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All posts for the month March, 2014

The idea of going back in there knowing I can hear every word said in Dr. Cranor’s office felt really weird, even if there’s usually nothing to hear. Also, as much as I’m glad that I got more info on where I stand, I’m not in a hurry to overhear anything more like that.

It’s like in Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Lucy does the spell to hear what her friends are saying about her, and then she can’t unhear it even when Aslan puts it in context for her. Okay, so the fact that I’m re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia (in original publication order, thank you very much) during my commutes may have influenced my decision a little, but the train ride is half an hour or more with nothing to do.

Anyway, I stowed my toolbox and ladder in another out-of-the-way corner and took my lightbulb/battery experiments back with me to stash near my quarters. I can’t keep them in there, or risk losing them to my daily quarter reset. I felt weird carrying them in the open, but no one said anything.

Eva put an app on my padphone that will send the kill command to the PIP mainframe, since she agrees with me that I’ll probably want to put the query into motion before my file gets purged. Since the deletion is one line of code that will be executed automatically, it shouldn’t be too hard to, say, call up the PIP office and ask them to look something up and then hit the button before the human on the other end can complete the process.

It still makes me nervous, though. I get the impression from the social media email fiasco that the PIP offices aren’t fully staffed (if they’re staffed at all) on the weekends or evenings, so I’m going to wait until I have some free time during work hours on a weekday to make the call.

Eva had some new information for me about my problem. It sounds like she’s pretty close to solving it. Though she still insists she’s just innocently figuring out how things work, and I’m not inclined to argue.

Anyway, she told me that she’s now 100% sure that the problem is a corrupted file in my PIP master file and 98% sure it can be fixed. She said that by messing around with her dummy accounts, she figured how to spoof a command from within the PIP system that will flush the files. Then, the next time there’s a query for that employee in the PIP system, the system will make a new file and pull all the relevant information from other databases.

The query is the most important step, she told me, because until the master employee file in the PIP mainframe is the portal all other systems use to find information about me. Until it’s recreated, all that information in all the various other databases and systems won’t go anywhere.

The security system, the transit system, the commissary system, and all the other computer systems I depend on to get around and get through my day won’t have any idea who I am.

I asked Eva if that wouldn’t make it easy to get the file reinstated, since anything I try to do would result in a query to the PIP mainframe, which would then go to look up my file and see it wasn’t there.

She said that if the system was integrated in a more robust fashion it would probably work that way, but her experiments with dummy files suggested it wasn’t.

The system hadn’t been designed with the idea that a person comes to a security checkpoint and has no employee file might be an employee, so the query doesn’t go any further than file not found. If any system outside the PIP mainframe fails to find a matching record, it will just assume I’m not supposed to be there.

For the same reason, she can’t figure out how to spoof the query that will bring my file back. Apparently they have tighter controls against information requests than some other external commands. I asked Eva why that might be and she said it was probably because they’d had problems with people ferreting information out of the system before, but people on the outside manipulating it was another story.

I was curious about how she managed to get dummy accounts into the system in the first place, but she told me that women who work in IT can always find a few dummy accounts.

Anyway, I have a rough plan now. The basic idea is to delete the corrupted file and then—as soon as possible afterwards—get someone at PIP to do a lookup on me. I’ll have to give some thought to that, because I don’t think I can count on the internal phone or email systems letting me through while I’m a ghost.

Remember when I said that Drs. Cranor and Li didn’t fight? Well, I heard them doing just that today.

I got in a little early and slipped into my old storage closet to check on my ad hoc lightbulb devices, and I heard voices coming through a register I’d always ignored as being too small to crawl through.

I’d always known the closet was close to Dr. Cranor’s office, but I’d never realized it was possible to eavesdrop on her through it because she was almost always alone in there, and not the sort of person to talk to herself.

Today, Dr. Li was in there with her, and it sounded like they were really getting into it with each other. This is about how the conversation went, as far as I remember:

Dr. Li: Now is not the time to get cold feet. We are farther along than any other team in the company.

Dr. Cranor: We’re further along than any surviving team. We can keep our lead without compromising safety.

Dr. Li: Is compromise such a dirty word? All life is compromise. For instance, you compromise the spirit of scientific inquiry with your meek surrender to the god of safety. I don’t propose we abandon all caution. I simply suggest we come to a more balanced understanding of profit and risk.

Dr. Cranor: Nothing is balanced about your understanding.

Dr. Li: More caution would suit you now, Josefina. Remember that your latest breakthrough is a direct result of my breakthrough on your little headcount problem.

Dr. Cranor: So now you’re taking credit for Foley’s work? I had no idea you were so petty.

I kind of jumped at the mention of my name.

Dr. Li: I would hope Harper would give me some credit, if asked, as it was my tutelage that led to it.

Dr. Cranor: Don’t think I haven’t noticed you grooming your little progeny. You’re madder than I thought if you think Foley won’t see right through you.

Dr. Li: My dear, I count on it. What’s the point of taking on an apprentice with a mind as dull as the rest of the sheep you’ve gathered in your flock? Harper was my hire, my acolyte. When the time comes for us to part ways, I expect Harper to stand at my righthand side.

Dr. Cranor: What’s stopping you?

Dr. Li: You know as well as I do that finding the budget for a new project is not the same as finding it for an outside hire. I can perform miracles, but there are limits. For now, being seconded to you is the only way I can perform the work I need to. Harper Foley was the price of my admission into your circle. When I leave, I intend to have my admission refunded.

This isn’t all the exact words, obviously, but I think it’s pretty close. Knowing how Dr. Li talks makes it easier to reconstruct what he said.

I felt awkward standing there listening to the whole thing, but once they started talking about me I couldn’t tear myself away. Arguably the fact that they were discussing my career gave me more right to listen in, but it made it feel like more of an intrusion.

At least now I have more of a clear idea of why Dr. Li thinks I owe him my career here, though not why he’s so interested in me in the first place.

Amazingly, it seems like Dr. Cranor is almost as invested in having me around, even if she’s less creepy about it. In her case, I imagine it has to do with the budget problems that make hiring new personnel so hard. They still haven’t replaced Buddy, for instance, which means that whatever deal Li made to bring me in, they actually broke even on.

At least in terms of headcount. I have to think I’m at least one step up from an even trade with that jerk.

We had some really cool results at work today.

Well, cool looking. I kind of hesitate to call them “results”, since in theory we’re doing a scientific experiment here but I have no idea what our hypothesis is, much less what kind of data we’re getting here.

But it looked neat.

Today when the arcing streams hit our crystalline sample, they sort of… refracted. Which you don’t really expect to happen with an arc. It was like each beam split into four separate arcs which jumped away at right angles for about half a meter before they bent in mid-air. They kept making right turns until they’d traced squares in the air.

But then I moved to the side and saw that they were cubes. And then I moved to the side a bit more and saw that they were… cubed again. I walked a slow semi-circle around the experiment, not taking my eyes off it for more than was necessary to avoid falling off the platforms. Every step revealed new facets, another layer of cubic recursion.

“It’s like a tesseract,” I said out loud.

“But not,” Dr. Li whispered, uncomfortably close behind me. “Of course you would spot that. If a cube is a square in three dimensions and a tesseract is a square in four dimensions, then this time/space manifold represents a square in n-dimensions.”

I nodded, because it made a surprising amount of sense. And anyway, nothing that he said could be stranger than what I was seeing. In the space inside each square shape, the image of the lab around the apparatus was repeated, though distorted in a way I can’t quite explain or even call to mind.

I became aware that the machine had been running for longer than any previous test. Usually it shut itself down amidst a shower of sparks, or someone threw a switch as soon as the beams started arcing out of control or the sample of the day exploded or melted down. This wasn’t out of control and our current sample had endured every test without any permanent change.

“Shut it down, people!” Dr. Cranor called out, and I watched as the graceful geometric transformation of space collapsed in on itself.

“We are close, so close,” she announced, as much to herself as the team, I think.

“Closer than she could possibly imagine,” Dr. Li said, still uncomfortably close to me.

This job would be great if I could just fire my boss. But I guess that’s pretty normal.

I just found out about this: an official Federated Para-Sciences Twitter account, run by the clowns at Automation Services. Those guys are hilarious. I don’t know how they get away with it, but I’m glad they do.

Apparently I really do have a fan at the top. The account was created the same morning I suggested it. They even linked back to my blog. I’m going to see if I can figure out how to run a feed from the Twitter on here, as a reciprocal gesture.

I had put some leftovers in my fridge last night and today when I got back from work they were gone, although my milk jug has been dutifully topped up back to the same level it’s been at every day, the level it was at when I moved. Call me the absent-minded PhD, but I hadn’t really caught that before.

I’m not sure if they’re replacing it with fresh milk each time. I’ve been drinking a lot of milk since I’m going to end up with a dirty milk glass on my counter one way or another, and the realization that I’ve been drinking from the same half-empty jug of milk since I moved was kind of sickening. I poured the jug out and disposed of it outside my quarters. Of course they’ll just give me a new half-empty jug of milk, but at least I’ll know it’s a new one. I think I’ll probably avoid it, anyway.

This whole situation is ridiculous. Hopefully I can resolve it soon.

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.