Trilobite Park — Chapter 1: Things Start Out Suboptimally

Trilobites.

Dr June Kim could hardly believe her luck. Trilobites! An entire museum dedicated to them and her, her the chief educational officer! No – not a museum. A zoo! An aquarium full of real, live trilobites. Her whole life had been leading to this job. She smiled internally, all the while maintaining a businesslike expression.

"This is where your office will be," Thag said, as he pointed to a semi-complete room, not very dissimilar to the dozens of other semi-complete rooms in the construction site. "Adjacent to it is the main education room. This is where you will interact with school groups, et cetera."

Thag was a short, burly, dark-skinned man with a thick beard, a heavy brow and a perpetually annoyed look. June had met him once before, when she had been studying at the University of Sydney. This had been shortly after Thag had been thawed from a glacier and was still being shown off at paleontology departments around the world. Thag had had stuck in her memory as the only Neanderthal she had ever met, but he hadn't remembered her at all. Granted, he must have met hundreds of science undergrads before he'd tired of being a valuable specimen and left to study Human Resources management at the University of the Gold Coast.

"Excellent," June said. "Looks like plenty of space. I'm sure the kids will love it. I mean trilobites, right? What kid doesn't love trilobites?"

"Don’t be too cocky," Thag said. "You may be getting some competition from the cloned mammoth place opening down the street."

"Really?"

"Nope, we're the only game in town," Thag said. "That's meant to be deadpan humour, by the way. How did it work?"

'You look more pissed-off than deadpan. It detracts."

"I see. I'll have to work on that."

"Probably for the best," June said. "Any chance I can see—"

"See the trilobites?" Thag said, checking his clipboard. "There will be time for that after your twenty-seven-point safety induction."

June noted that Thag's sour expression softened at the thought of a lengthy discussion of OH&S. It didn't matter how many tens of thousands of years ago they were born, HR people are HR people.

"I can wait," she said. "I'm just so happy to have the chance to work here. I've loved trilobites since I was a little girl. Did my PhD thesis on them. I couldn't find work at a university, so I took a teaching course to move into high-school science teaching, and when this job came up I was probably the only trilobite expert with a teaching degree. I guess everything finally lined up for me!"

"I know your backstory," Thag sighed. "I read your resume, remember?"

"How about you?" June said. "Is that why you got hired? Because you're a living fossil yourself, so you're in tune with a place like this?"

For the first time that morning, Thag laughed. "I don't know how I got this job, Dr Kim."

"You don't?"

"Think about it: who hires the HR manager?"

"Why, the HR… huh…" June began. She stopped short, her mind racing. "The… I don't know."

"No one knows, Dr Kim," Thag said. "It's a mystery, and one I suspect will never be solved."

***

Elsewhere in the building, the first of the display tanks was being installed. In a huge, partially completed concrete room, a pair of safety-vested workers were lowering a huge pane of glass into place. Captain Pete watched with pleasure, while his chief engineer looked with much less certainty.

"I don't know, Captain," said Jacobs the engineer. "I think we should have held out for that triple-ply glass from Japan."

"That would set back the opening by weeks!" the Captain said. "We can't afford to lose the tide."

"Lose… the tide?" Jacobs asked.

"Get behind schedule."

"Then why not say 'get behind schedule?'" Jacobs asked.

"Because I ain't a lubber, ye swab!" Captain Pete bellowed.

Jacobs took a deep breath. Jacobs was… well, he was completely ordinary. He was one of nature's straight men, and he knew it. His role in life was to be serious and give warnings to people who wouldn't listen because not listening to warnings is soooo much more interesting than…

"Vast thinkin'!" the Captain said. "What's the matter with the glass?"

"It's too thin," Jacobs said. "It should be able to hold the quantities of water we require under normal circumstances, but in the event of a flow-through backup happening at the same time as a heater malfunction…"

"Yar, and what be the odds of that happening?"

Jacobs looked frantically around for some wood to touch, but the steel-and-glass construction of the Park meant that there was none to be had. Silently, he promised himself that he would buy a wooden keyring to prevent something like this from happening again.

"You have to remember, what we're doing here is unprecedented," Jacobs said. "An aquarium full of extinct arthropods? There may be issues that arise that we have no experience in combating. We can't afford to take any chances."

"Can't we, by God?" the Captain said. "Well, I say we can't afford to not do other than that which is incompatible with risk!"

Jacobs didn't even bother trying to parse this. "Captain Pete, I understand how important it is for you to open on schedule. I do. But…"

"Damn and blast, man!" the Captain said. "You're the engineer. If you can't make this place safe, what do I pay you for?"

With that, he stormed out of the room, exiting by an unglazed window in his fury and leaving the engineer spluttering in his wake. Jacobs' assistant came over, a coffee cup in its grasper.

"No. Luck. Chief?"

"None, R17," Jacobs sighed, taking the cup. "He just won't listen to reason. I'm worried – about the engineering on this place. Worried in my engineer bones. It's engineered all wrong, you see. I wish I'd been involved from the start, but the original engineer was… well, I hate to say it, but he or she was a bad engineer."

"Beep."

"By the way, in future is there any chance of you putting coffee in my coffee cup before you pass it to me?"

"Error."

Jacobs sighed, and looked up at the huge plate of glass now in place. Would it hold in an emergency? A trilobite based disaster? Or would it fail, causing some sort of weird arthropod based calamity. He shook his head and looked at his empty cup.

"This isn't even my coffee cup," he said.

"Beep."

Previously - Prelude: Agent Valerie's Lambo

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