Left alone in the lab Dan looked at the tablet. Dr. Lesjes – she’d invited him to call her Anna a couple of times, but he always slipped back to Dr. Lesjes, even in the privacy of his own thoughts – had filled in nearly all of the data fields. He counted three left to do, starting with number 28. He looked over the biotank he was in front of and finally spotted the number 27 stencilled on it in letters tens of centimetres high.
“How could I have missed that?” he said quietly to himself, and noticed how his voice echoed in the quiet lab. He pressed his lips together, answering the question only in his mind: he’d been looking for a much smaller number less obviously located. He walked on to what he hoped was the next biotank and found that it had the number 26 stencilled on the side, so he walked back the other way to number 28. Then he fussed with it for a minute while he worked out where the data readouts were hidden and how to slide the panel out to see them. After all that he was pleasantly surprised to find that the stylus worked first time on the tablet with no extra little puzzles or tricks to work through. He tried peering into the tank, but the shadows in there were confusing and kept moving, so he decided to wait for Dr. Lesjes to explain what he was looking at and what he was looking for.
Now that he understood the task the other two biotanks were quick to finish off, and he left the lab quickly, his feet ringing the steel floor panels in his haste. The door he’d struggled with to enter the lab was another struggle to leave again, and then on the other side he found that it wouldn’t close properly either. With no way to gain enough leverage to force the smooth, polished metal of the doors together he was forced to leave a five centimetre gap there, something that would have worried him a lot less before he knew that they were growing Empirical Storm Troopers in the other lab. That thought galvanized him back to his desk, where he put through a call to Facilities and Maintenance. A bored-sounding voice answered after two rings: “Facilities. Make it quick.”
“Uh, I contacted you about a sticking door in our lab,” said Dan, feeling as though he were interrupting something. “Uh, a couple of times, I think.”
There was a pause and the rattle of a keyboard, and then, “Yes. Priority 146. Expect it done in about six weeks, unless anything else urgent comes up in that time.”
“Uh,” said Dan quickly. He wished briefly that he sounded more elegant, more in control. “Uh, actually it’s in Lab-EST?” He tried not to make it sound like a question, but the words slipped out on an ascending tone anyway.
“Why the hell didn’t you say so before?” The voice on the other end was suddenly waspish and angry. There was another rattle of the keyboard. “Priority level raised. There will be an engineering team out to you within the half-hour, ship. If they do not arrive in that time you are to contact me again; ask for Chris personally and I will find out what the delay is.”
“Thank-you,” said Dan, a little bewildered at the sudden and complete change of attitude.
“And next time,” said Chris, emphasizing the word next, “please state the nature of the fault clearly. We’re not mind-readers, you know.” The call cut-off, but the display showed a 30 minute countdown.
“Right,” said Dan, still bewildered. “Why is Lab-EST so important?” Well, he knew part of the reason: they were growing Empirical Storm Troopers in there, but that didn’t tell him why he could get Facilities and Maintenance to drop their pretence that they’d do anything about his problem and actually resolve it by dropping Lab-EST into the conversation.
“I hope you’re having fun, tonight, Dr. Lesjes,” he said under his breath. “Because tomorrow I really need some answers about what we’re doing here.”
He looked down at his desk, wondering what to do next, and saw her tablet lying in front of him. Right. Analyse the data from the biotanks and write a preliminary report on it.