Prologue


Tom Dawson sighed as he pushed open the heavy oak door, silencing the nervous chatter within. Eager, young, expectant faces stared back at him in almost pure awe, a common occurrence on the first day in his class. By now, he'd been used to it.

He looked as if he had been a rejection by Michelangelo-surprisingly beautiful, almost statuesque, but with his fair share of kinks. Needless to say he didn't look his ripe old age of thirty-two, more like that of the students he was teaching.

"What is life?" he began. The same way he'd begun his very first class five years ago. There was a rustling of papers and books as students prepared themselves for another boring lecture. Tom continued staring at them. "Well, what is it?'

Not a single student raised his or her hand, but searched about the room for someone else brave enough to answer. Slowly, Tom rested his entire wait on the front desk and flipped through his own book. After a moment, he stopped and held it up.

"Let's look at the dictionary's definition. Good old Merriam-Webster. Life…life…Ah, here it is. 'The quality of that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body'. Pretty straight forward. Can anyone tell my why that's wrong?" asked Tom blandly, not expecting an answer. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and continued. "Where are my medicinal majors?"

Only a few unfortunate students raised their hands. He walked over to a small girl sitting in the front row and leaned in close to her face, causing her to shrink back in alarm. He smiled inwardly at her reaction, knowing then that this class would be easily manipulated. His ability to make his students believe almost anything was the only thing that kept him his job for five years.

"Can a human live without a functioning conscious?" he whispered. When she didn't speak he moved in closer. "Go on."

"I guess so, if they're put on life-support," the girl squeaked.

She had hit the nail on the head, and only on his first prod. Smiling, Tom stood at full height once again and repeated her. "That's exactly right. In fact, there have been numerous legal battles concerning whether or not a patient is alive or just merely functioning. But that brings us back to the keyword-life. What is it? How do you define it?" No reply. "Let's move on to the second definition then, shall we? Read this for me," said Tom, shoving the dictionary under a geeky boy's nose.

"Something resembling animate life."

Tom paced the front of the room, his hand covering mouth, one armed tucked under the other. He wasn't expecting to even comment on this definition, instead waiting for a student to venture an answer only for him to shoot down. "Anything?"

His students were once again speechless, unable to formulate an answer. Tom walked around to the other side of his desk and sat in an uncomfortable wooden chair, opening his briefcase and digging around for a newspaper. With his feet propped up on the desk, he began to read the day's headlines.

Minutes passed-a quarter of two, two, two-fifteen. With ten minutes left until class was over, a smartass from the back raised his hand. Tom hardly looked up from his paper as the boy spoke.

"If none of us can answer, why do you think you can, Mr. Dawson?" said the jock, flashing a grin at a few buddies sitting around him. Tom flipped another page in his paper.

"Because I teach the class. And it's 'Professor Dawson' to you"

The class sniggered as a whole while the jock from the back turned beet red and put his head down on the desk. As Tom went back to his paper, another student sitting at the end raised her hand and spoke up.

"What if life is whatever we want it to be?" she probed.

Tom was stunned, so much so that pieces of his newspaper eventually toppled to the floor. Each student turned in their seats to find the source of the voice, but no one could find it.

"Stand up," commanded Tom.

A young woman slowly, but assuredly rose, keeping her eyes locked on Dawson. "What's your name?" he asked.

"Laura Collins."

Tom couldn't speak. No student had ever given him such an honest answer. She'd correctly guessed it-all he was looking for was an answer. This was going to throw his entire curriculum out of wack.

He then noticed her, the woman standing as if she equaled him in the field. Her light brown hair draped casually over one shoulder, as if she had more important things to care about. She was wearing hardly any make-up, but Tom still considered her to be beautiful. Deep in his stomach, he wanted her.

Tom was well known to have liaisons with his students, generally one night stands. It often amazed him that someone teaching philosophy, of all things, was possibly the most corrupt teacher on campus. And yet students continued to sign up for the class. Mostly women looking for an easy A, possibly more.

Suddenly an awful feeling sparked in his stomach, one he couldn't ignore.

It ate at him, crawling up through his belly and into his chest, inch by inch. He could feel it make its way up his body and into his brain. Dazed, he shook his head slightly to clear the feeling, but to no avail. Without even bothering with his briefcase, Tom rushed from the room just as the bell rang.

He pushed past students with little concern, not stopping until he'd reached his own teacher's dorm on the second floor. Slamming doors in his wake, he ran into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet, reaching for a small needle.

Tom filled a small vial with his own solution, one that if found could mean the end of his entire teaching career. But he couldn't escape it-tiny dots on his arms indicated that. His hands shook from desperation, trying not to spill a drop as he poured the mixture into a small vial.

Rolling up his sleeve, Tom kicked the bathroom door closed with his foot. As he buried the needle into the scarred purple vein underneath his wrist, he sank slowly to the floor, exhaling, waiting for the drug to take effect. In a few minutes, he would be sailing over nowhere, on the verge of infinity-but he wasn't thinking about that.

All he could think about was Laura Collins.