Some people stand on the shoulders of giants. After all, it’s their destiny to become great leaders, Kings, Queens, Dukes, Lords, or great adventurers. They’re destined to become faces in wall tapestries, heroes in songs, and legacies passed down through generations.
I wish I could say the same to myself. I’m the next physician in Godfather Death. No one really knows or cares about the lineage before me – after their destinies were completed and life was over, the histories of the previous physicians was erased, their achievements vaporised and they remained forgotten in history. So I never stood on a giant’s shoulders. I stood on unmarked graves.
It stuns me to think how much Ever After has changed over the centuries! An industrial revolution, a technological revolution, and this new age of information! There are people alive before the MirrorNet was publicly released! There are people alive to remember a time before the double helix of DNA was discovered!
So many brilliant doctors and scientists have made their marks on this world. So many of them are immortalised in their achievements. Not my lineage of physicians, though, not at all.
Maybe… maybe I can escape that. Maybe I’ll break a paradigm, or discover or invent something so marvellous that my name will go down in history. Maybe I’ll break the chain of being forgotten. The world will remember Dr Airmid Valerian, I swear to this.
Still, whatever happens, I do have to get through high school first.
It started with the second semester of Ever After High. Legacy Day was wrecked, Spring Unsprung ran questionably, and at a certain Wonderland Party, that Raven Queen girl absolved everyone from their destiny. Throughout Ever After, there was a mix of amazement and chaos. Some families celebrated, breaking their centuries-long curse. Other families mourned tradition.
Switch to a fortnight later, and the administrative staff of the school kicked me out of all the science classes offered at Ever After – and yes, including Biology and Horticulture.
“Excuse me?” I had asked.
“Miss Valerian,” the staff said. They were a group of stern-faced individuals– but unlike individuals, they stood together in a group and spoke simultaneously in a ominous monotone voice. And they still referred to me as Miss, when I already specifically told them I preferred gender neutral ways of referring to myself. “You’re dismissed.”
“Teachers have remarked upon the fact that you’re rarely listen, often disrupt other students, and attempt to correct them on their teachings. We’ve discussed with your Godfather. The science curriculum we offer at Ever After High is far exceeded by your current skill, so you have been enrolled in some university courses, and your Ever After High studies will only be non-science subjects.”
But it worked. And it was possibly the most enjoyable semester of Ever After I ever did. I went to some standard, non-science classes in the morning, took the train to the university in the afternoon, and spent my nights on assignments and projects. In the weekends, I took the train to use the university labs or stayed at Ever After for my extracurriculars…
… and I don’t believe any of that would have happened, had not Raven Queen challenged the status quo.
Grimm bless her. I wouldn’t have been saying that a fair few months ago, but I am now. Odd how things change.
I think I was finally reaching the sort of scientific potential I deserved. I finally had time to myself, finally a forum and a space to connect with like-minded people, and finally had a crowd to share ideas and have my ideas respected. The university was a lot different from the suffocating walls of Ever After High.
So I worked hard, because I was a teenager amongst young adults and I wanted to prove that I belonged there with them. I wrote research papers and devised a stunning new method of centrifuging bacteria and putting DNA samples under spectroscopy. I helped to carbon-date samples of fossilised archaic species, and I felt I was really starting to make a place for myself in this world of biology.
My Godfather wanted me to contribute my work to the Pixie Genome Project, a collaborative effect of biologists around the globe. “Nothing major,” Death said. “Just analysing data, talking to some scientists. You’ll enjoy yourself, trust me. Plus, I’m sure they’ll love your work on doing spectroscopy on fairy DNA.”
So I met up with two fatumologists – scientists who studied fairies. They were post-graduates with bags under their eyes and coffee in their hands. I don’t think I ever had a proper conversation with them that didn’t result in one or the other rambling about his PhD in increasingly technical jargon.
Franklin was a sprite. Quick on his feet, brilliant at computer work. When he wasn’t taking DNA samples on a spin in centrifuges, he did stunt tricks on his bicycle (both outside the lab and inside). One day, I swore to myself, I would as cool as a scientist as this dude. Then, there was Darwin, a brownie, who always cleaned up after Franklin’s messes. He always brought in fresh baking, and cracked jokes about cannibalism when he brought in chocolate fudge brownies.
They stuck together like glue. Or two opposing poles. But the latter analogy was a Physics reference, and that was a scientific area I had little interest in.
“Airmid Valerian!” Franklin said, shaking my hand. “Spectacular work for the Pixie Genome Project, as expected! Why, because of you, we might be able to find out the common ancestor between elves and leprechauns! A proper ‘missing link’!”
I grinned. “Well, it’s merely a scientific method, isn’t it?” I said. “You will be testing it out, won’t you?”
“Unquestionable!” he grinned.
“You thinking of going into evolutionary biology?” Darwin asked. “Because we always have a place for you. Have you taken much of a thought about your future, yet? You’re a legacy though. I suppose you don’t need to.”
I let out an awkward, rushed sigh. Grimm, I hated this question. Not because I hadn’t given it any thought – trust me, I’ve given plenty. But unfortunately, when you’re a kid in your late teens, adults will pound you with this question. It’s demanding, tiring and frankly, I was sick of answering it. My stomach twisted with unease at any mention of the future.
They spoke as if, at age 16, teenagers should know their area of study or field of occupation. As if they didn’t have the neuroplasticity to change during adulthood.
“Being a physician, naturally,” I said, but a frown rested on my face. “I wouldn’t mind doing that for the rest of my life. But I want to do more. I want to do research, I want to share that research, I want to break paradigms and rewrite the system. I want to make healthcare more accessible, I want to separate medical institutes and the medical industry from private corporations. I want poor, underprivileged people to realise they deserve the right to healthcare. I want the government to realise everyone deserves that right. I want to get medical insurance incorporated into the state, into the country, into government. I want to make healthcare something for the people, by the people, I want, I want–"
Of course, I was rambling. But could I help it?
“–to do a lot! But I’ve got far too little time to do all of that, right?”
“Hey, hey,” Darwin said. “Calm down. I wanted small talk, not your university entrance interview.”
“And relax, kiddo!” Franklin clasped his hands. “You’re not thinking of doing all of that alone, are you? Scientists are supposed to work together! We’re like a group of populations flourishing in the same abiotic environment – a community!”
We all cracked a grin at his joke.
Darwin continued. “You’ll find your crowd of people, I’m sure of it. It’s tough fitting in at your age, okay? It was tough for me. Anyway, you got a field sorted?”
“Not evolutionary biology, unfortunately,” I confessed. “I was thinking biomed, actually. Fits more in line with the healthcare thing and being a physician when older.”
He made a dramatic hand motion, and fake-fainted over Franklin. The sprite grimaced at him, and pushed Darwin off. “Alas, Franklin, my partner-in-crime! We’re lost yet a brilliant young mind.”
Franklin sighed. “Calm down, you ass. It was obvious this gentleman was going into med, anyway. Now, does anyone want to see me do a wheelie in the cleenroom?”
Did I ever mention that university friends meant more connections?
Take C. Rick Dawkins, for instance.
On a crisp Thursday morning, I was making my way to the labs, which he also happened to be using. I recognised him as one of the most celebrated undergraduate students at the university right now, renown for his microbiology work.
He recognised me too. “Oh, you’re that kid that this uni’s providing for, huh? How are you finding it?”
“Well,” I grinned. “This attention is all very nice! It’s surprising how many people are taking me seriously.”
“And I’ve been getting so many things done! Research papers, electron microscope scans, new models of cell organelles–“
In hindsight, I really should have stopped talking there – it was obvious he has no interest or respect towards what I was saying. Still, forgive me, I was overexcited, you see? Back at Ever After High, I didn’t really have a group of people who were into science like I was, who I couldn’t readily talk to. At university, I would latch onto anyone I could find.
“Why are you on this floor?” he asked.
“I’m working on a research paper!” I said. “My experiments are taking place here.” From there, I briefly attempted to summarise what I was doing, my work, and what I hoped to achieve.
“What a coincidence,” he drawled. “I very so happen to be working on a similar project. Care to share some notes?”
I gasped in excitement and almost would have launched into another ramble about my research paper if I had not remembered to retain some decorum.
Instead, I decided to continue the conversation. “Yes! Of course! I’ll show you some soon,” I said. “But first, could I ask about your work here? What are you researching?”
“Oh,” he said, and frowned. “I would love to say, but I doubt you would understand.”
“Only someone clueless about their study would struggle to explain it in layman’s terms,” I urged. “Surely you could–“
Then, Dawkins probably glared but I didn’t notice. Looking back, that comment of mine would have sounded sassy. I suppose my encouraging intentions fell through.
Science is objective, but scientists aren’t. The fields of science complements one another, but scientists don’t. It’s a paradox, really. Probably one of the many things holding science back.
I wish I had understood that concept better: not all scientists should be treated like friends.
A week later, I attended a presentation-sharing conference, and saw Dawkins stand up on a podium and announce his work. He spoke well, I’ll give him that. And I was temporarily impressed until about 10 minutes in, until I recognised something strikingly familiar with the photos he was showing up on the screen.
Weren’t those my electron microscope scans? My data? My samples?
Surely… it was just a coincidence right? No one would have the guts to use someone else’s work. After all, the university was super strict on collusion and plagiarism…
I soon convinced myself I was just being paranoid, until I spotted a pair of initials on sticky tape, on the edge of a petri dish.
AV. Airmid Valerian.
When Dawkins concluded his speech and applause erupted, the screen behind showed a list of his citations, references and bibliography. I scanned that list with absolute care and looked for something referring to the pictures he posted.
The pictures that I was utterly convinced that were mine.
I scanned and scanned, but saw nothing. Not even one line of credit.
I clenched my fist. The nerve of that guy! Who the hex did he think he was?
The next day, I nearly kicked down the door of the fatumologists’ lab. “Franklin. Darwin,” I said. Kicking open that door made me lose breath, so my voice fell quiet. “I got my work stolen. Dawkins stole my work. The microbiologist, Dawkins, stole–”
“You’re rambling, son,” Franklin frowned, removing his goggles and snapping them from his eyes to his forehead. “Slow down.”
“Remember Dawkins? The guy who presented yesterday? He used my work. Without my permission,” I slammed down a copy of my logbook. “And I have proof that it’s mine.”
Franklin and Darwin both shot a look at each other.
“I certainly don’t have the time to go through your logbook,” Darwin admitted. “But you’re credible and trustworthy.”
“So was my data. That’s why he used it.”
Darwin looked like he was at a loss of what to say. I think he was probably torn between swearing and trying to be comforting. “Look, kid,” he said. “I relate. Not really. But seriously? What a dick move from that guy. If someone stole my work, I would fight them.”
“So let’s fight him,” I said.
“I like fighting things!” Franklin yelled.
Well, that was an easy decision. In the most dignified way, I was going to fight the man who plagiarised my work.
“There’s a free presentation slot tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll claim it, and set up a powerpoint for it. It’ll be twelve hours from now, but I work well under pressure.”
Basically, I worked for five hours straight with two hours of sleep on the presentation.
That’s a lie. The presentation only took me one hour to prepare. I spent another hour rehearsing what I was going to say. The other three hours were spent catching up on Lang’s Grey Book Anatomy.
I feel my eyeballs figuratively melting out of my head. Why did I mess with my circadian rhythm??? My sleep deficit was really throwing me off balance!!! The show was really good, though. Totally worth a wrecked sleep cycle.
So, hyping myself up on coffee with copious amounts of sugar, I made sure I could actually stay awake during my presentation. Except I was really, really hyped up on coffee and sugar. Everything seemed surreal. And of course, that surrealism really elevated my confidence.
My presentation was essentially just proof that my work was stolen, complete with pictures and logbook scans. And a bibliography that mentioned Dawkins, that asshole.
At precisely 10:03AM, I stood up in the front of a small lecture theatre with my fellow students, and started to speak.
“Hi, my name is Airmid Valerian and I’m here to address some issues presented in yesterday’s talk–“ blah blah blah. I said some formalities.
To avoid boring you, I’ll skip those formalities and get to the far more entertaining part where I completely destroyed Dawkins.
“What I want to say to you can only be put eloquently thus,” my eyes scanned the room, pausing to rest on the faces watching me. In particularly, I focused on Dawkins. Third row, centre. Slowly, I extended both my hands, showing the back of them to the audience, and raised my middle fingers.
You could hear the gasps of the crowd. My mind leapt straight to the horrors this defiance could lead to my reputation, but I paid those thoughts no heed. If this is the way the medical industry remembered Airmid Valerian, so be it.
Bending down to the microphone, I enunciated, “Puck. You.”
More gasps. Students were buzzing. You could visibly see some pulling out their phones to Snapchant or record me.
Coughing into the mic, I continued. “You took my work! My integrity! You exploited a person like me so you could make money and forget about the purpose of science in the first place!”
Finally, I rested my hands. Middle fingers took so much energy to hold up.
I quickly pressed the projector button on my phone and prayed to the nine circles of hell that the Bluetoothfairy was working. The powerpoint I had planned went up on the screen behind me.
“Everything’s scanned,” I said, flipping through the slides, showing the evidence. “My logbook, my own writings, photographic evidence of me in the middle of my experiments.”
When I glanced back at the crowd, I saw panic visibly rise in Dawkins’ face.
“If you want to check for any inconsistencies in my work, you’re welcome to go ahead. Science should be accessible. My work is up there for the public to view and criticise and question.”
He stood up. The crowd – and I – fell silent as he spoke. “If so, then why were you so pissed at me? You literally just said your work is free to use.”
“Yep,” I said, almost cringing at how casual I sounded. “But not free to remove credit.”
The crowd ooo’d again. At this moment, I had the upper hand in the battle of wits. What else could I do except savour it? While the cameras were rolling, I managed to ensure a self-assured smile on my face. After all, what was more credible that someone with absolute conviction?
The conference room got so worked up over this that there was yelling everywhere. So a security guard had to walk me and Dawkins out.
I glared at him. He looked blankly back.
To put a long story short, Dawkins lost his credibility that day and people started dissing on his presentation, no matter how good his original content was. The university didn’t expel him, but I think he did get some hours of community service.
A week after, Godfather took me to a BookEnd café to talk about my legacy and other important topics.
“Well, if all else fails, I did adore the scene you made,” he said, placing down his newspaper. “Teenage prodigy flips off a panel, criticises some smartass openly, and swears – these are the things that make looking after your legacy worthwhile.”
He nodded, picking up his tea. “At the very least, it makes for a good story. Cancels out all the boredom of paperwork and reaping, you know?”
“It’ll die out soon,” I said. “I mean, I’m fairly sure it’s only getting the current attention because I put up my middle fingers and swore.” Being talked about was nice, but now that I think of it – I would rather be seen as a respectable scientist instead of a loudmouthed upstart.
“Welcome to life,” he grinned. “Where is eminence is ephemeral.”