Ahem. Hello, hello. Yolanda speaking.
Ah, the thingie's moving! Okay, roll up the windows, turn on noise suppression... Hello, hello? Okay, let's hope this is working, or else I'm just a crazy woman who talks to herself in the car. But maybe it's all the same; after all, who'd listen to these things, right? That is, unless future me finds herself in a reminiscent mood.
A reminiscent mood... wow, that's a good one, isn't it? Maybe I'm a natural at this.
Hmm, how should I do this... Ah, I'll address it to my future self, I guess. I remember writing a letter like that at the start of high school. That was kinda fun to write; to read, not so much. Honestly, I remember eighteen-year-old me thinking I sounded pretty annoying at fourteen.
"Hi, older me! I hope you're rich and famous, with big boobs and a hot boyfriend. I hope you finally got contact lenses, can buy all the pretty clothes you want, and don't have to study another day of your life." Like, fuck you, am I right?
But maybe I was just feeling self-conscious. Four years of high school, yet I still came out a four-eyes with acne. Lord, I've come a long way since then. The whole late bloomer thing resolved itself, then I met Josh and the rest was history.
Still gotta find a way to stop studying, though. Maybe a career change is on the horizon? Haha, now I'm feeling a bit depressed. Let's start over. Ahem.
Dear future Yolanda,
I hope this audio log finds you well. What's making you smile these days? What's making you cry? As long as you're both smiling and crying, it means you're alive. And that's a good thing, right? Better to be alive than dead.
So why am I doing this? Mostly because I'm in a good mood, and I've been meaning to jump into the whole audio diary trend for a while, now. Might do me some good. I hear it helps with mindfulness and concentration. At least, that's what Sam told me when I asked her. When was that again? Feels like it's been a while.
What else... Oh, yeah. Josh and I went at it last night. And I mean, *really* went at it. I wonder if you'll remember it even years down the line? Because trust me, I don't think I'll be forgetting that one anytime soon. Apparently, he was just feeling down with everything going on in the news. Honestly, it's kinda hot when men have bleeding hearts.
Mmm... As far as I'm concerned, all is good in the world.
Okay, I think that's everything for now. No, there's one more: today's the day I apologize to Sam. Wish me luck! Though you'll know better than I do how it went.
But I'll say this: I haven't felt this good on a Friday morning in a while. It feels like nothing can possibly go wrong.
— First Entry
[The following was adapted from the Director's private audio logs.]
Swish. Another perfect throw. I was crumpling yet another newsletter when Yolanda came into my office with a black folder in her hand and a hop in her step.
"Here's the activity summary for the past twenty-four hours," she announced while placing the folder beside my feet on the desk. "Another small activity surge last night, but everything else is normal as always. See what I mean? Always worrying over nothing."
"Yeah, yeah." I took aim and made another throw. Whoosh. Right into the wastepaper basket. If past lives and all the other stuff in those occult magazines really did exist, maybe I was an NBA player in another age.
"Working hard or hardly working?" Yolanda smirked and leaned against the wall behind my chair. "It's already Friday and you still haven't sent me a project update memo."
"So that's why you finally made the trek yourself." I swiveled my office chair around and reached out to Yolanda with my outstretched legs. "You've been sending down your little minions ever since lunchtime on Monday."
She rolled her eyes, then stepped closer and let me pull her in with my legs. "I wasn't avoiding you, if that's what you're thinking."
"Sure you weren't, girl." I squeezed my knees inward just a bit tighter, inducing a small yelp and a happy squeal from the damsel in distress. "Anyway, I took your advice this week. Smiled at everyone in the halls and eased up my workload."
Yolanda chuckled and, much to my pleasant surprise, ruffled my unkempt hair. "You mean scaring the interns half to death and abandoning all your duties? But this is a nice change of pace, I guess. It's good for morale to have a slow week from time to time."
"Someone's in a cheery mood." I reached up and put my hand over Yolanda's. "Has Josh been paying attention to you?"
In reply, Yolanda winked at me with a slight blush on her cheek. Aw, yeah. You go, girl.
Just then, a knock came from the entrance to my office. "Excuse me, Dr. Samantha Keller?"
The woman between my legs struggled to break free, but I kept my hold on her as I addressed the well-dressed young man standing at the door. "Never call me Dr., Samantha, or Keller ever again. It's either Sam or ma'am."
"Ah, so the water cooler gossip about the director was all true." The man chuckled. "Am I interrupting something important?"
"Just a classic case of workplace harassment. Nothing to see." I let my prisoner free and swiveled to put my legs back on my desk. "What do you want? If it's about department budget or a promotion for yourself, I'll be sending you on your way."
"Worry not. I come not to beg or grovel like an insect." The man cleared his throat stepped into the office and walked toward the window overlooking the vat of twenty-four brains in the laboratory below. "Spencer Forsyth, here to make your acquaintance. Please call me Spencer."
Yolanda gawked. "Oh my God, the son of our biggest donor and the head supervisor of Lab 3!" Futilely, she tried to make me sit more presentably. "Show some manners, Sam! Mr. Forsyth, please take a seat. Do you prefer coffee or—"
"Oh no, Dr. Clement. Please do not trouble yourself. I am quite a fan of your graduate thesis." The man turned around and smiled with a pound of faux magnanimity smeared on his face. "Mr. Forsyth is my uncle. No need for the formalities."
"Wait, uncle?" Yolanda tilted her head, confused. "I thought you were—"
"Funny, I just fired the son of the main Forsyth guy last week." I strained to reach for the coffee mug on my desk. "Guy just couldn't stop fudging data. Typical rich keener, thinking science is about grinding right answers all the time."
While Yolanda struggled to sputter out a coherent sentence in condemnation of my actions, the Forsyth nephew stepped toward my desk and picked up my coffee mug. Just as I was about to thank him for the help, he downed the entire cup in one gulp. Before I could protest, he began speaking:
"I apologize for my cousin Spencer. A true disgrace to the world of research. He should have just studied medicine at Harvard or something. Becoming a doctor would suit him well." Dramatically, he put his hand across his heart. "But I, Spencer Forsyth, am a true student of human knowledge! Though I was born among those who know only of worldly pleasures and shameful decadence, I have used my status and connections to learn all that I can about mathematics and the physical sciences. Thermodynamics, quantum computing, string theory — it's all out there, for me to conquer and explore—"
"Hey, dude. Nice speech, but pour me another coffee before you finish." I leaned even farther back in my chair. "And consider giving me the TL;DR version. I still have work to do before I'm done for the week."
"Most certainly, Dr.— I mean, ma'am."
While Spencer sauntered over to the coffee pot on the far side of the room, I looked up at Yolanda and mouthed: I think I'll fire this one, too.
I'll literally strangle you, she half-mouthed, half-whispered her credible threat as Spencer came back with a steaming cup of hot coffee. I took a whiff and nodded, content that it was served black and was perfectly brewed without any hint of burning. Were rich kids always this good at preparing coffee?!
Oh, wait. I made this beautiful pot of coffee myself thirty minutes ago. Haha. Go me. I took a quick sip, then passed my cup over to Yolanda, who drank the coffee aggressively as Spencer cleared his throat before speaking.
"I have only one simple request." Spencer's eyes burned with the fire of a thousand red giants. "Please become my master."
Yolanda choked and spat out a mouthful of coffee right on the pristine floor of my office. "You want Sam to be your master?!"
I hemmed and hawed. "Does that imply having you as my disciple?"
"Yes, of course!"
"Then fuck no. Get the hell out."
I could not figure out which combination of phonemes would do the trick. I thought I had started off pretty strong with "It's not me, it's you" and other thinly veiled insults, but when those failed to make Spencer disappear I tried the usual "It's not you, it's me". Soon, I was reduced to offering forced compliments.
"A master's degree in engineering from MIT! I'm sure people are lining up to hire you."
"But money is nothing to me! I'm made of money!" Spencer pointed to his expensive pressed shirt and his luxury wristwatch. "There are things that money can't buy in this world."
"What dashing looks! Any woman would want you. Yolanda, sic 'em."
Yolanda whacked me upside the head. "I'm in a loving, committed relationship."
"How about vacation days? You'll do it if I give you vacation days, yeah?"
"Wait, how many are you—no, I mean—"
"Dr. Keller." Spencer stepped closer and dropped down on one knee. "I would forsake the entire fairer sex for your tutelage."
"Hey, that's actually kinda mean. I'm still a girl, you know. Also, it's not Dr. or Keller—"
"Sam! That's enough." Yolanda bowed her head apologetically. "Mr. Forsyth, please understand the director's position. It's unlikely that she'll change her mind."
"Dr. Clement. Surely you, an esteemed data scientist, can understand that the expected value of my persistence is too great! There is nothing I want more than to be her disciple! If there is any chance at all, I shall press on!"
I kicked my legs off my desk and rolled back in my office chair. "There isn't. Now get lost. Yolanda, show him out."
"Please, Master! Accept me! I will never—"
"Shh. Do you guys hear that?"
The three of us fell silent. I strained my ear to hear what Yolanda was referring to. "The sweet sound of silence?"
"Christ, are you deaf?" Yolanda pointed to a monitor by the window in the office. "Something's coming from there."
We gathered around the monitor. Up close, I could make out a faint beeping in sync with the warning flashing on the screen:
TANK OXYGEN LEVELS DROPPING.
"I guess I'll try leaving it to the techs." I turned around and headed back to my chair. "I'm sure they're good for something."
"No, Sam! Look at the time. Everyone in the Doom Room already went to lunch. We might be the only ones seeing this alert."
"Shouldn't they all receive it no matter where they are? I thought all our employees got push notifications on their phones."
"And what do people do with notifications?"
"Well, of course this week I have them turned—oh, I remember now. Not giving a shit is normal for all y'all." I jutted my chin at Spencer. "Scram. I'm locking up."
"So, should I be worried that you feel the need to tag along instead of having lunch?"
Yolanda shrugged. "I just wanted to ride your private elevator." When the doors opened, we stepped out together, our synchronized footsteps echoing out through the empty hallway. Soon, she spoke again:
"If the rising oxygen levels are directly being caused by the increased activity, then we might have a problem on our hands. It's probably nothing, but if it is something—"
I groaned. "Didn't you say we didn't have to worry about the activity surges?"
"They're almost surely unrelated! Almost."
At the end of the hallway, Yolanda stepped aside as I approached the authenticator. After tapping my ID and scanning my eyes, the door slid open. As if doing something wrong, Yolanda tiptoed into the so-called Doom Room as I followed closely behind. A large circular platform surrounded a huge tank of clear liquid holding an isolated container with twenty-four brains in a red fluid. A mess of tubes and wires connected each brain to the life support system and the supercomputer housed the floor above. Trying not to look at the grotesque display, I marched up to the central console and inputted an override command. I clicked my tongue. "Does that look like low oxygen levels to you?"
"Not at all." Yolanda pointed to a line. "Oxygen flow is normal, too. False alarm?"
"Guess so. I'll have it checked after lunch."
"I would not wait if I were you."
I whipped around at the sound of a familiar voice. "Spencer! How did you get in here?"
Damn. I had left the door open. Spencer pointed to the brain tank. "While studying the blueprints, I found a design failure in the emergency life support. If the backup reader goes out of service, the reserve supply starts feeding into the tank. The O₂ concentration should start ticking up." He stepped forward. "By the end of lunch, the resulting hyperoxia might lead to seizures."
I planted myself between Spencer and the console with a scowl on my face. "The oxygen concentration is completely normal. Are you even an employee at the Institute? If not, please leave the building before I call security."
"Trust me, Master. I can help."
He took another step, and this time I fended against him with all my might. Soon, I had my arm around his neck. "Don't let him touch anything!" I yelled.
"Got it!" Yolanda stood in front of the console with arms outstretched. Fighting for air, Spencer pried at my arms. Breaking out of my chokehold for a second, he exclaimed:
"Dr. Clement! The oxygen concentration!"
Yolanda turned her head to look at the display. "Sam! He's right! It's going up!" As she pointed to the screen, Spencer lurched forward, knocking her off balance. Stumbling backward, she caught herself with her right hand, which landed right on a large button. A loud boom rang out as a large tube labelled MAIN OXYGEN SUPPLY detached from the tank. The three of us all stared.
"Fuck," we said in unison.
[The following was adapted from the Head of Data Science's private audio logs.]
Sam stepped up to the console, pushing past me and Spencer. She hit another button, then spoke into a microphone: "Urgently require assistance. Technicians with clearance level three and above, report to the Doom Room immediately. I repeat—"
"What a development," Spencer muttered. "This just has to happen while the backup oxygen sensor is malfunctioning."
"What will we do?" I whispered. "By the time the technicians get here, the entire simulation will..." I slumped to my knees. "It's all my fault. It's all my fault. It's all my—"
"Dr. Clement!." Spencer turned to me with fiery eyes. "The fault lies with me. But right now, that is of no import. I have a plan."
Sam slammed the console, sending a shiver down my spine. "Fuck!" After a tense moment, she turned around. "Okay, Spencer. Have it your way. I just hope you know that if you mess this up, no money in the world can ever replace the damage to humanity."
Spencer smiled wide. "On the contrary: no money in the world will ever suffice in return for my heroic service to humanity." He grabbed my wrist, causing me to yelp. "Time is of the essence. We must make haste!"
Having Spencer pulling me along made it somewhat easier to forget we were four stories up from the main platform. Don't look down. Don't look down. Though we only had to walk twenty meters or so, I clung to the railing for dear life. Even with my high heels off, every step felt like it could be my last. But we safely reached the large box holding the backup life support. From inside came a quiet whirring.
"Dr. Clement. Do you know the code?"
"—Ah, yes." I stepped in front of the keypad and clumsily tapped on the buttons. Twenty digits later, the lock clicked and Spencer swung the door open. He whistled.
"Have you ever tried memorizing pi?"
"Just the first five thousand digits or so. More than I'll ever need." I peeked inside the life support system. "You're on your own for this part. Are you absolutely sure about this?"
"It is quite a simple problem, Dr. Clement. If the oxygen sensor for the backup system is broken, then removing it would have it up and running." He pointed to two wires deep inside the box. "This one runs from here to the control unit, and this one runs from there and back. Right now, the sensor system is no better than a broken switch. Our solution? Splice these wires directly and have the current always turned on. Lucky for us, the backup oxygen's maximum flow matches the normal flow from the main supply, so the brains will be safe and sound."
I put my hands in the air. "I haven't done circuits since high school. I'll trust your word on all this hands-on gadget stuff."
With a Swiss Army knife, Spencer cut and stripped the wires. When he touched the exposed ends together, the oxygen supply kicked to life and pumped at full capacity. He grinned. "Looks like I saved the day."
Just then, an alarm blared through the Doom Room. Sam's voice barked orders: "Specimen 24's brain activity is off the charts! Get the neuroscience team in here!" Then, in the next breath: "Yolanda!"
Timidly, I peeked over the railing. Sam was looking up at me with a pleading expression. While techs ran back and forth on the main platform, she was standing still, utterly helpless. For the first time in a while, the director of the Social Simulation Institute looked just like the lost child she was.
"Don't worry!" We've got it under control!" I turned back to Spencer. Please, my teary eyes begged. He grimaced and looked away.
"Specimen 24 is likely having a seizure due to hyperoxia. The oxygen concentration is still too high. All we can do for now is let it fall back to normal." He pulled apart the spliced wires, and the backup life support whirred to a halt. "The only problem is knowing when to turn it back on. As we saw before, the main oxygen sensor has sensitivity issues. When it shows the correct concentration, we might already be way under the right value."
Just then, something hit me. "We can approximate it ourselves! We have the information we need to bash it."
Spencer raised his eyebrows. "By 'we', do you mean you are able to pull off that sort of computational feat?"
I smiled. "If you help with all the biology and chemistry. Let's hope you've studied up."
The next five minutes were spent listing off the data we had on hand: the time of the false alarm and of the main oxygen supply ejection, the rate of change in the oxygen concentration according to the console, the rate of O₂ consumption for twenty-four brains, and the stable target concentration we need. With this, Spencer guided me through the process of crunching all the numbers to estimate the time we needed to wait. Finally, after another ten minutes, I exclaimed:
"A bit under twenty-three minutes after the main oxygen got cut off!"
"And right now it's been a bit over twenty minutes since then," said Spencer while checking his wristwatch. "When the time comes, you do the honors." He offered me the two stripped wires. Proudly, I took them.
And within two minutes, we had saved the day.
— Mission Accomplished
"With all due respect, what the fuck, Director! Why would you use the override code just to check data? That damned button wouldn't have even done anything if it weren't for you! What were you thinking?!"
"The regular code's too hard to remember—"
"How the fuck is that even an excuse? Oh, and mind you explaining how they got in? You give us shit for keying in authorized personnel and meanwhile you're allowed to bring in your little friends?"
The head technician went on and on as Sam shifted her eyes uncomfortably and Spencer wore a sheepish grin. I, on the other hand, was too dazed to care anymore.
That was enough heroism for one lifetime, I decided. Sadly, it was over all too soon.
— Hero's Welcome
On Monday morning, I received an email that made my blood run cold. I ran through the halls as fast as my high heels would allow me. When I burst through the door of Sam's office, I was gasping for air in between my words: "Update . . . memo . . . urgent . . . matter?"
The director of the Social Simulation Institute looked up from her computer and pointed at a coffee stain on the ground. As I recalled its cause, Sam produced a sponge and bucket from under her desk.
"Looks like both I and the custodial staff forgot all about this. Get cleaning."
— Return to Normalcy