by Carol Ann Kauffman
Dr. Laura Martin, Chief Extraterrestrial Life Scientist at The Touchstone Institute of Oceanographic Research, noticed troubling but subtle changes in the Atlantic Ocean. Before she could make sense of it all, her longtime assistant abruptly walked out. Laura hired young, handsome Scott Conner to be her personal assistant. Mayhem ensued, mainly because of Zara, the mermaid/siren/monster in the basement of the Touchstone Institute, who eyed on Scott as her possible mate in a plot for total domination of planet Earth.
“The Touchstone Institute of Oceanographic Research is the most fantastic, exhilarating place on the planet to work. It is high energy, exciting, sometimes maddening, often frightening, heart pounding work. It’s not a job. It’s a lifetime commitment. It gets in your blood. It grabs you by the throat and possesses you, body and soul. And it is work. If you’re not prepared to work your ass off day in and day out, weekends, holidays, your birthday, and your mamma’s birthday, leave now.”
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“Benjamin?” she said as she entered, shaking his hand. No smile. He stood and did the firm grasp handshake thing a man is supposed to do.
“It’s my pleasure to finally get to meet you, Dr. Martin,” he said, trying not to sound too much like a fanboy. “I’ve admired your work for a very long time. I think you’re brilliant!”
“Thank you. Tell me, Benjamin,” she sat down and looked at him intently, “why should I give you this job? I’ve just interviewed four highly qualified women who would kill for this job.”
He followed her lead and sat down across from her.
She folded her hands on the table and looked at him. It was unnerving. He felt like she was examining a specimen. And he was the specimen.
He copied her, folding his hands on the table, and began.
“Three highly qualified women, Dr. Martin. You were completely unimpressed with the little bouncy brunette. I could tell by your body language. I also know you prefer a female assistant. Why is that?”
“We work long hours in very close proximity,” she explained, surprised at the way he turned the interview around and now she was the one answering the questions. “Add aliens and emotions to that mix and we could be brewing a dangerous cocktail in here without throwing in male hormones and sexual tension.”
“I promise to behave myself and keep my testosterone under tight control. Which candidate must I kill for this position, the older blonde or the tall redhead?”
“Well, I’m not sure yet,” she laughed, realizing he had zeroed in on her two favorites. This kid was good, she thought. Maybe he had a career in politics. “The job doesn’t start until the first of the month. And government funding is anything but reasonable and reliable. Sometimes they give me what I ask for, and sometimes they don’t.”
“Fine. I’ll start today, right now, being your UNPAID research assistant. I have a little over two weeks, sixteen days to be exact, to prove myself to you without having to commit murder. Work me day and night, I don’t care. I have a doctorate in underwater life sciences. I am familiar with your work. I did my doctoral dissertation at MacShane University on proving the theories you set forth in your book ‘The Suitability of the Atlantic Ocean to Harbor Alien Lifeforms’. My advisor was Dr. Jane Rollins, who’s done autopsies on dead alien lifeforms found in the Atlantic Ocean.”
“I know Jane well. She’s outstanding. But,” she hesitated, “don’t you think you’re a bit over-qualified for this position?”
“It’s the only position you have available at this time. I was also prepared to apply for a maintenance position if it were to open,” he joked, “or security. Although I’m on the thin side, I’m quite skilled at martial arts. I just want to work with you.”
“Dr. Conner, the hours are long. We don’t go home until we’re done, no matter how long it takes. I’ve had some wonderful, dedicated employees walk away from this job without so much as a goodbye because of the amount of work and stress we’re subjected to on a daily basis. It can get to you. You’re a young man. This job will leave you no time for a social life.”
“That’s okay. I prefer fish to people. I have an apartment in the building right next door, not far for me to crawl at the end of my shift. And I really admire you, so you can be as nasty as you want, and you won’t drive me away, I have older sisters so I’m used to abuse. I don’t need this job to pay my bills. I want this job so that I can work with you. If you aren’t completely satisfied with the caliber and amount of work I produce, then after two weeks, send me packing. You’ve lost nothing. Now, how can you turn down free over-qualified help for sixteen days? Aren’t you swamped?”
“Yes. Yes, Benjamin, I am. It’s… it’s…”
“What? Tell me.”
“I don’t know that I’m completely comfortable with you, Benjamin… Ben… Benjie.”
“Let’s see if that doesn’t clear up in a day or two. I’m really very nice,” he smiled at her. Still no return smile. “Also, I gather you’re uncomfortable with my name?”
“That’s right, I had a bad experience with a Benjamin.”
“Okay, my middle name is Scott. Everybody calls me Scott anyway. Even my mother calls me Scott. She, too, had a very bad experience with a Benjamin. My father. You call out ‘Scott’ and I’ll come running. Now, come on, my three minutes are up. You are a busy woman, and we have work to do.” He stood up and reached for her hand as he walked to the door. “Come on, let’s go!”
His knees got weak when she said his name.
She examined his hand closely but didn’t touch it. “Would you like a little tour first?”
“No, Dr. Martin. We are very busy people. Let’s get right to work, shall we?”
“Very well, Scott. Let’s roll.” She smiled as she led the way downstairs to the second floor.
“First you need a BIK card. Security’s tight around here.”
She had Sylvia get his biometric body scans for his temporary biological identification key card.
“Keep this on you at all times when you’re in the building,” Laura said as she clipped it to his shirt. “It’s a key card that opens all the doors. But it’s also for your safety. We can see where you are at all times, and if you get into trouble, we can easily find you to help you.”
“Yes, Dr. Martin.”
“When you leave for the night, it goes on the board behind the front desk on the shelf with your name on it. And that’s where you’ll pick it up in the morning. This way Dr. Washington can tell at a glance who’s here. Got it?”
“Yes, Dr. Martin.”
“Okay, then let’s go,” she said. He nodded.
They walked down one flight of steps. She opened the door. Level Two was one huge room, the size of the entire second floor. The walls and ceiling were painted an azure blue. Aquariums completely covered the walls on three sides. No aquarium was empty, but he had trouble figuring out what was in some of them. The center of the room was filled with desks. Each desk had a laptop. Lighted pendants that could be pulled down or pushed up were suspending from the ceiling. She walked to the corner desk. He followed her silently. She handed him a copy of the confidentiality agreement.
“Sign here.” He didn’t even bother reading the document before signing. She tore off the bottom copy and handed it to him.
“Welcome to the Blue Room, Scott. Your life will never be the same again.”
“Thank you, Dr. Martin. I’m counting on it.”