Chapter 24 – “Adriana, you’re not going to believe this.”

“Adriana, you’re not going to believe this.” Yuri had just gotten off the phone when he met up with Adriana Monday morning a few weeks later. “Chandler just asked if we want to do an internship at the lab.”

Adriana’s mouth opened wide into a smile. “Really? Both of us? When?”

“Next semester. Paid.”

“No kidding?”

Yuri shook his head, grinning. Adriana’s smile faded a little.

“Carl,” she said quietly. “They’re counting on me. I can’t just quit”

Yuri paused. He couldn’t believe she was thinking about turning down an internship at the most innovative lab in the world so she could work at Walgreens.

“Well… I told him we’d at least come look at the lab. Is that okay?”

Her smile came back. “Well yeah, I’ve been wanting to see what all the fuss is about anyway. You’d think he was saving the world or something.”

She grinned at him and ordered a raisin bagel, chewing on her lip. Yuri was getting to know her better and better. He could tell she was thinking. She wasn’t so sure about it.

But Yuri had seen pictures of the lab. He didn’t think it would take much to convince her.

~*~*~*~

That Saturday, Yuri sat at a table with his parents, Chandler, and Adriana, fidgeting uncontrollably with his napkin. Chandler had suggested this. And of course his parents had jumped on it. Adriana was flawless as always, carrying on conversation like this was her own family or something.

His stomach did a somersault.

Idiot. He seemed to say that to himself a lot around her. Sometimes just looking at her made him nervous. She sipped her coffee—full of every kind of cream they had—laughing as Chandler made an origami flower with a napkin. He bowed his head and handed it to her. She tucked it behind her ear and looked at Yuri, batting her eyelashes.

“What do you think? My color, right?”

He smiled but didn’t say anything. His parents were watching him and he felt their eyes like laser beams on his face. He shot them a look but they just kept smiling, rubbing each other’s hands.

It was like being on a double date… with his parents. And Chandler.

The awkwardness was going to kill him.

Yuri was unfathomably relieved when Chandler looked at the clock on the wall and announced it was time to go to the lab. They took a limo, which Adriana seemed thrilled about. She immediately grabbed a champagne glass from the little shelf inside of the door.

“You know the last time I was in a limo was my 12th birthday party,” she said. “I wanted the champagne so bad.”

Chandler opened his mouth, then looked at Maya, who shook her head almost imperceptibly. But Yuri saw it. He felt his face get hot.

“They’re kind of… old school,” he said quietly.

Adriana’s smile faltered for a moment. Then it came back bigger than before and she grabbed a Sprite. Her cheeks were pink.

“Only three more years, right?” she said, wrinkling her nose as she smiled at Yuri’s parents.

They all clinked their glasses of Sprite and Chandler said, “To Lab2O.”

“To saving the world, right?” Adriana said.

Chandler looked at her and smiled. “Right.”

It got quiet as they all sipped their drinks and Adriana looked out the window. His parents started making conversation about the weather. Yuri wanted to disappear.

He thanked his lucky stars when the car pulled up to the office building where Wang Enterprises had its American headquarters. Yuri had seen this place a couple of time over the summer, when they first came back to the States. On the outside, the building was brick, a few stories tall—pretty nondescript.

Yuri and Adriana followed Chandler out of the car, and as they got out Adriana squeezed his arm tightly. She opened her eyes wide and looked at him sideways so no one else could see.

“I’m sorry about them,” he mouthed silently.

She breathed deeply and gave him a tight smile with her eyebrows raised.

I’m sorry,” she whispered, rolling her eyes. “I need to rein it in.”

He put an arm around her and squeezed her shoulders. They were out of earshot of his parents, who were talking to the driver.

So he put his head close to hers and whispered, “They really like you. Probably even more than they like me.”

She rolled her eyes again and shot him a smile. Then she leaned her head on his shoulder for a moment and his stomach turned over.

“You’re my favorite, you know that?”

Yuri stopped and looked at her, suddenly feeling immensely better. She was smiling and pulling at her hair a little, her face slightly flushed.

Then they both jumped a little as Chandler’s voice ahead of them announced, “And we’re here!”

Yuri and Adriana looked around. They had followed Chandler past the office building to an empty lot behind it. They were looking at the backside of what looked like a rundown warehouse building. Yuri and Adriana looked at each other. She raised her eyebrows and he shrugged.

“Okay, not really.” Chandler paused, looking at the old warehouse with pride.

“You’ll see what he’s talking about,” Yuri’s dad said behind them, grinning.

Chandler turned around and led them in the other direction, away from the old warehouse and into the Wang office building. There was a lobby area with fancy, plush-looking chairs and oak furniture. Branching off were a dry cleaning place, a Chinese 7-Eleven, a Starbucks, and even a little deli with a menu that Yuri could see through the front window—entirely in Chinese. He grinned. This was exactly like the Wang office in Shanghai, down to the furniture.

Yuri had to smile. Chandler had this thing about furniture. It was a point of pride for him, and he liked to tell them where he found all the different “pieces,” as he liked to call them. They were usually something really expensive and hard to find. Yuri guessed that Uncle Chandler spent enough time in his office, he wanted it to be a place he enjoyed coming to. He figured he’d be the same way if he were Chandler.

But today Chandler all but ignored the furniture. He took a sharp left and led them up an escalator to the second floor—just like the office in Shanghai. The pretty woman at the reception desk greeted them with a big smile and saluted Chandler. He responded with a slight bow of the head and she handed him some visitor badges, which he gave to Yuri and Adriana. His parents had their own badges, which they pulled out as everyone followed him past some security guards—who also saluted him—and into a hallway.

Adriana looked at Yuri and raised her eyebrows again. “Why are they doing that?” she said quietly.

Yuri grinned. “It’s… it’s a Chinese thing. Don’t worry about it.”

She gave him an annoyed look.

“Okay, fine, it’s… kind of like the way Chinese people bow. Or like, I don’t know, calling someone ‘sir.’ Just to show respect.”

She laughed. “Oh, that’s it. It’s over. I’m saluting every time I see your Uncle Chandler.”

Yuri stifled a laugh as Chandler stopped at a large TV screen on the wall in front of a glass door.

“We’ll meet you down in the lab,” he said to Yuri’s parents, who were swiping badges in front of the screen. The glass door opened and they headed through it, leaving Yuri and Adriana a bit confused.

“We find security to be pretty… important around here,” Chandler was saying to them, gesturing toward a little white camera next to the TV screen. “So we get pictures of all visitors on file and use face tracking technology to make sure no one’s anywhere they don’t have clearance to be. And every point you scan, your picture will pop up. As added security. Kind of like getting your ID checked.”

“Wait,” Adriana said, her voice intense. “So this thing takes my picture and then follows me everywhere I go all around the building?”

Chandler hesitated. “…Yes,” he said.

Her eyebrows were raised high. “Yuri, this is freaking cool,” she said, and she positioned herself and smiled at the little camera.

Yuri got his picture taken as well and they were about to keep going when Adriana stopped and touched his arm.

“Can I get my picture taken again? I want to make sure I look okay, you know, if my picture is going to be showing up at every door in this whole building.”

Chandler chuckled. “Of course, you can do that,” he said.

They spent the next ten minutes watching Adriana posing in front of the little camera. Every time her picture would come up on the screen she would analyze it, frown, and fix something about her face— or hair, or teeth, or eyebrows— and go again.

It reminded Yuri of watching her organize displays at Walgreens. She was so intense. She wanted it perfect. And it just mattered so much to her. He had already forgotten what his own picture even looked like. He sometimes had to look down to remember what shirt he was wearing.

But Adriana wasn’t that way. She was so… deliberate. About everything.

He had to admit it was exhausting sometimes. But he was getting used to it. And he was starting to crave those times when she would drain his entire soul, it seemed—and then pick him back up again like rewinding a clock.

It was kind of addicting.

When Adriana was finally satisfied—and it was true, she did get the perfect picture—they followed Chandler through the glass door, up an elevator to the 3rd executive floor of the building, through a door that Yuri didn’t even notice until Chandler was opening it, and through the skywalk to the back warehouse 2nd floor. Inside they found themselves in a tiny room with concrete walls and an elevator door. Chandler swiped his card and they got in the elevator.

“Going down,” he said, grinning at them.

“This place is quite a maze, huh?” said Adriana.

“Well, wouldn’t want to make it too easy to steal our ideas.”

Adriana shrugged, smiling. “You sure make this place out to be a pretty big deal,” she said.

Yuri grinned and watched Chandler bristle a bit. “Just you wait,” he said, smiling slyly. “I’ll let you decide.”

When the elevator stopped, the door opened to reveal… well, nothing. Just a dark hallway. Chandler walked purposefully toward the end of the hall, where a closed door had two blinking green lights next to it.

“I see Landon and Maya found their way just fine,” Chandler said, pointing to the little blinking lights. He swiped his own card and another light started blinking. Adriana shrugged and swiped hers as well, and Yuri followed suit. The door opened into a bright room that almost blinded Yuri for a moment. But once he blinked a few times and could see what was in the room, he decided Chandler was right—it was about the coolest thing he had ever seen.

But it was even cooler to see Adriana’s reaction.

She walked in, staring around at the walls, which looked like they were made of water. She ran her fingers lightly along the long tables, staring at the different fish in the tanks and looking like she might cry. Yuri’s heart beat fast as he watched the way the light reflected off the glass tables and shone into her eyes, making them the brightest blue. She looked like she had forgotten to breathe.

“What is this place?” she whispered. Her voice echoed off all the glass surfaces in the room and was easy to hear—apparently even for Yuri’s parents, who were playing with an LED glass screen at the back of the room.

“Lab2O!” Landon called out. “Sorry, Chandler, didn’t mean to steal your thunder.”

Chandler grinned. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ve got plenty more.”

He grabbed a handful of some white powder from a clear bowl on one of the long glass tables and handed half of it to Adriana and half to Yuri.

“Pay attention to this,” he said, and gestured toward an empty tank next to them.

They looked at each other and Chandler nodded. Suddenly it started filling up with water—all on its own.

Adriana yelped quietly and jumped back. Water rushed through a glass tube attached to the aquarium and around the room, filling other aquariums and even the parts of the walls that hadn’t already had water in them. The sound of rushing water was everywhere. And then it stopped. Just like that. And there was water everywhere. The entire room was a giant, glittering aquarium.

“Water,” Chandler said, his voice sounding reverent. “One of the scarcest—and most important—resources on earth. Yet you can’t grow it on trees, or in a farm, or duplicate it at all.” Chandler sounded far away, his voice echoing off the walls. “Water as we know it today is just recycled from one form to another—snow melts to water, water flows to the rivers and goes to the ocean. The ocean evaporates to become clouds, which in turn become rain and snow. And the whole process starts over and over again.” He paused. “But doesn’t that seem archaic in today’s day and age? Isn’t it primitive that the world still worries about droughts? About crops that don’t grow?”

Chandler was pacing up and down the long tables now, his words coming faster.

“We weren’t the first ones to attempt to manufacture water. Britain’s RAF made a disastrous attempt—they did make it rain. But the rain caused so much flooding that 35 people died. And the Chinese have been attempting to control the weather since 1958. The Beijing Olympics—remember? They were so intent at making it a great success that they developed a Weather Modification Department and gave them the task of keeping the skies over Beijing blue. Any cloud that tried to enter the city had a bull’s-eye on its back. And it was a great success… but expensive. And they had serious problems—toxicity of silver iodide and soil contamination, munitions damage.”

“So…” Yuri was trying to take this in. “How does Lab2O fit into all of this, Uncle Chandler?”

“Yuri, a major breakthrough of Lab2O was the genetic modification of a naturally-occurring but rare form of bacteria that actually releases water as part of its metabolic process. Anything it digests will become… water. All it needs is a catalyst—like anything else. And we use force. Much like those fire crackers that you throw on the ground that pop. When you dropped that powder into the aquarium, it started a reaction. And the reaction continues until it comes to enough of a reactive force to stop it.”

“So, it knows when the glass is full,” Adriana said quietly. “It won’t cause flooding?”

“It shouldn’t,” Chandler said. “Obviously we are still working out some kinks. But a lot of trial and error—a lot of trial and error—went into this discovery. Not to mention a lot of money. These bacteria are very… finicky. If everything isn’t just perfect, they don’t work well. Lab2O owes a lot to its microbiologists.

“So… what will happen to Nemo in this water?”

Yuri turned to look at Adriana, who was bent over and looking at a little clown fish hiding behind some seaweed toward the bottom of a tank. He laughed. Uncle Chandler had just described the world’s most amazing invention in the making, and she was worried about this little fish.

Chandler laughed too. “He’s just fine, actually. Alive and well—and will be indefinitely. This water shouldn’t have any toxic or unhealthy properties. In fact, it seems to be even more beneficial than any other water. It was discovered up in the Kunyun Mountains, and the people who drank from its water lived well beyond the expected age of anyone in Asia.

“Amazing,” Adriana whispered, watching the fish with wide eyes. “Like magic.”

Chandler grinned. “Exactly,” he said. “And a little science.”

Yuri’s dad laughed. “A lot of science.”

“So,” Chandler said. “What do you two think of being interns for Lab2O this summer?”

Yuri had no doubt in his mind, but he looked over to Adriana to see if she was convinced yet. She looked like she was walking around in a dream. She looked at Yuri and put her arms out to her sides, palms up.

“How could we not?” she said softly.

Chandler clapped his hands. “Then it’s settled! You two’s job will be taking the DNA on all the creatures in the lab on this floor—the basement floor—including Nemo,” Chandler said with excitement. “You will track and monitor them so we can show all the agencies that the water is safe. Much like human trials in medicine.” Yuri and Adriana looked at each other, but before either of them could open their mouths. Chandler was ahead of them again. “There’s more, you will also need to track and monitor the plants on the first floor. Follow me.”

They followed him up some glass stairs at the back of the room, and Yuri couldn’t believe his eyes as the glass walls around them turned from a sea blue color to see-through glass. The entire first floor was a greenhouse. The glass was surrounded on the outside by concrete about ten feet from the walls, Yuri assumed so no one would see it from the outside. This must have been what the old warehouse building was hiding, he realized.

“How did you do that with the glass, Uncle Chandler?” Yuri asked.

“It’s called smart glass. It can be programmed to be any color, translucency, or image. You can even watch movies on it. Google it”

Yuri grinned. Well, Uncle Chandler sure seemed to know how they found all their information these days. He made a mental note to look it up.

Adriana had rushed up the stairs and was running from one aisle of the greenhouse to another. She didn’t seem to know where to look.

“Yuri, look, there are flowers, fruit, corn—oh my gosh, what is this? Is this wheat!? This is so awesome! You could just live in this warehouse and survive!”

She seemed beside herself, smelling flowers and poking at the different crops. Chandler was beaming like a gold medal winner at the Olympics.

“You’ve done it, Chandler,” Landon said. “You’ve tripped her wires. She’s going to short out.”

Chandler smiled at him and they all walked up and down the aisles, getting the big tour and learning more about the lab. Yuri felt like he had just stepped into a world he didn’t know existed. He couldn’t wait to start interning here.

Watching Adriana and hearing her talk nonstop about the lab on the way home, Yuri knew she felt the same about Lab2O. He watched her talk about everything and anything—something she did when she was excited. The smile wouldn’t leave her face. And she kept talking about how Lab2O was going to change the world. And, he thought, it would also give them a chance to spend every day together this summer. He couldn’t wait.

Maybe Lab2O would change his world a little bit, too.

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