Characters: David and the Get It Done crew along with Abe, and my cross-dressing Voodoo Queen Jezebel.
Rating/Warnings: PG, None really, just SF bits. *laughs*
Word Count: 3408
Author's Note: The prompt this week was "Go", from my list of 30 prompts and I blew the 1000 word limit out of the water this week, given how much I wanted to just get into it. *laughs* I may just go to fanfic or some other character with the prompts after this... but thanks for the ride so far.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, any resemblance to an real person, living or dead, is coincidence. Copyright 2010 by Phyllis L. Rostykus, all rights reserved.
"You have to go, David. Test out the new lines outside the lab," Abe had said. "But watch yourself. This is going to be tricky."
David nodded over their plans and sighed.
Tricky indeed. Spanish researchers found the original bacterial lines in the remains of oil spills on their hometown beaches. A dozen different lines of microorganisms, some that broke down the bigger molecules into smaller ones and others that fed off the results; but it was a process that took years and decades.
Abe and David weren't quite that patient, and they knew that people, sea life, and the economy of the Gulf Coast depended on a faster response. They and their research people discovered that while they could splice the genes for a faster replicating bacteria onto what David started calling the demolition crew, they could not speed up the chemical process of bonding to and breaking those molecules. Plus, if they simply seeded huge numbers of all the bacteria, the latter organisms would die of starvation before the earlier ones were done with their job.
Luckily, all of the original lines from the beach were naturally adapted to a mix of crude oil and seawater. In fact, when they were introduced to a tank of pure crude, they all died off quickly, as they depended on the water and salt for vital sections of their chemical structure. So these bacteria couldn't get into crude oil wells and wreck havoc on an already beleaguered Gulf economy while still helping with the cleanup. It was going to be tricky to deploy them, though.
David ended up calling Get It Done.
"Hello, Get It Done Services, may I help you?" The female voice on the other end wasn't familiar to David.
"Certainly. I need to work out a transport problem that involves fourteen five-gallon tanks that need to be refrigerated, and the travel plans for a man that has to go with them to the Gulf Coast."
"Let me redirect you to our transportation logistics group."
"Thank you," David said, and waited while music played and was amused to still not hear a voice saying that the call might be monitored for quality. He knew that he could probably just bypass the whole thing by going directly to Mack, but he was curious as to how a customer would see the company.
They'd tried some radical things with their phone answering group. They'd hired nearly eighty percent of their customer service as part time at-home help. All students, at-home parents, or physically disabled people that wanted to work, but could only do it on their own terms. They were not monitored, they were measured only by a randomly applied 'how happy are you' question for customers, a balance of how much of the company's resources they'd spent to answer the need, and how much repeat business came from the phone number in question. Management only stepped in when a rep asked for help.
Though, if Mack had kept the phone number tracking system...
"David, what the hell are you using the common line for?" Mack said the moment the line opened.
"Wanted to see what the front door looked like," David said unapologetically.
The laughter at the other end reassured him. "And what the hell is this about tanks?"
David explained the problem, and he could tell when Mack started engaging when he stopped swearing and the tapping on the other end of the line grew staccato.
When they were done with the meat of it, Mack added, "And I'm booking you for a week off in New Orleans, after you're done with this insanity. You'll need it, boss."
"I'm not your boss anymore, Mack," David said with an exasperated sigh.
"You're paying for this aren't you?"
After his double-take, David laughed. "Of course, Mack. And you know me way too fucking well." He gave Mack Abe's project credit card number.
"Got it. Oh! Just hang on a sec, Eva wants to talk to you." Mackie covered the mouth piece with his hand as he shouted. The line clicked.
"Hello? David?" Eva's voice asked.
"Yeah, Eva. How are you?" David asked.
"On the hunt," she said with a laugh. "There's a contract I'm after here, but the base company is in the San Jose, which, by this map, is just twenty minutes away from where you live. Can I stay at your place, boss?"
David rolled his eyes. "Why do all of you persist in calling me boss? And did Mack just tell you..."
"Yeah. You're out three weeks, and I'm out in two week's time, as the plane tickets are still cheap, and might need a few weeks to finish what I'm doing."
"Sure thing, then." David said, "The garage code is four, three, nine, eight, and I'll leave the door between the garage and the kitchen unlocked. The security key is..."
"His birthday?" Eva asked.
David blinked. "Uhm. No. It's now my cell phone number."
"Thank God," Eva said a tone of voice that made David quirk an eyebrow.
"I'm glad to know you still care."
She laughed. "Yes! I'm all set then. Thanks, boss."
Letting out an exasperated sigh that drew a giggle, David ended the call with a gentle, "You're welcome, Eva."
That night, he packed, got everything buttoned up at the lab, and managed to lie down in his bed before 2 am. So David arrived bleary-eyed at the beginning of a two week stay in Biloxi, Mississippi at the same time as a refrigerated truck containing six concentrated sprayer tanks of already grown bacteria and another eight tanks full of sea water.
The truly tricky part was that the bacteria, since they hadn't been approved by any federal agency, were highly illegal to deploy. The six year original study had done long term effects on sea life. Their lab and several independent research labs, including one in India and one in Germany, all concurred that this could shorten the clean up of the already spilled oil to a matter of weeks rather than years and only produce natural sugars, water, and a negligible amount of heat. Still, by spraying this stuff on the Gulf, David broke Federal law.
The laws were made to keep in check immoral corporations trying to make a profit off untested items. They weren't making a profit, all they were doing was trying to save what they could of the coast, so David felt oddly justified.
On the day he arrived, David pulled up to the newly reconstructed Buddhist temple on Oak street. Under the watching gaze of a few Vietnamese visitors, David hauled each tank over to the small shrine for Guan Yin and gently placed each one before the shrine.
A little old priest hobbled up to David, and asked, politely, "How may I help you, young man?"
Thinking it had been a very long time since anyone had called him a young man, David smiled and asked, "Would it be possible to have these blessed at this shrine? Guan Yin told my honorable grandmother in a dream that she wished her tears to be spread along this coast to help the fishermen with the horrible oil spill. So I am obediently doing as she asked me to do."
It was all a lie, but since both of David's grandmothers were long dead, he figured they couldn't tell the authorities otherwise.
"Of course! Of course..." The man looked at David and then looked at the box for contributions.
"Ah, of course...." David pulled out ten one hundred dollar bills and tucked them neatly into the box, one after the other, and saw the man's eyes go wide. As planned, David would be remembered.
David watched as the man blessed the tanks with many prayers in a language he couldn't understand and a cloud of incense that he tried to sidestep. David ended up having to go outside and use his inhaler before he could find the breath again to get the tanks back to his refrigerated truck.
The next morning, at seven, David got up, cursing the hotel alarm clock, put on sun block, t-shirt, shorts, and comfortable sneakers. He stopped at the Waffle House right outside his hotel, and ate a big breakfast of over-medium eggs, crisp hash browns, toast, and bacon. When he arrived at the shoreline, David put on one of the forty-pound tanks and started walking the unbroken coastline.
The warm still waters of the Gulf unsettled David, who was used to the cold active Pacific. He was especially uncomfortable with all the oil patties dotting fawn sands and the ugly brown sheen of oil slicks streaking sky blue waters. He sprayed every place he saw oil and water mixing. David didn't get but two miles when his tank ran out.
The next morning, David went out again at the same spot, used a test strip and started walking away from what he already sprayed, and kept testing until the strips that detected the breakdown products from the first bacteria went negative instead of positive. They'd spread a good hundred yards west along the coast, better than they'd hoped. David took a GPS reading at that point, and started spraying his second tank. Ten minutes later, a police cruiser pulled up and stopped at the curb.
When the policemen got out and started across the sand toward him, David stilled, thought, and then walked toward them to make it easier. Those shiny black shoes wouldn't take the sand well.
One of the men stood back to watch while the other, a young blond man said, "What are you doing with that?" One hand swung toward the tank to David's back.
"I am following my grandmother's wishes to spray the tears of Guan Yin on the beleaguered coast," David said with a small smile.
"Sorry pal, ya can't jus' spray shit anywhere ya want."
"It is simply sea water, blessed by the Buddhist priest on Oak," David said patiently. "Is there an ordinance against such an action?"
He saw the smirk on the blond, who glanced at the other who shook his head with a bemused shrug.
"The beach is empty, have I been bothering someone?" David asked humbly.
The brown-haired one shook his head. "Someone called you in from across the beach. Maybe you should pick somewhere else to spray?"
Letting his face fall in disappointment, David said, "The blessing needs to be done for two weeks straight to take, or so my grandmother said." Suddenly brightening, he started taking the tank off his back. "Maybe you could take this and test it? Test it thoroughly and ask the priest? Maybe then the elderly woman would be all right with what I am doing?"
"Howd'ja know it was some ole lady?" the blond asked.
David chuckled. "Who else would be home all the time watching? My grandmother is the same."
With his offer to get the tank tested the two officers looked at each other again. The dark one shook his head. The blond shrugged. "Aw'right. We'll check yer story, and test the stuff, if that don't work out."
"Thank you very much," David said, giving them both a low bow.
They both walked away.
The next day, the broken down molecules showed up another half a mile up and down the coast. This time, David started applying the second family of his Demolition Crew. The policemen didn't show up that day, and David thanked all his ancestors and Bella too when they showed up the next day when he was spraying sea water. They politely asked for a sample.
Standard police procedure made it so that they had to come when called, so by the second week, David was on first name basis with Gary Pickles, the blond, and Jesse Milan, the dark-haired one. Jesse even walked miles of beach with David, talking about his childhood on the Gulf and how much the long term effects of the spill horrified him and hurt the livelihood of all his family.
The latest estimates held that nearly twenty-five thousands barrels of oil per day poured from the deep water rig. The problem of closing off the spill was insanely hard given the problems of working a mile under water, the way the pipeline had been built, and the specifics of where it was in the line. Experts were working that as hard and as fast as they could, which couldn't be very much of either because every move they made had to have a fall back. If what they did failed it couldn't be to a state that made things worse.
David and Abe had decided to tackle the more obvious problem of the cleanup because they could, with their access to a billion dollar state-of-the-art genetics lab through Abe's Bay Area contacts. The leak itself required centuries of expertise and billions of dollars in equipment for mile-deep oil rig repairs, none of which they had. What could be done was being done.
Their tiny Demolition Crew would spread slowly through all of that petroleum, and spaced out properly, each one would make way for the next. The tiny bacteria used currents, the tide, and the motion of the waves to spread further. It wouldn't be a miracle cure, even they couldn't make the stuff just disappear, but it might help in the long term.
By the end of the two weeks, David applied the last tank over nearly ten miles of coast. He took it slow, and was satisfied at seeing far fewer loose patties and faded slicks. The constant exercise and weight lifting was wonderful for his lungs, helped his arms and hands recover, and brought his weight down, even with the Waffle House breakfasts. His knee protested more than he liked and he appeased it each night with an ice pack after a good hot shower while he looked at the data.
All the indicators looked good. The small monitors he'd set in the indicated currents were live and sending back data that the Demolition Crew was well on its way and would keep working so long as the spill continued.
With the results from this deployment, they might have the funds and motivation to do other deployments in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas; and even as exhausted as David was, he felt good about that.
After handing the refrigerated truck back to its cross-country driver, David packed up that night for the short drive back to New Orleans.
When David arrived in his hotel on Royal Street, he only paused long enough to check in, not even bothering to move his stuff into his room, before going to the Acme Oyster House. The line, on a Monday night, was only halfway around the block, so he got in and ended up at the bar, where he downed half a dozen raw oysters, sweet, crisp, and meaty. They were so good David added half a dozen of the famous grilled oysters as well. The crispy edged, salty, tasty crustaceans satisfied his need for seafood that wasn't deep fried.
From there David wandered down Bourbon Street like any obedient tourist, taking in all the neon, drunken behavior, and fascinated by all the different kinds of music that floated to his ears every ten feet. At the end of the lights, in a more darkened part of the street, he found a little shop with the sign "Voodoo Queen Jezebel: Readings by Appointment Only" hung over the door.
The mood rings dressed up as aura detectors were what drew David into the door when he hadn't been lured in by Big Ass Beers, Jello shots served by bare-chested boys, Hard Bodies, the World's Largest Mint Juleps, or eighties cover bands. He had no intention of paying for anything, much less making an appointment, when a tall woman in peasant blouse and skirt swayed into the shop from the back room. The bored goth girl behind the counter jumped up in surprise and consternation. "Ma'am... your highness, you shouldn't be...you've got an appointment in two..."
The woman brushed the goth girl's concerns off as easily as a horse brushed off a fly. "It matters not. He..." The tall dark woman turned and pointed right at David. "He needs me. Now."
She walked over to David and held out a palm. "Silver."
Fumbling for his coin purse, David found a dime, and he put that in the demanding palm.
"Pffft. There ain' no silver in that trash, honey."
David frowned and thought frantically. Finally, he frowned, pulled out the Malakim pendant from about his throat, and pulled the shining chain off the tiny dull bronze sword with wings. The chain David coiled up carefully and set on the dark palm. The wings he slipped back into his coin purse along with the rejected dime.
"Ah... yesssss." Chocolate eyes closed. "Now, come. Lemme tell y'all whachu need ta know."
David blinked at all the other patrons in the shop that were staring at him; and suddenly he felt a strong set of fingers close on the collar of his t-shirt and tug him into the curtained bower at the back of the store.
Thinking of leashes and collars, David followed the strong pull, and let her push him into the chair that was obviously meant for him.
"I'm not even gonna bother with the cards or ball, cheri." Jezabel shook her head, ringlets falling with cascading crystal earrings, brushing her peasant blouse. "They're shoutin' at me like you would not believe. Go home. Tonight."
"Tonight?" David asked, thinking about his comfortable suite at the top of the floor of the hotel with the river and city spread at his feet, and he shook his head. "I can't. I just walked…"
"… a hundred miles." The smile was bright against the darkness of her skin. "A hundred miles ta save our little slice o' the world. You done faced down Goliath, an' me and mine are doin' what we can ta thank ya'll, Mister Plum. You gotta get West. Now. The window is short and patience is runnin' thin."
Shaking his head, David thought this was the most surreal thing he'd been through in a long time. How in the world? How in hell did she know his name? How did she know he lived on the West Coast? He knew he hadn't said anything, and it wasn't even what was written on his drivers license or credit card, but the meanings behind his name. How did she know why he was here?
"I know things," Jezabel said with a weary grin. "And I gotta tell you, it ain't easy, but sometime it's satisfying. You need ta scamper home this very night. Someone else's last chance at happiness be at stake." A strong dark hand closed slowly on his own, stroking with a tenderness that made David clench his jaw. Dark eyes searched his own and she said softly, "An' your own heart needs mendin’ somethin’ fierce, mon cheri."
David found himself suddenly fighting tears. He had no clue where they were coming from, but they fell hard and fast. He pulled free of her hand to wrap his arms around a chest that ached.
"Go on, sugar. Go now. Ya'll get whatchu deserve. Finally."
At the Louis Armstrong Airport, at midnight, David found himself thinking about what he might 'deserve' when he found out he was exactly in time to catch the red-eye back to San Jose. Not only that, but the ticket change cost him nothing, as the night flight wasn't full and his original flight back was already over-subscribed. The jazz festival had cleaned the rental car agency out, so they'd nearly cried in joy when he brought his car in early. They not only hadn't charged him the usual penalty but even gave him an extra discount for the days he'd had the car in Biloxi.
Once past security and in the gate area, David called the hotel to tell them to cancel the rest of his stay. When David said that he hadn't even made it into his room, the manager, on checking the room, thanked him and said of course they would send no bill.
In the plane, David's head went into a bemused whirl at how well everything was going. While he acknowledged that he could be lucky and that he liked being lucky, this streak of good fortune was as improbable as tossing seven heads in a row. The whole thing made him uneasy, uncomfortable, and very confused.
What in the world was David going to find when he got back home?