jurassic park: sure, let's go with that
Nora fought off a yawn as she skimmed the notes she had scrawled in a rough shorthand in an attempt to ensure that she hadn't missed anything before moving onto the next chart. She was nearing the end of her shift, but a late afternoon emergency surgery meant even later rounds, and now she was playing catch up through no fault of her own. The pod of computers that she sat at was unexpectedly empty and she had purposefully sat at the one furthest from the door, ensuring that she could get in with one last cup of coffee, do her work, and get out at a reasonable time.
What she hadn't counted on, however, was her dwindling attention span. She absentmindedly tapped her pen on the desk as she gave the EMR software an appropriate death stare, only to be distracted by a flash of a familiar shade of blue in her peripheral vision.
Well, it had been a minute since she had seen that.
Her Lantern ring, the one that symbolized and was powered by hope. The ring that, when it was working properly, could create force fields, generate video playback, heal others, and even time travel. But the ring's abilities had an emotional requirement, one that she hadn't been able to meet as of late, leaving her to wonder if she was even worthy of Blue Lantern Corps. Glancing around to make sure that the room was still empty, Nora sat up and stared at the ring, her brow furrowing in concentration as she tried to will it to do something, anything. It took a few moments — and an unfortunate look on her face akin to one of constipation — but finally a blue construct emerged from her ring and a small blue stegosaurus ran across the desk and tripped over a half-finished KIND bar. Satisfied, she let out a small laugh and sat back in her chair as she watched the stegosaurus collect itself and disappear behind her coffee cup.
There hadn't been enough coffee in the world to drag him from the comforters and pillows that had enshrined him in his California King that day. Despite the fact that Max had been at work for a solid three hours now, he still felt like he was rubbing the threat of sleep from his eyes. Three shots of espresso in a cold brew so large that it could have been mistaken for a pitcher had done nothing but produce a fine tremor in his hands and a dangerously accelerated heart rate, and being stuck in the lab with a bunch of 40-somethings who were whining about what Janet had the nerve to wear to the PTA meeting was doing nothing for his mood. So, instead of running the serial lactics that he should have been prioritizing, he left that task for Frank and headed into the heart of the hospital.
The hospital wasn't a bad place and working in the lab wasn't a bad gig, but it wasn't for him. There were a thousand other things that he would rather be doing with his time that didn't involve spinning plasma around in an analyzer for hours on end. His hands found their way into the ironic white lab coat that the hospital had insisted that he wear as part of regulatory dress code as his converse trekked down the freshly waxed linoleum. Max had always liked to wander, letting his feet take them where they would with no particular destination in mind.
This time, they had led him to a quiet and deserted computer lab tucked away from the general hustle and bustle of the units. With his phone in his hand, thumb absentmindedly scrolling through his instagram feed and offering half-hearted likes, he quietly edged the door forward without bringing up his gaze. If nothing else, at least the computer lab would provide him sanctuary from his manager, Phyllis, if she came looking for him like she had the last time.
A feeling that he couldn't put a finger on told him to look up. Hesitantly, Max's eyes rose from the blue light of the screen to an ambient blue light directly in front of him. He noticed Nora first and was about to chip in with a greeting when he saw the ring glowing on the desk next to the keyboard. At first, he thought nothing of it -- they sold a thousand kitschy "glowing" rings at a thousand kitschy shops across the city. Engineering something like that wouldn't be entirely difficult. However, once it produced a small remnant of the triassic period, he found it a bit harder to justify. Max felt his brow crease at the center as he took a tentative step forward.
"First of all, hi. Second of all, your ring just... uh, made a dinosaur." His cellphone found its way into the back pocket of his jeans (he was always finding a way to skirt the dress code), as he peeked behind Nora's coffee cup to see if the tiny figure was still there, thinking that maybe the espresso shots were catching up with him and causing some kind of visual hallucination.
Nora jumped in her seat when Max made his presence known. She had been so focused on trying to make a construct that she had managed to ignore all of the noise filtering in via her enhanced hearing. "Jesus fuck," she muttered, sitting up straight and closing her eyes for a moment while her own heart rate returned to normal after a sudden interruption. "I didn't hear you come in."
"Like a ninja," he remarked, his eyes still focused on the spot directly behind her coffee cup. "You have to learn to be light on your feet when you have someone like my boss watching your every move. She won't know you're gone if she doesn't hear you leave." The corners of his lips tipped up in a grin as he tapped a finger against his temple, seemingly proud of his logic. Phyllis had to have realized his absence by now, but he was always one step ahead of her. Max had already started thinking up a torrent of excuses that he could bombard her with if she caught him. If.
"Oh yeah, I've met Phyllis. She's...efficient." It took a few moments for the rest of his comment to register with her. Your ring just made a dinosaur.
Welp. She was usually more careful when she was using her powers in public and certainly not at work, especially after the whole SF Squatters fiasco and being asked to sign a hefty stack of paperwork from the hospital's legal team. And with the occasional exception of reheating a La Taqueria burrito with her heat vision behind closed doors, she had managed to stick to that. Until now, when she was caught blue handed and needed to think on her feet after a very long, very tiring day.
She looked over at Max and squinted at him, knowing that the break in concentration had made the construct dissolve. She did her best to act innocently and felt her cheeks flush as a result. Nora had never been a good liar. "What dinosaur? Are you okay...?"
Unable to help himself any longer, he reached a hand out to pluck the coffee cup off of the desk to look underneath. "C'mon, Nora," he prattled, the hand not holding the lukewarm cardboard sweeping the surface of the desk as if to look for some hidden trap door. Max had always been the overly inquisitive type -- the type that had the magic tricks figured out before the magician could even utter ‘ta-da'. "I'm about 60% sure I'm not hallucinating. I did have... a lot of coffee, but last time I checked, caffeine doesn't make you see little blue dinosaurs. What's up with the magic ring? What's the trick? Is it like, a hologram projector?"
She hardly had a moment to even attempt an answer or blame the excess caffeine. The questions rolled off his tongue in rapid fire, one after the other, as his attention turned to the ring by her hand. "Is that from Metier? That place is kitschy as hell but I don't think I've ever seen anything like that." The cogs in his head were already turning as he worked through different scenarios in his mind. The phone in his back pocket vibrated -- probably his boss checking in. Instead of answering it, he took his cell from his pocket and powered it down. "I mean, it's kinda cool."
She scrunched up her nose. For once, she was grateful for the ramble and chatter; it gave her time to cook up a cover story that might be some semblance of believable. "It's, um..." She let out a heavy sigh in an attempt to really sell (if not oversell) the lie that was about to roll off her lips. "It's something my dad and one of his engineering students are working on. He gave me a prototype at dinner a couple of weeks ago so I've been playing around with it. I don't really know how it works," she shrugged. "It's just...well, here."
Max's eyes curiously followed the ring, the gentle blue glow reflecting in his dark eyes as the inquisitive look lingered across his features. Robotics and engineering had always been things that had peaked his interest. In his spare time, which he had a lot of, he and his equally science-minded boss helped to coach a robotics team. He was already thinking of how he could persuade her to bring in the jewelry and show it off to the kids.
Nora picked up the ring and slipped it onto her finger. "Close the door?" she asked, glancing over at Max. Seemingly entranced by the ring, it took a moment for him to process the fact that she had asked him a question. Max blinked a few times to break the spell and uncrossed his arms from his chest. "Oh, uh. Yeah, you got it. Top secret stuff." If this was going to be any bit as impressive as the tiny dinosaur that had stampeded behind her coffee cup, he was here for it. The door clicked into place, and he pushed a desktop keyboard out of the way to pull his weight onto the computer desk, eagerly leaning forward onto his elbows to see what it was she had to show him.
"Absolutely top secret stuff." Reassured that no one else would walk in, she held out her arm and pointed her ring towards the center of the lab where there was more open floor. She chewed on her bottom lip as she tried to will the ring to produce another energy construct, this time sending a life-size construct of her Samoyed, Porkchop, bounding towards Max in his usual excited manner before he stood up on his hind legs to beg the other human for attention. "Just kinda cool, huh?"
A second passed where he was blissfully unaware that his mouth was hanging open in surprise. Max was familiar with the fact that science could do some pretty amazing things, but the fact that he could feel the weight of the dog's paws against his shins was melting his mind a little. It was almost enough to get him to forget about the fact that she had entirely denied that the ring was capable of producing... things when he had prompted her about the dinosaur. "Okay, it's really cool. How...? You know there's probably a hundred tech companies in Cali alone that would die to get their hands on that thing. That's some next level VR, light years above the stuff I have at home." Max prided himself as someone who had the newest and the best equipment that the video gaming world had to offer, but none of the tech or the games that he had in his repertoire came close to the realism that had materialized in front of him. "Engineering prototype... huh."
She fought off the smug grin that was threatening to show itself as she realized that she might have actually sold the story well enough for him to buy it. "Yep, engineering prototype," Nora echoed. "He's the CTO at a startup. Hasn't really explained any of the specifics of the ring to me at all." Fake it 'til you make it by overexplaining it, she thought to herself. Without saying a word, the blue dog scampered away from Max and sat in the middle of the room until it began to levitate like the real Porkchop did, though that usually only happened in his sleep.
Max continued to nod his head along with her story, chewing on the inside of his cheek as he mulled over what she was saying. There was something about her explanation that didn't really vibe with him, but because he wasn't immediately able to put his finger on it, he dismissed it as his general distrust of people. Years and years of practice and he still hadn't been able to shake it. "Where are they located out of? I'd love to pick his brain sometime. That," he said, nodding his head in the direction of the ring, "Is pretty fucki... sorry, pretty awesome." Max was making a conscious effort to try to clean up his language, at least at work. Even when he didn't want to be there in the first place. He slid himself off of the desk, feet squarely planted on the floor and hands tucking back into the front pockets of his jeans. "Whoever engineered that deserves major props. It would smash E3... people would lose their minds. Or maybe he wants to take on an over eager intern. Hey, he wouldn't even need to pay me."
"They're somewhere over in East Bay," she answered noncommittally. "I think they're done hiring for the summer but he'd probably have coffee with you." Nevermind that Peter Saylor was actually a biomedical engineer and that his place of work focused on aging research. Max didn't need to know any of that. The guilt from lying was starting to set in, but she had gotten herself into this mess and just had to keep digging herself out of it.
The reality of the ring's powers (as if any of this strange reality could actually be reasoned with) was that no one could really describe how they worked. Space magic seemed to be the easiest way to explain the inexplicable, and who was Nora to question it? The ring aside, she had woken up one day with the ability to go careening through space and shoot lasers out of her eyes, and these days, her workout of choice was to box with meteors rather than to go for a run. She silently willed the construct to disappear and watched as Porkchop flickered for a few seconds before finally going dim. As a final touch to the whole smoke screen, she let the ring make her flicker, going invisible for a split second without acknowledging it to Max. "So, that's the ring. Don't tell anyone about it. Wanna try it?"
Did he want to try it. Max had wanted to get his hands on the ring since the second he'd seen Jurassic Park come to life on the computer desk. The second he reached out his hand, he heard the door swing open behind him. Instantly he felt his muscles tighten as if bracing for some imaginary impact.
Both of his eyes squeezed shut as he wrinkled his nose, pivoting slowly on his heel to face the hulking form of his boss who, as it seemed, had finally found his hiding place. "Sorry, Nora. Guess I have to get back." A hand reached up to sheepishly scratch at the back of his neck as he plucked his lab coat off of the back of the chair, irritated and annoyed at Phyllis's complete disregard for the awesome moment that he was about to have. The lab coat was shrugged back onto his shoulders, as he passed a fleeting glance back toward Nora, offering a sympathetic wave in her direction. Phyllis stood between him and the doorway, both arms crossed sternly over her chest as she looked at him over the rim of her glasses. "Yes, mother," he began dramatically, returning his phone to his back pocket where it lived during his shifts, "I'm coming."
Nora pursed her lips together to form a thin line and stifled a laugh. She might not have known him very well, but Max was definitely a Max in her book and not a Maxwell, and the tone that Phyllis took with him was so condescending that she felt a little bit of sympathy for him. She offered him a small, pitiful smile and cleared her throat so that she could speak in her (slightly) more commanding 'surgeon voice'. "Actually, Phyllis," she said before the older woman walked away. "I paged Max. Needed to go over some lab results and it's easier to do in person. He'll be a few more minutes."
He was halfway out the door and already planning on how to skip out early for the rest of the day (and possibly for the rest of his life) when he heard Nora's voice over his shoulder. Forward movement halted as he smirked at the floor, his eyes turning up so that he could catch the look of abject disappointment and annoyance written across Phyllis's face. If the woman could have grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him back down to the lab, he was certain she would have, but thankfully the union frowned upon that kind of treatment. He knew better than to count his chickens before they hatched, so instead of retreating back to the computer lab, he opted to watch the rest of the stand off as it unfolded in front of his eyes. Surgical resident versus laboratory supervisor. There could only be one.
Phyllis glanced at Nora for a moment with a chastened look on her face, to which Nora did nothing but smile politely in return. Did that mean a slower turnaround time for any lab work with her name on the orders for the foreseeable future? Possibly. Did she care right now? Not really. She watched as Phyllis turned on her heel and walked away mumbling a nearly inaudible "very well."
"So the thing I was saying about the tumor markers—" Nora prattled on until she was sure that Phyllis was out of earshot based on how well she could hear her heartbeat. She still had a story to sell, though, and she looked over at Max with one eyebrow arched over the other. "Is she gone?" she mouthed.
The moment he could no longer hear the clicking of her overpriced heels against the tiled floor, he shut the door to the lab and leaned his weight into it. The small grin that he had managed to hide during most of their encounter blossomed into a full fledged grin, and he brought his hands to his temples to drag his fingers through his hair. "Holy shit, Nora Saylor. You are a total badass." So much for not swearing. He'd made it a whole five minutes that time. Fairly certain that his supervisor had made her way back down to the lab where he hoped she would stay, he separated himself from the door and stepped back toward the center of the room. "She hates me. Like, hates me. I get it, I'm kind of a terrible employee... but it's so boring down there. The same thing every day. Get the samples, run the samples, call with the results."
Just talking about it caused him to stifle a yawn into his elbow, gesturing to his face as if to punctuate his point. "See? But anyway, thanks for the save. I owe you one." Part of him wanted to ask about the ring again. Max was a problem solver, and he knew if he didn't get to try it the damn thing out, he'd go to bed trying to mentally deconstruct it to figure out exactly how it worked. Not knowing was going to drive him up the wall.
She had to admit that she felt some sense of satisfaction and accomplishment after breaking and winning the deadlock with Phyllis. "Don't worry about it," she shrugged. "We both know I'll be paying for that one for a while." The hospital was filled with personalities like hers, and with good reason given that it was, well, a hospital, but it didn't mean that it had to be a hostile work environment.
"So why do you do it if you hate it so much?" Nora asked, genuinely curious. "You're not really even on campus that often, are you?" She crossed the room and wiggled the ring off of her finger as she did so and held it out to Max, knowing full well that the ring wouldn't respond to him at all — unless he was secretly a Lantern, which seemed like it would take him by surprise, too.
"Because it helps keep my mom at bay," he admitted, opening his palm to accept the ring when she handed it over. It was lighter than he thought it would have been. Picking it up curiously with his index finger and his thumb, he held it up to his eye to look for any evidence that it had been manmade. A screw, a hatch that would house nanotech... anything. The only thing he noted was the cool heft of the metal between his fingers. "...And you said this was the prototype?" It looked like it was ready to be rolled out onto shelves tomorrow. Max was familiar with prototypes, but none of them had looked as polished as this.
"Alright, so. Put it on, think about what you want to see, and boom. VR at its best." She crossed her arms over her chest and took a few steps back to lean against the other wall as if to give him plenty of space to project all the constructs he wanted. Keeping up with this whole act was starting to feel more stressful than the craniectomy she had just finished an hour ago.
Taking her cue, he slid the metal over the knuckle of his ring finger, curiously taking inventory of the fact that it seemed to fit both of them equally as well. "So it's just going to like, read my mind?" A hesitant look glazed his features, but despite not knowing Nora exceedingly well, for some reason he felt like he could trust her. What did he want to see? Chanel Iman, for one. Porkchop's sudden appearance had made him miss his dog, Sidney, so he thought of her too. His dad briefly popped into his mind but he shook off the thought, not wanting deal with the emotional aftermath if he did somehow pop up in the middle of the computer lab. Yet, for all his wants, nothing appeared.
"Might need some more product testing." Max slid the ring off, handing it back over to Nora with a coy smile. "Thanks for showing me, though. Keep me updated. I want one once all the kinks are worked out." He raised his brows and took a quick step back toward the door, a hand running through his unkempt hair. "I better get back before Phyllis has a coronary. You know she's going to have me running c-diff samples for the rest of the day now, right?" He knew things were going to be shit -- literally -- once he got back to the lab, but he also understood that he did have to go back eventually. There were only two hours left in his shift anyway. Something told him he could power through. His index finger tipped next to his brow in a quick salute.
"Take it easy, Doc. See you around."