Organizing

I just made a list of the key points I have to wrap up to finish the Capacitance trilogy. There are 14 of them (so far), the last one of which being “The state of the world.” So that’s intimidating; cue me running away from my computer, never to write again. Just kidding–maybe.

The other 13 points are a bit more doable. Most of them are comprised of characters. Obviously I will have to tie up Mara and Runey’s story lines as well as all the secondary characters. I listed some tertiary characters on the list as well. At this time, I am not sure how relevant they will end up being to the endgame of my story, but listing them was more of a device to remind me what tools I have in my toolbox, so to speak.

Time for a little writing secret. I didn’t figure this out until basically just now (embarrassingly enough). Employing characters you’ve already introduced to come into plot play down the road makes you look like a genius-level author. Look at J.K. Rowling–that tiara from the Sorcerer’s Stone comes out of nowhere as a horcrux in the last book. Was she planning this all along or did she come to a point in her story where she needed a horcrux so she plucked one out of the existing scenery she had created? We may never know, but in my case it would have been the latter situation. You should all know by now most of my writing is improvisational, so characters, settings, actions all spew out of their own accord. Now that I’m nearing the end of the trilogy, I have the luxury of flipping back through these characters and scenarios I have created and deciding how best to use them. That obscure character from midway through Capacitance? Maybe she will come back and play an intrinsic part in the resolution of the trilogy, leaving readers to wonder at my strategic placement and planning (ha!).

To summarize, I think using this strategy will help me organize my thoughts, discover new creative ideas and ultimately give a well-rounded feel to the trilogy as a whole. Time to go crank out some exciting installments!

Capacitance: Chapter 13

All you science junkies out there…this chapter is for you! Errors in scientific process or basic DNA facts are welcomed to be brought to my attention!

 

Chapter 13

 

After a long, tedious evening of running the rest of the slide drives and a tempestuous night of tossing and turning in bed, Mara was back in her lab the next morning, the gleaming gray walls seeming to close in on her as she sat in front of her computer, clutching her coffee, willing herself to open up the test files for the results of the slide drive DNA sequencing. As much as she had tried to minimize the extent of the problem in her mind, Mara could not seem to shake the feeling of dread associated with her discovery; however, now she knew it was time to face the facts, literally. She reached out and tapped the enter key on the keyboard with more force than was necessary, and the results of the tests slowly loaded up in a queue in the dialog box on the computer screen. Wearily, Mara looked on with a growing sense of resignation as all the test files loaded one by one and each flashed red with the same “ERROR: GENETIC MUTATION STRAND” warning that she had seen on her phone Tuesday.

She opened the first report. At the top of the computer screen was an information section containing details about the specimen. All citizens had to have their blood registered—meaning that their individual DNA acquired via their blood was linked to personal information stored in a database—so if you had the specimen of blood, you could get details about the individual if you had the proper clearance. Mara’s computer system had an educational clearance level, so the information she could see from the blood specimens was comparably basic to what a government official of top clearance could see; an educational clearance allowed for basic physical traits to be shown such as age, gender, race, height and weight. The first report Mara pulled up was headed with the information: “Age: 45, Gender: Male, Height: 6’1”, Weight: 180 lbs.” Very good, right down the middle of the line in all respects—no variables are too extreme, Mara thought, her mind switching into analytical mode as it quickly took in the stats and then moved down to the actual DNA sequencing report; the long columns of seemingly random series of letters were what truly interested her.

The DNA sequencing consisted of columns of the same four letters—A, T, C, and G—grouped into units of three. The report was pages and pages long and swam with the groups of letters; to any other student, it would appear a laughable amount of gibberish, but to Mara, it was the very core stuff of her passion. The genetic code was easily enough explained; the letters A, T, C and G were abbreviations for the nucleotides adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (G). The nucleotides were essentially the bonds that held together the double helix structure of DNA. Mara loved the intricate yet simple puzzle of the DNA structure—the nucleotides linked in the middle of the double helix, but they would not just link with any other of the nucleotide bases; adenine would only link with thymine and cytosine only with guanine. Therein lay the beauty and the danger of the structure; since only certain nucleotides could connect to produce a protein, genetic engineers such as Mara could more easily isolate, identify and direct the production of proteins and their effect on the cells of the human body. The darker side of the matching of nucleotides was the danger of a mutation such as Mara faced; if a mutation occurred and the correct nucleotides did not match up, deleterious effects—including the shutdown of the entire cell—could be the result.

The first page of the report was as Mara expected—a clean and tidy image where C matched with G and A was always squared away with T. There were no unexpected gaps in the sequence, and the use of Meditrinum was evident in the elegant structuring of the DNA sequence. It was a textbook example of genetic code, like the kind Mara had studied in understudy school, and it brought back warm memories to Mara of when she had used an old-fashioned electrophoresis machine to extract her first DNA sequence manually many years ago. However, the reporting on the screen now was much more advanced than the blurry vision on the electrophoresis gel; the letters were clear and sharp, and—most importantly—Mara had the ability to see the projected gene sequence for the next five years.

The first page of the report was just the current state of the DNA. Obviously, the Meditrinum was doing its job with flying colors—there were no mutations present. On each of the subsequent pages would be the report for the next year into the future. Mara scrolled through to the second page—one year from the present—the genes were still in good order, perhaps a harmless silent point mutation or some other very minor mutation that could be harmful if found in an untreated individual, but would surely be smoothed away with ease by the Meditrinum. I need to comb through these reports with intense scrutiny, Mara thought, all these little mutations could be clues to a developing larger problem like Travers told me about. The computer program highlighted all potential mutations in flashing red, but Mara decided once she had done an initial glance-over to each report, she would print them out and meticulously annotate each projected mutation—no matter how small. Year one for this 45 year-old male sample contained a mere two of these small imperfections. Finger on the small silver cordless mouse, Mara scrolled down through year two, and saw from initial glance that once again no major mutations were present, only a couple red flashes.

Year three was a different story. Mara’s hand dropped from the mouse and unconsciously crept slowly up to her mouth where she began to gnaw at her thumbnail—a habit she had rid herself of years ago—she could feel her face going white and a hot sweat break out all over her body under the suddenly too heavy white lab coat. What she saw on the screen was pure chaos—she had never seen anything like it before. The first triplet of the DNA sequence, ATG, was still shown on the computer screen in calm, still black print, but below that, every nucleotide triplet flashed red, and there were large gaps in the sequence—known to Mara as introns, blank spaces in the genetic code—as if someone had violently torn away large chunks of the specimen’s DNA. The remaining nucleotides were hopelessly jumbled and many nucleotide triplets had been ripped apart by the gaping introns. It had to be a hostile takeover mutation—it certainly looked hostile to Mara. Something had taken those neat, orderly lines of carefully perfected sequencing and minced them to this rubble of genetic destruction.

Tremblingly, Mara moved her hand back to the mouse and scrolled down. What she saw brought her absolutely no reassurance—the next two pages of the report for years four and five were utterly blank. The sweat on Mara’s body turned cold; she pushed her chair back from the desk and stared at the computer screen blankly. The mutation was everything she had dreaded, yet worse than anything she expected to find. Drawing a deep breath, she rolled forward and switched to another report. Slowly, methodically, she went through the remaining of the ten reports—80 year old woman, 37 year old woman, 51 year old man, 18 year old girl, 22 year old woman, 70 year old man, 11 year old boy, 29 year old man, even a 4 year old boy—they were all the same. Year three showed massive genetic mutation, then years four and five were chillingly blank.

You need to think of the facts, Mara. First of all, you have the bleakly positive note that you have until three years from now to solve this. You are a scientist with a deadline, that’s all. And when the deadline is met, the payoff will be enormous. Mara trained her mind to this line of thought as she pressed “Print All” in the reports dialog box. As the printer to her right hummed to life churning out the fatal prognosis reports, Mara thought briefly about her blood in the slide drive in the refrigerator. She tried to imagine how she would feel seeing her future genetic code in shambles in front of her, and decided she wasn’t ready to take that step. However, innately she knew it was a step she absolutely needed to take if she was to make headway on this cure, yet still keep her project a secret. If she was trying new methods to fix the mutation, she would need to test these methods on a sample—her ten specimens she had just run reports on would not last forever, and the experiments would be more accurate if they had a control subject. Mara would end up having to be that control once the samples ran out, that she knew. But for now, she needed to do further analysis on the freshly printed reports. Walking over to the printer, she collected the stack of papers, stapled them and sheathed them in a file folder— the walls of her lab felt constrictive, and she needed to be back in her apartment right now. As she stuffed the folder in her briefcase and doffed her lab coat, an errant thought wandered into her mind, and she shook her head amazed and somewhat disgusted at the fact that, despite the cataclysmic discovery of that afternoon, the distracting thought of taking Runey up on his offer for company could still weave its way into her mind.

 

 

Writing for a “Dead” Market?

I’ll admit it, I’m writing dystopian. The first step is admitting you have a problem. While many people still thoroughly enjoy this genre, the market for it from a publisher’s perspective is (as far as I can tell) pretty dead. The number of denied queries I am amassing speaks to this fact. So what does a frustrated writer do in this situation?

First of all, it’s even more frustrating because I understand the situation completely. Knowing the principles of basic supply and demand as well as the way trends go, it makes total sense that savvy literary professionals such as agents and editors are not jumping at the chance to grab more titles that boast corollaries to the wildly popular (currently) Hunger Games and Divergent. Instead agents and editors want to snatch up the next big craze, which will certainly be in a totally different and unexpected genre.

So I get it. But I don’t want to stop writing the story I am trying to tell. I didn’t decide to write about Mara and Runey because I wanted to write the next Hunger Games. Despite what the genre may suggest, I am not writing for a trend. The story came to me and clamored to be told, so I am telling it, despite its marketability with literary professionals. I have read many articles and blog posts that say “shelve your dystopian/paranormal projects,” but I disagree. Personally, I don’t like to leave work unfinished. Especially something as near to my heart and soul as my writing. It would feel like more of a failure to shove Mara and Runey in a drawer than even if they never make it to the bookshelves.

Thus, the writing goes on. So does the querying. I have nowhere near exhausted my list of possibilities for getting published. Somewhere out there is surely an agent who will be as enthusiastic about my project as I am. I just have to be persistent until I find that person. Writing novels and querying is also good practice. Should this project end up shelved once it’s finished, at least I got the great experience of writing a trilogy and getting to know the professional side of the business. It will be great experience for my next book. 🙂

There is hope when writing in a “dead” genre. One of my friends that I met at the Las Vegas conference wrote a paranormal romance novel (the same genre as the supposedly played out Twilight sensation), and she just landed a book deal with publication coming in 2016. Read about her story here: http://linkis.com/www.cmmccoy.com/blog/p4Ia8 . And if you’re writing in one of these hard to sell genres, I would love to hear your story/strategy! Above all, never give up on your self as a writer or your story.

Chapter 8 & 9 Musings

Before I write these author responses to my posted chapters of Capacitance, I always go back and re-read the chapter for a refresh (it’s hard to remember what I wrote nearly two books ago!). When I went back and started reading Chapter 8, I didn’t get through the whole thing because there is a point that I really wanted to make in response to my saying that some people aren’t perceiving Mara as a likable character. In Chapter 8, we see Runey making an effort towards Mara (despite his own mental distress). Although she is standoffish towards him, he still sticks up for her with the other group members, then even in his own mind he finds her strengths behind her weaknesses. While Mara may not be the most likeable person in these first few chapters, Runey’s perceptiveness allows the reader to perhaps view her differently than their first impression. Not only does it shed light on the potential for connection (another “Capacitance” term reference!) between the two, but it also demonstrates how perceptive Runey is–Runey’s inner monologue helps build strengths for both characters.

Chapter 8 is all about people’s imperfections. Runey explores Mara’s flaws and finds the strength behind them, and then he betrays a weakness of his own. How can we blame Runey for taking Juleia into his room when he finds her in his dorm hall? Runey’s response lends a human element to his mission to get to Mara–to be human is to err, and Runey becomes more complex as he is not completely perfect. The imperfections continue in Runey and Juleia’s exchange in bed. Here we see why their relationship might not have been perfect even were it allowed to continue. Juleia harbors jealousy–a fact that is not new to their relations as Runey is well versed in dealing with it. Through this exchange the reader is invited to go back in time and imagine how Runey and Juleia were before the story began, and hopefully they begin to wonder if Juleia was truly good for Runey in the first place. The questions brought up by Chapter 8 are many that we as humans are familiar with, and as always, it is great to lend more humanity to one’s fictional characters.

Chapter 9 is a nice parallel to Chapter 8 as we see Mara thinking about Runey now instead of vice versa. It is easy to see the correlation and differences. Runey and Mara are both fascinated with the others’ physical appearance and physical imagery is what dominates their thought processes at this time. However, whereas Runey is having to train his mind to focus on Mara, Mara’s mind is wandering to thoughts of Runey of its own free will–much to her consternation. The differences continue as we compare Runey and Juleia–clearly two people who crave a relationship in their life–to Mara’s feelings on the matter. When she meets Langdon in the elevator, the scene drives home for the reader even more that Mara is not interested in dating and sees the whole business as trivial. Possibly the reader is anticipating that, given Mara’s viewpoint on love, Runey will have a hard time achieving his mission.

Now I am going to switch gears entirely for one final train of thought–Mara in her lab. People have asked me how I make the lab scene sound so convincing and wonder if I have taken science classes or spent time in a lab myself. While I am very flattered that my prose comes off so convincingly, I must say that my best preparation for writing these scenes was from watching a lot of movies, reading a lot of books, and perhaps a Biochemistry 110 class during my college years (although the associated lab was much below Mara’s standards!). Imagination came into play as well. Writing science fiction, a writer has a certain amount of license. While I didn’t want my story to be too “tech-y” or futuristic, I did want it to contain some speculative elements. Thus we have slide drives, DNA sequencing programs, etc. Perhaps why this sounds so “convincing” is because the technology is not too outlandish, and I try not to lose readers by launching into an epic exposition bit where I explain the history, implementation, and meaning of all devices used. Last note: I nearly passed out writing the sequence where Mara draws her own blood. LOL. But seriously, I do not do well around needles/blood/hospitals in general. A fact which kept me out of the fascinating field of medicine, but allowed me to pursue writing instead. 🙂 Book review coming tomorrow, stay tuned!

Capacitance: Chapter 9

Back to back Capacitance  chapter posts? Lucky, lucky followers! 🙂 I just hit 200 likes on my Facebook page over the weekend!! Thanks for all the support, I truly appreciate it! As always, if there are any comments or suggestions you have regarding Capacitance, I would love to hear them! Enjoy your Monday, and enjoy Chapter 9!

Chapter 9

As one who was not a frequent drinker, Mara was feeling the effects of the previous nights’ wine in the form of acute pain in her stomach and head the next morning. On top of that, she felt even more pessimistic about her lab discoveries; Travers’ words came floating back to her like some kind of horrid nightmare, “In this kind of hostile takeover mutation, we are talking death within days or maybe a week…” and “it could be possible for cells to mutate on so many levels that the Meditrinum would be unable to catch up with the repairs…” Mara knew her mind was mincing what Travers had said into a tabloid-hysteria, worst case scenario summation, but she couldn’t shake the impending sense of danger, and the enormous sense of pressure she felt to find and solve the problem immediately. A small voice in the back of her mind coyly whispered that maybe she would go to investigate the mutation and find that it was nothing serious, and all this panic was for nothing. Mara knew she couldn’t take that voice seriously, but she let it play in her mind, providing some sort of floodgate to the rising panic.

As if he was able to read her mind, Mara suddenly received a message from Travers, ”Hope you’re doing ok today, and I’m not just talking about the after effects of the wine! Remember, Mara, you can always come to me about anything. I’m here for you. –P.T.” Immediately after receiving that message, another one from Travers—an afterthought—dinged into her inbox,
“Oh, and, Mara, don’t forget what I said about Runey. –P.T.”

Mara sighed; the last thing she needed to think about in the wake of this crisis was unprofessional, arrogant Runey with his interesting combination of olive gold skin and red hair, deep blue eyes, and that infuriatingly distracting half smile—cursing, Mara shook her head in frustration. Without even meaning or wanting to, she had been distracted by Runey; Travers did not understand that this was a very bad thing. She had no time for distractions, especially now. Whatever Runey’s elusive allure was—which she still couldn’t wrap her mind around just what it was—she needed to avoid it at all costs. This was one piece of advice from Travers she simply couldn’t follow at the moment.

She pulled on the jade green silk robe once again as she padded across the deep, snowy shag of her bedroom rug and through to the cool, gleaming hardwood of the kitchen. She depressed two slices of bread into the toaster, and poured herself a glass of orange juice from the well-stocked stainless steel refrigerator. Once the toast popped up, she buttered it liberally to soothe her aching stomach. After allowing herself a leisurely amount of time for breakfast, considering the circumstances, she went to her bathroom to prepare for the day; she quickly emerged, imperceptibly less put together than the day before as she was on a time budget but still well dressed in an ensemble of rich burgundy and taupe. She neatly packed her lab files into a matching chocolate brown leather tote and headed towards her door. She had just twisted the knob when she faintly heard the loud ping of her phone back in the depths of her apartment. Mara walked back in scanning the shining black kitchen countertops, checked the white marble surfaces in her bathroom, and was becoming very frustrated when she finally found the phone submerged in the dove gray silk of her sheets. She tapped to open the messages and was very annoyed to read one from Runey, “Hey, Mara. I know we didn’t get much of a chance to talk yesterday. How about we meet up this evening? –R.”

She absolutely refused to message him back; she quite frankly did not have time to socialize with the distraction. Mara realized she had not responded to Travers either in her foggy, slightly hung over waking moments. Exasperated with herself and with Runey, on top of being anxious to get to her lab, she decided to put a moratorium on communication for the day. Tossing her phone back into the pile of twisted, shining sheets she thought wryly, Take the day off, buddy; wish I could too. Feeling slightly more liberated and focused without her phone, she strode purposefully out of her apartment to the elevator terminal. Her sense of focus was quickly shattered as Langdon entered the elevator terminal at the same time as Mara; there was no way to avoid him, and Mara cringed inwardly as he pressed the down button with a flourish and flashed his brilliantly perfect smile at her.

“Morning, Mara,” he said, awkwardly attempting to touch her arm at the same time as Mara instinctively moved away, “How was yesterday? As bad as you thought it would be?” he smirked, feigning a casual stretch in attempts to pass off his attempted pass at Mara.

Mara smirked back at him—he looked ridiculous trying to play it casual, “As a matter of fact, it was worse,” she said truthfully.

“Worse? Come on Mar,” Langdon said, having recovered his composure, “Yeah I know it is like we talked about, and they’ve tied up a lot of our time with this group thing; but it’s not all bad. I actually think it is going to be helpful in my future career to make connections. Plus, my group and I already started talking about our project ideas—we are going to strongly incorporate biochem, so in a way it is like I will have two projects to present upon graduation. Sure, I will have to buckle down and work some late nights to get my individual project done, but I think this group thing will put me way ahead of the game,” he continued as they stepped into open elevator.

“Congratulations,” Mara said shortly, pressing the ground floor button impatiently and then staring resolutely at the closed doors.

“That’s not the only good thing. There’s this girl from Design in my group—strawberry blonde hair down to here,” Langdon said slyly, touching Mara in the small of the back, “She has tattoos of a school of koi fish on her shoulder blade and down her back. I wonder how far down they go?” Langdon continued, assessing Mara coolly.

“Langdon, what is it about elevators that makes you lose every ounce of professionalism?” Mara asked, rolling her eyes.

“Jealous, are you? Well I have to get it somewhere, since I can’t have what I really want,” Langdon said jokingly, but Mara could sense the icy edge in his voice. At that moment she realized Langdon was actually serious about his feelings towards her—it was a strange sensation. She had always assumed that everyone saw love and relationships as she did, just a triviality and a distraction, not to be a serious consideration in one’s choices through life. Maybe I do need to open my mind to other perspectives, she thought. However, she wouldn’t be opening herself to Langdon’s perspective anytime soon. Even if she was interested, she was sure she would still find his approaches a little uncouth. The elevator softly settled on the ground floor and the doors slid open. Langdon was obviously unnerved by Mara’s prolonged silence as he said, “I’m just joking around, Mara. Why don’t we go get some coffee before labbing down?”

Mara was sorely tempted by coffee—she had forgotten to fill a thermos before she left her apartment, and she knew a hit of caffeine would chase away her last traces of the wine hangover. However, the thought of sitting down with Langdon—tedious in itself—and wasting precious lab time was not palatable, so she made a compromise, “How about we just grab some from the café on the way out of SciSky and take it to go? I really have a lot to do today and I need to get to it.”

Langdon visibly brightened that he got anything but a flat denial, “Sure! My treat!” The two walked across the atrium of SciSky; early morning light splashed across the various shops, salons and gyms and the calming splash of trickling water on the abstract glass and stone water feature filled the air. The busiest portion of the atrium was the coffee shop where the most ambitious Science students were already grabbing their coffees before starting their day. Langdon ordered for both Mara and himself (Mara shuddered internally when he knew her standard latte order without having to ask), and soon the two were out the wide glass doors and on their way to the labs. It didn’t take long to reach The Portal from SciSky, and Mara was glad of the short walk, and the fact that Langdon took a different elevator to get to his lab—she was growing tired of his double-edged small talk. After thanking Langdon for the coffee, Mara was glad to sip it in solitude as the elevator sunk slowly to her lab level.

Mara once again walked down the familiar hallway, punched in the familiar code and swiped her palm. She flicked on the lights in the lab and powered up the computers. By the lab’s entrance, there was a double-sided hatch in the wall where laboratory dispensary materials were placed when they were delivered; the techs from LabLink would prepare the materials, and send them with a courier to the various labs that had requested them. When Mara ordered the materials she had to assign a PIN code to her order and then program her drop box with that code. When the courier brought the sample, he keyed in the PIN code on a small keypad in the hall which opened the exterior door to receive the sample. The hatch was also climate controlled so the operator could set the interior temperature to sample specifications if necessary. Now Mara went and keyed in the code she had assigned to her LabLink dispensary order of Meditrinum blood samples; the metal door of the hatch slid open and cool air pooled out slowly onto Mara’s face as she reached inside and removed the plastic rack containing ten vials of deep red blood samples.

She reset the hatch to shut off the refrigeration and wipe the code, and then took her fresh samples to her main refrigeration unit. Now she had to prepare the samples to go through the sequencing program. Walking to the far wall of her lab, Mara threw on her long white lab jacket, opened a stainless steel cabinet and removed a box labeled “Blank Slide Drives” which she brought over to the main lab work station. The main lab work station was a counter height table on which sat a microscope and several racks of instruments. Mara sat the box of blank slide drives down next the microscope, and went to get the blood samples. The task at hand was to draw a sample of each blood type and insert it carefully into the slide drive. Slide drives were small, fragile devices made of glass and metal which contained a tiny computer chip; when this was inserted into the computer portal, data on the current state of the specimen could be seen and many different tests could be run on the sample. First, Mara inspected each slide drive carefully under her microscope, checking for cracks or defects—these were rare in slide drives used at the University, as the equipment here was of the highest quality, but it was important to check all the same as a crack could lead not only to the waste of a sample, but would also cause computer malfunction if inserted into the device.

The next step was to insert the sample into the slide drive. Mara used a syringe with an ultra-fine needle to remove a sample from one of the test vials of Meditrinum blood, and then, looking through her microscope, stuck the point of the needle into a minutely marked spot on the slide drive. This special entry point could only be punctured once, as it would self-seal infallibly after one initial puncture; slide drives had to be soldered shut in their earlier days, but the self-seal invention did away with that—Mara supposed she had the people in the school of Technology to thank for that. All in all, the process of preparing the slide drives was quite simple if one had a steady hand and sharp eyes; Mara had both of these skills, so quite rapidly she had slide drives from all ten blood samples. But she was not finished yet.

She didn’t know when she had decided to do it—she didn’t even know she had fully planned it until that moment—but suddenly she knew. She had to test a sample of her own blood. It’s not a huge matter, really, she thought, just another slide drive in the mix. But her feet seemed to drag as she made her way to the cabinet where she kept the sterilized biohazard equipment. I have to know. I just have to. This isn’t sinking in as real enough to you, Mara; you’re walking around in a daze, not treating this with as much a sense of urgency as you should. Once you see your DNA sequencing projection has a mutation, then it will be real. She grabbed a syringe out of the box of sharps and tore off its hygienic seal as she sat back down on the stool in front of her microscope. She found the vein and slid the needle in with a detached manner—needles had never bothered her, and if they ever had she was sure the fear would have ceased after a monthly injection since the age of four. The syringe filled slowly with her own Meditrinum blood sample; Mara waited until she had the same amount as the other vials, then smoothly pulled the needle out of the vein.

She deposited her sample into an empty vial, labeled it with an “M,” and tossed the used syringe in the biohazard waste can. Using a clean fine tipped needle, she drew some of her own blood and inserted it into an eleventh slide drive. She placed the slides into a special rack which she then inserted into a titration device. Five minutes of titration and the samples were ready to be processed into the DNA sequencing program. She brought the rack of slide drives over to the computer, opened the slide drive program and set up a report containing current blood data, current DNA sequencing, and projected DNA sequencing over a span of five years. Then she inserted the first slide drive containing one of the random samples from LabLink. The sample with her blood was purposely placed at the end of the queue. The computer could only process one report at a time, so it would take all day to collect all the results. She would have to be on hand to switch out the slide drives as the tests concluded; each test could take upwards of two hours, but Mara had never been one to be daunted by the prospect of a long lab stint. As the tests on the first slide drive began, Mara spun her chair over to the far left computer which was used for databases and research resources—she would spend her day combing the vast academic research files for all the available knowledge on genetic mutations and how to combat them, free of her phone, shut off from Runey and Travers and all other distractions.

Surprise! Capacitance: Chapter 8

Happy Friday, everyone! Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw that it is National Cousins Day and National Tequila Day (yay!!), so I thought why not make it Surprise Chapter Post Day since I have been off the grid for awhile! This will be followed by a Chapter 9 post on Monday! I have a lot of writerly posts lined up for next week–including a review of an absolutely incredible literary fiction book I just finished–so stay tuned next week for blog filled excitement, and hopefully Chapter 8 makes your Friday an even sweeter end to the week.

Chapter 8

Runey stood and watched Mara retreat up the hill for a few seconds, then jogged back toward Design Block A, and back down the steps to Studio 76 to do some damage control. He opened the door slowly and saw Vance and Elba engrossed in conversation just as he had left them; Elba was laughing heartily with Vance and giving him a look of glowing admiration—at least someone’s charms have worked their magic today, Runey thought. He also hoped the friendliness between Elba and Vance would stay just that—friendship—as he knew his plans for the group and particularly for Mara would work best if each other member was a separate unit, a pawn so to speak, for him to use to his advantage. As he stepped further into the room Elba and Vance finally noticed his presence. “We didn’t expect to see you back. What happened to her?” Vance asked, concerned.

“Well, I caught up and talked to her. Long story short she has an important deadline, and needed to get to work on it. Already cleared and ok with the profs. Guess we are going to have to learn to work around the mysteries of the Science Department. Since it didn’t take me very long to talk to her, I figured I would come back and finish the meeting out with you guys,” Runey explained with a smile and a shrug.

“Hopefully we get to know her more next time,” Vance said heartily, “Is she going to have drinks with us this weekend?”

Runey recalled the cold demeanor Mara presented so far as an overwhelming whole and laughed as he said, “Vance, I highly doubt that is going to happen, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I think she will come around, eventually. Now, let’s just hang out and take advantage of the fact classes have been cancelled for the day!” With that, the three sat around the table in the messy studio exchanging stories and telling jokes at the same moment as Mara was coming to her horrible discovery in her lab far across campus.

The group meeting broke up around four o’clock, and Runey realized he was glad to finally have some solitude. His emotions were getting ragged around the edges, and he was starting to become acutely aware that he wouldn’t have Jules to curl up with in his dorm bed and discuss the events of the day. He sighed and laid his head down on the studio table, unlike Mara, not worried about its state of cleanliness. His mind lazily drifted back to a montage of times with Juleia—sketchbooks open, laying side by side on the grass by the lake in the sun; the time they had snuck onto the roof of the dormitories huddled in blankets and sat under the stars; even the littler moments that he usually passed over flashed in his mind in perfect clarity. This has got to stop, he realized. The solution to the problem was insanely simple to explain, but infinitely hard to implement—every time my mind wants to think about Juleia, I must think about Mara instead. Painfully, slowly, he began to try the new process. Juleia and the sketchbooks in the golden light was replaced by the light ring of gold on the outer edge of Mara’s green iris when he caught her staring at him a fraction of a second too long. The night of the blankets and stars was replaced with the deep night-black of Mara’s hair.

Runey figured the task would get even easier when he had more experiences than just physical appearance to go off of; after all, she had not given him much opportunity for character exploration today. However, even though she had tried to be stand offish, Runey realized that he had gotten to learn quite a bit about her. Certainly he could see an overwhelming sense of dedication in her; whatever her project in Science was, she made it very clear to the group today that it was more important than them. Even though she had been rude, she had stuck to what she thought was important—that showed determination, loyalty and a brutal streak of honesty. Runey suddenly realized how much he liked those qualities. He also liked that it had taken his brain so long to process and uncover those traits about her. She is a challenge, and I like challenges. However, the other side of his ever-ticking mind sensed that her inscrutable nature might inhibit his mission to make her fall in love with him. He shook that thought away; just letting his mind delve the mystery that was Mara had blotted out all pain associated with Juleia, and that was more valuable to him than any worries about the easiness of the mission. After all, if there was one thing Runey wasn’t afraid of, it was a challenge.

The sun was setting as Runey finally ended his musings in Studio 76. The atrium of Design Block A was empty, and he assumed all the students were now in the mess hall. He did not relish the idea of running into Juleia in the cafeteria, so he walked across the foyer of Block A, past the rainbow staircase to a grouping of various sized purple sofas and bleached wood tables. Vending machines lined the back wall, and Runey purchased a sandwich and chips from one, and an iced tea from another. He sprawled out on one of the sofas to eat his meal as the light through the glass wall faded and the interior lights automatically powered on, casting a warm, artificial glow over the lobby. As he ate, Runey continued his exercises in thinking of Mara, not Juleia. Then his late night with the Professor and slight hangover caught up with him and he dozed off dreaming of green eyes and deeply held secrets.

When he awoke, it was pitch black outside the windows. He wondered how long he had been sleeping and checked his phone clock. 9:30 PM. He needed to get back to his dorm and call it a night. He unlocked his phone and keyed a quick message to the same girl friend who had taken Juleia down to the Campus Green that morning, “Jules all good and in her room?” He gathered up the wrappers and trash from his supper as he waited for the response. It didn’t take long before his phone buzzed and he read, ”Yeah, she’s in her dorm. I wouldn’t call her ‘all good’ though. What happened between you two??” Runey pocketed the phone without replying; clearly Juleia had chosen not to divulge the details of her and Runey’s break up, and Runey was not about to help her friends gain gossip she had not wanted aired. Satisfied that Juleia was securely out of his way, he headed out of Block A and walked the short distance to his dormitory.

The dormitory for Design students, or Block D, as it was simply called, was an unremarkable up and down structure with the only aesthetic accents being the multi-colored windows. Runey had always thought it rather ironic that aesthetically-minded Design students should live in a building which was so banal to the eye. However, tonight he did not give it much thought as he pushed through the glass doors into the rather shabby dorm lobby which boasted nondescript gray linoleum floors and dilapidated old couches which looked suspiciously secondhand. At the front desk a tired looking student with a greasy mohawk hairdo and three thick lip rings sketched intently on a pad, headphones deep in his ears, totally disinterested in who came in and out the front door. Runey gave a compulsory nod to the unwatchful warden of the front lobby and opted for the stairs rather than the elevator. As he made his way up the terra cotta colored tile stairs, he began to hatch the formulations of a plan to see Mara again. With each step he took up the stairs, he listed in his head another step he needed to take to ensure the success of his mission.

First step, communicate with her; send her a message. I have her contact information since we are all in a group together now, so I can message her and ask to meet, he thought. Runey was sure Mara would ignore or reject this contact, but he refused to stop there. If she refuses to see me, I will go find her, he decided. The point was he needed to establish contact—persistence was key, and if he succeeded, he felt sure she would start to warm to his charms. Once I do finally get her one-on-one, I need to play it very casual, and above all appear extremely interested in her work—but not so interested as to cause suspicion. Runey resolved to be a Mara-enthusiast, feeding her with compliments and support until she trusted him enough to tell him the secrets of her work on her own volition. Aside from this fawning tactic, Runey had a strong suspicion the girl was in need of a friend; her independent attitude she had exhibited today showed that she was used to going through life solo. Even the most independent person, however, craved a confidant—Runey was going to get close enough to be the confidant Mara didn’t even know she needed.

His musings had brought him up to his ninth floor level. He was satisfied with the plan and resolved to message Mara first thing in the morning, feeling it was better to give her a bit of space before he butted into her life again. Shuffling through his pocket for his keys, he felt another twitch of annoyance—the Design dormitory wasn’t even important enough to warrant keyless entries like every other room on campus. Finally he found the key, a relic of the past, and was inserting it into the door of room number 906 where he called home, when suddenly she was there. Her hair was lank and unkempt and her eyes and nose were red and puffy from crying—it was Juleia. Runey cursed vehemently, then quickly twisted the key, jammed the door open, grabbed Juleia’s arm and forced her inside. He glanced left and right in the hallway to make sure no one had seen them, cursing under his breath and hoping the two security cameras at each end of the hall had not managed to capture the scene. If they did, the Professor would uncover the situation, and at the very least it would discredit Runey and his dedication to his new assignment. But he knew there were eyes and ears everywhere in this old building, with students stacked on top of each other, crowded and milling for gossip—the Professor would find out.

Runey was infuriated, yet a flaming comet of excitement surged through his body unexpectedly. He hurriedly came through the door of his room and twisted the lock. Juleia sat miserably on his bed, biting at her tiny gold lip ring nervously. Runey looked at her with a pained expression, “Jules, you know you can’t do this…” he said in a voice that was both soft and firm.

“I know. I just…needed to see you. I needed to,” Juleia collapsed into sobs that wracked her whole body, burying her face in her hands as she shook with sadness. Runey couldn’t take it anymore, he was at her side in an instant, his strong arms were wrapped around her; Juleia’s sobs at first got even louder as he took her in his arms, but then they lessened and quieted to a mere tremor, as he knew they would. He felt her body loosen into him, seeming to conform to his shape; then her hands were around him, running their way down his back, sliding under his dark green t-shirt insistently. He let her continue, even though a voice in the back of his mind—the voice he had been training all day to take over, to replace thoughts of Juleia with thoughts of Mara, to create a plan and stick to it—screamed at him to stop immediately. Juleia leaned up and kissed him, and all other voices in his head were drowned out as he tugged off her shirt and kissed her back as he pushed her down onto the bed.

Later, they lay in bed talking, just as they always had every night. “So how was your group today?” Runey asked her, pushing a strand of brown hair off her face.

“Ha, terrible; I was too upset to pay attention to any of it. It’s me and two other chicks, from Politics and Science; and then one guy from Tech. I don’t know whether to feel bad for the guy or whether he is lucky. The girl from Politics is pretty stuck up and bitchy, but the girl from Science seems nice—and is perfect ten gorgeous, of course,” Juleia said.

“Really? The Science girl was nice?” Runey said, laughing to himself as he remembered Mara’s venomous words on the hill about what a waste of time the group meeting was.

Juleia immediately perked with interest, sensing that Runey was comparing the girl from Science in her group with the girl from Science who had caused them so much trouble, “Yeah, she seemed really excited about getting a chance to work with other people; they don’t get out much up there on that hill,” Juleia said, then added in an overly casual voice, “What about your girl from Science?”

Runey tensed; he could sense the danger note both from Juleia’s exaggerated casual manner and from the emphasis on the word “your;” he needed to pick his next words carefully. “Well, she seemed very into her research or whatever,” he said lamely, sensing that banality was his best defense.

Juleia rolled her eyes, “Fine, Runey, don’t tell me anything about her. Whatever, I guess I shouldn’t care about the girl who’s going to replace me,” she huffed and turned her back to him.

Runey groaned, rolling over onto his back and putting his hands on his head. This was a classic Juleia move; a certain level of passive aggressive behavior coupled with her resistance to let go of an issue—it always led to a fight unless Runey very carefully maneuvered his way through the choppy waters. He was mentally exhausted from this day, but that very fact gave him inspiration he hoped might save him from Juleia’s impending storm, “Look Jules, today was the worst day of my life; I love you, but I have been told I have to live without you. Today wasn’t about anyone but you and me; I know the Professor has a task he wants me to accomplish, but today nothing was possible because all I could think of was you. Do you know I woke up this morning and it actually felt uncomfortable to be alone in bed? Even though I always used to tease you and complain there wasn’t enough room for two in here. Every place I walked today, everything I saw reminded me of some memory of you, and each time I felt a throb of pain in the empty place you used to fill. So let’s not talk about the girl from Science or anyone else, because today there has been no one else, it has been all you. And you’re here now, so come here and be with me in this moment,” Runey whispered, feeling only slightly guilty—it hadn’t been all lies; he had learned over the years that an embellished form of the truth was very effective in certain cases. And it was effective in this case; Juleia turned back over towards him and wrapped herself around him. Runey pulled her towards him and once again he was lost to Juleia—the cinnamon mint of her breath, the floral musk of her hair, the way her tiny lip ring pushed against him as they kissed. Thus, he didn’t hear the volley of pings and beeps emanating insistently from his phone; all thoughts of plans, of Mara from Science—even of the next morning—were erased from his mind.

Capacitance: Chapter 7

Here we are on another Monday–this summer is absolutely flying by! It is so hot in Kansas, so I plan to stay holed up in my office all day and hopefully get a chapter or so done on Resistance since I’m done editing Inductance. As I promised, here is Chapter 7; enjoy and stay cool friends! 🙂

Chapter 7

Mara quickened her pace from a brisk walk to a near-jog as she ascended the slope up from Design and onto the Campus Green. As if her day had not already been stressful enough, now she had a potential lab crisis on her hands. While everyone else was dispensing with the niceties back in Studio 76, Mara’s phone had begun to buzz and vibrate her pocket. One furtive glance at the screen while the incredibly verbose Runey from Design was going on about his artistic academia was enough to show Mara that her lab diagnostics she had been running had encountered a major error. One she simply couldn’t put off attending to—especially for making introductions to a group of people who would apparently be habitually wasting her time and energy every Tuesday for the rest of the school year. She also couldn’t believe the Professors and directors in charge of these group projects would actually want her to talk about her private work in front of a group of random students, as she knew the nature of it was quite sensitive.

She had crossed the green in record time and was already surging up the hill with long, tireless strides—the three-times a week mandatory gym sessions for all Science students were paying off at the moment. Blessedly, the sidewalks were empty of students or professors as everyone was still at their group meetings. For an instant Mara worried about getting in trouble for leaving her group early—rudely walking out on them is a better term, she thought—but then quickly realized she did not care. Shortly, she was at the top of the hill and heading into what students called “The Portal,” a building off to the side of the main science hall through which students accessed their individual labs. The foyer of The Portal was a maze of shining silver stairways and elegant glass elevators leading up and down, higher and lower to innumerable levels. There were no signs marking which stairs led where or which elevators went to what floor; it was confusing at first, but students spent so much time in their labs that finding them quickly became second nature. For Mara, it was quite easy; she went to the third elevator on the right behind the second stairwell. She swiped her access card and pressed in the key code without even looking at the controls. The elevator slid smoothly into the marble floor and shortly its glass doors slid open and Mara stepped out.

She was in a long white hallway with doors intermittently spaced down either side. She strode down to the second door and it felt like coming home. The door had no knob to open, but rather a small keypad plus a palm recognition sensor. Mara flicked in her key code in a fraction of a second and slid her palm smoothly down onto the sensor and the door whooshed open. She looked around, so relieved to be in her solitary space that she almost forgot about the emergency that she had come to investigate. Even though her test results were coming back haywire, everything in the lab was orderly as usual. Whereas Mara’s apartment was the picture of ultimate extravagance, her lab was quite the opposite—the floor was bare polished concrete, the furnishings were plain and utilitarian, no decorations or personal effects were to be seen anywhere. The only luxuries were the equipment and machines; a bank of computers which were probably better than any even found in the school of Technology perched on Mara’s desk, on the lab table high-precision testing instruments were lined up gleaming and ready for use, the walls were lined with larger machines, supplies and virtually any tool or device she could ever need to carry out her work.

Her work now carried her over to the bank of computers; she still couldn’t believe that the error message she had seen on her phone could be right. Biting her lip, she powered on the machines and entered the program she had been running; a few click of the mouse and tapping of the keys later and the same message as she had seen on her phone was illuminated across all three computer screens: “ERROR: GENETIC MUTATION STRAND.” Mara sighed, closed her eyes and rubbed her temples with both hands, trying to remind herself that she had expected this from the very beginning. As an ambitious student, Mara had always been interested in the field of genetic engineering; not only was it a complex science, but it was very important to the nation and the government. Since the field of genetic engineering had hit its stride of success, government officials had been using its applications to their benefit. The engineering of a person’s genes had long since ceased to be an activity that was solely carried out on human embryos to create “designer babies.” For the last half century, genetic engineering had become so advanced that it was now possible to correct and enhance the DNA of living human beings through genetic therapy. It was a costly treatment, but effective—people who received this genetic therapy experienced decelerated aging, overall perfect health, increased mental sharpness, and usually better looks.

The genetic therapy was administered through an injection of a serum called Meditrinum; recipients took their dose once a month and the serum went to work mending and smoothing out any flaws that may have arisen in their genetic makeup since the last dose. It was seen amongst all scientific circles as a miracle serum which extended and improved human life. Shortly after Meditrinum was perfected and considered fit for general human use, the government put restrictions on the substance. It was only to be available to those individuals at the highest levels of power and control in the government, a few privileged members of the elite, and to the most promising Science students. With the use of Meditrinum by the government, a new style of command over the nation began; the leaders simply stayed in power. They were not aging, were not getting sick, and were (with the help of the formula) some of the most capable people to lead that the nation possessed. Meditrinum was—literally—the lifeblood of the government.

It was because of Meditrinum’s importance to society as a whole, and a sense of skepticism which led Mara to delve deeply into the study of genetic engineering during understudy school. She knew coming into the University that she wanted to impress, to be top of the class; by presenting a project research plan which postulated an extensive examination of Meditrinum and the intent to make improvements to the injection, Mara was awarded the stellar entry position she desired. She was given the power and weight behind her project because she had taken a cynical gamble and also included the point in her research plan that she believed Meditrinum had an error which would need to be fixed—and she believed she could both find that error and fix it. She had taken a gamble by claiming Meditrinum was flawed; her postulation in that regard had been based purely on her geneticist’s hunch that human DNA is prone to mutations, and tampering with that fragile DNA must have repercussions somewhere. Today, she had finally found out that her grim thesis was correct.

Mara now found herself on the knife’s edge of triumph and cold, icy fear; yes, she had proven her point that Meditrinum was flawed, but what she still didn’t know was how deep that flaw would go, what effects the mutation would cause, and how she would fix it. She didn’t even know how much time she had to fix the problem. The previous Friday, she had left her lab and set the computer to do a DNA sequence scan on a blood sample that had been treated with Meditrinum; that DNA sequence had cleared through clean when she came back again to check it on Saturday. On Sunday night she had decided to try a new program which would forecast the DNA sequence into the future. Setting the computer up to test the sample again and this time project the DNA condition a full five years into the future, Mara had left her lab to let the tests run through since she had seminar on Monday. The alarming results from the DNA prospectus had come in as Mara sat in Studio 76 and she had rushed back to her lab, but now she found herself in a rare state of feeling overwhelmed and unsure where she should start to tackle the problem.

She had good reason for panic to set in—the problem was not just a problem for the government, it was also a problem for her. Students who showed the most promise in Science were made to leave their homes at a very young age, at their first sign of high intellect—these students were the ones who received Meditrinum treatments. Mara vividly remembered her first day away from home, standing in the long line with other kids in a medical lab as each one in turn was given their first injection of Meditrinum. Unlike the other kids, she wasn’t afraid of the needle poke—the memory remained with her because from that day forward she was curious about why she had to be injected, and once she was old enough to understand why, she was even more intrigued by the concept. However, now all those years and years of injections were weighing down on her chest like a lead weight. A mutation, she thought, and I am a carrier of it.

A wave of panic threatened to crash over her and she tamped it down. At times like this, she knew it was better to think rationally. Spinning her chair 180 degrees, away from the computer screen and its flashing red error message, she closed her eyes and began to think of the facts. The first fact was that she had set the scan to project a full five years into the future, so the mutation had to occur during that time frame. The second fact was she had no idea whatsoever of how bad the mutation really was. Third, she knew for a fact that she was capable of fixing this if anyone was. Snap out of this panic, Mara, she thought, you need to first find out when the mutation starts to develop. Then you need to ascertain how bad the genetic breakdown by mutation will be. Finally you FIX it—you fix that and you save the government, save the world from losing so many key people…save yourself.

Spinning back around to her computer with a new sense of focus, she cleared the error message and began what would be a long process of sorting through genetic code. Finding a mutation was like following a trail of breadcrumbs—little traces and hints could be found along the way. She knew she also needed to get more Meditrinum blood samples to run control tests and make sure all the readings came out the same and yielded the same mutation result. Pulling out her phone, she scrolled through to her task list and began to type. As she was framing out her next few days’ worth of work, she received a new message from Professor Travers, which read,

“Mara, sorry I have missed you. Meet in my office as soon as you get this. P.T.”

Mara felt her body sag with relief; of course she should talk to Travers about what she had discovered today, he would reassure her and make her feel better. As she thought this a small voice stole through her mind, Are you sure you should tell anyone about what you have found here today? It is a huge development with potential national security risk. Don’t tell Travers anything. Innately, she knew that the doubting voice was right, and she bemoaned having lost her one opportunity for solace. However, she knew she could ask him what he knew about genetic mutations and how to stop them—Travers did, after all, know she was looking for a flaw in Meditrinum. She flicked back to messages on her phone and quickly sent a reply to Travers,

“Finishing up a few things in lab, then on my way. M”

Mara exited out of the DNA sequencing program on her computers and opened up the application LabLink, an online delivery service where Science students could request supplies and have them delivered right to their labs. She clicked on “Specimen Samples” and filled out the form to request blood samples of Meditrinum. She hesitated over the number of samples to request, and then decided on a full 10 specimens, requesting that their donors be from an array of ages. Her request was submitted and would be delivered by the next morning. Mara let out a long exhale as she shut down the computers; she had intended to be labbed down all night, but now she felt distinctly relieved to be powering down her lab when it was only late afternoon. The weight of today’s discovery was bearing down on her too hard, and Mara realized she had reached a threshold she seldom encountered—the point where it was all too much for her right now and she needed to back away and return to the problem later. Thus, it was with great relief that she flicked off the light switches to her lab, keyed in the code to securely lock the doors and turned her back on the whole area for the night.

Riding back up in the elevator Mara stood as if in a daze, her brain at war with itself—wanting to analyze and turn the problem over and over, the other half knowing it needed to put the issue away for now. The elevator rose up through the floor and its glass walls were flooded with golden light as it reached the lobby where the orange, fuzzy rays of the setting sun had gilded all the smooth marble, glass and metal surfaces turning The Portal into an opulent golden palace. The lift did not stop at the lobby, but propelled Mara further upward until it deposited her in another white marbled lobby, the glass railings at its edges showing a vertiginous maze of stair cases and elevator shafts leading many floors down to the main entrance of The Portal itself. Mara exited the elevator, turned left and immediately began to ascend yet another flight of stairs which led exclusively to Professor Travers’ suite of labs. At the top of the stairs, the décor changed abruptly; cool metal and glass finishings gave way to warm wood paneled walls, thick wine colored carpets, and richly carved dark wood doors. There were three sets of these doors on the large stair landing: one a double height pair of grandly carved doors led to Travers’ living area, the plainest door led to his labs, and a curious almost too-short door with a Gothic arched top and rosette carvings led to Travers’ office.

It was the arched office door to which Mara administered three quick raps to let Travers know she was here. She knew he would be in there waiting for her; he always conducted their chats in the coziness of his office, “Get away from the business side for once, my dear,” he always said. Today was no exception, shortly after her knock, Travers opened the curious door wide for her with a warm smile that crinkled the corners of his dark eyes. He wasn’t wearing his usual tweed jacket (Mara saw it hung close at hand over the back of his desk chair) because the room was very cozy and warm due to the lit fireplace which had the same curious Gothic arched shape as the door. “Mara, come, sit by the fire please! You must know how terribly sorry I am that I have not been able to meet with you before now. It’s been this business with the inter-college initiative project which has kept me very busy,” he said, checking his old fashioned wristwatch, then looking at Mara interestedly, “You mentioned you were in your lab and had to finish up some things, but technically your group meeting wasn’t supposed to end all that long ago.” He raised his eyebrows questioningly at her.

“Professor Travers, I—” Mara began exasperatedly, not in the mood to have to defend herself.

But Travers broke into a warm smile, “Our little secret,” he said, placing a finger briefly to his lips, “Besides, who can blame you for not wanting to spend a whole afternoon engaged in small talk when you’ve got rather more important things to do, right?” He gestured toward the two overstuffed chairs in a plaid forest green print which were huddled close to the fireplace, and Mara gratefully collapsed into one, letting her briefcase fall to the floor. “I would offer you a drink,” Travers continued, “But I know you don’t usually indulge. Which is a shame, because I have an absolutely excellent merlot that would be a delight to share with you.”

“Yes. I’ll have some wine, please. That would be great,” Mara said from the depths of her chair, knowing that this was truly one of the few days where a drink would ease the wars in her head and allow her some peace from herself and the problem in her lab. Travers looked up with surprise, and walked over to the sideboard where he poured deep ruby wine from a cut glass decanter into two light as air blown glass vessels. Mara gingerly accepted and took a deep draught of the wine, its fine tannic swirl of flavor creating a rich glow within her even upon the first drink. Travers settled with his glass in the adjacent chair and turned attentively to face her.

“So, Mara, what is going on with your project? What is new for Meditrinum? I couldn’t help but notice right before you came up here, an especially large sample of Meditrinum blood specimens was ordered to your lab,” Travers ventured inquisitively.

“Ten is an especially large number?” Mara asked bluntly. “I am just running some extensive DNA sequencing prospectuses on Meditrinum samples, and looking to see if I run into any mutations,” she summarized, feeling better that she didn’t outright tell Travers a lie—up until this afternoon that was truly what she was working on, she just omitted the detail that a mutation had indeed been found. As her brain cycled back to the word mutation all the anxiety started to rise again and voices of panic started to shout in her mind—Where?! When?! How bad is it?!—Mara shut them up with another drink of wine.

“Ah, mutations, the bane of genetic structure! But the point is Mara–and it is a point I have been trying to make with you ever since you entered the University–what makes you so sure there will be a mutation within Meditrinum specimens? After all, the therapy was created to smooth out and repair flaws in the DNA structure, so wouldn’t the simple act of taking it rule out the very mutations you’re afraid are going to become prevalent?” Travers leaned back with a smile and took another sip of his wine; this was the classic argument between the two which they routinely waged against one another in the most pacific, scholarly manner.

“As I have said before, it is never a bad idea to be too careful in the precautions one takes against a drug that is used habitually by all the most important government figures who run this country, not to mention countless students and professors of science,” here she slightly narrowed her eyes at him; she was trying to lure him into telling her whether or not he took Meditrinum. She had not been able to get him to divulge that particular information throughout the duration of his mentorship to her.

Once again, he did not take the bait, “Mara, we could argue this back and forth for days—and believe me, I would enjoy the argument! There really is nothing like debate between two qualified individuals! But, my dear, I just hate to see your talents not put to good constructive use; you could be finessing Meditrinum, adding new features, new benefits—I know you have the talent and skill to do so. A project such as that would win you fame, power, and—good Lord!—money. More money than you could imagine! Your name would be in all the scientific journals; you would be at the forefront of genetic engineering, a figurehead so to speak,” Travers said passionately.

“I know, I know all that,” Mara responded wearily; Travers knew this was the best means of persuasion to use on her. He knew that she craved respect and success for her work. It used to be very difficult to resist this argument, to prevent herself from giving in and heading down to her lab to create a new genetic therapy that would give Meditrinum users even longer lives, universal good looks, even advanced sexual prowess, or some other seemingly trivial but in reality very powerful advantage. For her, this represented not only the easy way out, but also the path that would lead her to less success. A scientist improving Meditrinum was not nearly as important as a scientist who saved Meditrinum. Mara continued to Travers with a mischievous smile, “I didn’t come here to rehash all our old arguments. I came here because I want to know what you know about genetic mutations. Say my DNA sequencing does turn up on a mutation—then what?”

“Well, Mara, it would depend on what kind of mutation it is. We obviously have prepared remedies to all of the basic genetic mutations—different kinds of cancer, for instance, used to be a deadly mutation in the past, but now we have the various formulas which stop the cancer and mend it immediately. Which leads back to my former point; Meditrinum automatically fixes these kinds of flaws every month when a user takes it. If there are any mutations or free radicals that cause cancer in a person’s system, Meditrinum wipes these away upon its administration. I assume you have already thought of this, so I further assume you must be looking for a bigger form of mutation. I suppose it could be possible for cells to mutate on so many levels that the Meditrinum would be unable to catch up with the repairs, but we are talking about massive DNA breakdown. Literally, massive! It would have to be enough break down that the Meditrinum couldn’t fix it all in one month. This kind of mutation would see the users of Meditrinum waste away slowly while the battle between the mutated cells and Meditrinum waged on inside them; some might live if they had enough strength to stay alive long enough for the Meditrinum to catch up with repairs, but most would die.

That is one possibility, I suppose. The other situation is compounded; cells are already mutating on the massive level I mentioned before, but in this type of mutation, Meditrinum turns on the body—a hostile takeover mutation. In this scenario, the Meditrinum itself is corrupted upon entry to the body by these mutated cells, thus spreading the mutation everywhere much more quickly than it would have done on its normal course. In this kind of hostile takeover mutation, we are talking death within days or maybe a week of the Meditrinum injection. A bleak prospect, to be sure, but let’s not forget this genetic therapy has been around and in constant use by many people for well over fifty years. If a mutation was going to happen, odds are it would have already occurred,” he finished, and self-satisfied with his explanation he turned towards the fire and propped his loafered feet up on a claw footed leather ottoman.

Mara sat in silence, processing. The dancing light from the fireplace cast a thick glow over the wood paneled walls and gilded spines of books in the floor to ceiling bookshelves. Through the window—strangely arched and comprised of many diamond shaped panes which always gave Mara pause as from the exterior of the building it would be quite anachronistic, architecturally—the sun was finally on its last descent, causing a ruby-purple glow to enter the office. Mara was glad for the dim lighting as she could feel her face going white in the span of Travers’ bleak synopsis of the worst kinds of mutations. She knew it would be a dead giveaway if he saw fear on her face so she took a large swallow of wine, hoping to bring back some of her color as Travers got up to turn on some lamps.

“Thanks for the insight, Professor Travers—now hopefully it will be of no use to me!” she laughed, trying to lighten the mood away from the subject.

Travers looked at her seriously for a moment, “If anyone could find a fix to those mutations I just spoke about, Mara, it’s you,” he gazed at her tersely with his brown eyes for a beat, then broke into a smile, “Now how about another glass of wine and we can move on to less serious topics,” he accepted her empty glass, which was proffered more readily than he expected, and topped it with more wine. “Tell me about your group!” He said, sitting back down in the other chair by the fireplace.

Mara sighed audibly and Travers laughed. “Well I didn’t really get to meet them much since, as you most astutely guessed, I left the meeting early. I wanted to get back to my lab, and, yes, I did see it as a waste of my time. As for my brief impression of the group, well, I really liked Vance. He is the one from Politics, so I suppose getting people to like him is what he is good at. He definitely put everyone at ease. Elba, the girl from Technology, is unremarkable; pretty shy, but seemed to hint that she knows about computer hacking. But don’t they all know a lot about that over in Tech? And then from Design, there was Runey. He was late, and arrogant. He is handsome and he knows it. I am going to have the most trouble working with him. He just…irritates me for some reason,” Mara shook her head as his easy half-smile came back into her mind. She took another drink of wine.

Travers looked amused at her descriptions. He had expected no less than dismissive. “Mara, you should see this as an opportunity! When you leave the University, you will be working with other types of people, like it or not. You’re going to be very important, and important people have to know how to mix. You already like this Vance from Politics, and it sounds like the girl Elba could be interesting—just because she is shy doesn’t mean she has nothing interesting to say! And as for this character Runey, he is your biggest challenge, Mara. I encourage you to make an effort to get to know him. Since he is the one you least like in the group, making an effort towards him will be good for your character. Many students of Science don’t learn this until after University, but success is not just won in the lab, it is carried out amongst other people. Challenge yourself, learn about Runey. That is my personal advice to you, for whatever it’s worth,” he smiled as he saw Mara’s face lose some of its obstinate hardness; he had seen the look before and knew it as a sign she had taken his words to heart.

As the sky lost its wash of grey and violet and filtered totally into inky black outside the diamond-paned window, Mara and Travers continued to sit and talk well after the moon had set and the stars had spread out to blanket the night. When at last Mara stood up from her chair and shouldered her briefcase, she was feeling much more light-hearted than she had when she arrived. The wine had dulled the sense of urgency to investigate the mutation, and the Travers’ paternal presence and friendship had soothed her greatly. She had not drank too much wine that she had forgotten the specifics on mutations Travers had explained to her, but she was tipsy enough that she floated out of the room ambivalent to Travers’ last hard, quizzical look at her as she exited, indicating that what he had seen and heard from her that night was troubling.

Current Progress: #amwriting #amediting

Things have been going as per usual in my writerly life this week–a little progress, a little frustration. Editing Inductance has been my main focus. As I noted last week, the first ten chapters were a little rough around the edges, but now that I am in the thick of things, it is all sounding very good. Shockingly, I do better with a lot of action and tight suspenseful scenes, even though these are the hardest for me to write! Ironically, I enjoy the characters’ relationships with each other and especially the romance aspect of the story, but these sectors are where I see the most need for editing. I suppose this problem arises from the simple fact that–in all actuality–human emotions and relationships are more complex than an action-y, main characters being chased and escaping from danger type of scene. Thus, as opposed to the tight, driving action of the prose, when I am writing emotional scenes or internal dilemma, those sentences tend to get longer and more complex, and need more editorial attention.

On the whole, however, editing has been a very painless process. In fact, it has bolstered my self-confidence! As I am editing along and find myself not wanting to stop because I want to stay immersed in the story, I feel a great sense of pride–I even have myself (the author) hooked on the story! Pride and a sense of accomplishment are great sensations to feel in the author’s cruel world of agent denials and constant self-doubt. The only thing about Inductance which gives me trepidation is the word count–78,000 words is a little slim, compared to Capacitance which stood at 89,000 words. I feel great about the way the story arcs and finds its own sort of resolution and set up for the next novel, but the word count still makes me a little nervous. Perhaps I need to explore the idea of inserting another storyline somewhere in the novel. I have some ideas–for instance one my secondary characters from the first book has not shown her face in the second book. Characters have talked about her, but she is not present. I can’t decide if that’s something I should take up and insert to create a higher word count. However, I had in the back of my mind thought about bringing her back in a certain way in the third book which I think would be very effective. Hopefully, once I get through the initial edit and have the full sense of a straight read through the story I might have a better idea of what to insert.

The final note of progress (which is also a note of frustration) which I have to report this week is that I officially started Resistance! While I had composed the first sentence already, this week I went ahead, swallowed my procrastination and wrote the first chapter. And I absolutely love the way it came out! Now I need to continue this sense of trust in myself and go on to the next chapter. Procrastination still rules as yet, however. For my series, it is more like having to write two first chapters since I have two main characters; each of their individual situations must be initially presented to the reader and that makes things a little more challenging. A jumping off point for the entire novel is always a very delicate and difficult thing to construct. I finally have a free weekend ahead of me though, so I intend to make use of it in true writer’s fashion and get some more words on that page! I hope everyone has a very lovely weekend and I will post Chapter 7 of Capacitance on Monday! 🙂

Dealing With Dialogue + Chapter 6 Thoughts

Every week when I post a sample chapter I go back and re-read it. Every time I do this, I learn something new about the chapter and think a little deeper about my process as a writer. My initial thoughts from Chapter 6–aside from the impression that I need to go back and weed out some adverbs!–was that the dialogue stuck out to me in this chapter.

Chapter 6 was one of the first chapters that is heavy on the dialogue. We have Runey, Elba, Vance and Mara together for one of the first times and I am just starting to give them their voices. Traditionally, I have always found dialogue a little challenging. If you have even skimmed some of my former blog posts, you will know that I find exposition very compelling, so it is hard for me to break from that and let the characters–literally–speak for themselves. Since I wrote a lot of critical essays in my English literature major in college, I was constantly writing pages of solid prose with no dialogue involved. Thus, dialogue did not come easy to me. I say this in the past tense, because after completing two manuscripts, this is simply not true anymore. While I do love my exposition, my characters’ conversations are easily implemented as well. So this is one area of improvement I have seen in myself as a writer since I composed Chapter 6 of Capacitance.

One other area that I have seen improvement is that my characters’ voices are perhaps a little bit cleaner now. It is a fine balance between giving each character a genuine voice and excluding some of the filler words which are natural in spoken conversation, but can be distracting in a written work. I am talking here about Elba’s “Um”s, Vance’s “Well, you know”s and things like that. We say them all the time in normal conversation, but the characters in a story don’t necessarily need to. As the story goes on, I do clean some of that up. I leave bits like that in if I think it really adds to the voice or the situation, but I think these fillers got a little overboard in Chapter 6.

My biggest insecurity about voice is that I am not going to differentiate it enough between characters and they will all end up sounding the same. It is a huge challenge to attempt to have one’s own voice as a writer and then have to balance the individual voices of all the characters in the novel. I think specifically Elba’s and Vance’s voices are two places I need to watch in Capacitance because I have a sneaking suspicion they may change just a bit as the book goes on, simply because I became more comfortable and in tune with them as characters. However, that’s another round of edits for another day as I am still knee deep in the initial edit of Inductance. With that being said, I am back to editing!

Capacitance: Chapter 6

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!

Chapter 6

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.