The next day, Jo got the call she’d been waiting for, and spent the rest of the day celebrating her new-found employment. Celebrating in this case meant doing some proper shopping for real groceries; even the return of the rains couldn’t dampen her spirits.
She was to start work the next week, and she wasted no time making sure she was prepared with all the right wardrobe items for her first day. She spent a lot of time badgering Quinn to make sure he was ready as well; he’d been hired for the original position, apparently along with several other new employees. He didn’t really need to be pestered to get ready, she knew, but she couldn’t help herself; it was good for him, she was sure.
Finally, the big day arrived. The leaky gray skies and relatively drab mail room did nothing to lessen her enthusiasm; real food could do a lot for your mood, she realized.
Dunn was her reporting manager, it turned out. He was much more dour than he had been the previous week, but then, it was Monday. There were three other people in her group, and a half dozen in Quinn’s, plus him and two new additions. Quinn’s group was the more traditional ‘mail room’ type staff; her group, in contrast, were the site inspectors.
She found it strange that there were so many site inspectors, but when she asked Mike, the most senior of them, he explained, “We’re actually a bit understaffed. The trading volume the company does is pretty huge, and with only a small handful of us, it can be hard to keep up with everything. We’re glad to have you on board!”
“Thanks, it’s good to be here. What am I going to be doing first?”
“We’ll want to get you out in the field as soon as possible, but it’s important that you get to know things around here for a while. You’ll spend this first week working in our archives, getting a sense for what holdings we have, the sorts of things we look for in our investments, the types of issues we flag and so on and so forth. Next week we get you out in the field.”
“That fast, huh?” She was startled.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be with one of us at first. We move quickly, but we don’t move that quickly with first-timers.”
Dunn may have turned off the charm, but at least he wasn’t kidding around. The next several days were a blur of archived records in more databases than Jo could count. She lost count of the number of trips she made down to the actual physical archives, where decades of backup media waited for the day they were needed. There were even a few painted metal storage units that she hesitantly identified as physical file cabinets, though she’d never seen one outside of the movies or vids.
She found her attention continually drawn back to them. She’d always had a sort of casual fascination with the past; that was how she’d gotten into climbing, in fact. As a teen she’d been fascinated by the phenomenon of urbex, or urban exploration. There’d been a group of other kids she’d known who’d been into that, always boasting of their exploits in various abandoned, decaying buildings, subway tunnels, storm drains, you name it.
She was sure to this day that they’d been exaggerating, but she’d done a few tentative explorations of her own, including a few close calls that prompted her to learn proper climbing techniques.
She’d been given a list of files she needed to study in particular, so she hadn’t given in to her curiosity about the old file cabinets, at least not yet. She had been told to become familiar with the whole system, and she had to assume they were part of the system, so she fully intended to check them out as soon as she had a little spare time.
The files she was studying were nothing terribly interesting at first glance. Most of them were fairly standard acquisitions of companies, land, buildings, even utilities. Early on the morning of her third day, she came across a collection of files marked “Experimental” that caught her eye.
“What could possibly be experimental at a company like this?” she asked Quinn at lunch that day. They’d gone out to a burger joint a little way down the street to get away from the rush and change their scene.
“Oh all kinds of things. New experimental envelope glue, for instance, or experimental methods for improving the coffee.” That last was a touch wistful; they did get free coffee, but it was the wateriest sludge she’d ever tasted. She wouldn’t drink it, herself; she had taken to having her morning cab stop off at the Capital for her morning cup. That kept her going till she could go somewhere at lunch.
“We can hope, I guess,” she said agreeably.
“Well, you’re the one with access to the files. Why not take a peek? You’re going to be working with that stuff, you might as well know about it, right?”
“I suppose ...” She’d hesitated to open them when she found them, despite her curiosity. They’d looked somehow like they should be secret, which she supposed now was silly. “Okay. I’ll check into them after lunch.”
Jo was as good as her word; she steeled her resolve with her determination to do her job properly. Once she’d squared away what she’d been working on before, she dug into the odd-looking files.
At least, she’d thought they were odd-looking. The reality was just utterly bewildering. “Mike,” she said, after puzzling over the files for a while, “I can see the point to most of the files I’ve been looking over. Businesses, land deals, all the usual. But why do we have experimental files on contracted quantum physics reports? And how are they experimental?” He wasn’t anywhere near her physically, but their phones would allow them to talk as if they were right next to each other automatically.
“Beats me,” he said. “The company was into some weird stuff years ago, maybe it’s from then. There a date on ‘em?”
She frowned and scrolled around. “About 5 years ago.”
“Huh. I was around then, still pretty green, but I don’t remember any quantum physics projects. Someone was probably just working a deal on a lab setup or something, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”
“Oooh-kay,” she said slowly. She wasn’t sure she bought that, but she didn’t have any real reason to question it, either. He’d sounded a bit like he was giving her the brush-off. “Thanks, Mike. Sorry to bother you.” He grunted, either in acknowledgment or as a goodbye, she wasn’t sure which.
She was tempted to let Quinn know what she’d found out, but decided it was better to leave it till after work. She went over the rest of the files she found in as much detail as she could stand. It was heavy stuff; there were at least a dozen sizable studies by several different groups and labs that all seemed to center around the ‘quantum entanglement potential of active dilectrite and related materials’ or something worded similarly. The studies were exhaustive, at least to her inexpert eyes.
“I am seriously going to need to climb again after reading all this,” she told herself.
Meet up after work? We need to catch up.
Less than a minute after sending the message, a response appeared on her phone.
A few seconds later,
Been meaning to invite you anyway.
She blinked and smiled. Odd, she thought; Q-ball never hesitated like that. Something must be up.
She finished up the remainder of the day with regular work to get her head out of the scientific findings she’d been pouring into her brain; it’d come close to giving her a headache. She was as interested in learning as the next girl, more so than most people, she’d bet, but why couldn’t science ever be written plain?
When she got home later that evening, Gran was climbing the walls, almost literally. “Where is it,” he kept mumbling, running shaking hands over the walls of the living room as though feeling for something he couldn’t see. “Where is it, where are they?”
Jo had been feeling pretty good, having caught Quinn up on her bewildering discovery. They’d run down all kinds of crazy conspiracy theories together over cappuccino at the Capital. Her good mood and slight caffeine buzz fled her as concern stole over her. “Gran? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, except I—I can’t find my book,” he groused. His hands did look like they were feeling the spines of books in a bookcase, but Jo had never had a bookcase. She’d never owned physical books. Gran hadn’t either, not since before even the pre-war days.
“Your reader, Gran,” she said gently. “Remember? All your books are in your reader.”
“Yes, I’ll read ‘er when I find it,” he grumbled. “Blast, where did I put it?”
She sighed. “What book are you looking for, Gran?”
“My—my history text. Got a test coming up, haven’t ... haven’t studied yet.”
“Gran ...” She wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. He hadn’t been in school since long before she was alive; before even her parents had been alive. She bit her lip.
For the rest of the week, she was doubly thankful for the prospect of real paycheques. Gran’s memory was worse than it had been in months, and she was worried enough that she had to hire someone to come in and check on him periodically through the day; she’d have preferred a continual presence, but the new job wasn’t paying quite that well.
She wasn’t able to go out for coffee with Quinn after work either, and her lunches were spent cabbing home and back to the office again. She did her best not to let her worry interfere with work, and by Friday her knowledge of the company’s history was pretty advanced for a newbie.
Finally the weekend came around, and Jo got up Saturday to find Gran looking a bit drawn and tired-looking, but he seemed to have his faculties about him. She kept to the house to keep an eye on him, but by evening, he seemed to have regained his strength.
She employed a series of subtle tests that she’d come up with over the last couple of years to determine just how well he’d recovered. She’d bring up events that had never happened in conversation to see if he caught them; he invariably did when he was himself. She found him reading a news post on his reader around mid-day; the headline of the story proclaimed “New Generation Brain-Machine Interface Enables True Telepathy.” She made a mental note and quizzed him later in the day after reading the same piece herself.
He passed each test with flying colors, setting her mind slightly at ease. Usually these episodes would pass and not return for at least a couple of months, at least not as badly. Gran was nearing 85 though, and the incidents were becoming more frequent.
“I’m fine, Jo,” he said in exasperation as she started yet another test while preparing dinner. “Enough with the 20 questions.”
“That’s what you said the last 5 times,” she smirked.
“That’s—wha—I did not!”
She grinned. “Sorry, Gran. I just worry.”
“Worry less, cook more.”