Let’s jump right back into it, shall we? 🙂
Although mutually unaware of the fact, Mara and Runey were both spending their mornings in a similar fashion—staring at computer screens. Mara’s head was beginning to swim from reading documents on the computer screen for too long; she rubbed her eyes as information about genetic mutations swirled in her mind. None of what she had uncovered was of any help to her—in fact, most of it was information she was already aware of. Even more frustratingly, she had not been able to uncover any information at all about hostile takeover mutations or anything about a mutation on a massive scale. She surmised that these problems simply hadn’t come into play over the past half a century; Meditrinum erased the fear of genetic mutation completely in those that took it, and genetic therapies had stepped in to provide almost instantaneous cancer cures for the rest of the population. No, in the last decades, genetic engineering had become more about finessing a finished product than about making new headways—this was what had drawn Mara to the field in the first place; no messy, expansive experiments, but instead tight, detailed fine-tuning that required an intense focus to the most minute of details.
However, on the other hand, she knew she had scoffed to herself at those people that thought Meditrinum was a “case closed” type of situation; she had set out on her research to find flaws in the formula. Now, when she had found a flaw, she was ashamed at the way she was acting; her usually highly capable mind was now—she could tell—truly overwhelmed with this discovery. Mara was finding herself avoiding problems and putting off tasks like she never had before; just now, she had set the slide drive reports to “save for later” instead of “display report at finish.” She had told herself she wanted to review all the reports at once, as an excuse for why she was delaying the investigation of the outcomes of the DNA sequencing, but truthfully she knew there was going to be a fresh wave of dread once she saw the inevitable mutated results, and she was not ready for that. Warily, Mara eyed the final slide drive in the queue, glowing ruby with her own blood. She had scanned three slide drives already, and the fourth was in process, each finished drive leading her closer to a much more personal examination.
Suddenly the computer made a benign chime, signaling the current slide drive was done being scanned. Mara ejected the fourth drive, and clicked the fifth slide drive into place and restarted the scanning and sequencing process. Realizing she was hungry, Mara got up stiffly from her desk and left the slide drive to scan while she took a lunch break. Usually she brought her lunch with her to the lab, but today she had forgotten; a part of her was glad of this as she felt an inexplicable need to be around other people—she had been isolated just her and the mutation, and she needed to get away. As she rode up in the elevator and stepped out into The Portal, she felt herself scanning the crowd, actually hoping to see Langdon or another familiar face. However, the portal was empty; it was mid-afternoon and most students were deeply labbed down for the day. Mara realized that even if she saw other people, she wouldn’t know most of them; after all, she did keep herself quite cloistered in her lab for the majority of the time, and eschewed most social functions. For the first time, she felt a pang of anger at herself for not making more social connections; the self-chastisement startled her—what is going on with me?
Seeing no one on the sidewalk from The Portal to SciSky, and encountering a similar emptiness in the cafes and shops in the SciSky forum, Mara decided to go up to her apartment for some food. The late afternoon sun blazed through the plate glass windows of Mara’s apartment when she opened the door, hurting her eyes; touching a couple keys on a screen by the door, she tinted the windows slightly to cut the glare. As she walked into her kitchen, she realized just how hungry she really was; grabbing a large, prepared salad of spinach and strawberries and a tuna sandwich on foccacia bread from her fridge, she sat down at one of the calfskin upholstered bar stools at the obsidian topped bar peninsula which linked her kitchen and living room. As she ate, she cautiously let her mind tiptoe back to the mutation problem. Mara knew she needed to be more rational about the situation—she was getting worked into hysteria and needed to rationalize herself out of it. She forked up a mouthful of salad and, chewing, thought about what she knew about the situation to date.
She knew there was a mutation in the Meditrinum blood. She knew this mutation happened in the future. Putting it in those terms simplified the problem in her mind because it highlighted the fact that she truly did not know much at all right now. Realizing she should consider this a cause for organized, controlled alarm—but not the fear spiral of panic she was currently in—Mara found it much easier to delineate her next tasks: find out when the problem will occur, and then develop a treatment for the mutation. The voice of reason and logic had taken over in her mind, but fear threatened on the edge; Mara found it disconcerting. I am the top student of my class; I have studied science my whole life—I know I am more than capable of finding and solving this problem. What is there to be afraid of? She thought, rationally. Yes, but what if you can’t fix it? Then what? You still haven’t tested your blood sample, because you know you’ve got this too. And if you have it, and you can’t fix it—you die! The fear hissed hysterically in her mind, but she countered it coolly, If I have it too, that will just make me even more motivated to find a cure. And when I do find a cure, I will have more success than I ever imagined—the success will be worth the challenge. I am not going to let some fear hold me back from the prestige of saving the government, the world’s top scientists…and myself.
The fear was silent now, subdued to cowering in its own small corner of Mara’s mind. She hoped it stayed there. Finished with her lunch, she dropped the plastic containers her food had came in into the sleek, cleverly concealed trash incinerator by the sink, and reached for her phone to check the time. As if the device had read her mind, a distant ping sounded hopefully from the other room—her phone! She had forgotten completely that she had left it in her bed that morning. She walked through to her bedroom and retrieved the phone, seeing that she had just gotten a message from Travers, “Mara? Just checking in. I didn’t hear back from you this morning. –P.T.”
This time Mara responded, “Sorry. Was in lab all day and forgot phone. Heading back down soon. –M.” Then, reminded as she scrolled through the previous messages, “No time to think about Runey. –M.”
However, suddenly she was thinking about Runey; scrolling through her messages, she had forgotten the lines he had sent her that morning. He wanted to meet her this evening. And do what? she thought. For a few moments, she let her mind idle on the thought of spending the evening with Runey; maybe they would meet here in her apartment, curled up on the leather chairs by the modern glass fireplace which rarely got used, sipping glasses of wine from Mara’s fully stocked but rarely used wine cellar. Or maybe he would ask her over to wherever it was that Design students lived; she caught herself curiously wondering what their living quarters were like. Maybe she could tell Runey a skeleton sketch of the problem she was faced with and—suddenly she jerked herself out of a fantasy she could scarcely believe she was even having. Of course she couldn’t tell Runey from Design about the mutation—she had decided against telling even Travers about it during their fireside chat the night before!
Plus, she was failing to consider Runey himself—arrogant, self-assured—what made her think he would even care what she had to say? If he was interested in her she was sure it was because of her body and looks (she remembered the head to toe grazing stare he had treated her to in Studio 76); she doubted he was interested in her knowledge or research. However, some instinct was quietly telling her that he would want to listen, that he would care very much—that she was misjudging him. But skepticism snuffed that train of thought completely. Surely I am just having these notions about Runey for the same reasons I was hoping to run into Langdon or anyone else on my way back to SciSky from the Portal.
Mara realized during her reverie, she had opened up a reply dialog box to Runey’s earlier message; disgusted with herself, she closed out of the draft and instead swiped to open her mobile lab files. She saw that the current slide drive had only half an hour left before the sequencing was done; sliding her phone into her pocket she walked through the kitchen, grabbing her leather tote, and out of her apartment. As she walked down the broad sidewalk to the Portal in the gradually building twilight, she got another message from Travers, “You’re never too busy to have a new experience. If you value my advice, trust me on this. –P.T.” Mara sighed; Travers knew how to get to her—he knew how much she valued him as a confidante and would put his advice above all else. As she entered the Portal, her fingers once again drew up the message to Runey and considered replying; she was quite tempted after Travers’ most recent message and debated back and forth in her mind all the way down to her lab. Reaching the door of her lab, she was reminded that she still had hours and hours of slide drive scanning to complete. Even if she did want to meet with Runey tonight—and some infuriating and inexplicable part of her did want to (she suspected the part that kept analyzing the charms of his smile)—she would have to put it off until another time.
Mara went to the change out the finished slide drive for a new, untested one. As she did so, her green eyes kept straying to the eleventh slide drive—the one with her blood—nestled at the back of the mini-refrigeration rack. She inserted the sixth drive into the computer and pressed start. Don’t worry about it Mara; if it comes back negative or positive, there is still nothing you can do about it. You’ve still got a problem no matter what. Drawing up another scholarly journal article on mutations, Mara tried to focus on the text, but her mind kept becoming preoccupied with the slide drive. Finally, she abruptly stood up, removed her specimen from the rack, and took it over to the main refrigeration unit. She would eventually test her blood—just not today. Finding out if her Meditrinum treated blood was destined for mutation was another new experience she just simply didn’t want to have today.