I swallowed the lump in my throat. This was the question that I dreaded the most, for in order to answer it, I would have to lie, a concept that pains me so. What's worse is that I would have to lie to my former professor, who has since become my mentor, colleague, and most of all, friend. However, he cannot be aware of my REAL intentions for going to Khazan. For I doubt he would even understand... "Well, umm, you see Professor, there's this...umm...internship..." "An internship? In Khazan? REALLY?" He looked unconvinced. "Why yes, an internship! A few professors at Khazan University were looking for some newly admitted graduate students to help assist in a special biology project that will begin a few months from now." He cocked an eyebrow. "And they asked for YOUR expertise, Miss Arbeeny?" I let out a chuckle, more of a stress reliever then an acknowledgement of a joke. "But of course! There ARE insects living there after all! And with Khazan being the nexus, who knows how many new and different species have yet to be discovered?" Professor finally sat back in his chair. "Well, it sounds a bit shady to me, but if you'll be utitizing your talents on this 'biology project,' then you have my approval. I won't press the issue any further." He swiveled back to his desk and grabbed a small spiral notebook, the words "Planner" sprawled across the cover. "Before you go Natalie, I was wondering if you could stop by here again...say, tomorrow morning after my class?" I nodded. "What for, Professor?" He smiled while scribbling down an entry. "That's for you to find out tomorrow morning at 9. I bid you good night Miss Arbeeny."
One Last Lesson
Iron Will: Superior
The wall clock over Professor's desk read 9:30AM. I'd been sitting on this lab stool for about 40 minutes; for as long as I can remember his clock was always miserably slow. He had since given me a lab coat, goggles, gloves, and some pencils and paper, and told me to wait while he picked up one last item. At "9:50" he finally returned, and soon a large tin pan was set before me, containing a small fish. It seemed obvious that I was terribly confused, so he began to explain himself. "Over the past few days, I had been pondering of what to give you for a graduation present." I could just feel the color rushing to my cheeks. "Even before I received and read your letter, I knew how excited you were that you were finally getting your degree, and I wanted to do something very special for a very special student." He began to pace back and forth beside the lab table. "I had been constantly whacking my brain for ideas, to no avail. It was not until our meeting last night that I came up with something that I knew you would like." Just then he stopped in front of me. "A lesson. One last lesson. One last lesson for my student to learn before she spreads her wings and takes flight into the world." He pointed at the fish. "But unlike your previous lessons, this one might take a little longer to learn. For it's a bit of a challenge..." "A challenge?" I gasped, mocking disbelief. "You know how much I love a good challenging lesson! Did you REALLY think that I was not going to accept it?" I raised a hand to my forehead. "And here I thought you knew me so well!" "...So I assume Miss Drama Queen accepts the challenge?" I grinned. "But of course!"
And It's a Doozy!
"11:05" ...Well, this certainly IS a challenge! I have absolutely NO idea what Professor wants me to do! To my inquiry of "What shall I do?" he said, "Find out what you can without damaging the specimen. Under NO circumstances may you talk to anyone or do any research concerning the fish, unless you have my sole permission. When I think you have done the work, I will question you." Can he be anymore vague?!? And hello, I specialize in insects! And ONLY insects! I'm used to studying multi-legged little creatures with thoraxes and antennae, NOT scaly finned water dwellers! Plus it doesn't help that I can barely stand near it without gagging from the awful smell! ... ...Ok, maybe I'm overreacting just a bit. He DID say that it would be a little challenging. And now that I think about it, Professor wasn't being THAT vague either. For it appears that all he wants from me is a summary report; a quick and concise run down on the specimen's physical features. Something that I usually do for insect specimens on a daily basis. And I can always use my little "divide and conquer" strategy on the fish. Since cutting it up is out of the question, I have to make do with mentally drawing lines down and across the body, thereby giving me smaller sections for me to work with. An hour for observation and an hour for whipping up a good report. Then once Professor questions me, I give him the report, leave at around 1:30, then head to the nearest cafe for a well-deserved late lunch. Sounds easy enough. "2:05" ...Ok, maybe not...
Immunity: Mind Blast
"WHAT?!? What do you mean that's not right?" Professor threw my report aside, and just stood there with his arms crossed, as he had been for the last hour. "I mean, Miss Arbeeny, that the report's NOT RIGHT." "But...but WHY?" "THAT I cannot help you with. You, dear Natalie, have to figure it out for yourself." I could barely contain my anger. For I had to wait two weeks, two WHOLE weeks, before he decided to mosy on over and question my results. During that time he was always within call, but kept himself busy with other tasks. I had waited for him, summary report in hand, until 3:00PM that first day, when he went over to me and said, "I have class in 10 minutes. Leave everything here and I'll see you same time tomorrow morning." I came back the next day. And the next day. And the day after that. I came and waited from 9 to 3 each day for an entire week. But he never concerned himself with me about the fish. Only to welcome me in the morning and dismiss me in the afternoon. The following Monday, I decided to study the fish further, rather than waste another six hours of my life doing nothing. I began to notice the finer details, like how the scales went in series, their shape, their form. I also took note of the placement of the teeth, the gills, the size of the eyes, the length and width of each fin and the tail. By the end of the second week, my head was spinning. I thought I had done so much...a hundred times as much as seemed possible at the start! When he came to question me today, I presented my new summary report, ten pages longer than the first. And now...well...I guess I'll just have to try again. Professor wouldn't have given me this task if it wasn't going to be beneficial for me. And fuming over it will only put more stress on my brain, and give me an even bigger headache. And of course, giving up is definitely NOT an option! So I'm left with only one choice. Picking up my things, I walked out of the lab, once again planning on coming back next week, but with a clear head and a mind ready to tackle the problem a third and hopefully final time.
Taking a Closer Look
...So here I am, sitting in this lab once again. I have since discarded my previous notes and summary reports, and am now staring at this fish, wondering what to do this time. Obviously, a summary report is not what Professor wanted. I don't really blame him, I mean, summary reports tend to be long and boring to read! But that leaves me with one prevailing question: Why study the fish? If he doesn't want to know anything about its appearance, then why bother making me look at it? A thought randomly popped up. Maybe he ALREADY knows what the typical fish looks like. It's possible. But that still doesn't help answer my question. Another thought. Well...maybe there's something special about this fish. Special? Well yeah, I mean, why else would Professor choose this one fish over all the others? There must be something that makes it unique! Maybe, but many different species of fish have their own unique traits. True, but maybe THIS fish is different from any other fish in its species as well! Hmm...how so? Well...Then an idea sprang out of nowhere. Carefully, I lifted the fish out of the pan, and watched as some scales had loosened and fallen off. Lightly I shook the fish. A few more scales fell off. I shook again. More scales fell. As I looked closer I noticed a bald spot on the right side of the fish, where almost all of the scales had fallen. "Hmm...that's strange." I purposely pulled out some scales right next to the spot, and noticed a slight discoloration between the two spots, the first being darker. "Oopsies..." I realized that I had damaged the specimen without Professor's permission, and quickly walked over to his desk to obtain it. "I was beginning to wonder when you were going to ask that. Of course you can Natalie, the tools are in the third white cupboard from the left." I skipped over to the supply room in high spirits. Finally, I'm on to something!
A Close Call
Body Armor: Superior
"Hmm...what's this?" I looked up to find Professor lifting the clothes bag by the hanger. "Oh, that's mine. I just picked it up from the dry cleaners. It's a graduation present from my sister." He had begun to unzip the bag, but stopped himself. "May I?" "Of course." I returned to slicing off samples from the fish for closer observation, while he pulled out my long black evening dress for "closer observation." "So, what do you think Professor?" "I like the fabric. Very light and soft to the touch..." I stifled a giggle. "I meant what you think of the style. It's the latest fashion craze." "Oh really? I never knew people would be taking fashion tips from the birds!" As he said this he flicked a few of the "feathers" around the dress's neck. "Will you be wearing this anytime soon?" I looked up from the fish again. "No, but I'll be taking it with me to Khazan." He raised an eyebrow. "Oh? I can't imagine you wearing this while searching for insects!" Immediately I stopped writing my notes. "Umm...well...of course I won't be wearing the dress while I'm out in the field. That's simply absurd! What I meant was I'll be wearing it when I go out at night...you know...to the clubs and stuff!" "I see..." I quietly sighed in relief after he returned his attentions to the dress. "Oh! What's this?" I looked to see Professor rummaging through his pockets. "There seems to be a loose thread on the side of this fine garment!" I gasped as he pulled out some scissors. "I'll just have to cut this..." I shot out of my chair. "NO! Professor, wait!..." It was too late. Seconds later, he stood there, perplexed, a now useless pair of scissors in his hand. "It didn't even cut! The thread broke it!" I quickly snatched the dress from his possession and began to pack up my things. "Natalie, what kind of material is this dress made out of?" I grinned sheepishly. "A very fine synthetic fabric...very tough!" "But what..." "Oh! Look at the time! I'm running late for an appointment! And you're class is about to start! "But..." See you tomorrow Professor!"
The Results are In!
Weapons Creation: Standard
After two hours, I finally ended my latest report of my findings, my mouth taking a well deserved rest. For a minute or two I just sat there, completely astonished at the results I found in just the last two weeks. Professor sat across from me behind his desk, grinning from ear to ear. I knew that this time, my results satisfied him. "Well done Miss Arbeeny, well done! I knew you would figure it out!" He placed my 30 page report in one of his drawers. "The written version was unnecessary, but I did enjoy reading through it, despite my dislike towards reading such things." A click from the lock and his full attention returned to me. "Now, you are probably wondering why I made you go through that whole endeavor in the first place." I nodded. "Unless of course, you figured THAT part out as well..." I quickly shook my head, which made him chuckle. "I thought so. You've done enough thinking in the last couple of weeks." He shifted in his chair to unlock another drawer. "As you might have guessed, I chose the fish for its uniqueness. Despite looking perfectly normal, it had a dire fault, sort of like an 'Achilles Heel.'" After opening the drawer, he pulled out a small black box, similar to a first-aid kit. "It's 'ulcer-like sore' illustrated my point very well." "And what point would that be?" He closed and locked the drawer. "You're going to Khazan. You'll be meeting many different types of people, some great and some...not so great." He took me by the hand, a gesture that I least expected. "Some of these people may seem intimidating; they may have unfathomable superpowers that they can use to injure or even kill you." I started to worry. "But do keep in mind that just about everyone has a weakness or two. It might not be apparent at first, but once you do find it, you can use it to your advantage, no matter who you meet." He opened the black box. "Plus, it will help you create and fight back with the proper weapon!" As I eyed the assorted tools and raw materials, I questioned his last statement. "Umm...a weapon, Professor?" Another grin appeared on his face. "While you were working, I did my research. There's no record of a biology internship in Khazan." I swallowed. "I'm not as old and narrow-minded as you think I am Natalie. Just remember that you're not the only student here that is attracted by the thrill of combat and the flamboyancy that is the FPL." With a wink, he gave me his weapons kit. "I wish you the very best of luck. And do be careful! I would like to see you again in one piece." I nodded, now grinning as well. "Well...till we meet again Miss Arbeeny...you are dismissed."