Social Science 102

From the Story Arc: The Charge of the Labcoat Brigade

Previous Story in the Arc: Social Science 101 by Krasniy Zakat (Sunday, February 11, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Social Science 103 by Krasnaya Zarya (Monday, February 12, 2007)

(posted Monday, February 12, 2007)

Tuesday Night

“Alright, here’s the deal.”

Aleksander had pulled Apobiosis – or Doctor David Carter, as he came to learn later – away from the crowd and into a small private room to the side. He had quickly gone over his recordings of Sofia speaking with the man, and her constant hinting and “needling” – as she so eloquently put it – had immediately put him on his guard; Dr. Carter was a man with a guilty conscience, a man who obviously had something to hide.

Could it have been so easy? Aleksander mused to himself, marveling over the fact that of all the three villainous scientists on Alex’s list – Doctors Carter, Foxglove and Thraxis – the one who showed up would be the one who had a hand in the creation of the virus. Of course, if Sofia’s Mad Scientist Disease exists, then the need to witness firsthand his handiwork was a part of it.

“This virus is a nasty one,” he began, “obviously a biological weapon designed to target multiple varieties of heroes. Period.” The easiest way to begin the pseudo-interrogation was as a helpful conversation; after all, the hero is supposed to be altruistic and helping the enemy – Aleksander scoffed inwardly. “If it hasn’t spread amongst you Isles folks yet, it will do so after this Pocket D meeting, that’s for sure. It is airborne and highly contagious.”

“Right,” Doctor Carter replied, nodding, “I’m concerned about that as well. Not to mention all of the blood flying around in places like Bloody Bay and Siren’s Call. It’s going to hop over. If you can get me a blood sample of someone infected with the virus I’ll see what I can do. That will protect people in the Isles and I’ll return info on any antidote I can make.”

Alex – and likewise Aleksander – had never believed in the whole “Paragon City equals good, Rogue Isles equals evil” nonsense; mankind was far too complex for such simple moral judgment. You couldn’t even really say that it was an issue of law versus chaos, because most of the Rogue Isles folk were just as law-abiding – there simply were fewer laws to worry about over there. As such, the Rabinoviches had spent the last year cultivating friendships with people on both sides of the divide; that was simply their way.

This little exchange of aid and cooperation between Doctors Carter and Rabinovich was not faked, even with the underlying suspicion from both sides.

“I do not have a blood sample with me, but I do have a protein map of the virus here on my PDA.” He had originally intended for Sofia to give Foxglove a copy of this mapping in exchange for aide; with the nonappearance of the latter, Carter became the new recipient. “You can look at it for free, but no copying. Seeing as molecular biology seems to be your field, I was wondering what quick thoughts you might have on it.”

Aleksander keyed up the PDA – one of Alex’s backup machines, seeing as the primary one was in Moscow – and ran a simple shell lockout program: Doctor Carter would have access to the mapping and only the diagram, just in case.

Doctor Carter took the PDA and examined the structure carefully, deep in thought. “The thing breaks down into a toxic substance when broken down by white blood cells?”

“It is of devious construction.” This was quite true. The “virus” was actually an organic nanotech plague: it was chemical, made up not of proteins, but of other complex molecules, yet was designed to act and spread like a flu virus. Not that that was an entirely accurate way to put it, since proteins were chemicals, too – merely organic and highly complex ones, made up of amino acids. “Not perfect - there are a few obvious flaws in its design - but very dangerous, nonetheless.”

“There’s the weakness right there.” Apobiosis tapped the screen. “The thing has to have a completely different chemical makeup for that to work. May I?” He asked politely, sliding the stylus out of its slot.

“Of course,” Aleksander replied. “Any insights you have may be helpful. After all, any disease targeting superpowered people is a threat to both our sides.”

“I’m writing down two compounds,” Carter lectured in typical medical doctor tones. “The first will destroy the virus immediately on contact by eating away its structure, then it’s just harmless genetic material. The virus will be dead within a few blood rotations. The second one is important: it has to be administered because the first compound is deadly.”

Doctor Carter gave him something of a grin. “It’s like sending in a ferret to kill a snake, and sending a dog to kill the ferret.”

Aleksander was surprised. The Sofias had been so sure that if a “Mad Scientist” had built something, they would be unable to find flaws in it, instead claiming that it was perfect. Perhaps, just perhaps, Doctor Carter wasn’t involved in the creation of this virus.

Then again, if that was the case, how would he come up with this treatment so quickly? This virus was, as far anyone knew, unique; there would be no prior knowledge to draw off of.

“Inject them both directly,” Carter continued, too engrossed in his explanation to notice Aleksander’s hesitation. Luckily, the robot face wouldn’t show surprise or confusion unless Aleksander wanted it to. “Wait at most ten minutes before injecting the second compound. You want the first one in there as long as possible to make sure the virus is completely destroyed, but before the antidote becomes absorbed into the tissues.”

“Hm...” Aleksander murmured as Carter returned the PDA. These were very complex chemicals that had been described; nothing that Aleksander – and most likely Alex – was familiar with. Could this be an attempt to poison? Aleksander ruled out that thought as unlikely. And yet… “Obviously, I will have to run these compounds through rigorous testing before I use it. After all, I have no real reason to trust you, beyond academic respect.”

“I don’t blame you,” Carter snorted, “the fact of the matter is that first one will kill someone fifty times faster than the virus will. Have I stressed the importance of the second dose enough?”

“Of course you have,” Aleksander replied automatically while his mind raced. Carter had obviously worked with this cure before – which would not make sense unless it was for this particular virus, or one like it.

“Good,” Carter nodded, seemingly satisfied, “and if that regiment doesn’t kill the virus then don’t try it again. Building up resistances to poisons is a myth. By the time the body recovers from the regiment the virus will have probably made a come back. If my plan doesn’t work then try something else.”

If it doesn’t work? Aleksander mentally snorted. But it would work, wouldn’t it? Because you would need a cure for yourself. Time to begin pressing…

“And you were able to come up with this just after such a short glance?” He asked the villain skeptically. Luckily, Alex was known for always looking a gift horse in the mouth.

“It’s because the virus is so unique that it’s so easy,” Carter replied, suddenly very grim and determined looking. “It’s simple chemistry, this compound will break down the virus but not the cell membranes of the body.” He paused a moment. “Besides, you were expecting me to know the answer immediately, weren’t you?”

Good, Aleksander mused, he’s not stupid.

“Of course,” he answered. It wouldn’t pay to insult Carter’s intelligence by lying, and this way, there was still nothing but honesty between the two. By not asking Apobiosis directly, he had been able to try and defend his position without outright lying, keeping whatever mediocre scientific camaraderie existed between the two scientists intact.

“Is that all for today?” Carter murmured, obviously unhappy.

“Not at all.” Aleksander grinned. This was where things got interesting. Once again, he would simply tell the truth, without being outright accusatory. “While I have my suspicions, these are not facts. We want to know who created this virus and to what ends - if it was supposed to kill us, they were either incompetent or lazy. I assume neither and deduce that there is something else going on; something else that this person was after.”

“You want me to start asking around or something?” Carter gave him a skeptical look. Apparently, he was surprised that Aleksander would bring this to him, since the former obviously suspected the latter of being the creator.

“As such, I have begun a search.” Alex’s trademark smirk – perfectly simulated by Aleksander – grew wider. It was unlikely that the scientists involved would turn themselves in, but somebody who knew would get greedy and turn in his friends. At the least, it would make the culprits highly paranoid – a useful tactic to sow chaos amongst the enemy. “You are not the only scientist I know on the Isles, and every one of them gets the following proposition: I will pay, in money, information, or whatever other currency is desired, for that information. Period.”

“Money and Information are the only two options?” Carter raised an eyebrow.

“Or whatever other currency is desired,” he reiterated. “Technology, favors - I am up for negotiations. I am not Murdock, I will deal with Isles' folk.”

“Your wife’s not too bad,” Carter replied, smirking. “You ever consider adding a third person to the mix?”

Aleksander blinked. A third person? Like what Yogi had been wanting? “What do you mean, children?”

“No that's not what I mean.” Carter’s smile grew larger.

“Oh. I see.” Aleksander groaned inwardly. Of course he wouldn’t have guessed that: sex hadn’t been on his mind for fifteen years. “I am hoping that was a joke.” He really, really was. He had no idea how Alex would respond to that.

“Yeah, just messing with you.” Carter shook his head, apparently amused. “I'll see who I can talk to.”

“And let it be known,” Aleksander continued, hoping to get the uncomfortable sex joke out of the way, “that you're not the only one I'm giving this proposition to. Horatio will get it, amongst others. It will be open season in the Isles on whoever did this.”

Dr. Carter merely raised an eyebrow.

“The Isles is a group of ravenous wolves,” he went on, “each pack fighting for its own supremacy. I figure I'll just make it worth the while of everyone to turn this fellow in.”

“Look,” Carter grated, obviously upset, “I don't give a damn if you guys think I did this or not. You can spend all month trying to pin this on me but you'll just be wasting your time.”

“I don't need to, Apobiosis.” Aleksander gave the patented smirk once again. This was what was called Putting the fear of God into a man; something he rather enjoyed. “I'll let the Isles handle that for me. I think we're done here.”

“I can see you have a date with a horned goddess of some sort.” Dr. Carter looked up past Aleksander to the entryway; Aleksander followed his gaze and saw the waiting Mandragora. Sort of. This time she was glowing and had… horns. “I'll be on my way.”

Mandragora let the grumbling scientist pass and waited before he was out of earshot before she spoke up.

“A touchy issue?” Her voice was just as odd as her appearance: resonant and cacophonous. It appeared that she wasn’t kidding about the merger thing.

“You can say that,” Aleksander replied, still smirking. He tapped the PDA with his finger. “But I’ve got something. A possible treatment for the virus.”

Excellent.” She seemed pleased but, as before, she quickly moved on to business. “Now, as to that information: Garent went through a portal at Portal Corp late the night that he disappeared. Due to some freak anomaly, both he and Tobias were… diverted by a tangle in the dimensional pathways. This diversion sent them to a different dimension than they were intending on traveling to.”

“Portal Corp?” He muttered darkly, wondering what it was Alex would say in such a situation. He hated the company with a passion, to the point of ruling out their aide in the hunt for Garent, and it turns out that they were involved. Rationalize and play along, he reminded himself. “And here I was, refusing to talk to them about it. Hubris is a dangerous thing.”

“As for him and Tobias…” He paused, hoping that the admission of failure followed by a quick change in subject was standard for Alex. “That’s astounding. The probability of that happening is nigh unto zero.”

Mandragora remained impassive and multi-tonal. “The probability of that happening is so astoundingly close to zero that it might as well have been zero.”

“That's what I meant. I've done quite a bit of dimensional mathematics...” Both he and Alex were experts in the mathematics behind dimensional travel, and part of his ethereal brain was already doing the mathematics. Too many zeroes in the actual probability numbers meant one thing: “Foul play.”

“I can provide you with dimensional coordinates that you can then give to Portal Corp,” she went on. “Or I can try to build a Gate to that dimension, bypassing Portal Corp entirely. I am willing to build the Gate, but I do not know if the target dimension will sustain a terminus.”

A magical portal? It hadn’t seemed so strange just an hour or two before, when he believed Garent had used, but to be faced with actually using one himself? It made him nervous. He couldn’t understand how Alex worked with so much magic around.

Luckily, there was another option. “I have access to a dimensional portal.” Several, actually: Petro’s portal on Sanctuary, the secretly rebuilt portal that he took to arrive here, and a number of other ones scattered throughout the city, mostly in the hands of Crey and Nemesis. “All I need are the coordinates. Is this the coordinates to Garent's intended dimension, or to the one he actually wound up in.”

“The dimension that he and Tobias wound up in. Their intended destination is useless in this instance.”

“To you, maybe,” he scoffed openly. The difference between a scientist and a mystic, it seemed to him, was in desire for knowledge for knowledge’s sake, instead of power or control. Besides, there was still a great deal of possibilities… “I still want to know it. But I can get that from Portal Corp's records, if necessary. If somebody caused him and Tobias to be diverted, we don't know if it was to bring them to somewhere, or keep them away from their intended destination.”

“In this instance, the dimensional tangle was created, and Garent and Tobias went to the dimension that was the destination of the being who created the tangle.” Aleksander frowned at this. This sounded like the Portal Anchor that he had built so long ago, used as a kind of gravity well to pull nearby dimensional travelers to a specific place. That meant dealing with an enemy who knew of the multiverse.

“At your earliest convenience,” she continued, “I will provide the dimensional coordinates. We may need a translator, however.”

“Now is fine,” he replied, “or we can meet later. This is my top priority.” Later was more comfortable for him, since it would mean that Alex could do the talking and he wouldn’t have to keep up with this charade. Then again, time might be of the essence, and talking with another scientist had made Aleksander more sure of himself and his deception.

“Have you visited the Shadow Shard lately?” She asked, then quickly added in explanation: “I am looking for a basis of comparison.”

“The Shadow Shard?” He blinked. Alex had never mentioned it to him. “Not much, no. But I am aware of it,” he bluffed.

“Have you used Portal Corp recently, then?” she looked worried. Sort of. It was hard to tell behind the green glow.

“Yes,” he said after some thought. Alex had told him about his recent exploits. “I am currently tracking down the” – what were they called – “Praetorians.”

“Perfect. Does your PDA track dimensional signatures as you transit?”

“Always.” What kind of scientist did she think Alex was? Of course he recorded everything he did, especially when it came to something as cutting edge as dimensional travel. Even a fifteen-minute visit to another dimension resulted in gigabytes and gigabytes of raw data.

“May I look over your information, then? I should be able to translate my perceptions into a working form for your system.”

“Certainly.” He logged out of the shell program and opened up the dimensional index. He restricted the listing to only those worlds that Portal Corp had identified – leaving out the hundreds of thousands from Alex’s search all those months ago. He keyed up one in particular, one that Alex spoke of fondly, and pointed it out as he handed her the PDA: “My favorite, the dimension of the Psychic Clockwork King. Below it is a list of the Portal Corp names of various dimensions, as well as the ID number under my system.” Portal Corp used a series of Greek letters and numbers, while Alex’s system stored everything hexadecimal.

As the tall woman looked over the names and tags, the glow around her intensified. The little tendrils of Aleksander’s energy which had leaked out of the robotic shell suddenly registered severe changes in the electro-magnetic field; some other entity – probably the “Dragon” she had mentioned earlier – was in the room with them. He immediately retracted within the android body, hoping that this entity had been too distracted to notice.

“There,” she said after typing in a series of numbers and letters, and handed him the PDA. “That correlates to your coordinate system.”

He shivered, feeling the entity fade away, and examined her numbers. “Hmm, yes. Simple enough.”

Mandragora shivered as well, blinking several times before cursing under her breath. “Sorry, I should have warned you.”

“I’ve had worse,” Aleksander replied, using one of Alex’s favorite phrases. He slid the PDA back into his labcoat. “Thank you for help, Mandragora.” He made a mental note to Alex: Find out her name! “All I need now is to raid this dimension. Probably just a few days to put a team together - limited only to those people already involved, of course.”

This was true. Sofia and Alex would get a report on these findings later this day, and by the time they returned from Moscow, they would have a list made.

“You are very welcome.” She turned halfway to leave and paused. “And if I can help out, let me know.”

“I will.” The native Rabinoviches already had an idea of what their raid team would consist of, but with Mandragora now in the loop, that might change. At the least, she could be part of the backup team. He, too, glanced out the entryway.

“I should return to the party,” he added with a sigh. This had been so much more interesting.