Capacitance: Chapter 10

Happy Monday! Hopefully this post works out so I can bring you your Monday sample chapter even while I am out in Colorado climbing around on the mountains. 🙂

Chapter 10

Runey woke up with Juleia still cocooned in his arms; last night had been madness he knew. It was unprofessional at best to not hold true to his assigned break up with Juleia, but something about the immediacy of her had sloughed away all his common sense. And holding her now, he still didn’t want to let her go—especially when he contrasted this moment to the painful emptiness of his bed the previous morning. However, the voice that he had successfully drowned out last night was back this morning in full force, you need to get her OUT of here Runey, you can’t do this again! Think about it a little—you aren’t going to back out of the assignment, but you are never going to be successful at it if you are carrying on with Juleia on the side. Your heart will never be fully in the operation, and Mara isn’t the type of girl whose carefully constructed walls will be torn down by some half-ass effort! Runey knew all this was true; he could feel the common sense side of his mind once again taking over. He could feel the twining pull of the challenge to succeed in his mission coming back, the tendrils wrapping their way back around the parts of his mind they’d lost hold of last night.

Then he had a keen sense of the biggest wrong of all he had committed—he had led Juleia on. With each touch and caress in the dark the night before, even with the weight of his arms around her now, he was committing a falsehood to her; giving her a reassurance that everything was fine, that everything would go back to normal. Hot moisture burned behind Runey’s eyes as he thought of all the pain he had already caused Jules, and now he knew he had caused even more—maybe even a worse blow than the first time. Runey understood Juleia well enough to know she had probably been nurturing a wellspring of false hope throughout the day yesterday, which had been—in her mind—validated by the events of last night. The very worst part, Runey realized, was that she would repeat the whole process again; a dreamer and a romantic, Juleia would not simply let the two of them fall apart—she believed they were destined for each other. Runey knew life did not work like that; people stayed together or fell apart through conscious effort. And he was not making that effort—not by a long shot. Last night was sloppy, he thought, I need to do better. I need to focus.

Runey had not realized what a difficult task maintaining focus would be; he had lived his whole life with the ease of one who is both intelligent and personable—problems simply seemed to smooth themselves out, and no task seemed too daunting. However, he was now faced with the sobering realization that what the Professor had assigned him to do was going to be harder than Runey had expected when he first saw Mara’s face on the projection screen in the conference room. Runey’s phone buzzed and emitted a soft chime; slowly, carefully extracting his arms from around Juleia who sighed sleepily but did not wake up, Runey reached down and fumbled in the pocket of his jeans which were pooled by the bed and extracted his cell phone. He tapped the screen, and shot straight up in bed upon reading—“7 Missed Calls, 4 New Messages,” was displayed on his home screen. Runey cursed grimly. The missed calls were all from the Professor, all occurring after 9:30, when he had met Juleia in the hallway outside his room. He scrolled through to the messages and read,

“Runey, just checking in to see how today played out. Let me know. –P.”

“Check back in, I need a report. –P.”

“Call me back. Now. –P.”

“Report in the morning to The Underground. Room 6. I’ll be waiting. –P.”

Runey’s stomach sank; the Professor definitely knew something was up. It was possible he knew the entire story of what had happened last night. The College of Design housed a larger number of students who were involved in the Restorationists than any other college; it would be easy for the Professor to have eyes and ears everywhere—not to mention the presence of the cameras at each end of the hallway on every floor. The cameras would have been able to see Juleia leaving her dorm room, entering Runey’s floor, and Runey pulling her into his room. He winced internally. It would take all his skills of persuasion to get the Professor to let him stay on this assignment; after all, he had only been on it one day and already he had shown a massive lack of character and dedication. Runey knew he would be banking on the Professor’s personal faith in him.

He realized he needed to start correcting his errors immediately, if he was to seem truly sorry for his lapse and ready to go forward with full-force. He checked the time on his phone and quietly cursed when he saw it was already after eight o’clock; in a perfect world, he would have already been down in the Underground, preferably even arriving there ahead of the Professor. Focus, Runey, he thought, narrowing his thoughts into a task list. First task was to send the message to Mara as he had planned last night. Scrolling through to messages, he typed, “Hey, Mara. I know we didn’t get much of a chance to talk yesterday. How about we meet up this evening? –R.” That done, he opened a blank message and addressed it to the Professor, “I know we need to talk. I’m on my way. See you in Room 6. –R.” The final task was the hardest one; sliding out of bed, Runey quietly slunk into the same green t-shirt and worn jeans he had donned the day before, then crept slowly out the door, easing it closed to prevent it from slamming and waking Juleia.

Luckily, Juleia was a deep sleeper, so it was easy to sneak away. Runey hated leaving her without talking first, or without at least leaving a note or message saying where he was going, but he knew this way would send the clearest message to her about his intent to continue their break up—that things would not go on as they used to. Usually, in the mornings, the two would lie together in bed quietly talking sometimes up until the very last minute before class, at which they would scurry into their clothes and dash off to their studios looking disheveled and full of happy secrets. This morning, he knew, she would feel his absence just as deeply as he had felt hers the morning before. He sighed; focus…his mind once again insisted. Stopping at the lobby bathroom, Runey washed his face and ran a hand through his hair in attempts to smooth it into a semblance of order. Checking his phone as he walked down the front steps of the dorms, he saw that Mara had not responded to his message yet; this disheartened him, and he hoped she would give him a—preferably favorable!—response before he got to the Underground so he would have some positive material to present to the Professor.

Getting to the Underground was something Runey had never done in broad daylight, and it made him even more worried about the meeting since the Professor had felt it necessary to risk a breach of security by calling him down in the light of day. Turning back in the direction of Design Block A, Runey was glad that it was a another warm fall day—thus, many classes would be taking their lessons outside on the green by the lake. As he rounded the bend to Block A, he saw his assumption was correct as groups of students with easels or sketchpads were clustered and sprawled on the grassy banks. Runey walked up the familiar concrete steps to Block A, and into the lobby where rainbow chunks of light fell across the worn purple sofas where he had supped and napped the night before. Making his way back down the same rubber treaded stairs as yesterday, he wondered if the Professor or others in the Restorationists had purposefully placed his and Mara’s first meeting place so close to the entrance to the Underground. Perhaps they had held so much faith in Runey’s sway that they thought maybe he would bring her down into the Underground right then and there? Runey laughed wryly to himself and thought, well if they had that much faith in me then, they almost certainly don’t anymore!

He strolled past the familiar Studio 76 to the far end of the hall where there was a door marked “Studio 4b.” The numbering system of studios in the Design blocks always made Runey smirk—the numbering made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Legend had it that the designer of the building had done the numbering that way as an added quirk. Runey’s private theory was that the designer had chosen that way as an added obstacle to first year students. It had taken Runey weeks of using his mapping device on his phone to get to class before he finally untangled the messily numbered routes in his mind. Thus, Studio 4b was in the basement, just like as Studio 76. 4b was sometimes used for overflow classes, but only under dire circumstances as the room had been subject to extensive water damage—the floor adjacent to the foundation wall had an unpleasantly spongy feel to it, and the air in the entire room had a moldy musk as it was drawn into the nostrils. In the far back corner of the room was a supply closet; Runey strode across the floor (and over the spongy spots) to the supply closet and withdrew a tiny, very old key from his pocket. To most students who tried to get into the supply closet, the old, weary door appeared to be immovably jammed into its frame—stuck beyond attempt to get it open. However, Design students who were members of the Restorationists knew that this was not the case. The door was simply locked, and when the small key was twisted in the rusty lock, the door swung open and closed with surprising smoothness and ease.

Runey turned the lock, opened the old door, stepped inside and then quickly shut himself in. He didn’t think anyone had seen him; all the classrooms on this level had appeared to be empty when he walked down the hall. He locked himself into the closet with a click, and, with a practiced hand, pulled a string dangling from the ceiling near his ear. A lone bulb cast a gritty light over the small space which was lined with decaying particle board shelves crammed with dusty boxes, jars of used paintbrushes with stiffly splayed bristles, and broken easel stands. With Runey’s tall frame, it was easy to reach the top shelf and move aside a box so covered with dust and old water spots that most wouldn’t desire to look at it, let alone touch it. However, Runey nonchalantly pulled the box forward and over to the side, revealing a slight impression in the wall that could only be seen by the most careful of observers. He pressed a corner of the small area, and a tiny door, camouflaged to look like the surrounding wall popped open, revealing a small, gray keypad.

Runey typed in the familiar key code and stepped back as the entire back wall of the closet slid slowly and smoothly into the floor. In front of him now was the entry point of a flight of narrow, steep stairs, irregularly lit—the same stairs he and Juleia had walked down holding hands barely a day ago. That moment seemed much longer ago to Runey as he stepped through the door into the stairwell. The air instantly became cooler, and his eyes struggled to adjust to the very dim light as the wall behind him rolled back up and locked itself in its original position. Runey checked his phone once again as he trotted down the stairs; still no response from Mara. Ominously, there had been no reply from the Professor either; Runey quickened his pace down the stairs. He arrived at the lighted tunnel and the metal door much more expeditiously than he had with Juleia. Scanning his palm hurriedly, he strode purposefully through the metal doors as soon as they had spread wide enough for him to move through, and moved briskly down the hall.

Room 6 was one of the many nondescript doors which lined the hallway of the Underground—the secret space underneath the campus where the Restorationists met. Runey knocked on the plain white door. “Come in,” he heard from within. The interior of Room 6 was no more remarkable than the exterior hallway—a utilitarian metal desk, rough concrete floors, bare cinderblock walls, harsh fluorescent lighting. The Professor was seated behind the desk, scrolling through something on his slim silver laptop; he looked up upon Runey’s entrance, and the dark brown eyes held nothing of their usual warmth. Runey still didn’t know how much exactly the Professor knew, so he decided to start the conversation on the defensive, “Look, Prof, you can’t expect me to do it all in one day,” he said compromisingly, leaning forward and gripping the back of one of the folding chairs in front of the desk.

“No, of course I never expected you to accomplish your mission in the span of one solitary day,” the Professor motioned for Runey to sit down, “However, I did expect you to adhere to the assigned task,” he continued, his voice taking on a rare cold edge, his usually smiling mouth set in a grim line. Runey remained silent, knowing it was tantamount to wait and let the Professor reveal his hand of cards first. It didn’t take him long to oblige, “Runey, I will get right to the point; when you didn’t respond to my message last night regarding your status, I inquired about you to some of the other students in our organization. They told me that you were last seen with Juleia. Quite frankly, I could not believe what I was hearing, so I was forced to go to the dormitory security footage where, indeed, I saw you encounter Juleia. Not only that, but took her into your room! The video makes it quite clear that was your own initiative.” He turned the laptop around to face Runey and a high resolution video of Runey taking Juleia’s arm and pulling her into his room played in a continuous loop.

Ok, now I know what you know; the next step is contrition and reconciliation, the voice in Runey’s head sounded confident, but Runey wasn’t so sure. His deep, friendly connection to the Professor was, he knew, his only shot to stay on this assignment. “Ok, Prof, I made a mistake; I know it. I should have known it last night, but I know it now,” he allowed his head to fall into his hand in what he hoped was a humbling gesture, “I will admit, yesterday morning was tough—without Juleia, knowing she was gone—but then as I was walking to the Campus Green, my mind started to latch onto the challenge of it all. When I finally met Mara, I thought I had a foolproof line of attack, but she is different, she is challenging. Infuriating, but challenging. It wasn’t until long after the meeting was over that I realized she is an extremely interesting person. When I realized that, I realized I could start replacing thoughts of Juleia with thoughts of her; and I was surprised at how easy that was for me to do. My mind was really conforming to the new assignment—until I came back to my dorm. When I saw Juleia in the hallway, all my focus went out the window; when she is around, all I can think of is her and I. It’s just so easy to fall back into it, like coming back home…”

“Or sliding down a slippery slope,” the Professor said archly, having remained silent up until that point. However, Runey thought he could see the man softening in a slight warming of his eyes, an almost imperceptible loosening of the jaw muscle.

“I just truly regret last night—it reflected badly on me, it showed lack of commitment to the mission, and, above all, it was really unfair to Juleia…” It was not hard for Runey to summon a real note of sorrow as he listed out his failures, and when he spoke of Juleia, his voice cracked with emotion. He was not acting, but the scene had the desired effect on the Professor, whose face now softened considerably.

“That’s right, Runey, it was terribly unfair to Juleia. She cannot be led to believe that you take this mission anything less than one hundred percent seriously. Because that is where your mind is at, correct? I won’t have anything less than total dedication,” The Professor said, and Runey knew he had rounded the bend, and was out of danger.

“Yes. Absolutely. I am already back on course. I messaged Mara this morning to arrange a meeting,” Runey said seriously.

“And what did she say?” the Professor asked, his eyes keen with interest.

“Well, she hasn’t responded yet,” Runey admitted, willing his phone to vibrate in his pocket and salvage the situation.

The Professor’s eyes narrowed, but, surprisingly, he simply said, “Well that’s fine; she is undoubtedly very busy. Hopefully you will soon uncover whatever it is she is busy on! Keep me apprised of any communication you have with her regarding setting up a meeting. If she continues to ignore you, larger measures may have to be taken.”

“I understand, Prof. I suppose if she doesn’t answer, I will have to go find her up in Science,” Runey thought out loud.

“Quite right. I’m sure you will be able to track her down. Now, Runey, I want us to be back on our traditional good terms, but there is something you must understand. Earlier in our chat, you mentioned a sentiment that you felt badly for exacerbating Juleia’s pain. On that note, you should desist any further contact with her, or her situation will become exponentially worse. And I am not just talking about the deterioration of her emotional state! Let me, once again, be quite frank; if Juleia continues to interfere in your mission, we will remove her—off the University, to another Restorationist unit in a different sector where she can be of assistance. Do I make myself clear?” The Professor said in a flat, business-like tone of voice which was more menacing than if he had raised his voice.

“Abundantly,” Runey replied. Already, his mind was spinning in a thousand different directions, and for the first time he found himself questioning the word of the Professor—Juleia’s “removal” he feared could quite possibly be more sinister than going to another sector. The cold menace was not far from the Professor’s voice, and Runey was reminded that he was involved in a high-stakes organization, willed to take down the current establishment no matter what the risks—or incidental casualties along the way.

“Now, I need to get on with my day; I’ve already had to cancel all my morning sessions for this meeting. Although I wish I could stay and discuss things with you more; I am fascinated to know more of your impressions of Mara,” he said with a warm grin.

Runey, the master of human interaction, detected this intentional shift in mood and altered himself to match, standing up to shake the Professor’s hand on his way out, “Look for a message from me, hopefully soon! I will be in touch,” he said with a smile as the Professor walked towards the door. “Hey wait, Prof, you forgot your laptop!” he said, picking up the device and holding it out.

The Professor turned back from the door, buttoning his tweed jacket, “No, Runey that stays here, and I suggest you do too until you see that Juleia has left your room.” Then the Professor smiled at him once again and left the room, letting the door bang close behind him. Runey immediately sat down and studied the laptop; indeed, while the two had been talking, the camera feed had turned back live and was now showing a view of Runey’s dorm hall. He could see his room, 906, quite clearly. He cursed under his breath. Why had Juleia been so stupid to come to his room in the first place? Getting up from his chair, he opted instead for the cheap rolling chair with slightly more padding which the Professor had been occupying behind the desk—he needed a comfortable seat, because, knowing Juleia, he was going to be here awhile.

Runey smirked sardonically to himself; he could catalog the series of emotions and actions Juleia would go through in his mind as if he was right there in the room with her. After years of study, he knew how the girl operated. She would wake—she probably already had by now—and notice he was gone; slowly, then all at once, rage would set in. Most people would walk out the door immediately after the snub of waking up alone in a bed they had shared the night before with another person, but not Juleia; she would want to mete out her wrath on him personally whenever he came back to the room (and a small part of her would wait in hopes it was a mistake, that he was simply out getting breakfast or coffee). Eventually anger would give way to sadness; she would lie in his bed and sob. Finally, she would resolve herself to leave, but wanting to have the last word, he could see her almost clear as day sitting at his small wooden desk writing him a note, not liking the first two or three attempts and crumpling them into the trash can. When she was satisfied with the note, then she would finally see no other choice but to leave. Sighing, Runey knew he had until early afternoon in the small, plain Room 6 of the Underground; it was now very clear that the Professor would know if he left too soon—he couldn’t decide if he was unsettled or impressed by the Professor’s level of surveillance. Putting the thought in the back of his mind for further review later, he pulled out his phone. There was still no message from Mara, so he leaned back and trained his eyes on the space outside room 906.

Friday Updates

I am a little ashamed of this edition of Friday updates as it is not as successful a report as I would like to convey! Once again I am struggling with the pressure to write very quickly but still attending to my other obligations. Nonetheless, I am trying not to judge myself on the lack of chapters written (in the meantime wondering why I set these goals for myself when I know they probably won’t happen).

I wanted to get Resistance done through Chapter 10 by the end of this week as I leave for Colorado tomorrow. It was a rather achievable goal as it required me to write one chapter per day for each day of this work week (my usual pace). However, things got hectic, as I fully knew they would. I had social obligations pop up, an out of town appointment yesterday, and general French Bulldog disasters most days. Plus, I still haven’t packed for my trip (a usual procrastination). Resistance sits calmly waiting for me to pick up and write Chapter 8, and with the to-do list I have for today I’ll be lucky if I get even that done.

All that being said, I still feel good about the manuscript. It is very dark this time around and thus it is harder to submerge myself in the material. The characters are going through some experiences that are hard to write about, but their emotions after these experiences have happened are even harder to convey. I don’t want to stereotype their reactions, or worse (in my opinion) archetype their reactions. I want these characters to be genuine and authentic; while there is, to some extent, an archetypal element in all forms of human behavior, it is important to know about it but still deviate from it in some way that is unique and speaks to your characters. That has been a struggle, but a rewarding one as it forces me to think deeply about the characters as a whole. This third book has a very different feel; I wanted it to be purposefully disorienting both to give the readers a sense of how much Runey and Mara are going through and also to give the book a sense of desperation and urgency. Throughout the trilogy the threat has been veiled and that veil has been sliding off slowly but surely throughout the series–now it has been yanked off to reveal the horrible things it was covering before. It’s a hard thing to deal with as a writer. Gravity and urgency makes for a difficult balance to maintain. And that, friends, is the best I can do to explain myself and lake of prolific-ness with this MS.

Agent updates: Nothing really new to report. I am hearing back from a few queries in the form of denials. The agent who requested my full manuscript has not gotten back to me yet and we are nearing the two month mark in which either she promised to respond and if not I am supposed to drop her a line reminding her. This deadline makes me both nervous and excited. What if I email her only to find out she never got the manuscript as it went to spam or whatnot and thus I have to wait another two months after re-submitting?? Lots of “what-ifs”! I continue to have nothing but great things to say about the agents I met at the WLT Conference. One of them dropped me a quick line to say he got my query and would respond again soon (unheard of!). And another emailed me to say the work wasn’t for him, but he would pass it on to someone in his agency who he thought might be a better fit. So impressed! They are actually real people, you guys! 🙂 Once I get back from vacation, I plan to start another round of querying. I want to try and challenge myself to write one query per day, every weekday. Let’s see if that goal goes by the way of my finishing Chapter 10 this week goal…haha.

I hope everyone has a great weekend! I am going to try and see if I can be technologically savvy enough to set up an automated post for Chapter 10 on Monday. I apologize in advance if I am not bright enough to figure that out. Adios!

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.

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.

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.

Capacitance: Chapter 4 & 5

I apologize for the lack of posts this week! My desktop Internet is back up and running now, so things can get back to normal. To make up for the delay on Capacitance chapters this week AND to celebrate my finally finishing Inductance I am posting both Chapter 4 and Chapter 5! Enjoy!!

Chapter 4

The morning of the meeting of all the students on the Campus Green, consciousness gradually trickled through the cells of Runey’s brain, and with this he became increasingly aware of a sense of something missing. Slowly, then all at once, the loss of Juleia bore down on him; the immediacy he missed her with was a physical pain as he remembered how most mornings she was there with him, wedged into his narrow dorm bed, encircled by his arms. This morning there was an uncomfortable space in his bed which his limbs were not used to stretching out into. After a few drinks with the Professor last night, his evening had been therapeutically fogged, but this morning he missed Juleia—and he had a headache. At the exact moment of the latter discovery, the sun pierced through the window which was divided into several randomly placed rectangular panes of colored and clear glass, sending rainbows of painful light into Runey’s deep blue—and right now rather bloodshot—eyes. Sighing, he dragged himself to a sitting position on the edge of the bed and once again became lost in thoughts of Juleia.

They had met during understudy school. Both were talented artists and were thus preparing for their eventual entry into the University College of Design. He had first encountered her at a party one Friday night and was intrigued by her witty, sarcastic humor and his ability to see through the hard exterior she presented when he looked into her soft brown eyes. Drunk and uninhibited, the pair had ended up in bed together that night. The next morning, Runey was already preparing several excuses and ways to avoid future encounters with her, but then she rolled toward him, the sunlight playing on her messy chocolate hair and tiny gold lip ring, and somehow she was suddenly a visceral part of his life from that moment on. Runey meshed with Juleia effortlessly; his innate sense of perceiving moods and feelings in other people was the perfect implementation for the deep moods of Juleia. She was prone to jealousy, sadness and irritability, but Runey knew how to navigate those deep waters and just how to temper her worst spells and tease out the elements he loved—her immense capacity to love, her devoted loyalty, and her wild imagination.

However, as a perceiver of people, Runey was also quite aware that he was less invested in Juleia than she was in him; he could truly see that she would find it hard to live a fulfilled life without him, as he provided a weight to her lofty dreamer’s character. Runey subconsciously knew, and was finding out in that present moment, that life without Juleia would leave a part of him injured, but would not render all of him broken. This realization had always set him a bit on edge about the relationship as a whole, but it was a train of thought that he stowed away in his ever-processing mind. There were too many exciting things happening being a student at the University, and he loved sharing them with Juleia—it was easy and comfortable to banter back and forth about new project ideas, what professors they liked and which they didn’t, anything and everything else. They always laughed together and dreamed together, and that was what he loved about her, so he locked away the chiding voice of criticism in his mind and took no notice of it day by day.

He wished the voice was there now; a sprig of doubt in his mind could blossom into a full state of acceptance of his new situation—helping him prepare mentally for this assignment he had been given. Runey knew why the Professor and other in the Restorationists had chosen him for this task. It was for the very reasons that he had such a successful relationship with Juleia; Runey was very perceptive of people—he always had been. He barely had to be in a room with a person for a minute before he could tell more about them than they ever would have guessed. Body language and an inexplicable intuitiveness could tell him if a person was stressed or sad, happy or distracted; it was a very useful tool in building relationships, but it could also be used for manipulation. Runey could not see this falling in love business as anything but a manipulation, but that didn’t soften his resolve that he could accomplish it. His determination in the face of a challenge was the second factor that had landed him the assignment. Fiercely competitive and extremely motivated, Runey was more likely to put his full effort behind something that was labeled “a challenge.” This was why he was so successful with Juleia—she was a complicated puzzle of a person, and Runey enjoyed finding out how the myriad pieces fit together.

Finally, there was the fact that he was very personable. He had been courted extensively by the College of Politics as he had a way of getting people to like him (mostly due to his great ability to read people). However, he had eschewed that idea firmly to stick with his passion for art—and to stick with Juleia. Yes, Runey thought as he finally got off the bed and made his way into his bathroom, it is pretty obvious why they chose me…people skills, dedication, determination. He understood the why, but he still did not like the implementation which required the severance of his tie with Juleia; frustrated and wanting to clear his mind, he stuck his head under the faucet of cold running water. Coming up for air, he grabbed a towel and examined in the mirror one last reason he had most likely been chosen; a strong, chiseled jaw line gave a masculine authority to his fine featured, handsome face—Juleia had often likened it to the faces seen on ancient statuary, such as Michelangelo’s David, a comparison which Runey felt was quite excessive. However, surmounted by a messy crop of auburn hair and deep, brooding blue eyes, Runey’s face was admittedly one that would make many girls fall in love with him on its own merits. Runey was sure Mara from Science would not be so easily swayed, but nonetheless he was certain the Professor and others had taken his looks into consideration when choosing their man for the assignment.

For the first time that morning, he thought not about Juleia but about Mara from Science—the girl he was supposed to fall in love with. It sounded absurd in Runey’s mind, like some sort of twisted fairytale, or archaic arranged marriage. However, he could definitely see the benefit; day after day he walked through campus and looked up on the tall hill at the imposing Science building and wondered just what it was that they were all doing up there. The other members of the Restorationists maintained a fairly good idea of what went on, but they could never be entirely sure. Whatever this Mara from Science was working on, it must be something with a potentially sinister bent, or the assignment would not be such a high priority. It was a challenge, and Runey felt the tentacles of curiosity weave through his mind and latch on to the cause—he wanted to find out, he would make it his life to find out since he didn’t have Juleia to ride comfortably through the motions with anymore.

The thoughts continued to ebb and flow through his mind as he walked out of the Design compound, its arched entry tunnel of the same rectangular colored glass as his dorm room windows swirling above him like a flurry of butterflies. He was the only one walking out; he had intentionally left late so that he would run no chance of meeting Juleia. He had sent a message to some of their mutual girl friends late last night telling them they needed to make sure she got to the meeting on time this morning—he knew Juleia well enough to know that the events of last night were enough to send her spiraling into a period of despondency that could see her not leave her room for days, regardless of her other obligations. Thus, he strolled out of Design and over the path towards Campus Green a mere five minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin, the curiosity and thrill of the challenge thrumming through his efficient brain and beginning to drown out the low resonant ache of losing Juleia. He once again considered Mara from Science, but found all the as-yet unknowns too overwhelming for him to process. At least he knew one thing, and he was grateful for it—when they gave him this assignment to fall in love with a stranger, at least the stranger was remarkably good looking. Chuckling and smiling his rueful crooked smile to himself, Runey slid on his sunglasses and continued on to the Campus Green, and his next love, Mara from Science.


 

Chapter 5

Campus Green was a sprawl of human movement as all the students from all the different colleges milled about and crammed into the common quadrangle. Although unintentional, the colleges had inadvertently separated themselves into their four respective groups as friends and classmates mingled amongst one another, making small talk under the ease of familiarity. So far, the assimilation of all the groups was not coming naturally. None of it was coming naturally for Mara as she stood under the dappled shade of an enormous oak, out of the way of the early fall sun which was gradually becoming too hot. It was ten past nine (she kept sliding her slim silver phone in and out of her pocket, compulsively checking the time), and as the remainder of the students packed onto the green, the noise level spiked with jocularity. In the center of the crush was a platform; the crowd suddenly parted way and a group of professors took this makeshift stage and stood above the large group. Mara saw Beliz and four other professors she did not know, and assumed they were from other colleges. She was delighted to see her favorite professor, Professor Travers, on the stage as well; a gentleman of indistinguishable age, his face was only slightly lined in a way that did not mar but rather enhanced its strong features—best of all were his warm brown eyes which would light up with interest and pride whenever Mara spoke of new ideas with him. They had spent many long hours together in her lab or in his faculty suite of lab and office; Mara allowed him a rare sentiment that was more than that of a professional colleague—she thought of him as the father she had never truly known.

Many students in the College of Science, unlike the rest of the students and population in general, were selected at a young age upon showing exceptional promise in the field of Science and then removed to live amongst one another and assume a life entirely devoted to training—Mara was one of these students. Now, seeing Travers on the stage, Mara had a brief flash of a vague and fuzzy memory, frayed around the edges, flit through her mind. She remembered the warm cinnamon smell of cookies baking, and a strong voice reading to her from a story book. The memory was gone as soon as it came, and left Mara with no feeling; she had long since accepted that she had once had a family, but they were no longer important. Her work was all she needed; any sentimentality she attributed to Travers was a topic she considered superfluous and vaguely embarrassing. However, it was still nice to see him up on the stage today. He would understand her annoyance at this interruption to work—especially once she told him the newest and most pressing of her discoveries. For the past week, she had been trying to arrange a private meeting with him, but he had been busy and rather obscure as to what was occupying his time. As recently as last night she had tried to set up a meeting and her message had been bluntly ignored. She felt slightly mollified seeing him on stage now—he must have been too busy to reply due to business with this meeting today.

One of the professors began to speak—a woman Mara did not know. She was very tall with a figure that could best be described as sharp. Her black hair was cut short and this added to the overall severe impression she made as she began in a loud voice with a razor’s edge, “Hello everyone, thank you for being here today. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Miranda Hall—head of the University Board of Directors. Today is a milestone in the history of the University, and I, as well as the rest of the faculty, board and surely you students, am very excited to see what this collaboration will bring. I will keep this short as it will take quite some time to gather into your new groups. In a few minutes, you will be receiving a message on your phones with the names of the other three members of your group as well as a location somewhere on campus. Once you receive the message, go to the location you have been sent. This is where you will meet your fellow group members. More information about the project will be messaged to you once everyone has dispersed.” With a brisk nod, Miranda Hall turned and gave the floor over to a professor from Design who began to speak of his excitement for the collaboration and to give an overview of the aims and philosophy of the College of Design.

Mara could see that the remainder of the speakers’ words on stage were going to be wasted on their intended recipients, as students all around whipped out their phones almost in unison and were trained to the messages application in high anticipation of finding out their new assignment. Mara got out her phone as well and covertly accessed some of her research files and did some remote checks of some lab tests she was running back in the Science compound. Time passed quickly as she scrolled through her personal files; out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of Beliz gesticulating colorfully on the stage and speaking fervently about her passion for the new project. Mara chuckled to herself as she noticed some of the students from other colleges had been distracted from their phones by the shocking neon orange pantsuit Beliz had chosen to wear for the occasion. Soon, she noticed around her students were starting to slowly thin off the green. Then Mara’s messages made an almost inaudible ping and buzz. She flipped through to messages, and touched to open the new arrival which read:

Group 407: Vance, 674309, Politics

Elba, 554981, Technology

Runey, 912768, Design

Report to Studio 76, Design Block A

The location assignment was linked in the message, so when Mara tapped the words on the display, a map of the University appeared complete with a glowing green marker denoting her current location. The way to Studio 76, Design Block A was highlighted on the map. Mara began to follow the route assigned, realizing this would be the first time she had ever ventured to the Design compound. She wondered if other groups got to meet in Science, and suffered an absurd qualm that someone might be assigned to her lab. You’re the only one who knows the lock code, Mara, don’t be ridiculous…she thought, flicking the errant thought out of her mind. The highlighted route on her phone screen led her diagonally across the Campus Green towards the Design compound. Whereas the Science building was up on a high precipice, the Design compound was recessed, and the area was entered by walking through a sloping half tunnel with rainbow blocks of glass on one side that seemed to be suspended in mid-air instead of continuing down to the other side of the walkway. At the bottom of the hill was a large glittering lake, surrounded by a lush green on which Mara could see several student groups of four were already gathered, meeting for the first time.

Design Block A, as the name would suggest, turned out to be the first of four multi-level buildings which were flowing constructions of pale red brick and more of the multi-colored glass like in the entrance tunnel. Mara approached Block A and pushed open the heavy glass door, checking her phone as she entered; as expected the screen on the phone automatically zoomed in and switched from a map of the entire campus to a detailed map of just Design Block A, and the highlighted route now traversed through hallways and floors, showing Mara where to go. As far as Mara could tell, the room numbering system in the building made no logical sense as room 76 appeared to be in the basement of the building; instead of leading her up the inviting spiral staircase of thick sheets of colored glass suspended in the foyer, the route suggested she needed to go down the hall and then descend a flight of much less fanciful stairs with utilitarian well-used rubber treads and a metal handrail which felt disturbingly sticky to the touch.

Wiping her hand disgustedly on the new blue silk of her tunic, Mara felt a fresh wave of annoyance as she arrived in front of Room 76; pushing open the door, she entered a very cluttered, very dirty space. Well worn hardwood and a distinct layer of dust covered the floor; shelves along the wall were absolutely crammed with papers, pencils and various other drawing supplies; easels stood at arbitrary positions throughout the room, sheathed in paint-stained sheets; light wooden chairs and tables were arranged at haphazard angles to one another. Despite all this clutter of stuff, the room was devoid of the key elements Mara expected to find in it—namely Vance from Politics, Elba from Tech, and Runey from Design. She tapped back through the messages on her phone to double check her location, and rolled her eyes when she saw that she was indeed in the right place, yet she was expected to work with idiots who couldn’t even get to a meeting expeditiously and on time.

Bestowed with the professional habit of being habitually early, Mara selected a moderately clean rag from the wide assortment splayed on the floor and tables, and gingerly brushed off one of the wooden chairs. Sitting down, she deposited her leather briefcase on the dirty floor—cringing internally—and once again pulled up her lab files on her phone to pass the time waiting for her already most unimpressive group partners. She did not have to wait overly long; five minutes of work on her phone had not elapsed before the creaky, dark wood door opened slowly and ushered a very small girl into the room. Standing at a height that would rival the brevity of even Professor Beliz’s form, Elba from Technology entered the room timidly. Her pale skin and eyes made her seem smaller than she already was; her hair hung down nearly to her hips in a long, neat, white-blond braid and the worn gray satchel she carried over her shoulder was nearly as large as she was. “Hi,” she ventured timidly, in a voice that was just as small and pure as her physical appearance, “You must be Mara. I’m Elba, first year Technology.” Jostling the immense bag to her other shoulder, she held out her hand and Mara slipped her phone away to a pocket and returned the gesture of greeting with a guarded smile.

“Nice to meet you, Elba. Do you have any idea how long this is supposed to take today?” Mara asked, not caring if her question came off as rude—she had seen something in her mobile lab results that warranted immediate looking into; labbing down late into the night looked like all-too-likely possibility.

With effort, Elba heaved her gray satchel onto one of the long wooden tables where it landed with a heavy thud. Mara supposed it was full of computer equipment, and began to muse briefly on how lucky it was that Technology students could carry their computers—essentially the equivalent of her lab—around with them everywhere. Her straying thoughts were interrupted by Elba’s answering her question, “Well, there was a command on the server last night prompting pre-generated emails to be sent out to all students at two different times. I’m assuming the first email was the one with directions to here, and the second is scheduled to arrive in…” she trailed off as she checked the time on her phone, “Five minutes. I don’t have a clue what the second message is about; my friends and I couldn’t get that far into the system…although we tried,” she said, raising her light eyebrows conspiratorially at the last, and then developing a rosy blush on her pale face when Mara simply eyed her dismissively, not eager to take part in the gossip of the computer hacking world.

“Well hopefully our partners make it here soon, then, so we can make quick progress once we get the next message,” Mara clipped, glancing again at the door. Elba only nodded back, still blushing from Mara’s none-too-warm reception.

At that moment, the door burst open and the increasingly awkward silence was filled with a loud, rich voice, “Hello, hello! I am so sorry for being late; I should have been here much sooner, but I got caught up talking to so many people on the way over,” his straight white teeth glowed against his dark warm skin with a smile that reached his almost black eyes. “However, I must be ok, because I see I’m not the last one to arrive. That makes me feel a little bit better, at least! Let me introduce myself, then. I’m Vance; and as you probably already know, I am representing the Politics portion of our little group. It’s so exciting to finally get to meet you, what a great opportunity!” He held out his hand first towards Mara.

“Mara, Science, first year,” she said with a genuine smile; not immune to the charm of Politics students, she found Vance instantly compelling and likeable.

“Mara, very nice to meet you; I don’t know much about what we will be working on as a team, but I am sure you as a Science student will be a truly valuable asset,” he shook her hand with a firm, practiced grip and moved on to Elba.

While Vance was greeting Elba (and once again making her blush), the door creaked on its hinges to allow the final member of their group into the room. Vance and Elba had quickly lapsed into a conversation—carried on mostly by the former—so it was Mara who first noticed the very tall young man with a striking slim, yet muscular, figure saunter in through the door. Runey from Design had a golden olive complexion that was incongruous to his deep red hair which was straight, kept a bit longish towards the front and messy. Mara, being only human, could not help but note the strong jaw line and deep marine blue of his eyes. He carried himself with a comfortable assurance, and unabashedly met Mara’s stare, and—she could clearly tell—made his own visual appraisal of her. In the few seconds since his entry, Mara had decided she didn’t like him. She was one to take note of good looks, but not one to be swayed by them (otherwise her encounter with Langdon in the elevator would have gone quite differently), and Runey’s casual demeanor which he demonstrated by being quite late to this meeting coupled with his unapologetic manner upon finally showing up, did not sit well with Mara’s constant adherence to her tasks and overall professionalism.

Runey seemed to have garnered quite the opposite impression of Mara, because, after his unchecked visual sweep of her body, he grinned widely and stepped towards her, “Hey, you must be Mara; nice to meet you! I’m Runey.”

Noting the lack of apology for being late, Mara remained blank-faced and shook Runey’s hand without bothering to stand up from her chair. “How did you know my name already?” she asked him.

“Watered silk tunic perfectly matched to leather leggings—all custom tailored. Designer bag. Hair which I am sure feels just as much like silk to the touch as it looks to the eyes. All around flawless. The way you look has ‘Science Student’ written all over it,” Runey said, clearly enjoying Mara’s growing consternation. He then leaned towards her conspiratorially and whispered, “Plus the other guy is literally talking her ear off. Bet he hasn’t stopped talking since he came in, right? And the other girl is pale as the moon and is sitting right by a giant computer bag—a bag which is made out of canvas, not vachetta leather, see?” Runey’s face was now very close to Mara’s as he said this, and she got the vague impression he was trying to flirt with her, but moreover she noticed distinctly that Elba and Vance had stopped talking and were looking at Mara and Runey with curiosity.

“Do you guys know each other?” laughed Vance as he strode over to greet Runey, shaking his hand and adding in a back clap in an apparent gesture of masculine bonhomie.

“Well, we do now,” Runey said, flicking a sly half-smile at Mara (who just stared back inscrutably), and then turning to Vance and returning a back clap as if the two had known each other for ages rather than a few minutes. “And you must be Elba,” he said, giving the Technology student a very warm smile and shaking her hand quickly.

“You must be pretty familiar with our meeting place, Runey, since this is your college,” Vance said as the four assembled themselves in the light wooden chairs at one of the long tables (Runey did not sit beside Mara, which initially relieved her until it became apparent that his position directly across from her made looking at him unavoidable).

“Yeah, I’ve spent lots of time down here,” Runey replied, “A lot of time in this very room, actually. This is where general art classes are held. First year students, like me, have to take a bunch of general art classes—like sculpture, painting, drawing, drafting. Gets us a feel and a familiarity with all aspects of design. Next year we get to start specializing more. I want to do drafting; it’s more like technical drawing than, say, doing a painting. Now my…uh, friend, she,” Runey tripped up awkwardly, then quickly said, “Well I am getting off topic. Not to mention stealing the spotlight. We haven’t gotten any further instructions on what we are supposed to do today, have we?”

Elba piped up, “No, but we are supposed to get some literally any minute now,” as she once again referred to the clock on her phone.

“Excellent,” Vance said, “I am very curious as to what the purpose of this all is. However, it is great just getting to mee—” he was cut off by the eerily simultaneous buzzing and dinging of all four of their phones.

“Guess we are about to find out,” Runey said, with an easy half-smile on which Mara found herself spending entirely too much time trying to decide if she found it charming or nauseating.


Capacitance: Chapter 3

Hi everyone, hope you all had a good weekend! Mine was laid back weekend spent in the sunshine; now it is raining, so I am back indoors again writing happily. I am pretty sure I have a good frame for ending out the last portion of Inductance, so I’m excited to see those words hit the page. For the mean time, to brighten up everyone’s Monday, here is Chapter 3 of Capacitance! I will post my thoughts on writing this chapter tomorrow. Enjoy!

Chapter 3

 

The next day dawned with the crisp clarity so common to late September mornings. Through the expansive plate glass windows of Mara’s penthouse apartment, the whole University could be seen, gilded by the fresh sunlight. Situated as it was on its hilltop promontory, the Science compound afforded a magnificent view of the sprawling colored glass and light brick Design compound, the classic pillared architectural style of the Politics compound and the utilitarian concrete sparseness of the Technology compound. These three other college units ringed the Campus Green—a lush, natural park area interspersed with walkways, benches and cleverly landscaped nooks. It was not a place Science students frequented. The stately glass and richly veined granite of the Science buildings up on their hill were confines its students did not venture out of often, as their research and deadlines kept them “labbed down,” as many Science students affectionately termed the amount of time they had to devote to their own independent research.

There was nothing Mara wished for more than to be labbed down for the rest of the day; when her alarm went off, the panoramic glass of her bedroom window filtered from the overnight opaque setting to crystal clear, spilling light across the deep ivory mohair rug, over the pearl gray satin bedclothes, and onto Mara’s prostrate form. As she opened her pale green eyes to the new morning sun, she felt all her frustrations from the previous day come flooding back to her. A whole day wasted, she thought, No one realizes there is going to be a very serious problem very soon and I am trying to find a solution to it. Shaking her head, she twitched on a jade green silk robe which matched her eyes, and headed to the bathroom. One of Mara’s guilty pleasures—easily indulged as a Science student—was her personal appearance. She took consolation for her botched day as she combed through her shining jet hair and then wound it perfectly into an elegant top knot. She then applied just the right touch of makeup to her smooth, ivory complexion; winged eyeliner and mascara made her light green eyes stand out like jewels. Donning a dusty blue flowing tunic of watered silk, matching leggings of soft leather, and knee high suede boots with a low heel, Mara felt much more prepared to take on the days’ novel plans.

On her way out of SciSky, Mara felt a fresh surge of annoyance as she walked straight down the hill rather than turning in the usual direction of the labs. Instead of descending the stairs to their underground private lab spaces, all the Science students were now milling down the hill. To Mara’s shock, some were even assuming a holiday air about the whole business. Then again, she thought with no trace of humility, I doubt any of them are researching anything near the scope of what I am endeavoring to do. Her train of thought, which was rapidly turning toward the pessimistic, was interrupted by the appearance of a truly Adonis-like male figure. It was Langdon, the top student in the third year class, who lived in one of the penthouse apartments, like Mara. He gave good justification to the saying that the best looking people were in the field of Science—standing six feet, six inches tall, blonde and muscular, he looked like he should have been an athlete, not a scientist, but in truth he was making great advances in the field of biochemistry. Mara respected him as a colleague and neighbor, but right now she was not in the mood to chat, and her gray suede boots clicked faster down the hill as she sped up in hopes of avoiding Langdon.

“Mara, hi…hey, wait!” Langdon broke into a near jog as he struggled to catch up to her.

Reluctantly, Mara slowed down, “Good morning, Langdon,” she greeted flatly.

In return, Langdon flashed a brilliant display of dental advancement as he smiled at Mara amusedly, “Let me guess, you’re ticked off because this meeting thing is interrupting your top secret lab work. You heard Beliz, it’s all about togetherness today, so why don’t you finally tell me what you’re working on? It’s got to be good if it’s so important you can’t even miss one day of work!”

Mara sighed inwardly; Langdon was always trying to uncover the nature of her work, and she found the third year’s persistence unsettling. “I told you no; my work is my business,” Mara snapped at him, “Plus, how do you know it’s only one day they are putting us out of? Beliz made it sound like it was a long-term thing. Surely you, mister top of your class, biochem genius, third year would have worked that out.”

“I don’t know anything for sure—I just assumed it would only be one day…” Langdon trailed off, a concerned look developing on his face.

“See, now you’re starting to worry too!” Mara rounded on Langdon, allowing herself a small smile.

“Well, as you so kindly pointed out, I am a third year—time is of the essence for me! But you…you have years to go, no reason to cram now. At least that’s what I assume, considering I have no idea what it is you’re working on,” Langdon prodded.

“I’ve said no to you before, and I’ll tirelessly say it to you however many times it takes to get you to stop asking!” Mara countered, giving him a pointed look and an arch raise of her eyebrows.

“Well that’s not the first time I’ve heard ‘no’ from you. One of these days, that will change,” Langdon said with his own returning lift of eyebrows and a knowing smile. And, with that, he spotted one of his third year colleagues and abruptly walked off to join him. A slight blush crept into Mara’s cheeks. The reference Langdon made was not lost on her; as well as being tenaciously persistent on uncovering the nature of her work, Langdon was also very interested in Mara herself and made no secret of the fact. Last week, he had propositioned her very bluntly while they were in the private penthouse elevator, riding up to their apartments together. Mara was ambivalent to his advances; she simply had no time for the type of distraction Langdon would bring to her life. Especially now that this forced gathering with the other colleges had limited her time even further. As Mara advanced down the hill, into the tree-lined Oak’s March—the main thoroughfare of the Campus Green—she could see the mass of students gathering, milling about, shaking hands…wasting time, Mara thought.


 

Capacitance: Chapter 2

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

Chapter 2

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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