Disclaimer: ::yawn:: ... hum? Ah, right. See Parts I and V.
I was dumbfounded. No, that's doesn't cover it ... how does that cute English expression go again? Flabbergast. That sums it up quite well. I felt flabby, and I was aghast. Let's see: dizzy from lack of sleep, jumpy from caffeine excess, stomach on fire, eyes rubbed raw, no contact lenses which meant the world looked like a surrealistic patchwork of blurry-edged colors ... And this incredible human being with whom I'd just spent the best 24 hours of my professional life, in which I had learned more than in the past half year; this awesome rare individual who just happened to be the most multifaceted genius, and a born teacher on top of it, just tells me he doesn't want me to show up in his lab again. And me not knowing what the heck I'd done wrong. Apart from trying to remove contact lenses with dirty fingers, maybe. Yep, flabbergast sums it up real nice.
Lucky I was so tired. Otherwise I might have had the strength to fall off the chair.
Real lucky I was so tired.
Because I hadn't heard him out yet.
Still I had to describe that one moment, that instant of misunderstanding, because it made me see how much this journey, this one-weekend-experience, meant to me. That's the thing about losing something: you get to realize how much you cherished it. And I know, and knew right then, that I'll treasure those hours for years to come. Even if it was a misunderstanding. He didn't want me to come back, true. But he didn't say "ever again."
Hank noticed, of course. I mean, even under normal conditions I'm not exactly poker-faced. And he was wearing his glasses. And I bet that if he hadn't been so tired, he might have come up with a way to break the news to me in a way I'd understand right from the beginning.
So he apologized and started to explain. And by and by the words that oozed into my brain started to make sense and I shut my eyes to listen better, and then I was starting to keel over so I opened my eyes again and squinted. Which didn't help much since his features are blue in blue, except the white of his eyes and his teeth, and those items don't exactly contribute much to a man's mimic. And he didn't gesticulate much. But I was sure he meant it. I was positive he actually meant it.
."...and if you are still interested by the time you earn your degree, we could talk about a post-doc."
If I'm interested. Dr. H. McCoy offering me a post-doc in four years' time, but of course, only if I was still interested by then. Whoa. Take a breath, lungs, this is not a good time to choke to death.
"There are quite a few topics I have been postponing for lack of time and help. I could use a skilled assistant," his teeth flashed up, which probably meant he was smiling, "even one that doesn't know genetics and seems to have an aversion against molecular biology. Which she might overcome, with a little good will." There was no edge in his voice, rather a good-humored grumbling. No condition, just a suggestion.
But there was something else, too, something he hadn't said explicitly. If I ever were to work for him, or work with him, I would have to become a broad-spectrum expert. Electrophysiology of every system that generates electric signals. Acquisition, Analysis, Interpretation. From the newest state of the art down to the very basics, as I would probably not even have a tech. Hell, maybe I'd even have to clean up behind me, empty the waste bins, scrub the floor! And if I really wanted to be of any use, I'd have to know at least something about image processing, basic histology, cell culture, and -I shudder- molecular biology. Because his main field of research was genetics, and if that was not enough, he had dragged me through three of the four labs in less than 24 hours, and for anyone working with him that would be just a normal day. No wonder he thought it would take me at least four years to be ready for it, the four years I'd need to earn my degree. It was almost frightening. But then ... what a challenge.
There are scientists who for some reason or the other choose a topic and stick with it forever. They might end up hardly more than technicians, repeating the same procedures over and over again for the rest of their professional life, feeling safe in what they know, shunning new developments. Or they might get good at it, even brilliant; they might take the problems into unsuspected depths of analysis, end up writing half a dozen textbooks, and even win a Nobel.
Then there are those who avoid digging too deep, but rather try out different things, wandering through related fields with more or less ease, applying the experience won in one topic on another problem, more or less successfully. Such people rarely win an award, but are considered the backbone of multidisciplinary research, and hence never have trouble finding a job.
And then there are those who get the really big picture. Those who consider whatever problem they study as a whole, who find at least half a dozen completely different, but complementary ways to approach it and are able to choose to pursue any, or most, or all of them. Those who are able to knit information from various analysis together into one big pattern, and see the patterns within the pattern. I had always wondered why McCoy would do research in so many seemingly unrelated topics at a time. I had thought it was part of his genius, to be able to simultaneously process multiple independent lines of study. Now I understood that he saw them all as one big, broad stream, and he strove to sail it by learning how to master its currents, at least most of them. I understood it because he was offering me to plunge into that stream myself, and he was telling me to learn how to swim first.
Get your degree. Then we'll talk.
Of course, at that moment I didn't do all this analyzing. I'm doing it now, now that I'm writing it all down. At that time I just understood I would have to work off my behind in the years to come, and it would hardly be enough. But he offered me the chance. If I still was interested in four years from now, we would talk. Four years in which I wasn't to set foot in his lab, nor contact him openly. I wondered about that condition. Well, I've had some time to think about it, and I'm pretty sure I know the reason.
I've got some growing up to do.
In some situations, in some places, naiveté could be forgiven and maybe even considered a charming character trait. A world in which you could be mailed a bomb in a Christmas card for inviting a blue-furred colleague into your lab is no such place. And McCoy is not the man to let anyone walk blindfolded into a war-zone.
I have to strip myself from my safety-bubble, and face the reality beyond. If I succeed, and if, after earning my degree and being pretty much able to choose my future, I am still willing to take a position with McCoy and become a potential target for any sick FoH, I have to do so knowingly. I'm not a mutant myself, but history's full of what happened to "Judenfreunde," to "niggerlovers," and recently, to "mutie-lovers."
And just in case I forget how sick people can get, I can always close my eyes and see the lingering image of metal coating on human bone, designed with the loving care of seriously cracked individuals convinced they're doing the world a favor, and who sleep the night away like babes, while I wake drenched in sweat.
But again, this is now; then I could only have wished to at least lie down on the floor, and to wake from nightmares, because that would have meant I had slept at least a few minutes. Yet time was definitely up and worse, it was up for years to come.
I cursed myself for not bringing along my rarely used pair of glasses ... or maybe I did? I rummaged in my backpack and effectively found them in one of the side pockets, crushed under the calculator and the pen-case and the keys and bus tickets and coins and fluff, and I fished them out and rubbed them back into their transparent state on the green cotton of the surgeon's outfit I was still wearing. And put them on, and looked at Hank, at Dr. McCoy, again hunched on a chair that must be really uncomfortable for one his size, and he had a nose again, and eyebrows, and cheeks, and a chin. And that patient look in his eyes, and a hint of a smile in his eyebrows. Yes, his eyebrows. A smile that infected the corner of his lips.
Shit, this was Dr. Henry McCoy! Placing a long-time bet on me! No, I'm not so naive to think I'd be the only one ever to have gotten the offer. But hell, there can't be too many, either, otherwise this place would flow over with people!
"Excuse me," I mumbled, staggered to my feet and stumbled towards the door.
"Two doors to the left," he called out after me, but I waved my hand, I wasn't aiming for the bathroom. I pushed open the heavy door with my weight, marched by the instrument racks and stroke them with my fingertips on the pass, memorizing the smooth surface. I touched the screen of one of the DAQ computers as I walked by.
Another door, and I beelined to the Map of Metabolic Pathways and winked at it: if I ever worked here, I'd probably spend a lot of time studying it, so it was only wise to start a nice friendship, and if I didn't, it was my favorite in that particular lab.
I stuck my tongue at the equipment on the U-formed table and at the scores of shelved containers, as I pushed my back into yet another heavy door and turned to face the workbench with its ceramic cover. I drummed my fingernails on the smooth cool surface, stuck my head into the culture room again, took in the sweetly acrid smell of that pink-red medium, and hummed back at the incubator. Paid a visit to the liquid nitrogen freezer, too, and as I marched back I was pretty sure those memories would stay in my head for as long as I would need them. I didn't go into the library. I didn't need to refresh my memory of that room.
I marched back into the MedLab and found Hank, pretty much in the same position, but a bit too serious for my liking, so I grinned at him as I heaved my behind on a nearby table and settled there, elbows on my knees, heels drumming into the metal feet of the table. His bushy eyebrows danced skywards again, and inwardly I thanked him for granting me another show of that, and for the broad smile that revealed a formidable set of ivory teeth, horrifying for anyone so stupid and blind to ignore his gentle eyes.
"Deal," I said.
Concluded in the Epilogue.
Author's Note for end of Part X: I used the 'n'-word up there. I hate to even type it. But I was making a point, which is essentially that history repeats itself. If we learn from history, we will eventually be able to interrupt the circle of hate and fear. And we will learn from history if we are able to face it, down to the words we abhor. Words that carry centuries of humiliation and pain. I apologize for typing it, but I won't cut it out. As long as there's any kind of discrimination in this world, that word should not be forgotten.
Yep. And don't run away yet, there's still the epilogue... You moan? Stop whining and get on with it ... ::soothing:: it's not long.