The Surface Mining office buzzed with activity. Barney stood in the entry door, taking in the overwhelming array of information on the flat screens running along the office walls. Almost every inch of the walls were covered in flat screens, with only a plate glass window showing the room next door breaking up the continuity of words and numbers. A tall man stood at the far wall with his back to the door, dressed in suit pants and a shiny red sports jersey.
Barney walked up and stood to the left side of the man, whose eyes were glued to the information on the screen in front of him. “Hey Cheesy, why you still wearing that jersey? Didn’t the Aussies beat your team?”
The man turned to face Barney. Fine angular features dominated the face of Claudio Grisogno, while a pair of narrowed ice-blue eyes looked out from behind thick-brimmed black glasses. His close cut black hair complemented the fashionable stubble on his face. He gave a thin smile to the chocolate-coloured man from Down Under. “That kick getting past our keeper was pure luck! The linesperson not seeing that your man was offside bordered on criminal.”
“Don’t be like that. From what I remember, a ref not seeing an offside was how the Swiss won the last World Cup.”
Claudio gave him a look of mock indignation. “That is not the point.” He glanced to his left, then turned back to give Barney a wink before melodramatically raising his voice. “If those pesky folk from Argentina can win a World Cup with suspect decisions, it is only fair the Swiss can too.”
A female voice carried across the room. “Don’t you blaspheme Saint Diego of Lanús, Claudio. Don’t you want the international relations between our countries to remain civil?”
The Swiss man turned up his nose, a teasing grin on his face. “Carolina, if you needed further proof the Church was suffering for canonisation options, Diego Maradona was it.”
The two men turned to face the lady. The stunning Carolina Malargüe matched their five foot nine height, and showed off her curvaceous features with a faded pair of blue jeans and a tight-fitting white tank top. Her shoulder-length light brown hair, the colour of which matched her eyes, was tied back in a loose ponytail. She placed her hands on her hips, glaring at the pair. “It was proven that a man on his deathbed was inexplicably cured when he saw Saint Diego’s performances in the 1986 World Cup. What further proof do you need?”
Barney rolled his eyes with dramatic flair. “Where do we even start, my girl? But that’s an argument to be had at the dinner table tonight. Did you see Juan, Kumar and Woody on your way here?”
She shook her head. “I saw them earlier this morning, but did not see them making their way here.”
Claudio audibly groaned. “The surface reports are indicating that the volcanoes are starting to act up. If those three don’t get here soon, the gems they don’t find will be docked from their take-home stashes.”
The sound of raised voices came into the room, as the three missing team members arrived. They were in an animated discussion on a topic, with two men teaming up against another. Juan Cebreros gestured wildly with his hands, and his long and wild black hair obscured his handsome features. “I do not care if you think your Oklahoma soil grows better olives, Woody. Everyone knows the best olives come from Spain, and I am yet to hear of a ‘Boomer Sooner’ brand olive.”
The imposing Woodrow ‘Woody’ Garriott laughed at the Spaniard’s argument. “We can grow them better, we just choose not to. We prefer ourselves some ribs with a hearty dose of barbeque sauce. It’s how we get these. ” He raised his arms to flex his massive biceps, while the rest of his bulk was visible through a maroon muscle top emblazoned with the Oklahoma University symbol. The man stood over a head taller than anyone else in the Surface Mining office, and stood with a smoothly shaved head and a thick black goatee.
The man next to Woody joined the fray. “The only thing better than pork ribs in Oklahoma are buffalo ribs. A set of those could feed a village for a month.” Kumar Sana wore his native American heritage with pride. A short-cut mohawk ran along his scalp, which transformed into a long black braid running down his back. He wore pale green overalls, and a wolfhead- shaped pendant attached to a leather strap ran around his neck. Barney and Kumar shared a special understanding of each other, both being from the native tribes of their continents.
Barney raised his voice to get the arguing trio’s attention. “All right, you lot. Save your argument for the trip down to the surface. Let Cheesy tell us what’s waiting for us, so we can get going.”
Claudio cleared his throat. “As you may have heard, there has been quite a lot of volcanic activity since your last shift.” He turned and gestured to the wall monitors, showing current information from the other Cloud Colonies. “Colonies three, five and seven all reported a marked increase in sulphur dioxide levels. They have managed to make brief runs on the surface to collect any diamonds that were expelled, since the gas is more abrasive to the goods when in the atmosphere.”
Juan spoke up. “What of the other colonies? Have they been on the surface?”
The Swiss man shook his head. “Colonies one, two, and four in the northern hemisphere have not been on the ground. The eruptions seem to have originated in their areas, since the sulphur dioxide concentrations were at their highest there. The spread of the gas to colonies three and five has now effectively shut down any mining activity on the planet’s northern half.
“In the southern half, the same was seen in colony six’s area. Their gases have spread only to colony seven, so colony eight and ourselves still have a chance to get down and grab some goods before we get shut down as well.” He turned and looked a screen showing Colony Nine’s area of responsibility, and its current weather. “You best move into the suit-up area and get moving. We’ll be lucky to get four or five hours down there. Barney, I’ll upload the info to the elevator’s screen for your analysis.”
Barney nodded, then turned to address his multinational crew. “You heard Cheesy, get suited up and into the elevator. If you want some decent spending money for when you’re back on Earth, you’ll need to quit scratching your butts.” The five surface-bound people headed back out of the office, making their way into the Preparation Room adjacent to Claudio’s office.
Claudio yelled at Barney through the plate glass separating the two rooms. “For the love of God, Barnaby! I’m your boss! Stop calling me Cheesy, you disrespectful sod. I’ll dock your take-home pay for insubordination.”
Barney laughed at him, while the others joined in and playfully nudged each other. “Sure thing, Cheesy. You’re the most profitable manager in all the colonies, so I doubt you’ll be penalising us too much. We’re too valuable.” He turned to put on his surface gear, while Carolina battered her eyelashes and blew a kiss to their exasperated manager.
– X –