Well, I've combined two of the topics I love most in this fandom: the early days of Abby and Holtzmann's friendship and mentor/surrogate mom Dr. Gorin. Maybe I've just had stuff like this on my mind lately with the job applications and interviews I've had going on, but it seemed like a fun moment to explore.

This was a mistake, Abby mused as she tossed aside yet another application.

The Higgins Institute supported her research. Okay, so she wasn't a hundred percent sure the dean had been sober when he hired her, but the paperwork had gone through, she was given a lab and course load, and the paychecks kept showing up. And when she had put in a request for a lab assistant it had been approved and the posting went up online with everyone else's. The dean believed in her work.

Unfortunately, he seemed to be the only one. Abby knew the rest of the faculty and student body thought she was a joke. It was high school and undergrad all over again, just without Erin at her side.

But that totally wasn't why she requested the assistant. Nope. She was overworked with research and grading, that was all.

Not that the crop of applicants HR had sent her looked like they would be any help. So far, one application had been for 'Yo Mama', another included variations on the word 'poop' in every entry, and one declared himself a 'professor of weed studies' who 'wanted to see some shit'.

"And we have one from the Scooby Doo gang," she read, grumbling. "It's Velma, not Thelma, moron. Bet you don't do any research in your classes either."

She sighed, tossing that one in the discard heap on the floor and looking at the next. Then sat up straighter, reading closer.

It was a serious application. An actual real application from a PhD graduate from MIT. Abby read through the whole thing, gaping at the GPA, the publications—dating back to when they were in high school—the grants, the awards…

Abby stared at the paper, wondering if HR had made a mistake and sent one of the regular physics applicants her way. But she flipped to the cover letter on the packet and it was indeed addressed to her.

A six-page cover letter.

Abby read through it and discovered the fairly awkward and disjointed opening paragraphs quickly gave way to a mathematical proof, one based on the summary of her work Abby had posted on the school website. She had mentioned spectral particles and their mechanics in no more than two sentences, and yet this applicant had worked out the mathematics of them, coming up with very similar calculations to what she and Erin had more than a decade before. Except—

Abby's heart raced when she turned to the last page and saw hand-drawn schematics sketched at the end of the proof. An actual, functional idea for a device that could detect PKE's effects on spectral particles and the surrounding atmosphere.

Who was this kid?!

Abby turned back to the first page. Jillian Holtzmann. Abby had never heard of her before. How was someone working on this level not the darling of physics journals? Surely she should have been applying at more prestigious options than Higgins.

Something was fishy about this.

Abby turned to the list of references. The first was the girl's advisor from MIT. Okay, made sense. The second…

Abby paused. The second was Enrico Fermi. A brilliant quantum physicist yes, but one who had been dead for half a century. Her third wasn't much better. Louis de Brogle had won his Nobel Prize in the twenties and died in the eighties.

Unless she already was in contact with ghosts, this sounded pretty dubious. On a whim, Abby looked up the phone numbers provided for the latter two references and found out one was a pizza shop in Boston while the other was a…'specialty', meaning erotic, toy store in Jersey.

Everything about this application screamed 'shady', but that mathematical proof blazed in Abby's mind. She had to know more about this girl. Well, the first reference looked legit enough. What was she out if it turned out to be a bust? A quick phone call?

Abby dialed the number provided and waited through the rings, intending to leave a voicemail for the professor to call her back.

To her surprise, the phone picked up. "Dr. Rebecca Gorin. How did you get my personal phone number?"

Abby stuttered, then pulled her mind together. "Dr. Gorin. Hello. I'm Dr. Abby Yates and I'm calling you as a reference on a job application. For…" She pulled the paper over. "A Jillian Holtzmann?"

There was a sigh at the other end of the line. "Ah, Jillian. I'll have to remind her that office phones do exist. Where did you say you were calling from?"

"Uh, the Higgins Institute of Science," Abby answered. "In New York."

"I've never heard of that program. Jillian applied for a position there?"

"Yes, as my lab assistant. I—"

"A lab assistant?" Gorin interrupted. "Oh, Jillian, where else are you applying, Taco Bell?"

Abby bristled. "Okay, so we're a new program, but we're doing serious science here. My research is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the universe, so…"

Abby could almost hear the patient, but condescending breath Gorin took "You're a physics program, I assume?"

"I'm kind of my own department," she said, hedging a bit under the judgmental tone. "Kind of an off-shoot of the physics department."

"Quantum mechanics? Engineering applications?"

"Uh, no. My focus is paranormal research." Abby made her voice professional, refusing to let herself feel ridiculous. "Specifically the existence of ghosts."

"I see," Gorin said, as if that explained something. "So, how did you get into this…field, Dr.…?"

"Yates," Abby supplied, suddenly feeling like she was the one being interviewed. "I've been interested in ghosts all my life and an…associate of mine had a personal experience with one, so we set out to prove the science behind what she saw."

"And you've built a body of research based on this? Quantifiable data?"

"I have. I mean, obviously we haven't been able to replicate a ghost encounter or actually capture uncontestable proof of ghosts, you know. That'd be in the news if we had…" She could feel Gorin's unimpressed air through the phone. "But our math is solid. There are theoretical physicists out there every day operating with just as little verifiable evidence. And this application! Her additions take our concepts to a whole other level!"

"Jillian submitted a project proposal as well?" Gorin sounded surprised.

"Well, sort of." Abby picked it up, marveling again. "And schematics too! I mean, I'd been saying we need some kind of device that could find a way to detect spectral particles or psychokinetic energy and she synthesized it without even seeing the data!"

The pause on the line felt thoughtful this time. "Dr. Yates, would you happen to be coauthor on a publication about a hypothetical barrier between this universe and a 'ghost dimension'?"

"Yes!" Abby sat up, excited. "You've read it?"

"A member of our faculty was friends with one of the reviewers. It was passed around the department as a joke. I didn't read it, but perhaps Jillian did."

Oh. That fit more with Abby's usual experience. But still, the applicant might have read her work! It would certainly explain how she understood the idea already, but the thoroughness and intuitive leaps she had made from the text were still mind-blowing.

"I presume in your line of research you encounter a fair amount of ridicule," Dr. Gorin said.

"Yeah, kind of comes with the territory," Abby shrugged.

"And yet you persist even if no one values your work."

Defensive anger simmered under Abby's skin. "I do, because even if no one else believes me, I know I'm on to something real. I know the science is good and I don't care if most people are too narrow-minded to accept that, I don't know, just maybe there might be stuff in the world they don't understand yet. Being made fun of by a bunch of stupid people with no imagination have never stopped me from doing what I know is right before and it's not gonna start now."

She winced, realizing she might just have really put her foot in her mouth and called the professor stupid. "Ma'am," she added lamely.

But to her surprise, the only response the woman made was a small "Hm" that almost felt slightly warmer. Like thawed permafrost.

"Dr. Yates, I'm asking you so many questions because, as you've surely grasped, Jillian Holtzmann is one of the most gifted minds the engineering world has ever seen."

"I know!" Abby blurted. "That's part of why I wanted to call in the first place. Why is she applying here? If she's this good, she should be working for NASA or CERN or the military—"

She heard Gorin sighing. "I take it Jillian failed to mention CERN in her CV?"

Abby paused. Holy shit, the girl really had worked at CERN? In her twenties? "Uh, yeah, that would've stood out for me."

"Well, I suppose it would have come up eventually anyway. They agreed not to press charges if she resigned quietly, but nothing is ever truly expunged from your record in life."

Whoop, there it was. The missing, red-flagged piece of the puzzle. "Charges?" she asked nervously.

Gorin snorted. "No one even died. Yes, Jillian should have made a final check before activating the accelerator, but that gentleman had no business being where he was in the first place and it's absolutely ridiculous that Jillian's career should have to suffer for it."

"Okay." Abby arched her eyebrows, setting down the application and scooting her chair back. "Well, that's good to know. I'll keep all of this in mind as we make our decision—"

"Dr. Yates," Gorin interrupted. "Jillian's greatest fault is also one of her greatest qualities: her exuberance. As I was saying before, Jillian has a very rare brilliance. Her imagination is unfettered by the limitations most typical human minds labor under, and she has the practical skill to actualize her visions. However, not everyone can handle or work with her the way she needs, so finding the right placement for her has been…difficult."

Something in the woman's voice caught Abby. While she had been blunt and mostly emotionless thus far, Abby could hear a note of affection in her tone now and the hint of a pleading quality, urging her not to write off the young engineer. Clearly there was something about this girl the stern professor felt was worth fighting for.

"I understand," she said carefully.

"No, not yet, I suspect." Gorin's voice went professional again, though not quite as cold as before. "Invite Jillian for the interview. You won't be disappointed. And clearly you've captured her interest already. Just remember to judge her on her own merit, not the assessments of others."

"Including yourself?" Abby blurted before she could help herself.

There was a little pause and she thought the woman might hang up on her, but then she heard, "Including myself."

"Well, thank you for your time and your insight, Dr. Gorin. It's been very…enlightening."

"Mm. Dr. Yates, if I may ask…Who were the other two references she put?"

"Fermi and de Brogle," Abby answered. "Posthumously, apparently, unless MIT knows something I don't."

Gorin made an amused snort. "Well, at least she's stopped listing Tesla. Though in her defense, she insisted if he had met her he would have liked her, and I can't say she's wrong."

Abby chuckled. "She sounds like a very interesting person."

"She is one of the few. Contact me if you need a written statement for the hiring committee. Good day, Dr. Yates."

"You too. Thanks, Dr.—"

The woman had already hung up. Abby set down the phone and picked up the application again.

Jillian Holtzmann.

Unless something went majorly wrong during the interview or later paperwork, this was going to be her new lab partner. Abby felt a little thrill of anxious curiosity about who this young engineer who could become such a big part of her life was. Despite the questions about her experience at CERN, Abby had a pretty positive feeling since talking to Dr. Gorin. She had always considered herself a good judge of character, until Erin tore that trust apart. Still, she couldn't let that sour her on everyone new. Maybe this time it would be different. Or maybe they would be strictly colleagues with no emotional connection beyond working together. Either way, they had the chance to make some incredible breakthroughs together.

"All right, let's give this a shot."

Abby picked up her phone and began to dial.