The edited version, updated on 16th July 2017.I still long for a beta-reader…
London, UK, April 2002
Four days after the revelations about the weapon had been disclosed to Iman, she was rushing to Prof. Brightman's office. She dragged her stuffed backpack and held several printed pages about radiation hardness.
She crammed into a lift, still absorbed in her reading, and followed the students as they left. Arriving at the doors she had supposed lead to the Professor's room, she realised she was not in the right place. The name on the doorplate was different, the corridor was different and the posters on the walls had titles she could not comprehend. She looked around with a startled face. As usual, the corridors with many doors were problematic for her poor sense of direction.
"Hello, you look lost," said a young man, who arrived with the same group of students.
"Well, it seems so… I was on my way to the Department of Physics," said Iman.
"And you found a way to the Department of War Studies, 6th floor. Physics is on 7th."
"Great!" she said and sighed with resignation.
"I'm also afraid it's not the right building. We're in King's and you need Strand."
"Sweet Jesus, I'll switch on my GPS!" She rolled her eyes and turned back in the direction where she expected to find the lift. "Thanks!"
"The lift is over there," the guy grinned pointing out the opposite way.
She took off in the correct direction. Nice boy, and you're such a sad sack! she thought entering the lift. It went down to the ground floor first and then stopped on every level, of course. She had already suspected that the lifts were with intent acting against her. Malicious things!
"Your application was accepted in Lahore," said Julia in the afternoon meeting. They had organised a discreet leverage to support Iman's proposal, and it was successful.
"Good news then," said Iman.
"The laboratory is an independent unit," Julia continued. "Governed by a foundation sponsored by business and anonymous millionaires. This is not your big concern, but the manager is…" Julia pretended to check the name in her notes. "Yes, Mr. Kenneth Bratton. He has signed your contract. We sped up the training, here's your new schedule. You leave in two weeks. Questions?"
The news had sufficiently bewildered Iman. Nuclear weapon research requires enormous funding. What nice millionaires would spend their money on science? They could buy their next golden Rolls-Royce or gamble in casinos. Are they patriots wishing to strengthen their country's arsenal? Unbelievable.
And two weeks? Her training had been planned for two months! She glanced at the schedule–all days and evenings full of work. Damn, no time for West End shows, even though she was so close to the theatres. And some points surprised her.
"Beauty salon? Am I going to take part in a Miss Pakistan contest?" she raised her brew.
"To get tanned, our expert says you need it to improve your appearance," said Julia. Though a manicure would do no harm, she added in her mind.
"Don't you know UV radiation causes premature ageing, wrinkles, and cancer?"
"Do you wish to withdraw?" Julia asked holding back the urge to chuckle. More objections against UV than the nuclear weapon?
"No way, I'm going."
Sacrifice and get a few wrinkles. The salary was well above university payrolls, so she would shop for this anti-ageing stuff from the cosmetics companies.
For God's sake, the diamonds were waiting! The phenomenal isolators brought to semiconductor state by a tiny amount of impurities. Chemically inert, with this delightful large band gap of 5.5 eV. Low intrinsic leakage currents meant no need for liquid nitrogen, what a blessing! Oh, just wonder what energy resolution, what FWHM you can reach, so many discoveries to come!
Iman had passed by the guy from King's 6th floor two or three times since then and he had always said 'Hello' with this charming smile. Late one afternoon she was again facing the lift's door. As it opened, she saw him nonchalantly leaning against the wall and typing a text on his BlackBerry mobile.
"Hi, where do you wish to go now?" he asked fastening the belt of a bag across his slim chest clothed in the dark blue T-shirt he was wearing along with relaxed jeans.
"I'd like to leave this place, which button is it, sir?" she joined his joke with a smile. He pressed the ground floor button.
"I'm Jerry Smith," he said.
"Iman Zubedah," she said with a slight hesitancy and they shook their hands. It was the first time she introduced herself in a real world using this name. Well, she needed to be more attentive during these 'who to speak to and about what' lessons.
"So you study physics, right?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm finishing my PhD and I have consultations with Prof. Brightman." She lied smoothly this time. What a relief–but she would rather change the topic.
"And you? Why study war when you could study physics just one floor up?"
"To understand it better and learn more about the mechanisms, the reasons, the triggers. I've always been fond of reading about battles… Then we may mitigate the adverse impact somehow."
"You mean you can eventually eliminate war? Sounds like something from Lennon's dream. Imagine all the people…" She used a defiant tone on purpose, but he showed no sign of unbalance.
"Yeah, that is what I often hear." A quizzical smile appeared again on his face. "But the answer is no, the war will never be over. Look at the history of our wonderful humankind, what did you learn at school? Wars, conflicts, crusades."
"Well, that's true," she said.
"Peace is not a natural state for humans," said Jerry.
"This is terrifying! People want to live in peace. At least most of them."
Jerry shook his head. "There's no democracy in war, Iman."
Her mobile rang when they got out of the lift.
"Sorry, I need to answer this," she said. "Yes, Julia?… Cancelled? Okay, thanks… I'll be there tomorrow, sure."
The surprise manifested on her face–she had been granted a free evening! The unexpected illness of her English teacher might give her time to get some relaxation.
This is going to be an interesting chat, thought Jerry as Iman was making her brief phone talk, and the girl herself was interesting. Not this kind of babe with a painted face and nails and no chance for a normal conversation, like the one he had met on a blind date a week ago.
Iman was slightly shorter than himself, ebony hair framed her face down to the shoulders. Her brown eyes with sparkles showed intelligent curiosity. Fitted blue jeans and a casual checked shirt in shades of green covered a nicely shaped body. It had been worth wandering for almost an hour around this bloody lift waiting for her.
"Come on, let's find a fish and chips nearby!" Jerry broke the moment of indecision.
"Great! Honestly – I'm starving!" After a whole day in a hurry she had filled her stomach with an apple a few hours before, so she was keen on having a good meal.
"And you'll tell me more about this mitigation. How do you do it?"
"I think there is only one way, through diplomacy," said Jerry.
"Oh, diplomacy… Means talking and talking, I was rather interested if there was any science in these war studies? I suppose you use statistical models for predictions, don't you?" she asked.
"Sure we do, but without this talking, it has no effect in life," said Jerry. "It's the same as knowing physical formulas, but what matters is how you make use of them."
Yeah, I know, it's like making a bomb when you're a nuclear physicist, she thought but kept her lips tight.
They found a nice spot within a few minutes' walk and continued a talk about the science of the war, ways of mitigation and the power of negotiations while scoffing down traditional fried food. He also told her how he was planning to apply for a position in a foreign affairs office to kick off his diplomatic career after the defence of his PhD. While listening to his specific professional plan Iman felt she had been moving like a feather in the wind.
The more she contemplated her future job, the more uncomfortable sensation she had for work to develop this deadly weapon. Was it justified to build another bomb with the potential to destroy so many human lives? It might sooner or later be used. Iman had not devoted much time to religion these last years, but her Roman Catholic roots still raised sometimes troublesome scruples.
But perhaps it was the other way around. Perhaps this weapon was needed to secure peace, to maintain the equilibrium between competing nations? Pakistan had demonstrated its nuclear potential anyway, this country was not bowing before the West. They had even threatened their long-time enemy, neighbouring India. Why did only the big players have rights to play this game and put sanctions on others?
Moreover, this was not her job. There were numerous diplomatic ways of dealing with such issues. She would leave it up to guys like Jerry. They had made sure that no red buttons had ever been pressed during the Cold War and they would manage in the 21st century too.
"It seems you went astray," said Jerry breaking into her reverie.
"Yes, a bit, sorry… 'To secure peace is to prepare for war'. Do you know Metallica's 'Don't tread on me'?'
"Sure, it's a paraphrase of Si vis pacem, para bellum, 'If you want peace, prepare for war.' Ancient Latin adage," he said.
Iman poked at the last cold chips with her fork.
"It would be just fine if people didn't tread on each other,' she said. "But I am fed up with this war stuff! Tell me a joke, Jerry, can you?"
"Okay, we can switch to jokes, but you start!"
He was content as well to change the course of this conversation. Enough of wars and weapons this evening.
"Sure, but be warned–I'm going to throw you a tough one!" said Iman and a sneaky smile appeared on her face. Let's check his sense of fun about quantum physics.
"Heisenberg is driving a car, and a policeman stops him. 'Do you know how fast you were driving, sir?' asks the policeman. 'No, but I know exactly where I am!' Heisenberg answers content with himself. 'You were doing 41 in a 33 zone!' shouts the policeman. Heisenberg answers 'Oh no, now I am lost, you asshole!'"
Jerry burst out laughing. "Good! Uncertainty!"
Damn, he got it! Iman had expected the need to clarify the Heisenberg's formula to see an understanding smile on his face.
He's not that bad, she thought. And well, just my type. Friendly grey eyes and this wavy brown hair.
Jerry was still giggling. "But the speed limit in the UK is 30, to be precise," he said.
Iman shrugged. "I don't have a driving licence, I can always call Heisenberg. It's your turn!"
I wonder what she'll do to me for this, thought Jerry taking a deep breath.
"The general's wife says 'If women ruled the world, there would be no wars.'" The first sentence made Iman grin. "'That's true,' the general replies nodding. 'Wars require strategy and logic.'"
The smile disappeared within a fraction of a second.
"You're an awful male chauvinist!" Iman tried to kick his leg under the table, but he had been expecting that and moved backwards. She frowned grabbing her jacket and backpack.
"I'm leaving!" she said.
Jerry also got up and put his jacket on. "Hey, it was only a joke! Please accept my sincere apologies!"
"Yeah, how would you appease me?"
"What about a drink?"
"Okay, but I will destroy you first!" Heisenberg had not worked properly, so she'd go for a hardcore one.
"All the mathematical functions are sitting in a lecture hall. A professor comes in and yells 'I will integrate all of you!' In response to this threat they rush in a panic to leave, only one remains calm in his place. 'Hey, buddy, save yourself!' shouts his colleague. But the cool one answers 'I'm not afraid, I'm e-to-the-x!'"
This time she laughed her head off not because of the joke–Jerry's consternation was a true victory.
They wandered around the West End for a while and Iman moaned with regret as they passed the theatres, operas and museums. Jerry was not
fond of musicals, but he listened to her stories about 'The Music of The Night' and 'I Dreamed a Dream' with an unfeigned attention.
Their topics of conversation got lighter in a pub. The atmosphere was sweaty, so the two uppermost buttons of Iman's shirt had been unnecessary. She raised a toast to successful diplomacy–in all honesty–as her thoughts went to her future job. Just one small, sweet cocktail, she would not dare drink more, afraid she might let an unfortunate word out of her mouth. Thanks to Allah and Muhammad she would not have to drink alcohol in Pakistan.
As they had left the pub he suggested accompanying her back home. They took the tube from Piccadilly Circus and came up to the surface at Waterloo station. It was raining, so Iman unfolded a small umbrella which hardly covered two people. She clung to Jerry's his arm while they stepped through the quiet streets of the South Bank. It was getting colder in the spring shower, but Jerry's closeness warmed her up. It took only a few minutes to arrive at the three-storey house on Theed Street, where the small studio apartment they had rented for her was located.
Imanwas going to say a kind 'thanks for a nice evening' when Jerry kissed her. Not that surprising, so she neither turned her face nor pushed him away. With mutual satisfaction, the kiss was continued and their tongues began a cautious exploration.
Jerry embraced her and pull her closer, but the backpack and umbrella hampered his actions. He placed his free hand on her hip and felt her fingers climbing on his chest. Iman started to stroke the back of his neck, which encouraged him to slip his hand under her jacket and shirt to reach the bare skin just above the belt of her jeans.
Her kiss, her touch and warmth of her silky skin made him yearn to discover other curved places of her body. Damn, he would move his hand higher if not for the stupid backpack strap. In view of her responses, his hope for an invitation was exponentially growing with every second. Something else was growing and making his pants tight, but she stopped the kiss and lowered her head.
"Jerry, I…" she said embarrassed and unsure what to do. She had had no time to think about boys or kisses lately, but now the gentle touch of his hand had woken up a familiar excitement. Her heartbeat was rushing, nipples freezing, and the thrill went down her belly. Should she invite him upstairs? And what then, sex while watching her every word and speaking only English in bed?
"I know, I know… We have just met, you are tired, it's past 11 and you need to read those papers," he said.
"Yes, I really do," she answered, but realised it had not sounded convincing.
"Okay, so here I am going," he said.
Actually, he didn't move, only gazed at her, smiling. Despite an evident hesitancy, she kept her hands lying on his chest.
So this is the diplomacy–one statement in his mouth and still his hand under my shirt? thought Iman. Jerry's fingers continued the gentle caress of the skin at her waistline, teasing and promising more pleasurable moments which might come straight away.
"You're going?" she asked. "And you're not taking your hand with you?"
"Oh, I'd have forgotten, thanks!" He chuckled, gave her the umbrella and moved two steps backwards. "Bye!" he waived enjoying the view of the dilemma on her face. He went further back and turned around. "Bye!"
She stomped her foot before a second had passed. "Come back here, you Jerry!" Iman Zubedah or not, she was still a woman.
Jerry laughed, returning in the blink of an eye and was awarded a fiery kiss. The umbrella had moved to the side, but none of them minded the raindrops soaking their hair and clothes.
"Hey, we're getting cold and wet here!" Iman said. "Would you like to drink a hot tea upstairs?"
"I'm not sure,' he said. "Do you have milk?"
"No, I do not. I hate tea with milk! I have only honey and lemon."
"Too bad," he said and got a punch in reply.
"You try my patience, make your choice!" Iman paraphrased one of her favourite Phantom's quotes digging out the keys from a backpack pocket. Was Jerry tactfully prepared for an adventure like this or would she need to search for the pack of condoms buried somewhere in the bathroom? They shouldn't be expired yet.
"Okay, I'll be happy with something hot and sweet!" said Jerry.
"You're going to be a damn good diplomat, you know?" she said as they climbed the stairs to reach the last floor.
"Looks like I'm doing fine!" He grinned, adoring the view of her back below the backpack. What a lovely shape in the jeans he would tear from her in a moment!
After a merry battle with bags, wet outer clothes, shoelaces and socks they jumped into the bed to warm up. He took care of the buttons of her shirt, the belt and zipper of her jeans and she was paying him back with fervour. Jerry had expected to see a plain cotton underwear on Iman, but was surprised to find some lacy ones instead. As things heated with each move, touch and kiss, she would not let him spend expendable minutes adoring her lingerie. Soon every last bit of clothing got thrown away from the bed.
"I'm from a higher floor!" she said pushing him to lay down on his back and taking a strategic position on his thighs. Jerry did not mind the view and the free access to her breasts. They shared the pleasant discovery as she started her ride. Slowly at first, then gasping with delight she increased the pace to adjust the rhythm to the natural frequency of her body. She reached the resonance point in a short time and only when a long and loud 'Oh' emerged from her mouth did she realise she had been starving for this.
Then she enjoyed Jerry's actions as he rolled over her. His purrs sounded like cat's voice, and the fast oscillating moves of his hips prolonged her pleasure. They calmed down with soft kisses, then Jerry's head rested on her belly while she brushed his hair with her fingers.
This spontaneous adventure was followed by two mugs of hot tea drunk in bed along with a pack of butter cookies which Iman discovered in her kitchenette. A more savoury fashion of the experiment's second stage multiplied their satisfaction. But then Iman kicked Jerry out of her place in the middle of the night. She would not have minded cuddling up to his body for a while longer, but what if she talked in her sleep? Not to mention an empty fridge which would embarrass her in the morning.
The next morning came much sooner than Iman would have wished. After numerous 5-minute-long snoozes set on her alarm clock, she opened her eyes to see
it was half past seven. The harsh reality of having to reach Vauxhall in less than an hour sunk in.
"Fuck!" she shouted. Didn't they ever sleep in this circus?
Curse it, she had even started to swear in English! While fighting simultaneously with clothes and a hairbrush she realised not a single coffee grain had been left in her kitchen. She blurted out several dirty words in Krav–Jerry had distracted her from the quick shopping trip at the nearest Sainsbury's local store she had planned for the evening before.
Iman smirked reminiscing about the pleasurable distraction–it was worth it, even though she needed to rush to the Waterloo station hoping to grab at least a Starbuck coffee-to-go in a horrible paper cup with plastic cover. The view of the nearby St. Johns church tower reminded her it was Sunday. So this must be her punishment for sinning on Saturday night and working on Sunday morning. Maybe the bloody McDonald's would be open? A vending machine would be an ultimate resort.
She sped almost as fast as a jogger she had passed along Whittlesey Street, where rows of monotonous short brick houses had been built centuries ago. She had always wondered why people did such stupid morning runs. Instead, they should sleep in warm beds or celebrate Sunday morning by eating a breakfast at leisure. Whenever she had attended any fitness class, it was in the evening, so she got her body dead tired and just throw herself into a bed afterwards.
But her exceptional run this morning was fully justified. She had a serious reason to hurry, a soaring urge to run, a thirst for coffee!