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abstruse unfinished commentary

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Inside Job 3

{Part 1 here}

Tomorrow. But early -- far earlier than Jeremy had fallen into the custom of rising, not since he started working for the university. He found yesterday's jeans, threw them over over his pajamas, picked his way to the front door to see who was making all that racket.

Phil stood on the porch, waving a sheet of paper excitedly, practically bouncing. "Great, you're still here!" Jeremy blinked, tried to shake some sleep out of his head. Phil's expression segued from relief to concern. "Look, Jer, we got a problem."

"What, uh ... c'mon in."

Phil squeezed past Jeremy into the living room, did some fancy footwork to keep his balance while avoiding stepping in a box on the floor. "There's been some activity on your account", he said.


"Since they rebooted the system. They called me in late, said there were some performance problems -- "

"I haven't been anywhere near it -- "

"Look, I know that", Phil said impatiently. "Anybody can see that. Let me explain -- "

"Let me get some coffee started first", Jeremy pleaded.

Phil nodded, stood impatiently -- he would have paced if there were space for that. Jeremy put on the kettle and retreated to the bathroom. When he came back out, the water was at a low boil -- so was Phil, or at least his right leg was, tapping an involuntary presto rhythm as he sat on the edge of the couch, waiting. Jeremy filled the French press, poured himself a cup, and returned, sipping, to the living room.

He immediately saw that more of the blue-green shag carpet stubble was visible. Some magazines had been piled together, almost neatly; the chess set had been put away. "Hey", Jeremy protested, pointing, "I was looking at that position."

"I wrote it down. But listen -- the activity on your account. It wasn't accessible."


"The sysadmin had depermissioned the login. I couldn't get on with your password -- nobody could. But the sysadmin couldn't terminate the process, even under root permission -- not owner. Weird."

"It's still running?"

"No, we repermissioned the account so we could get on and kill the job. But a virus scan found something that wasn't authenticated or checked into the undergrad public directory in the SimLab", Phil said, handing him a print-out. "Read."

Computer Simulation Laboratory, Finite State University

Lab Report:

Preventing the technician from dissecting the specimen: The technician wears a white frock, a neat but nondescript necktie and a serious expression. The hem of the frock has a black stain, like a stray sheep. The folds of the garment conceal the stain in the gathering of frock and composure. The technician stands with folded arms, displeased by the interruption.

The specimen is grateful for the reprieve. It begins to develop a disproportionate sense of self-importance, believing that the intercession was made on its behalf. It contemplates its relation to the agency of its albeit temporary salvation.

The technician vigorously protests that formal scientific procedure is not being followed. He loosens the tie around his neck. A label attached to the tie proclaims it to be 100% virgin wool.

The specimen questions its purpose, which remains mute. The technician declares that someone will have to answer for the delay, but that he must await proper authorization. The stain, which seems to be the result of an earlier mishap, is shaped like a bowtie, or an hourglass.

The technician unfastens his smock, then dismantles and reassembles the malfunctioning apparatus. The specimen keeps a vigilant watch. The stain will not wash out. The technician does not believe the problem to be insoluble.

The technician consults the manual, scribbling notes in the margins. The specimen considers the implications of its continuing survival. The stain remains indistinct in the shadows cast by the fluorescent lights. The technician runs projections on the outcome of his examination, computing estimates of statistical error.

The specimen begins to analyze its immediate surroundings on the lab bench. The freshly cleaned glass and metal of the apparatus gleams under the fluorescent lights. The technician washes his hands with distilled water, then prepares a slide of a cross-section from a previous experiment. The stain, indiscernible unless examined closely, might also be likened to a rorschach.

The technician calibrates the instruments hooked up to the apparatus, following recommendations from the manual. The fluorescent lights flicker indecisively. The technician dates and initials the tags hanging from the instruments. He removes his tie and crams it into a pocket in his smock. The stain lies underneath the opposite pocket.

The specimen begins moving to the other side of the bench and tentatively peers over the edge. The technician marks the time in the little space left in the margins of the manual. He removes his frock and drapes it over the corner of the bench, next to the apparatus. The stain is revealed from within the folds of the loosely hanging garment.

The technician pretends to look the other way as the specimen makes its way around the apparatus. It climbs onto the smock and slides down into the pocket over the stain. The manual has nothing to say about this turn of events. The technician gathers the smock under his arm and walks out the door, flicking off the lights as he leaves.

"Right." Jeremy scowled. "You couldn't wait 'til I got up? What a set-up. Trying to catch me off balance, is that it?"

"No, no, no. I knew you'd think that -- Schotz sent me. Turn it over!"


"On the other side of the paper. Turn it over."

Jeremy looked down, saw handwriting on the reverse side of the page. Schotz's handwriting. Sharper, angular, agitated:

Not funny. Clear this up immediately, or will revise terms of separation -- Marion Schotz

* * *

It took Jeremy 3/4 of an hour to make himself presentable and get to Schotz's office (it could have been quicker, but he had to extract a promise from Phil not to touch any of the files scattered over the floor). Schotz's door was shut, and Jeremy's knock went unacknowledged; Phil, who had not been so much dogging his steps as herding them, tried the knob, locked.

"Is there something I can help you with?" asked Judy, the department secretary, as she stepped into the hallway.

"Dr. Schotz wanted to see me," Jeremy replied. "Right away, he said."

"I haven't seen him yet this morning. He's usually not in this early."

"I saw him a little over an hour ago, over in SimLab," said Phil. "He told me we'd meet him here."

"Let me see if I can tell you where to find him. Come with me," she said, sidestepping back through the doorway out of the corridor.

Phil preceded Jeremy into the open room that housed the reception area for the Economics Department. Glass-walled junior faculty offices lined each side of the room; Judy's low cubicle stood watch over the doorways leading to the more private quarters of the senior staff. Judy was thoroughly old school; while many departments were substituting cheap grad student labor, she'd held on to her position (secretary, she'd insist, not administrative assistant) through her efficiency and familiarity with bureaucratic rites. Still, she wasn't a fast hand at the PC; Phil hovered impatiently while she brought Schotz's schedule up on the screen.

"I'm sorry, I don't see anything here. Would you like me to try the SimLab?" she asked, already reaching for the phone.

"Yes, please," said Jeremy, as she dialed.

Judy reached the SimLab staffer as Phil reached for the PC mouse and got his hand slapped and a scowl. "He's not there," said Judy, "he was called away, they didn't say when. They don't know where he went."

"Can't you try his cell? Text him?" asked Phil, rubbing his wrist.

"I can try," Judy said, "but he's not very good about keeping it on."

"But I am," said Phil, jotting down a number on a scrap of paper. "If he comes back, just give me a buzz -- on the phone, not the computer, the message queue has been kinda funky lately. Just leave your extension."

{more ...}