Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 13

Part 13

Kenneth leaned against the door, smiling at Thorn’s words. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but the walls and doors of the talentless’ college were thin.

Underneath the smile, he wondered about Thorn’s reasoning. And about his own. He loved Thorn. That knowledge was growing in his heart and head, and becoming more certain every day.

Thorn was talentless. He was part of the group his father had fought against, and his mother had either hired to do servant’s work or preferred to entirely ignore.

But Kenneth, noble he might be, wanted nothing to do with war. He wanted nothing to do with any of what some magi said and did, with killing or being the upper class. He just wanted Thorn, and he wished others could see that.

Maybe as Enforcers, they could change things. But it was so far away, and they had so much to overcome, even here.

And it was time he learned the other side of things.

“I was wondering,” Kenneth said after Saul had left, the man not sparing him a glance. “Perhaps…I want to learn a little bit about the war.” Thorn raised an eyebrow. “About the talentless side of things, I mean.”

He knew more than enough about how the magi saw it. Useless, ungrateful talentless had begun the war to murder the most powerful magi and try to take power for themselves so they could construct destructive weapons of war. They had been put in their place, and monitored with wards.

But Kenneth wasn’t naïve enough to take his mother’s words at face value. There had to be more than just that.
Thorn tilted his head, giving Kenneth a small smile. “Well,” he said. “We have two options then. We could explore the library. Or we could talk to Professor Varlen.”


Thorn sighed and nodded. “He was my mentor my first year, and teaches the basics of electrical engineering. He also fought with Jaquin’s forces—or at least, as close as he could have without getting put to death during the trials.”

Kenneth swallowed hard, his stomach tight. “Right. Well, if you don’t mind…”

“I never talked with him about this. I,” Thorn looked up at the ceiling, then back down, his eyes distant for a moment. “I’ve heard enough anger, and enough…” he took a breath. “I like to look ahead, to fixing things we can. I prefer not to think about the war as much, and about what we lost, I suppose.”

Kenneth moved closer, putting his hand on Thorn’s shoulder. He heard Thorn’s pain clear as day. “I’m sorry. We don’t have to go. I don’t want to make you remember things you’d rather not.” Thorn had told him about how he lost his hand, and had never mentioned it since. Kenneth could kick himself. Of course there was a reason for that. The last thing he wanted was to upset his lover.

“No,” Thorn said, taking Kenneth’s hand off his shoulder and holding it with both his good hand and his metal one. “You’re right, Kenneth. We should learn as much as we can about what happened back then, from someone who will tell us accurately. Especially if we’re going to be Enforcers.”

“So we can fix it,” Kenneth said. Thorn just nodded.

Professor Varlen’s office was impossibly confusing to find to Kenneth, and he quickly lost track of where he was in the disorganized halls of the inventor’s college. He missed the easy to navigate series of rotundas that made up the collegium.

Thorn finally stopped outside a dingy wooden door. The hallway they had walked down had no windows, lit only by humming electric lights. Thankfully, for now, Kenneth’s magic was behaving, or at least enough that he wasn’t harming the generators or lightbulbs or whatever else the talentless used. They had gone down more than a few flights of stairs, and Kenneth realized that they were probably underground. No wonder the inventor’s college always looked so small.

“Alright,” Thorn said, the lights giving the hallway a reddish tint. “I hope he’s here.”

Before he could knock, the door swung open, to reveal a short, white haired man with bushy white eyebrows. He gave Thorn a once over, and his eyebrows rose into a single fuzzy caterpillar when he saw Kenneth.
“Hello Professor Varlen,” Thorn said. “I…well, we, were curious about some things. Mostly…”

“History,” Kenneth said. Varlen’s brows drew down.

“From a mage, I’m not surprised.” Varlen turned, motioning them inside with a wave of his hand.

Electric lights ringed the room, looping through the ceiling and over bookshelves. On an enormous wooden desk sat a collection of gears and wires, in no intelligible order. The desk itself had a pipe that snaked up the side, with a valve sticking off the edge, and if Kenneth hadn’t known better he would have guessed it was a water pipe.

“I’m also not surprised to see you here—George told me a mage was on the loose.” He chuckled.

“George did?” Thorn asked. It took Kenneth a moment to remember, and when he did his stomach sank. George. The duelist he had embarrassed.

“Yep. I advise him. A great weaponsmith, he would have been. Fan of the classic arts of dueling, and a competitive streak a mile wide.” Varlen leaned against his desk. “So, tell me, mage. What’s your surname?”

“Victeni,” Kenneth answered, hoping he sounded respectful. “Kenneth Victeni.”

Varlen whistled, the sound low. “And you want to hear about the war from me? Why not ask your war mage father?”

Thorn frowned, his brown eyes soft. But he stayed quiet. This was Kenneth’s task. He wanted to know.

He wanted to learn from people like Thorn, so he could do better in the future.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 12

Heavy knocking broke through Thorn’s dreams, and it took him a moment in pitch darkness to remember the events of last night. The sensation of his lover’s warm arms around him made him smile, and he almost closed his eyes and succumbed to sleep again when the knock came back.

“Kenneth?” Thorn mumbled, and he rolled over, fumbling in the dark. Kenneth muttered something Thorn didn’t understand, and a steady glow filled the room, making Thorn wince.

“I didn’t mean…never mind.” Thorn blinked hard, his eyes watering at the sudden light. Outside the heavy curtains that blocked the windows, the sun barely peeked over the horizon. “One moment!” he called. “Who’s there?” 

“It’s me, Saul,” his friend called. “Sorry to bother you, but I…I need a bit of help with my leg. Can I come in?”

Fires. “Sure, I’ll be ready in a few. Just wait.” Thorn blinked again, the pain dulling as he got used to the light. “Kenneth…” he trailed off.

His blond lover sighed. “Saul is afraid of mages, right?”

Thorn frowned. “I’m sorry. I…I’m not sure what to do. I don’t think he knows you’re here.”

Kenneth sat up in bed, swinging his legs out of the covers and standing. He was so beautiful. He muttered to the aether again, his hair suddenly less mussed. “Not a shower, but at least I look well enough to be seen,” he said. “I do wish you had a mirror.” Thorn had to roll his eyes, but he smiled anyway. Leave it to a mage to be fussy. “Let me put on some clothes, and I can give him some privacy while you work.”

Thorn nodded. He wished Kenneth could see him work. He was proud of the talents he had, of his knowledge of clockwork and anatomy that allowed him to construct replacement limbs. He knew so much about engineering, but repairing was so much more satisfying than anything else.

And he wanted to know that what he did didn’t disturb Kenneth. Kenneth had said he didn’t mind, so many times. But that first time he had seen his hand, and called it monstrous…pain at the memory still twinged.

But he wasn’t about to ask Saul, a man terrified of mages like Kenneth, to have a mage watch while Thorn fixed his leg. He was already vulnerable enough. That wasn’t fair.

“Alright, Saul,” Thorn called once both he and Kenneth were presentable. “Come in. Kenneth’s here too, but he’ll be leaving.”

The door swung open, revealing a wide-eyed Saul. “I…hello,” he said. Of course he stared straight at Kenneth. “I didn’t expect…you.”

“Don’t fret,” Thorn said. “Kenneth will give us some privacy. Is it the kneecap again? I told you we should just get rid of that piece.” He met Kenneth’s eyes while he spoke, and Kenneth nodded to Saul before leaving the room. Disappointment at Kenneth’s absence wound in Thorn’s stomach. He liked having Kenneth near, and the whole goal of this week was to help Kenneth get over his strange magical issue by staying nearby.

“Can Kenneth wait outside?” Thorn blurted. Maybe if he didn’t go far, that magical issue wouldn’t come up again. “He’s not exactly ready to go wandering the college by himself.”

“Um…sure,” Saul said, taking a careful step inside the room. “I guess so.”

Kenneth smiled as he shut the door quietly behind him. That was one problem averted.

“Alright then,” Thorn said. “So what happened?”

“I was jogging this morning and now…” Saul stepped further into the room, Thorn noting immediately how stiffly he moved. “It’s not the kneecap, but something is locking up.” He sat down on the floor, the sound of metal grinding against metal meeting Thorn’s ears as he bent his leg. “I think the problem is behind the knee.”

“Fair enough. Roll up the pant leg.” Saul’s clockwork leg was a wonderful piece of engineering, but it could use so many improvements. Once Thorn mastered his own project on his hand, he hoped Saul would let him work on his leg further, or make a new one.

Of course, if he was going to be an Enforcer, he might not have the time.

“So,” Saul said, his voice quiet as Thorn peered at his leg. “Um. Kenneth. He’s a noble mage?”

“That’s right.” Thorn spotted a piece of bent metal, mentally comparing it to his memory of the other times he had fixed Saul’s leg. There was something bent out of place. An easy fix, for a man with a metal hand like him.

“And you’re…dating him?”

“Yes.” Thorn met Saul’s eyes, the memory of the comments of his classmates fresh.

“Is he…paying you?”

Something twisted in Thorn’s chest, and he shoved down his anger before he could snap at his friend. “No.” 

“I didn’t mean like that!” Saul put up a hand. “I just meant…like a patron, or…”

“Noble magi are never patrons,” Thorn said, his teeth clenched. “They have powerful magic. They don’t need us that way.” He had never, even after years of working at the inventor’s college and making money selling his inventions, sold anything to a noble. Only weaker non-noble mages made use of talentless’ work. Not every mage could do the things Kenneth was capable of.

“They’re so different,” Saul said. He let out a breath as Thorn twisted the gear in his leg. Saul stretched out the prosthetic, flexing the toes.

“There,” Thorn said. “Fixed, for now."

Saul didn’t get up. “Do you truly care about him?”

“You know me, Saul,” Thorn said through clenched teeth. “Would I be with him if I didn’t?”

“But how can you?” Saul blurted. “How can you love a mage?”

The words hung in the air between them, and it took Thorn a moment to realize the only light in the room was still Kenneth’s glowing orb. In his mind, in seconds, Thorn thought over the sparse few memories he had of his parents, of the fire that had killed them, and of his life, fighting to develop the intelligence and skills to survive.

He used to think mages never needed any of that. Spoiled, rich, ignorant. But maybe mages thought equally bad things about him when they didn’t know him. Like reacting to a prosthetic hand without truly knowing about how it was made or why it was needed. 

Both sides needed time.

“I guess I can love him the same way he can love someone like me,” Thorn answered. “Maybe that’s not the best answer, but it’s all I can really say.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 11

Even though the wound was healed, his cheek still itched. Kenneth ran his thumb over it, thinking but not saying the words to the aether that would alleviate discomfort. Healing was a basic skill, but in the confusion of being struck he wasn’t sure he had done it correctly. It might still bruise.

“Are you alright?” Thorn asked. The halls they walked through were dim, the electric lights giving off a droning hum that Kenneth was beginning to think only he could hear. The quiet, though, was appreciated after the throng of people at the duel. The one he had ruined with his ignorance.

“I’m fine,” he said with a sigh. “Only my pride still hurts.”

Thorn shook his head as he stopped outside his door, turning a metal key in the lock. “And why is that?” he asked when the door popped open. “Because you lost the duel?” He raised an eyebrow.

“No!” Kenneth said, sitting down in the chair by Thorn’s bed with a groan. “Fires, I’m really mucking this up.” Thorn closed the door and leaned against the wall across the room, the dim light playing off his dark hair and shining on his metal hand. “It’s because I know nothing,” Kenneth continued. “We made a deal, Thorn, remember? We become Enforcers to help gain equality. But I learned tonight…It’s hard to help when no one trusts you. And they don’t trust me for good reason.”

“That’s not true,” Thorn said. He moved across the room, taking Kenneth’s face in his strong metal hand and tilting up his chin so Kenneth had to look up into his dark eyes. Kenneth loosened his jaw, his skin tingling at the touch and power in Thorn’s hand. “You’re a good man, Kenneth. They can’t see that because they have their own fears, their own experiences. It’s unfortunate, but no one is at fault. Not even a noble mage like you.” He let Kenneth go, his clockwork hand giving the tiniest of whirrs.  “It’s just something we have to work at. And over the next week, we can. Tonight was a good start.”

Some of the dragging weight unbound itself from Kenneth’s shoulders. “You think so?”

“I do.” Thorn grinned, moving closer again and tilting Kenneth’s chin up more gently. “And I think that watching you, a pretty little noble mage, flail around with a sword was very cute.”

Kenneth’s face heated, even as he felt himself begin to stiffen at the unmistakable gleam of lust in Thorn’s eyes. “Cute?”

“Yes. Very cute.” Thorn leaned down and connected their mouths, shoving his tongue between Kenneth’s lips so hard and fast that Kenneth almost choked. He nearly melted in the chair, overwhelmed with desire for the man currently kissing him.

The aether around him fizzed, his magic flaring as he moaned into Thorn’s mouth. Then the lights vanished with a pop and the sound of shattering glass in the corner.

“Fires!” Thorn jumped back in the pitch darkness. “Kenneth…” he growled.

“I’m sorry, I-“

“That’s enough. On the bed.” Thorn’s voice snapped like a whip, sending a lash of pleasure down Kenneth’s spine. “I’ll just take you in the dark then.”

Kenneth didn’t need to be told twice. In two steps after standing, he had crossed the tiny room and let himself fall onto the bed on all fours. Thorn was there immediately, his hands exploring, ripping at the fabric of his robes.

 “You put on a good show for the others, Kenneth,” Thorn said. “But now I want you to put one on for me. You’re my mage, after all.”

The possession in Thorn’s voice sent precum dribbling from Kenneth’s cock, his hardness tight and uncomfortable, aching, between his legs. “Yes,” he moaned. “Take me, Thorn.”

He closed his eyes, then opened them, the darkness complete in the room save for the aether that swirled in his vision, something only he could see that cast no light. It wound around him and Thorn, resonating power with every beat of his heart and throb in his cock. His heart pounded, magic bursting in his body. Fires, he needed Thorn.

“You’re warm, Kenneth,” Thorn said, his hand moving between his legs, stroking his ass, and finally entering him, fingers scissoring inside. Kenneth cried out, arching his back, and moaned.

“Are you ready?” Thorn asked. His fingers left, and then he leaned over, not entering yet, and Kenneth turned his head to meet the kiss. Heat exploded, Kenneth gasping into the kiss, and sparks from his hands lit the bedspread as the aether whirled.

“Kenneth…” Thorn said, his voice wavering, the kiss broken. “What was that?”

Damnit, he was losing control of his magic again. And he wanted, needed, Thorn so badly! “I need you,” he said. “Please, please Thorn. I need you. I can’t control it.”

Thorn paused, the silence torture. “Then let me control it,” Thorn finally said. “Don’t think. Just let me give you what you need.”

Kenneth closed his eyes, letting the darkness swallow him, ignoring even the aether and the magic that burned in his blood. Instead, he focused on Thorn—on his touch as he put his hands over his shoulders, on the weight of him, and then on the hot thrust when he went inside.

“Pay attention to me, Kenneth,” Thorn gasped. “No magic. I just want to hear you.”

Kenneth moaned, his body on fire, and he screamed as Thorn thrust, just as Thorn had told him to do. “Yes, Thorn, take me!” The bed creaked, and Kenneth lost focus of everything, even the magic. He was Thorn’s, and he could control it because Thorn controlled him. “Take me, take me, yes!”

Heat exploded, the tightness overwhelming, and Kenneth’s muscles clenched, his breath leaving him as his cum splattered the bedspread. At the same moment heat entered him in hot spurts, Thorn gasping in his ears.

Kenneth’s body shook, and he let himself sink onto his stomach on the bed, his own stickiness below him. He didn’t care. The magic settled, his body spent. Thorn lay down next to him, stroking his cheek in the dark.

“You kept it under control, Kenneth,” he said with a laugh. “I’m glad.”

Kenneth took a deep breath and smiled, his body heavy. It was only because of Thorn.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 10

“Forget it, Kenneth,” Thorn whispered. “He’s just angry at…” he almost said “magi,” but didn’t. Kenneth knew anyway. It had been a mistake to come here. He should have had Kenneth at least wear talentless clothes.

“C’mon,” George taunted. “Why would a mage come here other than to show us talentless how dueling is done?” George’s opponent unclipped the wire that connected him to the battery. They were truly preparing.

“Kenneth, don’t—“

“I’d be glad to try,” Kenneth said, taking a step forward. “I’m curious as to what these duels are like.”

“Have you lost your mind?” Thorn hissed, moving forward to intercept his lover. He pitched his voice low. “This isn’t a game to him, it’s a challenge. George clearly hates mages, Kenneth. He’ll try and hurt you.” He had heard it often enough from other talentless growing up. Some, like him, just wanted to move on. But there were others, even others his age, who still wanted revenge. “Those blades may not be sharpened, but they can still cut if he hits you hard enough!”

“Thorn, please,” Kenneth said. “I know this is a challenge. I know nothing about talentless dueling, but I know when I see anger. And sometimes you just have to face it.” He squared his shoulders. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes already. I want to learn, even if I get a little beat up.” He quirked a smile.

“Are you two done flirting, or are we going to do this?” George said. “You bring a mage here, Thorn, you let him make his own decisions.”

Thorn swallowed down nerves. At least this reaction meant none of the people here had been the one who worked with Alder. “Fine then,” he said. “Kenneth, please be careful.” Kenneth nodded.

“You’re not seriously dating him, are you?” Saul blurted. Thorn met his friend’s wide eyes as a buzz of whispers broke out around them, words flitting back and forth like bats.

“Dating a mage?”

“Didn’t his parents die in the war?”

“How disrespectful.”


Thorn’s ears burned, and he lowered his head. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t. The lifemate thing, and his chance to help people…they just didn’t get it. If they knew, they wouldn’t say that. If they knew Kenneth, they wouldn’t talk like that.

But fires, it still hurt.

“Thorn,” Kenneth said. His lover tapped him on the shoulder, pulling him away from the shock of the whispers. “I’ll only do this if its okay with you. I didn’t mean to...”

 “Its alright, Kenneth,” Thorn said. “I…” He trailed off.

“Are we going to do this or not, mage?” George said. “You wanted to prove you’re better than us at a talentless art, right? Step up here and do it. Or try, at least.” He twirled the rapier in his hand, an obvious display of prowess. The chatter around them increased, and the hair on the back of Thorn’s neck rose. This was bad. This was a mistake, and he didn’t know how to fix it.

Kenneth met his gaze, his blue eyes wide. Thorn’s mind whirred like one of his machines. Every other time he had come here, it had been for fun, a chance to watch attractive men practice an ancient art of dueling with swords. Thorn was no historian, but it was fascinating. And apparently also a point of pride.

“I’ve never held a sword,” Kenneth said, raising his voice to address George. “I apologize if I’ve done something to offend anyone. If you’ll let me, I will try. If not, I will leave.” He spoke with poise and elegance, a diplomatic mage. Thorn was impressed, and hoped it was enough.

“You challenged me, you finish it,” George said. He took the sword from his previous opponent and held it out to Kenneth. “C’mon, mage. Or are you a coward, too scared to fight a talentless fairly?”

“Who says he’ll fight fair?” someone muttered.

“Very well,” Kenneth said. The curiosity and eagerness that had sparked in his eyes when he had first arrived was gone, and it hurt Thorn to see that as much as it hurt to hear what the others said about him. “I’m happy to try.”

“Hook yourself up then,” George said, pointing with his blade. “And take this.”

Kenneth hefted the sword, studied George’s grip, and then adjusted his own. Thorn hurried to his side, ignoring the whispers as he hooked up the metal clip to Kenneth’s robes.

“This will carry the current when the sword hits you,” he said. “It’s how we know when someone has made contact.”

“It’s ingenious,” Kenneth said. “Like everything you do.” Thorn’s face heated. “I’m just sorry I can’t enjoy it.”

Thorn backed away with a nod. He was sorry too.

“Ready, mage?” George said. He lifted his blade, the hilt to his forehead. Thorn wondered about the origins of talentless dueling. He had seen magi duel, the spectacular battle between Alder and Kenneth fresh in his mind. Dueling with swords was cleaner, faster.

But like most things that were part of the history of people with no magic, it had all but died out. Magi were the rulers now.

“Fight!” someone shouted, and George lunged forward, his sword faster than a blink. Everyone around them hushed quiet, suddenly aware of the mistake they had made. Thorn's stomach flipped. 

“Idiot,” Saul said. His eyes were wide.

Blood dripped from the cut George had slashed open on Kenneth’s cheek.

George backed away, flicking specks of blood onto the ground from the tip of his sword. They weren’t sharpened, but with someone of George’s prowess, it wasn’t impossible.

Kenneth’s shoulders loosened, and he dropped his sword. “I suppose I lose,” he said. He lifted a thumb, wiping away the blood on his face, and the cut with it as he muttered some gibberish. George took a step back.

“Magi duel also,” Kenneth said. “And I know the procedure for that, at least. I grant you victory.” He unhooked the clip from his robes. “Enjoy the honor you have won.”

George frowned, and whispers buzzed as Kenneth headed back toward the crowd—back toward Thorn.  

“He’s not going to take revenge?” Saul whispered, his voice shaking. “He could kill us for that. He’s a mage.”

“Not Kenneth,” Thorn said, pride and tenderness blooming in his chest as he moved toward his lover. “He’s not that kind of mage. Or that kind of person.”


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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thoughts on being a doctor

Despite spending a large portion of my free time writing, guess what?

I’m a doctor! 

Back in July, I got through my dissertation defense, and now I’m officially a Ph.D! 6 years of grad school are over with! 

Of course, research itself is never over. I’ve got a post doc position now!
I figured I’d chat a bit about the graduate school experience, since I’ve noticed more than a few people find this blog through searches about grad school.

My program was in cognitive neuroscience. This is a field dedicated to figuring out how the brain works, and many researchers also focus on the underpinnings of certain mental illnesses. My lab had a focus on autism, schizophrenia, and addiction, and while I dabbled in the former two, my dissertation was on addiction.

I went into grad school directly out of undergrad, and my first year was spent realizing just how little I knew about anything. My program was heavy in coursework, and the level of detail this coursework went into blew anything in undergrad out of the water. Exams were basically freeform essays where you had to prove that you knew everything about a particular subject, whether it be brain development, the visual system, or the basics of motor control. I didn’t always do well on these tests, but many others didn’t do well either, so I didn’t let it upset me.

While taking classes, I also did research. In cognitive neuroscience, this usually means running human participants through experimental tasks. These can be IQ tests, neuropsychological tests, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or many more. I learned a lot about interacting with people by doing this. It’s strange to have realized how much of a bubble undergrad is!

Speaking of the undergrad bubble, going through grad school was also a great chance for me to learn how to function as an adult. It is not at all like being an undergraduate. You don’t live in a dorm, so get used to apartment hunting. You do get paid, but its not much, so managing a budget is crucial.  There’s no dining hall, hence all the jokes in the grad school world about getting free food at conferences because its tough to afford food. On top of research and classes of your own, you may also have to teach, so free time is precious. And your circle of friends also tends to become people who are also in their first year—and in grad school, not everyone is the same age. Making friends with people much older than you is something that may happen for the first time.

Grad school may have “school” in the name, but its closer to having a job and taking classes part time than actually being in school. The only thing that makes it feel like school are the exams, with the two major ones being quals (the first test to make sure you know what you’re doing, which is usually either a comprehensive exam or an exam that proves you know how to design an experiment) and of course, the final defense. I will say, though, that by the time you do your final defense, it feels like a formality, not an exam. It’s not a test anymore of whether you’re qualified, it’s a performance of all you’ve accomplished. In the U.S., very, very few people outright fail the defense.

The one thing grad students in fields like these worry about is how useful what they’ve learned is. Is grad school worth it? As a post doc, yes, my skills are useful. But what about outside of academia?

In grad school, I learned the basics of a lot of things—programming, science writing, administering tests. But the soft skills, harder to quantify, are just as important. Having a Ph.D is proof that you’re dedicated, a hard worker, and self-motivated. (The same set of skills people use to finish writing novels, I’d imagine).

After 6 years, I don’t regret grad school. But if you’re going into it, I would make sure you like what you do. Yes, there were days in grad school where I was miserable. But you have to figure out where that misery comes from. Is it a short term thing (my experiment failed, my advisor ignored me today) or a long term thing (consistently wondering if you will ever graduate, hating every second of being in lab). If its long term, that’s when to consider if grad school is right for you. If you hate the nitty gritty, though, and like the overall thrust of research, I would stick with it. After all, you’re not likely to be the one running participants or counting cells once you’re a professor.

Of course, the world of academia is pretty tough on its own, even after getting the Ph.D. I’ll see how I do. The track to becoming a professor is its own journey!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 9

The lecture was boring, and it was even harder to concentrate when Thorn’s gaze kept getting drawn to Kenneth. Kenneth somehow made it look good to sit in a lecture hall, his legs spread and his arms draped over the backs of the chairs next to him. He looked like an arrogant, lazy mage that the talentless always made fun of, but he was Thorn’s to discipline.

When the lecture ended, Thorn shook off his distraction. He had work to do on his project, and he couldn’t let Kenneth take up all his time. Kenneth was supposed to be the one focusing on self control, after all.

“So, what was the duel you mentioned to Saul?” Kenneth asked as he stood up, smoothing his robes. Another student who passed by widened her eyes when she saw Kenneth, and hurried up the steps. Thorn sighed.

“Duel? What…oh. The duels we were going to watch.” Thorn laughed when Kenneth frowned. “It’s not what you think. Not like what you and Alder did.” A chill went through Thorn at the thought of the powers the two men had commanded, and how it had resulted in his fake hand getting crushed when he had shot Alder. He flexed the metal of the replacement, testing it unconsciously. “It’s fencing. With rapiers, for fun, and with plenty of safety measures. It’s just something we talentless do when we’re not working. No one gets hurt, not with the electrical system we set up.”

Kenneth tilted his head, a grin stealing over his face as they left the lecture hall and headed into the narrow hallways that led to Thorn’s workroom. The electric lights they passed began to hum. “Do you duel too? What about with pistols?”

“I don’t duel, no,” Thorn said, holding up his fake hand. “Those of us with prosthetics usually don’t. People think we’re either too handicapped or cheating. And no one duels with pistols unless it’s a real duel, not a practice bout.” He chuckled. “I suppose you mages can find ways to throw lightning at each other safely, but not with our weapons.”

“Makes sense,” Kenneth said. “I’m interested to see what its like.”

“Well, give me a few hours,” Thorn said. “I have some work to do, and we can grab dinner. Then we can check out the duels.”

He hoped Kenneth enjoyed watching them. It was always a good way to relax after a long day of work.

He also hoped no one minded Kenneth being there. Putting away the nerve-wracking thought, Thorn set to work, the presence of his lover heavy in his mind.

Thorn hadn’t been able to get much work done. Between catching the sight of Kenneth out of the corner of his eye, the mage gorgeous no matter what he did, and the intermittent distractions of something mechanical failing when Kenneth’s magic flared, it wasn’t the best environment.

But dinner went well, even if it probably wasn’t up to Kenneth’s standards, and now the two men headed out into the courtyard, the sound of cicadas growing deafening as they left the college doors. The usual crowd had already gathered, and two men stretched in the center of the crowd, their blunted rapiers shining in the electric lights that were strung on the trees. A generator hummed on one side, and wires connected to two boxes lay strewn on the ground.

“What’s all this?” Kenneth whispered.

“You’ll see,” Thorn said. He nodded to Saul. His friend’s gaze hit the ground after he saw Kenneth, but he still made room for them in the crowd. Thankfully, in the dim lighting and with all the milling people, Kenneth didn’t stand out as much as Thorn had feared.

“Take your bets!” a woman shouted. Henrietta, as usual. “Who will win the first bout of the night, Frederickson or my good brother George!”

“Don’t bet,” Thorn said. He never did because he didn’t have the money, but part of him was worried Kenneth would bet far too much. Besides, the last thing they needed was for Kenneth to annoy anyone, even by the small act of favoring one duelist over another.

The people around them shouted out their bets, anywhere from 1 to 2 coppers, most on George. He was a fine duelist, with quick fingers and fine, muscular legs. Before Kenneth, Thorn had thought him quite fetching, which is why he came to the duels at all.

“Alright,” Henrietta said. “No striking the head. When the lights go off, I’ll say so.” Thorn wondered how hard it would be to construct metal masks so the apparatus would work with them, but he thought that every time and never spoke up. “Begin!”

Kenneth leaned forward, clearly curious. Before he could even blink, the long rapiers struck, one two three with the sound of clashing metal, and the light on the right went off.

“Point for George!” Henrietta crowed. The crowd hummed with exclamations of victory or groans of defeat, and more money began to change hands.

“Amazing!” Kenneth said, too loud. “What makes the light go off?”

Titters of laughter bled into the sound of the crowd. “Is he a first year?” someone said.

Kenneth frowned. “I’m just curious.”

Too many people turned, and so did George, stepping away from the duelist’s strip, the wire still attached to his clothing. “So who’s asking…”

Then he saw Kenneth, and Thorn groaned inwardly.

“Mage!” he said, his mouth dropping open. People immediately backed away from them, the anonymity of the crowd dropping away. Thorn’s stomach flipped.

George stared at Kenneth, his gaze fixed. “What are you doing here?” he asked, his voice tremulous. Thorn wished he knew more about George. So many here had bad experiences with the magi, and he didn’t know if that was fear or anger on George’s face.

“I’m…just here to learn,” Kenneth said carefully. “I’m curious about this dueling game.” Thorn winced.

“Learn the game, huh?” George said. His eyes narrowed. “Why not step up and play, then?” He motioned with his rapier to the duel’s strip. “C’mon mage,” George taunted, his eyes wide but jaw set. “You can’t win if you don’t play the game.”

Thorn’s stomach fell. The expression there was definitely anger.