I swallowed another clutch of paracetamol, and washed them down with a mouthful of sweet tea. This was the fifth consecutive day I'd developed a piercing head-ache by noon, and now my jaw ached like I'd been involved in a brawl with Jeff Bridges. Idly, I wondered if a brain-tumour the size of a golf-ball might be developing in some lobe or other, flagrantly disregarding my ongoing pension contributions.
Marina was strolling with cat-like insolence around the lab, picking up various pieces of kit, peering intently at their mute exteriors, and replacing them without comment. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, and tried to gauge the size of her bust. Deconvolving the volumetric displacement of a woman's breasts from the bra-dependent contour and uplift was increasingly a black art, and despite the amount of cleavage available as observational evidence, I was forced to conclude that theory was under-determined by data on this occasion.
"Do you not miss the daylight down here, Dr Bones?" asked Marina, staring down the muzzle of an ancient golf-leaf electroscope. She was still using my formal appellation; keeping an emotional distance, then.
"We have interior lighting, Marina. Admittedly, we miss out on some of that bracing UV radiation the Outer-Worlders receive, but this is more than compensated for by the gamma rays."
The lab-door opened, and Dr Burgher strode confidently across the threshold to greet our eminent VIP. "Ah, Miss Petrovium, pleased to meet you," announced Dr Burgher, his sense of brisk self-importance sadly undermined, literally at every step, by his leather shoes squeaking their way across the PVC floor. "I'm the Chief Project Scientist here, as Brod' has no doubt explained to you."
Marina's cobalt-blue eyes sparkled as she met Dr Burgher's outstretched hand. Most women at the base appeared to find Dr Burgher more attractive than a bar magnet in a box of iron filings, and as 'Miss Petrovium' flicked her eyes up and down with studied coyness, I concluded that the IAEA's Head of Paranuclear Phenomena also lacked diplomatic immunity to such attractions.
The analgesics were by now surfing down my capillaries, and things were beginning to feel delightfully fuzzy. As Burgher briefed Marina in the background, I disengaged, and felt that familiar sensation of being in mental free-fall. Inchoate ideas floated past, just out of grasp; I knew there was something I needed to be thinking about, a problem which needed resolving, a question which required an answer, but as soon as I directed my attention to any of the passing notions, they dissolved in a noxious cloud of confusion and receded from conscious awareness.
"...which we're currently unable to explain with any known physics," concluded Dr Burgher with the melodramatic flourish he'd been carefully honing over the past fortnight, ever since we'd discovered the shaft descending from the fifth chamber.