Lorenzo sits on the couch with Robert. They are both staring at the large vanilla envelope on the coffee table.
“Camera?” Lorenzo asks.
“Looks more like a document.”
“No, camera.” Lorenzo repeats.
“Oh! Right.” Robert grabs the camera and sets up the shot. “Rolling and speeding.”
Lorenzo adds a short introduction as to how they came about the envelope and carefully pulls out what looks like a legal contract on Oxley Corporation letterhead. He quickly flips through the details and stops on the final page. “Zoom in on this will you, Robert?”
There are three signatures: William Oxley, Alfonso Ramirez, and Patrick DuBouf as witness. The employment contract has the usual job responsibilities, code of conduct, pay, non-disclosure and anti-competition clauses, but what stands out is the way in which the duration of the contract is stipulated.
There is no fixed work term. It appears that Alfonso Ramirez is confined to the Columbus mining station in high orbit around Earth as long as there are asteroids to mine, he remains under the age of 65, and his bone loss does not exceed the government stipulated 5%.
“So that explains the weekly bone mineral density tests. And here I was thinking Oxley Corporation actually cared about the well-being of their workforce,” snorts Robert.
“You mean their slaves,” retorts Lorenzo. “What good is all the money they pay these guys if they never get back home to spend it. Didn’t they put out a big campaign last year boasting that because of the exploratory technology and high risks of operating a mine in space they would only accept applications from men with no family ties?”
“Furthermore, the United Nations Human Rights watchdog insisted on strict workplace safety regulations to protect the workers, one of which is the amount of contiguous time they are allowed to work due to the effects of the environment on bone loss,” Amanda adds as she approaches coolly slipping off her 4-inch red heels.
“Amanda!” Lorenzo jumps to his feet and plants a big smooch on her while Robert looks at the door, expectant.
Amanda continues unaffected. “Your mother’s fine. She’ll just have a hangover tomorrow.” She pulls the picked-over barrette from her purse and throws it on the coffee table as she sums up her findings. “As I was saying…it’s all about the bone loss. Mr. Oxley petitioned hard against a generic normal range for worker rotation, citing differences in bone mineral density changes in different people and was successful in implementing a weekly stress test on the workers instead.”
“Like this one?” Robert directs her to the files he swiped from work, but Amanda’s eyes are glued to the contract lying on the coffee table.
“Interesting,” she flips through the document quickly. “And after one year there is still no bone loss?” She asks Robert who directs her once again to the data.
Lorenzo watches Amanda carefully as she leans over for a closer look at the screen. There is a scratch on her lower back leading up from her open-back gown which definitely was not there this morning.
“Did he share anything else with you?” he asks dryly. His question is met with a cold stare. Lorenzo backs off.
“William is currently negotiating with the UN Human Rights Commission on charges that the workers were misled by the likely duration of their work terms and that poor ventilation has led to the death of one employee while others suffer from daily headaches, confusion, severe diarrhea, and drowsiness.”
She heads to the bedroom to get changed as she relays her findings. “They’ve unionized and are demanding to be returned to Earth with full compensation as promised in the contract even though it clearly stipulates that they have not yet fulfilled their part of the agreement.”
She returns wearing jeans and a T-shirt and stretches out on the couch. “The UN arbitration proceedings have been evaluating both sides of the issue for a month now and have committed to reaching a binding decision within 3 days.”
“So what you’re saying then is William is holding 50 men prisoners up in space while he secretly pays off the UN arbitrator,” Lorenzo quips.
The accusation elicits an explosive response from Amanda who bluntly reminds Lorenzo that opinion does not hold up in a court of law. As they verbally spar about charming Sir William’s generous “hospitality”, Robert digs deeper into the medical data.
After a good 10 minutes of ignoring the incessant bickering, Robert screams: “Oh my Gaea! Arsenic!”
Amanda and Lorenzo immediately shut up and stare at Robert who starts connecting the dots.
“They’ve been using it in chicken feed for years to increase the growth of blood vessels,” he explains. “Arsenic could conceivably act to offset the atherosclerosis that sets it due to prolonged space travel. The theory hasn’t been tested though…until now.”
“Sinister. But it doesn’t build bone,” Amanda counters.
“That’s where vitamin J comes in,” responds Robert.
“Choline?” asks Lorenzo.
“It hasn’t been called that in years. It’s a red herring,” Amanda pipes in. “Crap! I think they mean Jagged-1! A protein that builds bone mass…but it hasn’t been tested in orbit. It certainly isn’t an FDA approved food additive.”
“So that’s what the negotiations are for. The Columbus project is just a huge human experiment. The workers were never intended to return home. The slow arsenic poisoning will ensure that they don’t live until 65 that’s for sure. Then once the tests are done, they’ll blame the carnage on consistent mild environmental exposure to heavy metals and shut it down with a slap on the wrist.”
Amanda runs back to the bedroom and emerges with the Lamborghini and the Ferrari’s key fobs, grinning. “I couldn’t resist.” She pitches them to Lorenzo.
“Our documentary just got funded. Let’s blow the whistle on charming Sir William Oxley.”