Something Deep: Part Five
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Dr. Hawkin started in surprise when Amelia came into the room then smiled at her, closing the diary slowly. He stood up, his gaze leveled at her.
“We keep a close eye on our staff at Sea Lab, Amelia. Everything we are working on is highly classified.”
“You’re reading my journal. My private thoughts. Private! Meaning not shared with anyone else!” Amelia could feel her face going hot, but not with embarrassment. She wasn’t embarrassed that Dr. Hawkin had read her diary. Instead, anger coursed through her. She clenched her fists so hard her nails bit into the soft flesh of her palms.
“There’s no security risk in writing my thoughts down in pen and paper,” Amelia said, her voice high.
“Of course. None at all. And there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be too careful. You’ve only just arrived after all.”
“Do you think I’m some kind of spy or something?”
Dr. Hawkin laughed. “Come, Amelia. A spy wouldn’t be so old-fashioned. I wasn’t expecting a pen and paper diary. You’re not even using flex?”
He removed his glasses, rubbing them clean on his white lab coat before re-adjusting them onto his sharp nose.
“You’re worse than Duncan. And you’re being a bit overdramatic, don’t you think? This is a secure facility. Everyone gives up some of their privacy in order to enjoy the privilege of working here.”
“No, Dr. Hawkin. I don’t think I’m being overdramatic. There is no reasonable excuse for sneaking into my room and going through my personal items.”
“I wasn’t sneaking. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have just found me here.”
“You thought I’d be in the lab,” Amelia replied. “You asked me to report to the lab so that you’d know where I was. Out of the way.”
Dr. Hawkin shrugged.
“My time is too important to waste on pointless arguments with research assistants. I’m not sure why you ARE here when I — your superior — asked you to meet me in the lab, but I do hope to see you in the lab in no less than 10 minutes.”
Amelia clenched her jaw, grinding her teeth together as he brushed past her and disappeared out into the hallway.
“I can’t believe him,” she said aloud, going to her diary, which he had left on her desk. She picked up the small, worn canvas book and flipped through its pages. The writing inside consisted mostly of notes from her grad school experiments, random text from books she’d read, and the occasional personal thought or rant about her ex-boyfriend, Stephen.
Opening the desk drawer, she placed the diary back inside.
“I’ll have to figure out a better place for you later. Obviously, I’m going to have to be more careful,” Amelia said quietly.
And as she grabbed her jacket from the small closet near her dorm room door, she realized how cold the room seemed. She hadn’t brought physical copies of her photographs. She had no posters. No paintings. No life inside the room.
As she zipped up and headed toward the data lab, she vowed to change that. The first chance she got, she would make her little room feel more like home. Then maybe the whole place wouldn’t seem so alien.
Amelia worked quietly with Dr. Hawkin that afternoon, seething silently inside every time he looked at her.
At least there are people like Alexander around, she thought, as she entered a long series of numbers into the database, her fingers bouncing over the keys with practiced ease.
The reassuring normality she had experienced with Alexander earlier gave her some comfort in the tense lab environment.
Dr. Hawkin only spoke to give her terse instructions. She was relieved when he told her she was done for the day.
Her stomach had begun to grumble. But she didn’t really feel like eating.
Instead of going to the cafeteria, she found herself walking toward Dr. Yamamoto’s office. Outside the closed door, she paused before pushing the ringer button next to the keypad.
The door slid open almost immediately.
“Come in,” her mentor said, looking up from her desk. She had been bent over her tablet. Her fingers still hung in the air where she had been typing.
“Amelia,” she smiled when she saw who it was. “I wasn’t expecting you. Is everything okay?”
“Not really, Dr. Yamamoto.”
“Please don’t be so formal.” She pushed her tablet to the side and stood up. “You can call me Sara. I’m not so stiff as Dr. Hawkin is.”
Amelia returned her mentor’s smile.
“Thank you, Sara. I’m glad of that.”
“What do you need? Assistance with something you’re working on? Dr. Hawkin really shouldn’t have you doing anything too advanced yet. But he does like to push people.”
“No,” Amelia said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with my work. He just has me doing data entry, basically.”
“What is it then?” Sara gestured at the chair across from her desk. “Sit. And tell me how I can help.”
“I was supposed to meet Dr. Hawkin in the data lab earlier today,” Amelia started. “But I wanted to grab my jacket from my room first.”
Sara nodded, her expression neutral.
“Dr. Hawkin was expecting me to be in the lab, and when I went into my room, he was there. Reading my diary. Which he could only have found by going through my personal belongings.”
Sara pursed her lips and nodded. “Hmmm. Yes.”
“You don’t seem surprised.”
She frowned at Amelia and folded her hands in front of her on the desk.
“You have to understand something about Dr. Hawkin, Amelia. Sea Lab is his life. His research is his life. He’s the most dedicated and ambitious scientist I’ve ever known.”
“But that doesn’t explain why he would want to go through my things.” Amelia could feel her face turning red at the thought of him pawing through her desk drawers.
“He’s paranoid. He’s afraid that someone will leak research information. That they’ll sell us out.” Sara held her hand up. “That doesn’t excuse his behavior. I’m just trying to help you understand.”
Amelia shook her head. “It seems like more than that. Like it’s personal somehow.”
“It is more than that,” Sara admitted. “But it’s not personal, Amelia. He’s a control freak. It’s part of his personality. And I’ll go ahead and warn you… it doesn’t get better. He’s a difficult man to work with. You need to ask yourself now if you can handle it.”
Frustrated, Amelia stood up. “I understand, Dr. Yamamoto.”
Amelia couldn’t make ‘Sara’ seem natural. The doctor’s more formal name was the only one that seemed fitting in Amelia’s eyes. Something felt… wrong about calling her by her first name.
“Look, Amelia.” Dr. Yamamoto sighed, staring down at her desk. “I’m on your side. It’s entirely out of line for him to go through your personal items. But if you issue a complaint now…”
“He has the power to remove you from the research program. He can have you dismissed from Sea Lab.” Dr. Yamamoto shook her head. “And unfortunately, there is nothing wrong with him going through your things according to Sea Lab rules. You give up any such privacy when you come down here. You signed all the paperwork.”
“I know. I just… I didn’t know it would be like this.”
“You’ll get used to it. The work is what is important, Amelia.” Amelia’s mentor stood up. “I would recommend keeping any information you want private in digital storage, not physical. And make sure it’s well encrypted.”
“I can do that.”
“I shouldn’t be telling you this. For security reasons.” She paused. “But the implications of a leak in this research could be very serious.”
“I won’t go into details, but the ramifications of leaked information could include global instability. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the peace the world is currently experiencing could be jeopardized if sensitive information were to get into the wrong hands. I’m sure you’re familiar with the events of the crisis. I don’t want to startle you, but the past may be catching up with us.”
“I studied the crisis in-depth at university. Every student learns about the second cold war and the fall of the world’s superpowers. But I fail to see how Sea Lab could be involved in a repeat of those events.”
“Let’s just say that there are forces at work who desire a return to that time. Any advantage they can find, they will.”
“Are you talking about terrorism?”
“I’ve already said too much, Amelia. Just take my advice and focus on the work at hand. And keep this conversation to yourself.”
“I won’t tell anyone.”
“The world hasn’t always been as peaceful as it is today. It’s important to understand how fragile that peace really is.”
The woman smiled at her.
“Please let me know if you need any help with your work.”
Amelia excused herself, leaving the office slowly. She could never have known what Sea Lab would really be like, but she still scolded herself for not being more prepared.
Lost in thought, she wandered into the elevator and found her way mindlessly into the cafeteria. She didn’t snap out of her reverie until a young woman behind the counter asked her if she wanted potatoes with her meal.
Amelia nodded and held her plate out, receiving a generous serving of pale white potatoes, lightly buttered. She added a small salad to her plate before sitting alone at a table next to a thick glass window.
She ate silently, staring out at the black water. A few tables away, a group of researchers laughed and talked while they ate, one of them wildly gesticulating while he recounted a story. At one point, they asked if she wanted to join them, but despite their welcoming smiles, she refused.
She didn’t feel like participating in any celebration. She didn’t feel like winding down. She was at that point of anger where it feels good to let it course through you.
She ate quickly, barely tasting the food, then went back to her room, avoiding talking to anyone.
She sighed with relief when her dorm room door slid shut behind her. Though, the room’s atmosphere felt different now that she knew Dr. Hawkin had been there.
It needs a good cleaning, she thought, and I need to make it my own.
Picking up a spare washcloth meant for use in the shower, she wiped down all the surfaces in the room, even the window looking out onto the bottom of the sea. Then she sent a message to her sister.
Send photos and posters. Room needs decoration.
“Now,” she said, standing in the middle of the room with her hands on her hips. “Where in this barren room can I hide a diary?”
Her eyes roved over the bare walls and the minimal furniture. The desk was no good. Number one: Dr. Hawkin had already found the diary there once. Number two: it was the first place anyone else would look. No drawer wouldn’t be searched.
She zeroed in on the table beside her bed. What if--instead of using the drawer--she taped the diary to the bottom of it?
Kneeling next to the small side table with the diary in her hand, she peered at its underside. It wasn’t recessed, so it wasn’t ideal. You’d still be able to see the diary hanging down if you were at ground level.
Her gaze shifted to the underside of the bed.
The bed’s bottom was smooth wood, interspersed with thick wooden slats. A thick, boring frame that looked as though it would endure years and years of use. Lying on her back, she scooted underneath and explored the surface above her with her fingertips, wondering if tape would stay in place.
She doubted it. The wood had been coated with thick shellac. She stopped, straining to see in the dim lighting under the bed. And her eyes found something out of place. A small square shape in the wall. It looked like a rough square had been cut out and replaced. Or maybe it was a small access panel? And they had chosen the space under the bed so it was hidden from sight.
Scooching across the dusty floor, she touched the center of the square lightly with her forefinger and a rush of excitement ran through her when it moved.
“Seriously?” She hadn’t been the only one eager to hide her personal items. Maybe not surprising considering Sea Lab’s slack policies on privacy.
Carefully, she reached her hand inside the opening and fished around. Her fingertips brushed against paper. A bundle of paper. And a book?
Someone had had this idea before her.
Grasping the gathered pages and the book’s soft cover, she pulled the contents out and scooted out from under the bed, wiping dust from her bottom as she rose.
She gently laid the dusty papers and the book on the bed’s gray coverlet and sat beside them. Her own diary lay nearly forgotten on the floor.
Rifling through the bundle of paper, she noticed formulas, collections of data, and results, all recorded painstakingly in spidery handwriting.
Who would leave these behind?
She picked up the book that had been nested beneath her without her knowledge.
On the front cover, in the right-hand corner, a scribbled name caught her eye:
Her predecessor. The Issac who had died.
Doubt gnawed at her stomach. Maybe she shouldn’t look? She had been upset at the invasion of privacy visited on her. Wouldn’t Issac be mad?
“Issac isn’t here anymore,” she said aloud, staring at his name on the book. “He won’t care.”
She wasn’t sure it was true, and it still felt wrong. She just couldn’t help herself.
Amelia opened Issac’s diary and began to read.
To be continued…
Co-written by Harold J. Petty