The computer chimed. Dr. Bancroft ate one more mouthful of fried rice and checked the data results as he chewed and swallowed. As soon as the rice was deposited in his stomach, he smiled.
"Eight per cent better than projected," he called out.
Dr. Scugog popped his head in the door. "Eight, did you say? Or point eight?"
"Eight," said Dr. Bancroft, triumphantly scooping up another chopsticks' worth of rice.
"When the hell did you order food?" Dr. Scugog hurried in the door.
"Half an hour ago. Help yourself — I got the feast for four."
"Thanks. Were you expecting someone else to be around tonight?"
Dr. Bancroft shook his head "no" as he swallowed. "It's the best deal on the menu, and meh, if there's any left I don't have to make lunch for a few days."
"Fair enough." Dr. Scugog stepped behind Dr. Bancroft's chair so he could look at the report and eat at the same time. "Wow. Nice. What happens when the temperature shift happens, though?"
"Natural course of events," said Dr. Bancroft. He pointed at one list of numbers with his chopsticks. "So the algae population doubles once an hour under optimal conditions, and 'optimal conditions' have been defined as present-day global warming levels. A bit too warm, but not Disaster Fun Time Hour yet. Right?"
"Which model did you go with..." Dr. Scugog spotted a book on Dr. Bancroft's desk. "Okay, right, those numbers make sense."
"These little guys eat carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. They love the stuff. Thrive on it. But eventually they eat enough, or at least they ate enough under lab conditions that, here, these numbers show, the base temperature goes down one degree C, and then see?" Bancroft pointed to another set of numbers.
"They just die off?"
"Yeah, but with the carbon and water acidity maintained because these little guys have locked it away. So it's like the work of the rainforest, except without the rainforest. How cool is that?"
"So will you be throwing a party when you win the Nobel Prize?"
"Of course I am. Pizza and ice cream all around."
Scugog grinned and ate some more food.
"And if the temp rises again... we reintroduce them, rinse, lather, repeat," said Bancroft.
"Sounds too easy to be true."
"Easy? It was definitely not easy getting these suckers developed. Now that they are, though..." Bancroft helped himself to some lemon chicken.
The computer chimed again, and a progress bar started marching across the top of the screen.
"I set it to refresh automatically every five minutes. It generates the report, saves it, and then the timer starts running again. I hate having to just push the Enter key on a timer. Makes me feel like one of those rats we used in second year, you know?"
"You didn't want to reward yourself with a food pellet after every successful keypress?"
"I circumvented the test and found a way to get the food anyhow." Bancroft waved a piece of chicken around on his chopsticks.
"Oh yeah! Speaking of rats..." Dr. Scugog told Dr. Bancroft about an article he'd read recently. The two men continued to chat, and Dr. Bancroft went to get a drink from the nearest campus vending machine. When he returned, Scugog was frowning.
"You sure you don't have a bug in the calculation routines? Since you let me look before I thought it would be okay to check, and these numbers..."
Bancroft frowned and sat down at his desk. "I see what you mean. Well, maybe the population is still bottoming out."
Scugog raised an eyebrow. "It's going up, looks more like. Can a big enough mass of these things generate heat?"
"Maybe...." The progress bar appeared at the top of the screen again. Both men watched it grow, two character widths every second. The computer chimed and refreshed the report.
"Can't be," said Bancroft. "Can't be — see that number? The population would have to take up fifty per cent more space than the grow tank allows for that to be true. I must have a bug. Dammit! I thought I'd checked everything. Goddamn it." He drank a slug of cola and slammed the top of his desk with his fist.
"Might be a bad probe in the tank. You said the reports are saving automatically, right? C'mon, let's walk down to the lab. I'll help you troubleshoot it. Those things are a bitch to test with just one person."
Dr. Bancroft sighed. "Appreciate it." He gulped down the rest of his drink. "Now okay?"
"Sure, I'm done eating." They got up and left just as the progress bar started to march across the screen again.
"Busted hardware or no busted hardware, I'm going to have to destroy the sample and run the whole damn thing over again," said Bancroft as they walked down the corridor.
"Yeah, but you want to know what was wrong with it before you re-run the test. Could still be promising. Might have been good data at first."
Bancroft snorted. "Who the hell died and made you the department optimist?"
Scugog shrugged. "I just mean don't freak out yet. Happens to everyone." He sniffed. "Smell that?"
"Yeah, now that you mention it," said Bancroft. "Smells like we have a really nasty case of mildew."
"It's those damn overnight cleaners," said Scugog. "They think because hardly any of us are around at night, they can skip shit. Like they don't know this is a freaking laboratory or something." They reached the door at the end of the corridor.
"I hate to whine, but I guess we should say something to the dean," said Bancroft. "Monday." He tapped his security keycard against the reader. The door clicked open.
"Smell's worse in here," said Dr. Scugog. They walked down a narrower corridor and turned a corner.
The next door was stainless steel and required a different keycard, a thumbprint, and a combination to be punched in. Dr. Bancroft did the necessaries and opened the door.
Dr. Scugog screamed first. Dr. Bancroft tried to push the door shut again, but was overwhelmed before he could do so.
Back in the office, the computer chimed.