Everyone’s work cubical is different. Some develop a zone of chaos. Some use it as a place to display the things they care about. Some, like Ash, keep theirs stark and clean. She found it difficult to focus if one item was out of place or if her monitor was not at the perfect height and angle. She started and finished each day with the same ritual. A ritual that guaranteed that at least this little corner of her world was controlled, clean, and understood.
Most days, it worked. But no matter how hard Ash tried, she was going to end up in a place that she could not control, keep clean, or even understand. If she knew that facilities would soon start using her cubicle to store large, blue water bottles, she would have thrown a fit. At this point, she had no idea how unusual things would soon become. But, we are getting ahead of our story.
On this particular day, she walked into her cubicle with an extra bounce in her step. She straightened the diploma on the wall that said, “Asghleith Jones, PhD, Computation Fluid Mechanics.” She even made sure her tape, stapler, pen holder, stack of sticky pads, and metal straight-edge were in their proper position. She realized that the only picture in her office, a group photo of the Phoenix Phoenicians LARP’ers, had been moved by the cleaning crew again. With a gentle nudge, she put it back into its proper position.
Ash was on the taller side with a fit figure that she usually kept hidden under baggy khakis and a polo shirt. She had bright, intelligent green eyes, dark olive skin, and a mass of black, curly hair. Hair she almost always kept tied back behind her head and down her back. After turning 27 the previous month, she had recommitted to her regimen of running and yoga that kept her feeling healthy and energetic.
The large backpack she placed on the floor next to her desk, and the bounce in her step were related. After work, she was heading to a campground outside of Tucson, Arizona, to meet up with the group in the picture. They were going to spend a whole week pretending to be a group of Ancient Phoenician traders. Live-action role-playing, LARPing, was her passion. A passion she could not wait to indulge. She just needed to get this huge fluid flow simulation set-up and solving on the server before leaving. Then she could relax and slide into her alter-ego.
“Hey, Ash, ready to go a’LARPing?” She looked up from her monitor to see Harriet Rumanicci, PADT’s HR manager and her best friend at work, standing in the door.
“Don’t make fun of me,” she answered. “It is relaxing and good therapy. No computers, no meetings, no nosy co-workers, and best of all, no deadlines.”
Harriet came in and sat on the guest chair in the cubicle. Petit, blond, and full of energy, she was the only person keeping the various employees at PADT socially connected. She also truly enjoyed teasing Asghleith.
She continued that teasing with, “How can someone who is a neat freak like you spend a week living in the desert? Do you sweep your tent every hour?”
Ash stopped typing and looked directly at Harriet with the most severe look she could muster. “As the manager of HR, you should know that my OCD is a disability, and making fun of me is discriminatory.”
“I don’t know. In your line of work, it may be an asset.”
They both laughed.
Harriet slightly adjusted the position of Ash’s stapler and then asked, “Are you going to be able to submit the big job before you take off?”
“Yes,” said Ash, adding a sigh. “If I am not interrupted and if they get the server back up and running today.”
“Oh, you need the help of IT?”
“I do, and they are being very nice and responsive. Because they like engineers. But, the new hard drives may not be here in time. I’ve got an email into someone named -” Ash stopped speaking to click on her computer screen. “ – Alex Adalopopolopolus in the government projects team, to see if I can run on their cluster. I heard it was massive with lots of new, super-duper-magic-fast hardware.”
“I know Alex. But then that is my job.” Harriet smiled at her little joke. “He seems a good guy, doesn’t talk much. In fact, he never leaves the basement.”
“Well, he will be this project’s lifesaver if he can get me a login and peel off some nodes with dual GPU’s, 128 gigabytes of memory, and four terabyte RAM drives for me to solve on.”
“I heard, lifesaver, blah, blah, dual goats, blah, blah, solve on,” joked Harriet.
Harriet sat comfortably in Ash’s cubical, checking and responding to emails as Ash continued to type and click at her computer. They often worked like this, not saying much, just sharing the same space and tossing the occasional comment back and forth. The silence, and their productivity, was broken when Oren Barnett’s well-coifed head popped up over Ash’s cubical wall.
“Hey, Ash. How is that big run coming? Is it done yet? I got a big order that should drop as soon as you give them results.”
Harriet said, “Oren. Bringer of anxiety. Can’t you see the lady is busy?”
Oren raised himself a bit higher so he could see where the unexpected voice was coming from. “Oh, I see HR is here. Isn’t making fun of me against some sort of corporate policy?”
“Let me check.” Harriet pretended to scroll through her phone. After a few seconds, she said, “No.”
Ash chuckled as she continued to work. She then said, “I should have it submitted this afternoon. A few more hours to get the boundary layer on these critical surfaces, then I’ll re-mesh one last time to get everything in its place. The new drives won’t make it in today, so Alex in IT just gave me a week on the government cluster in the basement.”
Oren climbed up on the chair that he kept on his side of the cubical wall, resting his arms on top of the divider. “Perfect, thank you, Ash. It’s an important project that could lead to a seven-figures worth of HPC if we, well you, can show them how they can fix their problem.” He paused to look at Harriet and considered if he should continue or not.
He decided to continue.
“Ash, once you get that job submitted, can I take you to dinner as a reward?”
Harriet’s face darted up from her phone to glare at Oren. Asghleith tried to ignore the proposition by typing faster and harder on her keyboard.
“Come on. You have worked hard all week. All month, really. Let me pay you back the best way I know how.” He smiled at her. “Time with me.”
Ash felt a bit trapped. The truth was, as annoying as he could be, Oren made her laugh, and even though he put pressure on her all the time, he was always supportive and did everything he could to help her get her job done. And she could not deny, his smile was charming. On the other hand, Harriet didn’t like him at all. She was also continually sharing stories of past office romances that had ended disastrously, often with HR involved.
As much as she felt tempted to give in to Oren’s constant attempts to get her to go out with him, she had a valid excuse this time.
“Sorry, guy. I’m leaving town for the week right after work.”
Oren’s smile faded. “Oh. Darn. Going someplace fun?”
Ash continued typing and said, almost to herself, “I certainly hope so.”
At around four-thirty, the model was ready. While Ash copied it to her thumb drive, she straightened her office up. Everything was moved into the proper drawer or put in its perfect place. She smiled a bit when she realized that Harriett had moved her stapler and then put it where it belonged.
Moments later, she was headed down the stairs to the basement. Most people didn’t know that PADT even had a basement. The entrance was back behind a pile of old furniture stacked in the rear of shipping and receiving.
At the bottom of the stairs, she pushed a simple red button with a small sign under it that said: “Push Me, All who Wish to Enter.”
A voice said, “You must be Asg-ha-leeth Jones?”
“Yes, No. Ash-Lee or Ash. Parents thought it was a sophisticated way to spell my name.” A flood of memories came back of her explaining to people since kindergarten that her name was Ashley.
“Anyway,” she continued, “that is me. Do you need some ID or something?”
“No, you are good. Please enter.”
The door buzzed and slid open. Ash stepped through into a small room with glass walls. All around, on the other side of the glass walls, were rows and rows of computers.
“So cool,” she said to herself.
The same voice from the door said, “It is, isn’t it. Literally and figuratively. We keep the room at sixty-two degrees. And it is a lot of very fast computers. Some with some pretty cool new technology. Which, I cannot tell you about.”
Startled, Ash asked, “Umm, who is this?”
The voice calmly answered, “I am the AI that lives on this computer. Although, we could debate if I actually live or exist.”
This was a shock to Ash. She thought the computer was used to run really large simulations for the government, she had no idea it could host an AI algorithm that sounded so human.
“Just kidding.” Said the voice in the ceiling. “This is Alex Adalopopolopopulus. You can just call me Alex A.” He paused. “Alex-ah. I am just kidding, again. Alex is fine. It is a pleasure to talk to you in person instead of through email.”
“Likewise. Thank you so much for getting me time on this machine. I feel like a kid in a candy store. And I do like the idea of calling you Alex-ah. Might as well, since you are a disembodied voice.” She looked around for a terminal to sit at and realized there was no desk, no keyboard. A large monitor was hanging from the back wall, next to the door where she had entered.
“Welcome to the Phoenix Cluster, our state of the art hybrid quantum-digital compute cluster. It integrates eight-thousand-one-hundred and ninety-two cores with six quantum compute nodes. It also has a state of the art passive augmented reality interface.”
All Ash could say was, “so cool.”
“Indeed, my young padawan. Let’s get you loaded and started. There is a USB port under the monitor. Go ahead and put your thumb drive in. Then stand on the yellow pad in the corner.”
Ash shifted her large backpack on her shoulders and walked to the monitor, more than a little nervous. She slid the thumb drive in. She then took a few steps to stand on a yellow circle in the corner by the monitor.
As soon as she had both feet on the pad, her skin felt tingly. The room around her and the computers on the other side of the windows all faded, and she saw a cartoon version of the room. A mouse, keyboard, and monitor floated in front of her. She reached out and touched the keyboard. As her fingers made virtual contact, she felt something pushing back against them.
Before she could say it herself, she heard Alex’s voice in her ear, “I know, so cool!”
“I am kind of speechless. This is so awesome. As much as I want to play with this interface, I gotta get on the road, so here goes.”
Ash started to type on the keyboard and saw her command form on the monitor.
Ash–> cfdsolve1 -s fluent -t 2022-03-12-23:00 bc -loads-c1.txt -c Phoenicia -jn t75-c1-a
The command Asghleith typed in was supposed to start a batch script that ran Ansys FLUENT starting at eleven that night on the Phoenix cluster. As she pressed the virtual enter key, she realized that she put the dash on the boundary condition flag, bc, in the wrong place and had typed Phoenicia instead of Phoenix.
She thought it would be no big deal. The script would error out, and she would type it in correctly. Instead, she felt a jolt as if she was in an old elevator that had started to move up. On the screen, she saw the words, “Batch Job Submitted. Engaging Quantum Temporal Solver.”
She struggled to stand as the whole room began to jump and shake. Her head began to spin. The keyboard and monitor faded in front of her, replaced by blindingly bright light. She closed her eyes, but that did not help. The spinning got worse.
As she began to lose consciousness, she said, “Alex-A, I think I entered the wrong command.”
-To Be Continued –
Please enjoy the next chapter, “New Friends.”
When we next join Ash she will encounter a mob, a wise man of science, ducks, and of course, a princess.
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