Is this Love?...Or are the Chemical Impulses Driving my Every Whim?
After that day at the museum, I ramped up my efforts in formulating a new method to increase the properties of the material that I had been currently researching. It had been years since anyone had discovered a mixture that could overcome the current titanium blend in the market.
Both Diedrich and I pored through hundreds of research papers, hoping for some small adjustment in crystal structure that would elevate the material's benefit, both in cost and efficiency.
However, much of the industry had started diving into that of organic-based materials which were rapidly growing in popularity. I felt like the time that I had spent on metallic compounds had gone to waste.
However, Diedrich seemed to be more determined than ever to find a solution. In fact, it seemed like he had quickly become my equal. There was very little that I was able to teach him after 2 months.
There was no time to think about our current relationship. I was perfectly happy to have him stay as my assistant, or more likely, my scientific rival. The thoughts of romance merely hovered in the back of my mind as long as there was more work to do.
Sometime later, I stumbled upon him setting up a sample at the laser table, looking every bit like his normal self. I had been unaware that he had synthesized something recently. Apparently, he had consulted with Johann and the professor on his own.
Making my way into position, we started collecting the data for his new sample. As the beam hit its mark and the data started compiling in the computer, the first several points caught my attention.
Huh? The values…aren't they a bit high? Had he taken our previous work and found some breakthrough?
I rubbed my eyes, thinking that I was looking at them incorrectly, but sure enough, the sample had responded in such a way that I couldn't believe it.
"The structure is accommodating multiple times to account for the increase in stress? Wait, normal metallic compounds don't have the freedom for such behavior…"
Had Diedrich made a mistake in calibration? Did he misalign something? Was the laser intensity different than normal?
I double-checked with Diedrich on each of these points, but every time, he confirmed that there was nothing off from the normal procedure.
I couldn't believe it, so I personally checked over it all myself. Convinced that the experiment was done properly, I turned towards Diedrich.
"What did you do? What did you make…to do this?"
"I had a hypothesis based on some very recent research in graphene, which had shown to have some of the highest mechanical properties exhibited. The question was – could I achieve something similar with another structure? Would it be possible to construct a similar molecular formulation to create a different material? Looks like it was a lucky guess, but there's a lot more optimization to do."
Though he had nonchalantly proclaimed his methodology, executing all of that was nothing short of miraculous! In three months, Diedrich had created the foundation of a material that excelled over what I had been working on for over two years!
The dark spot in my heart flickered.
What genius! I was a bit sore that I hadn't come up with it myself, but if this material showed this much promise, there was no doubt that we could eventually create something much better than the current titanium alloy.
I smiled as I watched him gleefully scan through the data. It was another step towards my dream.
However, I was still skeptical that this was real. It was a scientist's nature to doubt everything until the evidence was undeniable. Perhaps, this had been a fluke?
Despite that, as the weeks passed, the tests and re-tests only served to confirm Diedrich's initial guess. As we grew more confident in the results, he started to propose more adjustments to the molecular structure, synthesizing a slew of different samples to test. I had never known he was so capable at molecular chemistry, but this had been a welcome addition.
Pretty soon, we were able to find samples that appeared to meet even more rigorous conditions. Even our professor had been astounded by those results.
The dark spot in my heart grew larger.
With such ability to understand and optimize the material properties of the new organo-based material, Diedrich focus more and more of his time creating new samples for me to test, trying to understand the very limits of this promising material.
Pretty soon, I had noticed that all of my time had been devoted to measuring the samples that he had created and reporting the results back to him.
A second dark spot appeared.
As the months passed, we had churned out so many promising results that we had plenty of material to present at the next scientific conference. Thrilled that we would get plenty of exposure from renowned professionals and intellectuals, I had gotten very excited. However, I had a rude awakened when I talked to my professor.
"I had planned to send Diedrich to the conference. He was the one that synthesized the compounds, right? It would be best for him to go, given his deep understanding of the chemical formulation."
"Ah. I guess you're correct. That is understandable," I robotically replied.
The dark spots merged.
The week that he had gone off to that conference, I sat in the lab alone, testing out the samples that he had left me.
When was the last time we had worked together? At some point, our positions had switched. Now, I was the assistant, playing catch-up to the academic genius of Diedrich's mind. Often, I found myself struggling to keep up with how he managed to leap from step to step, blowing through the challenges that we faced each time.
At first, I was honestly thrilled that we had come so far in such a short time. Diedrich's breakthrough had really placed me on the path of achieving my dream, but somehow, it felt like I was merely being dragged along as he carved the path forward.
As a scientist, I should be happy with our progress and the steady path forward that we walked on.
However, I couldn't help thinking deep in my heart…
What am I doing anymore?
Since when did I let him get so far ahead?
How could he just take my place so easily?
I felt lost and confused. Where did my motivation go? It was as if a cage had been placed around me, preventing me from doing anything as I watched Diedrich continue forward.
The darkness had continued to spread. Unknowingly, I had become jealous of all the progress that he had made. Jealous that he could so easily race ahead of me.
Had he not promised to walk by my side?
Where had the feelings from the past months go?
What I thought had been love, was it all just hopeless infatuation with a person that could be my equal?
No matter how I tried to look at myself objectively, I could see nothing but a miserable person who had stopped in her tracks.
I got up from my seat and walked over to the room where Diedrich had done all of his synthesis work. Seeing the countless vials and bottles of chemical reagents littered about, it had certainly been a long time since I had been in here. This was no longer the room that I was familiar with. Diedrich had dyed the room with his personal habits.
Over in one corner, several mixtures were sitting on top of a work bench, the compounds diffused within slowly swirling about, suspended in liquid. These were the samples that Diedrich had set aside, experimental prototypes that we continued to work on and test.
Staring at them made me ill. It made me feel nothing more than an accessory to Diedrich's rise in renown.
I plucked a bottle from the shelf and undid the cap.
How easy it would be to sabotage his current samples. All I had to do was add a drop to disturb the balance…
"Kaylen! Are you in here? Ah, there you are! I got home early because there was great news!"
I froze at the sound of Diedrich's voice behind me. He had not noticed the bottle in my hand.
"Kaylen? Is something wrong? Did you come here to check up on our samples?"
His innocent voice – free of malice, completely opposite of how I was feeling – sent a chill down my spine.
Realizing what I was about to do, I held back my words. I didn't want him to hear how ugly I would sound. For the first time ever, I understood that I had just tried to do the same thing as what Briggs had done to my father.
"I wanted you to be the first to know! Our research caught the attention of Boeing! They are willing to grant us more funding and expand our work with a team of scientists! It's another step in making your dream come true!"
"My dream?" I bit my lip in frustration. I turned towards Diedrich. "This has been all your work! Pretty soon, you'll be the one recognized for all of it!"
"What do you mean? We did this together, did we not?" Diedrich looked surprised at my sudden outburst.
The darkness in my heart had swelled up so much that I could no longer see reason. All that I felt was that he had stolen my purpose from me.
"That's a lie! I'm merely your assistant now! What use am I merely collecting the measurements for you day after day, while you are the one creating all of the new ideas? You say such sweet words now, but once you find someone else, you'll move down your own path."
"That's no true-"
"You'll take that research and go elsewhere, just like Briggs did to my father! Why would you stay around? After all, I'm just a replaceable nobody who conveniently had the right tools to propel you forward! For what reason would you keep me around?!"
At some point in my ranting, tears had streamed down my face. Though I knew my words were harsh, I couldn't seem to control them anymore. Something else had taken over me.
Seeing Diedrich stammer to find the right words, I ran out of the room and out of the lab. The cold wind stung against my face as my legs continued to send me forward.
I had always known that I had a dark side deep down. That had kept me from approaching others. Using whatever I could find as an excuse, I had convinced myself throughout the years that no one was worthy of approaching me.
Unexpectedly, the wall that I had built to keep others out couldn't hold back the wonderfully talented person named Diedrich. Subconsciously, my heart knew that this person was the only one who could tear down all of those excuses that I had enclosed myself within. Perhaps, that was why I reacted so strangely from our first meeting.
However, what lay behind those excuses was merely a sense of insecurity and unwillingness to accept the world around me. It was I who was unworthy of approaching anyone.
Who would be willing to accept someone like me? Who would grateful to share their love with me?
Certainly, not a man as good as Diedrich.
As I reached my apartment, I opened the door and fell inside, letting the door slam behind me. Not bothering to turn on the lights, I curled my legs against my body and sobbed into my knees.
It was over.
There was no way that he'd want to be with me. Not someone as selfish as I.
I sat there alone in the dark, wallowing in my own inadequacies.
After who knew how long, I heard a knock on the door.
"It's me, Diedrich."
I said nothing to him. A few moments passed.
As I heard the doorknob start to turn, I raced to the door and pressed my body against it to keep it from opening. Grabbing ahold of the chain lock, I latched it before he managed to open the door.
"So, you were here…"
"Go away! I'm sure you want to have nothing to do with me! Now that you've seen what kind of person I truly am, it's better that you continue the research without me!"
Hearing no response from him, the feeling that he would do just that enveloped my mind.
Just then, I heard a thump below me.
"If you really think that, then I'll return this to you. I'll be waiting though. Have been for a long time now."
After saying those words, Diedrich's footsteps trailed off.
After I could no longer hear them anymore, I slowly bent down to pick up the object that he had left behind.
It appeared to be an old book, heavily worn from many years of use. Though the cover had started to fade, I could make out a few words on it, particularly one name.
It had been an old book that my father had published long ago, one that detailed many of his life's works. Though his book was still a popular reference, something else had caught my eye as I flipped through the pages.
"This is the first print. There shouldn't be many of them out there left…"
There had been several copies of it in my father's study, so I often carried one around with me to study his work during my childhood, but for there to be another one here, that was far too much of a coincidence.
"Could it be?"
A memory of me passing a copy over to a boy floated in my mind. I had long forgotten about it, as I had deemed it an insignificant event.
Driven by curiosity, I clutched the old book against my chest and opened the door, racing off to find its owner.