“Are you imagining that I brought weed along in my backpack? Or maybe guns? Bombs?”
I grinned at Stephanie, knowing that she didn’t expect any of those things. This was likely her way of hinting that any bugs I set in the offices or anything I might be carrying to control them might need to be hidden better or removed.
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “No. I was thinking you maybe had a jackknife.”
A couple cubicles away, Victor laughed. If there were an art to saying secret things in public, we seemed to have mastered it—or maybe that was just her.
“Do you think they’d actually be bothered by a jackknife?” I did have one in my pocket. It was a real Swiss Army knife—not a fake Swiss Army knife that was actually a laser, radio, or bomb detonator.
All the same, it did have three different knives, two different screwdriver heads (one was a Phillips), an awl, tweezers, and a toothpick. It’s hard to underestimate how useful screwdrivers can be whether or not they’re sonic.
“Technically,” Stephanie began, “the contract you signed specified that you can’t bring knives of any kind into the lab.”
“I’m pretty sure I’ve seen people using knives in the lab.” I looked from her over to Victor. There were other people around, but no one else seemed to be paying attention.
Victor stood up in his cubicle. “Those were knives from official lab toolkits.”
I stared at him.
He held up his hands. “I know! I know! It sounds like legalistic bullshit, but it’s legalistic bullshit that’s written into your contract.”
“Okay,” I turned and shut my laptop. “I’ll run over and put my jackknife in my office cubicle.”
“Good,” Stephanie said, glancing over at the door. “While you’re at it, you should check if you’ve got anything else that shouldn’t be here. There’s a list in your email that the marketing department sent out this morning.”
Resisting a temptation to ask why the Marketing department would be responsible for that as opposed to, for example, security, I said, “I’ll check that first.”
Then I reopened my laptop, logged in again, and looked through my email. In fairness to Stephanie, I’d completely missed that email, but there it was, listing all kinds of things that weren’t allowed in the lab—including food and drink. I wasn’t sure whether they were afraid we might ingest bits of alien artifact or spill orange juice on the ansible.
At the same time, given that we were investigating Abominator artifacts, it was well within the realm of possibility that they were releasing a virus that would alter our minds, strengthening our worst qualities and increasing our willingness to serve whatever authority figures appeared.
When I finished reading the email, I closed my computer for the second time. The Swiss Army knife was the only thing I had that was on the forbidden list, but I took my backpack anyway, putting the die inside. It wasn’t that I expected anyone to steal either my backpack or the die while I was gone, but the backpack contained a lot of material that converted into the stealth suit.
If I had to transform, I wanted it nearby.
As for the die, I didn’t expect anyone to steal it, but if someone did, replacing it would be a pain if it were possible.
It didn’t take long for me to leave the cubicles for birthing chamber related work, cross the lab, walk across the sidewalk between the buildings and go inside.
Once there, I put my knife in one of the drawers in my cube. Then I opened up my laptop, realizing that with the majority of the office in the lab, I’d be able to write code with fewer interruptions. I didn’t even need a psi helmet to test it on—not that I was up to that yet. All I needed was the emulator I already had running on my laptop.
With that thought, I placed the twenty-sider on my desk and started working. Even if I couldn’t put it into words at that moment, I knew that it felt better to be writing in a quiet room with carpet, warm colors, and wood (even if it was fake) than in a room with the constant whirr of fans, more desks, more chatter, and gray, concrete floors and metal supports.
Time disappeared and only two things mattered in the world—the way I imagined the helmet ought to act and the way that it actually responded when I ran my tests through the emulator.
Distracted by the process of making one small change after another, I became aware that there were voices in the office without feeling a need to do anything about it. Then the die on my desk began to glow.
I kept working for a little while then, but something in me felt that working was bad for some reason. So, I stopped and considered why working when the die glowed might be bad.
That thought snapped me fully back to reality.
There were people talking to each other in Higher Ground’s office and they were talking in the row on the other side of my desk.
A woman’s voice said, “We have to think about how we’ll frame the break in last night so that the staff doesn’t find it frightening—”
A man’s voice said, “There’s someone here. We should find a conference room.”
Not having a better idea, I stood up to get a better look at them.