Excerpt: Double Take

Hasani looked like a pharaoh. Like one of the beautiful statues that peppered the city in museums and landmarks, of pharaohs and the highborn lords of ancient Kemet. Teka knew that the ancient pharaohs probably hadn’t actually looked like that. The sculptors had taken artistic liberties, aiming for an exaggerated aesthetic that didn’t exist. But Hasani, Teka thought, with his aquiline nose, full lips and big, beautiful dark eyes, was exactly the aesthetic those sculptors had been looking for so many years ago.

“Why are you so nervous?” Maek tapped Teka with a long finger, leaning over to peer at xyr work. “You’ll do fine.”

“Oh, I know I’ll do fine.” Teka pouted, sneaking another glance over at the laboratory tables. Hasani was walking amongst the students and checking on their progress. “It’s not about that, and you know it.”

Maek smirked. “You should not let a little crush get in the way of your work, Teka. What if you are so flustered you can’t even talk about it?”

“Don’t even say that!” Teka took a deep breath and looked away from Hasani, determined to focus on xyr work until it came time for the assessment. “My work comes first, and I will certainly not let a silly crush get in the way of that.”

“Okay.” Maek gave another smirk and turned back to her own project. “You are so serious, Teka, you don’t know when I’m joking.”

“Well, it is important to me,” said Teka, refocusing xyr attention to the slab of dark flesh laid out on the tablet in front of xem. Xe reached for a probe and touched a finger to the concave end, testing the conduction. “I still can’t believe how much synth-flesh we are allowed access to here. You know, at the university in my hometown we were only allowed five cases a year. We used to fight over them, and we paid the first-year students to catch rats for us to practice on.”

Xe glanced at Maek, who was making a mildly disgusted face. “You know, sometimes I do not know if you’re joking or not.”

“I’m telling the truth,” Teka insisted. “You don’t believe me?”

“No!” laughed Maek. “You cannot test human body magic on rats; the bodily structure would be too different—”

“Yes, of course, we took that into account.”

Maek was still laughing. “No, I don’t believe you.”

“Undergraduate Mesfin?”

Teka gulped, and turned from where xe had been giggling with Maek, to look up at Hasani. “Yes, Graduate Hasani?”

Hasani peered over Teka’s shoulder to look at the slab of synth-flesh on the desk. “Are you prepared for your assessment?” he asked. “The flesh still appears damaged.”

Teka felt xyr heart rate increase a little, although xe didn’t know if it was because of Hasani’s presence, or his words.

“I was just about to begin the process,” Teka said, swallowing. Xe set the probe down and reached for xyr pen. Probe test complete, xe wrote, conduction good. “If you’d like to observe.”

“Gladly.” Hasani pulled a pair of spectacles from around his neck and perched them on his nose. “Proceed.”

Teka took a deep breath and picked up the probe once again. Xe touched a finger to the concave end and with xyr gloved left hand, and reached to where the synth-flesh had a large, diagonal cut. Xe pulled the cut open and touched the probe to the flesh, channelling xyr magic into the probe and down to the end. Slowly, with much concentration on Teka’s part, the flesh began to knit back together.

As usual, Teka had to fight the temptation to throw away the probe and finish the job on instinct. It would be no problem. Xe could have the wound closed and good as new in much less time. But this was an easy project, a simple wound, and a failed attempt would not be the end of the world. Teka was studying for more complex projects that would have much more at stake. In those cases, instinct just wouldn’t do. So xe’d made peace with the probe. Learned to use it. Learned to record xyr work meticulously and memorized every aspect of how human flesh was structured. And, xe had to admit, xe was pretty good at it.

Hasani seemed to agree. When Teka finished and set down the probe, reaching for xyr pen to record the results, Hasani leaned forward to inspect the flesh. “Good,” he said. “No scarring, minimal magical residue. You could work on your grip a little.”

“I know,” said Teka, chagrined.

“Well then.” Hasani stood. “Time for your assessment. Bring your work with you.” He nodded at Teka’s papers. “I’d like to look them over.” He turned and headed towards the office. Teka hurriedly scooped up xyr papers, and with a nervous look at Maek, followed.

Hasani wasn’t a professor. He was only a graduate student, a few years above Teka, and as such in charge of assessing and supervising the new students. He and Teka sat across from each other at the large wooden desk, and Hasani flipped through Teka’s notes. “Good, good,” he said. “There are a few idiosyncrasies here: your symbol use is archaic, but I take it that’s how you were instructed. I shall correct your usage for you, and hand the notes back to you tomorrow. Now.” He put the notes to the side and removed his glasses, setting them on the table in front of him.

Teka attempted to keep from fidgeting. Xe’d never been good at interviews, preferring to work in private and submit xyr work in writing. It wasn’t that xe was shy or introverted. It was just the cold, clinical style of interrogation so present in academic study put xem off. Teka wished this wasn’t the first real conversation that xe’d had with Hasani. Xe liked him quite a bit, and was sure to make a fool of xemself now.

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