“Welcome, Amanda,” Dok greeted her in a genial voice without looking up from his laptop’s screen. “How did you manage with this week’s readings?”
Her newly found sense of purpose deflated a bit when she realized she’d forgotten her notebook upstairs, along with all her carefully prepared questions for Dok. Damn.
“Fine,” she replied, as usual. So far, the articles he assigned her were challenging but nothing she couldn’t handle. Whenever she came across something particularly interesting or confusing, she made a note of it in her notebook. Which is lying on the sofa upstairs, dork, she chided herself.
“Any questions for me this week?”
She asked the only one she managed to remember. “How is it that what we do doesn’t violate the rule about energy and matter being conserved?” She grimaced at how poorly she phrased it. She really needed that notebook!
“Remember that thought is energy,” Dok replied. “Paranormals input enormous amounts of energy into the systems they manipulate. In fact, I think you and I might be ready to tackle some practical applications of that today. Feel up to it?”
Amanda nodded eagerly. This was precisely the sort of active preparation she had in mind. Reading articles and studying theories could only take a person so far.
“Tell me what you know about chemical bonding,” he prompted her as he pulled out some glassware from a wall cabinet.
Easy, she thought; this was something she’d reviewed recently. “Ionic bonds are formed when two opposite charges attract—like magnets—causing the atoms to arrange themselves in a lattice formation.”
“Good,” he replied. “Any more?”
“Covalent bonds are when atoms share their outermost electrons with each other. It can be an equal sharing, but it’s usually unequal, with one atom hogging the electrons, resulting in positive and negative poles within the molecule.”
Dok filled a beaker full of water while she spoke. He set the beaker, two empty flasks, and containers of table salt and sugar on the lab bench. “Here we have an example of an ionic bond,” he said, indicating the salt. He poured a small hill of it into the empty flask, then added water. As he swirled the flask, dissolving the salt, he said, “Describe what’s happening now.”
“The salt is going into solution?” she replied, not sure what he was driving at.
Dok nodded patiently. “How? Tell me about the bonds.”
“Oh, right.” She was irritated with herself for needing so much direction. No more baby steps!
“Well, water is a polar molecule, because the oxygen atom hogs the electrons of the two hydrogen atoms. The sodium and chlorine atoms of the salt were lined up alternately in the crystals, but now they’re feeling more attraction to the water than each other. The sodium atoms are positively charged, so are drawn to the negative pole of the oxygen atom of the water, while the negatively charged chlorine atoms are going toward the positive pole of the hydrogens.”
“Excellent. What you’ve described is called a hydrogen bond.” Dok lifted the flask to eye level. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, he set it down directly in front of Amanda.
She peered into the flask—no remnants of the salt crystals remained visible. It looked like plain water once more.
“Salt goes into solution very easily with little to no help from us. When salty water evaporates, it leaves a crystalline crust behind. Amanda, I want you to manipulate the sodium and chlorine atoms without disturbing the water. Pull the salt back out of solution.”
Amanda frowned. “How am I supposed to do that?”
“The honest truth is I have no idea,” Dok said. “The best guidance I can give you is to concentrate, reach outward with your mind, and make it happen.”
Amanda looked carefully at him, searching for assurance he wasn’t trying to make a fool of her. But Dok’s face was nothing but expectant.
She stared hard at the water, thinking, Evaporate. Little bubbles began to form at the bottom, then rise to the surface.
“No, don’t make it boil. Leave the water molecules as they are.”
Chewing on her lip, she thought, Salt! I want the salt. Give me the salt.
“Try closing your eyes,” he suggested. “It might help your focus.”
Amanda obeyed. She pictured the flask in her mind, the water within. She imagined shooing away the water molecules. I want salt, not water.
“No, you’re evaporating it again.” Dok slid the flask into her hands. “Don’t make it change temperature. Leave the water alone.”
Amanda took a deep breath to stave off her mounting frustration. Reach out with your mind, she instructed herself, sinking deeply into her consciousness. Focus on what you know is going on in the solution. See the atoms.
She envisioned fuzzy little cloud-balls slipping along the surface of each other like crowd surfers. Nothing stayed put; instead, the cloud-balls were in constant motion. It felt like chaos to her mind. She felt lost and overwhelmed.
No. This isn’t right. Too much moving. Dizzy. You want peace. You want to be still.
Some of the cloud-balls agreed with her. They began to slide along the others with a purpose, as if searching for something. Sometimes when two approached each other, they glanced off one another, zinging away out of sight. Other times, they accelerated toward each other, then slammed together in a joyous collision.
Yes! This is what you want! So much better than before. This is where you belong: together.
She praised the pairs, then encouraged the other lost and wandering ones to join up. More of the cloud-balls heeded her call. They moved toward the already partnered ones as if curious to see what all the commotion was about. More cloud-balls paired up, then pairs began to cling together, supporting each other.
The water doesn’t give you what you want. Hold on to each other. This is where you belong. Nice and orderly… so right. This feels right.
“Excellent,” Dok whispered excitedly.
Amanda opened her eyes to see a thin ring of whitish crust at the water’s surface. “They listened to me!”
“I… I told them what to do, and they did it.”
“Who are ‘they?'”
“The little cloud-balls. The atoms, I suppose.”
Dok quirked an eyebrow. “That’s a new one.” He reached for his laptop and began typing furiously.
“A new one? Others do it differently?” Was he about to tell her she had just done it wrong?
“Actually, everyone has a unique way of performing the task. Or to be more precise, those that are able to do it at all report very individualistic methods.”
“Not everyone can do this?” Amanda’s heart began to thrum. Is this something I’m good at?
Dok continued typing away. “This sort of molecular manipulation isn’t terribly rare, but neither does it appear to be universal.”
Amanda nodded, escalating hopes plummeting back down to earth. Just average. Not special.
She didn’t have long to mope. Dok pushed back his computer and reached for the second empty flask. “Let’s try another. Something a bit more challenging.” He dumped some sugar into the flask, then emptied the rest of the water from the beaker into it. Just like before, he swirled it around until the sugar went into solution.
“Are you familiar with the composition of sucrose?”
“C twelve, H twenty-two, O eleven.”
Dok went to the dry erase board near the door. It took him seconds to sketch the molecule’s double-ring structure. In the meantime, the stink of the dry erase marker made her eyes water.
He slid the flask toward her once more. “Now, pull out the carbon.”
Amanda closed her eyes and cupped the flask in her hands. She reached out with her mind—it was easier now with the pathway so recently trod. This time, a different picture presented itself in her mind. Large, misshapen cloud-lumps lumbered along in the sea of much smaller cloud-balls.
Come together, she coaxed them, just like she’d done with the salt. Hold tight.
“No, you’re re-crystallizing it,” Dok said. “We don’t want sugar anymore. We want carbon and water.”
Amanda refocused her thoughts, her attention lasering in on the misshapen lumps. She felt her way around the molecule like a blind person exploring a sculpture, poking her mental fingers into every little gap, pinching and prodding every protuberance until she began to notice different… flavors? Textures? It was hard to find the proper word—she only knew there was a difference.
She gave one a little mental flick. Ping! Off it zoomed, lost in the sea of identical cloud-balls. She began pruning them all off. Snip! Pinch! Snap! Only, by the time she got all the way around the double ring, all the little cloud-balls she’d pinched off earlier had been replaced by new little cloud-balls.
She tried another tack, focusing on the other “flavor” of cloud-balls. These were… needier than the other type, somehow. They craved more connectedness. Amanda tried to use this to her advantage. She pushed two of them closer together.
You want this togetherness, not the other. This one is better… more comfortable.
A few of the needy cloud-balls turned away from the other cloud-balls toward the identical ones beside them. The embrace between the similar, needy cloud-balls became tighter than the others, to the exclusion of the different ones. They zoomed off now that they weren’t preferred any longer.
This is where you belong. This is your mate.
More of the needy cloud-balls responded to her urging. They embraced each other, pulling more of the needy ones into hugs that built upon each other, weaving together like a web.
“That’s it,” Dok whispered. “Keep doing that.”
You want yourselves… so much happier, this way! Amanda sang to the needy ones. So much easier! Be with the ones like you! They understand what you want.
“Open your eyes, Amanda.”
They flickered open to find a few little dark-grey granules settled on the bottom of the flask. A couple more of them seemed to coalesce from the water out of nowhere and sink down.
Dok gently took the flask from her hand and decanted the water. He poured the tiny grains onto a paper towel, dried them gently, then rubbed them on a white piece of paper. They marked it like pencil lead.
“Graphite,” he declared. “Well done!”
Her heart racing with excitement, Amanda panted slightly from the effort. “Damn. I was going for diamonds.”