Chapter 8 – The Instrument of Improbability (Part I)

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Elaine stoically attended to other developing facts appearing in the datastream of Hadaly’s investigation as she and Frog escorted the trio of cheaters back to the ASU Law Library. Larry Pilgrim vainly tried to engage her in conversation with a dogged persistence; at first Elaine thought he’d been talking to himself, with the way he almost-mumbled his introductory subjects at her elbow. After collapsing three datasets together into a self-referencing structure with metatags based on grade density, test times, and participants, she realized he’d started holding a conversation with himself.

Casey Vargas walked at Elaine’s other elbow. From the stiffness in her gait and the expression on her face, a casual observer could have guessed someone had deleted her favorite video game save file. During the initial leg of the journey, Larry tried to converse with her as well—but he quickly moved onto talking at Elaine after Casey returned his overtures with openly hostile glares. Only Frog and Brad seemed to be getting along to any extent. Walking three paces behind, they managed an animated, but insubstantial dialogue. Every time Elaine caught a snip or phrase from their conversation, she filed it away as another linguistic-nothing said to fill the quiet or some sort of subtle flirtation.

When she looked up from the Enoch for a moment to check her sight lines to the library, she found that Larry had paused and was waiting for her to reply.

It took her a few moments to find an appropriate expression and she set her face to “raised eyebrow.”

“Why do you wear the goggles? They’re a little bit tacky,” Larry repeated.

“They’re interface goggles,” Elaine explained. “Part of my work for the University has been in miniaturization and vision augmentation tech. They’re my first prototype of a transparent OLED-and-prism overlay that uses dynamic depth phosphors with transparent electrical conductors and density changing liquid crystals to change focal ranges. They also each have nineteen transparent cameras inset into the lenses themselves in hexagonal artifact transposition with overlapping fields of view. They’re a second generation model, would you like to see them in action?”

By the time she finished speaking, Elaine could see that Larry’s had gone into dummy-mode. He snapped out of it when she reached up to remove her goggles and shook his head.

“It’s okay. I don’t need to see them,” Larry said. “I’m a civil engineering major. Well, now I am. Maybe a year ago I would have understood what you’re taking about… They sound really cool.”

Elaine nodded. “I agree. They are ‘really cool.’”

Larry smiled at her sheepishly as they passed into the shade of the Law Library and he darted forward to grab the door for her. A gust of cold, conditioned air cut through her shirt—it was freezing in there, and it smelled like books. Lots of books. Inside, brown carpet covered large floors and sunlight streamed through bay windows that cast shadows across numerous shelves. Most of the lower level had been set aside for tables and chairs separated by short shelves that rose to waist height filled with extremely massive periodicals. The gentle clatter of laptops and the shuffle of feet registered only barely above the murmur of voices and turning of pages.

Casey took the opportunity to brush past both of them and enter the building. Without pause, she stalked directly up to the front desk where two young men sat plugging away at small black desktop computers. A few seconds later, she greeted everyone gathered with the jingle of keys.

“I got room 206,” she said. “We should take the stairs. The elevators in here smelled like dried piss yesterday and that means they smell like Pinesol today and I’m allergic.”

“Please, lead the way,” Frog said.

Casey lent a long, drawn out look to Brad, sighed, and then turned on her heel—her hair flipping over her shoulders as she did—then set off at a brisk lope towards one of the side stairwells. Elaine and Frog fell in side-by-side, putting Larry and Brad together behind them as they followed.

The room was rectangular with a wide conference table in the center, comfortable black chairs set all around the outside. Due to more than half the lights being dead or dim, the lighting in the room could have been described as far less than sufficient. This, Casey and Larry explained, would be why the room was often free and few people used it. The lighting made reading a real chore on the best of days.

The far wall had a white stain on it about the size and shape of a giant plasma-TV—recently removed and replaced with a pull-down canvas for a projector system. The table had several insets with power, video, Ethernet, and audio cables and recesses for placing laptops. Casey used her key to unlock one of the cupboards and withdrew a last-gen laptop and set it up for Elaine—who paired the Enoch with it and took over its screen and keyboard, bypassing the motherboard entirely.

The dim lighting made her eyes water, so Elaine had Frog cut the lights and pull the screen, then she powered up the projection system. She loaded up a dataset diagram that displayed a topology graph of the statistical curve expected from a normal distribution and threw it up onto the screen as backdrop. She then programmed the Enoch to use the light from the projection system to raise the ambient light in the room to levels suitable to read by without eye strain.

“That’s new, these lights always sucked before,” Larry said after glancing up at the lights quizzically. “I should go, uh, get the books. I’ll be right back. Nobody ever touches them.”

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