Initial Conditions

A young woman follows her dreams, makes choices, and faces the consequences.

Initial Conditions

When Danielle Meller starts to work for professor George Green, she expects the new job will jumpstart her academic career. Soon enough, she discovers that integrating herself in the competitive group is a constant struggle. It is even harder to convince her boss that she is capable of conducting innovative research in theoretical physics.

Danielle is fascinated by the recently discovered dark energy – it entices her imagination and draws her to explore its origins. A battle of wills ensues when Green stops her attempts to go beyond the assigned research. Danielle’s boyfriend, Jonathan, also warns her against taking unnecessary risks. Headstrong and ambitious, she doesn’t back off – until she inadvertently opens a personal and professional Pandora’s Box. Now, Danielle has to face the price of following her dreams – if she fails, she might lose the man she loves and everything she has worked for.

eBook: | | | | Kobo| Apple iBooks


Chapter 1

The Hungry Boson

It was a fine morning – the sky was azure, birds chirped from treetops, and a stream on the edge of the lawn glinted in sunlight. In a living room of a two-bedroom brick house nestled between the stream and Chadwick Drive, Danielle Meller was sitting with her back turned to a pair of large windows, unpacking yet another cardboard box. From a TV set that she had absentmindedly turned on, an insistent feminine voice carried on.

“Nowadays, a woman must have a profession. Not merely a day job, but a rock-solid career that empowers and sets up her own social circle. Dependable income secures a woman’s independence.”

Danielle raised her head above the box and glanced at the TV. The woman on the screen was rather young and immaculately groomed, but nevertheless she reminded Danielle of Mrs. Ler­ner, her mother-in-law-to-be. Too strongly, Danielle decided. She felt no regret ruffling Sarah Lerner’s feathers. If Jonathan’s mother could not accept that they had agreed on a long-distance relationship, that was not Danielle’s problem.

Danielle turned off the TV, pulled up the blinds and opened the windows. Daylight burst inside, bounced off bright creamy walls and half-filled bookshelves, dappled the lovely fireplace and the polished hardwood floor cluttered with kitchenware, books and clothes. She breathed the fragrant air, surveyed the garden and the sparkling stream. The morning was too bright for reflections, too pretty for organizing her belongings in her new home. It was, after all, one of the last days of her well-earned vacation before starting a new job.

Dressed in a light summer dress and sandals, Danielle left the rented house and ambled along Chadwick Drive. Small patches of wood interposed with tidy lawns. Shiny minivans, carelessly tossed bicycles, and scattered toys indicated that people lived there peacefully and comfortably.

The sun rose higher, dissipating the morning’s freshness. What had started as a pleasant walk became a monotonous stroll along nearly-identical leafy streets. Unable to distinguish one nice neighborhood from another – they all looked like hundreds of other well-to-do neighborhoods sprawling across small mid-Atlantic towns – Danielle decided to go back to unpacking.

“Rats,” she muttered, realizing she did not have the slightest idea where she was or where Chadwick Drive was. She lifted her head, narrowed her eyes and looked around. In the middle of the town, towering over the two-story brick and wooden houses, was a group of massive buildings, collectively known as King Solomon University.

Envisioning a glass of icy lemonade, Danielle headed straight towards the tallest edifice. The sun was nearly above her head when she reached a street bordering the university’s campus. She turned to the left, in the direction of the Main Street and its cafés. To her right, a narrow lane branched into the campus – a shady lane that stretched like an invitation to hide from the glaring sun. Going into the alley, she half expected to see a “private” or “no trespassing” sign posted on one of the trees, not a huge marble arch rising high over the paved lane. It looked incongruous and forbidding, like a gigantic guardian, erected to deter those who had no business going in. Danielle hesitated. A swift sensation of foreboding made her take a few steps back. There was no commemorative plaque, but near the top of the arch was an inscription. It read:

“King Solomon University. Since 1822. Truth We Pursue.”

“A nice motto,” she murmured. But there was something creepy about the arch. Feeling slightly unnerved, she returned to the street she came from and started to look for a nice café to relax in.

The buildings facing Stateside Street were law firms and real estate offices, boutiques and an upscale barbershop. Parched and annoyed at not being able to find her way in a small town, Danielle was slow to distinguish a new scent wafting in the warm air, an elusive aroma that intensified as she walked down the street. A whiff of the tantalizing mixture brought to Danielle’s mind freshly baked cakes, summer berries, and melted chocolate.

“A fantasy,” she dismissed the thought, but quickened her pace. A bakery shop would have cold bottled water and fresh muffins and brownies, maybe a few tables.

Danielle’s nose twitched when she reached a single-story house. Her mouth watered, so seductive was the scent engulfing her. On a sign above the door, she read “The Hungry Boson.”

A strange name for a café or a bakery, Danielle thought. For a while, she just stood there and inhaled the smells that floated around, tickled her nostrils. Then she stepped inside.

Shaded from bright light, Danielle saw lace curtains drawn on windows, wooden round tables, and wide flowery chairs that belonged to an old-fashioned teashop. Buttery scents, fruity scents, and heavier chocolaty aromas swirled and glided all over. She inched forward; her eyes grew bigger and bigger as her stare shifted from an espresso machine to trays laid on refrigerated shelves. No muffins. No brownies. She gaped at neatly arranged éclairs, pies and tarts.

“A lovely day, isn’t it?” a woman’s voice came from the back of the shop. Glancing in that direction, Danielle glimpsed an elderly woman put a book aside and walk to the counter.

“How can I help you?” the woman asked. Her voice was friendly, its light accent matching the teashop ambiance.

“It’s so beautiful here,” Danielle said. “Can I get a cappuccino and a glass of water?” She turned her head towards a distant tray. “And one of these éclairs, please?”

Danielle gulped the water while drops of coffee slowly dripped into a cup. Her curious stare flitted from object to object, until it paused on a couple of newspapers at the edge of the counter.

“The King’s Monkey?” Danielle read aloud. “Is it a local newspaper?”

“The Monkey is a satirical students’ paper,” the woman replied.

Hopeville Herald?” Danielle read another title.

“Plenty of gossip, and some university news.” The woman put the coffee on the counter. “Drink carefully when you are reading,” she advised.

The coffee and the chocolate éclair were excellent. Reading about a professor in a Martian barbershop, Danielle felt at peace with herself and the world. She did not notice other customers walking in

“Crawford will have to resign.” Danielle heard a man’s voice nearby. “Even he won’t get away so simply.”

She darted a sideways glance at the speaker. He was blond, somewhere in his late forties, well dressed, and fairly agitated. Of his companion, Danielle saw only the back of a blue polo shirt and bright ginger hair. She speculated that both men were affiliated with the university.

“So simply?” the redhead scoffed. “He has been apologizing in every possible forum ever since he let that remark slip.”

Gathering that the men were talking about Crawford’s scandal, Danielle pricked up her ears. Crawford’s messy slip, as to why female scientists lagged behind their male colleagues, had received unprecedented nationwide coverage, and was met with wide disapproval. She was curious to hear what these men thought about it. Since they made no attempt to speak quietly, she had no qualms about eavesdropping on their conversation.

“And he will continue to do so,” the blond said darkly, “maybe even after his resignation.”

“Come on,” the redhead objected. “At some point he’ll kindly explain that he has other obligations and ignore further taunts. For how long is he expected to pay for a single misguided remark?”

The blond shook his head. “The criticism won’t subside if he tries to ignore it. He simply cannot appear condescending to women scientists.’’

“I see no point in fretting about it,” the redhead said. “Crawford has a nice faculty position to fall back on, and nobody is interested in an ordinary professor’s views.”

The conversation paused while the men drank their coffees and privately lamented, or so Danielle assumed, the lack of public interest in ordinary professors. Enjoying the free entertainment, she speculated about which department the men belonged to, if they were indeed university professors. When the blond lowered his cup and sighed, Danielle put guesses aside. She listened attentively.

“Yet, there is something in his remark. For years women avoided physics, and nobody could figure out why.”

“You don’t attribute their lesser aptitude to biological differences, a la Crawford?” the redhead chuckled. “What about women in astronomy, in biophysics, even a few headstrong, like Susan, in theoretical physics?” “What about them?” the blond grumbled.

“How would you explain their success without suggesting that they’re freaks?”

Danielle itched to enlighten the chauvinist crackpots that intelligent women were not nature’s accidents, but decided that as a new post-doc, it was not a good way to introduce herself to the members of faculty.

“Don’t gloat, Isaac,” the blond gruffly advised. “The media has already taken care of that. The uproar has nothing to do with the outstanding ones who are sought by top universities. It’s about the entire pool of female researchers.”

Danielle glowered at her empty plate.

“What I recall and most people seem to overlook is that Crawford was speaking of a biological bias that shifts the odds, and not about general laws.” The blond went on, “Just look at the statistics in physics. Despite all the encouragement, the special grants and scholarships they have been getting, only precious few go beyond the graduate level. The women to men ratio among tenured researchers is embarrassingly small.”

“Have you considered that women might be too rational to pursue a career with such unfavorable odds?” Isaac asked. “Or that most female students might discover that they dislike quantum mechanics?”

“You treat this as a joke because you couldn’t care less why it is so. What if women are less apt to understand quantum mechanics?”

“Does anyone understand it?” Isaac quipped.

While the blond drained his cup and grumbled something inaudible, Danielle made a mental note to introduce herself to Isaac when he would not be in the company of the stuffy bore.

“We know that male students do not shy away from making a living from abstractions they don’t understand,” Isaac said. “But what allows us to assume that most women have similar inclination?”

A thud behind the counter startled Danielle. The men rose, the blond headed straight to the door, Isaac approached the woman. “Are you hurt, Anne?”

“My book fell,” Anne said firmly. Isaac whispered something and went to join the blond.

Denied the rest of the conversation, Danielle picked up the King’s Monkey and Hopeville Herald, and put them back on the counter.

“My name is Danielle,” she introduced herself to the woman.

“Anne,” said Anne. She slightly bowed her head. “How do you do?”

“Great. I’d have never imagined, but I’m really happy to find a teashop so close to the university.”

“Working there?” Anne asked politely.

“I’m going to in a few days.” Danielle smiled. She wanted to know more about Isaac, but Anne’s elegant looks did not encourage a chummy approach. “I thought interest in Crawford’s remark was ebbing,” Danielle commented offhandedly, “but I see it is still making waves.”

“I suppose you could not help overhearing them,” Anne said rebukingly.

“I normally wouldn’t listen uninvited, but Isaac’s words reminded me of a guy I had dated.” Seeing interest flicker over Anne’s face, Danielle went on. “Paul Zeeman was a very bright and unbearably arrogant graduate student. He showed contempt for anyone less quick and bright than himself.”

“People mellow when they become older. They often learn to treat others with some respect.”

Danielle shook her head, to show that she doubted anything could cure Zeeman.

They sat quietly for a few minutes, each woman immersed in her own recollections and thoughts. When Anne rose to collect the dirty dishes, Danielle continued to sit uninterrupted, until new customers came in.