Part of Apex of Creation
I rolled awake and rubbed my eyes. Today was the third day of Emily officially being my girlfriend, and the third day after I’d kicked Lucifer in the testicles while Emily and I re-stole the Scroll of the Apocalypse out from under his nose.
It was also a Saturday, and so Kevin was mercifully absent. He had seen the abyss open up in our dorm room, and had fortunately chalked it up to a bad trip. Naturally, the solution to a bad trip was to drown the visions in ethanol, which he had presumably spent all night doing.
Truly, Kevin was a paragon of responsibility and maturity.
And since Kevin had been predictably elsewhere… I looked over at Emily. Her long blonde hair cascaded over the pillow. One strand hung down over her face, blown back and forth with each breath.
She’d stayed over last night. For the third time ever, we’d slept together - in the literal sense of the word. There was no sex - and probably wouldn’t be for quite some time - but just waking up next to her, I felt like the luckiest guy alive.
Ι got up carefully and quietly, so as not to disturb Emily. I went to the bathroom and got dressed, but when I returned, Emily was sitting up.
“Good morning” she said, in a sleepy voice
Emily changed in the privacy of the bathroom, and then we went out to the library. It might have been the weekend, but that didn’t mean we could spend the day on frivolities. Not the library in Heaven - as amazing as it was, the whole incident with the Scroll had made us realize that we shouldn’t risk the fate of all creation at the cosmic level.
We got regular, ordinary, non-self-refilling coffee, walked to the campus library, and cracked open our human-authored textbooks.
A distillation column separates a saturated liquid mix of 50/50 water/ethanol. a) Using the phase equilibrium graph below, determine how many plates are necessary for the bottom outlet stream to be 95% water. b) Onto which plate should the inlet stream feed? c) What is the mass flow rate of vapor off of the 2nd plate from the bottom?
For me, the studying was more for Emily’s sake than my own. The divine omniscience helped fill in any gaps in my own knowledge, but that didn’t help Emily. While I could stop time and fill out Emily’s tests, using my powers to cheat other people through college felt wrong. And it wouldn’t actually help Emily in the long run anyways.
Besides, if I ever somehow lost my abilities, I’d need to actually know my field.
So, we got out the water/ethanol phase equilibrium graph, and started finding the specifications of the distillation tower.
I left class - one of the few that James and I didn’t share, and checked my phone.
You have 1 new voicemail.
I started to listen, but almost walked into the hood of a van parked at the side of the road. Two clumsy steps later, I hit Play.
Hi Emily, this is officer Dakota Jackson again. There have been some developments in the investigation against your father. The FBI is coming in to take over the case, and I was hoping you could meet with the new investigator. Could you set up a time to meet with him?
A month ago, I never would have thought that this could happen. Now that it was, I was equal parts elated and terrified. Elated, that my father was facing justice. Terrified, that his co-perverts would find a way to enact revenge.
But if the FBI was getting involved, that could only mean one thing: they were going after the whole group.
That didn’t make it easy, but it did give me hope. It was also comforting to know that whatever happened, my father was facing eternity in a dingy torture cell in a dungeon in Hell. Having James on my side helped.
A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have wanted to meet with the police. If James came with me, maybe I’d be able to get through it without another mental breakdown.
I texted him.
Another voicemail from officer Jackson
FBI is stepping in
She wants to set up a meeting with the FBI investigator
Do you want me to come?
That would be nice
OK just let me know when
That was, ultimately, the thing I appreciated about James. He was simple, straightforward, and easy to deal with. Maybe a little quick to frustration, but he wasn’t hard to read.
And understanding of my own difficulties. That was the important thing right now. It had been a pleasant surprise to discover that despite my earlier misgivings, being a “girlfriend” did not necessarily involve sex. And since James seemed to be ok with the whole situation, I probably shouldn’t complain.
Sure, there were going to be other problems down the road: tuition, bills, food. It was only a matter of time before the parental credit card declined, with my incarcerated parents unable to pay it off. I probably at least had through the end of the semester. I think.
But then what?
I’d figure something out. Right?
I looked around warily as I parked in the dingy back alley. Typically, I was the one doing the watching, rather than being watched. But it wouldn’t do well for my career to be caught visiting someone that I’d previously busted for possession of LSD.
I took a swig of liquid courage, then shut the car off and exited. Another furtive glance around - nothing suspicious nearby.
I approached a nondescript door and pressed the call button. A moment later, a peepslot slid open in the door. “Name?” a dark figure demanded
“Darren. Darren Sanders.”
“Anyone follow you?”
The slot slid closed, and the door opened. I stepped inside. “You armed?” the figure asked.
“Of course.” I lifted my jacket to reveal my police-issued sidearm.
“I’ll take that.” he said.
Hah. “No, you won’t.” I said, staring him down. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see that he was Lucas Mateo, my target. He was scrawny, dressed entirely in black, and not much stronger than a twig. I probably had a good hundred and fifty pounds on him. And the handgun was in a retention holster - it wasn’t going anywhere.
Lucas withered under my gaze. “I- I still need to check for listening devices.”
I took off my jacket and held out my arms, while Lucas did a piss-poor imitation of a police pat-down. I could have smuggled twenty kilos of cocaine past him, and he’d never know it.
“All clear” he announced. “Follow me.”
I followed Lucas deeper into the building. He led me to an apartment, and opened the door. “After you.”
I was assaulted by the aroma of stale pizza, sweaty socks, and farts. So that was the kind of person I was dealing with. Great.
I sat down on the couch, and tried not to think about what odors might be coming out of it. Lucas followed me in, and sat down across from me. With a sweep of his lanky arm, he cleared the coffee table of clutter.
I broke the ice. “So. Lucas. I-”
“I don’t have any of the good shit. Not for you.” he snapped. “Not after you turned me in. I’m taking a huge fucking risk just seeing you here.”
I shook my head. “That’s not why I’m here.”
Lucas eyed me warily. “Then what the hell are you doing?”
I shifted in my seat. “I’ve… seen things.”
“So, what? You raided the evidence locker for cheap garbage?”
“No.” There was no good way to say it without it sounding ridiculous. “I saw someone vanish.”
Lucas looked at me expectantly. “And…?”
“And reappear four feet away.” I let out a sigh. “Two people actually. Some people I was tailing.”
Lucas stared at me, then abruptly burst out in laughter. “Bro, I fucking told you all this shit at the station!”
“Yeah, I know, and let’s say I don’t remember any of it.”
It was only mostly true. After so many cases, all the social deviants blurred together. “I just remembered you going on about angels and demons and stuff like that. At the time, I figured it was the LSD.”
“It was the LSD, man. There’s a reason I don’t do that shit no more.” Lucas leaned back and ran his hand through his hair. “Dios mío, qué desastre eres.”
“Um… in English?”
“For fuck’s sake, get your shit together man.”
“It’s what, fucking ten in the morning? You reek of liquor, you’re hallucinating, and you’re so fucking desperate you came to visit me!”
“I got a job now man! I got a fucking paycheck! I’ve been on the straight and narrow since parole!”
Lucas leaned forward in his chair. “Look man, I dunno where you got your drugs. I don’t give a shit if you got it off the street or from evidence. Obviously, you got yourself some cheap shit, and you gotta knock it off. Go home, sober up, get your shit together. You’re a fucking cop, for Christ’s sake. I should be coming to you for help, not the other way around.”
“I… well… I guess I should get going then.” I stood up, and absentmindedly patted myself down for wallet, keys, phone, and gun. “Nice to see you again, Lucas.”
“Yeah. You too. Thanks for scaring me straight. Now get outta here.”
Lucas unceremoniously showed me to the door. As I stepped out of the dingy apartment building and got back into my car, I realized something.
I could have sworn I’d seen thin strips of LSD paper before Lucas had cleared the table.
“I still don’t understand the point of a packed column.” I said to Emily. We were booking it across campus, from one class to the next, and taking a shortcut behind one of the academic buildings. During class, a thin layer of snow had come down.
“I think the idea is that you’re increasing the surface area between the liquid and vapor phases.” Emily responded. I turned to catch a glimpse of that scrunched up face she made when she was thinking.
And then, since I wasn’t looking where I was going, I tripped off a curb and into a van. Oops.
“Graceful as always.” Emily commented.
“Yeah, somehow less impressive than my hook throwing skills.” I replied. We shared a knowing look. “But go on.”
She suppressed a giggle, and continued. “The point is to maximize surface area to exploit equilibrium, to transfer a gas between the liquid and vapor phases. The packing media achieves this by mixing the two phases together. The random packing is cheaper, but structured packing is more effective.”
I frowned. “Yeah, but what does the packing actually do?”
“You’ve taken mass transfer right?”
“Not until next semester.”
“Oh. The packing just mixes everything in a predictable and controllable manner… increasing surface area of the phase boundary, so that more mass can cross from one phase to the other.”
“Oh.” I replied, taking a moment to digest the information.
As we walked past a loading dock, Emily suddenly stopped short. “Hang on…”
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“That van…” Emily pointed at a vehicle at curb ahead. “I’ve seen it around before.”
The doors of the van slid open, and a handful of poorly dressed thugs clambered out. They moved with purpose, and they were wearing hankerchiefs to conceal their faces. I felt Emily stiffen next to me.
The thugs fanned out as they approached. One was wielding a tire iron. Another had a baseball bat. Another had brass knuckles in both fists.
With one hand, I took Emily’s hand. With my other hand, I grabbed onto time.
This chapter was produced with the support of my Hybrid patron:
- Olli Erinko