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An Art, A Noble Science

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The best part about being the lab head at SID was that his equipment budget was very rarely questioned. And when someone ::coughChiefZhaocough:: did question it, Lin Jing could always snow him with technical jargon.

So when Lin Jin acquired a small oven, Zhu Hong gave him a strange look, but otherwise it went unquestioned. He bought the pans and bowls at various times, mixed with various bits of electronics and a gallon of hydrochloric acid. (It was worth the lecture on lab safety he got because everyone focused on the acid.)

It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon when Lin Jing decided he had everything he needed. His coworkers were either out or napping, so he brought up the website and gathered his materials.

"Almond cake," he said happily. "How hard can it be?"

On the bright side, nothing exploded, which was more than you could say for some of his experiments.

But the result was definitely not edible.

"Why does the lab smell like charcoal?" Da Qing asked that evening.

"Shut up."

Da Qing shrugged and wandered out again.

The second attempt looked fine. It smelled fine. There was absolutely no reason for the entire thing to deflate into a sad lump after a few minutes.

The third attempt…well, it was only a small fire. No reason for Chief Zhao to take back his bonus again.

Lin Jing supposed he shouldn't be surprised that the Professor…Black-Cloaked…Shen Wei was the first to catch on. After all, hadn't the entire office been treated to lectures about how good Shen Wei's cooking was?

But Lin Jing still jumped when the soft voice behind him said, "Did you sift the flour?"

"Huh?" Lin Jing asked, feeling like an undergrad whose professor was deducting points from his lab grade.

"If you don't sift the flour, you will end up with the wrong amount." Shen Wet stepped up beside him and peered through his glasses at the counter.

"It doesn't say that in the recipe." Lin Jing scowled.

"No, it doesn't." Tilting his head, Shen Wei added, "I might also recommend the eggs be room temperature."

"It doesn't say that either! Whatkind of science is this if it's missing half the instructions?"

"It's not quite a science."

"But it should be! When you put the same ingredients in using the same tools, you should get the same result!" Lin Jing had to resist the urge to stomp his feet.

"And you will…eventually. The problem is that there are more factors than you can imagine involved and you haven't learned them."

Arms crossed, Lin Jing said, "All the factors should be included in the recipe."

Shen Wei smiled gently. "Perhaps you should try cooking instead of baking. It's generally more forgiving of a beginner."

"What variables am I missing to make cake?"

"Humidity, temperature of the ingredients, temperature of your tools, height above sea level, how hot your oven runs…"

"You're joking."

Shen Wei just raised an eyebrow.

"You're not joking."

"If you're inclined to think of it as a new scientific endeavor…surely you didn't begin your studies with an intimate knowledge of physics or chemistry." Shen Wei smiled. "I certainly didn't."

Lin Jing tried and failed at the task of imagining young student Shen Wei. "No," he said. "I learned."

"You learned the properties of the chemicals and how high to light the flame to heat them and which screwdriver worked best for your hands."

Lin Jing pondered that for a few moments. "I get it," he finally said with a nod.

"I believe you do. Most of the information you seek should be available…" Shen Wei made a helpless gesture at the nearby computer.

Lin Jing nodded. "Yeah, now that I know."

"But you may ask if you have questions." Shen Wei smiled again and for a moment Lin Jing could see what Chief Zhao saw in him.

"Thank you." Lin Jing rarely bowed to anyone, but he felt the need to do it tonight.