The Automatic Marlboro is a science-fiction novelette told in twelve parts, posted serially by me, your sprintime-fresh host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the fourth installment.
Connected stories: Simon of Space, Life & Taxes, Tim, Destroyer of Worlds
And now, the story continues:
THE AUTOMATIC MARLBORO - SECTION II
The new guy is a girl.
Worse than that, she's a polymath. She's bossy. She's taller than either of us and knows it, too. Her teeth are too big. She seems pretentious, or if she's not she's faking it.
"Air Marrowman," she says with deliberate emphasis as if it were a brand name. "Class of the turn of the century, summa cum laude, winner of the Felix Mathematics Prize for my work on active numeral condensation schema under Wilderton and Hung, current Vavilov candidate for my research in fungal-crystallographic substrate engineering. I'm saying it now to get it over with -- don't anybody be touchy."
Pulse tries to affect a smile. "I'm P --"
"I know," she says. "I've reviewed your files."
Pulse leaves his hand dangling unshaken as Air breezes by to tour the rest of the lab, her unruly tangle of hair leaning this way and that as she cranes her head to take in the details. She frowns at everything she sees. "Zhang-style electrostatic clamps? Hopelessly obsolete. Look at those old magnetic isolation channels -- awful! And the only word for this field-twisting apparatus is...sad." She turns around and put her hands on her hips. "Well boys, it looks like we've got our work cut out for us."
Pulse crosses his arms. I shift uncomfortably. "What do you mean?"
"We've got to turn this place around," says Air. "Just as active number matrices can be reduced, there exists a set of condensation schema that can be applied to the system of this lab. Optimization, boys -- that's the name of the game. I'm excited about it. It's obvious this place needs some tuning."
"Well, technically, I'm the project's principal --"
"Oh of course, of course. Sure you are. That's not changing. We wouldn't change that, Marlboro. I'll be needing your nod on every tweak, your signature on every form, your breath on every wand. I'm going to be able to count on you to help make this place better, aren't I?"
"Well, sure," I stammer.
Her grin is weird. It's like a horse. I think it's worse than a Zorannic smile. Pulse and I flinch. "This is going to be great," she gushes. "I've got so many ideas!"
We can't wait to leave...
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