Chapter 3: Berate Expectations
By Stirling Edgewood
Interplanetary Information Collection and Cataloguing, Node 324
He groaned audibly as he stared at the glowing screen. His stick-thin limbs stretched over a button-board, his slender digits tapping with whip-like rapidity. “Data set incomplete, resend.” The message read.
“Complete dataset transmitted at 07:23:16. Completion tag and confirmation attached.”
His digits tapped again, and he leaned toward the screen to examine the tag. It indicated a completed transfer. Yet the image he looked at showed only about a half of a glowing red circle, in the lower-right corner, and a blurry orange streak projecting from it.
“Preliminary analysis indicates dataset incomplete.” He typed.
“Ping-back for confirmation.” Came the response.
He tapped the button board a few more times, sending the dataset back to its origin. Then he waited. A few seconds later the response appeared. “Data set comparison executed. Verified. Complete.”
He waved his limbs in a gesture of helplessness, and said aloud, “Then why am I looking at half a star?”
He tapped out another message.
“Request report: targeting calibration.”
“All targeting calibrations certified correct.” Was the response.
“Request report: targeting errors, all observations, 7 days prior and seven days following observation period.”
“Targeting errors: None.”
“This is weird.” He said aloud, with a worried tone. “It looks like the telescope was pointed at the right spot, we had a clear night with no clouds to obstruct the view, and no one else using the scope a week before and a week after is reporting targeting errors.”
A gelatinous blob of a creature, about triple his own spindly width, came through the wide portal that separated the work space from the rest of the building. She waddled and bounced with a lumbering gait. Her short, bulbous limbs, seemingly attached as an afterthought to her potato-shaped frame, seemed to render locomotion a painstaking chore.
He sat in a large room, with a high ceiling studded with painfully bright lights. The chamber was divided into some 50 comfortably large work areas by flimsy walls that rose only half a meter above the desks they corralled. Although this provided little privacy, and no barrier to sounds from other workspaces, the area was only lightly populated. They were scattered at random stations, with many empty workspaces between them. Each occupied station was too distant to comfortably hold a conversation, yet close enough that any discussion over a communication channel with a remote colleague would be distractingly awkward.
The roly-poly figure directed its bulk toward his work station and stopped just outside the divider, her torso floating ominously over him.
“The Centauri observational data sets were due for release from quality control review this morning. Have they been delayed?” She demanded.
“No, I have them, I’m just checking them over.” He explained sheepishly.
“Show them to me.” She commanded.
His digits tapped scattered buttons on the board, and the picture of the glowing half-circle was replaced by a dense set of characters arranged neatly into rows and columns. He turned the screen so she could see.
“Here you go.” He declared enthusiastically.
“Not the data, the image.” She chastised him.
“Well,” he began, “the image, well, it seems we had some observational hurdles, and the image isn’t fully processed, and my review of the data isn’t yet complete for an accurate – “
“The image!” She ordered angrily.
“Um,” He gulped. “This is it.” He said guiltily, pressing another button that brought the deficient circle back onto the screen.
She leaned further into his work space, peering at it perplexedly for a moment.
“Look at this anomalous flare activity” he said, extending a stick-thin digit toward the streaks. “This could be a significant finding, it’s of unprecedented magnitude and flux–“
“Where’s the rest?” She asked peevishly.
“Uh, I’m investigating potential causes of a potentially incomplete data set, or possible misalignment of the sensing instrument. And meteorological interference from anomalous cloud cover.”
“There are no clouds, I do not see any clouds.” She shot back, the anger rising in her voice.
“Well, you wouldn’t, because the focal point is at an infinite distance from the obstruction–“
“This is only half a star!” She thundered. “You have failed to meet our observational objectives, and are creating unacceptable risk to our program goals! Do you realize we are a vital link in the global information supply chain? That a lack of this mission-critical input could disrupt the entire research paradigm?” She leaned threateningly further into his workspace, her features, contorting in anger, loomed ominously over him. The flimsy partition separating them groaned with the strain of supporting her bulk, and he cowered below her, with the horrifying fear that it might give way, and he would be crushed.
“But we have the flares,” he continued weakly. “We could still publish with the available data.”
“Publish half a star!” She roared. “Outrageous!”
“Well, I guess not publish, but publication is only an output goal. Observation of novel phenomena is a short-term outcome goal, with publication as a mode to achieve the medium-term outcome goal of greater scientific understanding, leading to the long-term outcome goal of practical application of new discoveries.”
She looked at the screen again. “That doesn’t look like a flare,” she declared. “The peer review panel will not be fooled by some streaky clouds in the image.”
As she backed away from his workspace, the partition sighed, as if in relief.
“I thought you said there were no clouds.” He protested feebly as she turned to go.
“I know a cloud when I see one. Prepare a request for additional observation time and grant funding. I expect it before you leave today,” she said without looking back. “And if additional observational defects are encountered, I will be required to submit a formal report on your shortcomings to the professional growth department,” she threatened as she bobbed through the portal.