Nevertheless She Persisted

Alchemy

On International Women’s Day, several of the best writers in SF/F today reveal new stories inspired by the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted”, raising their voice in response to a phrase originally meant to silence.

The stories publish on Tor.com all throughout the day of March 8th. They are collected here.

 

Alchemy

 

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Performed endless experiments, recorded measurements and observations in careful writing on lined paper, pages and pages sewn up in books and neatly stored. How much of this acid added drop by drop to a powder of carbon, a scraping of iron, caused the reaction she desired? When that combination failed, she tried lithium and lead. Copper, in a glass bulb filled with nitrogen. Titration, oxidation, precipitation and solutions. A careful test with flames, producing an analysis of light. Practice practice practice. (“You’ll never find what you’re looking for,” they told her. “Nevertheless,” she replied.)

The materials were often toxic, the procedures tedious, the outcomes uncertain, but she found solace in the experiments. The formulae she used made sense. The laws of the universe were predictable, discoverable. Unlike so much of the rest of her life.

She reserved one end of a bench in a corner of a mostly disused lab, a hundred years old and poorly equipped. She piled books and notes around her, a sort of fence to claim her space and keep others from disturbing her experiments. (“What are you looking for?” “The secrets of the universe,” she said, speaking in riddles because if she revealed the truth they would tell her she was doing it wrong. They would explain until she wanted to scream, but she never did. Patience. Practice.) However much she guarded her table-top territory, she would return from a meal, from a quick breath of fresh air, to find her books shoved to the floor, covers torn and spines broken, papers crumpled and scattered. She’d gather up the books, straighten the spines, smooth out the papers as best she could, spending time on it that she needed for study. She tried to ignore the glares. The glares were not as bad as the laughter. (“There has never before been one of you at this university, you know.” They explained that one to her all the time, as if the fact of it would give her pause.)

She had patience. The patience of stones worn away by wind and water, of continents creeping into one another to create mountains, of crystals growing in dark places. The patience of a planet caught in orbit around a sun that would last ten billion years before burning it all back to stardust.

She longed to be stardust.

Then one day, after she’d shut off the burner, after the burette had dripped all its liquid out—there in the bottom of a ceramic dish rested a mere particle, a trace. A treasure. The lab was quiet—it was late and she was alone. No one was watching, and so the moment was all hers. She cupped the substance in her hands and let its light shine on her, covering her face with warmth, pouring sunlight in her eyes.

She persisted, and when she triumphed: gold.

 


Read the next story in Nevertheless, She Persisted

carrievaughn-helensittig-cropCarrie Vaughn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Kitty Norville books, is also the author of the standalone novels After the Golden Age and Discord’s Apple, and the young adult books Voice of Dragons and Steel. Her latest novel is Martians Abroad.

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