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Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

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Graduate school is hell, but Ramen is delicious and coffee, too. If only Dr. Patel hadn't locked Rodney out of the lab for the weekend and told him to get some rest and have some fun. He doesn't seem to get it. The lab is fun. What else is Rodney, a scrawny seventeen-year-old PhD student, going to do on the weekends? Not party. Even the frat boys take one look at him and worry about getting arrested for giving him alcohol. And girls. Better not think about girls.

"Hey, Rodney, why so sad?" Malcolm asks. Malcolm is an asshole, but he'll at least talk to Rodney. He doesn't laugh when Rodney tells everyone how smart he is. 

"I'm not allowed in the lab this weekend. Dr. Patel doesn't get it. That asshole thinks he's doing me a favor, but if I can't run my simulations now, then I'll have to make up for it next week, in between running his simulations and the conference, I won't have time tosleep!"

Malcolm chuckles. "Well, it's a good thing I have this, then." He pulls a keyring out of his pocket. 

"What? Are those-- How did you get those?" Malcolm is five years older than Rodney and in the PhD program, still a genius by ordinary people's standards, but old enough to be a socially acceptable one. He's the leader of the campus MENSA chapter, the short guy who sits on the front of the boat and yells things at the crew team, and he's dating a law student. He doesn't spend nearly any time in the lab. Why in the hell would Patel give him the key?

Malcolm laughs. "Sometimes playing nice doesn't hurt, Rodney. I told him I had some simulations I wanted to run over the weekend because I'll be in Boston next week for a crew championship. I picked up Patel's daughters from school a few times. He owes me."

"I don't understand how you do it."

Malcolm ruffles Rodney's hair in that very patronizing way of his. "You gotta play the game. All the brilliance in the world can't make up for access. You'll see: in twenty year, I'll be rich and famous and no one will listen to you."

"Except you can't sell anything if you have nothing to sell. I have more brilliance in my pinky toe than you do in your entire body."

"And it'll do you no good, if no one will believe in you. As for me, once you get your foot in the door and massage the expectations in your favor, it's not hard to fulfill those expectations. You've got to love science."

"What? I love science," Rodney snaps. Science had been more than just his ticket out of a troubled home life. It was his passion. His every waking moment (other than those spent thinking about girls) was dedicated to it. 

"Yeah. But you don't love science like Romeo loved Juliet. You love science the way a stalker loves his victim before he murders her and burns a building down. These people, Dr. Patel, the board, the people who give grants, they want a sonnet and you give them the ravings of a madman."

"Well, I can't help it. I think my work speaks for itself."

"Maybe. But why fight an uphill battle? You ever hear the story of Harry K. Daughlian?"

"Isn't he the guy who died of radiation poisoning on the Manhattan Project?"

"But, after he was irradiated. He worked, up until the last minute, trying to find a way for the equations to work, so that his death wouldn't be in vain."

"Except that's not true. He died a slow and painful death cursing himself for screwing up." Rodney's mother had read him a book on the Manhattan Project as a child - punishment for the science fair bomb in grade six. 

"You see painful horrible death, I see noble sacrifice. That's the sonnet. That's the art of things. And that's exactly what I told Dr. Patel when he told me I was working myself too hard."

"But you never work yourself too hard. You just look tired because you're hungover all the time."

Malcolm shrugged. "But I always make it in before Dr. Patel. That's all the dedication he needs to see."

"And as for the keys? I asked him to trust me. It's the key to the moral high ground. Nobody wants to seem like so much of an asshole that they'll tell you out and out that they don't."

"I'm not doing that. Don't you think it's a little manipulative?"

"Everyone does it. Except you, I guess. Do you really want to be the only lamb in a world of wolves?" 

"Fine. Next time I'll get the keys off him myself. But how about you just let me borrow them?"

"How about you run both your simulations and mine."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Fine, you're the big bad wolf. I get it."

"And you let me use that thing from the footnotes of your thesis draft for the next round of conference papers."

"But that's my idea."

"Are you ever going to develop it?" 

"No, but that's not the issue." It was a stupid idea anyhow. Nothing but a footnote on the practical possibilities of solar radiation patterns for encryption algorithms. Nothing to do with real science. More of a hobby project, if anything. Why Malcolm had even bothered to remember it (other than its obvious brilliance), Rodney had no idea.

"Then we have a deal?" Malcolm grinned, extending his hand. "We're talking completely uninterrupted lab time for the whole weekend. Since Patel has his daughter's cross-country tournament, and I'm the only other one with the keys."

Rodney grabbed the keys, ignoring the handshake. "Deal." He was feeling more like a wolf already.