Long Nights and Early Days

A science fiction story in Alpha Station by Gary Bloom

Characters: Derek Maguin

Adi Mandro hustled through the early morning halls of Alpha Station. It was nearly 8:00 and she had a meeting with the space station's minister at 8:15. Why the hell she'd agree to that was beyond her, but she had. Now, she needed to show up and prove her worth. Mandro should've known better than to be out so late on a work night, but she was still young enough to live it up, and she was.

The scientist had been working on a breakthrough energy product for nearly a year. The transfer to Alpha Station was recent, at the request of JFL Prime Minister Martell Andrews. Right now, she needed energy of her own. Coffee started brewing in the lab the moment she walked in. That would have to power her through today.

Looking down she grimaced. The lacy black dress couldn't possibly be shrugged off as work attire. Adi had no excuse. Fortunately, there was a shower in the lab and a spare set of scrubs in her office. Today, they'd have to do. Taking solace in the fact that the shuttle pilot was probably hurting just as much this morning, she picked up her pace.

Diving through the door, Adi started stripping off her dress before the lights powered up. Kicking her shoes into a corner, she cast her clothes under the desk and headed for the shower. Warm water would be divine right now, but she needed the cold to wake up. How the hell would she get any real work done today? How could she explain her work to the Minister?

Soaping up and rinsing off as fast as she could, the researcher killed the water. After paying more for extra water rations this past week, her pocket wouldn't mind the brief soak. Toweling off, she headed for her office to pull on a pair of scrubs. The drawer was empty. Belatedly, Mandro recalled a reminder to bring in scrubs; she'd had them in her old office on Europa Station.

The lab door chimed. It was 8:14. Maguin was a minute early. Damn him! She looked around furiously, hoping for inspiration, and found none. Punching a button on her desk, she said, "just a moment," through the door's speaker. Her eyes settled on her lab coat. Shrugging it on, she buttoned it as quickly as possible. Hopefully, he wouldn't notice.

"Dr. Mandro," Derek Maguin grinned as the door slid open, "a pleasure to meet you in person."

"Yes, it is," she said, returning his smile. "Why don't we head into my office?"

She led the way and instantly regretted it. The coat was exceptionally short. Having it buttoned all the way up was enough of a tip off; her bare legs extending out the bottom just made it worse. She could feel the Minister struggling not to stare. While it tickled her ever so slightly that she could distract such a powerful man, it cut from her professionalism.

Quickly grabbing a seat, she motioned for him to do the same. He looked around casually. She saw his eyes tighten a little when they noticed the shoes and undergarments in the corner.

"Still getting yourself situated, I see," he said, still grinning. Was he flirting with her? Teasing her? "I'm sure you're very busy, so I won't take too much of your time. What I was looking for was an overview on your work. I like to get to know everyone and what they do, at least from a high level, when time permits. Prime Minister Andrews gives me the impression that you are more than worth my time."

"You flatter me, Minister," she said, offering him a coy smile. "My work isn't too complicated when you get down to it, though. I'm working to develop technology that will convert Jupiter's magnetic field into energy. The goal is something big enough to sit slightly lower in the atmosphere, to maximize conversion, while strong enough to withstand the storms. The real key, however, is working out the energy transfer."

"Are you charging batteries? Beaming directly to stations? Maybe something with buoys?"

"Well, again sir," she smiled, leaning forward, "I'm still working on that."

Too late she realized that the lab coat wasn't tight enough to her neckline. It was never meant to be used as an actual cover up. Was he enough of an idiot to get the wrong idea? She wasn't a seductress. At least, not intending to be in this capacity. Adi would be furious if her brilliance were passed over because of her gender.

"Of course you are," Maguin said, his eyes still firmly locked on hers. His gaze hadn't even flickered downward. "Sometimes I get a little over-excited with the work going on here. Ask any of the other department heads. It's as if I think I could participate in their work. Of course, I'd never be so arrogant. Hopefully you can forgive that... we all make mistakes."

It was an interesting turn of phrase. Just maybe the new boss was nothing like the old one. She could hope, anyway.

"Well, listen, I've taken up enough of your time." He stood up, extending a hand. "Welcome to Alpha Station. I'll probably drop in about once every week or two. You should still file your regular reports. And in the future," he smiled again, "I'll make our meetings a little later in the afternoon. A scientist of your caliber should have an opportunity to get settled into her day first."

She shook his hand firmly. Did he know? Was he giving her a pass if he knew? This Maguin character would take some digging to understand. Adi wondered if he was genuine, or if it was an act.

"I'd appreciate that sir. It takes a little time to get back into the mix each day."

"You've got my apologies, doctor." He turned to leave the lab. "We've got a lot of brilliant people here on Alpha Station. You'll fit in well."