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!
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.