Social Science 103

From the Story Arc: The Charge of the Labcoat Brigade

Previous Story in the Arc: Social Science 102 by Krasniy Zakat (Monday, February 12, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Net-Working by Krasnaya Zarya (Sunday, February 18, 2007)

(posted Monday, February 12, 2007)

Tuesday Night

The evening, so far, was going by fine. Nobody was trying to make Sofia throw fireballs to demonstrate her identity. Nobody asked her personal questions. Nobody except for Genevieve talked to her except in the most generic of terms… So far so good. She eased herself into a stool beside the other woman, and, wiping cold sweat secretly from her brow, tucked into her tea and a tuna sandwich.

Aleksander, with annoying showmanship and ease born out of almost complete identity with his twin – as well as total control over his facial expressions – was deep in conversation with the tall, stately Mandragora, a little way off. Nothing seemed to be happening that was threatening; the two were mutually beaming at each other, confirming their worth. Had circumstances been different – and were Aleksander a different man – Sofia might have gotten jealous. As it were, she relaxed.

“Hello everyone!” the voice startled Sofia out of here reverie, and she raised her head in time to see a very redheaded woman entering slowly into the group of socializing people in the club. A black habit dressed redheaded woman. Sofia knew that face, by hearsay, but well.

“Joanna.” She nodded stupidly. Or, as a better actor had put it; oh God, oh God, we’re all gonna die. Joanna O’Neil, Catholic nun extraordinaire, part-energy-being, telepath, was a tremendous risk in and of herself. Joanna, Sofia’s – the original Sofia’s – good friend was doubly so. Sofia, who like her counterpart believed in little beside the fact that she may possibly exist, was fervently praying for divine intervention; anything at all to distract the incredibly dangerous Joanna from the Rabinoviches and onto something else…. And ensure that she would not even think of applying her telepathy to them.

So far the disaster was averted by the nun’s politeness. “Hello Alexander, Sofia. How are you all?” Both Aleksander and Sofia mumbled noncommittal responses and exchanged a fundamentally wary glance. They would have to escape, and soon. It happened, with the nun’s engrossment in a theological discussion with David Carter, the microbiologist, who was questioning the nature of biblical quotations. Amused, Sofia felt more on her home turf as she mumbled that – if David so wished it – she could provide the original quote... Though she had doubts of his Hebrew. Would Sofia had done that? Yes, I’m sure she would have; she’s so pushy and assertive, always getting into fights and arguments…

Sofia would have also paid instant attention to the new young woman entering the room. She would have, because she had the ingrained habits and amounts of information born of casual acquaintance that the Sofia currently standing there did not, and would have noticed that the newcomer resembled, very closely, one of her own nominal subordinates in the CCCP. Joanna, for example, did notice.

“My, my...” the nun mumbled, glancing under semi-lidded eyes at the red-leather dressed girl. She seemed completely engrossed, having no attention left to spare for Sofia, and thus extending her ability to stay undercover for a little longer. It would, however, be distinctly un-Sofia-like to simply let Joanna vanish into the mists; Sofia tended to follow her friends’ actions as though they were little kids, and couldn’t do anything without her help. An irritating trait, really, but I have to play along here… And so Sofia left an ear open, listening to the conversation which quickly devolved into German. She didn’t even know Joanna spoke it – Sofia withheld the fact that the nun could compete with her for number of languages – much less that the other arrival did. Luckily, the approximation to Yiddish was close enough for her to be able to follow.

“I’ve been meaning to ask, Sofia,” Genevieve finally got her wine and was sipping it gently, “you’re out of uniform today?”

Uniform? Sofia panicked. Her alternate never said anything about a uniform she wore… in fact, didn’t she, too, have a principle against uniforms? She laughed nervously. “I’m never in uniform.” She hazarded.

“I wouldn’t even know you were a scientist,” the other woman grinned. Oh! The lab coat! Sofia and her stupid lab coat. What Linguist wears a lab coat at work, anyway? Still, conversation about clothing was easier than dealing with the all-to-scary nun.

“I often come straight from the labs, at the end of a workday.” Sofia fabricated quickly, hoping that this was a good excuse. Most people had no idea what it was linguists did anyway. For all the layman knew, linguists were assembling and disassembling language built out of huge blocks of gooey stuff. “They make me wear a labcoat. Otherwise, I'm just a normal guy.. uh, gal....”

“Well, I have to say, very hip.”

“Why, thank you,” Sofia smirked, thinking her alternate would have had fits, instead. “So long as the students don't see.” And since I don’t have any students, that won’t be a problem.

“I won't tell them.” Genevieve raised her glass in a small salute. Sofia smirked and pushed away her now empty teacup. Around, conversation was rampant; two people whom Sofia didn’t quite recognize were off discussing some nonsensical relationship, in another corner a couple was gossiping quietly. Behind Sofia’s back, two men were talking excitedly about the virus…. The engineered virus the Rabinoviches helped discover and figured out the origin of, more or less.

“A virus!” Genevieve exclaimed, realization dawning. “That’s what everybody’s been dancing around, isn’t it? Everyone's talking about 'the incident' or 'the situation' or something like that, and there's a serious lack of hard information.” She smoothed her hair irritably, “I can't get anything out of the Paragon office, so either they're not in the loop, or they've decided it's not need to know. And I hate not knowing.”

Well, Sofia – any Sofia – could understand that. As far as this Sofia could tell, half of the friction between that Sofia and her nominal superiors in the humourless CCCP arose because they never considered her to be in the need-to-know loop. Sofia, who needed as much general info as possible to make her deductions and create her strategies – a thing in which they excelled since early age – could not help but resent profoundly the implications of that. “There has been a tailored virus going in the city,” she said, thinking what would Sofia do? “It didn’t hit you folks?”

“There's a dozen diseases in the Isles at any given time. Too many mad scientists, not enough health insurance, if you get my meaning.”

Sofia chuckled and decided that her twin would act mostly as she would – in this instance, since the topic was obviously not a state secret, completely open. Free flow of information was one of the few things this crazy universe had going for it, and even then, it was much too restricted and classified for her – and Sofia’s – liking. Besides, diseases knew no borders or ethics. “This is true,” she smiled at the accurate depiction of the Rogue Isles, “but this one is interesting…”

“Interesting?” Genevieve frowned. “Biology is not my strength, but what do you mean?”

“A very well done virus,” Sofia shrugged. No sense hiding that it wasn’t another 1918 influenza epidemic. “Tailored and quite lethal. That’s what the husband went to talk about with David; biology is obviously his strength.”

“Hmm…” Genevieve persisted. “So what did you mean earlier, by targeted? I doubt there is a gene for ‘heroism’.”

“In this instance,” Sofia elaborated, “it’s been tailored specifically to mutant supers. And believe me when I say a virus makes no distinction in ethics.”

“That's a little creepy - I mean, according to every test they have, I'm a stock model, but that kind of precision is still worrying.” She didn’t look especially worried, but then, neither was Sofia. Sofia had that same attitude towards displaying fear and other unwelcome emotions that a good surgeon did; hide it, and if you can’t hide it any more, hide it deeper.

“I agree.” Sofia sighed heavily, rubbing the back of her neck. The virus was creepy. Technically, she didn’t think she – or even her alternate, for that matter – could be hit by it, but she did not want it to blow into a full pandemic. For anyone. ”Look, I don't bloody care who is who and what their interests are. I'm medical personnel, and I am not about to allow an epidemic in the Isles just out of spite. This thing is going to jump over, sure as forest fire. People who use biological warfare can't seem to grasp that it turns against them, sooner or later.”

That was pure truth. Sofia – both the Sofias – disdained moral purism. They were not, as many people thought, completely, lacking ethics, or even relativists. There was good, and there was bad, and it was not a matter of culture and upbringing… But were there by definition completely good people and completely bad people? Sofia didn’t know, and wasn’t willing to make a bet. There seemed to be a belief in America – at least in this America – that nice people deserved to not be punished, even if they had done something deserving of it… whereas not-nice people deserved to be punished more. Sofia still cringed each time she spoke of the trial of some Warshade named Tutelary, and what came of it. In private, for fear of being lynched.

“All it takes is one carrier coming in one door here, and someone leaving out the other.” Genevieve agreed, tilting her wine-glass one way and another, eyeing it with new thoughtfulness. “Er. That makes me wonder - can non-targeted individuals carry the virus?”

“You know,” murmured Sofia, whose only superpower was the ability to pass for someone with pyrokinesis, “I never really thought.”

“That seems to be a significant consideration,” noted her drinking companion dryly. “I really don't think 'Typhoid Gen' has the same ring to it.”

“Since the virus survives a long time without dying off, it's entirely possible.” Sofia mused, making assumptions based on her rather shallow knowledge of epidemiology. The native Sofia, who served as a combat EMT, would know more… “And before you start looking at me funny, I'm clean. I have to be, Alexander must not be exposed.” That was complete truth, too. While Aleksander couldn’t care less, being, as of a decade ago, immune from anything, including most likely death – although, as the last few months proved, not taxes – Alex most definitely did care. This was a very good reason for him and the other Sofia to have flown to Moscow while the spread of the epidemic went on unstopped… and the reason why the Rabinoviches could be seen to make ‘their’ weekly appearance in the D. Alex, who lived on immune system boosters ever since that fateful April, would not have been allowed by either of the Sofias to make an appearance in so auspicious a place to be a mass infection trap.

“You've got prophylaxis, then?”

“I got the shot ASAP.” Sofia nodded unhappily, and scratched the crook of her left elbow where the other Sofia promptly stuck her needle. “Alexander is a radiation sickness patient, and had a bone marrow transplant not long ago.” Because of Aleksander’s rather awkward attempt at filial jealousy, Sofia grimaced. “He's... susceptible.”

“Ow. I can see why that would be a problem…”

Aleksander, in the meanwhile, had returned from his rather prolonged conversation with David. He didn’t appear to have done well… or rather, while he appeared quite smug, David looked a little on the down side. Which in other Sofia’s notes to her was termed as ‘an overdose of Bad Cop – go and be nice to them, you want their cooperation’. Which meant that she must abandon her perch at the bar stool, and go play Good Cop to Aleksander’s direct attitudes….

“Pardon me for a moment. Again.” She sighed heavily, sliding down and tugging on the lapels of her coat. “Too many people, too little time.”

“Oh, I understand,” Genevieve smiled benevolently as she waved goodbye. “Go.”

Sofia went.




Aleksander permitted himself a mental dance for joy at the serendipitous events of the evening. While the original targets of the operation – Foxglove and Yogi – were still no-shows, two unexpected sources of information had arisen; between Dr. Carter and Mandragora, he had gained the information required to both find Garent and put a halt to the nanotech plague. Further investigation into Apobiosis’s involvement might even lead to the origins of the virus and its real purpose.

He returned to the common area in front of the bar, looking for his wife - she would want to see the cure – and blanched. Standing at one end of the counter was the recognizable figure of John Murdock. When he had first met him, he was in some elaborate combat armor, but afterwards they met in person – so to speak – and he learned that the now-Commissar of the CCCP was one of the Kheldian hybrids. As someone who had met him in person, and as an energy-based lifeform, Murdock could ruin his cover.

Aleksander turned away quickly, pretending to order a cup of tea, hoping Murdock hadn’t seen him.

“Alek.”

Aleksander froze, slowly turning his gaze to the official, and returned a nod of greeting. Well, it wouldn’t be like Alex to ignore the chance to flaunt his recent acquisition… Aleksander grinned and pulled the PDA out of the pocket of his jacket and waved it in the air. “Murdock –“ for some reason, Alex always referred to him by his last name “- I’ve got something for you.”

With the screen still displaying the diagrams that Doctor Carter had added, he handed the PDA over to the official. Murdock gave a quick look over, but obviously had no idea what it was. Murdock raised an eyebrow and asked, “Alright, what’s this tellin’ me, Alek?”

“Our villain friend, Apobiosis, gave this to me,” he whispered a short explanation. “Supposedly, it's a ‘cure’. More accurately, a chemical compound that breaks this thing down.”

“Yeah? We've got him listed as bein' affiliated with the Parliament.” The what?! He didn’t seem British… Aleksander was fairly certain that Alex had never mentioned some grouped called ‘the Parliament’. “He said this is a cure to the virus that's goin' 'round?”

“Yes,” he replied, to busy trying to see if Alex had ever mentioned this group to actually work up a decent reply.

“D'ya trust him?” Murdock asked in his thick American accent. “I want t'have Thanh Ha look this over, soon as possible.”

“Only professional respect,” he answered in clipped English, mentally cursing himself afterwards and moving on quickly. “And I want Thanh Ha to look it over. And I want me to look it over.” Both of… me. He paused, a sudden idea forming. “And Vickie should look it over. I'm worried that there might be some hidden magical component: those Clockwork in Faultline were magically altered, for instance, and the virus is doing things that should be impossible, given its structure.”

Murdock nodded. “Keep it under wraps till we get it sorted out proper. How'd he come by this?”

“Come by it?” Aleksander snickered. “He created it. I suspect he either had a hand in the creation of the virus itself, or he was informed about it afterwards. Either way, he knows. Whether or not this will actually work, I don't know. But it makes sense that they would have an easy cure on hand.”

“Then what's his angle in givin' it to you?” Murdock queried skeptically while returning the PDA.

“To keep an aura of friendliness, mostly.” It was a terrible explanation; it was hard to explain, the camaraderie of scientists. You shared knowledge because it was important to share; to give favours in return for future favours. Besides, how else would someone know what you could or couldn’t do? You had to tell them, one way or another. He would have to term it in a way that the militaristic Murdock would understand. “Probably also because he knows I'm on to him. Buy me off, so to speak.”

“Basically, he helps us now; we let him continue breathin' for a bit longer.”

“Essentially.” He suppressed a wince. At least that meant Murdock would not do something silly like try to capture Doctor Carter. The Rabinoviches did not want that kind of reputation. Either Rabinoviches.

Murdock had paused, listening to something on his radio, then turned back to him. “I need to return to th’base. One last thing ‘fore I go: how'd y'get suspicious 'bout him in the first place, 'fore this came up?”

The million dollar question, and Aleksander couldn’t think of a concise way to place a long series of careful observation and hypothesis testing. According to Alex’s notes…

“Conversation from last week, mostly,” he began. “All the scientists were together, talking, and I got a general feel for what's going on. Plus, he and Horatio are the only biologically minded villains, and we already had reason to suspect that the Rogue Isles' folks were behind it - the attack in Faultline.” Aleksander smirked. “Sofia did some prodding, and he responded very suspiciously, so I moved in.”

Murdock nodded slowly, raising his hand to the comm. to listen to more chatter. He suddenly broke into a big smile. “Agn Stratonik is back, and Red Crosse too. I’m gonna take’em ‘round the base.”

“Ah.” Aleksander grimaced. He needed less time with Murdock, not more. “I shall see you another time, then.” A wicked thought entered his mind.

“I am too busy by far to go jaunting around meeting people, I apologize. I have a treatment to test.”