Writing

Getting Lost - Chapter Eighteen

Posted in fiction, serials, getting-lost on 23 Oct 2018

41 paragraphs • 1683 words

Dr Carter Ramirez

We’d like to thank you, first of all, for all of your efforts in working on these cases of the Lost. Your services are invaluable and are providing the families and friends of the Lost with hope, not to mention the world at large. We have come to rely on this technology in our daily lives in almost all spheres of work and pleasure.

As you know, research here at UCL is funded through a series of organizations and foundations working together. These relationships are both an expression of trust and a political statement, and both of those expressions work in both directions. As such, we welcome conversations, questions, and comments about research from the sponsors.

A recent suggestion regarding your project was that more effort be placed on researching the neurological aspects of these cases, focusing primarily on the treatment and prevention of such cases in the future.

As such, we’re requesting that you add one more neuroscientist intern to the team. Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, your team must remain the same size as it is currently. Could you please respond with the name of a member of your group not on the neuroscience side who will, if possible, be offered a transfer to another project? Admin will take care of the rest.

Please continue the excellent work. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to send a note.

Ari Liebler Research Coordinator

Carter slid her chair slowly back from her workstation and paced over to the coffee station. She wasn’t tired — she wasn’t tired; she was a bit too awake, if anything — but she needed something to do while mulling over the email from admin.

Pouring herself a half cup of chicory coffee, she looked out over the room, at the heads bowed over tablets or nestled into the headrests of workstations. How could she possibly be expected to choose who would get the ax?

There was another thing bothering her, however, and the more she turned the thought over in her mind, the weightier it grew.

The shared workspace wasn’t private to the team, of course. Their research was overseen by Ari as well as a few others, and there were likely reports that had been passed back to the backers of the project. Obviously there had been, now that she thought of it. How else would they know that effort was being spread out among a variety of different approaches the problem?

But why this sudden interest? Or, looking at it another, less favorable way, interference? The idea didn’t sit will with Carter, especially so soon after starting to explore this new social avenue. That would probably take the hit the hardest: there were few other areas that could afford to lose a researcher.

The thought soured further as she remembered Sanders’ resistance to the line of research from the start.

On a whim, having not even sipped her coffee yet, Carter slipped back to her workstation and delved in, stepping out of the workspace and into the anteroom, a small area off to the side of the main space where virtual meetings could be held, where others’ avs would show up, rather than just the shadowy shapes.

“Anteroom, when you get a chance,” she murmured into a message pane, then sent it off to Sanders.

She received a ping of acknowledgement and settled back to wait.

It was only a few minutes — hardly enough time for her to organize her thoughts — before the head of neurochem stepped into the anteroom and lounged in the chair across from her. “What’s up, boss?”

“Here,” Carter said, swiping up a terminal to forward the email she had received over to Sanders. “Give that a read.”

She watched as his eyes scanned over something she couldn’t see. In public spaces, it was usually kind to pull up a tablet so others had a visual indication that one was occupied, but Sanders had never been one for formalities. Sims were only ever a tool for him, nothing more.

“Rough stuff,” he said, nodding. “Who do you think will be the unlucky one?”

Carter sighed. “I’m not sure. I can’t think of anyone I would want to lose. Anyone we could afford to lose, even.”

Sanders nodded.

“Look,” Carter continued after an awkward pause. “I know you weren’t a fan of the social link I mentioned before. Did you…?”

“Did I tip off the board?” Sanders laughed, holding up his hands. “No, of course not. I’d not presume to go behind your back like that. You knew my reservations, but I’d rather talk about it with you and the team than pull something like that.”

Carter nodded. The sincerity was evident in his voice, she felt, so she relaxed back against the seat. “I got it, yeah. I’m sorry. It just came so suddenly and seemed connected, is all. Maybe I’m getting too good at seeing connections that aren’t there.”

Sanders politely said nothing, looking down at his hands.

“Well, hey. Thanks for that. It’s really reassuring. I’ll let you get back to your stuff. Will call the team in for a huddle about this after lunch.”

“Sounds good,” Sanders said, pushing himself up out of his seat and wandering back into the main room.

Carter watched the man’s back as he turned from a solid avatar back into a shadow, thinking. If she was going to pursue this line any further, she’d likely have to do much of the work herself. Something, she realized, she was already prepared to do.

The team was none too happy to learn of the news. They had been working together over the months that they had on the project, and felt themselves a well-oiled machine.

“This is going to throw a huge fucking wrench into things,” Avery grumbled. “We’ll lose one of our own, then have to get someone new up to speed. It’s going to take ages.”

“I know,” Carter sighed. “I’d push back if I thought they’d let me, but they say it’s a matter of those who sign the checks, so I think I’m S-O-L on that front.”

An unhappy silence greeted her. No one was looking at each other, all just staring at shoes, ceiling, or walls.

“Listen, I think we have some time. Absolutely no pressure, but if anyone wants to volunteer, cool. Otherwise, I’ll put some thought into this and have to make a decision. Either way, I’ll go to bat for you in trying to get a transfer rather than just the sack.”

Another sullen silence. Carter shrugged helplessly, and with an apologetic look, walked back to her workstation. She had little more consolation that she could offer them.

Once she delved in, Carter let out a low groan. A small, pulsing envelope icon in her peripheral vision let her know she had another email. If it’s more bad news, I’m going to lose it.

It certainly didn’t look like bad news, though Carter remained wary. The address wasn’t from someone at UCL, or the UMC, for that matter. It was a free address, something personal rather than professional. It had made it past the filters, though, so perhaps it was legit, despite its shady provenance.

Dr. Ramirez,

I’m writing to ask for your help in the search for two of my friends who are lost.

I know there’s probably little you can do to help, and you might not even be able to talk to me, but my friends and I are scared, and want to know what’s going on. And if we can help, we’ll do all we can.

Their names are RJ Brewster and Collin Jackson.

If you can, email me back. I understand if you can’t.

Sasha.

Carter frowned. Well, at least it wasn’t bad news.

This Sasha was right, though, she technically wasn’t supposed to respond, at least not with anything more than a form letter stating such.

In the midst of pulling up the file with the form letter, a thought struck Carter. She would have to do most of the work on this herself, true, but perhaps she could do a little bit more outside research, as she had done with Johansson. She wouldn’t be able to rely on it, nor even publish it, but there was no harm in more information, if she had to strike out on her own.

Before she lost her resolve, she filled out the form letter and scheduled it to reply at five, near the end of her day. Then she paced around the workspace, organizing and cleaning decks as she sorted through her plan in her mind.

She left that evening at five after five, far earlier than she usually did. She had been prepared to beg off with feeling ill, but found she didn’t need to: most of the team was also packing up and leaving. No one looked happy, with one of their jobs’ on the line. Everyone avoided eye contact on the way out.

Determined now, Carter left quickly and, while standing in the station for her train, fumbled out her phone and started typing away on it.

Sasha,

I know you likely just got a reply from my work address, but I’m replying here as well. While UCL and the team I work with aren’t able to provide any assistance or information with regards to the cases, I might be able to help a little on my own, and I’m sure you’ll be able to help me. We don’t have much information on RJ or Collin, and I’m desperate for more.

We can figure out a way for that information to get to the team later, but for now, we can talk here.

~Carter

Thumb hovering over the ‘send’ button, Carter hesitated. She was being reckless, she knew, but the more she thought about the interactions of the Lost, the more she was convinced that there was something to the connection, at least in this case. And the more sure she was, the worse the letter from admin stung.

She gritted her teeth and hit ‘send’.

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