Authors: Ella Mack
Imelda walked down the hallway hesitantly. Her instructions made no sense. Corridor seven, room 3444. There was no corridor seven on the research wing.
She scowled at the letters glowing in her right eye skeptically. Could Biotech get nothing right? Cursing silently to herself, she returned to corridor six and resolutely approached the secretary stationed near the entrance.
There were many things that Imelda hated, but near the top of the list was asking directions. When machines failed, the best place to go in a corporation was to ask a secretary. The meaning of the
term had changed over the years and the job description most certainly had. Typing was a universal skill and word processors could just as easily use the spoken word, so dictation was a foreign concept to a secretary. Most functioned as the information systems experts in their divisions and monitored all communications for compliance with corporate guidelines. There was no tiny bit of information that a secretary could not access, and they were sworn to confidentiality. They usually knew more about the company and the employees than any of their ‘bosses’. Reaching the workstation, Imelda cleared her throat.
The secretary stared at her suspiciously. Imelda had refused to answer his questions the last time she had been there.
His name flashed in her right eye. “Hi, Bill,” she said.
Bill’s expression didn’t chan
ge. “May I help you?” he asked in a voice that implied that he didn’t want to.
“How do you get a map of this place?”
“You’re lost?” His eyes sharpened, examining her from head to toe. She didn’t like the way he was looking at her.
“Possibly.” Imelda waited.
“Where are you going?”
“When I see a map I’ll know.” Imelda’s annoyance grew. It was none of his business where she was going. She had no intention of making it his business; he might gain access to her personnel files.
“I might be able to help you if you’d just...”
face lost all interest in Bill and she turned to go.
voice adopted the frustrated disgust characteristic of most people who had tried to reason with her. “All right, if you insist. Look under Cencom directory ‘architect’ and enter ‘where.’ You’ll get a complete set of maps.” As she followed his directions on her hip PC, his expression revealed his doubt that she’d know how to read a map, considering that she was obviously too stupid to understand clearly printed instructions.
Turning away, Imelda examined the map closely, paging through the different ship levels. The
Research Center was cylindrical in design with fiberoptic cables carrying light from Iago inward to brighten even the most central passages. Several layers of corridors lined the edges of the cylinder like the staves of a barrel, taking advantage of the centripetal acceleration of the outer cylinder walls to mimic gravity. The power plants and maintenance areas were in the hub. The Administrative area, personnel quarters, and recreational facilities were arranged in the outer portion of the cylinder in order to take advantage of the greater simulated gravitational pull, while the research labs were located more interiorly.
Strange, no corridor seven on the research wing, but
there was one in administration with the right room number. Maybe she hadn’t been assigned a work center yet. She glanced back at Bill. He was staring at her rump with an odd expression.
With a look that dripped icicles, she left. Bill suffered from androgen excess to judge by appearances.
Imelda glanced at a distorted reflection of herself on the metallic wall of the hallway. Regulation scrubs, no makeup, hair lopped off in an unflattering bob, the guy had to be desperate. Maybe you got that way sitting in hallways.
Her mind flickered back to the writings of Gloria 8889. Leader of the Lesbian Revolution in 2193. She had hated men and had led a group of women to a new planet supplied with a warehouse of stored sperm. When their plan was discovered, men and heterosexual women of the era had gone nuts, demanding the planet blown up. Her theories were interesting though, if you really wanted to hate men. Her ‘les’ psychiatrist had tried to drill them into her head as part of her ‘retraining.’
Society has created numerous rules to regulate and decrease male aggression, including clothing to hide genitalia, statutory limitations on the number of mates, protective laws for females, prohibition of murder, mandated equality under the law, sports activities to channel aggression, and marital contracts for the stability and protection of the family.
Non-dominant males fight constantly against the social regulation of their reproductive instinct. Organized societies battle constantly in favor of regulation, in order to maintain a peaceful and safe environment for social progress and for raising children. Inherent in this struggle is the evolutionary belief that physical prowess is not the only characteristic that should provide competitive success. Over time, the most enduring societies have been those that best regulate aggressive male instincts and support social cooperation.”
According to Gloria’s theory, Bill and Straiss were both examples of frustrated non-dominant men attempting to ignore a social regulation that they can’t comprehend and attack every female in sight. Not true of course. They simply thought that she was good-looking, even dressed as a slob. The pickings must truly be grim out here.
Finally, Corridor seven. Another secretary worked busily near the entrance. Imelda approached the secretary cautiously, pulling out her assignment sheet. Secretaries who had power over you were best treated with respect. They could mean the difference between a pleasant existence and a living hell. Imelda was convinced that there
was an error in her assignment and knew that the harassed looking person sitting at the desk was her key to unraveling the confusion.
A name didn’t flash. She tapped her PC with a request. “I am Dr. Imelda. I’m supposed to report to my work area, but my assignment sheet directs me here.”
The secretary continued her work uninterrupted. “Fifth door on the right.”
No name yet. She tapped the keyboard again.
Glancing up in irritation, the secretary said, “My name is Calliope, if you must know. Secretaries for Department Chiefs are unlisted, so don’t waste your time looking. I was told to expect you. Your file says that you are rude and obnoxious, so don’t bother pretending to be nice. HR has given me special instructions about ignoring your temper tantrums. The work area assignment was not a mistake. Anything else you need?”
Imelda’s hand straightened and her eyebrows rose. She gazed at Calliope appraisingly. She wondered exactly how much of her file Calliope had access to. Probably all of it. “I suppose not, for now.”
Calliope returned to her work, still in a huff. Imelda continued down the corridor, thinking. What in blazes did Caldwell have in mind for her? She couldn’t function without a workstation, and it was foolish to set one up on the Administrative floor since special cables and pipes had to be installed for it. Fish might have told Caldwell to keep close tabs on her, but that could be done just as easily on the research floor.
Perhaps they worried that she would be a bad influence on the other researchers? No, ridiculous. With her reputation already established, the other researchers would guard their work from her jealously to keep her from stealing any of their ideas. In fact, she needn’t worry about having any influence over them whatsoever, since it was doubtful that anyone would be willing to stay in the same room. She found the door she had been directed to and palmed it open absently
Empty. Completely empty. Not even a chair. She leaned back far enough to double check that she had gotten the room number correct. She walked inside and turned around slowly, verifying her first impression. A single room, not large enough for much more that a desk and a chair, the only entrance being the door through which she had entered.
“Of all the...! What in the...?” her voice trailed off as she stood, considering. She drew in a deep breath and headed back to face Calliope. If Calliope couldn’t help her, then it was straight to
Caldwell. Imelda wasn’t sure who would be the lesser opponent.
Calliope was executing an apparently difficult programming operation. She ignored her completely.
“Excuse me,” Imelda said. She considered growling a brasher introductory phrase but decided discretion was still the better course for now.
“Yes?” Soft tapping of the keys continued unabated. The screen was unidirectional so Imelda couldn’t see what was being worked on. She felt her frustration growing.
“My work area. What am I supposed to use it for?”
Calliope shrugged. “Whatever it is that people like you do with work areas.”
Imelda nodded thoughtfully. “I generally fill mine with a biological workstation. I’m afraid this room is lacking both a workstation and the square footage to accommodate one. I was hoping that perhaps you might know why I was assigned to it.”
Calliope paused, looking up. “I haven’t the slightest idea. Director Trefarbe said it would be adequate for what you would be doing. I told Engineering to put a workstation in there and they said they would look into it. I haven’t heard any more from them so I assume that they will take care of it.”
“Perchance they gave you a construction date?” Imelda’s eyes narrowed. Even should Engineering manage to figure out how to jam a workstation into the room, she herself would have to sit in the hallway since there would obviously be no floor space left. She felt her temper rising.
“Nope. I haven’t heard anything from them since I told them two months ago. Director Trefarbe told me not to worry about it, she would take care of the details.”
“And who, pray tell, is Director Trefarbe?” Imelda wanted to isolate her enemy’s identity. She didn’t like exploding in front of the wrong person.
“The Director of Operations.”
The words were said with the faintest hint of disgust. Imelda could sense an enmity but wasn’t sure of the source of it. “Where is her office?”
“Don’t sweat it, honey. She’s on her way down here now. I told her you were threatening violence, screaming and carrying on. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. Actually, threatening violence isn’t such a bad idea.” Imelda did not smile, and neither did Calliope.
Imelda sat down in the chair next to Calliope’s desk since she had no other chair available. It was not a long wait.
The woman who rounded the corner with eyes blazing caught Imelda by surprise. Tall, willowy, ivory complexion with jet-black hair, she could have been a model. Biotech apparently liked their management staff to look good.
“What is going on here?” Trefarbe screeched to a halt with flushed cheeks.
Imelda gazed at the woman innocently. “Actually, that is what I would like to ask you,” she said mildly.
Trefarbe looked back and forth from Imelda to Calliope. “Well, what is the problem?”
“Dr. Imelda is dissatisfied with her work area assignment. Her workstation has not been installed.”
“Oh, is that all?” With an accusing stare at Calliope, she sniffed, “Calliope, you should have told me that Engineering hadn’t finished construction.”
Calliope’s expression transformed into an abashed furor.
Trefarbe turned back to Imelda, her expression a quicksilver change from forbidding to glowing. “I told Engineering to proceed with construction as soon as possible. There were a few delays while they ironed out problems with the specs for the workstation, but I’m sure it won’t be much longer.”
Imelda stared at the woman curiously. She must take her for a complete idiot. “No doubt. When are they going to knock down the walls?”
“I beg you pardon?”
“They’ll have to knock down the walls in order to make a workstation fit in there. When are they going to start?”
“Oh, they can’t knock down any walls. We’re already using the other rooms.”
“Then perhaps we had better call Engineering. I would like to know just how they plan to install a fully equipped biological workstation inside an eight by ten room.”
Trefarbe gave her most charming smile. “Now, I’m sure they will take care of it. Perhaps if we only install the sections you need...”
“I need ALL of the sections. I’m supposed to be running an entire research unit by myself, in case you didn’t notice. Why wasn’t I assigned a workstation on the research floor? I’m sure it is far less expensive than building one here.”
“Dr. Caldwell wanted you to be located in administration. He said a biologist of your stature deserved special quarters.”
“I’d prefer the standard quarters, if you don’t mind. They are infinitely better than no quarters at all.”
“But you’ll be getting your own quarters soon. I’ll call Engineering as soon as I get back to....”
“Forget it. This is too far away from the main research body. I’d have to lug specimens halfway across the station just to transport them from the reception hangar. I appreciate the honor and respect, etc. etc., but I prefer a little practicality in my assignments.”