I will/will not. Biology as pure as the diagram of a genome, logic as precise as the edge of glass, circuitry, structure, mathematics, science -- these are what I was trained in, and these are what I practice. Glass is made from sand, and in it we see crude matter refined and purified and given order. Wire is made from metal. Understanding and manipulating the laws of physics lets us bring order from disorder, light from darkness, pattern from chaos, life from death.

I will not/will. I will stay in the lighted corridors that hum with electricity, where the glow of the computer screens turns our faces pale, and I will not step outside those boundaries into the other half of the world where the walls are bloodstained stone and where every line of the throne room leads to the woman who sits above us in the chiselled throne.

It was the greatest possible challenge, and it still is. That is why I stay. Not because of the less-than-subtle threats of death or worse should any of us try to leave, but because such a challenge demands a response, and to fail to give the entirety of myself to that challenge -- to give everything necessary, to sacrifice everything that is needed, whether it comes from me or from others, whether they are willing or innocents -- is the true failure. To give up and turn away when it still might be possible. To knowingly submit when there is still the least hope of success is . . . I don't have words for it. If I were a religious woman, I might call it damnation.

If I were a religious woman, I would believe that damnation was a woman, and that it had her eyes, her hair, her skin, her voice, her smile.

I was sought out. Courted. Flattered. I won't try to pretend otherwise. We need you, they said. You're the best in the field, the expert. They -- she -- acted as if the bargains which I'd made for knowledge, the prices that I'd paid for techniques and equipment, were actually badges of honour rather than something of which I should be ashamed.

And then he walked in and took everything.

He'd share her. He never hurts people with lies when he can do it with the truth. It adds to the savour of it for him. He'd share her. He wouldn't care. She wouldn't care.

There are some thoughts that I cannot scour from my head.

However much I loathe his habits, his unprofessional behaviour, his personal hygiene -- or rather, the lack of it -- I am forced to admire his ability. He has brought concepts and knowledge to the project which we needed. For that reason, I tolerate his presence. I am not and do not intend to be someone who deludes herself that a scientific opponent lacks ability merely because I dislike him personally. I write my reports and process my data and watch my experiments and use what he provides and bite my lip until it bleeds.

However much I want her, I am not and do not intend to be someone who deludes herself. I watch her steps as she glides down the corridor in her robes, and her smile as her servants comb out the shining weight of her hair, and I imagine the smoothness of her skin under my short-nailed human hands, and I bite my lip until it bleeds.

My work is my life. I hacked off my hair, and shielded my eyes with glasses, and dressed like a professional. I have never wanted anything else. Success is the only scale that counts.

My hair was cut short and leaves the nape of my neck bare, and it hangs around my face in a fan of curls, and it stays out of my way while I work, and that is all I ask of it. Her hair is dark and rich and ripples like a living thing, and falls in two rivers over her chest, bound in silk, and I believe, though I am not sure, that it smells of vanilla.

I follow the logic diagram of scientific process, from theory to experiment to result, and it defines my life. I have a work to complete. I do not want to escape this place.

The lines of the throne room are a pattern that lead in to her, like a whirlpool, where she sits at the heart of the darkness. They allow no divagation, no wandering, no hope of escape.

I see it in his eyes when he smiles at me.

I see it in her eyes when she smiles at me.

My work is about questions and finding answers, challenges and answering them. Living for someone's sake is a ridiculous way to look at it. I want to do this thing to prove that it can be done.

That's why I'm alive. That's my answer.

It would be easier if she didn't come into our laboratories, didn't walk among us, if I wasn't able to turn and see the fold of her silk sleeve spread over the edge of a desk, if she didn't have such deep drowning eyes, if I couldn't smell her on him, and him on her, if I couldn't taste words on my tongue that I almost speak every time I see her. My body hurts with wanting her.

And if she is the answer, then what is the question?


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