“They’re early,” Eva said, referring to the babble bearing down on the entrance to the wave lab at the Tsunami Research Institute. “Middle-schoolers are never early.”
Bjorn kept his ear to the slide’s midsection. “Leakage,” he said. “A blockage is meddling the pneumatics.”
For once his textbook English wasn’t charming. The slide was refusing to lift into its tilted position, meaning they’d be unable to demonstrate displacement volume and surge force using the country’s most advanced tsunami wave simulator. Eva heard the hoots already, saw the world-weary eye-rolls.
“Gary ran simulations yesterday,” she said. “He wouldn’t have left if the slide was broken.”
“Tomorrow is his vacation.” Bjorn looked up at her. “I can fetch him?”
“He left last night,” Eva said. “He’s joining his wife early.” She patted the rocks in the slide’s shallow bed. They irritated her too, the way they mocked her own inertia, confirming her as another chunk of basalt alongside a streambed. Since when did sleeping with the Head of Inundation Modeling mean she’d wait around forever?
The doors burst open and the squall of young minds blew in.
“Just a sec!”
Eva’s shout across the pool had no effect. She whispered to the kneeling Bjorn that they should run away, find an open bar. In response he wiggled his screwdriver.
“In Sweden my grandfather taught me the farm. We do small repairs because astronauts even know how.”
“Don’t break anything,” Eva said. “My career can’t take an outright breakage.”
Bjorn removed the panel. To Eve the lift-system’s innards were as neat as they were incomprehensible. Still, she watched as Bjorn tapped a finger against a stub of pipe before removing the bolts from either end. He blew sharply into the pipe’s two openings and then replaced it.
“Great—spit-ball,” she said. “Perhaps I should go farming, in Sweden, say.”
“That’s a trick for when the tractor was frozen,” Bjorn said. “Who knows what will work.”
He came to stand beside her, the cover back in place and his astronaut tool stowed away. Gary would surely fire her, Eva thought: what kind of supervisor lets the visiting graduate student treat million-dollar scientific equipment as he would the tractor on a snowed-in turnip farm? Perhaps she’d submit a transfer request today. Perhaps she’d rouse herself enough to hurl at Gary that most unoriginal of accusations, that he’d been in pathetic crisised midlife when he’d dangled promises of advancement to lure her to this coastal backwater.
“To save our face,” Bjorn said, “we say to throw one rock each into the pool. Everybody can make displacement.” He gestured a thumbs-up at her before heading over to the bank of digital gauges.
Eva alerted the teacher they were ready. She glared at the slide, willing it to rise. Should the machine obey her, she intended to savor it, that brief, unmeasurable moment when disbelief gave way to awe as the students grasped the damage that could be done and then marveled at its frightening, apparent randomness.
LYNN BEY has short stories and flash fiction published in The Literarian, The Brooklyner, Birmingham Arts Journal, Two Hawks Quarterly, Marco Polo Arts, Prime Number Magazine, and several other magazines. She has also been nominated for a Pushcart award.