Artificial Intelligence

From the Story Arc: The Charge of the Labcoat Brigade

Previous Story in the Arc: Just Because You're Paranoid by Victoria Victrix (Tuesday, February 06, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Theory of Relativity by Krasnaya Zarya (Thursday, February 08, 2007)

(posted Thursday, February 08, 2007)

Tuesday, early morning

“Did Vickie just say that we were right?” Sofia held the earpiece a little distance away and exclaimed in pure shock.

“Wait... wait…” Alex muttered, “I got it on recording.”

The little tape recorder which he had held up triumphantly in his hand suddenly started smoking violently, and then emitted a cloud of flashy light.

“Vickie!” both Rabinoviches exclaimed indignantly into the phone. Neither of hem had any illusions about the technomage’s sense of humor – one of the reasons they got along well with her, despite the rather different approach to things unscientific – and they knew very well that the tape was now quite blank. Nonetheless, they felt gratified; the survey that Vickie went through in the JTF base would have satisfied anyone with the most paranoid leanings, and she had found what the two of them theorized must be there. There really was a bomb, and it really was stashed in the most vulnerable, leaderless place of them all.

Vickie even – both Rabinoviches huddling together by the phone receiver – told them she knew how it was done. That, however, was not for the phone. That was for her place, where no ears would be listening,

“We’ll come over and hear the story, won’t we, Vickie?” Sofia said, and added, chuckling, “Lately, it seems as though we spend as much time there as we do here.”

That, too, was indeed the case. The Rabinoviches’ deductive ability could not flourish without Vickie’s extensive base of intelligence and surveillance. The two scientists, realizing that she put these resources fully at their disposal, forgave her the rather awkward notion of someone they know listening, and kept her secret closely guarded. Even more so, perhaps, than many of their own.

In the latest case of such cooperation, the spousal unit had requested, and gotten, an interview with the ‘confidential FBI source’, as they laughingly came to call her, with the thirteen thousand different issues they had on their plate…

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

The previous Thursday

Alex threw several small coins into the parking meter of one of Atlas Park’s side streets, and stuck the parking ticket onto the window, Sofia-side. She’d actually managed to guide them there without getting lost more than two times; Alex could clearly see she’d been here before, and was mildly impressed. The building, as far as he could tell, was more or less CCCP-central, the equivalent of their own private little ghetto in the middle of hostile territory. Somewhere in this building, the Murdock family resided officially – though lately they seemed to be staying mostly at Sanctuary – and just a few doors down from them were – had been – Bella and Marlowe. Vickie and her boyfriend, Red, were occupying a surprisingly large apartment, with its own studies for both people, and a large kitchen. The Rabinoviches knocked, were answered, and led inside by Vickie. Red, as always on such occasions, seemed to be absent.

It was like a cul-de-sac, only without the nice trees and big back yards.

Victoria smiled and gestured for the Rabinoviches to follow her. “Hey guys, come on back to my study.” Once the group took seats around a small table, she continued: “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company? And have some tea.”

“Thanks for the tea.” Sasha and Sofia echoed each other, reaching for the teacups and tea brew. “And for the compliment,” Sofia added dryly, “the sarcastic tone of which we will disregard.”

Sasha poured tea for himself and Sofia both, before she could get her hands on the cup and teakettle, smiling under his nose. When the two of them wanted to ‘talk to’ someone, the general impression was not that they intended to pour their hearts out in angst. As a matter of fact, as soon as one of them appeared with the aforementioned statement, people tended to subconsciously wince. So he wouldn’t kill Vickie’s nerves with waiting. “To put it bluntly, there are a series of issues that I need your help with.”

“That sounds interesting.” Victoria took herself a cup as well. “Fire away then, I'll be just as blunt if it's nothing I can help with.”

“I hope it is interesting,” Alex gave her a wry grin. “I do the superhero work to relieve boredom, not chase after it. Hence, you know that the subject is interesting for me. Whether we share the same tastes in ‘interesting’ or not, isn’t yet clear…. Do you like field topology?”

Victoria chuckled behind her teacup while Sofia rolled her eyes and murmured: “You are such a fraud, Alexander.” She always enjoyed ‘unmasking’ him – whatever that meant. He was certain that at least half the reason was in order to make him squirm.

Sasha merely glared back in response and turned back to Victoria. “Regardless, there are, um, three tasks that I need your assistance with. The first is one which you are already familiar with: Althea's parents.”

“Get them in or near the country,” Victoria jumped in, nodding, “and I can have the asylum papers in their hands in 36 hours during the week. Over a weekend of course, it has to wait until Monday.” Read: Not even for a world war will the bureaucrats agree to work weekends, so plan your world wars accordingly.

“We can get them out...” Sofia smirked. “But not in. If you can get them in, it's settled.”

“In fact,” Sasha added, “they'll be here in about a week. More accurately, they'll be at the Sanctuary in a week. I'll let you handle the rest.”

“It wasn't easy setting it up originally but now that it's done – “ Victoria shrugged “ - it's just a matter of a date and a couple of sign-offs. Sanctuary is a perfect place for them until we can bring them in all papered up. I'll get the wheels in motion and make sure nothing's been overlooked. I am not,” she added while casually stirring her cup of tea, “asking how you plan to get them in and I don't want to know. At least, as long as you don't plan to do it by opening up a Portal to Hell in the boiler room of the boat.”

“Us?” Sofia laughed. “We have no traffic with that sort of customers, you know that. In fact, we don't believe they exist.”

“Good.” Alex gave Victoria an impetuous grin. “The less people who know, the less likely it will be that Murdock finds out.”

Sofia shook her head, exasperated. “Just go on to the next issue, Sasha. Have a cookie or something.” Alex sighed. This was a lecture when they got back home if he had ever seen one. Sofia would sit him down and tell him, at great length and detail, about the Mad Scientist effect. Mad Scientist disease – in Sofia’s mind- was just like Mad Cow disease; infectious, and targeting the brain directly. Among its symptoms Sofia counted the irresistible urge to brag, regardless of circumstances, thus spilling the whole, secret plan for world domination when still at its infancy. That was why, she said, every kid with a large gun could get the better of a Mad Scientist – genius or no. Alex didn’t think he was doing that out of Mad Science; he just wanted to tweak Vickie’s nose with some jesting remarks… but then he supposed they all said so.

“Do have some cookies, they're Thea's.” Victoria gestured to the plate of tan discs with mysterious dark seasoning on them.

“Fitting.” Alex took one and bit into it. Cinnamon. He licked his lips and continued. “Okay, next bit: Garent. I'm sure you are well aware of his great disappearing act.”

“Huh.” Victoria seemed surprised. That was a first. “I have to tell you, I know almost nothing about Garent. Other than that his magic is nothing like mine.”

“We know less about Garent's magic than you, Victoria, I am sure.” Sofia muttered, “Magic. One day I will read up on it just to close the gap in my education.”

“I didn't expect you to, Victoria.” Sasha’s grin grew broader. He reveled in this, the big impressive reveal. More accurately, in the build up; he and Yogi had that much in common – they both liked to put on a show. “In fact, nobody seems to know how his magic works. Not even the Council.” He reached inside his lab coat and pulled out a small manila envelope. “This is a copy of the Council's files on our friend Garent. Don't ask.”

Actually, it had been a very simple thing, getting the files – he ran into an ex-Council Archon who still had some access to a database on Striga Isle – but he didn’t want Victoria to know that. He was trying to cultivate an image, here. A foot stepped on his under the table, and he winced, edging away from his wife, who could read him like an open book in broad daylight. Luckily, the disaster was diverted.

“Not much there,” said Vickie as she finished quickly flipping through the documents inside.

“Not much at all, though the analysis of the occultist at the end is interesting.” He shook his head. “But that's not what I need you for. In fact, what I'm looking for is a bit more mundane. Look at the list of relatives:” Alex flipped the pages in front of her, reading them upside down. “Dead father, missing mother. Just a hunch of mine.”

Victoria nodded to herself, only speaking out loud after some small hesitation. “It occurs to me he might have gone looking for his mother…”

Sofia smiled, “Or he might know where she is...“

“Or she might know where he is,” Alex added.

Victoria set the file down on the table and recovered her tea cup. “So you want me to try and do a more mundane missing person's trace?”

“Exactly.” It helped, having somebody with FBI connections in their circle of friends. “There's a whole lot about Garent that nobody knows, and I want to change that. I think she is a key.” Relatives are such a handy thing.

“Relatives are such a handy thing...” Sofia murmured, spooking him with their not-mind-reading penchant.

“Bear in mind –“ Vickie raised a warning finger “- that if someone really wants to go missing and knows how to, it's almost impossible to find him. Or her.”

Alex shook his head. “Let's just hope that that's not the case, then.”

“I'll start with what I can do then call in outside help if I need it.” Vickie tapped the folder determinedly, then brushed it into one of the drawers of her study table. Alex watched his possession disappear with a tinge of sadness; it was an accomplishment. However, it was quite necessary to achieve the things he wanted done. And what he wanted done was find Garent.

For that last, and third, part of the encounter, he was not entirely certain he was ready. Vickie was not in the least pleased with some of the Rabinoviches’ notions – she’ll be even less pleased with what he had in mind now.

“And, the third thing…”

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

Monday

That wasn’t the end of it, however. The Rabinoviches, expecting a few days’ wait, were quite surprised to hear from Vickie in the middle of the terrible epidemic of confusion that plagued the city together with the more mundane – so to speak – viral infection.

In the CCCP headquarters’ medical facilities, where Sofia had been scanning the files on patients’ contacts, and trying through blurring eyes to build a backward vector, Vickie sought her out in one of her brief stops to dispose of an empty med kit and grab a new one. Alex was not around; Sofia forbade him to even open the windows of the house, much less leave it, and – his sensible side active, for a change – he had complied. A bone marrow transplantee as of a few months prior had no business dealing with viruses that could kill, or even minor flu.

“I’ve got what you need,” Vickie told Sofia, hefting her bag onto her shoulder. “If you walk me home now, I’ll hand it in, straight into your hands, and you can take a look at it, when you have time.”

Sofia smiled wryly, glancing eloquently at the clock that said 02:10, but she doubted that Vickie’s boy friend was home, or asleep. “Let me give you a lift to your place.”

Even during a plague, at two in the morning the streets were quiet and empty, with little traffic. Occasionally Sofia’s blue Ford dodged oncoming ambulances, yowling like beat-up cats with their sirens ablaze, but other than that she could speed at will. Vickie shuffled with the seatbelt, and Sofia wondered, what with the teleporting, flying and magic carpets, how long it’s been since she’d ridden in a conventional car.

“I take it,” Sofia slammed on the brakes at a traffic light, “that you go the files for us?”

“I did. And that wasn’t much; the mother is living in a recently built house in the middle of rural Iowa. All alone and cut off from most of the world.”

“Is she now?” Sofia murmured as she started the car moving again. “What about the father?”

“You didn’t ask me to look for that!”

“No, we did not… but it seems we need the info now.”

“Well,” Vickie definitely looked like a cat who’d licked off the cream, “I rather thought you might.”

“And I rather thought you would look, just for your own curiosity.”

Again, in a surprisingly short period of time, Sofia found herself parked in front of CCCP-central, as she and Sasha – and not only she and Sasha – called the place. Vickie flew up to get the files and open the door for Sofia, while the latter took the stairs. The rather slim folder exchanged hands in the doorway, and Sofia had already turned to go back when a memory which previously decided to abandon her completely emerged.

“Oh one more thing Vickie… we talked to Sharpe from the JTF. He wants to have you take over the security for them.”

“He… what?” Vickie’s hands flew up in exasperation. “Sofia we don’t just go barging in on their business! Besides, why?”

“Because both I and Alexander think they are our source, and our zone. And we want to know what happened in their base for the last few days… As do they. It was done by agreement Vickie. Be diplomatic, but if anybody gives you trouble, send them our way. Do.”

Disregarding Vickie’s exasperated cries of dismay, Sofia lurched down… before she would be too tired to drive.

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

Apparently bullying people around did pay off, after all.