Author Topic: Fleming Unit #6: Meticulous Machinery  (Read 1509 times)

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Abysmii

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on: 01:30 AM, 11/12/17
October 10th, 2017

Divorce is a difficult topic to speak about, it's even painful to ponder about just to yourself.  Yet, I found my thoughts circulating only around divorce when I began my short road trip to Havre, Montana.  "5:00 PM, October 10th, 2017 - Go to Storage Unit."  That was what my phone beeped to me right on the dot.  I was already on the road by four, unable to wait due to my anxiousness about dealing with my dead father’s estate.  Thinking about divorce can have a very unsettling effect, driving you to do anything else just to occupy your mind.  I didn't even consider my old home town as I pulled into the Fleming Storage Units.  The bracing forty-seven degree weather certainly brought me to my senses as I pulled up to the parking lot.  It was already dark when I arrived at the padlock to Unit 6, so fumbling with the keys to open the rolling door wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done.
   
About a week prior, Mom had given me a small manilla envelope filled only with a ring of a dozen keys and some paperwork pertaining to the storage unit.  Apparently, there was some legal incident and every unit at the facility had to be cleaned out.  I thought back to that late evening in August when I had visited her small apartment.  All she said was,

“Everything is in here.”

“Okay.  Can I ask what everyone else got?”, I inquired.

“That’s everything,” she replied, crossing her arms.

“I know I didn’t go to the meeting where the will was read, and I’m not asking for money, I’m just genuinely curious if -”, she cut me off early in my pre-planned spiel.

“Honey, I said that’s everything.  He didn’t have or leave anything else and you were the only person named in his will.”  She loosened her arms and stance a bit, letting me soak that revelation in.

It had been such a blur when he passed.  I didn’t attend the funeral, much less the reading of the will.  I gave Mom power of attorney so she could go in my stead.  It wasn’t that I was too heartbroken, more that Dad hadn’t been part of my life for a long time and I had moved on.  But to hear that he had nothing left at the end of his life and that I was the sole recipient of his will, hit me harder than expected.  Did he cut ties with everyone?  Was he that destitute before he died? 

I opened the package and read the paperwork with Mom.  Both of us were visibly uncomfortable when we read the words “Havre, Montana”.  I asked her if she knew of the Fleming Storage Units and what Dad possibly could have kept in there all these years.  She shrugged and guessed that it was just old junk he had forgotten to put in the will, most likely worthless.  Nonetheless, I resolved to take a week of grieving time off work to sort out whatever Dad left me.

Snapping from my recollection, I retrieved the keys from the envelope.  To my surprise, the storage unit key was clearly labelled and easy to find.  You see, Dad was an incredibly disorganized, sloppy, and generally messy person.  He left messes wherever he went, always absent-minded or lazy when it came to picking up after himself.  His hygiene was fine, but he always seemed surrounded by clutter.  So, I was taken aback when I found the main key to be so easy to locate on the keyring.  After momentary befuddlement, I undid the heavy padlock and placed it on the cold ground.  The rolling door retracted with a loud, metallic clanking which reverberated off the nearby units and concrete.

Unprepared for such a loud sound, I quickly looked around to see if anyone had been disturbed.  I found only a few people in the vicinity and none of them seemed bothered, which brought me a little comfort.  Havre has always been a small and eerie town.  Sparsely populated and always 10 years behind the rest of the country, growing up in small town Montana had not been comfortable for my family.  I did wish the other visitors would be a bit more lively though, having some idle chatter around me would have done wonders to dispel the gloomy quietness of my surroundings.

Repressing my slight paranoia, I turned back toward the now open storage unit.  At first, all I saw was a dark heap of shelves and some obscured object in the middle of the floor.  I fumbled around for a light switch, but couldn’t readily locate it.  Utilizing my phone’s flashlight app, I scanned the unit for a switch or pull string.

Instead of finding an additional source of illumination, I was distracted by the contents of the unit.  Three multi-tiered shelving units with four shelves on each were positioned flush against the three walls.  They were filled with metallic parts and electronics.  I saw paper and tags but it was too dark to read them from the distance I was standing at.  The tarp in the center covered something large and oddly shaped.  Questions flooded my mind.  Dad never collected anything, what could all this be?  The storage unit paperwork has no billing history, how long has this been here?  What the hell am I going to do with all this junk?  Will I have to pay an appraiser?

It was still far too dark to get any good look at the contents of the unit.  I stared blankly at the tarp for a few minutes while thinking to myself.  I reasoned that I should just wait until tomorrow when it was brighter out so I don’t have to grope for a light switch and possibly break something in the process.  Also, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the junk, thoughts of my parent’s divorce, and being back in Havre.  I had already booked a night at the nearby Super 8 and needed at least a few hours of sleep.  After checking in and collapsing on the less than stellar bed, I mindlessly channel surfed for a bit before dozing off.

October 11th, 2017

I woke to the sound of my alarm, signalling that it was 9:30 AM.  I wasn’t entirely content with the precious hours of slumber, but I also wanted to get out of that dingy hotel.

I made a short walk to some hole-in-the-wall coffee shop called “The Press”.  It was a ‘mom and pop’ establishment that hadn’t quite caught up with the idea of a mocha, but the java was nonetheless palatable.  I sat and stared out the window at the passing cars and the slow trickle of patrons.  Being located on the edge of town, The Press seemed to get a lot of people passing through.  Havre was less than a footnote in Montana, which qualified it for middle-of-nowhere status as far as the rest of the country was concerned.  I began thinking on just how much I hated growing up here, how little had changed, and how much I wanted to be anywhere else.  After finishing my coffee, I left a generous tip and walked back to my car at the Super 8.  Seeing the fresh key mark across the hood should have made me angry, but I just chalked it up to being typical Havre behavior.  ‘Fuck this place’, I thought to myself as I got in my car.

Fleming Storage Units was a mercifully short distance from the hotel.  With the sun brightly hanging in the sky, I pulled into the nearby parking lot.  There were an unusual amount of visitors tending to their storage when I walked up to my dad’s unit.  I recalled the mass notice and reasoned that these visitors were also clearing out their units.  I briefly considered making small talk, but got cold feet and turned to my unit's door.

More deftly handling the lock this time, I opened the rolling door and entered the unit.  The sheer amount of objects on the shelves renewed my confusion and awe.  Twelve shelves-worth of electrical and metal equipment.  Meters, tubes, small and old computers, magnets, lead pipes and enclosures, a water cooling system, copper wires and sheets, not to mention enormous battery packs.  One shelf was dedicated to small turbines and condensers alone.  The only reason I could identify half of this stuff was due to the impeccable labeling.  Again, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how my scatterbrained father could have anything to do with an orderly collection like this.

After visually inspecting the shelves, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to touch anything, I looked toward the tarp in the center of the unit.  It wasn’t easy walking around it, so I was eager to get whatever was under it out of the way.  Pulling the dusty cover away achieved two things.  Firstly, it aggravated my allergies and sent me into a sneezing fit.  Secondly, it revealed a perplexing device.  I had no concept of what it was beyond some cursory observations.  It seemed to be a combination of parts that were stocked on the shelves.  A lead enclosure with meters attached and various metallic parts.  I could tell it was heavy and I wasn’t about to move or try to open it.  Feeling at a loss, I searched around for notes or files, a laptop, anything that could indicate what dad was doing with all this.

Eventually, I located a old accordion folder behind some scrap metal in a corner.  It was divided into three sections: Costs, Data, and Notes.  I was getting a headache from all the sensory overload and decided to head back to the hotel for some lunch.  After locking up, I put the papers in my passenger seat and drove away, questioning everything more than ever.

I had initially planned to spend the rest of the day pouring over the documents, but found myself entirely drained both mentally and physically.  I spent the remaining hours taking walks, getting meals, and watching the limited selection of movies at Cottonwood Cinemas off 2nd Street.  It was anything I could do to take my mind off of the novel’s worth of documents dad left behind.

I rounded out my evening with getting tipsy at the Sommerville Wine Emporium, or Sommerville’s for short.  Driving back to the hotel whilst trying to find a radio station that wasn’t country music made the trip feel like a couple blocks.  After collapsing in the uncomfortable bed, I fell asleep without much effort.

October 12th, 2017

I woke up with the slightest of hangovers, but nothing that coffee at The Press couldn’t fix.  I snagged a large table and comfortable chair in a back corner, content to subsist off of coffee and snacks for the majority of the day.

Splaying the accordion file on the table, I began with the “Costs” section.  It contained flawless receipts and accounts for everything in the storage unit, all in chronological order.  The dates ranged from when I was born, through our lives in Havre, up until a year before he died.  There were giant gaps in between work and purchases, probably because the lazy asshole couldn’t raise money fast enough to do whatever the hell this project was.  Some of the pieces were priced in the thousands of dollars, while others were relatively inexpensive.  I recalled how, before the divorce, my parents argued about money a lot.  I remembered how I was called the “poor kid” at school, which is especially insulting considering Havre’s low-standard of living.  Where the hell did Dad get the money to spend on all this shit?  I stopped myself from getting too angry and made it through the receipts as quick as I could, looking only for anything that would stand out.  However, it all just confirmed what I had seen at the unit the day before.

Around noon, I had moved on to "Data".  It was a jumble of mathematical and scientific equations, formulas, and general chicken scratch.  Nothing had any indication or labeling to describe what any of it meant or was being used for.  It was almost as if dad went out of his way to ensure no one could know what he was doing.  Typical of him, really.  He never liked explaining himself to anyone.

Two images were repeated more than any other in the scribblings.



I had a general background in math and physics for my job as a microwave technician, but both figures were far beyond my expertise.  I racked my brain for anyone that could help me, as the internet was not being of any use.  I remembered that the local college, Northern Montana State University, had an applied sciences division and placed a call, hoping someone wasn’t teaching and had a moment to talk to me.

After about ten minutes of transfers and holding, I was connected to an adjunct professor.  I explained as best I could what I had found but she said there was no way for her to help without seeing exactly what was written down.  She gave me her email address and I sent off some pictures of the figures.  She replied, explaining that she had some free time tonight and would send me what she could tomorrow morning.  I thanked her profusely and stood up to stretch.

Realizing that it was approaching dinner time and just how little I had ate, I caved and got some drive-through burgers nearby.  Sitting in my car, I couldn’t shake the anticipation and continuing confusion clouding my mind.  Unable to think of anything better to do, I got hammered at Sommerville’s, spending the night just watching the clientele, trying not to look like a creepy stalker.  I thought a lot about my dad, frustrated at this stupid secret that likely drove the wedge between him and mom.  What was so important that he couldn’t tell us?  What was he craving so badly that he spent so much money on some mystery project instead of helping with bills?

After stumbling to my car, I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t even touched the “Notes” section.  I drove to the hotel drunk, not giving a shit because I knew the cops never did anything in this town except bust meth heads near the airport.  As I climbed into bed, I took out the entire "Notes" section.  It was the smallest of the three groups which struck me as strange given how dense the "Costs" and "Data" portions were.

Dad’s "Notes" were barely notes at all.  Jots and doodles of buildings, trees, stick figures, and mundane objects.  The words “redeem” and “erase” over and over again.  This all repeated in some form or another for five pages.  I began to cry.  My anger at Dad had turned to pity.  He had lost his mind or maybe it was never whole to begin with.

I remembered with pain the shouting fights my parents had.  He hated living in Havre.  Hated being married to her.  He wanted to leave and never come back, eventually forcing us to move five hours away.  I was no fan of Havre, but I preferred living in this shithole without him than in paradise with him.  I drank a glass of water and fell asleep soon after.

October 13th, 2017

I awoke to a call from the adjunct professor at the University.  Fully hungover at this point, I apologized for my grogginess and asked if I could call her back in an hour or so.  She said that was fine as there was no emergency to her findings.  I thanked her again and stumbled over to The Press.  A young barista, adorned with a black and gold hair net, had become familiar at the sight of me by this point and guessed my order.  I smiled and left another generous tip.

After an hour of recuperating, I dialed the professor’s direct line.  She picked up after a couple rings.

“Hello?”, he voice was chipper, even amused.

“Hi, it’s Sam.  Is this a good time?”  I hoped she wasn’t heading into a meeting or something.

“Sure! Friday’s are slow for me and I don’t have a class until the late afternoon,” she replied.

“Cool, I’m ready when you are,” I said, pen and paper at the ready, my Dad’s “Data” in front of me.

She spoke slowly and in a very instructional manner, befitting her career.

“So the first image you sent is an equation, likely used in calculus.  Specifically, it’s describing the negation of an atom.”  She paused for a moment.  I spoke up.

“Hello?  Is that it?” I didn’t want to sound rude, but I figured there was a deeper explanation.  She replied quickly.

“Nope, that’s it.  I could go into breaking down every letter and what function it stands for, but in layman’s terms it just describes an atomic particle being negated.”  I was a little disappointed, but I also didn’t know what to fully expect.

“Okay, what about the second image?  The box thing?”  I didn’t know what to call it it and felt a little embarrassed.  She chuckled nonetheless.

“I had to source this one to my friends here at the school and my chemistry buddy was able to shed some light.  That box thing is a diagram for the crystal structure of plutonium.  The ‘x 5.3 kg’ we assume just means 5.3 kilograms.  It’s a very random amount that’s lacking context...and yeah, that’s it.”  She left me a minute to process everything.  I was bouncing the terms in my head, desperately trying to piece them together.  Atoms and plutonium?  What the hell would dad need with plutonium?  How would he even get plutonium?  Wasn’t that illegal to sell or something?  I asked her if there was anything else she could tell me, to which she politely said “No.”

I thanked her a final time and hung up.  Unable to decipher the puzzle, I gathered the documents and headed back to the storage unit.  I opened the door with its familiar cacophony, blending in with the other visitors who were doing the same.  There were more of them now, but I paid it no mind.

I sat down in front of the weird contraption on the floor, searching my brain for any clues I could connect.  I threw discarded screws at the magnets, trying to get them to stick as an absent-minded game.  One of the screws missed and bounced off a lead plate.

It then occurred to me.  Lead.  Lead and copper shielding protects from radiation.  Plutonium is highly radioactive.  The contraption must have been some housing structure for the plutonium.  I thought about the notes, “redeem” and “erase”.  Was he that crazy?  Was my father so stupid as to believe he could build an atomic bomb in secret?  I’m not a nuclear physicist, but even I know you need a gigantic facility to build a bomb of that size and magnitude.  Even if he just wanted a small one to nuke Havre, he couldn’t get the plutonium, not on his salary, not even from the black market.  The fucking psycho hadn’t even bought a radiation suit, for fuck’s sake.

I stared in disbelief at the contraption.  My father had pissed away his life hoping to erase his painful past of constant screw-ups, all in some half-baked revenge plot.  When he passed, relatives had told me of his weird ramblings and dementia, but none of them could have guessed this.

I have to wonder if he even would have gone through with it if he could.  Maybe this project was just therapy or a desperate cry for help.  Why else would he leave me this collection?  Why was this the one thing he gave enough of a shit about to be organized for, but still somehow left a mess behind?

I remembered that dementia can be hereditary and gets worse with age.  Maybe I was overreacting and drawing impossible links in my fury over the man who was a shit parent and a worse husband.  Maybe I’d go crazy later in life as well.  One thing I knew for certain was this:  I won’t be the bitter old man my father was.  I won’t die alone and penniless, throwing all my money at some ridiculous and possibly murderous dream.  I don’t care anymore about what he was up to in that storage unit, and I could care less for what the rest of the keys on the keyring unlock.  He was as harmless as he was old, and as incompetent as he was pitiful.

I locked up the storage unit and burned all the files.  I hired a company to come out and haul everything away for scrap.  I'm sure they ripped me off, but I could care less.  I hope the professor doesn’t put any more thought into the information I gave her.  Havre doesn’t need any more rumors and gossip.  I left the empty unit and Havre for good.  I plan to never return.
« Last Edit: 06:32 PM, 12/ 3/17 by Abysmii »



urkelbot666

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on: 02:19 AM, 11/12/17
I thought there was some interesting stuff in this one. I've only just read it once, and I'm sure that I'll pick up on stuff as I read it more, but from what I got on the first reading, I liked some of the vague or misleading stuff that leaves a little to the reader's imagination. I liked imagining what exactly was going on with the narrator's father for so long, wondering where he got all this weird stuff, learned to build things and use the meters and contraptions he had. It reminds me a little of the movie Primer.

There were a few things that I wanted to comment on. There are a few typos here and there, but nothing another proofreading wouldn't take care of. On the eleventh, you make a comment about people checking units on a Tuesday, but the eleventh is a Wednesday. Though I may be misreading something (I had some issues with my days and dates in my story actually)

One thing that I felt was a little bit of an obstacle for me reading was the way the story opened with the talk about how hard it is to think about divorce. I felt like it came across just a tiny bit heavy handed where a little subtlety might have been more effective. It also mentions twice that the narrator didn;t attend the reading of the will, and maybe once would be sufficient.

These may just be nitpicks on my part, just personal things, but I felt I would point them out just as a matter of course. This one was intriguing, and I like the sci-fi-ish edge it has to it :)
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Rika84

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on: 01:21 PM, 11/12/17
A bomb? How mysterious!
Do you think some more light could be shed on the father's intentions with the bomb? I know it's supposed to be open-ended, but the reveal is a little flat as it is now. Your narrator is sitting there, and then realizes, "Oh, hey, this might be part of a bomb. WELL, I'm out." And that's that.
It needs more punch.

Also, you hit hard on the idea of the divorce early on, touched on it a bit more in the middle, and then it wasn't really there at the end. I know this is a first draft sort of thing, so I'm sure you'll get the balance of what themes/thoughts need to be present throughout on revision.
(This is gonna be a pain in my story too, and I'm not even though the first draft. x_x All theme in one part, no theme in the rest.)

Quote
He hated living in Havre.  Hated being married to her.  He wanted to leave and never come back, eventually forcing us to move five hours away.  I was no fan of Havre, but I preferred living in this shithole without him than in paradise with him.
I got pretty lost on this line. The father hated Havre, but... he stayed? The narrator preferred... which "shithole", Havre? I think this line forget who was living where. I like the feeling it's going for, it just needs some rearranging.

Quote
The younger barista had become familiar at the site of me by this point and guessed my order.
Besides the "site" typo, I think this line could flow a bit better. To me this idea felt really good, like I got a moment of warm-fuzzies with this brief connection with the barista. <3

Quote
it just describes an atomic particle being negated
hm. Well, I'm glad your narrator knows what that means, because I don't! XD
Could he maybe take a moment to recall what that means in a little more detail? Or let the professor explain it?

Also, I really like that your narrator is oblivious to the call to action that brought the other unit owners here. It doesn't take much to convey that but it really brought a smile to my face as someone familiar with this project and the police investigation. Good idea!



Abysmii

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on: 03:01 PM, 11/12/17
A bomb? How mysterious!
Do you think some more light could be shed on the father's intentions with the bomb? I know it's supposed to be open-ended, but the reveal is a little flat as it is now. Your narrator is sitting there, and then realizes, "Oh, hey, this might be part of a bomb. WELL, I'm out." And that's that.
It needs more punch.

Also, you hit hard on the idea of the divorce early on, touched on it a bit more in the middle, and then it wasn't really there at the end. I know this is a first draft sort of thing, so I'm sure you'll get the balance of what themes/thoughts need to be present throughout on revision.
(This is gonna be a pain in my story too, and I'm not even though the first draft. x_x All theme in one part, no theme in the rest.)
I got pretty lost on this line. The father hated Havre, but... he stayed? The narrator preferred... which "shithole", Havre? I think this line forget who was living where. I like the feeling it's going for, it just needs some rearranging.
Besides the "site" typo, I think this line could flow a bit better. To me this idea felt really good, like I got a moment of warm-fuzzies with this brief connection with the barista. <3
hm. Well, I'm glad your narrator knows what that means, because I don't! XD
Could he maybe take a moment to recall what that means in a little more detail? Or let the professor explain it?

Also, I really like that your narrator is oblivious to the call to action that brought the other unit owners here. It doesn't take much to convey that but it really brought a smile to my face as someone familiar with this project and the police investigation. Good idea!

This was a lot of good feedback, I really appreciate it.  I'm having trouble with using the divorce as a framework.  I like using it in the beginning and the sprinkling it in later on so it stays in the back of the reader's mind.  However, it does come off a little clunky as currently written.

My point with the literal is that the narrator only understands that it has to do with atoms.  His father certainly didn't know what he was doing and had only the most basic of understandings.  The professor knows, but her going into detail wouldn't shed any more light on the situation because it doesn't matter.  The father was playing with ideas and forces far outside his understanding.  If I did go into detail, I think it would bore and distract the reader.

As for the ending, I'm not sure how to make it punch more.  I had a few ideas but they all came off as very Hollywood and I'm trying not to be sensational.  Do you have any suggestions?



Rika84

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on: 07:13 PM, 11/12/17
hm. Yeah, it's hard not to be sensational. It is a bomb, after all.
Even thinking about it, I feel dramatic:

He sits in the storage unit, throwing screws at magnets. The metal clinks. He ruminates on all the literal junk in the unit. This caused all those fights, all those words, things that didn't make sense back then and things that don't make sense now. The name calling. The idol threats. And all the while this was behind them.
The idol threats? Another screw hits the ground.
He tries to hold onto the words from a memory. Something his father had said. It sounded like a frustrated joke. He wouldn't hurt with his hands, but he sure would hurt with his words.
That thing he said...
Could he have tried to do it?
The notion settles into his gut like the lead encasing what could be... a bomb.


I mean, this isn't not dangerous. Sure, it's not about to blow up, but maybe there would be a little more shock and fear? What if the lead encasement wasn't constructed right? What if something else in the room was radioactive? There's nothing you can be too sure about now that you've seen how far he would go with just an angry idea.

Sorry, I'm just spouting feelings. XD I don't know if it helps... If I come up with something more concrete, I'll be back.



Sacrificial Rook

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on: 10:38 PM, 11/12/17
Divorce is a very final thing. It's an ending from which there is no return, and cannot be unmade. You don't un-divorce someone, you start over. As a reader, if the divorce we're reincorporated as the moment in his life that everyone that matters to the old man is just DONE with his bullshit, that would free you up to refocus the narrative on the "senile old man tries to do terrible thing out of misplaced spite and bitterness" aspect. Feels a bit like you have two frameworks right now, the one you have and the one you want.

"What do you mean negate?" Seems like a logical question that's noticeably absent. I appreciate not wanting to over explain things, and I don't think a terse and somewhat evasive response would violate that. "It's used to proof equations," or some such.

I wonder if, instead of adding some punch to the ending, there's a way to take something away and let the reader punch themselves? After the call, I'm aware of what's going on and waiting for the narrator to catch up and put the pieces together. Tail on this one might be a bit long.



mikemacdee

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on: 01:57 AM, 11/14/17
If you're going to mix dialogue and descriptions, keep the descriptions attached to their respective paragraphs. It's less confusing and looks more organized.

Quote
“So the first image you sent is an equation, likely used in calculus.  Specifically, it’s describing the negation of an atom.”  She paused for a moment.  I spoke up.

“Hello?  Is that it?” I didn’t want to sound rude, but I figured there was a deeper explanation.  She replied quickly.

“Nope, that’s it.  I could go into breaking down every letter and what function it stands for, but in layman’s terms it just describes an atomic particle being negated.”  I was a little disappointed, but I also didn’t know what to fully expect.

This section is a little tough to follow in context; out of context it's just plain confusing. If the content is left unchanged, it should be structured like this instead:

Quote
“So the first image you sent is an equation, likely used in calculus.  Specifically, it’s describing the negation of an atom.”  She paused for a moment.

I spoke up. “Hello?  Is that it?” I didn’t want to sound rude, but I figured there was a deeper explanation.

She replied quickly. “Nope, that’s it.  I could go into breaking down every letter and what function it stands for, but in layman’s terms it just describes an atomic particle being negated.”

I was a little disappointed, but I also didn’t know what to fully expect.

It can be improved further though, beyond the mere structure. Honestly a lot of this narration is just boring clutter.

Quote
“So the first image you sent is an equation, likely used in calculus.  Specifically, it’s describing the negation of an atom.”  Then she paused.

“...Hello?  Is that it?”

"That’s it.  I could go into breaking down every letter and what function it stands for, but in layman’s terms it just describes an atomic particle being negated.”