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She said, “You know, Foley, you just made Grade 4, but I believe you know as much about phase shifts as some of my Grade 6s.”

I thought she was right, though it would have sounded kind of arrogant to say so. It wouldn’t have been, but it would have sounded that way. So I just said “Thanks.”

“I think Dr. Li has noticed, too,” she said.

“I think Dr. Li notices a lot of things,” I said.

It seemed like a safe reply. I’ve never had a clear impression about the nature of their working relationship. They rarely speak to each other directly, which doesn’t seem very cordial, but Dr. Cranor is kind of distant with everyone. By the same token, it’s not like they ever fight.

“Dr. Li is a very… driven man,” she said, pausing before driven like she was searching for a neutral enough word. “He knows how to get results. What he doesn’t always know is when to stop. I would caution you to be careful around him.”

So now both of my bosses have warned me against the other one, which is weird, but it’s nice to know the main boss thinks well of me. Actually, both of them seem to.

Today, Dr. Li was waiting for me outside the lab, as I was getting off the train. He grabbed me by the sleeve and pulled me aside, even though no one else was there since I’m the only person traveling from the Grade 4 laboratory to this work site.

“Listen very carefully to what I’m about to say,” he said. “Don’t respond. Don’t give me an answer yet. Just listen and think about it. Alright?”

I asked him what he was talking about, and he said, “I’m telling you what I’m talking about, you damned fool: n-dimensional phase shifts outside of n-dimensions.”

He said “outside of” like he’d just discovered the principles of the internal combustion engine or cold fusion or something, something huge and pivotal and revelatory.

I didn’t say anything to that, because what the hell do you say to that? He went on, and I can’t promise that these are his exact words because he was so wild and rambling, but it went something like:

“Yes! You see? So simple and obvious once you’ve heard it, and yet so profound, so revolutionary. Such a small change, and yet it changes everything. It sounds impossible, but once you understand how it may be achieved, all things become possible. Dr. Cranor is a fool. A fool with promise, but no vision. But say nothing! When the time comes, Harper, you will be faced with a decision. Would you be shackled by n-dimensions forever?”

Then he walked into the lab. I gave it about ten seconds before I followed him. As soon as I walked in the door, he said something like, “Ah, Harper. Good to see that you are now here. I trust your journey and arrival were both uneventful.”

Whatever, dude.

…based on Dr. Cranor’s high spirits Friday. She was using the same sample—which kind of looks like an amber colored quartz spire—for every test, and all we were doing was bombarding it with progressively more intense science-rays from the phase array emitters.

At first there was no effect, but then there was very little effect. The crystal would glow white-hot while it was being bombarded and then be luminous for a period of a few seconds afterwards.

Dr. Cranor seemed satisfied, but Dr. Li has been looking more and more worried. Today he came up to me and told me that it was time we put our cards on the table. I told him I didn’t have any cards and he said, “You don’t yet trust me. I wouldn’t either, in your position. Of course you understand the dilemma this presents me with.”

Of course I didn’t.

Eva told me she had made some progress on my file corruption problem. She’d been working on the theory that a lot of systems will just recreate a fresh copy of a file they can’t find, or how a well-built database will repopulate a field with the expected values if it suddenly can’t find anything.

Like how if you screw up the config file for a game, you can sometimes delete it and the next time you run the game the file will be back with the default values. Or if you have a corrupted save file—which might be the best comparison in this case—you might need to delete it and go back to a previous back-up in order to avoid a crash.

This all sounds good in theory, but the key phrase is “well-built”. Federated Para-Sciences is the kind of place that might have spent decades researching time travel rather than updating their system architecture for Y2K.

I told Eva my concerns and she repeated the fact that she’s absolutely not offering to help me hack the PIP system and fix my file problem, but she’s going to run a few test cases using dummy employee files just to help refine her understanding.

I think. Dr. Cranor cut our morning battery of tests short and had us do one of the samples over again like three times, then announced that we were “in business”. Then she gave us the rest of the day off and told us to come back on Monday, ready to do some “real heavy lifting”.

I think—I hope—that she means we’re going to be putting more power through the sample, and not actually lifting heavy things, because I’m getting pretty used to this skilled labor thing. An upside of a week of reconfiguring is that we haven’t been producing as many technicolor waste barrels for me to tote off.

Today, he came up to me and told me that while my loyalty to Dr. Cranor is admirable, I should remember to whom I owe my career. That’s what he said: to whom.

As usual, I had no idea what he meant. I asked Collette if she had any idea, and she didn’t know, either. A little while later, though, she flagged me down because she remembered that before I was hired, Dr. Cranor had contantly been complaining about how no one would authorize the money for hiring more research associates.

Then one day last year, Dr. Li joined the project, and Buddy came with him. About six months  later, I showed up. Which means I would have been hired about the same time he came aboard. So maybe he brought his funding with him when two similar projects were combined? It’s a bit much for him to expect me to owe him a life debt over this, or something.

It’s a little thing, but I’m noticing more and more how the people who write the scripts for the P.A. system in the trains have a pretty offbeat sense of humor. I guess the fact that it’s a synthesized voice that will say whatever they want to must be kind of freeing, but I’m surprised at the kind of stuff they get away with slipping in. It’s not exactly “kill all humans, have a nice day”, but it’s stuff like that. They really try to give the disembodied voice a sense of personality. It’s usually pretty subtle and easy to miss, which is why I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head.

I’d love to see what someone like that would do with a corporate Twitter account. Can the Executive Direct of Social Media Communication make that happen?

We’re still going through what’s basically a tune-up phase with the apparatus. Every day we come in and go through the whole procedure of zapping multiple samples while Dr. Cranor observes, and then we adjust things at her direction and zap them again. I can’t say what exactly we’re accomplishing, but there’s a definite sense that we’re getting somewhere.

Which is good. Because as long as we’re getting somewhere, I’m not going anywhere.

It was definitely a different vibe on the lab floor (and platforms, and catwalks) today. Some people were confused, some were excited, and some actually seemed resentful of the fact that now we’re doing work instead of just flipping switches and following internal flow-charts.

After thinking about the way things have been, I have a pretty good hypothesis as to how they got that way. I feel like maybe the techs at each grade have been meant to be training the newbies below them all along, but that just hasn’t been happening and any actual knowledge of what we’re supposed to be doing and how we’re supposed to be doing it has just become more and more attenuated over time.

The whole place has been running on autopilot for who knows how long, and Dr. Cranor didn’t notice because the experiments she was running were ones that could be done on autopilot… though without any results.

On the subject of not noticing: we were so busy yesterday and I was so desperate to soak up every last piece of information about the apparatus and how it actually works that I didn’t pay any attention to Dr. Li, but today I noticed that he was hanging back in the shadows and just sort of glowering at me. Well, he seemed to be turned to face my direction, and I feel like he was glowering at me, but I couldn’t see because shadows. He was definitely keeping his distance and there was definitely a moody vibe.

Whatever. Conversations with him tend to be like playing a dating sim with Victor Von Doom, anyway. I’ve got work to do.

Dr. Cranor was holed up in her office when we all got in, so a few minutes after starting time we all just sort of gravitated towards our usual stations. Then she came charging out with a legal pad full of scribbled diagrams and equations in her hand and bellowed out, “NOBODY TOUCH ANYTHING!”

Then she started shouting directions.

In the next hour or so, I—along with almost everyone else in the room—learned more about the names and functions of the equipment we’ve been working with than in the months I’ve been here, or the weeks I’ve been part of the team proper.

She’d shout out something like, “BRING THE RESONANCE MITIGATORS TO FIFTY PERCENT” and when that was met with blank stares and slack jaws, she’d point and repeat it: “RESONANCE. MITIGATOR. FIFTY. PERCENT.” The three Grade 7 assistants to her and Dr. Li were standing around, shaking their heads all smugly, but not doing anything.

The weirdest thing I learned—apart from some of the names—is that not only did the rest of the team have no clue what these things were or what they did, but Dr. Cranor doesn’t appear to know the names of anyone working for her except for me, and that might just be because I’ve been written up a couple of times semi-recently.

Granted, I still don’t know exactly what a resonance mitigator does, but knowing that it somehow involves mitigating resonance is a step up. At least I can start to draw inferences. Apparently, the bank of switches I’ve spent most of time flipping control the anti-mass buffers, which is good to know.

The point of this exercise was apparently to change (widen, most likely) the parameters of our experiment. It’s too soon to say whether this will produce the results Dr. Cranor is looking for, because even after we’d finished reconfiguring her apparatus, we had to spend the rest of the day doing diagnostic drills with it.

This was another education, as apparently this is a procedure that hasn’t been done since most of the current team was hired, which meant that Dr. Cranor had to teach it to everyone. Well, she ordered the G7s to run us through them, and when it became apparent they didn’t know, she walked us through them herself.

To make a long story short, I think we’re actually a tiny bit closer to knowing what we’re doing.