Chapter 8

We stopped in front of the first Quonset hut and parked the Duster among the VW microbuses and mountain bikes. Lars stood by the car and looked around the compound shaking his head. The hard lump under his jacket looked like just another one of his muscles. I walked into the hut and asked to see Dr. O'Riordan. The hot air in the headquarters

building was thick with patchouli. "But...but that's just not possible!" I wasn't going to take the word of any malnourished beatnik who wore glacier glasses indoors. I suggested that he produce his superior officer post haste. To his credit, he recognized the voice of authority. The Project Director wore the same pastel green jumpsuit that the lackey did and wasn't any more cooperative. It took two phone calls. One from the Quonset hut to the United States Ambassador to the U.N., and one from the White House to the northern lip of New Mexico before I was ushered to the glass dome. "You have to understand," the Project Director said, "that there is simply no direct communication with the Biospherians. They are totally sealed off from the outside world." He fussed around with his clipboard and acted like he was about to have a petit mal seizure. "I hope you can appreciate that this authorization is most extraordinary. Simply unheard of." I had to remind the lisping little faggot that future U.S. participation in the funding of any U.N. project just might depend on how much cooperation I got from him. The deal we had worked was this: I could write a message on a leaf of official Biosphere stationery and hold it up to the outside of the glass dome. One of the econauts would see it and summon Dr. O'Riordan, and I could communicate with her in like manner. If she wished, and only if she wished the headman was quick to point out, then she could break silence and communicate directly with me through the emergency network. It was the best I could do on such short notice. "Dr. O'Riordan, I represent a private concern that has immediate need of your services. I have received authorization from the Secretary General for you to discuss my proposal outside the confines of the Biosphere. If that is not acceptable to you, you are also authorized to break radio silence and to communicate to me via the emergency network. I emphasize that, upon the orders of the Secretary General, these actions will in no manner jeopardize your position as a Biospherian and you will be free to return to the experiment without your brief absence being noted in the daily logs.” I held the note up against the glass of the Biosphere and rapped my knuckles to get the attention of a wiry, dreadlocked black man who looked like he was scattering goat turds on a garden. I remember thinking that the glass dome was so thick that I might have to send Lars back to the plane for one of the depleted-uranium projectiles for the anti-tank gun. Just in case we were forced to get the good Doctor out the old fashioned way. The eco-rasta read my note

and, with a puzzled look in his eye, trotted off into the interior of the dome and was soon swallowed up by the thick foliage. Dense and brilliant green plantlife covered the floor of the Biosphere and I saw beads of moisture on the broad leaves. Condensation had gathered on the inside of the glass about twenty feet up and a thin, misty cloud capped the inside of the dome. In a few minutes, the jungle canopy parted and Dr. O'Riordan stepped gently through the foliage. She had on the same style jumpsuit as the others and peered at me through purple granny glasses. She must have stood six-two and, even though she had her clipboard clasped to her bosom in two crossed arms, I could tell that her figure was extraordinary, even by my standards. As I held up my note for her to read, I saw the project director out of the corner of my eye. He stood with his fingers crossed and squinted up to heaven, praying softly, "Please say no! Please say no!". As Dr. O'Riordan read my note, she brushed her lips softly with a lock of honey blond hair. Those gorgeous lips turned down into a frown and then formed a silent, "No!". Her hair swung back and forth in a golden arc as she shook her head emphatically. She tore a page from her clipboard and wrote me a note. “Whoever You Are, Under no circumstances will I leave the Biosphere! Don't waste any more of my time trying to communicate with me further. You look like CIA scum.” "Yes! Good girl!" The project director hissed like a viper. "She took vows, you know...to complete the experiment. I'm so proud of her!" On the way back to Nueva Celaya, I formulated Plan B. It took Sal and Mona just a couple of days to fax the information that I needed about the Biosphere project, which was a welcome development since I wasn't sure how much longer I could stand living in that crackerbox of a room at the Siesta Buena Motor Lodge at the edge of the greater Nueva Celaya metroplex. It didn't take much longer than that for Tyrone to arrange for one of our drilling rigs -- and here's a stroke of luck, it turns out that we had a good rig and a discrete company driller at a location only ninety miles from the Biosphere -- to spud in only a mile away from the dome on a section of land that I bought an oil lease on only that afternoon.

I spent just enough time in N.C. to ride herd on the driller. I rented a chili-colored Ford pickup and drove to the drill site to check on his progress. He was a burly man in greasy coveralls and he walked me over to the cuttings pile. He frowned as he showed me the residue that the drilling mud was bringing to the surface of the hole and read the well log to me. “Be damned if I think there’s any oil or gas down there, sir. She just ain’t actin’ like a producer.” I assured him that I had a good feeling about this one, that my gut hadn’t failed me yet and to just keep drilling. By the time I’d driven back to Nueva Celaya to fly back home, the desert had coated the shiny new Ford with a thick coating of dust that could only be described, colorwise, as ecru vomit. The driller was told that he would get a hefty bonus if he could complete his hole in three weeks and he just made it in under the wire. When he pulled his rig, we had a six- inch, cased hole drilled into the aquifer that fed the wells in the Biosphere. According to the drilling log, the two tanker truckloads of liquefied carbon dioxide were pumped into the hole to, "fracture the oil bearing formation and to stimulate production." We didn't get a teaspoonful of oil from that well. Just another dry hole that we could write off. What I did get is the satisfaction of reading, two or three days later, a banner headline in the Albuquerque paper that said, "BIOSPHERE EVACUATED". The story told of an unexplained and dangerous increase in carbon dioxide as a constituent in the Biosphere's internal atmosphere. The Biospherians were evacuated, given medical checkups and told to stand down until the source of the problem could be found. Scientists were arguing about leaf area densities and photosynthetic overload, engineers were talking about faulty design and pointing fingers at each other, lawyers were making contingency plans. After it was determined that the carbon dioxide in the aquifer would dissipate naturally in about a year, the Biospherians hit the lecture circuit to bide their time by picking up heavy speaking fees. When the U.S. Geological Survey traced the problem to that dry hole, one of our little shadow drilling companies forfeited their bond and went quietly bankrupt, perfectly fulfilling its function as insulation.

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