Exercising the craft—May 5, 2014

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: The Discovery—When you return to school for a conference, you bump into one of your old professors, who is rambling on excitedly about a new discovery. He asks you to follow him to his office—he has something he wants to show you. What is the new discovery? Why is your professor so excited? Write this scene.



Karen nodded and smiled as she worked through the crowd, but she’d already gotten tired of the entire thing. Only the thought of the phenomenal dinner during the presentations later in the evening kept her in the large ballroom.

I wonder if they’ll do that roast beef like they did last year or if they’ve picked something else.

“It’s so nice to see you again. Yes, this is a great conference. Yes, it definitely has great networking value.”

Cow. She looks like she’s still stuck in that dead-end job at the bank. Why would she even bother with networking if she knows she’s not going anywhere with it?

“So good to see you!” Air kisses. “Oh my god, I don’t know how long it’s been! Yes, let’s definitely catch up after dinner!”

Mental note: find a table next to the exit so I don’t have to talk to him later. I don’t think his rep as a dog has changed much.

She kept working the room and managed to hold back the snarky comments that popped into her mind, but she didn’t know how much longer she could stop herself. As she pulled herself out of the embrace of yet another acquaintance, she spotted Professor Falkner entering the room. Finally, she thought, someone she could actually talk to without wanting to gag.

“Dr. Falkner!” she exclaimed, offering her arms for the first genuine hug of the night. “It’s so nice to see you here!”

“Karen! Just the person I wanted to see. I’ve got a brand new invention that I want to show you, and I think you’re the perfect person to test it out.”

She felt her skin prickle. “Um…Dr. Falkner, I don’t know if I have time after the presentations tonight. I mean, I’ve got a meeting in the morning, and—”

He waved his hand. “No, no, I know, you’ve got the big career that everyone envies. I wouldn’t dream of delaying you. No, I wanted to take you to my office now, if that’s all right.”

“Oh. Now.” She began looking around the room for another classmate to rescue her, but all of a sudden it looked like her most ardent wish of the night had finally come true. No one looked interested in talking to her.

“Come on, it’ll only take a few minutes of your time!”

He took hold of her arm and began leading her good naturedly but firmly to the double doors of the ballroom. They crossed campus that way, with Dr. Falkner chatting the entire way to his office about how much teaching had changed now that technology ruled the classroom. It seemed like he spent most of his time talking to a sea of laptop screens instead of heads slumping in boredom.

“Not quite sure which one I prefer,” he said, laughing. “Here we are.”

Karen followed him into his office and started to relax. His office hadn’t changed with the typical clutter filling up the corners. His desk seemed to spout papers and files, oddly enough. Dr. Falkner caught her looking at the folders and grinned.

“I know, I know, you can do a whole lot on the computer these days, but I find that having an actual file in my hand helps me intimidate my students more effectively.”

She gave the obligatory laugh and glanced at her watch. How long am I going to have to deal with this? I don’t even know if my phone gets service in here, and Paul might be trying to reach me.

Dr. Falkner began pulling open cabinet drawers looking for something.

“I’ve been tinkering in the lab with this idea for several years now, and I’ve finally got it right. Oh, here we are.”

He pulled out a hand mirror about the size of a photograph. Beaming, he handed it to Karen.  She took it with one hand, wondering whether he’d finally dropped off the edge.

“It’s a mirror,” she stated.

He rolled his eyes but kept smiling. “Hold it with both hands and make sure you cradle it so that it’s touching most of your palms. Good. Now look at yourself in it.”

She readjusted it as he instructed, and looked at herself.

Great, my eyeliner smudged. What idiot hugged me that close?

All of a sudden the mirror vibrated. Karen flinched in response, but before she could ask any questions the edges of the mirror lit up. A female electronic voice spoke.

“You have begun initialization of the True Look device. Please wait a few moments for completion of your diagnostic assessment.”

Karen looked at Professor Falkner. “What does it do?”

“It reads your mind.”

She jerked and nearly dropped the mirror. “What??”

He chuckled. “Well, not really. It interacts with your nerve endings in your hands and gathers information about you based on what it reads. It’s not accurate yet, but I think with some more experiments it could be.”

“Diagnostic assessment by True Look now complete,” the voice announced in the most polite way. “Please wait a few moments for your results.”

Karen suddenly had the urge to hold the mirror by the corner like a stinky sock. She got the impression that Professor Falkner was watching her a little more closely than normal for a science experiment.

“Results available,” the voice said. “Subject spends the majority of her time in a high-stress environment. The situation can be alleviated, but she chooses to remain in it. She views this as compensation for negative events in her past, unknown in this diagnostic assessment at this time. Subject may suffer a heart attack in the next one to three years if lifestyle changes are not implemented.”

She pushed the mirror back into Professor Falkner’s hands. “Thanks, Professor, but I don’t think I need any more information about my life. I’ve got everything completely under control.”

He fixed her with a hard look. “Do you?”

For the first time in a long time—since high school, really, when Cassie Barnes challenged where she stood in the hallway—Karen didn’t have an answer.

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