Trouble In The Biosphere
TESLA landed at San Manuel Airport, just east of Oracle, Arizona. Unfortunately, by the time the helicopter had arrived, it was too late to go to Biosphere 2.
“We’ll wait until the morning,” Maddy said. “We already saved some time by flying out today. We need a good night’s sleep, anyway.”
True to his word, Chef made an incredible breakfast the next morning of Eggah, simple Egyptian omelets.
With stomachs full, the teens got ready to head out. They walked off the helicopter with backpack in hand, made it through airport security, and hailed a taxi. They were full of anxiety. After a short drive, the taxi pulled up to Biosphere 2’s entrance. Maddy paid and the team walked out through some student housing until they reached their goal.
Looking up at Biosphere 2, Team SoNaR marveled at the enormity and splendor of the structure. Covering an area nearly the size of two-and-a-half football fields, it was one of the world’s largest manmade closed systems. Constructed mainly of steel tubing, high-performance glass, and steel frames, Biosphere 2 was a large, T-shaped structure. It included a human habitat and research facility complete with agricultural area. It also housed a rainforest, ocean with coral reef, savannah, wetlands marsh, and fog desert. In addition to the characteristic white buildings that marked the human and agricultural areas, the majority of the structure, which consisted of panes of airtight glass held together by a triangular network of steel rods, acted as a massive greenhouse for the millions of plants within.
Corbyn stared at the magnificent white building and smiled. “We ready?”
K-1 was in hot pursuit of Team SoNaR. He called Charles to report.
“I’m back on the team’s trail. They went to Arizona.”
“The tracking device shows it’s parked just outside of the town of Oracle. I’m headed there now. I should arrive within the hour.”
“And where exactly are they going in Oracle?”
“I don’t know yet. But I’ll find out. And find them.”
Charles laughed gruffly. “You better hope for your sake that you’re not wrong.” The warning in his voice was clear.
The next thing K-1 heard was the dial tone.
Team SoNaR joined a guided tour that was scheduled to leave in a matter of minutes. Hanging out near the back of the large group of over forty visitors, the teens followed the crowd into a room that showed a short video on the history of the biosphere. After, the group was led to the savannah then the rainforest. Once the group was settled on a cliff side walkway overlooking the ocean, the guide began speaking.
“Looking over the cliff, the first thing you’ll notice is that we are approximately two stories above the surface of the water. This vantage point gives everybody a nice view of the 676,000-gallon salt water ocean before you.”
A chorus of excited whispers rose as guests looked over the handrail and into the ocean below.
“The ocean itself is approximately 850 square meters, complete with a living coral reef on one end and a twenty-one foot deep ocean on the other.” The guide pointed to both ends of the rectangular-shaped ocean. “If you would like to take pictures, you may do so now.”
While the tour group was busy taking photographs, Team SoNaR casually leaned against the handrail and looked around.
“You guys see anything for the quest anywhere?” Maddy whispered.
Corbyn shook his head. “The ocean is so far below us it’s hard to see much down there.”
Aaden suddenly realized his friends were looking in the wrong spot. “Over there,” he hissed.
Following his eyes, Maddy and Corbyn saw what Aaden had noticed. A silver canister lay securely in a crevice on top of the cliff. It was hidden in plain sight underneath some vines just like a geocache might be. It was also well beyond the reach of anybody on the walkway.
“Now what’re we going to do?” Corbyn asked anxiously. “We can’t reach the canister that far out on the cliff without climbing over the handrail to get it. Somebody’s going to see us.”
“We’re going to have to wait for the tour to leave before we do anything,” Maddy whispered. “Let’s sneak away and find a hiding spot. We’re with a pretty large group, so hopefully nobody will notice we’re missing.”
The twins agreed. The teens casually strolled down the walkway away from the tour group while pretending they were looking at something of interest in the ocean. They made it to a bend in the walkway and hid behind some foliage. Nearly ten minutes later, the voices of the group started to die down. Maddy peeked around the corner. The guide was leading the tour to the marsh and fog desert, followed by touring the Technosphere, an area underneath the biosphere that housed all of the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems that kept the building operational.
“Once they’re gone, we’ll go get the canister as fast as we can,” Maddy said. “Hopefully nobody sees us.”
Aaden smirked. “Like someone climbing on top of the cliff is easy to miss.”
“You have a better idea?” Aaden’s comment irritated Maddy.
Aaden said he didn’t.
Maddy watched the tour group leave. The team walked back to the spot by the canister.
Maddy looked around to make sure the team was alone. “Anybody want to volunteer to get it?”
“I will,” Aaden said.
“Are you sure?” Maddy questioned. “What with you and water and all.”
After taking the lead the day before with the cipher, Aaden relished the idea of impressing Maddy again. Despite his paralyzing fear of the water far below, his mind was made up. His brother had been the hero at the rollercoaster, but not today. He climbed over the handrail and balanced on the narrow cliff. He dared not peak over the edge. “Just cover me.”
“Watch your footing,” Corbyn said.
But Aaden wasn’t listening. He was too focused on impressing Maddy. In a rush, he went over to the canister, bent down on one knee, and ripped the silver tube out of the crevice. He stood up faster than he should have and lost his balance.
“Aaden!” Maddy screamed.
But it was too late. With terror on his face, Aaden looked back at his two best friends for the final time as gravity took him over the edge. With a splash, he sunk into the depths of the ocean.
Maddy screamed again.