understand each other."
He works out for an hour in the campus gym after shutting down his drafting station and picks up dinner and beer on the way home.
It's already after eleven when he gets home but relaxation seems more important than sleep. On one monitor he puts up the highlights of the night's Lakers game, on the other, after a moment of unexplained hesitation, he looks up Diana.
She's only twenty-five, and in addition to two years developing the MIT dome her name is attached to at least four other major artificial-environment projects. Her list of papers is short for how often her name pops up in other people's publications. Everything paints her as driven and hands-on. Last year, she was number eight in TIME's 30-under-30 who will change the world, photographed with the MIT dome in the background and a miniature globe in her hand.
"I live for what has never been done," the article quotes her as saying. Elsewhere, it describes her as possessing an 'oddly charming youthful arrogance which may actually be well-deserved.' "If someone offered me a one-way ticket to the first human colony on Mars or Venus or the bottom of the ocean, I'd take it. No question."
A press release from Veri-Tech, the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical conglomerate, has her name as their ideal candidate to head up a proposed project to create an entire artifical coral reef. The article's a year old and with nothing linked as a follow-up, so Gary has no idea if the project ever got past the pipe-dream stage, but if it did, he can't even imagine the kind of money they might have offered her.
The dome is impressive enough on its own. He finds an annotated version of her master's thesis on the NASA network that other MIT scientists critiqued after the dome was built and ends up reading most of it. Her writing is logical, clear even when full of foreign jargon. Every point she makes starts from the basics and works its way up relentlessly, leaving no space for argument. He feels like he's getting an insight into how her mind works. The notes she dictates into her portable all seem scattered and bizarre to him – "include Xanthoria elegans in projections" "problems with exterior natural sunlight shutters" "multi-stage airlocks regarding lunar dust" – but somehow she must lay them all out clearly before reaching a conclusion.
He doesn't often think this about anyone – and he can still see a hundred changes that will have to be made before any of this will work in space – but she's incredible.
He's spent the past year surrounded by the most brilliant minds in the nation, if not the world, many of them with equally impressive C.V.s, but there's something about her, young and feisty and full of herself...
There must be something wrong with him, he thinks, for sitting there getting hot and bothered reading about his new coworker's scientific prowess. Genius isn't even his thing – he's never been attracted to women who might be smarter than him.
Too many long days, he decides. Too long a dry spell. He heads to bed before he can think about it further.
"Holy shit," is all he can say when the computer simulation comes back with a flawless report.
"Told you," Diana says confidently, although just that morning she was frantically checking calculations, trying to chase down trace amounts of methane and acetone.
Half the team is clustered around the readouts, cheering. The air eco-recycling system is still leagues away from a final product, but even a theoretical success is major breakthrough. Gary's caught off guard when the chemist Gina Kim hugs him so hard that he nearly falls over.
Diana's already back at work, poring over the details. She looks annoyed. "It's still not a completely closed system," she mutters, mostly to herself, before speaking to her portable, "Larger network of atmosphere holding tanks for level-balancing."
Gary pries himself free of Gina's enthusiasm to tap Diana on the shoulder. "You're no fun, you know."
"And when's the last time you left the lab before 10?" she replies, but then gives him her most dangerous smile, the one that always makes him forget, just for a second, where he is and what he's doing.
She doesn't smile like that at anyone else, he's noticed.
She does it again that night when they join Warren Bramhall and a few members of other teams for dinner, when Warren says, "You two make a good team."
"Gary doesn't believe in teams," Diana tattles, twirling her wine glass between her fingers.
"I never said I didn't believe in them," he corrects her while she laughs.
Warren exchanges a look with one of their other colleagues and says, "That's funny, I heard Diana was the one to kick everyone else out of the rendering lab on Friday."
She was, because Isaiah was talking too much and Gary was being 'negative' and a handful of other reasons he can't now recall. It pissed him off royally at the time, but he's been known to do the same thing.
"Only for an hour," Diana says, defending herself. "And we did get a successful life support test done today as a result, so..."
Warren raises a glass. "To the ends justifying the means."
He's working on Saturday, but only until dinnertime. The airflow system still isn't right, and while Diana's plan for a unified ecosystem is starting to take shape, it basically means designing everything from scratch. Forasmuch as he likes a challenge, nothing frustrates him more than a whole day without a hint of progress.
His buddy Jake is in town for a conference and calls him up before Gary can head back to the lab.
"It's Saturday night, the ladies are drunk..."
Jake, though a decent marine biologist, was notorious when they were in school. He's American – a farmer boy from Iowa – but took to the saying "on the pull" like he grew up on the other side of the pond. For him – and for Gary when they spent too much time together – the years at Oxford were a long bender that somehow turned into a Master's degree.
Deciding that the life support system is a problem that needs to shake around the back of his head for a while, Gary agrees and goes out with him. Gary has found a watering hole or two in the three weeks since he transferred up to Ames, but isn't surprised when Jake doesn't even ask for recommendations and heads straight for the Mission District.
Jake's drunk before they even get to the first club. The liquor is expensive and the music bad, but Gary can see why his buddy chose it – it's dark and hot and he sees more skin on the girls in the first five minutes than he's seen in far too long.
"Trust you to find the most Bacchanalian place on the first shot."
Jake leers at a waitress, downs a shot, and then replies, "Whole strip's like this, according to the reviews. I think we've gotta try each one."
They only make it halfway down the street, and Gary doesn't even know what happened to Jake until he gets an email the next day. Gary flirts with a brunette who knows nothing at all about artificial ecosystems in outer space.
He almost snaps his dry spell, but the brunette is dragged away by her girlfriends before he can get her into a cab.
Gary goes home alone, after 2 a.m., and is in the lab the next morning by 8 with two cups of coffee.
The first time he kisses Diana it surprises the hell out of him.
They're drinking but not drunk, out with five other people from the project at a bar five miles from campus. He was arguing with her at her workstation about her latest specs when Doctor Kim messaged with the invitation, and Diana asked him for a ride, even though he isn't normally invited to go out with the team.
He wonders, as her tongue coils with his, if she planned this.
It's dark in their booth with all the lights in the place concentrated on the amateur musicians on stage. She grabs his hip with one hand and he feels his blood rushing south, gets almost lightheaded with the shifting pressure of her mouth on his, her body warm against his side, the debate they were having about energy distribution disappearing fast into the taste of her.
Afterwards, she doesn't mention it, and he can't get it out of his head.
The second time is outside their building, when she pops out for a break and he follows her. Before she left, she called it a "late lunch," but when they get outside the sun is already setting.
"Very late," he comments, but he doesn't mind, because they're making headway. He's still not sold on the team format in general and feels like the rest of the group holds them back, but Diana parallels his mental leaps, picking up his thoughts as soon as he starts to lose track, filling in all the gaps. She looks just as pleasantly surprised when he does it for her. They're actually going to succeed, going to create a viable longterm lunar living environment, probably even before NASA's projected deadline.
The first time, in the bar, they were drinking, and she kissed first. This time he makes the first move, touching her hand, pulling her closer, saying something inane like nice job on the heat management, that was a great idea, and he kisses her.
When she pulls back – too soon – he has a sudden sinking feeling, like the Earth beneath him is tilting. She's shaking her head and he thinks this might be what Diana Jacobsen looks like when she's nervous – something he hasn't seen once in the lab when she's ordering around people twice her age.
He wants to apologize, to say forget it, ha-ha, just kidding but holds back like he's waiting for the last results from the rendering computers that tell them their drawings will work or they won't.
She brings her fingers toward her lips, but seems to change her mind before making contact and puts her hand on his shoulder. "This... wasn't part of my plan."
He tries to look casual. "You're the one who's such a fan of thinking 'outside the box.'"
Diana purses her lips like she's fighting back a laugh, then squares her shoulders.
"Okay. You're attracted to me," she says, with only a slightly raised eyebrow to show that it's a question. Her delivery is clear and clinical, like she's listing important environmental factors in a rendering program. "I'm attracted to you."
He doesn't mean to look smug, but he must, because she shoots him a dirty look.
"A practical experiment is the only logical way to test your hypotheses." He takes half a step forward, intentionally crowding her space, curious to see if she'll step back. She doesn't. Gary doesn't miss the way her eyes dart to his lips before she answers.
"Is that the best you can do?"
He's still feeling a little smug. "All right, Doctor Jacobsen, what would you propose?"
She puts her hand on his chest. The gesture is one of holding him back, but all he can feel is that her palm is hot through his shirt and her fingertips are twitching inward, like she's this close to fisting the fabric and pulling him to her. "The project is the only important thing," she states, clearly a condition and not a rejection. It feels like her hand is burning him, searing her fingerprints into his chest. "This can't interfere."
"Not a problem." He's never let a woman interfere with his work before.
She grabs his shirt just like he hoped she would and drags his body against hers, kissing him so hard that his dick jumps to attention, like there's any chance she might take him right here in the parking lot.
Christ, he thinks as he pulls her hips closer. However this experiment turns out, he's in for a hell of a ride.
Gary forgets, quickly, what it's like to work without sex.
He loses track of what happens in between, how they get from the moon to his bedroom, to shouting at her about metallurgical contents across the rendering lab to his hips slamming against hers, her fingers drilling marks into his shoulders and the way the paint cracks on his bedroom wall when she throws her head back. Progress that started in inches is now hurtling over itself in leaps and bounds, structure and air recycling and heat and water, and he feels like he and Diana are alternately sprinting ahead of each other, dragging the other into simultaneous breakthroughs.
It's on the floor of her foyer – they didn't even make it to the bedroom – that she leaps off the carpet while he's still panting on his back and says "Modular!" Even post-coital and groggy he knows what she means, and before the fog clears from his head they're dressed and headed back to campus without even showering. She drafts up their breakthrough while her hair's ratted from the carpet and she smells like sex, like him, and that – Diana looking like a mess and rattling off chemical analyses and biological necessities and energy consumption almost faster than he can process – it might be the hottest thing he's ever even heard of. They argue about solar angles and space debris while she rides him on her bed, and he fights to get in the last word, to sell her on self-sealing gaskets before he can't speak, before everything is reduced to him and her and the slide of her body and how hard he comes when she screams.
After that, for long minutes, neither of them can say anything at all.
He's embarrassed, a little, when one of the project leads will ask one of them "How did you come up with this?" and the first thought in his head is Diana in the shower, water pouring down her back and her pussy tight around his fingers, how he was teasing her closer and farther and closer as she cursed him to hell until she started to come apart, and the way her wet hair fell over her back as she shook sparked something.
He likes that when he looks over at her, composed except for a touch of color in the pale skin of her cheeks, he's the only one who knows what really happened. She gives Warren an answer about the available mineral content on the moon's surface inspiring their plans for the outpost's shielding, and Gary chimes in to talk about timetables, and all the while he's thinking about getting his car to the least visited corner of the campus, switching the car's sun blinders up on all the windows and stripping Diana half naked in the back seat. She put on impractical lacy blue underwear that morning and it's driving him crazy.
It's an exception to their this can't interfere with the project agreement when they duck out of a task force update seminar to have fast, messy sex in his car behind the recycling collectors, but they do it anyway.
The schedule is moved up again, their budget slashed, the project objectives change again in a way that cuts their station footprint out from under them, so to speak. Diana curses a blue streak when she hears about it and everyone is frustrated, but Gary's the only one who goes off on two NASA executives and a visiting senator on their midpoint phase inspection.
Warren Bramhall bails him out of an administrative suspension, but only because their timetable is impossibly tight and losing Gary's skill set for a week or a month would throw the whole design phase into chaos.
"Whatever you thought you were accomplishing, you need to check your attitude," Warren tells him in his office.
Gary notes that Warren doesn't actually say the members of the project's oversight board aren't self-serving, small-minded, politically-motivated douchebags. "The new requirements are bullshit, and we all know it. They'd know it too if they understood even a tenth of what we're doing in here. All they care about is the bottom line."
"That's right," Warren cuts him off before he can continue his tirade. The man has a reputation for never losing his cool – Diana has said she admires him for being a balanced and rational leader, Gary sometimes wonders if he has a pulse – but even speaking quietly, Warren can hold attention when he wants to, and it's clear he's not about to be pushed over. "Gary, this isn't the minor leagues. If you don't have it in you to be professional, then be quiet. This can't succeed unless all of us are working together. Understood?"
Be a good corporate scientist, recite the party line, don't have any actual opinions. "I got it." He'd say more out loud, but Bramhall's clearly not in the mood to listen, and Gary would rather get out of here. "Are we done?"
Warren looks like he's considering adding some stronger words of advice to the conversation, but apparently decides against it. "Get back to work."
Diana isn't quite as reasoned as their boss in her response to Gary's earlier scene with the big shots. She corners him in the drafting lab after his dressing-down in Warren's office. He looks up when the door slams. She locks it behind her.
"Are you a fucking idiot?"
He glares at her. "I've heard it from Bramhall. I don't need this shit from you right now."
"It's called being po-li-tic," she sounds out. "You're going to get yourself thrown off this project. You'll be lucky if they let you go back to proofreading somebody else's space station designs."
There are times, lately, in spite of himself, when he finds her self-righteous outbursts endearing. This isn't one of them. He raises his voice, feeling heat burning in his face and chest. "Don't piss me off, Diana. This is a bad fucking day for your attitude."
She gapes. "My attitude? Jesus Christ, I can't stand you sometimes."
"Oh yeah?" One of his hands is clenched around the edge of the computer table, keeping him from getting up and yelling in her face. He gets violent sometimes, but not with women, and no matter how angry she makes him, he's not going to risk starting now. Instead, he snaps, "Is that why you fuck me?"
"Go to hell," she tosses back, eyes sharp like steel, not giving an inch. "Don't talk to me until you get over yourself." She pauses as she unlocks the door, glancing back at him mid-storm-out. "If I were you, I'd go home until the board members get on a plane tomorrow."
"Bitch," he says after the door slams closed behind her.
Then, because she's right, he leaves.
(to be continued in next post...)