Maybe Helga is right, I’m not the right girl for this job. It’s been two weeks since she made her demands, and if the pile of deconstructed inverters surrounding me in the apartment building’s cramped workshop are any sign, I’m in real trouble.
Over the past week, I had repaired enough of the battery array to store the energy our building needed to keep its residents with power when the sun wasn’t shining. I accounted for the average number of failures we were likely to experience over the next quarter in my projections for the amount of repairs I had to achieve. It was the easiest part of the system for me to correct, given that I did not have to access any of the resident’s apartments or work in difficult crawl spaces.
I still couldn’t understand Helga’s stupidity. Even if she believed I was a lazy imbecile, how could she think yelling at me would fix it, or that leaving me to keep the building’s power running by myself was the solution? Did she want the building’s power to fail? How could that help her? Maybe this was a money or politics thing? Ugh, I shook my head and resolved to focus on what I understood.
With the battery system fixed, I thought that this week I could repair enough of the inverters to have enough flowing current to avoid any type of maintenance or repair on the receptors. The receptors are the most difficult and challenging part of the whole system so relying on significant improvements to the output of the receptors is a bad plan. While the inverters performed that necessary task of converting DC current from the receptors to AC for the electrical grid, they were not terribly complicated and could easily have their parts swapped to take three broken inverters and make two working ones.
However, instead of the sixty-six percent salvage rate I was expecting, my salvage rate was more like twenty-five percent. The make of inverter that was installed at the time this building was renovated to use primarily its own solar power, had one really bad part and many other reliable ones. So out of four broken inverters, only one of those inverters was broken due to a part that was NOT the really bad one failing. That meant that according to my initial modeling, I would need to fix roughly fifty percent more of the receptors, whether that be window panel or rooftop panel and I only had two weeks to do it.
I had no idea how I was going to get in enough resident’s homes, or do enough work on the roof, to make up that difference. I considered buying some panels myself, or maybe reaching out to some friends to help me. Only a few problems with that. My family was poor, I was poor and I had no friends with technical skills. Come to think about it, I barely had friends.
The friend I wanted as my closest friend, my boyfriend, was a gigantic jerk hippo face who didn’t even have the decency to explain himself and let me talk to him! I picked up an inverter and brought my arm up to throw it against the wall but stopped myself. Even as mad as I was at Robert, I couldn’t waste the working parts in that inverter.
“Incoming call, Helga Trompswitch, accept?” My AI informed me. Just what I needed. I put my face in my hands for a moment and then sat up, facing the center of the room.
Helga was wearing a large pair of diamond earrings, her traditional golden bracelets, and a strapless red gown. Her features could be called striking I suppose, but I prefer to think of her long skull and large nose as a horse’s face. A blond, mean, horse face with big eyes set slightly too far apart. Her eyes were somehow staring down her nose even though I was at the same level as her holographic projection. Did she tilt her head back just to make sure you knew she looked down on you?
“Samantha, where are we?”
She’d been checking in on me more recently, and the calls were becoming even more frequent. I had talked to her just a day ago.
“Our batteries, after my repairs, have capacity to store enough energy to get our resident’s through the night. But our inverters and receptors are in trouble. I’m only salvaging 25% of the damaged inverters instead of the projected 75% because the same part has failed in most all of them. Again, “ I speak as fast as I can to make sure she listens before cutting me off.
“I need resources in order to buy parts for our inverters and capacitors. There are only two weeks left before enough inverters and capacitors fail to leave residents without power. These things fail at known rates, I can’t do anything to prevent mechanical and chemical failures, I can only fix them with new parts but those cost money.”
She rolls her eyes.
“I’m tired of this defeatism Samantha. There is obviously a way. Find it. I have already informed the board that our building’s power is at risk due to our intrepid young solar technician not doing her job. They have authorized funds for a job search and incentive package to find a technician to replace you. They also included a severance package which I strongly recommended against but lucky for you, I was overruled. If there is an outage, you will be replaced, as simple as that.”
I couldn't believe it. They are willing to spend money to replace me but not replace again parts that have to be replaced in order for the solar power system to function? I’m living in a bizarro world with crazy people. I took a moment to gather myself before responding.
“Perhaps the board could authorize a budget for capacitor and inverter parts or a second temporary technician to help inspect enough capacitors to make a difference in time...”
“Leave the board communication to me dear. The board will not approve an increase in our electricity maintenance budget, nor will they hire a temporary second technician to do a single technician’s job. Any technician we hire will be to replace you, not help you. You should stop watching vids or playing games or whatever it is you kids do and get the job done.”
The troll. I hadn't watched a single vid or played a shooter with David in weeks. And what was this maintenance budget? I hadn't seen a dime for new parts.
“Are there any funds left in this maintenance budget?”
“How many times do I have to say it before it gets through your tiny recently graduated brain? There is no money available for new parts. I have to go. The building board and I were invited to the newest collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I’ll be sure to let the board know that the new technician budget is practically a necessity.”
Her hologram disappeared as she cut off the holo call. Something just didn’t add up here. If the building has a maintenance budget, and it was set reasonably by someone in the past, then there should be funds to cover the replacement parts I needed for the receptors and inverters. Up to this point, I believed there just wasn’t any money available for replacement parts. Or worst case Helga was just refusing to release funds to make herself look good by having a budget surplus. But if there was already a budget earmarked for repairs, and the board knew about it, why wouldn’t they increase it to prevent disaster? And why wouldn’t I have already seen some of those funds to help with repairs?
I got hired in the middle of the year, so I guess it was possible that the previous technician spent the entire year’s budget before I had the job. Come to think of it, who was the previous technician? When I started this job, Jose the Building Manager showed me the workshop and systems control rooms, explained that I need to keep the power flowing, and left me to my own devices. I was happy enough getting my hands dirty and didn’t really think twice about it until now. Shouldn’t I have received at least some form of communication from the last technician? Perhaps warn me about upcoming issues or strange quirks in the system that would take me a long time to figure out?
“How are job transitions typically handled?” I asked my AI.
“In most workplaces, when an employee is laid off, retires or quits, it is common practice for there to be at least a two-week transition period to give the employer and/or the employee time to adjust to the coming change. However, when an employee is fired, this can result in an abrupt departure without the typical two-week grace period.”
Interesting, so the last technician was most likely fired. From what I knew of Helga, this isn’t very surprising.
“Call Jose.” I waited a few moments while my AI made the connection. Jose’s hologram appeared in front of me. Somehow, Jose’s balding head managed to create a reflection, even over a hologram.
“Hi, Jose, sorry to bother you. Can you tell me what the state of the electrical maintenance budget is? And also, what happened with the last technician? Helga mentioned the budget to me in passing, and of course said I won’t get more money, but it seems weird that I never met the last technician and this year’s budget is already spent.”
I saw Jose take a deep breath while looking away from me. He stayed that way for almost a half minute before looking directly at me and locking eyes and speaking at his normal rapid clip.
“Samantha, I like you. You are a good, smart kid who is going to do well in the industry. But please, listen to me, you do not want to dig for information on those topics. It’s not a good career move. My advice is to do your best with what you have, and if that means finding a new job in a couple weeks because you can’t meet Helga’s demands then so be it. I can’t tell you why but that is a much better outcome than what might happen if you get answers to your questions. Understand? I will give you a good recommendation no matter what happens with Helga so don’t worry about that.”
“Wait, what? Why can’t you tell me about that? Come on Jose this is my first job I really don’t want to end it getting fired....”
“If I answer your questions we will both be fired. Just leave it alone Samantha. I have to go, bye.”
What in the world? So something happened with the previous technician and the maintenance budget that Jose won’t talk about, and was likely why Helga wouldn’t give me money. I believed Jose when he said he thought it was best for me to just stop digging into the issue. I also didn’t have time to become a part-time sleuth. All my time was going to be consumed just trying to fix this mess without any money.
This was so frustrating! I grabbed my hair and pulled at it, wanting to scream. Helga’s insane demands and lack of support were problems on top of problems. I still had Robert to get back. After he block my direct messages I really didn’t have many options on how to communicate with him. So I got creative.
I hired a “singing telegram.” I hadn’t even known what a telegraph was until my AI listed it as one of the ways to get around a direct message block. Apparently, way back in the early twentieth century, messages were transmitted over electrical signals on a copper wire as a sequence of long and short beeps. Operators would then translate those beeps into words by hand! I had given the service the following words:
“Robert, don’t let our years at University wither,
Just because you can’t bother to dither,
While I work and struggle to repair,
You just cut contact and stare,
At some other floozy,
You big dumb moose.”
I was proud of my poetics. For me, it was an Opus. In hindsight, Robert was unlikely to remove his communication block after listening to a slightly...fine, very snarky singing telegram. It seemed like a good idea to at the time but after waiting a whole day I realized it wasn’t going to work.
So I sent him an honest to goodness paper letter. That cost me a half week’s salary just for the paper. The government still subsidized delivery so that the older generation didn’t revolt, but after the ban on cutting down trees for any product which could be replaced digitally, paper was in short supply. It was mainly created through recycling old tree-based products. I think I did a better job at being persuasive in that effort.
At first, I didn’t understand why you chose to block me. We had been seeing each other for over a year, you said you loved me! Remember, the time at the beach? You know the time I’m talking about.
I think I get it now. I spend too much time working and not enough time with you.
But look, I can’t change my job right now. Once this month is over I’ll start looking for a new job and Helga will have no choice but to give me a good recommendation.
Please, just take the block off and let’s talk about this.
It’s been days and still, every time I check, once every three hours, fine, once every hour, I get the same blocked message. I’m not sure what to try next. I could just go sit in front of his apartment, or maybe at the coffee shop I know he stops at each morning. But that would mean deviating from the schedule I know I have to keep in order to have even a chance at repairing the building’s aging solar system.
I can’t do that. What other options do I have here...maybe I could contact some of his friends and ask them to get him to answer my calls, telegraph or letter. That might work although it feels even less likely than my prior attempts.
In hindsight, this might have been my first experience with doubt. Not my ability to fix the solar power system but my ability to convince Robert to take me back.