Eve had seen incompetent directors before, especially in out-of-the-way bases like this one. They came in three main types: bureaucrats in over their head, effective researchers who had been promoted into administrative positions outside their wheelhouse, or kiss-asses who were charming but shouldn’t have been entrusted with a fish tank, let alone a base.
Libera seemed closest to the latter, but… there had been clear intelligence in their first two meetings. No way Hyperion would have tolerated anything but excellence from a direct subordinate.
Minutes after Libera left, others began to exit the hall. Most of them went up to the crew quarters or lounge on Deck 2, while a few (including Eirene as well as Phoebe, who had not said a word all dinner) headed below decks for nighttime work details.
“We have an elevator in the center of the base,” Coronis explained, veering them down the hall and away from the rest of the crowd so they could talk more privately. “There are also staircases on either end and emergency ladder hatches.”
“Aren’t those only supposed to be used in an emergency?”
Coronis shrugged. “Crew quarters is one deck up and the elevator is always super full around meal time. Buuut, you have that ‘temperature problem’ and that’d be more noticeable in a confined space. What’s your body temperature?”
“Ambiently, a bit below 150 celsius. Higher when I get upset.” She tapped the headband. “I modified it so it won’t be affected by the heat.”
“I took one apart and reverse engineered it so I could make it out of a more heat-resistant material.” Eve shrugged. “Someone helped me make it but I drew the blueprints myself.” Engineering was far from her specialty.
“Cool…” Coronis got starry-eyed for a moment. A powerful witch flinging fireballs around appeared next to her cheek. “I mean, okay, good to know. Let’s skip the elevator- wouldn’t want you to brush against someone and blister their skin off. Don’t worry about a thing, Mat- May. I’ll take care of everything.”
“Including Nysa?” Eve asked. She recounted the vice-director’s inquisition to Coronis. “I think she caught me on a slip-up. I told her I fell out of a tree on Vidian, but apparently it was a cliff.”
“…No, it was a tree. I wrote that bit myself.” Coronis frowned. “Nysa had the file right in front of her?”
“She was trying to trick you. Did you correct her?”
Eve had been so disoriented, between the landing and the Enyoni and her reunion with Libera, that she hadn’t. She merely shook her head.
Coronis sucked air between her teeth and shook her head. The way her poofy teal hair bounced was strangely endearing. “She’s onto you… well, no point to worry about it now. Nysa is sharp but I know how to handle her. We’ll just keep the two of you apart and it should be fine.”
They climbed the stairs up a level, Eve lost in thought while Coronis talked and talked. “-so with hundreds of tons of supplies coming in every month, it’s trivial to sneak almost anything into the shipments. Besides those supply ships and the news, we have no contact with the rest of TORCH. Oh, people will probably be pretty interested in you for a few weeks but once the novelty wears off, they’ll leave you alone. I figure you can stay down here for as long as you like!”
The stairs were claustrophobically narrow, they had to go up one at a time. Eve weighed about 600 pounds and so the entire floor shook beneath her. “What about workload?” Eve asked, aggravation building for no reason. “I’m working on something, and I need a large amount of rest a day to… keep myself even-keeled.”
“Oh, well, there are some girls down here who work. Nysa handles the administrative stuff for instance. Phoebe is always hard at work in research, and Eirene is a good engineer. Even I do a bit of work, although most of what I do is for my extracurriculars.” Coronis winked. “Most girls don’t do shit… there really isn’t much to do. The base pretty much runs itself so if you don’t have a technical job, you have way more free time than you know what to do with.”
“That’s not how it’s supposed to be!” Eve’s temper, idle for a few minutes, roared back to life without warning. “This is a planet with such fascinating life, and you’re telling me most of the base spends their time… seeing what they can stuff down their gobs or snort up their nose?!”
“Hey, don’t forget about the crazed, never-ending monkey sex.” Coronis laughed a little but stopped when she saw the look on Eve’s face. “Look, Mater, I get that you’re frustrated but that’s exactly why I brought you down here! Half the owls are so blasted they won’t notice you’re new. Some of them might not even know who the Mater Veneficis is.”
A long time ago, Eve founded LUX on the principles of knowledge, dialogue, and self-betterment. Most of the branch’s celebrities, which once included herself, led restrained and ascetic lives. LUX‘s formal purpose was science and research, its de facto purpose was a haven for witches, and its reputation was that of the “nerd branch”. This nickname wasn’t always affectionate.
Seeing her vision for LUX perverted into this slow motion orgy, especially on a planet with such incredible potential for scientific discovery, stirred the old Eve from her slumber. It was like a smelling salt rousing her with an acrid, lingering stench.