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Sep 29, 2022 4:46 AM
dath ilan marian alt in atlas shrugged
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"I searched for him for months. I tried the Starnes heirs, the man who got the factory after them, another engineer from that factory's widow, the diner cook who the widow said she had seen with the inventor at a train station years ago--cold trails everywhere. He had a mind like a beacon and it's like he has vanished off the face of the Earth."

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Merrin considers this for almost a full minute in silence, turning it over and over in her mind. 

 

"....I don't like that," she says finally. "That's - worrying. A new kind of worrying. I don't know what that means. I - guess he could be dead? That wouldn't be a plausible explanation where I'm from but given the state of medical infrastructure here, it seems very possible someone could - die in an accident, without happening to have any identifying documents, and no one would know. But it'd - be a coincidence. I don't know." 

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"It worries me too. He should have been famous. It seems impossible that he could be dead and yet I can't imagine what he would be doing, if he was alive. But--at least I know that someone like that did exist, once."

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Merrin sighs. "...He sounds like a person who could be from dath ilan. More than anyone else here. I - guess I wish I could just talk to him. Feels like it would - be less lonely. But I think you - we - can probably figure out the machine without direct communication with him. He documented it well." 

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Dagny smiles, a fierce smile of mutual understanding and renewed determination. "We will. We'll build his generator, and perhaps in time we'll build your civilization too."

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Merrin nods. Smiles, tightly. She is not going to start crying. This is not a situation that calls for tears and she is at all capable of dignity when the situation calls for it, which it does, she wants to make a good impression with Dagny very, very badly. 

"I think I want to work with you," she says after a long pause. "It does feel kind of absurd, that I could be - better placed using what I know to make things better in the world at a train company rather than a hospital, but - maybe it's not. I wasn't any good at science in school but the science classes were good and...maybe that's enough." 

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"I fully expect that you'll leave me to found a hospital someday. As someone capable of falling ill, I look forward to it. In the meantime, when can you start?"

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"Um, I have a shift tomorrow, had to trade to get today off. I - think it would be pretty rude and leave them in a bad position if I just didn't show, but I haven't been there long, it probably won't disrupt things too badly if I tell them I want tomorrow to be my last day." 

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"Excellent." And then they can figure out salary and benefits and what her day-to-day job duties are going to be, right here in this creepy tunnel unless Merrin reminds Dagny that she has an office.

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Merrin is not easily creeped out, and discussing job duties in a tunnel is not even among the top ten creepiest experiences she's had so far in this world.

She is not very calibrated on what standard salaries are, even leaving aside that her role is likely to be fairly non-standard; she's trying to be responsible about looking out for her own interests in this negotiation (by dath ilan standards this is the polite thing to do), and she asks Dagny quite a lot of clarifying questions about what the other roles in the company are and what qualifications they have and what the salary range is, and then has to use mental math to figure out how many months of rent on her new apartment a particular amount represents. 

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Dagny has all of that information memorized, as well as the prices of various other things one might want to buy with one's salary, and has sufficiently similar politeness norms that they don't trip over any noticeable differences.

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It is actually INCREDIBLY RESTFUL to have an entire conversation that does not involve constantly tripping over mysterious differences in politeness norms which no one is able or willing to explain to Merrin using actual words! This by itself would be a very tempting reason to flee her job at the hospital and work with Dagny! 

However pleasant and relieving this is, Dagny is very busy and Merrin doesn't want to take up any more of her time than necessary. 

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Just so. Until they meet again, then!

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Merrin's final shift of her short-lived hospital job is both easier and harder than the others. She's learned to at least imitate the surface level of the politeness norms, to be adequately subservient with the doctors even when she's pretty sure they know less about medicine than her, and knowing that this is the last time, it takes less of an intense ongoing effort of will not to snap at people or inform them coolly of what treatment should be ordered if they were actually paying attention. 

It's much harder to bring all of her effort and attention to a task that she's constantly pushed to flinch away from. 

She makes it through, though, and sleeps better than she ever has since arriving here, and then navigates to her first day at Dagny's train company. 

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She gets a nice modern (by local standards) office on the same hallway as a bunch of other researchers, with shared lab space at the end of the hall. In the long term her main focus is going to be the generator, but it's going to take a few weeks to get the materials for the proof of concept delivered, so in the meantime Merrin is encouraged to divide her time between familiarizing herself with her colleagues' projects and writing down everything she can remember from her science classes whether or not it seems at all relevant to trains.

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She's a researcher! Apparently! Merrin had never in her entire life imagined that this would ever end up being a career path that made sense for her!

....She's not sure how she feels about it, actually. But it's better than the hospital. Though she feels weird and uncomfortable about that fact, too. 

 

Dragging up distant memories of science class is pretty unpleasant. Merrin did not, overall, have a positive experience of school, when it came to math and science; her personality type is such that failing to impress adults was always kind of painful, and also she often ended up placed in classes with students who were just a little bit natively higher-intelligence than her, and thus understood the material more easily and with less effort. As an adult, looking back, she can see that this was a reasonable call by whoever was in charge, because Merrin is stubborn and high-conscientious and she did keep up, and if she hadn't had those opportunities to learn then she probably wouldn't have scraped past the screening-exams to study as a medical tech at all. Merrin does not, at this point, disagree with any of the decisions made on her behalf when she was a child (except, perhaps, by some made by her parents. One of her parents specifically).

She was successful and happy and providing value and it's not like it really did her any permanent harm, that she spent half her childhood feeling like she was fundamentally disappointing as a person. She got over it. 

It's less unpleasant if she can explain it out loud to other researchers here. Merrin hadn't realized how satisfying it would be, to have someone hang onto everything she says and react as though she's brilliant. She knows it's not really something she can credit to her own skill or effort, but it feels good. 

 

She is very eager to learn about her colleagues' projects! That barely involves confronting any unpleasant childhood associations at all! 

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Her colleagues are working on:

- A mathematical model for route planning that can be adjusted easily when the availability of loads in different areas changes rapidly

- A pump to ventilate tunnels more efficiently

- A new lubricant that will make bearings wear out more slowly

- A series of tests of the tiny variations in the sound a piece of steel makes when hit with a hammer and how they vary with how much stress the steel is under, to be used in predicting which sections of track most urgently need replacing

None of them seem to think Merrin is a disappointment. They think she's smart and kind of intriguingly exotic and that it's neat how she's switching fields to the objectively coolest one. Some of them infodump cheerfully, others hand her a pile of printed documents of background info and handwritten experimental notes and tell her to ask if she has any questions.

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Her colleagues are great! It's not quite the same as being on a team of medical professionals, she still really misses her colleagues from back home, but she gets along with these people and it's not too hard to communicate. She's running into a lot less bizarre unexpected social awkwardness and it's got to be partly just practice and familiarity with local norms, but she also thinks her colleagues here are just...easier to talk to. 

Merrin actually knows a surprising amount of math relevant to the route planning project! She also knows - and still remembers, well enough to explain - a lot of the math involved in interpreting experimental data. All of a sudden half of her conversations are about math and she's enjoying them; this is a bizarre experience

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Some of them want to know where she grew up, and if she says it wasn't in the US they all want to know what it's like there! They've heard other countries are all kind of crap, but it's not as if the US is perfect and maybe other places have totally different problems.

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She didn't grow up in the US. The place she grew up was pretty different in a lot of ways. 

(Merrin is going to be evasive about giving more detailed answers than this until she has a chance to check with Dagny or Eddie about whether she should tell them her real background.) 

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They're mostly worried that people won't believe her. It's kind of obvious she's from another world once you've talked to her for five minutes but a lot of people don't believe obvious things when those things are weird and unexpected.

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.....Yeah. That was kind of what she figured. 

Merrin settles on being very evasive about the name and geographical location of where she's from, and not volunteering much about dath ilan's tech level or Governance structure, while mostly giving honest answers to any specific questions that she's asked. 

(She doesn't love this. Tracking this sort of concern doesn't come naturally to her, and it feels....lonelier.) 

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Some people have the kind of past they don't want to talk about much. Merrin's general demeanor is not what you expect from people with that kind of past, but, well, you never know. At least, her colleagues think to themselves, there's math. Nobody ever has to run away from math.

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At least there's math! And also physics and chemistry and biology, all of which are much more advanced in dath ilan, though Merrin knows fragments at best.

She's most knowledgeable about biology and medicine, obviously, which are unfortunately among the least relevant to trains, but she tries to write everything down anyway. She's gradually getting past her various flinches around explaining math to other people who are probably smarter and will notice her obvious stupid mistakes, because that keeps....not happening. But medicine is still by far the most interesting and fun topic for her to think about or explain, and hopefully it'll be relevant someday. 

She does also try to prioritize some physics and engineering notetaking, since that's going to be the most essential in the short term, whenever the materials arrive to run the initial experiments. 

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One evening, a few days before the materials are due to be delivered, there's a knock on Merrin's apartment door.

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