Change in Plans

Change in Plans
From Chapter 2 an excerpt of the in progress novel The Kali Algorithm an adventure romance.

Background: In this scene, Sana is returning to work after her incredible five days in London where she presented at a prestigious mathematics conference and, quite by chance, met a man, John Seton, who swept her off her feet. But as happy as she is, she is also anxious, as she doesn’t know when, or if, she will ever see John again. In addition to her romantic interlude in London, Sana experienced several strange events that can best be described as paranormal and that she believes could have something to do with a so-called 'Kundalini awakening,' though, as a mathematician, she is more than a little skeptical.

The scene occurs in the first quarter of the narrative arc.

Storytelling goals for the scene:

  • Sana's character development; establish her data scientist bona fides and career thus far as at HROC; establish her "Texas girl" bona fides; reinforce the conflict between excitement/fear of a relationship with John; augment reader's sense of her character flaws
  • Introduce a little more of her past
  • Continue paranormal thread and Sana's ambivalence/skepticism merging with the possibility of her acceptance
  • Lead in to first plot crisis and the call to adventure

Plano, Texas

“Have a blessed day, Sana.”

“Inshallah, Zak, and you as well,” I said, closing the car door in front of the HROC tower. Zak drove for Uber and was one of a handful of repeat drivers I’d become first-name acquainted with as a power user of the ride service. I didn’t like driving—hated it, actually—so despite it being just a short hop—barely a mile—between my condo and work, I rarely took my own car.

If I hadn’t been running late due to my lallygagging and dreamy replays of the weekend, I could have walked. It was a gorgeous morning. There was so much color and high contrast that everything looked like it was being run through an Instagram filter. The first of the crepe myrtles were flowering in happy pinks and whites, and the knockout roses flanking the entrance were immaculate in their full, Texas-springtime bloom. I got a pang in my stomach replaying our moment in Hyde Park. The roses hadn’t been in bloom, but despite that—or maybe because of it—John had dished out those hammy yet endearing lines from the Eliot poem, standing there all steel gray eyes and handsome tailored jacket going on about the “in-folded tongues of flame” and “knots of fire” in that dreamy accent… My pang notched itself up to a mopey yearn, and I made a rather melodramatic sigh.

It had been that kind of morning, following that kind of night—a combo of jet lag and lovesick whimsy. My morning masala chai reminded me of the Sofitel (the first one) which reminded me of John. My morning sun salutations reminded me of yoga which reminded me of John (and reminded me of Aurora, but I’d pushed those aside, mostly)…Getting dressed reminded me of getting undressed, laying in bed reminding me of laying in bed reminding of John’s scent—the musky apple, woody smell—and the fold of his tongue—his tongue of flame—in-folded and all over me… Yes, it had been that kind of morning!

John was in my in head, no complaints, other than wishing he was more than just inside my head. I’d never been so giddy for a guy before. I found it amusing too that I’d finally met someone who had that, I don’t know, “it factor”—or the “tingle factor”—and it happened in London of all places, because one of the reasons I’d chosen to work at HROC over other offers closer to home in Houston’s “petroleum corridor” was I thought—based on zero empirical data and solely on ‘my feels’—that I’d have a better chance of meeting someone in Dallas. But that hadn’t happened. According to my mom, that unhappening was because I worked too much (“You’re not going to be young and pretty forever, darling…”) and because I hung out with my friend Lazo too much (“You need to expand your social circle…”). She was probably onto something about work. I’d been putting in a lot of hours. I guess I got that from my dad. As a kid, whenever I’d gotten whiney about what I’d considered an especially dull school assignment, my dad would always tell me, “There are many things beyond our control in life, but how hard we choose to work isn’t one of them.” Frankly, both my parents had instilled in me a near religious devotion to hard work, and particularly the idea that a lack of sufficient effort can erode and waste any inborn ability and talent one might have.

The latter spoke to my mom’s point about needing to put more effort into trying to find if not the right at least not the wrong guy. And as annoying as my mom’s ‘best if married by’ expiration date thinking was to me, I had to grant that there something to it. I couldn’t ignore the the real world data. At a certain age an inflection point occurred where the probability of a woman getting married and starting a family declined precipitously. As I’d repeatedly told my mom, I did want to get married and have children, just not yet. And I’ll admit that ‘yet’ in my ‘not yet’ had taken on the suggestion of something less arbitrarily ‘out there’ since meeting John. More than once in the past forty-eight hours I’d let my imagination go off into a little and-they-lived-happily-ever-after fantasy sequence.

Breathe, Sana, breathe.

I took a deep breath and did my best to swipe John and my capricious romantic off my mental screen. Chin up and shoulders back, I struck my work posture and let the revolving door spin me into the frosty chill of the atrium. My heels clattered across the light gray (HROC-logo gray) marble glinting like ice, and it may as well had been. Despite all the glass, the light, and the super high ceiling, the atrium was always the coldest spot in the building and the entire tower was chilly. I always wore an extra layer—typically a blazer, even in—which was more a case of especially in—the heat of the summer when the A.C. really kicked in and it became even colder inside the office. Mostly on account of the cold, but also because I didn’t like to waste time deciding what to wear each day, I trended toward a standard work outfit—a mix and match of luxe-branded (mostly bought marked down) blazers, camisoles, trousers, and low-heeled pumps—an ensemble warm and comfortable, yet still feminine without being flashy or distracting.

The E&P (energy and petroleum) business was still very much a man’s world and a man’s man world at that—not only did the industry tend to attract a more traditional and conservative workforce, but much of the E&P personnel skewed older and consisted of guys who’d had careers that spanned the 70s and 80s and still had a memory of days when men were men and the women were secretaries. It wasn’t like an episode of Mad Men or anything, but it also wasn’t the same as working at place like Google where social justice and progressivism were part of the brand. Not that I’d have gone in for anything risqué even if it were the office norm. Comfortable yet feminine (and warm) business casual suited me just fine.

Waiting for one of the four elevators, there was a sudden staccato burst of quick-stepped heel clacking, but these weren’t woman’s steps. I turned and saw two guys in cowboy boots and starched jeans kicking up their own racket—Mike Evans and Jack Audet. It was a male pissing contest to see who could be the loudest, and to my ears the round had gone to Jack.

“Morning, Sana,” the pair greeted me nearly in unison just as the elevator doors opened. The three of us were in the same division, G&G (geological and geophysical). Jack put out one arm to keep the door from closing and waited for me to step in first. Old-school had its charms.

“Wait, yonder comes Guapo,” said Mike just as the door began to close, and stabbing a finger into button pad to hold the door. It was Julian “Guapo” Martinez striding quickly toward us silently in rubber soled shoes. Julian didn’t need the boot heels contest—he was “el Guapo”—the handsome one—and it wasn’t used ironically. Julian was one fine hunk of man.

“How’s it hanging, Guapo?” Mike asked with an affectionate grin. The natural camaraderie among the men was enviable.

“Oh, you know… one in front of the other—”

“For speed,” I interjected, finishing the line I’d heard, oh a couple dozen times in the eleven months I’d worked at HROC.

“That’s right!” Julian said giving me a quick el Guapo wink. “We’re going to make an oil man out of you yet, Willoughby! You see if we don’t.”

“Excellent,” I said. It was a compliment, though buoyed by my exceptional mood, I decided to be bolder than usual and try to have a little fun with it. “So… when I do become an official oil man, I won’t have to wear those godawful cowboy boots, will I?” I looked to Mike and Jack’s feet and grimaced with mocked aversion.

“See that’s just it,” said Jack picking up on my playful chaff and shaking his head slowly side to side with disappointment. “You can take the gal out of TU, but you can’t take the TU out of the gal.”

Mike and Julian both chuckled at Jack’s use of ‘TU’ and the affected way he’d pronounced the two letters. It was a popular, derogatory reference to my alma mater UT—the University of Texas. Students and alums of rival Texas A&M—as all three of these guys were—amusingly refused to grant the ‘of’ in the University of Texas. So it was TU or 'just another Texas University.’ The barb was overused yet still effective.

“Leave it to a T-sip to spurn the footwear of the true Texians,” said Mike, using the archaic term for Texans dating back to the Republic of Texas days to augment his perceived A&M bona fides.

“Raised on concrete, every one of ‘em,” snickered Jack.

I made the ‘Hook ‘em Horns’ sign and gave a ‘you wish’ face much to their delight and mine.

This wasn’t the first time we arrived to work at the same time and had shared an elevator up, but we’d never shared this kind of friendly banter before but just the typical, polite, innocuous small talk. I didn’t work directly with any of the three, so I’d never felt that I’d built up any sort of rapport. I was glad I’d decided to mix things up, and wondered why I hadn’t done so sooner. It felt good to be included in the guys’ friendly banter, and not only because it gave me the sense of satisfaction of finally being thought of as part of the club, but also I enjoyed the lighthearted dissing for its own sake.

“Now hold on, fellas.” Julian help up his hands. “She’s doing pretty good for a T-sipper…” he said picking up on Mike’s ’T-sip’ insinuation. We were all effeminate tea sippers at UT compared to (in their own minds at least) the all machismo all the time of A&M.

Julian had paused when the elevator stopped and opened on three. Seeing nobody was there, he cocked his to the side and continued. “For a T-sip she’s holding up pretty good. All the way to London and back and looking as radiant as always.” His tone indicated less barb and more compliment.

“Thanks,” I replied. “I got in early yesterday, so had a chance to adjust.” I was surprised Julian even knew I’d traveled to the conference. To everyone else, our work in R&D was opaque, and by opaque I mean we were considered “nerds,” “geeks,” “whiz kids” or worse, and we were looked on somewhat suspiciously because our work was theoretical—numbers, probabilities, algorithms—and not the physical—as in drills boring deep into the earth physical—the work of the true oil men.

“I daresay you’re quite right old chap,” said Mike with a fake British accent. I didn’t know if he was actually aware of London and the conference or if he was just picking up on the thread Julian had started. What I did know was his attempt at the accent was comically dreadful. “She’s looking most fetching, most fetching indeed.” Fetching? I was about to tease Mike by asking if he’d learned the word from reading some bodice-ripping romance novels but Jack started in before I had a chance.

“Yes, do tell, Miss Willoughby, what accounts for this glow?” Jack’s hokey accent was somewhat worse than Mike’s, if such a thing were possible. “Did we have a bit of romp in merry ol’ London town?”

Yikes, Jack had unwittingly scored a hit and warmth traveled up my neck and into my face with a soaking blush, and I lost some mental balance. Not from Jack’s question but from a memory—a very scintillating memory—of said romp.

“What ho, gents, what a rascally blush she wears!” he said continuing.

“Wait, did you just say the word ‘rascally’ in a sentence?” I said getting myself back into form, but Jack kept on.

“It appears our dear Miss Willoughby is a right smart tart! Do tell!”

Jack’s shoulders made a couple quick successive shrugging motions which I figured was a tell for being pleased with himself. Or maybe it was a nervous tick? Maybe after seeing my reaction—not only my blushing but I was still mentally re-romping and unresponsive—perhaps Jack worried his teasing has taken him across the border between acceptable and unacceptable and he’d struck a sexual harassment tripwire with me?

I wasn’t offended, but—just for fun and in the spirit of our mutual ribbing—I let a few beats of uncomfortable silence fill the space between us before reacting. As the elevator slowed and we lightly jostled to a stop, I rolled my eyes and figured—not for the first time—that the best defense was good offense.

“Oh, you poor Aggies,” I began using a classic UT taunt, “I’m flattered that your fantasies of my personal life have momentarily supplanted your abject, online porn fetishes.” I gave all three of them my haughtiest, you sad, pitiful men look. “Were there weekend storms that took all your internets down or something?” I looked between the three of them collectively then settled my gaze on Jack. “What, no furries for you, Jack?”

Jack turned red and all three stepped out to the fifth in fits. Just before the doors had shut, I caught a bemused-face Mike leaning into Jack and asking, “What’s a furry?”

I grinned and let out a chuckle as the elevator lifted. My day was off to a fantastic start and my heart seemed everywhere at once. Not only was I still feeling the blissful aftereffects from the weekend, but now it seemed that I’d reached a place where I was beginning to be thought of as 'just one of the guys’—someone on their way to becoming “a true oil man” who could be ribbed a little during a shared elevator ride. That the ribbing had touched on the truth—and I’d welcome any excuse to be reminded of John and the weekend—was all the better.

I had ‘tarted it up a bit in London,’ and a part of me just wanted to tell the world: I met this incredible guy, and we fucked like I’ve never fucked before—I’m talking cosmic fucking, fam—and my heart is racing and I’m getting wet just thinking about it!

It was a tremendous feeling, but one I needed to tamp down. As much as I enjoyed being included in the joking, I didn’t want it go any further than it had and maybe in hindsight a bit less than that. Reputation was everything, and I wanted to be known for my work—finding epic, hidden reserves of E&P using math and data science.

Before stepping out on seven, I took a couple deep breaths and focused on my mental to do list for the morning: catch up on email, file my trip expenses with accounting, and begin prepping an informal overview presentation I’d make to my colleagues on the R&D team about what I learned at the various sessions and break outs during the conference. I’d picked up quite a few interesting things—particularly from the presentation Ramachandra gave—though I’d leave out the part about his creepily hounding me on the eight anomalies after my own session. The work Tom had done with bats would add some definite interest to my presentation too, even though I didn’t technically learn that at the conference, it was all related.

Unfortunately, staying focused at my desk proved difficult. Not only were there a lot of “how’d it go?” and “how was it?” greetings as the floor began to fill in with coworkers welcoming me back, but each one these interruptions stirred up memories—not just memories of John—though there were plenty of those—both of the permitted for viewers of all ages and for mature audiences only kind—but also memories of the weird Kundalini stuff and the siddhis. A couple of times I could sense with absolute certainty who was approaching, and I’d catch advance notice of what there were going to say. Though I chided myself for leaping to the siddhi conclusion. It was a given that there were a finite number of people with whom I worked with and they all tended to arrive in the same general succession most days. Also there were a limited set of themes people tended to draw upon for ‘welcome back’ small talk—the flight, the weather, the sightseeing, and general riffs on the conference itself (“Were you nervous?”). Really, you could say it was nothing that required any great powers of precognition to see coming. Still, the clarity of the feeling was hard to discount as just coincidence or wishful thinking.

Siddhi (or not) aside, still the memories stirred up were all distracting. I tried walking to the window to take in the view, something I’d found helpful as a mental reset when needed. It wasn’t quite an on top of the world view—I was only on the seventh—but the view looked north and covered the “ten billion mile”—a strip of high end, mixed-use development that stretched from our HROC tower and out over the Toyota campus—and half a dozen other Fortune 100 and 500 offices—before ending at The Star, the lavish headquarters and themed-experience-urban-village of the Dallas Cowboys. But that morning the view wasn’t helping me focus. If anything the view—as a testament to shiny branding and financial success—just fed my distraction—I felt like was on some sort of incredible trajectory—that everything was starting to fall into place—my career, my love life—even the what I’d experienced of the Kundalini stuff seemed somehow intertwined and consequential.

Breathe, Sana, breathe.

I needed to get my heads out of the clouds. Career-wise I still had a long way to go. Boyfriend-wise I did too. Even using the word boyfriend was getting way, way ahead of myself. I had a lover—no, that was still hyperbole—brass tacks, I had a one night—or afternoon—OK, let’s call it a one evening (it was close to dusk!) stand. I had a one evening stand but with a promise—well, let’s call it a potential—that is, an amorphous, still post-coital breathy so anything seems possible collection of parting words—with an intent of a plan for some TBD unrealized potential—from a guy I’d only just met and only knew so very little of—a guy who could be (statistically the odds suggested he very well may be) a cad for all I knew. That and a handful of text messages is what I had. It wasn’t much, and the greater the linear distance in time increased from that afternoon (twilight!) in London to the present, the more I felt the potential decaying.

My pity soliloquy was (fortunately) interrupted by an inter-office chat message:

Bill Murphy: Good morning! Could you pop by in 5 or 10 mins?

Bill Murphy was the department head—my boss— although Bill ran our Special Projects group loosely, with little emphasis on org chart hierarchy, so I always thought of Bill more as a colleague with a private office than a boss. I’d been expecting him to ping me. He’d be wanting me to catch him up on the conference and how my presentation went. I dashed off an immediate reply:

Sure! Be there in 5

Bill had been nothing but encouraging since the day I arrived, even when I hadn’t deserved it, like the morning last fall when Bill had assigned me my first official project.

“Fracking and earthquakes? Seriously?” I’d blurted out to Bill with more than a whiff of churlishness. “After three months of drudgery learning the ins and outs of all the antiquated legacy systems, and this is my first real project.”

I’m chagrined to admit that I’d actually made little air quotes with my fingers around the world ‘real.’ I hated people who did that.

“Yes, hydraulic fracturing and seismic activity,” said Bill choosing to ignore my tone. “We need to know once and for all is there any correlation between the two?”

“Sounds like busy work,” I shot back. “I thought this was Special Projects? What’s special about repeating work that’s already been done?” (I’d made the air quotes again.) “There’ve been multiple studies on fracking already,” I reminded him with more than whiff of condescension in my voice.

In hindsight I must have sounded like a precocious jerk, especially since I was casting aspersions on the division Bill headed right to his face. But that was the thing—by that morning I’d been frustrated for weeks and the fracking study just seemed evidentiary of what I’d been feeling— that the company didn’t really know what to do with me but someone at the C-level was convinced HROC needed to be in the business of data science and machine-learning—probably to match what a competitor was doing (it was a very copycat business)—so they created the department, recruited me, and then ticked the box—yes, we are doing that, whatever it is—and moved on.

“I’ll tell you one thing different between this study and those others is that we’re doing this one.” Bill clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. “I don’t have to tell you that the sponsors of the previous studies didn’t have any love for E&P.”

“True,” I said to at least be agreeable and turn down my snark, but that didn’t mean I was any warmer toward the idea.

“Hell, those people sponsoring those other studies? The media and the universities, they wouldn’t piss on us if we were on fire.” Bill chuckled. He was full of those kinds of Texas witticisms. Most the guys at HROC were. Even my dad—who was a Brit—had found them especially amusing and had kept a mental catalog of these colorful expressions he’d picked along the way from his time in the business.

“But that isn’t what makes this project special,” Bill said, his chair squeaking as he leaned forward and crossed his hands on his desk. “What makes it special is you. This is exactly the kind of work for which the company recruited you.” He pointed at me with the two index fingers from his clasped hands.

“Well, that’s good to know.” I’d hoped it sounded more convincingly grateful than I felt. To me that morning, the project still felt incidental at best, and, at worst, as something to give the new girl to keep her occupied until they can figure out what to do with her.

Bill let out a sigh and looked me straight in the eye. “I know you’re thinking this project isn’t sexy enough for you…”

If he was waiting for me to disagree, he was going to be disappointed. He gave a half-smile and nodded.

“I know you want to find the next Velikoye,” he said, “and, if it’s out there, I suspect you’d be the one to find it.”

“Of course it’s out there,” I said, “but I can’t very well find it if I don’t start looking.”

Velikoye was in Russia, not too far from Moscow, and was the biggest new oil reserve find in decades. Bill was right—that was exactly what I wanted to find—it’s why I’d gone to work in E&P—to find the bloody E&P!

“But you’re too bright not to see the future of fracking,” Bill smiled, clearly playing to my lowest common denominator, my intellectual vanity. “It has the potential to make the Russians feel like they’re warming up leftover snow. I mean just look at what fracking’s done to production here in North America. We’re now—”

“The largest global producer.” I said, finishing his sentence with what had become an inner-office cliche.

“Yes, we are and we—well the Brits too—are currently the only ones with the tech and know-how to do it. That’s why this study—your study—is so vitally important to the company’s bottom line. We want to take hydro-fracturing global.”

“And to take it global we need to know conclusively and using our own methodology what—if any—are the seismic implications,” I said as I followed the logic. Bill’s pitch was starting to work.

“Exactly! And that’s why upstairs is so hot on this thing.”

“They’re hot for it?” At that point, I was definitely beginning to take an interest. I knew that if this were the kind of project that would get me noticed upstairs—at the C-level—then it could be a game changer career-wise.

“Shit, upstairs they’re hotter than a pot of neck bones on this.” Bill was enjoying himself now. “And wait until you see the data. Ooo-wee is it ever big.”

“Bigger than fleas on a farm dog?” I asked with a grin. That had been one of my dad’s favorite Texas sayings. Bill must have liked it too, as he smiled from ear to ear.

I found out Bill hadn’t been exaggerating about the data either. It was big—decades and decades of seismic readings from all over the globe and some of it going back as far as when the seismographs first went online in the early 1900s. I immediately dove in. By the third week in I was in the zone—I had to set reminders in my iCal to remind myself to eat and keep my brain juiced. (“Well, well, well, someone’s gone and taken to this like a hog to a persimmons,” was one of Bill’s pleased comments at a weekly status meeting.)

But it was during the sixth week that things really got interesting—my clustering algorithms were finding relationships in the data that no one would have ever expected. By the third month, the machine learning algorithms were kicking in and started making and testing their own inferences. By the sixth month I was essentially done, but I spent another month checking for mistakes and running it through a peer review. At the end of that seventh month, I presented my findings to a very jubilant group of HROC senior leadership. Not only were they pleased with final results, but I also learned that they’d expected the project would take 18-24 months.

“Now aren’t you glad I talked you into giving this project a try?” a beaming Bill said after the meeting. The results of my work reflected well on him too.

“Are you kidding me?” I answered before pulling out another of my dad’s favorite Texasisms. “This project was sweeter than stolen honey.”

I was thrilled then and it hadn’t worn off. I’d already been thinking that with a few tweaks the same process I’d brought to bear on the fracking project could be turned loose on the discovery side. And after few insights I’d gleaned at the conference, I was even more confident. It seemed likely that I’d be getting my wish to be entrenched in the heart of the business—finding new energy reserves—after all. I imagined that might be one of the things Bill would bring up in our meeting. And if he didn’t, I surely would!

I did a quick face check with my phone, but the screen was jacked—there was a weird blue halo all around me. I swiped up to kill the camera and rebooted it. But the blue halo was still there. I figured that maybe the scanners at the airport had damaged my phone. Could be worse, at least I’d purchased the extended protection, I thought, slipping the phone into my pocket.

Bill’s office was one of seven south facing offices—there were a matching seven on the other side of the center-located elevator atrium facing north—and all were fronted by metal-framed glass walls and glass doors. Because you couldn’t help but look in as you passed by, the offices were pejoratively referred to as “fish bowls.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, the three remaining, non-glass walls were painted in seven—one for each office—different shades of pastels. To me the colors—lemon, lime, orange, peach, aqua, rose, lavender—clashed with the more earnest vibe of the grays and brushed steel surfaces on the rest of the floor—but I wasn’t a designer, so maybe I was missing something. Bill was stuck with the peach.

“You ever been tempted to come in on a weekend and paint over it?” I’d asked one time, prompting Bill to chuckle and go on to tell me about how an IT guy—and occupant of the far end lavender office—had come in one weekend and did just that—paint it all over in black. (“You know how those IT guys are? Don’t like overhead light, want everything dark, like they’re mushrooms…”)

As Bill told it, a few weeks after the paint job, the CEO (“who’s now more famous—or infamous—for his role in politics”) was giving a tour of the office to some big whigs when he saw the all black office (“He went totally ape shit”). By the end the day the office had been repainted to the original lavender (“took three coats!”), and the employee handbook was duly revised with prohibitions on unauthorized painting .

“That’s why the CEOs make the big bucks—they understand the priorities,” I’d joked when Bill had finished, and he let out a whistle.

“Piss off the wrong guy—or gal—upstairs and you’ll see things move one-half less than no time.”

Approaching Bill’s unmodified, handbook-compliant, peach office, I saw that he was just finishing a meeting with someone else. I stopped and lingered just close enough to be seen and not interrupt, but it was close enough to see who was in other chair, Yvette… V-something—Vasquez? Valdez? Valderrama?—from HR. I knew her incidentally. We’d occasionally bump into each other here and there and would make some polite chit chat. On one such bump, Yvette had taken it upon herself to suggest that we’d actually crossed paths prior to HROC, at a volleyball tourney during high school. I didn’t remember—well, I’d remembered the tourney—and the fact that we’d lost—but I didn’t remember her, Yvette V-something—though she sure did remember the winning.

Bill saw me awkwardly waiting and made an apologetic face while holding up his hand with a just a minute signal. He was signing some documents Yvette had handed him.

The most memorable thing about Yvette was that people at work occasionally mistook us—at least from behind. And I got why—we were both tallish (though I had at least an inch and half on her)—we both had slim, athletic builds, and we both had similar dark, mid-back length hair. Seeing either of us face on, though, you’d have to be kind of dim to get us confused. While I was often mistaken for being Mexican/Latina, nobody would mistake Yvette for being half-Indian, well, not Indian from the subcontinent Indian. Yvette had an ‘Indian’ look, but hers was distinctly Mesoamerican—high check bones, broad face—she was pretty in an “I’ll eat your sacrificial beating heart” Aztec princess kind of way. The kicker though was our eyes—Yvette’s were coal black while mine were gray-blue, “like the headwaters of the Ganges” as my dad had always said.

Bill waved me in. My heart raced wondering if Yvette was there because I was getting a promotion that involved some HR paperwork, like additional stock unit grants. Entering Bill’s office, though, the mood I felt wasn’t what you’d call peachy. Both Bill and Yvette went dead quiet. Yvette, after the briefest eye contact and slightest nod of the head, sat straight and stared off to the side. Bill whose face typically had the ruddy-beam reflective of his Scots-Irish ancestry (and penchant for top shelf Scotch), looked hospital pale.

“I’d have worn black if I known I’d be attending a wake,” I joked a bit nervously. Bill grimaced as if I’d punched him, and Yvette brushed her hand nervously across the top of skirt. So much for my promotion—It didn’t require any siddhi power for me to intuit that something wasn’t right, not right at all. Their body language alone was enough to set off internal alarms. (In a particularly great example of irony, I’d recall later that Yvette had taught the HR seminar on body language that I’d been required to attend my first month at the job.)

Bill motioned to the empty seat next to Yvette, and I sat down but not all the way back. I kept my feet flat on the floor, my back arched slightly, and hands on my knees in a centering “seated cat” pose, a calming posture. I took a couple of deep breaths trying to still the thump of my heart.

“I’m going to cut right to the chase, Sana,” said Bill, his voice cracking.