Conspiracy Theory

From the Story Arc: The Charge of the Labcoat Brigade

Previous Story in the Arc: Theoretical Physics by Krasnaya Zarya (Wednesday, January 31, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: The Uncertainty Principle by Krasniy Zakat (Tuesday, February 06, 2007)

(posted Sunday, February 04, 2007)

Sunday morning

Weekends were days off for Sofia and Alex, and off meant ‘off’. It did not mean; off, except when the higher ups decide to ring the alarm bells. It did not mean; off, except for thirty thousand reasons that might keep us occupied. It didn’t even – at Sofia’s insistence – mean off except for labwork. The two of them were infernally busy throughout the week, and she will, dammit, have her husband to herself during the little available time they shared that didn’t involve tossing fireballs at stuff.

Thus, the next day after their conversation with Althea being a Sunday, Sofia woke up at a leisurely hour, crawled out of bed and shuffled to the kitchen in her slippers in hope of acquiring tea. She trailed past the room which Alexander appropriated himself for the domestic extension of his laboratory, eyeing suspiciously the sheaves of paper her husband had out in force. It was no wonder he was still snoring, curled up on his side and huddled under the blanket, back in their bedroom. Weekends were weekends, but losing two family members of a friend was a slightly different matter. Alex stayed up late yesterday, brushing off the arcane electronics which he was tinkering with and immersing himself in work that required only a pencil and a wastebasket.

At least, unlike the philosophers, he uses the wastebasket. Sofia requisitioned the aforementioned bin and pulled out the grocery bag she regularly put there to keep the receptacle clean when Alex decided to add leaking teabags or greasy snack wrappers to his collection of discarded mathematics. Sadly, weekends off did not include domestic chores, either. Most days the household went through several such grocery bags of discarded papers. People thought of Alexander as routinely tinkering with grease and welders but, in reality, his being a theoretical physicist meant that most of his work was done in his head. Well, and on every surface he could find that would take pen or pencil stains. Sofia regularly found herself washing off ink blots from the kitchen table and pencil marks from the coffee table in the living room.

In the kitchen she boiled herself tea, and – despite the cool air – threw open the window. The morning greeted her with the smell of rain and flowers and with the hollers of Mrs. Keith, the upstairs neighbour, who was dodging a large Behemoth that trampled her garden. Mrs. Keith’s garden, which she has painstakingly nourished and cultivated, was the woman’s pride and joy. Sofia, on her own little expanse of city-ground, as befitted a resident of the first floor, could sympathize with the woman; she was almost a Russian in that regard. Thus the huge demon trampling her beloved peonies evoked out of the tiny, elderly lady nothing as much as pure unadulterated rage. Sofia admired the woman.

“Hey, Amanda!” she leaned out of her window into the garden, still holding a teacup in one hand, and yelled, “What’s up?”

“That beast is tramplin’ my flowers, Mrs. Doctor!” squealed the neighbour indignantly and hefted a spade at the impressive giant. “Git, I say! Git!”

That could get really ugly, really fast, as soon as the thing decided that, rather than being bemused by Amanda Keith, it’d rather have her for breakfast or something. Though the neighbour had occasion to irritate Sofia endlessly with loud country music issuing forth from her apartment, she didn’t want the old lady eaten quite yet.

Sofia’s initial impulse of tossing a fireball at the creature was quelled immediately by the sight of the verdant greenery flourishing all about; Mrs. Keith would never forgive Sofia if she’d wreck her garden any further. No matter that Sofia saved her life; Amanda Keith knew exactly where the value of things lay. Sofia had to try for a different approach. “Move away, Amanda,” she instructed brusquely, and proceeded to painstakingly warm the soil patch directly under the behemoth’s hooves. Luckily, he was not standing on concrete; Sofia’s pyrokinesis was decent – and, at the very least, creative – but not up to those standards. The creature shuffled its feet uncomfortably, spread its wings and flew off, rumbling to itself.

Great. Apparently a weekend off did not include banishing demons from her neighbour’s garden, either.

“Thank you, Mrs. Doctor!” Amanda, water hose already in hand, was kneeling to assess the damages. Sofia shut the window and abandoned her teacup to get dressed in something a little more substantial than a somewhat ragged set of grey shirt and sweatpants. That and brush her wayward hair.

She emerged a few minutes later, carrying the garbage in one hand and a groceries basket in another. Hair neatly tucked into its ponytail, where it belonged, she looked more like the Sofia most of her students would recognize – sans the labcoat, of course. It wasn’t as though a linguist normally walked around dressed in a white labcoat anyway, but Sofia who spent much of her time in the psychology labs, studying cognitive processes of mice, baboons and captive aliens, was just as likely to be required to wear one as not.

She swung by one of the nearby large, blue garbage bins and tossed in the bag with non-working formulae, followed by their more mundane kitchen trash. She trusted that there was no proprietary material there; Alexander usually had that sort of thing through the paper shredder before tossing it in. Then, swinging the basket casually, she made her way to the store.

It had been something of a pride issue, the normal life. After all, there was very little that the life of a ‘hero’ could grant her that Sofia actually wanted. Interest was perhaps the only thing that she truly craved. The rewards were insignificant, the feeling of satisfaction that was gained when helping other people could just as easily be achieved after a day’s volunteer work and the fame that usually went with the job was, if anything, something to be avoided and scoffed at. Really, in the end all and be all, the things that kept her and her spouse on the good – or at least legal – side of the fence was the fact that, no matter how you look at it, the villain-side simply didn’t beckon.

Someone with a long, fluttering cape and purple hair ran past. Shouting at the top of their voice as a stream of ice ricocheted around them and bounced off one of the walls. The balcony on top was occupied by a Council rifleman who, as far as Sofia could see, was munching on a muffin and some coffee. Sofia bounced out of the shouting miscreant’s path as he – she thought it was a he, a little hard to tell with the purple hair – stuck out an elbow to jam her aside. She thought he yelled ‘stand back citizen, I’ll rescue you’, throughout the maneuver, but it was really rather hard to tell. Sofia snickered mentally as she hefted her grocery basket over her shoulder and strode off whistling to herself. The young… man, was an echo to her thoughts of the moment, and in an amusing way he managed to strengthen her conviction that her husband and herself had definitely chosen the right route.

She and Alexander never actually hid their identities. They never wore a mask or a costume, they never kept secret their real names… The simple fact was that nobody in their right minds would ever connect the two caustic scientists - edging slowly towards their middle age - that plagued the university cafeteria every lunch break with energy cascades and fire balls. Neither she nor Alexander ever pointed out to anybody on the faculty, or among the students, their other occupations, and so they remained in blissful obscurity while people like Bella and Cerenje ran from – or, in the case of the latter, sought – the cameras. This boy, Sofia was sure, would not shy from cameras. He was a ripe fruit for the idea that heroes warranted special treatment and were inherently ‘awesomer’ than anybody else. A caste system in the making.

Aside from that, the morning was calm, rather placid, and a little bit boring. Pondering vegetables, and dinner, Sofia moved on.

*************************************

When she came back home, loaded with milk, tomatoes and a fresh Sunday Times (for the crossword, their news they got off the internet, the police scanners and the top secret channels), she thought to herself that perhaps the morning was not so peaceful after all. She put the basket down on the kitchen table and, newspaper rolled under one arm, made her way back to her room, where Alexander still snored softly.

“Sasha,” she perched on the edge of the mattress and poked him carefully, “you’re still out cold?”

“Hm?” muttered her husband eloquently and turned around to the other side.

Sofia decided to go for the ‘pay no attention to his grumblings’ tactic and, spreading the newspaper over Alex’s supine form, proceeded – while occasionally stabbing him with an elbow – to discuss the daily news.

“There is a whole swarm of clockwork and Rogue Isles folks down in Faultline,” she recited the event that made the entire grocery store seem like a beehive and made the people in it chatter endlessly. “Nobody’s sure what the deal is, but every one and sundry is out there collecting clockwork pieces.”

“Good,” Alex mumbled, slurring his words, “they handle it. Got ‘nuff Clock salvage.”

“Garent is still missing…”

“Only ‘cause” – Alex yawned, swallowing his words – “found him yet.”

“… and someone has spread a biological weapon amongst Paragon City, specifically targeting heroes.”

“Hmm… Wait, wha-?” Alex flopped onto his back, and finally opened his eyes. He rubbed them with a hand and stared at Sofia with interest. Without the glasses, his blue eyes peered somewhat nearsightedly, and were still rather crossed-over from sleep.

“Many people in the RPC have reported seemingly random illnesses; it was all one virus having different effects based upon the powers of the person infected,” Sofia elaborated. “Thanh Ha quickly isolated the virus responsible and developed a vaccine. I got a stream of interesting expressions from Vickie when she was talking about it, and was told to pick up an inoculation kit for distributing shots. At least this time they remembered I am a qualified EMT as well as your wife.” She chuckled but with a slight note of annoyance; normally the people around them did anything but. If ever there were an aspect of her life in which Sofia wanted to be remembered for any sort of heroism, then surely her days in the Rikti war as a plain EMT with a large knapsack and precious little ability were at the top of her list.

“Huh.” Alex decided that the news warranted his waking up and propped himself on one elbow. He blinked several times, gathering his – mostly nonexistent – morning wits. Then he started counting off on his fingers. “Malta, Devouring Earth, Council, maybe Rikti…”

“At the same time as an excursion from the Rogue Isles’ into Faultline?” Sofia tsked. “Please. Technically, nobody has suggested that this is not a natural disease, but –“

“In Paragon? Ha!”

“Exactly. And the Germans said they were resettling the Jews to eastern Poland. Want tea?”

“Sure…” Alex trailed Sofia grumpily into the kitchen. She understood; they were not morning people. As far as either of them was concerned, the time before midday ought not to exist. After pouring a teacup for herself and another one for Alex, the two professors flopped on the couch in the living room. It wasn’t that they were… not concerned, about Faultline, but really, every kid in a cape like the specimen Sofia saw today could handle a batch of clockwork; their specialty, and interests, lay elsewhere.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Sasha?” She asked, carefully cradling her cup of tea.

“Horatio?” Alex grinned.

“Horatio.” Sofia returned the beaming smile.

“Good…” Alex stirred his tea with his fingertip, watching it bubble as he injected small amounts of energy into it. “While I’m tracking down Yogi, you can speak to the good doctor; get two birds with one stone, so to say.”

“You spoke with Sharpe, right?” She didn’t bother stirring her tea any more, but like her husband, she kept it warm with her powers; a slow trickle of pyrokinetic heat. “Anything come out of that?”

“I told Shri- er, Sharpe - most of anything I know about the case, a few days back,” Alex grumbled. “He didn’t know anything I wasn’t aware of: Garent just up and vanished the week after the fight with Yogi; which is what is really odd.”

“Which is what is really fascinating to you,” Sofia remarked dryly. “If it weren’t for Yogi, you wouldn’t get involved.”

“Well, we all have our token insane people; you have Foxglove, I have Yogi.”

Sofia smiled wryly. “Wrong; I have you. You’re more than sufficient. You offered Sharpe to take up negotiations with Mr. Yogi, right?”

“I would have done it anyway,” Alex snickered. “He was happy to not have to deal with the ‘villains’. So we involve them. I also think he – and we – should involve our paranoid FBI source who knows much more than she should about anything at all.”

“At least you know who is spying on us.”

“So maybe I should speak up?” Alex rolled his eyes. ”Then she’ll know that I’ll be meeting her this week. After I send my probes and see what it is Yogi will request as price. I honestly don’t know,” Alex chuckled, “that Garent is worth that much.”

“Certainly not the name of our firstborn child…” Sofia grumbled. That had come up originally as a joke in the Pocket D meeting between the barren Rabinoviches and the miracle-working Eastern European mystic; it suddenly became serious.

“Certainly not!” Sasha agreed wholeheartedly. “I figure that Vickie will have some idea of something I can trade him for information.”

“Did you look through the debuggers on our place?”

“Well, yes…” Alexander hesitated, “but to be honest, I’d rather meet Vickie at her apartment. I have no clue if anybody might be listening to us magically.”

“If it is anyone, it’s likely to be Victoria herself,” Sofia pointed out dryly.

“Well, yes… but in this case, I want her to listen, and so long as she is the only one to do so, I’ll be satisfied. “

“But first,” Sofia sighed, “you get to mince words with a moderately insane necromancer.”

“And won’t that be fun!”