“You’ve certainly done well for yourself.” Amelia smiled at her friend. “You look so… professional.”
Mei wore a flatteringly cut pantsuit with a bright coral button-down. Her long hair had been wrapped into an elaborate bun at the nape of her slender neck.
“Same,” Mei replied, laughing. She reached out to touch Amelia’s arm. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so dressed up. Even when you defended your thesis.”
“Maybe Emma finally taught me a thing or two,” Amelia joked.
It had indeed been her sister who had packed her professional wear - including the blue dress that hugged Amelia’s frame. Amelia had never had an eye for fashion. But Emma seemed to have an ability to dress stunningly without even trying.
“I bet you don’t dress like this in the lab,” Mei said, raising a thin eyebrow.
“No, not at all.” Amelia paused, tugging the hem of her dress. “And honestly, I prefer the lab wear.”
“Yeah, you haven’t changed at all then,” Mei grinned.
“How long have you been working for the UN?” Amelia asked, settling onto a hunter green couch near the door in the conference room. Mei had been part of the welcome party from the UN, much to Amelia’s surprise.
After the UN meeting, which Amelia had found dry and boring, Sara had told Amelia to stay and catch up with Mei while she continued a conversation with a high-level UN official and a member of an animal rights group in another office.
Amelia had agreed gratefully, happy to see a familiar place in such a strange place.
Mei perched on the couch next to her. “I got the UN job offer right after you left for Sea Lab training.”
Sea Lab training had consisted of physical tests and mental exams - to make sure Amelia was fit to live and work in the underwater environment. She had passed them all with flying colors, but she was finding the actual Sea Lab experience much harder than the tests had been.
“How do you like it?” she asked Mei.
“It’s great. Better than I thought it would be. This city is just… amazing.” Mei stared out a long window across from them, her eyes traveling over buildings so enmeshed in the environment Amelia could hardly tell what was natural and what was not. “And my role is fantastic. Better than I thought I’d get.”
“Don’t be modest,” Amelia smiled. “You were always at the top of the class.”
“You made it difficult to stay there,” Mei replied, grinning. “It was a constant battle.”
A silence fell over them. Amelia could hear Sara talking in a low voice in the other room. She sounded calm and determined.
“It’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it?” Amelia said. “The two of us running into each other here?”
Mei nodded. “Could be.”
“Could be?” Amelia repeated.
Mei paused and looked down at the hands, clasped in her lap.
“Look, Amelia. There’s something I should share with you.”
A stiff breeze whipped the greenery outside the building into a frenzy of movement - a wild dance. A bird caught in the wind whirled crazily, its feathers askew, until the gust died down. Then the bird settled on a limb not far from the window and strutted along it.
“What is it?” Amelia asked, distracted by the bird and her amazement at how interconnected the city felt with every part of nature.
“You work with Dr. Charles Hawkin, right? He’s in charge of your project?”
Amelia recognized Mei’s clenched jaw. She had seen it before big tests and during tense discussions - usually disagreements about scientific theory. It meant she wasn’t playing around. She was fully focused and ready to bring her A game.
Whatever she had to say about Dr. Hawkin, it would be serious.
“Yes, I work closely with him… in the same lab.”
She bit her lip, wondering how much she could even say without violating her agreement with Sea Lab.
Mei frowned. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
“What do you mean?”
The empty feeling in her stomach gave her an idea.
“You replaced Issac Turgenov on the project?”
“I didn’t know I was replacing him,” Amelia said quickly. “Not until I was already at Sea Lab.”
“I’m not judging you,” Mei said. “Sea Lab officials tried to keep Issac’s death hush-hush. I’ve no doubt you had no idea beforehand. There’s a reason for that.”
Goosebumps raised along Amelia’s forearms.
“Did Dr. Hawkin have something to do with Issac’s death? And how did this get out? Some reporters asked us about it when we arrived in Guam. How do they know?”
Mei hung her head for a moment, thinking about her answer.
“As you probably know, Isaac’s body was never recovered,” Mei said finally. “So we can’t say for certain what truly happened. However-” Mei glanced around, making sure no one would hear, “it is being investigated. The UN has been looking into the matter for some time. And reporters have gotten wind of it. A leak, probably from within the UN, or within Sea Lab.”
“What have you found out? Have you uncovered anything damning?” Amelia asked, leaning toward her friend. Her mind went to Issac’s notes, still hidden under her bed (Issac’s bed) back in Sea Lab.
Mei breathed in deeply. “I can’t say much, Amelia. My hands are tied here.”
Amelia lowered her voice, verging on a whisper. “Did Issac contact you? Did he send you a message?”
“How did you know?” Mei stared at her.
“I… just know,” Amelia said. “I’m his replacement. People say things to me… I have his old room.”
“You found something, didn’t you?” Mei breathed in deeply and reached out to touch Amelia’s knee. “Amelia, you’re in dangerous territory here. You need to be careful.”
“What should I do?” Amelia asked.
“If you have proof of any crime, you need to turn it over to the UN.”
“It’s not proof, per se.” Amelia
“Whatever it is, you should share it with us, Amelia. To help us in our investigation. If Dr. Hawking did hurt Issac…”
Amelia’s friend paused and shook her head.
“I don’t want to see anything happen to you, Amelia.”
“I appreciate your concern, Mei, but it's just a journal. Issac’s journal. I told you I have his old room. He had hidden it there.”
“It doesn’t hold any evidence in it?”
Amelia was about to answer when a well-dressed man approached them, his hands folded neatly in front of his starched shirt.
“I believe your colleague is waiting for you in the hall, Amelia. She mentioned something about getting a bite to eat. You must be hungry after such a long meeting.”
The man smiled, his white teeth gleaming in the light.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Amelia said, her face flushed. She stood quickly and Mei followed her toward the door.
As she approached the hall, a slight tug on the back of her dress alerted her to slow down, and Mei slipped a card into her left hand.
Amelia gave an almost imperceptible nod and continued on, toward her mentor.
Sara stood in the hallway staring at a large oil painting, her hands clasped behind her back. The painting depicted three men and two women, all dressed in simple dark robes. They stood in a line behind a long banquet table, which overflowed with ripe fruit. All wore expressions of contentment - if not overt joy. It was a depiction of peace, harmony with nature, and cooperation. A well-known piece by the modern master Trase, it was a secular painter influenced by the great Leonardo DaVinci.
Sara turned away from the painting to smile slightly at the two young women as they approached.
“Your work environment is truly spectacular,” she said to Mei. “What a wonderful job you must have.”
Mei inclined her head.
“Thank you, Dr. Yamamoto. It is a privilege to work here. Great thought goes into every inch of the architecture in Guam. And great thought is put into the interior as well, to create an ideal environment for deep thought on both an emotional and an analytical level.”
“I can see that,” Sara said. Amelia did not miss the quick glance her mentor gave her. The raking of her eyes over Amelia’s body for physical clues.
She wanted me to talk to Mei.
Amelia turned the idea over in her head, wondering why that would be the case.
She thinks I’ve influenced this meeting… or that I’ve gotten information that could be useful to her. Maybe both.
The non-committal smile she offered her mentor seemed to satisfy her.
“I believe transport is waiting for us, Amelia. Are you ready to return to our quarters?”
Amelia agreed, said a formal goodbye to her old friend Mei, and followed Sara to the elevator.
The doctor didn’t say much as they made their way to the car. She seemed preoccupied, probably with what had passed in the meeting.
“Would you be interested in a visit to the beach, Amelia? How about a picnic?”
“A picnic?” The suggestion took Amelia by surprise.
Sara glanced at her dress. “We can change first, of course. I would like to spend a little time in nature, though. Instead of eating in the hotel.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Amelia said. “I’ve always loved the beach.”
“I’ve always known you felt a passion for the natural world. From the moment we met… It’s not just the numbers to you. Or the accolades.”
“I haven’t gotten any accolades yet.”
“Stick with it,” Dr. Yamamoto grinned. “They’ll come.”
The pair went inside briefly to change into casual wear, more suited to the beach, and on the way in, Sara ordered a picnic-style basket of food at the front desk. It was waiting for them when they emerged. Amelia wore soft, flowing brown pants that tied loosely at the waist and a thin, but long-sleeved, white shirt and her mentor wore tan shorts and a baggy sweatshirt.
“The press won’t bother us, will they?” Amelia asked as they walked toward the beach. Sara swung the picnic basket lightly as they walked.
“Probably at some point. I doubt they’re expecting us to leave the hotel, though. And I like to think I don’t stand out right now.”
Amelia smiled. It was true. She wouldn’t have recognized Sara right off. Her baggy sweatshirt looked like something Amelia’s mom would have worn when she was working in the garden. And her hair wasn’t in the neat bun or ponytail Amelia was used to. Instead, she had removed her hair tie and her hair streamed behind her in the breeze.
She looked like a casual tourist looking for a good time. Not a top scientist in town for a UN meeting.
They were within 10 feet or so of the ocean’s cold spray when Sara set the basket down. She opened it and pulled out a large red blanket, which she spread out - with Amelia’s help - on the sand.
Just as they got it settled, the wind tugged at the corner of the red blanket, threatening to carry it up, and Amelia sat down on top of it quickly to hold in place.
Sara laughed and used the weight of the basket to secure a corner of her side - setting it just behind her on the blanket before settling herself opposite it.
“So tell me, Amelia,” Sara said, then she paused as she opened the basket and spread containers of food out in between them. “Do you prefer sourdough bread or wheat?”
Amelia had been expecting a serious question and she laughed. “Sourdough.”
“Me too,” Sara agreed.
Removing four large slices from a loaf packed in brown paper, she loaded two of the slices up with Delio and spread mustard liberally on top. Fresh, pre-sliced vegetables came next - neat stacks of lettuce, tomato, and onion.
Sara closed the sandwiches and handed one to Amelia.
“I hope you really like Delio,” Sara said. “We’ve been eating a lot of it lately.”
“It’s great,” Amelia said. “Reminds me of school. We used to have Delio as a lunch option every day.”
She took a big bite and chewed slowly. She felt she should be hungry, but all the excitement of the UN visit had drained away her appetite.
“I miss school,” Sara said thoughtfully, picking up her sandwich. “Things were a lot less… complicated, back then.”
“Things are definitely more complicated at Sea Lab than they were at school,” Amelia agreed.
“Well, you’ll come to love it, Amelia. Sea Lab is more than a career or a field of work. It’s your new home. And the people there act as your closest companions.”
Amelia nodded, thinking of the people she was coming to know at Sea Lab.
“You could even come to appreciate Dr. Hawkin's intelligence and skill as a scientist,” Sara said, eyeing Amelia meaningfully. “He has been one of our best. Until this recent nonsense, which I hope to shut down internally.”
Sara frowned. “We really don’t need any more negative news breaking about Sea Lab right now. Especially involving Dr. Hawkin.”
“Will the UN really deal harshly with Sea Lab for the accident with the squid?” Amelia asked. “It seems like a bit of an overreaction.”
“No, they won’t be too hard on us,” Sara took a bite out of her sandwich and chewed silently for a moment. “They just want to satisfy the animal rights groups, which is fair. And we will need to be more careful in the future.”
“Then why is Dr. Hawkin so bent out of shape about it? Why did he go off the handle about the squid?”
Sara swallowed and frowned, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“You heard the press mention Issac.” Sara shrugged. “Why do you think?”
Amelia shivered, despite the warmth of the day. She stared out at the ocean. While she watched, a train emerged from the water, its silver top breaking through the waves. When it reached the beach it seemed to become airborne as it ascended thin rails and floated toward the city, its passengers' faces only blurs through the small windows.
“You mean he’s upset because he knows people suspect he was involved with Issac’s death?”
“Wouldn’t you be upset?” Sara set her food aside, rubbing her hands on a napkin. “Tell me, Amelia. What did your friend have to say while I was talking with the UN officials? What a coincidence, huh, that Mei was there?”
A bug landed on Amelia’s shoulder and she brushed it away, trying to think of a good response. She didn’t want to land Mei in any hot water.
She decided against sharing any more information with Sara, at least for the moment. First, she needed to figure out what was actually going on. And she couldn’t risk interfering with Mei’s job - and the investigation. Besides, Amelia knew her mentor’s true allegiance lay with Sea Lab. She’d have to tread carefully.
“We just caught up a bit,” Amelia said. “I was surprised to see her. But she seems to be doing so well. Can you imagine? Landing a job at the United Nations right out grad school? I’m thrilled for her.”
“And is she thrilled for you?” Sara asked, staring hard at Amelia, her dark eyes biting into Amelia’s cool gaze.
“Of course,” Amelia answered. “Why wouldn’t she be? I’m getting the opportunity to work with leading scientists, like you.”
Sara smiled and leaned back, turning her face toward the sun.
“Indeed. Why wouldn’t she be?”
Co-written by Harold J. Petty