The machinery hummed into live as she activated the Reef 2.0 system. The numbers appeared before her on the holographic display at the centre of the room.
pH level: above 7.7.
Temperature of seawater: 27 degrees Celsius.
Filtering system: On.
She strode across the room in her navy blue overalls to the ten feet tall glass wall. It was still a wonder to her how they had managed to establish an underwater observatory at Port Douglas to monitor the coral reefs and ensure they were kept under the right conditions. It was the first of many that had been constructed in a bid to preserve the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef.
She gazed at the life that was thriving beyond the thick glass wall and marvelled at the array of vibrant colours before her. Fiery orange, deep purple, olive green, royal blue – iridescent colours as the sunlight shimmered over the beautiful reefs. The diversity of colours was a contrast to her dull blue outfit.
She detested those overalls.
Three years of hard work would have gotten her on the flipside of the hierarchy in the United Coral Preservation Organisation. She could have been donning on lab coats. She could have been able to touch those reefs, but she had to succumb to the temptations of alcohol and drugs. She sighed and picked up the mop and bucket of dirty water.
Dragging the mop across the solemn corridor, she passed the experimental labs and meeting rooms which could have been her working place, leaving a soapy trail behind her. She was locked out from the wonders of science and it was her own doing.
“Clean up the mess, would you? Then see me in my office,” the masculine voice jolted her out of her thoughts. She bowed down her head submissively, quickly resuming her duty of cleaning the floor.
She approached the room at the end of the corridor. The name engraved on the door was one familiar to everybody around here. Clyde Reznor was the Chairman of this very organisation. He spearheaded the movement to save these reefs. Placing the bucket and mop by the door, she waited for it to unlock. The mahogany dissolved to reveal a neatly furnished interior, which reappeared after she stepped in.
He gestured towards a chair before his table, and she sat. He looked smart in his Westwood suit, as a warm smile adorned his face. “What is this?” his queried her instead of delivering a reprimand which she expected. He had picked up a coral from his shelf.
“That’s… Isn’t that a Red Blastomussa?” This was child’s play to her vast knowledge she had acquired during her years of studies.
“Caulastrea… Candy Corals.”
He chuckled slightly, “You know your facts well. It was dense of me to doubt you at all, I must say. I have heard a lot about you, though the revoked scholarship was quite a waste. Top of the class each year; the proposal for frozen DNA of Coral; even establishing the ‘extinction debt’ theory. I must admit you were quite a bright young lady.”
She shrugged, her shabby attire making her appear out of place in this classy office.
“Now,” he continued, “There has been this opening in a university that I could place you in. A second chance,”
Her eyes lit up at this proposition. She could rebuild her career, her future. She grabbed at this opportunity and clung on to it like a lifeline. “I will do anything,” her desperation was clear.
“Prove to me how capable you actually are. Find out what exactly this is used for.” He handed her a metallic sphere the size of a baseball and sent her out.
Sitting at her usual hideout, she scrutinised the metal ball. It had engravings on its circumference.
The numbers sounded familiar to her.
She was always good with numbers.
She grabbed the ring of key cards hooked to her belt. The tags were jutting out. On them were room numbers for the lower levels of laboratories that required authorised access. She never dared to enter any of them. They appeared intimidating, with each door a replica of every other. The only thing that was different was the number embossed on each metallic door.
She shuffled through them cards rapidly, trying to find one in particular.
209… 210… 211... 212!
She yanked it off the ring and sprinted down the stairs. Her eyes were searching for that one door.
She watched the card being slotted in. The door opened with a surprising click instead of dissolving to let her in. She pushed it open warily. The walls were a leaden grey and the small room was lined with multiple pods placed in neat orderly rows.
POD NUMBER 08.
She could not fathom how simple her task had been. That university placing was hers, definitely. She approached the pods, sourcing for Pod 08. She glanced at the numbers that hovered above each pod, initially not noticing what was beneath. However, she could not keep her eyes away from the specific colours that glowed through the translucent cover of each pod. She gave in to her curiosity eventually and approached one of the pods.
“Now, now, you have yet to tell me what the sphere is for,” Clyde Reznor’s voice resounded throughout the room. Though small, she could not identify where he was in the room, or if he was in the room at all and his voice a mere projection. “It’s interesting how these little geniuses work. I developed them, much better than a certain frozen DNA project.
“They actually convert the dissolved acidic gases in the water and turn them into projected energy that we superimpose on these perished and lifeless plants. These reefs, they are dead, if you have not realised. DEAD! THEY WERE DEAD BEFORE WE COULD DEVELOP THIS TECHNOLOGY!”
She was confused. She did not believe that the biodiversity around her could be entirely diminished. It was impossible! She had witnessed, day by day, the dazzling variety of colours by the glass wall. She would have known if they were entirely gone. These reefs were her life, scientist or not.
“Look up, look at the truth of this so called beauty.” The ceiling was slowly turning transparent to reveal the reefs above. Algae had overgrown and buried the once magnificent reefs. The former brilliance had been condemned to become a hideous blanket of moss.
He laughed hysterically, insanity clear in his voice. “So, we decided to do something radical. To make the beasts that destroyed this majesty pay!”
She looked at the pods, suddenly repulsed by what truth they might reveal, but she had to know. Her curiosity surpassed her fear. Her instincts told her to run but in her mind, she was set on finding out the truth. She approached the glowing pods, each a different colour.
She stood beside a pod and peered through the translucent glass.
There was a nagging feeling in her mind telling her how these pods were just the size of bed.
She squinted. She could make out the eyes, nose, lips… expressions frozen in utter shock. Shock that ignited the vision of orange…
Human! She stumbled back, stupefied by what she saw. She stumbled backwards even more…
Just a little bit more…
The pod’s lit clamped shut as she was frozen cryogenically. The last thing she saw was the translucent glass that descended over her. Her emotions were plastered across her face, still stuck in utter shock as she would be for all of time. The sudden quickening of heartbeat from astonishment, like the blazing orange of a fire lit. It would eventually fuel one of her beloved reefs, deceptive and alluring.
“Perfect,” he whispered as he played with the metallic sphere in his palms.