heads on a science apart
(She’d never thought that seeing in color could be anything but beautiful, but now she only found it violent.)
For a girl that dreamed in color, seeing the world in black and white was a let-down, especially when it had been twenty years and Tatiana Penvrane still hadn’t found her soulmate.
Seren had found hers when she was twelve (that lucky girl, as Tatiana had bitterly whispered when she’d found out). Seth had found Eva when he was fifteen; Benj when he was nineteen. It was only Tatiana now who remained soulmate-less. She was sick of the sympathetic looks her friends gave her, of the constant waiting and watching every time she met someone knew. She expected her world to light up brilliantly the second she found her soulmate, even if the years of desperation had left her content with even the faintest brush of color in her life if she found the person she was destined to spend her life with. Love was not an unknown concept to a hopeless romantic such as herself.
She’d accepted a research position in a laboratory in London, studying DNA structures and sequencing. Grunt work, really, she’d told herself irritably as she found herself lined up beside six other interns during their briefing, her gaze wandering from the employee leading the discussion to the shiny microscopes and stainless steel lab tables.
The lecture on lab safety was interrupted by the arrival of a young woman, flying in through the door, face flushed, bag hanging askew off of her slim frame, her hair disheveled and brilliantly red.
Tatiana blinked once and then again for certainty; it was true, the other was a redhead. And Tatiana Penvrane could see her vividly in full color.
She might have let out a whoop if the other hadn’t spoken first. “Apologies for being late; the security guard checked my ID four times before he let me come up.” Her gaze was curious now, for surely she too was seeing the world in color, and green eyes (yes, green, she noted with a good measure of wonder) flitted warily over the seven interns, including Tatiana, before landing on the old and severe department head. Apparently at the thought that the older woman could be her soulmate was too much for the newcomer to think, for she bit back a smile quickly, even if the brunette caught the brief twitch of her lips.
Their supervisor was less amused. “Name?”
“Chastity Hamilton-Reed,” the other declared haughtily, extending a hand that the woman didn’t shake. She moved it back and reluctantly fell in line with the other interns, crossing her arms over her chest and shooting her new co-workers a wink as she listened to the continuing lecture silently.
They weren’t assigned partners, but the eight members of their team moved back and forth between research and people interchangeably. Despite all of this, Tatiana found herself elbow-to-elbow with Chastity more times than she could count. The other had a beautiful smile that had a habit of stirring even the deepest-buried nerves in the pit of her stomach. She still hadn’t mentioned that the other was her soulmate, even if Chastity’s eager gazes around the lab at her co-workers left her sorely tempted to.
It nearly slipped out one day as she stood peering into a microscope when a familiar voice beside her inquired, “What are you looking at?”
The brunette nearly pressed the eyepiece further into her eye in her haste to look up, but she kept her tone calm, trying to play cool. Stop being such a dork, Penvrane. “I’m looking at the soulmate gene,” she informed the other as she realized that it was probably something that she shouldn’t admit aloud to her soulmate.
The other, thank God, looked more intrigued than apprehensive; the brunette thought that perhaps the other’s search for her soulmate in the lab had been overshadowed by this bit of research. “You’ve isolated it?” Chastity asked, pressing down to the eyepiece and grinning for a moment before standing. “That’s impressive. How far have you gotten with decoding it?”
“I’ve barely begun,” Tatiana admitted with a shrug. And then, before she could lose her boldness, she added, “Would you like to help?”
“Of course,” Chastity replied smoothly, glancing over at the other’s files that she’d begun to lay out on the table around her. “Should we start with finding the part that links to romantic feelings?”
“That’s what I’ve been looking for! So far I’ve not had any luck, but I’m sure we’ll be able to find it with both of us on the job.” Tatiana lifted a sample slide for the microscope and handed it to the other, her fingers brushing the other’s hand.
Chastity smiled, and her heart fluttered.
They’d been working together for four months now, and their progress was to be measured in bounds and leaps, not in tiny steps. Together, Tatiana Penvrane and Chastity Hamilton-Reed were unlocking some of the most complex genetic secrets behind having soulmates. Thus far they’d identified the structure and nucleotide sequence of it and were still working on decoding the different parts of the gene.
“Just think,” Tatiana murmured as she sat poring over files of their research one day, “Thousands of little nucleotides strung together in random sequences have the ability to change a person’s life forever.”
“I thought you were more of a romantic, Penvrane,” Chastity murmured from the other end of the table, a smile in her tone as she flipped a page of scribbled notes from that morning.
“I was,” Tatiana mused aloud, “But I’m also a scientist. I look at the facts first.”
It was her motto – after years of searching for a soulmate that she’d given up on, she’d conditioned herself to put science and logic first. It was why she was working on the soulmate gene after all; she wanted to decrypt the enigma, make it numbers and sequences and nucleic acids. She could work with those better than she could deal with the way her breath seemed to hitch in her throat every time that she looked at the redhead.
For all her attempts to keep her soulmate in the dark from their true connection to each other, Tatiana feared the other was getting suspicious. She caught side glances from Chastity when the other must have thought that she wasn’t looking. She didn’t miss the softness of green eyes when they landed on her, or the way the other’s hands fluttered uncertainly around her own for a moment before she grabbed it to drag Tatiana to another corner of the lab to conduct more research and trials.
Tatiana had never been in love, but if this was what it was like, then she wondered why she’d spent so long wishing for her soulmate. It had been well worth the wait.
The glow from the fluorescent lights was the only source of illumination as Tatiana stood bent over a microscope again, one hand steading the eyepiece while the other carefully sketched out the pattern of cells that she saw magnified.
There was a thump beside her, and she didn’t even look up. “Go home, Chastity. I’ll finish up for tonight. I think that I’m onto something and I don’t want to leave until I’ve figured it out.”
“Isn’t that all the more reason for me to stay?” The redhead replied, her tone amused, but when Tatiana didn’t respond, the other added, “I’m on babysitting duty tonight anyway, so I’ll see you tomorrow.” Her fingers skimmed the other’s shoulder briefly in goodbye.
The brunette returned to her microscope – everyone else had gone home except for one of the other interns; Cassia Arrid, who was a bit younger than her but just as bright and willing to delve into the secrets of the human genome as she was. When she’d finished sketching the cells, she added that file to a stack of others and began to organize her thoughts more comprehensibly, drawing parallels and making connections between what she saw now and her past work.
It was nearly midnight and she was on her third cup of tea when she shrieked and nearly upturned the entire stack of papers that she was studying.
Cassia ran over, her lab goggles still on in her panic, but she stopped short at the sight of elation on her co-worker’s face. “Are you alright?” she asked somewhat warily.
“I’m more than alright!” Tatiana was nearly shouting as she motioned between the file in her hand and the microscope. “I’ve isolated the romantic code of the soulmate gene! Look at it!”
They rushed to the microscope as Tatiana hastily slid the slide under it and adjusted it, fiddling expertly with the knobs to focus it until she pointed triumphantly. Cassia bent eagerly but then rose after a moment, her face grim. “Tatty, that’s not the romantic sequence. That’s the sequence with the retina that makes someone perceive their world in color.”
“What?” She’d spent ages decoding the sequence that she finally thought she’d found it, even if another look through the microscope had her realizing that the younger girl was right. In fact, the other’s words made her realizes that the entire way she’d been looking at the gene was wrong. She frowned and sharpened the image, magnifying it a bit more before gaping at it in horror.
“What’s wrong?” Cassia’s voice was sharp.
Tatiana wordlessly projected the image onto the nearby wall and grabbed a ruler to point. “That’s the sequence involving the retina, this is the sequence involving hormones, and this part signals the receptors of the endorphins in the endocrine system of another person whose endorphin code is genetically similar to your own.”
“So there isn’t a romantic sequence.”
“No.” Tatiana was grim, her lips settling into a firm line. “It’s purely chemical. The other person – your soulmate – can only see in color because you release hormones that stimulate sensors in them. Technically, you could have many “soulmates”, but after the first, your retinal receptors have already been activated.” Her voice took on a hollow tone. “There’s nothing romantic about soulmates at all.”
“But,” Cassia bit her lip suddenly and turned abruptly. “I’m going to finish my research,” she announced.
Tatiana didn’t blame her for leaving. This was a lot to take in, from a world that had spent so long convincing its inhabitants that finding and spending the rest of their life with a soulmate was the ultimate goal. It wasn’t, not anymore.
And it crushed her.
Chastity returned the next morning at seven to find a disheveled Tatiana sitting among a pristine lab, the stacks and files that they’d spread out over the tables for months now settled neatly into folders and placed into the cabinets. Tatiana expected her to ask about them, but instead, the first words out of the other’s mouth were, “I’ve been thinking about soulmates a lot lately.”
“Me too,” Tatiana replied honestly, her voice dull.
The redhead didn’t notice and plowed onward. “I think,” she faltered, at a loss for words for the first time since Tatiana had met her. “I think you might be mine.”
For a moment, there was silence.
Chastity continued hurriedly. “I wasn’t sure for a bit; I walked into a lab that already had seven interns and the supervisor and everything suddenly became vivid. And you, well, you were the first person I saw, Tatty, and I saw you in color. Are we soulmates?”
Tatiana turned, taking in the other’s brilliant red hair, crimson-painted lips, endearingly green eyes – and she felt her heart harden. Soulmates were chemical, not romantic, she had reminded herself hundreds of times in the past several hours as she’d packed up all of her research. The flutters in her stomach, or the jitters she got when she spoke to the other were purely hormonal.
So that was why, Tatiana’s answer was simple. “No, we’re not. I still see in black and white.”
Chastity took a hasty step back as if she’d been slapped, her eyebrows lowering over her gaze. “But that doesn’t make sense,” she returned almost crisply, and Tatiana was suddenly reminded that she wasn’t the only scientist; the redhead was one as well. “If my world turned to color when I saw you, yours must have changed color as well.”
She’d been waiting for Chastity with the intention of telling her about her findings, but hearing these words laid out, bare and raw in front of them, suddenly made Tatiana change her mind. She steeled herself. “I’m not your soulmate, Chastity, and I never will be.” Better to do this now than to break it to the other that soulmates weren’t romantic and that even if her world had flared into color when she’d seen the redhead, it hadn’t meant anything.
“But you have to be my soulmate. I just feel different around you, and I know that you can feel it too.” Chastity leaned closer as Tatiana leaned away. “I fancy you – and I’m not sure if this is what love is, but if this feeling is anything like it then yes, I’m in love with you too.”
This was cruel, so cruel that they had both come to startling realizations on the same day. Tatiana willed herself to stay strong. “I don’t feel the same way.” Lies. “And I’m leaving. I was offered a job in Cairo to work with the structure of the genome instead of the sequences, and I have to take this opportunity. I’m sorry.”
She felt the other shrink away, turn back to her own work. “That’s alright,” Chastity replied, but her tone was more clipped than her usual freely-spoken words. “I guess I was wrong, then. Maybe you’re not my soulmate. Maybe it’s someone else in here.”
“It must be.” Tatiana carefully began to stack the boxes that she’d packed several hours ago (the job was a lie, but she knew that she couldn’t be here; no, she had to be anywhere but here right now). This was her being selfless, she told herself as she stacked another box. She might have been a romantic once, but she wanted to protect the other. They were soulmates in science only, for their was nothing romantic between them. If science could prove that, then she had to believe it and ignore the voice in the back of her head that told her that she was throwing away her one chance at happiness with the woman that she might possibly be in love with.
But logic had won out and squashed the hopeless romantic in her. When she thought Chastity wasn’t looking, she cast one final, wistful, gaze backward before turning and stepping out of the door with her research, the freshly written resignation letter on her desk.
(She’d never thought that seeing in color could be anything but beautiful, but now she only found it violent.)