Sidlaw stopped in the doorway and looked at the string of symbols and numbers scrawled across the white board on the opposite wall in multiple colours. He asked, "What are you doing?"
The writer, part way through an equation that was requiring five different colours of white board pen, turned to look at him and answered, "Checking the effect of changing some variables in these equations. I'll clean off the board and put the pens back when I'm done."
"You could do this downstairs on a computer in less than half the time," pointed out Sidlaw. "It's one of the things the computers here do. I mean, hell, put in in a spreadsheet, change your variables a few times, and there you are. And you wouldn't be scribbling all over the wall of Professor Dawa's wall either. You know that if you don't get all of that off he's going to go spare."
"None of the programs on the computer currently support these functions, and I don't know enough to be able to program them in myself, " admitted the writer. I've already run the figures in my head; I just want visual confirmation."
Sidlaw looked at the board again. "If you can do maths like this in your head, why aren't you doing an advanced maths degree like your sister?"
"Because my sister doesn't like it if I can do something better than her, and my parents are of the opinion that I shouldn't be able to. I got sick and tired of being scolded for doing well, so I made sure I chose different subjects to hers when I could." She turned back to the board and added a few more characters.
Sidlaw took another look at the board and asked, "What sort of maths is that, exactly? I've audited all the professors' classes at some point, and I've never seen some of those symbols."
"They're universal structure formulas," answered the writer. "This volume formula works out perfectly well in twenty-seven-dimensional maths, but that membrane integrity formula needs thirty-dimensional math." She pointed down the end of the room to her right and he saw another white board that was completely covered in a purple, red and black formula.
He looked at her quizzically. "Is that even a field?"
"It's not one that's taught here," she admitted as she wrote in the result of the equation she was working on, at least Sidlaw assumed it was a result because he couldn't interpret half the symbols it contained. She stopped writing, looked at the answer, then glanced around the room at her previous work. "I'm afraid that these answers mean that I have to go and try to stop someone doing something really stupid." She looked at Sidlaw and asked, "Did you come up here looking for me, or is this a chance encounter?"
"Oh, yes, your parents want you to come down to the Great Hall to hear an announcement about the University's future direction with the rest of us, and then they have you scheduled for a session with Dr Heistenburg for the rest of the day."
She half turned to look at him and answered, "I'm afraid I'm going to be too busy with this for either of those things - I really do need to get moving straight away. Also, it's nice of my parents to just assign away my time like that; I hadn't heard that Louise is sick again, and we all ate together last night."
"I don't believe that your older sister has had any recurrences at this time," Sidlaw said carefully, "and I was told to make it clear that neither activity is optional."
She started clearing off the whiteboard that she's been working on and Sidlaw assumed that she was processing what he'd said. Her work was thorough and Professor Dawa was going to be please with state of his walls. It wasn't until she was working on the second boards that she asked, "Sidlaw, do you know what the announcement in the Great Hall is going to be about?"
"I believe it involves administrative changes," replied Sidlaw. "As senior members of the University administration, your parents are very involved."
"So, any idea how the changes will affect you?" She threw the question over her shoulder as she cleaned off the second board.
"My duties will be more defined," he admitted.
"More defined, or more publicly defined?" If Sidlaw had shared her parents' and sister's opinions of the younger Aberstwain sister, this might have seemed an odd question, but he'd been developing his own views of her relative intelligence and knowledge of what was going on around her for some time now.
He answered truthfully as she finished cleaning off the whiteboard. "More publicly defined."
She put down the eraser and walked back to the first whiteboard she'd cleaned off before she turned to face him. "I'm sorry about that. I really did like you. I'm afraid that I won't be coming with you, and I am sorry if you get into trouble for that."
He shook his head and made an apologetic expression, "Even if I let you run, they'll still track you down and bring you back. Coming with me now will be...less painful."
She gave a funny little smile. "Tracking me down might be harder than you think, Sidlaw. You've known me for nearly a decade, so can you tell me my name?"
He tried to say it, he knew exactly what it was, he knew exactly who she was, but nothing came out. Confusion barely covered the way he felt.
That funny little smile appeared again, and she said, "Don't worry, you're not the only one. You'll find that you can't write it either. I was expecting that I might have to leave in a hurry like this someday. Oh," her eyes were replaced for a moment by a buzzing, electrical-looking aqua-teal glow, as if something else was looking out at him, "and it's not a matter of you letting me go."
He didn't have time to move before she vanished from in front of him and he felt the air around him rushing toward where she'd been.
The man he'd left in the corridor, Vetch, exclaimed, "What! Wait! Oh, shit!" Then there was the sound of running down to the T-junction at the end of the corridor.
When he got out there, Vetch was walking slowly back to the room, swearing under his breath as he came. Before Sidlaw could say anything, the other man apologised, "I'm sorry, but she was just out of reach when she popped into the corridor and then she was gone before I could grab her. I saw her appear again at the end of the corridor, but I wasn't fast enough to see where she went after that."
"No-one knew she could do that," pointed out Sidlaw. "Distance can't be the limiter, because the end of the corridor is about the same distance from where she started in the room as it is from the corridor outside the doorway."
"Line of sight then," grunted Vetch. "There's a window at the end of the cross corridor with a nice view of the mountains. If I'm right, then she could be anywhere by now. Why are we not freaking out about this?"
"Because we're trained not to freak out at the odd things that happen," replied Sidlaw. "Because we know that there are people who can do this sort of thing. The only odd thing here is that no-one knew about her. She's been in the centre of our organisation, even if she's not part of it. All the top people who deal with any of this have met her, and no-one picked up anything."
"Dr Heistenburg made her, like he did her sister, didn't he?" Vetch remarked. "Maybe he knew."
"I can't imagine the good doctor being silent if he'd managed to build a teleporter," retorted Sidlaw. "Besides, just before she left, I thought that something else was talking to me, not her. At least we've got something to give the higher-ups that might keep us out of trouble."
"Yeah," agreed Vetch. "Especially as punishments are likely to be getting a whole lot tougher around here."
They went downstairs together to tell the leaders of The Shadow Organisation not of their failure at a simple task, but of their discoveries.
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