(2018-08-10) Working Late
Details for Working Late
Summary: Lyra is burning the midnight oil at Eos, and unexpectedly runs into the company founder.
Rating: G
Date: August 10, 2018
Lyra Young Soleil Cassidy

Lights flicker out down the halls throughout Eos. It has been over an hour since the last employee left. Lyra keeps having to wave a hand in the air to bring the lights back on in the Robotics Lab. At last, it’s quiet enough for her to concentrate. Though she took some online courses on coding while still in high school, she still struggles. It’s the hardware she loves working with most, but she’s determined to catch up to her mentors – to be useful to them. She will get this coding assignment done before midnight if it kills her.

It’s almost eight o’clock. The computer code is starting to run together more than usual. And it’s blurry. Rubbing her eyes she rests back in her chair. She doesn’t want to stop. But she won’t be any more use unless she gets a cup of tea. With a sigh, she gets up and shuffles through the labs and out into the dark hall in search of the break room.

There is still a light on in the break room, and the movement of shadow under the door seems to indicate that Lyra may not be as alone in the building as she believed. "OW!" Confirmed, as a feminine voice squeaks in pain behind the door.

Within, a young woman with long, thin dreadlocks is sucking on her finger and lightly "slapping" the espresso machine in frustration. Her back is to the door and thus far she seems not to have noticed Lyra. She wears a maroon cardigan over a purple dress with a thigh-length skirt. Her black stockings are all that cover her feet, apparently having left her shoes elsewhere.

Lyra shuffles into the breakroom, not at all fussed about someone else there. She just needs tea. Though she isn’t trying to be quiet – she doesn’t make quite as much noise as she should before simply appearing beside the other woman. Far too intent on tea, she simply picks up the electric kettle and goes to fill it. Even wearing a professional-looking white button-up blouse under that long blue cardigan with pockets, she looks so young. There are a couple of student intern, but none of them would be allowed to remain so late. Or to work unsupervised.

Soleil wrinkles her nose, making a light hissing sound through her teeth as she squints at her burned fingertip. "Ouch. I can build a router from spare parts, but I can't work this jinkin' espresso machine." She gives Lyra a pleading smile. "Do you know the magic spell to getting a decent espresso out of this thing without scalding yourself?"

Without quite thinking, Lyra nods, “Sure, I-” But then she freezes. Not only had she not considered who she might be talking to. But of all people, she’s talking to Soleil Cassidy. THE Soleil Cassidy. The younger girl stares up at her wide-eyed and lips parted. But all at once, she remembers herself. “Oh! Yes, I… would you like me to make you one? I can do that. I make them all the time.” Though it appeared she was about to make tea for herself.

"Thank you so much. Here, let me get your tea. That much I can manage." Soleil moves to switch places with Lyra, making room at the espresso machine. "So, how do you like it?"

“Oh! I, uh… That’s not…” stammers Lyra, but she doesn’t finish – not wanting to reject this kindness. Particularly not from Soleil Cassidy. Bowing her head, she focuses on getting that espresso machine to work. “You mean here? I like it a lot. So much. I… I’m working in the Robotics Lab now. And it’s great. I’ve been learning so much. And they’re really nice. Patient and- and really nice.”

Having turned a little pink, she focuses on the coffee-making. Absorbed in sorting out this technical issue, she says a bit softer, “It’s been on the fritz lately. Buuut… there are a couple of tricks to get it working. It’s about using cold water first. And tapping the espresso grinds tight but not too tight. And then a few taps here don’t seem to hurt.” She gives the side of the machine a few solid knocks with her knuckles. “That should work.” Or at least, she really hopes it does.

Soleil gives Lyra a big, dimpled smile. "That's awesome. I'm really glad you're liking it here, and I can't wait to see what you're working on in the lab. Buuut…I meant how do you like your tea…?" She chuckles, gesturing to the sugar, milk, honey, and other available additives.

“Oh!” Lyra’s cheeks flood with warmth. Even the tips of her ears turn pink. “Right. Of course. I, uh… I need some black tea. So… so sugar and milk please. Plenty of sugar, but- but not too much milk. Uh, I can measure if you want. That was kinda vague…” Behind her back, she can’t help but wring her hands.

"Okay…here, I'll just get it steeping and let you handle the milk and sugar. Nobody else ever gets it quite right, right?" Soleil gives her a wink as she slides over the steaming mug, Again, she moves to switch places to retrieve her waiting espresso. "Oh, you're a genius. Thank you." She collects the coffee and holds it up to her face. Just smelling it seems to bring her serenity.

Soleil collects an energy bar from the rack of free offerings on the counter, then shuffles over to one of the couches to settle in. She takes a tablet from her cardigan pocket and taps at the screen, murmuring, "Robooootiiiiics…ah! There you are. Lyra Young? Hey, I remember you!" She perks, looking up at Lyra over at the drink station. "When I came to Rocklin High last year. Weren't you the one with all the questions about A.I.?"

Even if it is just hyperbole, getting called a genius by an actual genius feels very nice and draws out the brightest little smile in Lyra’s features. As Soleil heads off, the girl lingers by the counter, just waiting for the tea to steep. When her hero actually remembers her from Rocklin High, Lyra can barely contain herself. “Yes! Yes, that was me. I asked you about the potential for A.I. maintaining calibrations for improved technical functionality of complex mechanical systems. Your answer kept me thinking for weeks. Months even. I’m still mulling it over. “

Soleil nods excitedly, even finishing the sentence with Lyra, "…for improved technical functionality of complex mechanical systems!" She scoots over on the sofa, tucking her shoeless feet up under her, and pats the empty space beside her invitingly. "I kept an eye on your progress. You were one of the first in our student STEM program, weren't you? I'm really sorry that I haven't been down to the lab to see your work yet."

Lyra is quick to add sugar and milk to her tea before heading over to settle down beside her heroine. Her heart is fluttering a bit too fast as she gazes up at her. Can this even be real? She must have fallen asleep at her desk. This has to be a dream. “It’s alright. You must have a million things to do on top of everything you have time to get done in a day. I… I can’t tell you how much it means to be that I’m in this program. I’d have had to leave Mythic Wood, and- and I couldn’t. I’d have worked at the garage. I’d never have learned any of this. I think Eos is the best thing that’s ever happened to Mythic Wood. And I think you’re amazing and brilliant.” Wait. How’d those last words slip out? This has to be a dream. Oh god, wake up.

Soleil's smile shines like the morning sun, and so do her cheeks, blushing at the compliments. "Thank you. I'm just glad we were able to set up here. I love this town, and I know how you feel. It was hard for me, being away at college. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, and I'm glad I went, especially because I got to meet Jen and Kyle…um, Ms. Yeun and Mr. Rankin. But, I missed home."

The tension evaporates in Lyra’s narrow shoulders. And from behind her teacup, taking a little sip, she gazes over at Soleil with a redoubled awe and adoration. “I can’t even imagine leaving. Even if I had the money. So this… it means the world to me. I have a chance to achieve everything I could have ever wanted to.”

For a moment, Soleil looks like she's going to get a bit emotional, but smiling all the while. "That's amazing. I'm so glad. Jen thought I was nuts establishing here. But I knew. I knew this town is full of exceptional people like you, and together…we're going to change the world." She lifts her espresso mug in a proposed toast to Lyra.

Lyra brings her mug up a little too eagerly. She squeaks as her tea sloshes over the side a bit. “Yes. Yes, definitely. I’ve still got a ton to learn about the basics, but- but there’s so much I can’t wait to do. I think that there’s so much that A.I. can do to improve, well, everything. Make everything more efficient. And safer. My family, they- they all ride a lot of motorcycles. You probably know. And… if I could make them safer? Like the way they’re starting to improve cars… but even go further… that’d be my dream.”

"Mmm!" Soleil makes an excited noise as she sips her coffee. She quickly sets it down and picks up her tablet again. "That reminds me, I was just reading an article about this spatial awareness technology being developed at a lab in Denver. I meant to forward it to your department head, but here, check it out. It could have some amazing applications in robotics, and for your safer motorcycles." She offers the tablet to Lyra.

“Oooh!” breathes Lyra in excitement. She leans in to peer at Soleil’s tablet before she even has a chance to hand it over, forgetting about the whole personal space thing in her eagerness. Distracted with reading with the tablet in her hand, she takes an absent sip of tea before gasping. “Oh! Oh, that’s brilliant. That there. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to get ahold of their data. But maybe we could replicate it a bit? Or improve it. We could definitely make that better. At least my mentors could. They’re so brilliant.”

"Wellll…I'm going to wait to hear what your leads think, but we might see about acquiring this lab. They've got several other projects I'm interested in, and I think they could really benefit from our funding." Soleil shrugs her shoulders. "It would be we would have access to their research."

Lyra’s mouth falls open – just a little. That’s what you get when you work for an amazing company like Eos. Find some interesting research? Bam! Acquired. “That. Would be. Amazing. Except… yes, my leads. They’d be able to say a lot better than me. Yes.” She nods, hiding behind her tea for a second. “So… do you get to work on that kind of thing much anymore? You’re, like… in charge of everything. So is it more like… juggling apples and oranges while herding cats and reciting the prime numbers?”

"Well, thankfully I don't actually run the company. Ms. Yeun is the CEO, and it's what she's good at. I get to focus on the technology…though, yeah, a lot of it is still more administrative than I'd like." Soleil shrugs as she takes the tablet back, quickly sending the article off through the company's internal messaging app. "But I make sure to make time to work on my own projects. I think I'd go insane if I couldn't code or tinker anymore."

“Yes, I… I don’t know if I could ever be in charge of things like that.” Lyra bites her lower lip. Not the best idea to admit your limitation to the boss of your boss’s boss’s boss. “I just love the tinkering. The coding is still hard, but- but that’s where the AI exists. That’s where the real innovation is. The mechanics are fun, and need to get better – I love that too. But coding is what I’m trying to get better at.”

"That's why you're here. We're going to tap into all of that potential and teach you how to unlock your super powers." Soleil shifts her position, switching her legs around to the other side of her so she can comfortably rest an arm on the back of the couch and face Lyra. "So. Pitch me. What is your dream project. If you could work on anything, no matter how pie-in-the-sky, what would it be?"

That question leaves Lyra a bit like a deer in headlights. But, clinging to her cup, she manages to find her voice. “Well, I… If… if I already knew as much as- as Doctor Wick, or- or anyone else in the Robotics Lab. And- and I had all the time, I’d… well, I’d… I’d like to explore ways to integrate AI systems into the mechanical functionality of vehicles. Particularly… particularly motorcycles. Stabilizers. Warning systems… Anything to make them safer. Cars have so many safety features, but on a bike, if you get hit, if you take a fall, chances are you’re done.” Her knuckles are white around her cup to keep herself from trembling too much.

Soleil nods, eyes lighting up with the promise of creative thinking. "Okay, that's awesome. I love how you think about your family's safety. But…there are already huge advances being made in that field. I'm not saying there isn't room for more. But think bigger! Like…reinvent the motorcycle. What would you do to approach the entire thing differently to make it safe? Or even just better in any way?"

“I guess, it- I mean… I wish it could defy the laws of gravity itself. Still feel like a motorcycle, I mean, but- but be just so much more responsive. And never lose balance. Never fall. And if you hit something or something hits you, it- it just doesn’t let you get hurt. Not airbags. I mean like… Like a force field almost.” There is magic in Lyra’s ambitions. There always has been. No one has ever been able to combine them, but Soleil asked her to think bigger.

"I love it. So…maybe some kind of magnetic repulsion system. I know it sounds like sci-fi. But in ten years? It could happen." Soleil nods soberly. "That's how I want you to approach things here. Dream big. Never settle for what you think is possible."

Lyra brightens at Soleil’s approval and encouragement. “Yes ma’am. I won’t ever settle. It does sound like sci-fi and- and it’s never been done. Not ever. But /I’ll/ do it. I won’t stop until I do.” She holds her cup close against her chest, full of newfound eagerness and excitement. “Thank you, Doctor Cassidy. You’re… you’re amazing.” Again, it just slipped out. But this time, she just grins over at her, unabashed at her own genuine emotion.

Soleil's dimpled cheeks go flush again at the compliments. Giggling, she shakes her head. "Not a doctor. Please, you can call me Soleil. I'm really not into formality. I want people to feel comfortable here, not like I'm 'the boss'," she puts up her hands in finger quotes, "and they have to suddenly start behaving differently because I'm around."

“Oh! Right, of course.” Lyra flushes at having gotten the wrong title. But she smiles up at Soleil with a little nod. “Don’t worry, I won’t behave all different. I mean, I don’t really know how. I should. You know… be more professional in general. I think it’s easier for most people because they can put on different masks all the time. But I’ve sorta just got one way of being. Always have. So… I’m glad you’re not into formality. I’m bad at it.”

Soleil laughs, nodding. "Good. Be bad at formality." Then, after a moment she seems to reconsider. "Well…with me, anyhow. I can't promise everyone here is like that. Ms. Yeun, for instance. She prefers it. So, if someone wants to be called Miss or Mister or whatever, go with that. But otherwise I do try to keep a more casual company culture."

“Right. I’ll do my best,” says Lyra with a sharp little nod. “I guess it’s lucky I haven’t met them yet. Though, I- I wasn’t planning to be ‘informal’. It… it just doesn’t come naturally. Um… but I’m really glad I got to meet you. This… I feel so inspired. I want to keep talking, but- but I really need to get back to work. I’ve been struggling with this program, and I’ve got to finish it tonight. Or it’ll be torturing me all weekend.”

"Of course. I know exactly what you mean. I should probably get back to my office, too." Soleil sighs softly, tucking her tablet into her cardigan pocket. As her feet touch the floor, she pauses and gives Lyra a squinty look. "You know, I find that after fighting with code forever, usually it helps to have a fresh set of eyes on it." She shrugs a little meekly. "Want me to take a look at it?"

Lyra gets up to go rinse out her cup. But Soleil’s offer makes her stop. Whirling around, her eyes shine with eagerness. She can’t even try to hide it. The chance to watch Soleil Cassidy herself untangle the bugs in her code excites her far too much. “Yes please! I’d really appreciate that. I think I’d learn a lot. I know I will.”

Soleil hops up excitedly. "I could really use the break from my own project. Maybe a little distraction will help me, too. Alright, come on." She opens the door to the employee lounge, letting Lyra out first. "Let's see what you've got cooking."

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