Mostly Hidden, Chapter Six

I’m not sure if I said it before – for Mostly Hidden, anyway – but WordPress removes formatting when I paste it in here. As a result, all my well-placed italics are gone. To quote my introduction for A Note,

“I guess, if something doesn’t make sense, or seems to have an odd emphasis, slap an italic somewhere, and it should be about the way it was when I wrote it.”

So yeah, do that.

Gerard stepped through the doorway into his small house. It was on the outskirts of Keene City, the city in which Mind Pharmaceuticals was based.
He flipped on the light switch, took a breath, and went into the kitchen. He got a kettle of water boiling, then stepped through the second doorway in the kitchen, into the living room.
He rolled up one half of the carpet which covered the center of the living room floor, then ran his hand along the floor, searching.
He found what he was looking for, one of the knots in the wood floor. He pushed on it, and it retreated into the floor slightly, then he released it. The center of the knot lifted out of the floor, and he put a finger through the hole that was bored into the side.
He lifted up on the knot, and a small square section of the floor lifted as well. There was no crack around the edge to give away the location of the trapdoor, he had made sure of that. The only way to find it was to know which specific knot to push. Push the wrong one, and… Gerard hoped that wouldn’t happen.
Inside the cavity below the trap door was a safe, the door facing upwards.
He spun the wheel back and forth, got the combination right, and lifted the safe door open, resting it against the edge of the cavity.
He made sure everything was still in place. Papers, micro videocassettes, photos, audio cassettes, and everything else he had carefully collected. He placed a sheet of paper he had brought with him onto the stack of other papers, once more made absolutely sure everything was there, then closed both the safe door and the trapdoor. He rolled the carpet back over the area, then sat down and let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding the entire time, a sigh of both anxiety and relief.
The kettle began whistling as the water inside boiled, and he headed to the kitchen.

The re-processing of the first batch of previously inferior tripencorquine was going well. At two stages along the way, Desmond Pollock sampled it, making sure the process wasn’t doing more harm than good. It wasn’t.
He continued refining it, further and further, until it matched the quality of the original second batch – the purest possible.
Once finished, he split it into precisely measured 10 gram bags; these were sent to a large distributor, split further into much smaller bags, then sold by various dealers at various prices. It irked him, slightly, having his product be handed from person to person so many times, with the risk of cutting it with neutral substances, but he had stressed extensively to his contact in the “large distributor” that he didn’t want it touched. His stuff needed to be recognized as the highest quality, and he wouldn’t forgive anyone who adulterated its purity.
He then started on fixing the third batch. That was a comparatively simple process; mostly of measuring the ratio of corquine in it tripencorquine already there, then calculating the correct amount of calcium triphosphate to add.
Or… corquine was alcohol-soluble, whereas tripencorquine wasn’t. He could extract it all using alcohol, evaporate the alcohol out, then directly add the calcium triphosphate to that.
That’d work better, he though, and began work on it.

John Polopolvitz Taylor, Jr., opened a briefcase, unconsciously checking to make sure his employee tag was still clipped to his belt. A fear he hadn’t yet outgrown at Mind Pharmaceuticals was his tag falling off sometime without him noticing, and being locked in or out forever.
He made sure all his papers were in order – another obsessive trait he was hoping to outgrow soon -, then closed the briefcase and spun the number lock on the front.
He sat down at his desk, the computer screen in front of him flicking to life as he moved the cursor. He typed in his credentials, then continued work from where he had left off.
He had been taken on as a full-time intern, for this year, working on keeping well-documented logs of shipments to Mind Pharmaceutical’s various distributors.
It was incredibly boring, yes, but it was a start. John hoped he might be able to get a more permanent job at Mind Pharmaceuticals eventually, since, even though the work was boring, it seemed like a good environment, and full of potential.
He worked with three other people who had been taken on at the same time as he, all doing similar work, and was overseen by a shockingly lackadaisical man named Darvin Heights.
He appreciated the calm temper and seeming unending grace of Darvin, but secretly wished that he would be a bit more stern; push John to do better, and prove himself in the company, which he envisioned helping his future in the company.
He checked and approved yet another shipment, selecting the “Okay” checkbox with a click. It was a start.

Two men – really, not much more than boys – shared a room in their postgraduate dorm. They were both students at Trenton College, both majoring in chemistry. They hadn’t had any interest in each other at the start, but, naturally, being in the same classes, started a friendly rivalry. This, before long, became a rivalrous friendship and, not much longer, just a friendship. The friendship still held, as it no doubt always would, a degree of competitiveness, but they helped each other extensively.
One of the men, the younger of the pair by only four months, wrote his master’s thesis on the relation between, enzymic activity in plants, heat, and synthesis of chemicals.
The elder of the two, somewhat more of an artistically-inspired chemist than the other, wrote on the effect of Grand Willowdraught throughout the centuries; its use had been documented almost since the dawn of documentation itself, and had links to the growth of humankind as a whole. In the initial drafts, the younger man thought it was a bit too much like a history paper to bring his master’s degree to a close, and the elder revised it accordingly; he showed specific cases when early humans had, whether they intended to or not, transformed certain alkaloids in the tree into their more potent counterparts, an art which hadn’t been re-discovered until the past century, and how they used primitive means to do what now was thought to require a well-stocked laboratory.
They both received their degrees with honors, but then experienced an unfortunate parting of ways. Inspired by a paper based on his thesis, a company had given the older man a grant to research traditional uses of Grand Willowdraught in a tropical area in which it had grown for millennia. The younger man began working at a chemical company nearby, starting as a grunt worker and slowly working his way up. They didn’t interact much for quite some time, but both encountered proof of what the other was doing; one published a famous book, one wrote a paper describing a completely new processes for quality extractions that soon became world-famous, and so on. While never interacting with each other directly, they influenced each other and drove each other to strive for more.

Jem walked beside the guard, the guard holding Jem’s shoulder; not roughly, exactly, but with a certain degree of unkindness that Jem didn’t like.
Jem turned to the guard, a smirk on his face. “Whaddya like doing, bud?”
The guard stared straight ahead.
“All of you guys are real unfriendly, you know? Real unfriendly. Makes a guy feel like he isn’t appreciated around here.”
The guard didn’t respond, his face blank and emotionless.
“Hey, hey, guy, did you go to that school they send the guards in England to? You know, the ones that stand outside the queen’s house, or whatever.”
Still looking forward, the guard spoke. “No.”
“There ya go!” Jem replied, “I knew you could speak. Was wondering for a moment if you were mute or something. Dumb, some call it.”
He looked at the guard in the corners of his eyes, to see what he did. He didn’t do much. The side of Jem’s mouth quirked up at an angle, an expression of disappointment on his face. If he wasn’t going to be able to have fun with the guards here, he didn’t think he would have much fun at all.
The guard stopped in front of a door. On their way, they had gone through three gates, up two flights of stairs, and down a hall, ending here. The guard didn’t speak, but let go of Jem’s shoulder. He looked Jem in the eye.
“Make a good choice,” he said, and knocked on the door.


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