I hope everyone had a fun and safe weekend! I still haven’t gotten back to the “real world” (if it’s fair to so call the life of a writer, haha) after conference weekend followed by the holiday weekend, so I apologize for this post being a little late. In Chapter 5, we saw Mara and Runey meet for the first time at the group project meeting; Chapter 6 picks the meeting back up, but from Runey’s perspective. Enjoy!
Runey noticed Mara’s light green-gold eyes lingering on him just a fraction of a second too long—hardly discernible as out of the ordinary, but Runey inwardly smiled indulgently. She can play aloof and cool but there is some curiosity there at least which may make my job much easier, he thought as he, like the other three slid out his phone to check the latest message. As he scrolled through to check his messages, he noticed with a pang that he had also received one from Juleia; it took a lot of his willpower to scroll past it to read later—as the day was progressing, his mind was taken over more and more by worry for Juleia, and concern at how she was handling the new situation. He feared she was not taking it well and half dreaded what he might find later in the message from her. However, she and her message truly were a matter for later, and Runey clicked his mind back into focus on the mission, the task at hand, and now, most immediately, the group’s message. He tapped the new message from the Board of Directors to open it and read:
“We trust you have already begun to meet and interact with your new cross-disciplinary group members. The purpose of this project is to give you some ‘real world’ experience of what it would be like to see a project incorporating the knowledge and expertise from all areas. That is your challenge and goal within your group—come together and create a project that uses each group member’s area of knowledge. We want to give you all the creative license and flexibility we can, so there will be very few guidelines. However, the one rule is that you must meet every Tuesday from 9AM to 4PM to work on your project and get to know one another. This project will last for the duration of this academic year; each Tuesday, you will receive a message with a general suggestion or encouragement for your group’s work together. Good luck!
Today’s Suggestion: Get to know one another! Talk amongst yourselves about your college, your classes, your friends, your current projects.”
Runey knew this message had The Professor’s influence behind it. By getting us to open up about what we are working on, he is hoping I will be able to get an early lead on just what it is that Mara from Science is doing that is so important, Runey thought, But I don’t think she is going to say a word about it today. Nice try, Prof. He could tell by her body language—the slight stiffening of her posture, the narrowing of her eyes, the way the hand not holding her phone clenched into a fist on the table—as she read the message, presumably at the mention of sharing their current projects, that Mara was defensive about the idea of sharing her secrets with her new group members. The message wasn’t very long, but Runey was an exceptionally fast reader, and after he finished reading the message, he scanned the other group members to gauge their reactions. Elba, the small pale girl from Technology, seemed vaguely interested, and Vance was nodding slightly and smiling interestedly—he would definitely enjoy the project and the chance to network with even more people. Ultimately, Runey was already trying to figure out whether or not he could convert not just Mara, but the entire group to the Restorationists.
“Well, I might as well start everything out! As you all already know, my name is Vance, and I am so glad we all get to work together—but I’m pretty sure you knew that already too,” Vance said heartily to start off the proceedings. “In the College of Politics, we break down the four years of schooling into four years of concentrations: the law, public speaking, ethics, and, finally, campaigning. So, since I’m a first year, right now I am knee-deep in learning about all the different laws of our nation. Might sound boring to most, but it is the foundation for the rest of my political journey so I find it fascinating—most of the time!” he finished with a laugh, smiling around at everyone. “In the college of Politics, we don’t have an assigned project or anything like that; after we graduate, we take our skills that we learned during the four years and apply them to campaigning for office. Although you can boost your chances of landing something big after school by doing other projects and volunteer work on the side; Politics has buses that take us off campus to volunteer every weekend if we want, and I usually make use of them—unless there is a really good party that can’t be missed,” he beamed around at them all again (Elba smiled back obligingly with a small laugh, and Runey laughed as well although he was actually amused by Mara’s expression of barely contained exasperation).
“I also am an aide to the University Board of Directors; although I am not important enough to have been let in on this little secret they sprung on us this week!” Again, small laughter all around as inside Runey’s mind raced into a whir; this could be an unbelievable in to the Board, he thought excitedly, the Professor didn’t tell me he had set me up with a jackpot group to convert. Mara must be the prize plum, but Vance is also someone I want to get on my side.
“How about the next time you have one of those high-priority parties you give me a call and let me know about it?” Runey asked Vance who nodded enthusiastically in response. “Well, I’m Runey, and I guess I have already told you quite a bit about myself before they sent us that email, so why don’t we move on to the next person. Elba?” Runey asked, purposely skipping over Mara.
Elba blushed on cue as all eyes turned to her, “Hey guys, I’m Elba. Um, in Technology we basically learn programming every year, although we go deeper and deeper into the subject with each passing year. During our final year, we are supposed to create a new program as our final project, so I haven’t worked on that yet but I do know I would like to develop something that is an anti-hacking device because I know…” she faltered, “how that can be very bad,” she finished weakly. She’s hiding something, Runey thought, interested. His thoughts were cut short, however, as Mara suddenly scooted her chair out, and shouldered her deep green leather bag.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Vance protested, shocked that she would interrupt Elba. Runey’s eyes gleamed; there must be something she really doesn’t want to tell us if she is willing to break the rules like this to keep it quiet, he thought excitedly.
“Vance, Elba, Runey, it has been nice meeting you all, but it appears this meeting today is hardly mandatory and I have some catching up to do in my lab. It sounds like we will have plenty of time to get to know each other over the course of our year-long project. See you next Tuesday,” Mara said in a clipped tone, a tight, fake smile on her face. With that she strode over to the door, pushed it open with a squeak and decisively walked out.
Runey sat there in disbelief. Even he could not believe she had such nerve to just walk out on a compulsory meeting. In their society, everyone was brought up to follow orders and obey directions from above, no questions asked. It was as ingrained as saying “please” and “thank you.” Either Mara was really working on something important, or she had a rebellious streak—or both. Any of those possibilities delighted Runey. He glanced around at the other stunned faces in the room. “But…but…we are supposed to be taking this time to get to know each other! The message said…” Vance was sputtering angrily. Elba just sat there with a dazed look on her face as she pulled out her phone and then began typing furiously—obviously messaging friends.
“Ok, you guys, ok; that wasn’t supposed to happen. Obviously,” Runey tried a smile on the others in the group—it didn’t work. “Don’t worry; we won’t get in trouble if we don’t carry out the full meeting time this week. I’m sure of it. Just look at what Mara said, we will have plenty of time to get to know each other.” He smiled again and was pleased to see that they were eating up his reassuring words even though there was no guarantee or validity backing them; the warm tone of his voice had brought the startled look out of their eyes.
“Well, maybe I should go after her, and, you know, talk to her. Make sure she will be more cooperative next week. Let her know we are on her side,” Vance suggested.
Runey thought it was an excellent idea, but not to be carried out by Vance, “Yeah one of us should definitely go after her. I might as well; we are on my college so I know the grounds and buildings best. Hopefully I can bring her around,” he said with a shrug of the shoulders. “But it’s too bad I won’t get to spend the rest of the time getting to know you two. Why don’t we meet somewhere this weekend and hang out?” He held out his phone. The other two in turn touched their phones to his and their contacts were instantly transferred. “I’ll be in touch! Maybe I can convince Mara from Science to join me and finally give us her introduction,” he said with a wink. With that, he was out the door, dashing up the steps, pleased he had left the other two very promising members of his group with smiles on their faces.
He took the steps two at a time with well-practiced footfalls—a fleeting image of him chasing Juleia down this very flight, catching her and pinning her down with his kiss on a table in Sculpting Studio B stole through his mind and nearly made him trip—but he made it to the rainbow foyer, the glass stairwell a DNA helix of color to his right as he slammed through the glass doors out into the yard. He was right to have hurried—as he correctly guessed, Mara from Science walked fast when she was determined to get to her lab. He spotted her already heading up the hill, almost through the glass tunnel, the squares of colored glass painting her retreating figure. All around him, groups were still meeting on the soft green lawn or in the buildings, so the sidewalk was completely clear. Runey kicked hard into a headlong sprint; unlike the others in his group he hadn’t bothered to encumber himself with a satchel or briefcase so his athletic frame took on the burst of speed with ease and he glided up the hill after Mara.
Before long he caught up with her and he decided to round on her with as much brashness as she had exhibited when she left their meeting so suddenly. Coming up behind her, he roughly grabbed her blue silk shod shoulder, “Hey, wait up Mara from Science,” he said, the sprint up the hill making the most minimal toll to his vocal capacity.
She wheeled around furiously, “What is your problem? I told you all back there I needed to leave, so let me leave! I will do my best for this little group project, but my time is far too valuable to waste a whole day socializing pointlessly,” she let the last two words drop off her tongue like they had a foul taste, and treated Runey to an incredulous glare as he failed to remove his hand from her shoulder.
“Ok, ok, ok,” Runey said soothingly, deliberately contrasting with his rough shoulder grabbing introduction, “We all just wanted to make sure we weren’t supposed to take that scene back there personally. It’s not too often we get to mingle with Science students, and one of the rare opportunities we get, she ends up storming off like we are a bunch of idiots. You’re obviously going to be a big part of this project if we want it to succeed; we can’t do it without your expertise. You see why we are concerned?” Runey continued in the pandering tone of voice, hoping to latch onto a thread of Mara’s self-importance.
Instead, her incredulous look just deepened into one of pure indifference, “Well if I am so important, let me go do my work. I will obviously be a part of this group thing—they are forcing us, after all.” She jerked her shoulder out of his grasp and resumed walking up the sidewalk.
Runey jogged back up to walk alongside her and tried a different tact, “If I may be frank, what is it you are going to work on now?” He asked, wincing inside as he knew he was going out on a limb.
Wearily, Mara paused in her walking and turned toward Runey, “Look, I left the meeting because I didn’t want to tell people about what I am currently working on, so what makes you think I would now tell you?” she said, shaking her head bemusedly and glancing at him. In that glance, Runey once again felt a heat behind those green eyes that he was sure wasn’t intentional but it was compelling nonetheless. His deep navy eyes met her gaze and the heat burned deeper, but all too soon she was continuing off on her way back to Science without him; her purposeful upright gait a clear indicator to him that he should remain behind on his own grounds.