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All posts for the month January, 2014

Figuring out what I’m even supposed to be bringing out of the vaults would be easier if I had any idea what half the stuff in them is, which would be easier if I had a better flashlight. At least this will hopefully be solved soon, when my order comes in.

The place is set up like it was an underground zoo. Judging from Dr. Cranor’s comments, the biological research parts of the facility are far away from everything else (for obvious reasons), but I guess there are applications for animal testing in pretty much every field of scientific exploration: psychology, chemistry, radiology. I don’t think it was just monkeys and guinea pigs, though. Some of the enclosures were clearly meant for large animals.

The weird thing is that even though what we’re doing has nothing to do with biology (as far as I can tell, which isn’t very far), Dr. Cranor is very interested in me bringing back any tissue samples or organic or semi-organic or pseudo-organic (her words) materials that I find. I don’t know what that has to do with the study of n-dimensional phase shift variances in n-dimensions, but then I don’t know what anything has to do with that.

The other thing that burns me up about that reprimand is that it’s not like anyone else even goes down that corridor. To even get to the hole in the floor, I have to go through a double set of doors like an airlock. They’re both as thick as bulkheads and have the smallest, thickest pane of glass inset in them as an eye slot. It’s more like a transparent brick. The things take forever to open and close, and you can only have one open at a time. I’m sure that at the time they were constructed this arrangement made a lot of sense for whatever reason, but it seems so pointless now.

The whole thing seems pretty much hard wired. Like, not even wired, just built that way. But since it doesn’t hurt to ask, I suggested to Dr. Cranor that maybe someone could figure out a way to rig the doors to stay open or at least remove the link that keeps them from opening at the same time. Her eyes got all wide and she just said, “Why on earth would you ever want to do that?”, like she couldn’t imagine a reason. Well, she’s not the one who has to go through those giant hulking doors  twice a day.

…by Dr. Li for leaving my ladder lying around. I would understand this more if they would give me a place to store it, but everyone still treats my use of it like it’s some sort of quaint affectation they can’t really understand.

It wasn’t like it was sitting in a hallway where somebody could have tripped over it or something. I actually just left it in the last hole I had to climb down into. Apparently that is somehow a safety violation? As Dr. Li put it, I left it where anyone could just stumble over it. Well, they could have stumbled over the hole in the floor without the ladder there, and then they would have been completely out of luck. No way to get back up at all. I don’t understand the thinking in this place at all.

(Come to think of it, he might have actually said “anything“. But he was kind of ranting, so an odd word choice or slip of the tongue is maybe not the strangest thing about it.”

I took my grievance to Dr. Cranor, and to my surprise, she actually agreed with me. I mean, she didn’t make Dr. Li apologize or retract the reprimand, but she at least saw the point that the hole itself was the actual hazard and said she would have it sealed over as soon as she was sure I’d retrieved everything of possible value from the vaults beneath it.

In the meantime, I’ve moved my ladder and the other tools and useful odds and ends I’ve found into the closet where I found those ammo clips. If everyone else is just going to take what they need from the parts of the facility that no one else is using, I might as well do the same, right?

Even though I’ve been working here for two weeks now, I still haven’t really had a chance to get to know my co-workers that well. Dr. Cranor doesn’t really believe in breaking the ice or making idle chit-chat, so she didn’t even really introduce me around to the rest of her team. Since then, most of my direct interaction has been with her. Occasionally someone else will tell me what to do, but I get the feeling that they don’t really see me as part of the team so much as Dr. Cranor’s personal assistant.

But hey, at least I’m getting paid. I’m sure that if I could keep in touch with my former classmates, I’d find out that a lot of them are stuck in volunteer positions or unpaid internships.

The fact that we all wear badges is pretty much the only reason I know anyone’s name. Dr. Li is grade 8, the same as Dr. Cranor, though this seems to be her show. Beneath the two of them, there are seven other research associates, mostly Grades 5 and 6. The only one who’s close to me is Buddy Dacote, who’s Grade 4. I don’t know exactly what the difference is between Grades 3 and 4, but to judge by the way that Buddy looks at me—or right through me—you’d think the upgrade comes with a throne, a golden crown, and a choir of heavenly angels.

Well, whatever. He probably started off as grade 3 or lower.

What little socializing I’ve done has been in the living quarters. There’s a food court in the hub, but most of the time I eat in the employee cafeteria attached to the dorm. The food’s actually better there, and it’s free. I don’t know anyone, but there aren’t enough tables to really sit alone in a corner so at first I mostly just looked for one that was sparsely occupied and asked the people there if it was okay to sit there. I eventually found a group of people who genuinely don’t mind the intrusion.

There’s C.B. Gordman, who I figured out right away is a serious talker. It’s hard to get a word in edgewise with him. I can’t complain, since he went out of the way to make me feel welcome. He’s Grade 5, but he’s not haughty about it. He works in the Applied Science High-energy Particle Department, the same as I do.

Eva Calnyx is part of the Heuristic Algorithms for Learning project, in the computer science department. I’m pretty sure she’s mainly a hacker, but her legitimate project is apparently in trying to improve AI to make it less annoying to interact with. She optimizes pathfinding procedures in her spare time.

Then there’s Don, who’s Grade 2 security. Security and science don’t seem to mix that much in the common areas, but being a victim of cliquish snobbery, I don’t feel any need to piss downwards. Don’s a good guy. When he heard about my flashlight troubles, he gave me a part number to request from the commissary: HKN11910LED. An LED flashlight would be a huge improvement over the one I’ve been lugging around.

Dr. Cranor has been stonewalling my queries about requisitioning one, so I was willing to spend my own money to get one (there’s not much else to spend it on), but none of the stores in the shopping plaza in the hub seemed to sell any. They try to make it look like a little mall complete with its own food court, but the selection’s a little limited.

So I went to the company commissary and asked about them, and the clerk pointed me to night lights, and reminded me that the lighting in my quarters can be set to be voice or motion activated, and dimmed for night reading.

I think the message there was that there wasn’t any legitimate reason that a grade 3 research associate should need a flashlight inside their quarters, and I got the feeling that it wouldn’t be good to let on that I’d want it for poking around outside the dorm. I’m not exactly sure that the exploration I’ve been doing for Dr. Cranor is strictly kosher. I don’t think we’re supposed to go anywhere that’s off our personal maps. It might be that the flashlight Dr. Cranor gives me is the best one she can find.

So I said, “What about emergencies?” The clerk said that in an emergency, the emergency lighting will come on. I couldn’t really argue with that.

At least I got to see more of the hub, outside of the training level.

Okay, so I can top the “climbing around in vents” thing. Today, Dr. Cranor needed to route some more juice to her primary science array and apparently the only way to do this was to go switch some power relays around. You’d think that this would be a job for an electrician and she’d call maintenance, but they were in yet another forgotten corner of the facility that no one bothered to maintain.

Apparently back in the 50s and 60s, Federated Para Sciences was a lot bigger than it is now. Downsizing started in the 70s and continued through the 80s and 90s, and then the 21st century and its austerity measures really took a cleaver to things. Every time a program’s funding was cut and the payroll was slashed, they just closed off parts of the plant and regrouped.

But the infrastructure that runs everything still runs everywhere, which means there are fuses that have blown and circuit breakers that have broken in forgotten corridors. That brings me to my task for today, which was basically to go and clear the breakers for the rest of the lines that are supposed to be delivering current to Dr. Cranor’s lab, and to shut down any lights or machinery that might have been running off those lines all these decades later.

That’s already kind of a crazy situation, right? But if you think about it—and if you understand how huge this place is and how much huger the budget for the kinds of things they do here would have been during the hottest part of the cold war—it kind of makes sense.

The really crazy part is what I had to go through to do it. I mentioned that they closed off parts of the facility, right? This wasn’t an office suite I could break into through the vents. Nope. I had to climb down into a maintenance tunnel, which, incidentally had water in the bottom up to my knees, because when I say “maintenance tunnel”, I mean “water pipe”.

It was well big enough for me to stand up in, which would have been comforting except that I was thinking about how much water a pipe that size is designed to channel. Then I had to go around in the pipe until I was on the other side of the obstructed corridor, and climb up through a hatch on the other side.

Of course, being that the pipe was more than big enough for me to stand up in, there would have been no way for me to reach the hatch on the other side. Or the hatch I’d gone down through, for that matter. When Dr. Cranor was briefing me on this, she had a solution ready. According to the plans she had, there’s an emergency safety valve inside the pipe that will divert water from wherever the pipe is meant to be divert water from. Opening this valve would flood the pipes, allowing me to swim up to the open hatch, which in her words would be easy enough to see since it would be the only source of light in the flooded tunnel.

I may only be a grade 3 research associate, but I figured out a better solution: I brought a ladder. Laying my hands on it was no easy matter. Dr. Cranor had no idea where to get one (and she seemed annoyed that I wanted one, given that she considered her pipe-flooding plan adequate), and all the maintenance personnel that I asked seemed kind of suspicious. I guess maybe they were concerned I wouldn’t bring it back when I was done? But then, I remembered that I’d seen a ladder sitting with a bunch of tools in the abandoned office… so maybe the maintenance people had good reason to worry about their department’s inventory walking off, but still, I had my ladder. And if I need a pipe wrench or a crowbar or a utility knife, I know where to get them.

I used the ladder to climb down into the pipe, I used the ladder to climb back up the other side, and then after I’d found her relays, I repeated the process. I was pretty proud of myself, considering that I still spent my day knee-deep in the dark, splashing around in water that’s probably tainted with heavy metals and who knows what else and then stumbling around blindly (seriously, I need to figure out how to requisition a better flashlight) trying to follow written directions based on sixty year old plans. No one’s phonepad shows the disused sections because no one’s supposed to be there, and Dr. Cranor considers her ancient maps to precious to be trusted to me.

I did get her power flowing. I can’t say that I did much to take care of whatever else might be drawing on those same lines. The lights had all long since burned out, and while I could hear some mechanical humming and a loud, rhythmic clanking at one point, I didn’t see any big conveniently labeled switch that said “Turn Everything In This Section Off Without Fucking Up Anybody’s Magnetic Containment Field Seven Levels Up” so I decided to leave well enough alone.

Plus, it was just spooky in there. The dark, the noise… to tell you the truth, I’m not sure everything I heard there was mechanical.

With my training regimen I haven’t had a lot of time to meet my neighbors or make friends with anyone else in the dormitory. As far as I can tell everyone on the same floor as me is more or less the same level as me when it comes to things like security clearance and actual responsibilities versus menial duties, though.

The classes are in a central hub that seems to be between the different dorms. I can’t verify this because there’s no complete map of the facility. The ones in the hub only show the hub and the location of the elevators and trams that lead elsewhere. You can’t get on a transport that doesn’t take you to your living quarters, your job site, or the hub. My phonepad shows a map that only includes the areas I have access to, and I assume that everyone else’s does the same.

I have sort of gotten to know some of the people in my classes. At least, I recognize them and they recognize me. There’s also one guy who’s usually at the firing range when I’m there, though I kind of think that may be because he’s usually at the firing range. I don’t know what his name is. We all wear ID badges all the time, but I’d have to get around in front of him to see what his says and that would be dangerous. He’s pretty single-minded about his firearm practice.

In my mind, I call him “Headshot Harry”. He’s pretty obsessive about aiming for the head. The firing instructor suggested I aim for center mass since that’s the biggest target and that seemed like good advice. Sometimes just for variety when I’ve scored several direct hits in a row and I’m feeling particularly badass, I’ve tried aiming for the head or the hand (like to shoot a gun or knife out of my imaginary attacker’s hand). It’s amazing how often the little hole punches through the paper somewhere outside the outline when I do that.

But Harry’s so insistent about his headshots. I can hear him berating himself when he misses, and he counts it as a miss if he doesn’t get the head. Even clean through the chest isn’t good enough. “No head, doesn’t count,” he says to himself. “Only the head counts. Make it count. Hit the head. Make it count.” He repeats that like a mantra between shots: “Hit the head. Make it count.”

I asked Dr. Cranor about this. I figured since she puts so much stock in firearm skill, she might know who I was talking about, and anyway she’d probably have an opinion about it, as she did about most things.

She didn’t know who I meant, but she did have an opinion.

“I’d stick with center mass most of the time,” she said. “For most values of a human being, it will be sufficient. If not, you can adjust.”

“But why’s that guy so concerned about head shots?” I asked.

“That’s a corner case,” she said. “Not likely to come up, and less likely to spread to here. That man works in the Biomedical Science Operation Division. There are multiple redundant failsafes protecting their department, and protecting the rest of the facility from them.”

“I thought you didn’t know who he was,” I said.

“I don’t,” she said. “But trust me. He works in Biomedical.”

That seemed pretty much like the last word on the subject, so I let it drop. I was surprised she’d let me chitchat that much when we were working. Well, I was working. She’d found an unused set of offices adjacent to her lab and she wanted to open them up, but the keys were lost ages ago. I actually had to climb up through a vent with a failing flashlight, come down through the ceiling, and unlock the doors from the inside.

Did I mention that I have a PhD? And that this is a cutting-edge research facility with a budget in the billions? But they apparently just have mothballed offices closed off and forgotten, and when you’re the new one in the department it’s your job to find a way through.

If I’d wanted to crawl around in dark tunnels and explore architectural dead spaces, I could have gone to MIT.

The weirdest thing: I saw some more of those funky retro battery things, just sitting on a support beam over the acoustic tiling in the closed office. Not hooked up to anything, just sitting there like someone had stashed them for a rainy day.

At least there weren’t any rats. I’ve seen plenty of cockroaches, but no other bugs and no rodents. I don’t know what they’re doing for pest control in here, but whatever it is, it’s super effective.

I haven’t had a lot of time but there also hasn’t been a lot to blog about.

Dr. Cranor is apparently seriously concerned by what she calls “the gaps in my education”. It’s not just the shooting range. She’s got me signed up for self-defense classes, first aid, disaster response training, and some weird kind of hybrid fitness regimen that’s like cardio meets parkour. I don’t even know.

There are some up sides. In the first place, it’s cool that we have the opportunity to take these extra classes. I mean, we’re all cooped up in what’s basically a very big but still kind of claustrophobic bunker. I’m also after just one week in much better shape than I was when I got here. Learning how to move more confidently and handle my body really helps when it comes to schlepping boxes around, climbing up and down those ladders, and moving around the catwalks.

You know, I wouldn’t mind doing the grunt work so much if I had some idea what it was all for. Dr. Cranor won’t discuss the science behind her experiments with me. When I hear her talking about it—more often just muttering to herself than with any of her colleagues—it doesn’t make any sense. It’s definitely got something to do with high energy particle physics, but to do the kind of work I think she thinks she’s doing, you’d need some kind of immense particle accelerator like the one they have at CERN. Her apparatus is large, but it would fit in a silo.

It’s all very technical looking. I just don’t know what it does, except produce color-coded toxic waste.