Finding Inspiration From Some of My Favorite Books

I am going to do something a little different than the usual writing or talking about writing post. Books have always been my inspiration and instruction for being a writer. I never enrolled in a college class strictly focused on creative writing–it was all learned (aside from, admittedly, the presence of some innate talent) through the books I’ve had my nose in since I was very young. Today, I am going to talk about some books which have inspired me. If you guys like this kind of post, let me know as I am thinking about making every Wednesday a post about books.

First, my favorite book of all time: The Lord of the Rings (counting the trilogy as one book). I became obsessed with this book in junior high, and have read it several times. In college, I even took a course over Tolkien. While I know I am not alone in my fandom, this book has always reserved a very special place in my soul as a writer. It challenged me, it intimidated me, and it deeply moved me. The challenge came from the craft of the words themselves. Tolkien was a master storyteller with an extensive vocabulary. I attempted to read the trilogy in sixth grade and was taken aback by the reading level being over my head–something that I had virtually never encountered at that point! The intimidation was present in the sheer immensity of the world Tolkien had created–histories of whole peoples, languages, traditions–as someone who knew she wanted to write someday, I was overawed by how much attention Tolkien had given to the task of world-building. Finally, the emotional ties I felt to the story were very strong. Some might question this attachment in such an epic fantasy. Surely so many worlds are being built, so many battles fought, so many adventurers stepping out their doors onto the road that the reader would sacrifice connection with the characters for this depth of action? However, this is simply not true and this factor is what names Tolkien as a master. I had never cried over a book before, but by the end of LOTR tears were in my eyes–Frodo’s sacrifice to rid the world of evil had moved me, despite the fact that there was never a narrator detailing Frodo’s innermost thoughts, and the story certainly didn’t stick with him throughout the entire book. Thus, LOTR has definitely inspired me to create rich worlds, to hone my craft, and that sometimes a sad ending can be very powerful in terms of resonating a theme.

I suppose since I have discussed one favorite book in this post, I should do homage to one of my other very favorites, The Great Gatsby. This was a book I hadn’t read (embarrassingly enough) until recently when the film version was about to come out, so I panicked and immediately read the book before seeing the movie. After that situation was rectified, it was obvious that Gatsby would be one of my favorite books of all time. A very small book, much of the action is given over to the white space, while the text is dominated by lavish and beautiful description–mirroring the theme of the roaring 20s superficiality. The descriptions and the aching melancholia this book brings to the reader are the reasons this is one of my favorites. As a writer, I can learn from it the valuable use of white space and just how powerful it can be to let readers fill in the gaps on their own. Word choice is another thing I love about this book–I will never forget the subtly masterful use of the description “bleeding fluently” to describe the condition of a talkative woman who had just been slapped in the face–her words were flowing as freely as the blood. Brilliant.

There is always something for everyone–not just writers–to learn from classic novels like these. Next Wednesday I will post about a couple of my more modern favorites.

Chapter 2 Thoughts

As I’m sure many of you have already heard, I really enjoyed writing Chapter 2 of Capacitance. For me, it was where the story really started to flow and I really started to get excited about the action of the story. My first draft of Chapter 2, just like Chapter 1, was drafted on a yellow legal pad one night lying in bed. It was after this night that I knew I was going to have to switch to a computer because my hands wouldn’t be able to accommodate the large amount of writing that was going to take place–I knew from writing this chapter that this was a story I was finally going to tell.

While I had always known that Mara and Runey were going to be part of the story, it wasn’t until much later during my three year stint of writer’s block that I conceived of Juleia. First, I knew that she would be involved with Runey in some way to complicate the romantic plot line. I thought that maybe she would be someone from his art class on the Design campus that he would run into and get involved with after already knowing Mara. Finally–and not too long before I scrawled out the chapter–I decided on the current way their relationship is set up. Thus the character of Runey is complex from the beginning; the reader sees him going through this awful situation where he has to break up with his girlfriend on the spot, yet they also see his intense dedication to the Restorationists. By setting up my male lead in this way, it creates a more multidimensional character; without the complication of Juleia, Runey is just a young man who is assigned to get closer to a young woman. Interesting, yes, but not quite as dramatic!

The setting and the action in this scene was entertaining as well. I loved creating that dark, mysterious atmosphere. Many readers have commented on the description of my scenes and how they feel as if they are in the Seminar Hall, or the Underground, etc. This is excellent feedback! I sometimes worry that I include too much description. For me, there is no such thing, but for some readers it can get a bit tedious. However, I am glad that most seem to be enjoying it thus far. Another aspect of description I enjoyed creating in this chapter was the action between the characters. Juleia’s hair curtaining her face, the subtle hand gestures and reactions of the Professor, etc. I think this is one of the main reasons I enjoyed this chapter so much–all these little actions that speak so loudly. The first chapter was a lot of introspection and little action (by default, since Mara was sitting in class). Chapter 2 hopefully draws readers in with the promise of more action to come.

With that being said, some criticism I have received for Chapter 2 is that it does jump in too fast. I heard this from an agent who looked over my first three chapters. I thought that was an interesting critique as readers/agents usually want to be drawn into the action immediately. If anyone else felt this way while they were reading, please let me know! Personally (and I am obviously biased) I consider this chapter to whirl the reader deeper into the world of Capacitance. Yes, it may be a little disorienting at first, but that is natural for the reader–plus, it adds to the sensation I was trying to develop with the chapter. Runey and Juleia themselves are both a little confused and disoriented as they descend to their meeting with the Professor. By tossing the reader into the situation as well, it puts their mind in the same place as the characters they are reading about.

Once again, thanks to everyone who has been checking out my chapters! I will probably post Chapter 3 on Monday. I am not sure how many chapters I will post overall–I can’t post the whole book, sorry! 😦 –but how many I post depends on how much support and following they are getting, so if you like what you’ve been reading, tell a friend or two! 🙂

Capacitance: Chapter 2

Happy Monday! I’m so excited to post Chapter 2; it was one of my favorite chapters to write. Having two main characters is fun because it allows me to write–and readers to experience–the same world from two different perspectives. I will post more musings on Chapter 2 tomorrow, but for now, I hope you all enjoy!

Chapter 2

 

At the same moment, elsewhere on campus, two figures descended a narrow, winding flight of metal stairs. The stairwell was dimly lit and the irregularly placed lights cast shadows on the two figures; one was male—very tall and angular in build—the other was female and was much shorter but just as slender. In between, their hands were clasped in one another’s. The girl’s voice was nearly swallowed up by the close stairwell walls around her as she whispered, “But are you sure they didn’t say—“

”No, Jules, I told you already. All the Professor said was to meet him in the conference room tonight, and to bring you. That’s it. That’s all I know,” the man interrupted his companion’s query in a steady tone. The girl then remained silent as the two continued down the numerous flights of stairs. They were heading deep underground, even deeper than the Science students’ labs, and the air began to take on a distinct chill. Finally, the pair reached a primitive passageway of rough hewn stone which was marked by rows of blue floor lights on each side. Following these lights, they stopped in front of a gray metal door. The man placed his palm on the door and instantly the floor lights at their feet turned green as the door slid open with a soft whoosh. Once the two stepped over the threshold, the gray door immediately slid shut and they were enclosed in a cement floored hallway with gray walls and floodlights every few feet providing ample lighting to read the numbered metal doors which marched down either side of the hall. However, the couple walked forward past all the doors, hands still entwined, until they reached the end of the hallway where a pair of nondescript double doors faced them.

“Should I knock?” the tall man asked the girl, and the floodlights showed a warm, joking smile on his face.

“Like you said, they will be expecting us,” the girl returned, giving him a familiarly playful nudge as she moved forward to open the doors. The room they entered—the Conference Room—was in stark contrast to the well-lit corridor; with the exception of a lone lamp on the long metal table, and the dim blue-black glow of a large computer projection screen on the wall, the room was thick with darkness,.

“Runey, Juleia, sit down,” a disembodied voice from the darkness instructed them as they moved towards the table. For the first time, the two broke hands as they pulled out metal folding chairs. As they sat down to the table, the speaker in the room came into view by the light of the one lamp. He was a man of about 60 years old with tanned skin, salt and pepper hair and a scruffy goatee; he wore round rimless glasses and a tweed suit complete with leather elbow patches.

The young man, Runey, broke into a smile and reached across the table to shake his hand, “How are ya, Prof?”

“I am well. Quite well, thank you, Runey. And I think you will be pleased also once you hear this truly exciting assignment I have for you,” the Professor said as he watched the pair’s reaction across the table. Runey, at first glance, seemed utterly at ease—the cheerful greeting, the casual running of his hand through his short shag of auburn hair—but upon closer inspection he was clearly the picture of professionalism—his upright posture and the alertness in his eyes cued into a keen sense of curiosity and energy. He also seemed to put the girl beside him, Juleia, at ease; her deep brown eyes had cleared considerably since the two sat down at the table and now the mischievous confidence the Professor knew in her was starting to show again through the playful turn of her lips as she watched the two men greet each other. “I suppose you are wondering why I have brought you all the way down here tonight. It is, after all, not a scheduled meeting night,” the Professor began. Runey and Juleia nodded back, but said nothing, urging him to continue his explication.

“At the risk of being repetitive, you two know that you belong to a group that is unlike any other in this University—indeed this nation! At this institution of learning and throughout the country and the world, you are constantly told that things are the way they should be; that life as we know it is utopia in all but name. When one hears that they are living in perfection, they become numb to curiosity, dull to different thoughts. As you well know, the purpose of our organization is to question ‘perfection,’ and this has led us to look to the past. Our world has been flawed for quite some time, but we believe that change comes not only through new ideas, but from past examples! That is, as you know, why we are called Restorationists—just as a museum curator restores a great masterpiece, we wish to restore this nation to its former equality and greatness. I do apologize…I digress. I am waxing poetic due to this extremely promising mission my colleagues and I have planned for you, Runey. If this mission succeeds, it could be the turning point for us,” the Professor finished earnestly. The three sat in silence for a moment, Runey and Juleia looking back at the Professor expectantly as his dark eyes quietly surveyed the pair in return, his hands steepled under his chin.

Finally, he continued, “It is all catalyzed by the University initiative for students from all the colleges to come together. My colleagues and I in the Association of Professors have been pushing for a project such as this for years. We pushed for it so hard and argued so persuasively, that when the University Board of Directors finally approved it, they had forgotten it wasn’t their idea in the first place. We wanted an opportunity to mix and infiltrate into the Science students. Science is where the big government machinations really happen—not in Politics—without Science, the government wouldn’t have the heavy weight on their side as they do now. Anyway, the infiltration will begin tomorrow, several hundred feet above where we sit right now, on the Campus Green.”

“You make this sound like such an important deal, but the thing is, we can go up the hill to Science and talk to them any time we want—it’s not like a restricted sector or anything. What is so important about this meeting tomorrow?” Juleia suddenly asked.

“Because, Juleia, this makes the mixing officially sanctioned. You know the government watches everything that goes in and out of SciSky and the Science compound—as well as most everything that goes on within. With the University-wide community project, sanctioned by the Board of Directors, we are essentially free to infiltrate Science with the permission of the government!” the Professor answered and leaned back in his chair contentedly.

“What specific role do we play in this? Why did you call us down here?” Runey asked, his deep blue eyes narrowing with interest. Juleia nodded in agreement with his question.

A look of trepidation flickered briefly across the Professor’s face as he straightened in his chair and said, “Well, let’s get into the heart of the matter then, shall we…” He powered on a slender silver computer tablet on the table, and the projection screen on the wall lit up. At first the screen was a stock image of the Restorationist’s symbol, but then that faded away as the Professor tapped on the tablet screen and was replaced with a photo. It was a University ID badge photo; each student in the University had an ID badge which they used to gain access to areas of their college which were restricted to others, their dormitories, or to scan their attendance at class or other mandatory events. This ID photo displayed a young woman with long, shiny black hair framing a beautiful face whose fine features and high cheekbones created a perfect setting for unusually striking pale green eyes. Runey and Juleia studied the picture interestedly, but the confusion still had not cleared from their faces.

Once the photo was loaded, the Professor continued speaking, “This is Mara. First year Science student. Top of her class. Identification number 8946320. She is, my sources and colleagues confirm, working on a project which is highly government sensitive. She is the key to our infiltration being successful. Bring her alone over to the Restorationists and you’ve as good as brought over all the knowledge of Science, and potentially brought the government to its knees!”

“Yes, but how are Runey and I supposed to do that?” Juleia piped up once again as Runey sat quietly in thought, studying the picture of Mara.

The Professor sighed almost inaudibly, his former excitement deflated instantly at Juleia’s question, “Juleia, I know that you and Runey were a couple long before you joined the organization; however, you knew upon joining that there would be sacrifices to be made for the advancement of our cause,” the Professor said gently, and Juleia crossed her arms in front of her as if bracing for what he would say next. “My colleagues in the Science department have monitored Mara extensively; as surely as they are convinced she is our key to success, they are equally sure that she will not be won over easily. From what they tell me, the girl is a hard worker to the point of mania—nothing gets her out of her lab, her work is her life. Thus, we have come to the conclusion that she can’t be reached through blunt means. This will require a sweeping and deep effort to win her over truly and fully to our side.”

At this point Juleia sighed loudly at the long-winded and hazy explanation; Runey took her hand reassuringly and said, “Get to the point, Prof.”

The Professor shook his head, “As hard as it is for me to say it, the point is that my colleagues and I have come to the conclusion that our best chance to get Mara on our side is to make her fall in love with a young man in our organization, and, Runey, you were the one we decided on. I know this is an immense sacrifice for you and Juleia, but it will also yield great rewards if successful—you, Runey, are the most deserving of our young members for these honors, this coupled with our faith in you are the reasons we chose you for this assignment.” The Professor’s final words fell heavily on the dense silence in the room.

Suddenly the silence was interrupted by the metal shriek and clang as Juleia violently got up, overturning her folding chair to the ground, “I can’t believe this! Runey and I have been together for FOUR YEARS! You can’t just take him away over some stupid little girl from Science—you need to find someone else! Find someone else! Find someone else!” Juleia screamed, her brown eyes blazing with hot fury and tears as she rounded on the Professor.

“It’s already been decided, Juleia,” the Professor said solemnly, still seated at the table.

“Find…someone…else,” Juleia hissed menacingly, leaning across the table towards the Professor. At that, Runey stepped up and put a hand on her shoulder, drawing her back to their side of the table. At his touch, Juleia started shaking and collapsed back into another folding chair, head bowed, her waist length chestnut hair falling forward making a curtain around her face as the tears fell. Runey drug his chair over closer to Juleia who looked up at him with eyes whose fury had been quenched by pooling tears as she whispered, “Rune, you’re not really going to do this, are you? It’s just you and me, remember?”

Runey grabbed both her hands tight between his and hung his head so their foreheads were nearly touching, “Jules, baby, I have to…” he whispered sadly but firmly. He held her close silently for a few precious seconds which weighed on him like small eternities, then straightened up and looked at the Professor, “How does this begin?”

“Right…” the Professor smoothed the front of his coat and fixed his gaze on Runey, “First, you must say goodbye to Juleia. She will still be one of your student colleagues in the school of Design, but in order for your mission to succeed, you must truly end your relationship with her for the moment,” the Professor pressed some buttons on his tablet, and the conference room door opened, allowing a shaft of light into the darkness. A young man appeared in the doorway. “Thomas will take you back to your dormitory, Juleia, and I will fully brief Runey after your departure,” the Professor said as the young man in the doorway moved across the room to Juleia’s side.

Slowly, Juleia stood up from her chair. First, she turned to Runey, “Runey, I understand why you are doing this, but I will never understand how you could do this to us. I love you, I will always love you—please don’t forget the love I know you have for me.” The young man, Thomas, put a hand on her arm to move her towards the door, but she shook it off and turned towards the Professor with an expression that was a pure marriage of malice and pain, “And you…I will never forgive you for this.”

With that, Thomas led Juleia out of the room, and as the door closed behind them, the Professor—apparently unruffled—turned back to face Runey, “Now, as you well know, the meeting is tomorrow on the Campus Green. My colleagues and I have arranged that you and Mara will be in the same group—“

“They’re putting us in groups?” Runey interjected.

“Oh yes, I forgot to tell you completely. They are starting the ‘experiment’ out by forming groups of four; one student from each of the colleges in each group. I think they will have you all work on a project together over the course of the year, but that doesn’t matter. What really matters is your developing relationship with Mara; because tomorrow is when it needs to start developing. I know I can count on you, Runey. You’ve shown great dedication to our program, and not just tonight. So tomorrow, your challenge begins!” The Professor finished exultantly.

“Prof, aren’t there anymore steps or points you need to brief me on before tomorrow? Am I just supposed to go into the thing blind?” Runey asked, “Honestly, I’ve been blindsided by this whole night, and now tomorrow I’m just supposed to go fall in love with some girl?” Runey laughed half-heartedly and crossed his muscular arms.

The Professor smiled, “There is no instruction manual to love, nor was love gained in one day. Tomorrow is a beginning, and while we will be checking in together frequently, this is an act you are going to play unscripted. I can offer this advice, however, get to know her work; it’s helpful to us, and from the sounds of it, could be the wellspring of her passion.”

“Got it. Mind if I go now? Been rather a long night with you down here,” Runey said, struggling to maintain an amiable, light tone, but the Professor could see the emotional strain starting to wear at the young man, and his frequent glances toward the door were a very telling sign that he would be instantly on his way to find Juleia if released now.

“Just a moment, Runey. Enough talking shop, let’s you and I have a drink—I think we both need one,” the Professor said, producing two glasses and a decanter out of the shadows.

“I think you are right,” Runey said, accepting his full glass and raising it, “Cheers, Prof,” he said with a tight smile.

“To tomorrow morning—the beginning of their end,” the Professor toasted, and the two drank deeply, the amber liquid in their glasses illuminated by the projection screen where Mara’s ID badge shot was still displayed above them.


 

First Chapter Musings + Some Exciting News!

Happy Friday! Sorry I have been absent from the blog most of the week. Summer comes along with its slow heat compelling one to be outside and not in front of the computer screen. I hope everyone enjoyed the first chapter I posted on Monday! Today I wanted to share some thoughts about that chapter, and how this story got started.

I got the idea for Capacitance shortly after I graduated from college. I wanted to tell a story involving college age characters on a university setting. While I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined I would be writing sci-fi, that is the direction the story took. I wanted my university students to be different than those of today. Hence, Mara’s consternation over her research–what she is doing is terribly important not only to her academic career, but also to society as a whole. Some people (mostly adults who have been jaded by the hedonistic existence of their own college age children) aren’t able to grasp this concept of university level students acting so mature and professional; however, it is this exact sort of bending of the norm which I wanted to portray. Blending the familiar with the new is a tactic I use quite a lot in this series of books–I want readers to feel a connection to the characters and their experiences so that they find the dystopian future world of Capacitance eerily relatable.

One particular aspect of college that definitely influenced my first chapter is a hatred for group projects. Throughout my career at KSU, these group projects would loom up on the syllabus landscape, causing dread throughout the ranks of students. I never met a fellow student who enjoyed group projects, and it was always a struggle to get a group of college students–all with very different schedules and levels of motivation!–together at a convenient time to work productively. In my experience, a group project always meant a collective sigh of frustration; thus, Mara’s reaction (although hyperbolic, given her situation) is definitely one any college student can relate to.

Sharing my first chapter of Capacitance not just here on the blog, but with agents as well, has led me to some exciting news! Last night I received my first request for the full manuscript from an amazing literary agent from a very reputable firm! I sent her my query letter and the first chapter of Capacitance a little over a month ago, and got a request for material last night. It is thrilling in and of itself, but also helps me feel more confident. I had been finding myself in a slump due to the rejections that were piling up, so to have an agent ask for the full manuscript feels great–even if nothing comes of it, at least I know I am doing something right. The first chapter I sent to this agent which lead to her request was not exactly the same as the one I posted on Monday; as you may remember from a previous post, I rewrote the first chapter recently. While I am slightly shocked that an agent was still interested even after all the exposition my unrevised chapter contained, I am mollified that the first chapter wasn’t as horrible as I thought. Many agents take upwards of two months to get through and decide on a full manuscript, so it could be a long wait, but I will definitely keep you all posted on this exciting development! In the meantime, I am going to keep writing, keep querying, keep persisting! As a celebration of this exciting news, I will be posting Chapter 2 on Monday! 🙂

Capacitance: Chapter 1

My Facebook page hit 100 likes over the weekend, so without further ado, here is Chapter 1 of my first novel, Capacitance! Please feel free to leave comments and suggestions…I love feedback, and I have especially been trying to work with my first chapter lately. I hope you all enjoy, and thanks for the support on my Facebook page! 🙂

Chapter 1

Mara hated Mondays. University Science students were given the freedom to make their own lab schedules—except on Mondays, when attendance at the seminar lectures conducted by renowned Science professors was mandatory. Mara always felt a twinge of annoyance when she passed the Seminar Hall doors and sacrificed an entire day that she could have spent ensconced in her private laboratory four floors beneath the ground, cozily gathering and analyzing data in sweet solitude. However, this Monday was different; as Mara entered the Seminar Hall that morning, she felt a searing blaze of anxiety instead of the usual flicker of annoyance—she needed to be in her lab today. Currently, she was conducting tests that—if her hypotheses were correct—could yield troubling results, to say the least. She walked down the rows of the amphitheater where the lectures were held, bemoaning the fact that she was not in her lab monitoring, observing, waiting. Instead, she was wedged into a sleek but slender metal ergonomic seat with a small attached writing desk, obliged to sit through the days’ lecture series. All around her, other Science students joked amongst themselves, compared notes or recounted their misadventures of the just-past weekend, but Mara isolated herself in the front corner of the amphitheater and impatiently tapped her pen while studiously avoiding eye contact with anyone.

Finally, the students quieted down as a tiny woman emerged from a door behind the desk at the bottom of the room; she was short and wiry thin—the true definition of a waif, she would have been easily passed over by the eye were it not for her flamboyant attire. She wore six inch electric yellow spike stilettos (still barely bringing her over the height of five feet tall), cobalt wide leg slacks and a kaftan dyed with a swirl of garish colors. A puckish face with bright red-framed glasses and a shock of short, silver hair topped off the ensemble. This colorful person was Professor Beliz, the first of today’s seminar presenters. She raised one rainbow-manicured hand and all talking ceased. Mara unsheathed her pen upon Beliz’s first words, “Today I am so delighted to make to you all a very important announcement!

“As University students of Science, you know that you comprise only a fourth of this institute of research and learning,” Beliz continued, “Together, the colleges of Science, Design, Politics and Technology produce our nation’s next innovators and leaders. Here high on our hill in the college of Science, we are physically isolated from these fascinating colleagues in the other colleges. However, we are mentally isolated from them as well. It is easy to get lost in a project or experiment and forget about the world as a whole. Unfortunately, this can lead to unintentional closed mindedness. Closed mindedness indicates the staunching of creativity, and once you’ve lost creativity, well, nothing of genius comes of that…” Beliz paused dramatically then carried on, “This is why the University Board of Directors has decided to implement a change; we want to create an infusion of new ideas and patterns of thought. We will do this by getting students from all the disciplines to collaborate together on projects! Tomorrow, your normal independent lab activities will be suspended. All students will be required to convene on the Campus Green tomorrow at 9 AM sharp for further instructions. Now we will resume the normal schedule of seminar lectures, breaking for an hour’s lunch at noon as usual.”

With a jingle of jeweled bangles and the click-clack of her deadly florescent heels, Beliz exited the door through which she had arrived. The seminar hall had already begun to buzz with whispers as Beliz got to the core of her announcement, but no sooner had her hot pink lipsticked lips uttered their last syllable than the hall erupted in students’ unrestrained voices speaking their excitement and concern. They had a right to be concerned; University Science students had to complete six years of general education and six years of specific discipline schooling before coming to the University. Each student’s whole childhood led up to securing a spot in the University, and for students of Science, entrance into the University meant leaving a life of learning from books and carefully supervised labs to actual, practical application. In order to gain entry to the University College of Science, prospective students had to have a project plan—a prospectus for an ambitious line of research and development they planned to carry out during their time as a Science student. At the end of four years at the University, Science students were expected to be at presentation point with their projects. The success of the project at the end of four years determined the student’s success and his or her subsequent career, thus, every moment spent working on the project was crucial.

Mara sat fuming at her narrow, cramped desk as she processed the news. Her project was in the area of genetic engineering—a precise and complex science—and Mara believed it would fully take all of four years to bring her specific research to fruition. A group project could significantly slow her work down. Her hands shook with rage as she penciled in the 9:00 meeting into her small, emerald green leather agenda book. Mournfully, she crossed off her scrawled lab task notes she had made for herself. The anxiety which had been present all morning spiked to new levels. All of the delays to her lab time gnawed at the back of her mind; if her suspicions were correct, time was of the essence in her project.

Taking a deep breath, Mara settled as comfortably she could into the narrow metal desk chair, resigning herself at least to this wasted day. Mondays spent in seminar, were after all, part of the plan. To console herself, she swallowed her usual scruples, brought out her cell phone and scrolled through her mobile lab results under cover of the tiny writing desk. The speaker—Beliz had been replaced with a wizened but venerable faculty member—droned on, but Mara hardly heard him. She could see from the mobile lab files that the tests would be conclusive tomorrow afternoon. Firmly, she resolved to find a way to get to her lab tomorrow—even if it meant putting in an extremely late night. Her mind bristled with anticipation at the thought of the test results actually coming in. She both dreaded and longed for the moment. This could be it, she thought to herself; and a chill trickled down her spine. The gravity of the research she was conducting led to her simultaneous fear and excitement. If she succeeded in her project, the rewards would be immense. Mara had dreamed of success her entire life, and she was motivated by the accolades this project could stand to win for her. However, the danger she would risk if she failed was so immense that she carefully avoided thinking about it, tucking the dark thoughts away behind the formidable shield of her ambition.

Letting her mind flow freely into the intricacies of her lab work, bolstered by covert checks of her lab notes, the day passed with relative ease after the shock of Beliz’s initial announcement. Mara was actually surprised when she saw the students around her filing up and out of the classroom. The lab building was kept locked all day on Mondays, to prevent the temptation for students to skip seminar, so Mara had no choice but to return to her dormitory that evening and work on her lab files there. The tests themselves, which ran on a bank of computers deep underground in her lab, would have to wait until tomorrow—after the group meeting, Mara reminded herself with a sigh. Walking out of the Seminar Hall and into the fall evening air, still balmy yet with a cloying chill in the breeze, Mara turned to make her way to the Science dormitory.

Wryly, she thought to herself that dormitory was a rather unimpressive way to describe the imposingly tall building made graceful by its airy construction of light metal and glass which she now walked towards. Lovingly nicknamed “SciSky,” the dormitory where all the Science students lived was an architectural marvel which soared higher than any other building on campus. The inside of SciSky was just as impressive as the outside; Mara walked through the large glass doors and was greeted by an atrium packed full of amenities such as luxury shopping boutiques (a feature Mara made frequent use of), restaurants, and gyms. All these supported the privileged lifestyle of a University Science student. However, Mara’s treatment was more preferential than most; as she boarded the glass enclosed elevator, she pressed the button labeled “Penthouse.” Reserved for the top student from each of the four grade levels, the penthouse apartments were lavish, highly desirable accommodations on the top floor of SciSky.

The southwestern corner penthouse apartment was where Mara—recruited as top of her first year class—lived. Anxiety about the ensuing lab test results had returned to her by the time she entered her door, and she jammed the heel of her hand against the light switch with unnecessary force. The penthouse lit up with soft ambient lighting showcasing the modern mix of lustrous leathers and glowing natural woods. Mara tossed her malachite green leather tote down on the obsidian countertop and thought briefly about succumbing to a drink. Pushing the errant desire out of her mind, she reached instead for her research files. Documents in hand, she sunk down into her favorite chair, flicked the pins from her precise top knot and shook out her long mane of black hair. Feeling more relaxed, she opened a sheaf of figures and immersed herself in her work, all the while thinking that no one would be hindering her research if they knew the immediacy of the project she was working on—the potential disaster she was trying to prevent.