Sleuths will have to figure out who done it, but the real crime is the backdrop here: the endless heating of a fragile planet.
Chapter One – At Sea (excerpt)
A half-dozen computers ran along one side of the main deck laboratory. I slipped into one of the mismatched chairs. My dear friend Peter, the youngest PhD on board, clicked away at the keyboard next to me.
“Hey, Peter. How’re Sarah and the twins?”
Focused on his computer, he furrowed his brow.
“Peter, what on earth’s the matter?”
He held both sides of the monitor as if it might take off and turned toward me. “Bizarre email here. Hold on while I read it through.”
I logged onto the NOAA weather site for the Gulf of Maine. A low-pressure system would bring squally weather faster than predicted. Winds fifteen to twenty knots, swells eight feet. My hand went to my stomach.
I skimmed my emails. The subject line “Climate Change Scientists Fudge Data” caught my eye. I leaned forward to read:
Email exchanges show climate change scientists create their own heat by cooking the data. The researchers’ words—“transforming the data” and “removing outliers”—prove what the Prospect Institute has long known. So-called global warming is a manufactured fiction.
I turned to Peter. “Are you reading ‘Scientists Fudge Data’?”
He swiveled his chair to face me. His dark eyes narrowed, black as the storm racing toward us. “Yeah. This one might get us.”
“But everyone knows the Prospect Institute nuts claim smoking isn’t a problem, there’s no acid rain, ozone isn’t depleted. They’re not a credible source.”
“They’ve hacked emails and quoted researchers’ words. Don’t you see? That’s entirely different.”
“Transforming data, removing outliers? That’s just statistical lingo for data analysis. It doesn’t mean we’re fixing the numbers!”
I reread the message and stared at him, speechless. Like an athlete’s doping scandal, this could ruin a scientist’s career in a heartbeat. And the harassment could be horrific. In Australia, climate change scientists had to move after radical deniers threatened their families.
“There’s something else, Mara. At the bottom of the email is a list of the ten hacked scientists. You’re number seven.”
Chapter Two (excerpt)
The ship lurched, but this time it wasn’t the wild sea making me sick. “Why me? I’m not a famous climate change scientist.”
Peter said, “Maybe it’s your Science Today paper, and they’ve pegged you an up-and-coming troublemaker.”
The bitter taste of bile filled my mouth as the room closed in. “I don’t feel so great. Hey, maybe we can talk later.”
Back out on deck, my stomach settled down as I gulped cold sea air. I tried to quiet the chaos in my head. Could a bunch of quacks jeopardize my reputation? I wasn’t an old silverback who could laugh off bad press. The funding I needed for research was hard enough to get. A scandal could be very bad news.
Peter might be right about my paper. I’d taken a chance with preliminary data and predicted unusually high temperatures in the Gulf of Maine this spring. As a young scientist, it’s hard to get noticed. The irony was my desire for attention could have endangered my whole career.
I leaned back against the railing and looked around. A half dozen crew and scientists circled the buoys, peering at instruments. Harvey’s deployment was soon, and I was on the list for the second after lunch. I tamed my long wind-whipped hair with an elastic band and twisted around. Twenty feet below, blue-green waves shot silver spray up the side of the ship.
Someone bumped into me. A freckled redhead apologized, held out his hand, and pumped mine enthusiastically. “I’m Cyril, Dr. Tusconi. Cyril White. MOI photographer.”
A redhead with a name like that. Cyril must’ve suffered as a kid.
“So happy to meet you, Dr. Tusconi.”
I winced. Being called “Doctor” by a guy who looked sixteen made me feel my thirty-one years.
“Cyril, call me Mara.”
“Cy. Rhymes with lie. Hey, I’ll get better photos if I know what these buoys are for. I got the basics.” He pointed toward them. “One end’s the anchor, the orange float’s on the other end, and instruments on top and below measure things like water velocity and temperature. But what’s the purpose of this cruise?”
“To predict how ocean warming will impact Maine fisheries, we need measurements at more stations.”
“Fishermen want to know if the ocean’s warming. That impacts where and when they catch fish like cod. But Gulf of Maine temperatures vary a lot. The buoys give us better data, so we can judge if last year’s highs were an anomaly or the beginning of a trend.”
“Wow. This is a hot cruise. I’m psyched.”
This was a hot cruise, and I was proud to be part of it. That the Prospect Institute might tarnish work critical to Maine fishing sent a spurt of outrage through me.
Cy was still speaking. “I went to your talk on climate change doubters. I had no idea. They harp on ‘scientists aren’t sure,’ even though ninety-nine percent of experts agree—”
This was the last thing I wanted to talk about at the moment, but the guy was on a roll.
“—the climate’s changing and we’re mainly the reason. They’re going after scientists. Does that include you?”
I felt like he’d punched me in the stomach. “Where’d you hear that?”
Time to change the subject. “If you were in my oceanography class, I’d give you an A. Shouldn’t you be taking photos?”
He scampered off. For a photographer, he sure asked a lot of questions.
We’d reached the first deployment location. The engine droned down as the captain slowed Intrepid and held her steady on station. From the rear deck, Harvey shouted orders up to the winch operator. In her orange jumpsuit and yellow hardhat, she looked completely in charge. I gave her a little hand-pump.
The winch whirred, then kicked into a whine. Suddenly, a half-ton buoy sprang to life and lifted off the deck. Shipmates and scientists worked the guy wires to keep the buoy steady as it slid to the stern before dipping into its new home at sea.
Cyril White, back pressed against a portable van, tried to switch between the camera around his neck and camcorder wedged between his feet. I walked over.
“Need help? I could hold the camcorder.”
“Yes! Could you shoot the video?”
Intrepid rolled and nearly tossed me into Cyril. Given the sea state, videotaping wouldn’t be smart. But this frazzled lad needed help. Cyril thrust the camcorder into my hands. I lifted the thing to eye level.
What the hell, I figured. It’s just a few minutes. I captured the orange blimp dangling from the crane, plunging into the sea, and popping up to whoops of the deckhands. In the water, the buoy looked like a half-submerged yellow R2-D2 topped with wind vanes and a couple of solar panel eyes.
Stupidly, I forgot a basic oceanographic physics lesson. Intrepid, now sideways to the waves, tossed port and starboard as well as fore and aft. I squinted through the viewer, trying to keep the bobbing buoy in the picture.
Bitter stuff oozed up from my stomach into my throat. I dropped the camcorder to my thighs, swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and lifted it once more.
The zooming back and forth with the camcorder did it.
I threw up. Bad enough. But I didn’t do it over the side. I doubled over and let loose right where I stood. I’d had cereal for breakfast so, well, it was a goddamn mess.
Finally, my gastrointestinal track was empty. Panting and coughing, I blinked open tightly scrunched eyes. Splattered boots came into focus. I prayed it wasn’t another scientist. Much better for a crewmember to see me in this thoroughly undignified condition.
I unfurled halfway. My splatter ran up yellow rain pants. Please be the deckhand who winked as I boarded the ship.
No such luck. I stood and looked into a chiseled face softened by wavy, straw-colored hair and lips turned up into a lopsided grin. Ted McKnight, my brand new colleague. Someone I’d really, really wanted to impress.
In a good way, that is.
He handed me a tissue.
I wiped my chin. “My god. I am so sorry.”
His clear blue eyes flickered with amusement. “Hey, not your fault. Hold on a sec.”
Ted skidded a water bucket my way, put his hands on my shoulders, spun me around, and splashed my rubber boots. I turned to face him, and he emptied the bucket on my boots and his pants. “There you go.”
Before I could retort with something clever, Ted walked away to deal with the buoys.
One of the crew mumbled, “Great. A seasick oceanographer.”
When a colleague is killed aboard the research vessel Intrepid, oceanographer Mara Tusconi believes it’s no accident. As she investigates, Mara becomes entangled in a scheme involving powerful energy executives with much to lose if her department colleagues continue their climate change research. Mara’s career—and life—is on the line, threatened by intrigue as big and dark as the ocean.
Read Eco-fiction’s interview with the author.