AN: This is a fun little slice-of-life Elsanna AU I'm writing that is set in a modern academic laboratory. For those of you who have read my ShizNat fanfic, Fujino Lab, the parody is somewhat similar, but the tone will be quite different. There will only be a couple little plot twists, while most of it is just as the title says:
Courtship of the Grad Student
so it'll be full of meaningless fluff and poking fun at my occupation. I do not own Frozen, obviously. That said, please enjoy, and if you have time, I'd really appreciate any reviews you could leave behind.
(This is the July 2016 edited version)
Undergrad research assistantships were notoriously difficult to find at the University of Arendelle, with entire lab buildings near emptied due to a deep cut in the national budget for the sciences. One would think the industry would then be more lenient in their demands for previous work experience, but the skyrocketing unemployment rate of fresh grad science majors spoke otherwise.
Taking the advice of her academic adviser, Anna Summers decided to hunt for a RAship despite the difficulties. She was never the type to back down, even if it meant mass emailing every faculty member of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, including Dr. Winters, whose grey hair and pale, lifeless face accentuated the cold connotation of his surname. It was almost impossible writing an enthusiastic cover letter with his photo on her laptop screen, but she was Anna Summers, personality warm enough to melt the Arctic even without the help of methane and CO2.
Perhaps he really was impressed by her enthusiasm, but more likely just to stop her from spamming his inbox, Dr. Winters finally relented a month later, replying her email with a single "OK" and a CC to elsa dot snow at uarendelle dot edu
What the hell did that even mean?
Ten more emails asking when she should start went unanswered. Anna was starting to wonder if Dr. Winters' inbox was some sort of black hole. She finally decided the best way to tackle unresponsive profs was to storm their offices. Unfortunately for her, she was met by a locked door with a piece of paper taped on it saying, "On sabbatical till June 6". Great, that would be past her graduation!
Printing out the two-lettered reply from Dr. Winters, Anna went up to the reception to try and convince the building manager that even if Dr. Winters were on sabbatical, she could still talk to the mysterious person on the CC line, who judging from the matching name on the lab website, was his grad student.
"Elsa Snow?" the lady answered with an incredulous tone. What? Was the lab website a decade-old and this Elsa person had long graduated? Couldn't be. Grad students were permanent fixtures to the ceilings, they never graduated.
"I thought she's a grad student at the Winters Lab," Anna emphasized her thoughts. The lady nodded knowingly.
"Well, yeah, if you mean to say she must still be around. But you said you wanted to talk to her."
Okay, now she could see the problem. In the field of science, the techs were usually the normal ones. The others? Well, let's just say they had a bit more personality. You had to have some masochistic personality to torture yourself with another life's worth of education, right? Fine, Anna admitted that she was exaggerating the timeline for most PhD theses here, but no understatement about torture.
"I'm sure it'll be fine, Ma'am! You know me! Well, you don't actually know me, but you know me enough by now to know that I can rant on forever. I'm sure I can deal with it even if my grad student were a little socially-challenged...in a good way of course."
That just sounded stupid. Socially-challenged in a good way? Seriously?
The lady quirked a finely-trimmed eyebrow at her. She plastered her best grin in response.
"Umm...so may I have a key card to the labs? I swear I'm not here to free the mice."
After another long, skeptical look, from her redhead all the way down to her toes, the lady held out her hand. "Driver's License, please."
She fished the license out her wallet and gave it to the lady who put a key card on her palm in return. "I will call the police if you free the mice." When she saw Anna's sheepish smile, she added, "...for your sake, because a horde of mad scientists would be out for your blood."
"Yeah, I get it, the thing with mad scientists. I'm trying to become one myself, after all," Anna answered with a nervous chuckle, stubbing her toe on the way out. With a loud "Ow!" and face red as a tomato, she stumbled her way down the stairs to the scanner that welcomed her new card with a beep and let her into the restricted area.
The Winters Lab lay on a deserted corridor across the cold room. First things she saw and heard the moment she pushed open the door were freezers, making a neat line across the left of the room. Benches cuddled close to them.
Oddly fitting, really, considering the surname of the PI.
"Hi." A plump middle-aged woman with dark hair held behind a forest-green knitted cap stepped up to Anna. "Are you looking for somebody?"
"Umm...I guess? I'm Anna, by the way. Pleased to meet you!" She held out her hand, only to be met with a polite smile and a light shake of the woman's head. Only when the woman raised her gloved hands did Anna notice what was wrong. "Oh, sorry! I didn't realize you were wearing gloves. I mean, of course you would be wearing gloves, nothing wrong with that, I'm...just...what am I saying? I'm the dumb new undergrad reporting here for the first time. See? Dr. Winters said OK, literally."
She held out the printed email to the woman who nodded, replying, "I see. Well, let me just finish loading this little mini-gel here and I'll get you settled down, seeing as you will be working with us for the rest of the year." The woman turned back to her experiment and continued, "And I'm Gerda, the lab manager, so if you need anything, feel free to come find me. The man across from us is Kai. He's a post-doc. On the next bay is Hans, our Masters student, and his undergrad, Kristoff. He's in fourth year. Which year are you in, Anna?"
"Same!" Anna beamed, though clearly not at the other undergrad. Her eyes skipped past Kai's half-bald head for the slickly-gelled auburn locks of the grad student behind him. Hans' gaze was a bright green so electric that they practically shocked her heart to a momentary stop. He was also wearing a beautiful smile as he faced her. Oh God, he really was smiling at her! She could faint happily and wake up in heaven now.
Until his undergrad (Christopher, was it?) gave her his most demeaning stare with those dark marble eyes of his.
"Umm...Hi, Christopher?" She tried to sound nice. He only growled at her in return.
What the hell was his problem? Anna couldn't help but cross her arms and glare back. Only when Hans tugged Kristoff back and told him to "be nice" did their unfriendly staring contest end.
"Well, that was a nice introduction!" Gerda said as though nothing happened, the beautiful curvature of her lips still held upright. Wow, she was impressive. Just when Anna thought her own smile was already plastered...
"I'm so sorry. For...like...everything," Anna stuttered awkwardly, looking away from Kristoff with her face flaming in residual anger and embarrassment.
"Oh, no need to apologize, My Dear. So, should we find you a spot for your backpack?"
Gerda took off her gloves and led Anna to the right-side of the room where the temperature seemed to drop close to freezing. It was then that she realized why everybody crowded around the freezers on the opposite side - obviously not because they enjoyed the non-stop whining sounds those freezers made, but because of the heat they gave off to cool the insides. Seeing as things were probably going to start frosting over on this side though, Anna wondered if it would be more environmentally-friendly to just leave reagents on the benches here.
They came to a bay with one side occupied, the other side empty. By occupied, what was meant was that the desk and bench were occupied by non-living things, unless the streaked bacterial plates counted as such. Everything was pristinely clean and organized. Coloured lab tape crisscrossed atop the bench, drawing out complex bounds for every single object to be placed within. The arrangement reminded Anna of a spider web, but on second thought, the intricate art could use a prettier simile - snowflake, it was like a snowflake.
Then again, that would be a rather threatening snowflake they were talking about here... The tip boxes were taped together in a gigantic block with a big post-it on top reading, "Do NOT use and leave the empty boxes for me to stack. There are autoclaved tips in the drawer by the front entrance, walk there!" Similar post-its guarded easy access to the micropipettes on the spin rack, and an especially obnoxious-looking monster was drawn on a LB bottle, with a warning beside it saying, "The abominable snowman will kick you out the lab shall you dare sully this medium!"
By now, Anna had an idea who was the owner of this bench. Gerda nodded as though reading her thoughts, gesturing to the adjacent desk for her to sit at.
"Here's a seat for you. I'd suggest triple-lab-coating if it gets too cold. Unfortunately, the building's heating system is a little malfunctional on this side; at least this seat isn't under the air vent like Elsa's. And seeing as you will be working with her, I'll show you where she is now."
Oh great, finally time to go meet her direct supervisor who was known throughout a building of weirdos as The Weirdo. Let's hope their first meeting wouldn't end with her on the receiving end of a chucked centrifuge rotor.
In the end, it seemed her worries were unfounded.
Gerda showed her to a room at the end of the hall that had a sign saying "Tissue culture", under which a post-it added, "Flow cytometry", on top of which was an additional piece of tape reading, "Fluorescence imaging". Okay, so multi-purpose dark room it was then. Actually, the big fat piece of construction paper stuck on the locked door was probably a more accurate description, "The Snow Queen's Domain."
"Elsa?" Gerda called when she knocked on the door. "Your new undergrad, Anna, has arrived."
Dot. Dot. Dot.
"Umm...Hi, I'm Anna. Nice to meet you." Anna tried to break the silence, but it remained, hanging stiffly to the air. Turning to face the lab manager, she whispered, "Are you sure she is in? Maybe she's on a washroom break..."
"I am rather certain she doesn't drink water while we're around, so no, she won't be at the washroom. And she does come in everyday. Look, the microscope is acquiring."
Anna curiously peeked at the narrow gap between the door and the ground. It was completely dark until a flash of blue nearly made Anna's heart jump to her throat. "Oh! That was not an explosion! That was the...ugh...microscope!?"
"The fluorescent scope on the green channel, yes. Pretty bright flash, isn't it? The Texas Red channel is an even more blinding lime green. In contrast, the DAPI channel is quite a subdued royal blue."
"Err...fascinating..." Anna came to the realization that she wasn't quite cut out as a nerd, yet. That aside, she did say she wouldn't give up on the opportunity so easily. She turned around and spoke through the door again, "Umm, Elsa? The microscope...it sounds really cool! Mind if I come in and watch?"
More silence, followed by a couple clicking sounds within the room, and then heavy silence once again.
When the screech of their lab printer sounded, Anna jumped, only noticing then that she had been leaning on it this whole time. The ancient machine sat conveniently on a table beside the doorway, slowly and very loudly spitting out each inch of the document. On the second page, the printer hiccuped, and Gerda smashed its massive body with two solid thuds to bring it back to working condition.
"Meet Olaf, the lab printer. It likes warm hugs."
Anna made a note never to anger their lab manager. Like...ever.
"Seems like Elsa wants you to take the safety courses first," Gerda continued, handing her the freshly-printed stack of paper that detailed the registration process. "Are you up for it?"
"Of course!" Anna answered, though she was facing the door instead. "I look forward to working with the microscope after this is done, Elsa!"
Anna decided that this was going to be one heck of a difficult research assistantship...
...but she couldn't help admit that she was just a teeny, weeny bit curious about the untouchable Snow Queen who would soon become her vice boss.
End of Chapter 1