He was very surprised to meet me in the kitchen. In fact, the Professor had told him to get something to eat, as it would be a while before I made my way to the lab. Checkmate.
At Jean's inquiry, Dr. McCoy admitted he hadn't eaten since lunch. Jean set about further looting the refrigerator, and we sat down to talk.
It was awkward. For me, at least. A mind who'd well be worth a Nobel or two, or three, sitting at a kitchen table in front of me. I felt about ant-sized in comparison. To know that he'd never get one, a Nobel I mean, because his color wasn't considered befitting for a human, and because he happened to be furry rather than hairy, didn't make it any easier. I couldn't quite tell him that all the guys of the Institute had been smacked flat by his last two papers, because that would have aroused the inevitable question of why the Institute's most puny student would be the one to actually pay him a visit. He didn't say a word either, just sat there and, to his credit, didn't continue to study his printouts. That would have dwarfed me to the size of a microbe.
Now, looking back, I think he was nervous, too. He never told me, but I guess he must have had some very disappointing experiences with other visitors. "Normal" men and women, who probably tried to avoid looking at him. Who might have gotten distracted by such an obvious mutant to a point of not listening to the scientist, or who might have gotten their own ideas all mixed up, and ended up leaving in a hurry. With a very plausible reason for it, of course. I wonder now how much of the physical distance between him and his co-workers is due to their instinctive need to separate, in their mind, his mind from his appearance. Maybe more than the very real danger of turning themselves into targets for FoH harassment. It takes a unique personality like Dr. McCoy's not to bear them a grudge.
To tell the truth, after sitting through my own personal pyrotechnics and, thanks to my very first mind-link experience, two hours worth of conversation in fifteen minutes, I'd have been almost disappointed if he'd been any more "normal"-looking. I stared at his hands, cupping a pint-sized, steaming mug that Jean had set in front of him, dwarfing it, stared at his strong clawed nails and desperately sought for a way of starting a conversation. Other than comment on the difficulties of handling "human-sized" keyboards and mouses with those hands. Maybe he had custom-made ones.
"Those were very interesting samples you brought."
Right, the samples.
"Yes, well ... They were OK, weren't they? I mean, nothing broken?" Which reminded me I didn't even have a clue what they had been. Or if they were actually breakable material.
He raised an eyebrow, a fascinating sight. His eyes looked outright grandfatherly with those spectacles.
"No, they arrived unharmed."
Uhm, okay ... Silence.
Oh, what the heck.
"Ahm ... Sir?"
"Yes, hum ... Thank you." I suppose that didn't fit in, but well, you know ... I was nervous. "Uhm ... what kind of samples were they exactly?"
The eyebrow danced skywards again, but he smiled, and his canines flashed in the light of the bulb.
"I take it you are not one of Richard's students?"
Richard was Professor J's first name. Heck no, thank God. He just happened to be the director of the Institute that owned my ass for the next four, five years.
"Actually no, I work under Dr. Kirklane, in the Cardiophysiology lab..."
"I was wondering how you might have gotten into molecular biology. You are making your PhD, right? Signal Processing?"
Blush. How did he know that?
"I read your paper, two years ago. The other author was a known physiologist, so you had to be the one responsible for the processing algorithm."
He read our paper?
"Uhm ... Yes. If you found any mistake in the Introduction and Methods-section, I'm the one to blame."
"No mistake ... a comment, though. Do you mind?"
Mind? Do I MIND?
"Oh, no, please..."
He grinned again, eyes flashing, snatched a pencil somewhere out of the thick fur around his ears and turned over the printouts to use them as a blackboard.
The next hours took us through linear analysis, clustering methods, neurophysiology, cardiorespiratory physiology, and plunged us right into mutant physiology, evolutionary pathways, inter-species compatibility...
At some point, Jean left the kitchen, probably after wishing us a "Good Night" neither of us heard, and urging us to eat, which we did, as the food was right there on the table and neither of us minded leaving grease-prints on the paper. At some point, a man came in, short and dark and forbidding, if I recall him correctly, whose name and presence were literally erased from my mind as soon as Dr. McCoy resumed his explanation about the assessment of amplitude and frequency modulation in physiological systems, and their relationship with causality. At some point we were hunting for a blank spot of paper and found none, and realized we had covered thirteen A4 sheets on both sides with small-print formulas, sketches and diagrams. The original printout was unreadable. Dr. McCoy looked at it with a contrite expression that told me they were irreplaceable originals.
"I'll have to repeat those tests..." he mumbled.
I straightened. "May I..."
He looked at me over the brims of his spectacles that had migrated again to the point of his (very broad, very short) nose. "Of course, I'd be delighted. It isn't quite your area, though."
I grinned. As if that had ever stopped me.
"I won't distract you with questions, I promise."
At least not too many questions. Say, a dozen or so. It was about three a.m.
But then Dr. McCoy's face went blank, just as 'Ro's and Jean's a few hours ago, and I knew time was up, even before an apologetic smile spread over the Doctor's kind, broad face.
But I guess he was right again, because I don't even remember how I got into bed. I only know I woke up in the morning, bright sunlight pouring into the room, me wrapped into the top blanket like a pancake, a taste of Christmas in my mouth. And swollen feet, because I hadn't even bothered to take off my shoes.
Continued in Chapter Five.
Help!! My beta-reader is cracking a whip on me!!! Is she allowed to do that? And most importantly: should I keep on writing? She says yes. Feedback, please...