Hi... The first three chapters (Part I) serve as a bit of a prologue. Feel free to skip them, all they do is introduce an OC and provide some fun filler.
I am of the strong opinion that monsters are not born, they're made. I wanted to give the professor some vestige of justification. But he manipulated me halfway through the story, as he is apt to do, and instead of killing off the original character I'd introduced for that purpose, I kept her around and altered the plotline instead. Please review if you're intrigued by a homicidal mad scientist. I ought to give credit where it's due, I suppose - Devkyu. Now if only I could contact said brilliant artist to read her work...
Warning: this reads like an episode. with typos. backstories are invented and some poorly. Merin is mine and not to be exploited unless it's tastefully so and with my permission.
The story begins ten years ago, when Doctor Daimon Suguru cancels the lectures he planned to give at Salzburg to attend to a crisis in Japan, and sends his assistant to lecture in his place...
Part I, Chapter 1
Professor Kurata pushed the glasses higher up the bridge of his nose and gave an impatient sigh. The new PA to assist him as guest lecturer was late with the required notes and class was as boisterous and uncooperative as any at the University of Salzburg. And here he was, filling in at Daimon's bidding.
"Attention, Biochem!" he drawled, and his voice echoed through the cavernous lecture hall. Gradually the room fell silent, and the Professor retreated to his laid back slouch.
"Yare yare… We can begin on time. Your Organic Chemistry theories are due for your Professor Wegner's review. If you missed the last lecture, there will only be two more. As I'm sure you all read, biological engineering has progressed immensely in the past six years," he raised his chalk to the board and wrote as he spoke, the students taking note on cue. "The Human Genome Project, has, as the name implies, mapped our DNA to the last nucleotide base. Can anyone name the venerable scientists who beat our countries in this endeavor? No? No one? How disappointing. Patrinos and Collins of the USA led the project… with Japanese assistance…"
The lecture progressed smoothly for an hour before the door opened and the PA slipped in. Kurata never paused nor glanced at the offending novice as she handed him the flashdrive and he set up the powerpoint for the students on the large projector. Only when the show was playing did he dignify the PA with a derisive glance from above his glasses, which glimmered sinisterly in the half-dark.
"You can leave whenever you like," he told the class casually, leaning against the door. The room rose to their feet. "However if you wish to pass your final, your Professor suggested you may wish to watch the presentation. Don't forget those papers, on his desk." He smiled at the collective groans and swept out, the PA on his heels.
"I apologize for my lateness, Professor, and I assure you that it won't happen again."
Kurata paused in his walk and turned in slight irritation tingeing on curiosity, head cocked faintly to the side. "You must be…"
"Shiori Merin," said Merin, nodding her head. Her disheveled brown hair bounced in waves around her shoulders but her grey eyes were clear.
"Shiori, ah yes. You are Japanese?"
"My father," said Merin, withdrawing a pen from behind her ear and tucking it self-consciously into her lab-coat pocket. The long white labcoat covered her jeans and blouse, both black, and the hem was stained with blue copper ions. "My parents lived in Odaiba."
"Oh? Why aren't you attending the Institute there with them?" They were strolling down the corridors toward the labs, now, and Kurata was completely nonchalant.
"Ah, well, our home was destroyed in the gas leak three years ago. Actually, the news never decided whether it was a terrorist attack or an accident. Ironically enough," she scoffed, and Kurata looked relieved that he wasn't expected to sympathize.
"I'm dreadfully sorry," he said, voice holding a hint of condescension.
"Not at all. But I really do owe you an explanation, professor, for why I was audaciously late my first day. I hope you'll let me show you what kept me. I think you'll find it to your liking."
Whereas prior Kurata hadn't spared more than a glance at Merin, he turned his half-lidded eyes toward her now, eyebrows raised.
"Just through here," Merin opened the door to the restricted labs, withdrawing a keycard from her labcoat, and holding the door for the Professor.
Kurata slouched first into the semi-darkness. Beneath a red light, several modified petri dishes were hooked up to a microscope and computer, the screen buzzing and flooded with data, taking down fluctuating graphs and tables faster than the eye could see.
"My thesis," whispered Merin from behind him, red light reflected in her grey eyes, "On the existence of digital matter. As I believe you also specialize in this field with Mr. Daimon, who I hear is fonder of fieldwork and less tolerant of the impressive calculations he employs you to do, you may enjoy this breakthrough…"
Merin was speaking hurriedly and Kurata got the impression that there was little that evoked passionate ranting in his aloof assistant. He bowed his head, glasses flashing, and gave a little gasp.
"That's right – after three years I've found the wavelength necessary to define these particles… but the data…" Merin turned to the computer, frowning.
But Kurata was smiling widely, lips twisting, and then he was laughing, loud and almost maniacal.
His chuckling fit died down, but his grin remained. Pushing his glasses up his nose, Kurata smirked at Merin. "This is another puzzle piece to Daimon's theory! And you, an amateur, hah! You uncovered it before him – you're absolutely correct!"
"I'm glad you think so, Professor, but Mr. Daimon has yet to publish his theories so I'm not entirely with you. However, you were the one who inspired me with your lecture on particle acceleration in physics back in Japan. Part of the credit belongs to you."
Kurata glanced up from the computer screen. "Yes, this is excellent… It does, does it now. I'll show Daimon."
He ran his hands over the microscope, knelt to the eyepiece, and his muttering grew quiet. Merin backed out slowly, careful not to cause an air current through the double doors, and left the Professor to his muttering.
Her graduate study at Salzburg had barely lasted a year. She had very few friends back in Japan. But somehow, despite all rationale and reason, she missed her home, had been missing her home since she'd first arrived, and had made up her mind before she'd been assigned PA. With these thoughts in mind she headed to her supervisor, head of the Biology Research Department, and was bid to enter a spacious office.
"Ah, Shiori, sit down," said Doctor Lansteiner, Austrian accent lacing his English. The Institute taught science classes in English based on policy, and while Merin Shiori was bilingual and fluent in both English and Japanese, her ignorance of German was a real nuisance here.
"Hello Doctor," said Merin dutifully, inclining her head. For the second time that day, she realized she had not removed her lab coat upon leaving the premises.
"Was today your first day as assistant to Professor Kurata? How did it go?" asked Lansteiner amiably, leaning forward on his elbows over the myriad of paperwork littering his wide desk.
"Oh, the Professor was very obliging. I ran late experimenting but I showed him my breakthrough and he seemed content. I can't confirm any studies yet, but when I repeat the experiment you'll be the first to know, Doctor."
"Excellent, you've progressed on your research as I knew you would. Tell me, what do you think of the new Professor?"
Merin looked puzzled. "Well, he's only a guest lecturer, and only because Mr. Daimon got called back to Japan. And he's the same age as the students!"
Lansteiner actually chuckled. "Professor Kurata is two years older than you, Shiori, and you graduated last year and have progressed immensely since. I paired you together because I knew his father. Unethical, but completely brilliant. He's the reason Daimon took the younger Kurata under his wing. But the son is not as arrogant as his father became – yet."
"Oh," said Merin blankly. "I thought you paired us because we're both Japanese."
"Common ground," nodded Lansteiner. "But that's not why you're here now, Shiori. You wish to go back, do you not? Ah, you look surprised. Don't be – I knew you'd ache to leave as soon as you arrived with that fire burning in your eyes and your hands itching to use our equipment. Now your theory is complete you must return to Japan and test it out, yes?"
Merin only nodded, swallowing dryly. She'd grown to know Lansteiner over the past year, and hearing him confirm her own wishes was disconcerting and stirred a deep regret in her.
"Then let us agree on this," Lansteiner leaned back in his chair again, smiling sadly now. "You will finish out your studies here in the next week, helping Professor Kurata with his lectures and seminars, and I will see about my contacts with Mr. Daimon's team back in Japan. But this is on the condition that you don't do fieldwork or human experimentation. Ah, I know your ethics are honest, but Shiori you have not seen how science and ambition can corrupt. On this condition do we agree?"
"I-yes. Yes, doctor Lansteiner, I agree. That would be-"
"Marvelous, then. Now tell me about this breakthrough of yours," Lansteiner grinned enthusiastically, and Merin began a stumbling and excited explanation.
True to her word, Merin arrived early for the next lecture, which progressed smoothly. Only on the third and final lecture did Kurata grace her with a smile which surprised and seemed to please her. She handed him the graded theories and stationed herself aside his desk for the remainder of the lecture, following his pacing and gesturing with her eyes.
"Are you conducting further research?" asked Kurata when the class had filed out and Merin was packing up their latest essays to take to Wegner.
"I'm attending the lecture at the Center of Applied Molecular Engineering today, but I'll certainly be in the labs tomorrow," said Merin. She hesitated.
"Lansteiner is even going to give a short discourse. That's rare for a professor emeritus in his position. Are you attending Professor?"
"I'm afraid I don't know my way around campus terribly well," said Kurata lazily, watching Merin with curiosity.
"Well, if you were inclined to attend any number of the staff would assist you. If you change your mind I'll be in the library. Professor."
Kurata did find her in the library later, lab coat folded haphazardly over a chair, leafing through four different texts to cross-reference some obscure phenomenon.
"Professor, you decided to come."
Kurata was wearing a dark brown fitted jacket in a classical take on the Professor look, but it was a startling difference from his usual labcoat, complemented his hair, and made him appear older.
"You do realize I'm not actually your Professor?" said Kurata, eyebrows raised. "And in Japan I'm a humble researcher like yourself, Merin."
Merin hastily stacked her books before replying distractedly, "Yare… let's go." Kurata helped her with her labcoat with a slightly sardonic smile and Merin thanked him before they left the library.
Merin led Kurata outside into the courtyard. The trees were splattered with oranges, reds, yellow and purple leaves scattered across the bike paths. The architecture was beautiful, too. Merin indicated the building they were approaching, explaining the university stigmas and history associated with the particular lecture hall.
The actual lecture lasted late. Kurata had chosen a seat near the back of the hall with the rest of the Professors attending, leaving Merin to sit with a violet-haired PA called Anelie who nattered ceaselessly until, during a change in lecturers, Merin moved several seats away and began to read Lansteiner's notes over his shoulder. At one point he gave her a knowing smile.
Kurata, she noticed on glancing back, was not particularly liked by all the old, grey-haired Professors. They seemed to be shooting his curly head the looks they reserved for particularly insubordinate students. Perhaps it was the age difference…
Merin was just leaning low over the desk and taking notes when a sun glare fell across her notepad. Impossible, though, since it was dark out… Kurata had settled comfortably next to her, given a large yawn, and glanced at her notes sending the lamplight glancing off his glasses. The rest of the lecture was spent in better company, Merin occasionally scribbling and Anelie eyeing Kurata on his other side while Lansteiner gave an enlightening presentation.
"Now I'd like to conclude this lecture by recognizing a graduate who has, in just about eleven months, pulled off an experiment that will further our forays into the computer world, literally, and the professor whose team is working tirelessly on further breakthroughs. Congratulations to Merin Shiori and to Professor Kurata."
Kurata languidly stood up and noting Merin's flushed face, tugged her up too. There was polite applause from the other PA's, a few loud whistles from the undergraduates who had snuck in and had Merin help them in the lab, and a good cheer from the Professors who only now seemed to forgive youth in the face of accomplishment.
The crowd of Professors left after some hand-shaking and Merin trailed out last, having packed all her notes into her labcoat pockets. Outside Lansteiner was smoking cigarettes with his older associates and addressing Kurata, who looked intimidated. Merin approached them.
"..exactly your research methods?" one tall, middle-aged Professor was enquiring rather pretentiously of Kurata, leaning forward. Kurata, whose back was to the wall, shifted his weight further back.
"Well, their study is not yet published so we can't really know any of their secrets," said Merin. The Professor glared at her for interrupting. "On another topic your essays are graded Professor Wegner…" said Merin smoothly.
"Then perhaps you can get busy with the organic chemistry essays on my desk," said Wegner, before walking off in a group of scholarly and rather conceited colleagues.
"How exactly would one compose an essay about organic chemistry?" asked Lansteiner, who'd been observing the exchange. "The class is based on memorization and patterns," he stroked his bushy mustache and retreated inside again.
"I'm sorry about Wegner," Merin addressed Kurata, walking toward the main building where she knew he wouldn't get lost. "Everyone else here respects you and your team."
Kurata's lips twisted at the mention of his team. "I've been demoted to assistant so it's hardly my team," he said with some resentment.
"Demoted? Doesn't Mr. Daimon realize the potential of your theories?" Merin asked, astounded, grey eyes wide. "I mean, I can't claim to be an expert but I've read all of your journals and your work is the most promising out there. Daimon seems far less concerned with the consequences of his experiments and more with field work. Your works are far more insightful, Professor."
Kurata chuckled lightly, but there was a darker undertone to his laughter. "I've told you before, I'm hardly your Professor, Merin. Call me Kurata."
Merin glanced down at her boots. They continued making their leisurely way across the campus grounds, passing a main courtyard where the cold autumnal wind picked up and sent a tornado of leaves swirling into the air. Kurata, who'd been yawning, spluttered and spit out a fragment and Merin disguised her snicker with a cough.
"Now that my theory's been confirmed, I intend to go to Japan," she said suddenly, "Doctor Lansteiner is going to call Daimon and establish some contacts. But from what you've told me, I'm not sure I wish to work for him."
"Don't be foolish. You need the equipment at the disposal of his team. Why do you think I'm working with him? Your place is obviously there now."
"Pro-I mean," Merin swallowed. "Kurata. I think I will apply to work not under Daimon, but with your branch of the team, and only if you could use my skills in research."
Kurata actually stopped and looked incredulously as Merin. "Why are you even asking me when you've just made the biggest breakthrough of the last several years? Of course Daimon will be clamoring to have you on board."
"I'm not asking Daimon," insisted Merin.
And then Kurata's demeanor changed. He seemed to relax, slouch back and then he smiled that contagious smile of his. He stretched out a hand and casually picked a stray leaf out of her hair.
"I think I could find a use for you, Merin."
It was curious how Kurata had walked off, knowing his way around campus perfectly all of the sudden. Tired herself, Merin headed to grade the essays Wegner had instructed her on, yawning.
Although she was completing her own graduate study on campus, Merin was still required to help any Professor or PA in her field.
Thus it was after an exhausting night of grading organic chemistry essays that she returned to the lab in hopes of conducting some tests, and stumbled upon her least favorite resident of campus.
"Merri! Why don't you come here."
"Anelie. My name is Merin." Merin's greeting was completely devoid of emotion.
"Lansteiner assigned you to that Japanese lecturer, didn't he?" asked Anelie, turning around and swishing her long violet tresses across Merin's face. A trail of perfume that followed made Merin sneeze. Fixing her pink, rabbit-like eyes on Merin, Anelie smiled sweetly. "I got assigned that idiotic Wegner – he's at least fifty and blind as a bat to my charm! But that Japanese Professor, Kurata or what's his name, now he's a looker. Just get rid of those annoying glasses and take off the lab coat… you're so lucky you sat next to him!"
Merin shook her head and turned to leave, but Anelie grabbed her arm. "Hey, wait! I need your help with this!"
"What, more gossip? I've been up all night and it's nearly breakfast time, Anelie."
"No, no! I'm trying to recalibrate the particle accelerator. I bumped into that cute Professor earlier this morning and asked him to check my experiment set up."
"Perhaps you ought to have thought ahead then, instead of setting yourself up for failure," said Merin coldly. She rubbed the dark circles under her eyes, which only accentuated her pallor. Something about Anelie was frustrating her far more than usual today. But Anelie looked genuinely hurt.
"Oh, just wait. Of course this is all wrong, you tried to insert the cord into the wrong… oh, no you didn't…" Anelie simpered at Merin's muttering. "This is going to take some time to fix."
"I'll just get you a cup of coffee then!" said Anelie, and pranced out. Merin shook her head, then steadied herself on the lab counter from the bout of dizziness that followed. It was awfully quiet… and then she realized the fume hood and ventilation had been shafted off. Anelie had unplugged the vents when trying to power her accelerator. Swearing, Merin tinkered with the machine and switched it on.
Taking far longer than it was supposed to, Merin untangled the wires patiently. Her fingers looked like she had taken a scalpel to them.
Anelie, meanwhile, had paused outside a different lab with two cups of steaming coffee in plastic cups from the cafeteria. Inside, Lansteiner was speaking with someone… She put her ear to the door.
"Ah, Akihiro. I thought I might find you here."
Kurata glanced up and allowed himself a smile. "Doctor Lansteiner. My father spoke highly of you," he acknowledged. "You arranged my lectures here."
"And I have not been disappointed," said Lansteiner, striding to the younger man's side and peering at the microscope. The back of his grey head inclined slightly, and then he rose again, running a hand over the computer screen. "What do you make of this?"
"It's precisely what we've been searching for, sir," said Kurata. "I wonder at how willing Merin was to share credit for it."
Lansteiner's sharp brown eyes caught the other man's grey ones. "If this theory is proven it will be a triumph for Shiori. But she will run for Japan to confirm it, instead of taking the credit. She'd rather find the facts than stick around to be recognized. The mark of a true researcher," he glanced at Kurata meaningfully.
Kurata flushed and looked darkly at the screen. "I'm sure," he drawled. "It's curious how she stumbled upon just the right calculations… the odds of that… our team's been trying for years."
"Shiori came here almost a year ago with boxes of theories and a feverish obsession," began Lansteiner. Kurata looked up in mild interest. "Her family was killed three years ago in a gas leak no where near any pipelines. Shiori allowed herself time to graduate and made for our renowned labs. She was investigating the existence of parallel worlds, of digital matter. For months she did not emerge. I had complaints of hair getting on the microscope lenses from overnight sessions."
"But the odds of a mere graduate solving the equations involved in calculating the properties of digital matter… it's absurd," scoffed Kurata dismissively. "She'd need months…"
"Not so," Lansteiner smiled. "Your father never gave irrefutable proof of other worlds, but he started the research Daimon's team is completing now with you. He began theorizing as an undergraduate."
Kurata seemed torn between the flattery to his father and the implication that he worked in subordination to Daimon. "So why share credit with me?"
"To get in Diamon's good graces, perhaps," shrugged Lansteiner, smiling wryly when he saw Kurata's irritation. "Or rather into yours. Shiori wishes to pursue her further research in Japan immediately, not giving us time to grant her the doctorate. But I've made her high credentials clear to Daimon and he's willing to employ her to work in conjunction with you."
Kurata seemed to bristle.
"Ah, but I wish to speak to you about this first. Shiori does not yet know, and I feel she would have spoken to you prior than Daimon anyway. She is an ardent researcher, but she has her flaws… That is why I wish to leave the final decision to the person she'll be working with."
Kurata's glasses slid down his nose in astonishment, and he made no move to shift them back up.
"I don't believe Daimon allows you enough influence on the team. Demoting you to assistant to keep you from becoming your father is one of the most foolish things the legendary Daimon has done, and I don't think he realizes your resentment, Akihiro."
"How do you know all this?"
Lansteiner's phone beeped in his back pocket. He looked at Kurata and smiled. "I was a colleague of your father, recall. But I really should go check what has our medical wing a-flutter. I'd like your mind made up on the night of your flight, to give Shiori at least a few hours notice."
And Lansteiner swept out.
And right into Anelie, who barely saved the coffee cups. He nodded at her with a half-smile and walked off. Taking a step forward, Anelie paused in the doors of the lab.
"Oh Professor, would you like some coffee?"
Kurata took one look at Anelie's fluttering eyelashes and ducked behind the microscope.
The first thing Merin did when she got to her place was take a long nap. When she felt human again, she had some fruit and paused.
Merin surveyed her living quarters for the past year, and then she really looked. Having been granted an apartment on campus and within walking distance of the labs, Merin hadn't thought much into decorating. The small kitchen and living room area were bare but for packs of bottled water, a bowl of fruit and powerful lamps near every counter or surface which illuminated the bookshelf-lined walls. The bedroom was more of an office with a small bed backed up into a corner, the walls decorated with newspaper headlines like "Fire in Odaiba kills seven" and "Freak typhoon wipes out village miles from Coastline". A large desk strewn with books and papers and several monitors hooked up to a laptop served as the main feature of the room.
Over the bed, though, there were photographs. A quietly slouching Merin in black graduation gown and cap with golden tassels and ribbons and a diploma, but no smiling family with her.
A sunny playground where a wiry middle-aged man with graying black hair and narrow eyes was laughing, pushing a six-year-old girl with curly blonde hair on the swings while the ten-year-old Merin stood pouting in the background.
A family portrait in formal wear, the Asian father and a beautiful golden-haired mother with vivid amber eyes, a young and vivacious Merin with her father's grey eyes and the other curly blonde girl dazzling the photographer with bright honey-colored eyes and a dimpled smile.
On the text-crowded bedside table, a faded newspaper article was headlined, "Tragic gas leak destroys apartment building" and another; "Government suspects terrorism involved in gas blast". And there was another, more recent paper. "Daimon, PhD, makes breakthrough in computer science" with headshots of Daimon and Kurata in black and white.
Carefully, Merin gathered all of these and filed them into folders of a shoulderbag. There she also stored her laptop and several filled notebooks. Her clothes and other items all fit perfectly inside a small wheeled suitcase. The books, being property of the college, would remain behind.
She stared around, then decided to go say good bye to Lansteiner. Kurata had made Anelie give Merin a note detailing their flight and departure that afternoon. It seemed to have been a humiliating experience for Anelie, who was hardly grateful that Merin had fixed her accelerator for her.
Almost tenderly, Merin folded her blue-stained white labcoat and packed it inside her bag, and donned a grey jacket over a blue sweater and jeans.
Lansteiner was in his office. He smiled and told Merin she looked as intelligent as ever without her beloved copper stains.
"I don't think I could have done any of my experiments without your support, sir," Merin began, but Lansteiner waved it aside.
"Yes, yes, we're all going to miss you too Shiori. Japan is gaining a formidable scientist. But do remember our deal."
"I do, doctor."
"And also what I told you about Kurata's father. He was a good friend before he went rather mad with ambition. He died by risking a daring experiment no one would support, and one which, in success, would have destroyed the barrier between this and the theorized world."
"Just keep an eye on Akihiro – do not let Daimon's foolishness drive his assistant to folly."
Merin nodded, and stood to shake hands with Lansteiner.
And that was the end of Salzburg.
feedback is appreciated. even if it does tell my favorite character to go die in all caps.