Author Topic: Chapter 6  (Read 2051 times)

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Online Daen

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Chapter 6
« on: June 10, 2022, 04:59:54 AM »
Chapter 6

Jia was having a bad day.

For months they'd been here in Minnesota, living in the nearby town and working in this broken-down hydroelectric dam. Her original theory, so ground-breaking and insightful at first, had slowly been eroded like the rocks at the bottom of the river outside.

Then her car had broken down, forcing her to taxi for several days. Her apartment building's hot water heater had burst, flooding the lowest floor and forcing everyone to have to take cold showers. In Minnesota. In March!

Finally, Al had gotten a call from their funding distributor over in Philly. Their primary benefactor, Aldwin-Farrow Industries, wasn't renewing their research grant at the end of the quarter. She'd hoped that the unique conditions in this particular dam would affect lepton readings, but so far there hadn't been any evidence of it. It wasn't surprising, given how most research grants ended up, but it was frustrating.

Still shivering from her totally inadequate shower, Jia bundled up and caught a ride out to work. There was security at the gate, but they'd seen her and Al come and go for a long time, and let her through without incident. Jia stalked her way through the upper levels, seething at all these compounding irritations.

Al looked up from his computer and waved a good morning to her. He had his headphones on as always—he listened to classical music to drown out the noise from the dam itself. At least that was something Jia didn't mind. Her old house had been right behind a major power transformer, and she'd acclimated quite well to the constant electric hum.

The far door opened and a thin guy stepped in backwards, pulling a mop and bucket. That was Eberhard, one of the local maintenance people. Because all this monitoring equipment had to be set up at night to avoid interference from the sun, he was about the only person she and Al saw all night. Other than the guards at the gate outside.

Eberhard wasn't much of a looker, but he knew how to listen. Not to the science of it, of course. He was a janitor, not an astrophysicist. No, he commented more on her mood, while they were eating lunch in the abandoned cafeteria. She'd only been working third shift for a few months now, but apparently he had years of experience at it. He'd given her some helpful tips about avoiding fatigue at the start. They'd only been together for a couple of weeks, but Jia felt comfortable with him. That itself was remarkable: she didn't have the best luck with men.

Tonight's first few hours were business as usual. Background readings and monitoring the changes as the river's level rose slowly. Not much of the last winter's snow had melted yet, so it wasn't as high as it should be. Near the end though, Jia had had enough. She beckoned Al over. Once he'd removed the headphones, she tried to speak up for his benefit. "I've got a new exciter configuration to try. Take a look." She turned the monitor to face him.

Al looked over it, and then shook his head. "There's no way the grant board would sign off on this. It's way out of our specs."

"What have we got to lose, Al?" She asked seriously. "In two weeks our funding will be gone, and we'll both be out of a job. My theory was wrong—I'm well aware of that. Since the study is doomed anyway, why shouldn't we spend our last weeks doing what we want to do instead of chasing my original mistake?"

He looked over at his computer, clearly conflicted. Dr. Alfred Poe was a by-the-book scientist, and had a sterling reputation. He wasn't used to failure, and she knew he was just as frustrated by this study as she'd been. Finally he gave her a small smile. "Let's do it. I'll get to work on the concentration projections while you write the new programming parameters." Nodding happily, Jia started making adjustments. There was freedom of a sort, in having nothing to lose. Professionally at least. Personally, she had quite a lot left.

Al opened the back of the particle exciter, and began tinkering with its insides. The device was literally that: designed to stimulate particles in the air enough to be detectable by their other instruments. This one had been configured for leptons, but that was a dry well at this point.

Another half hour later, they were ready. Jia looked at Al and crossed her fingers, and he turned it on. The world was suddenly an orange mess!

It was everywhere and yet nowhere at the same time! Jia spread her hands forward, but couldn't see them at all. All she could see was the orange roiling mass in front of her, and everywhere else she looked was the same. Behind her, she could hear something wooden clattering on the ground. "Shut it off!"

The exciter powered down, and the orange chaos vanished. Al was there again, looking shaken. Jia turned to look at Eberhard, who had been cleaning the hallway behind them. The noise from before had been his mop. He looked back at her, stunned. "Good God! What was that?"

"I don't know," she admitted, glancing over at the exciter. "Somehow the exciter pushed... whatever that was, into our visible spectrum. In a big way. I couldn't see anything but orange."

Al examined the exciter closely. "I saw the same, except for one thing. There was a fish in front of me, Jia. Swimming through the air, clear as day! Or clear as it could be in all that mess."

Jia didn't know what to make of that. What had they stumbled into here?


"That was the very first exciter recording ever made," Jia's recording went on, after playing back the events of that March evening. "The fish that Al saw was a real one. Somehow the modifications we made to the particle exciter... made a recording of the water just outside the dam, and replayed it for us in that room. As you can see, it was an accident right from the start. Neither of us planned on creating a new 3D visual technology, but that's what we did."

She sighed, and looked down for a moment. "I encourage you to watch the rest of these recordings, and to share them with the world. I'm probably being remembered as a monster right now, and I'm willing to live with that, if you'll forgive the gallows humor. It would be nice if people understood what the monster was thinking, though." The recording blinked out, and it was just the three of them again.

Margo was the first to speak. "I knew Jia was working on the exciters, but I had no idea she invented them! That wasn't in the promotional information I got with my exciter."

"No, it wasn't," Tin said grimly, looking over the data chips. "All that crap about Theo Farrow working on it in his basement was just lies. He just took credit for her work!"

"Why didn't she speak up?" Beb asked a little timidly, giving Tin a concerned look. "I know the exciter is non-profit for now, but if Jia had patented it and sold it, she could have made a fortune!"

"She probably had to sign a nondisclosure agreement," Margo reasoned both for herself and the others. "I bet they all had to sign an NDA, even janitors like Harding. That research study was funded by Aldwin-Farrow, and companies don't stay in business long if they let new products get leaked to the public. Even accidental products."

"This doesn't make any sense," Tin said harshly. "She knew that we would find these recordings after she died, but she said she'd be remembered as a monster. I got the impression she meant globally, because it has to do with the exciters." He looked up at them. "Aside from us and the people who killed her, no one even knows the name Jia Haldar, much less thinks badly of her. What could she have done to earn that much hatred?"

Beb shook her head in puzzlement, but Margo had a suspicion. "What if whoever killed her found out what she was planning to do? What if they killed her to stop it? If Dr. Poe and her assistant knew about her plans, they might have become targets as well. And Harding, though he was under a different name at the time."

Tin shrugged. "It's a theory, anyway." He reached out and began collecting the recording chips. Margo could see five of them, including the one they'd just used, which probably had a bunch more recordings on it as well.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Beb objected tentatively. After seeing him angry, she seemed to be a little more hesitant around him now. "I mean, aren't those evidence in a murder investigation?"

"The cops think Jia died by accident, so there is no investigation. They're after me, but as long as they don't find these chips, they shouldn't look into her death any more closely than they did before. Besides, I'm going to watch through them one by one on my own."

His voice was deadly serious. Whether his anger was at Jia for hiding this from him, or at AFI for cheating her out of such a profitable discovery, or still directed at whoever had killed her, Margo couldn't tell. "At least let me make copies of them so I can watch as well. I have empty chips out in the car."

He paused briefly, and she kept going. "Jia wanted these to be spread around, right? What could it hurt to have more copies? Obviously I can't take them to the cops; not without telling them how I got them."

Eventually he nodded, and Margo hurried back upstairs. This was personal to him, and he and Jia had been close. He had Margo's number though, for once they'd viewed more of Jia's recordings. They could continue to work together, at least for now.

Up in the car was Beb's bag, complete with her souped-up stun gun. Margo hesitated over it. She could probably sneak it in and incapacitate him without much trouble. He wasn't alert right now: distracted as he was with Jia's messages.

No, Jia had invented the exciters, and probably been murdered for something pertaining to it. This was a much bigger situation than one person accused of kidnapping and assault, and it promised much bigger rewards. Scooping up the chips, Margo ran back downstairs.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 05:04:22 AM by Daen »