Episode 110. Part 1

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Present: Mary, Terri, Bobby and Jay
Air Date: 17 Feb 2009

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Wednesday, 02 Nov 2518
The Edge Residence
Memphis, Osiris
White Sun (Bai Hu) System
09:30 hrs, local time

The debris from breakfast had just been cleared away when Arden gets a text message from Valerie Sampson: I have an 11:40 opening. OCURC.

Valerie Sampson is a consulting doctor/medical researcher/personnel and occasionally takes up interesting cases. OCURC stands for Osiris Central University Research Center at Memphis General Hospital, and as Arden hits the Cortex for directions, Rina sighs.

Rina: Not another research facility. I’ve had my fill of research facilities, thank you very much. (to Arden) Text message. Short. Curt. What did you say to her?
Arden: What do you mean, ‘what did I say to her’?
Rina: She’s pissed off at you, what did you do to her?
Arden: We … competed in college.
Rina: I’m not tracking that one.
Arden: One of those…one-upmanship kind of things. She did something better than me, so I had to do something else better than her. We were rivals…. That’s after we stopped sleeping together.
Rina: Please tell me you didn’t sleep with the Big Man on Campus, too. (See Interludes: “Pop Music”)
Arden: (eyeroll) No.
Rina: Good to know.

Our appointment with Sampson is in less than two hours, so we hustle. We get directions, decide on who goes and who stays, and make arrangements for travel. OCURC isn’t exactly within walking distance and one has to wonder if that rivalry Arden mentioned hasn’t yet cooled off. The cab arrives and Arden, Mike, and Rina pile in.

On the drive over, Arden hits the Cortex again on his PDA, hoping to get a general bead on things. Top item in the news is the announcement that it is now the third day of protests outside Blue Sun Corporation Headquarters. Each system in the ’Verse has at least one Blue Sun manufacturing center, but Osiris is the site of the Headquarters for the commercial giant and as luck would have it, the BS HQ sits in its own little fiefdom of several thousand souls right outside Memphis. The protestors want to know what the story is, the Cortex is full of rumors and theories and lies, including allegations of Blue Sun’s involvement in the manufacture of the G-32 Paxilon Hydroclorate that killed Miranda and created the Reavers.

Imagine that.

Despite the disruption made to its business, Blue Sun has been surprisingly judicious in its restraint, refraining from coming down hard on the people protesting at its gates. Rina reads the article over Arden’s shoulder and something clicks for her in the reading.

Rina: I wonder if Nguyen knew about Miranda Wave before it happened. He had us target the Pax, or one of the Pax-series drugs, anyway. And he said something about being eager that word about the factory and what it made getting out, being made public. And then the Miranda Wave happens, in which a Pax drug is named specifically? Oh, c’mon. What are the odds? I wonder if he knew about the Miranda Wave before anyone else did.
Mike: You can track him down and ask him.
Rina: Pass. (A beat) Only if you made me.
Mike: Or it’s quite possible he was as surprised as you guys.

So we drive on into beautiful Memphis. It’s familiar territory for Arden. He went to medical school here. As a city it’s stunning, all shiny and pretty and modern, clean and bright and efficient. It’s not long before we pull up to our destination. We alight on the curb, pay the cab and linger on the sidewalk for a final once-over.

Mike: How much are we going to tell her? How much do we need to tell her?
Arden: That something in your neurochemistry has screwed up your metabolism and the way your brain works and we want to fix it.
Rina: We don’t have to tell her why.
Arden: Or how.
Mike: If you think she won’t ask questions—
Arden: I didn’t say that. She’ll ask questions.
Mike: It may be difficult for me not to answer those questions as well. It’s just that I really don’t like the duct tape methodology of not answering them.

We pause. acknowledging that grim reality. Then:

Rina: Well….after she cures you, we could always just kill her.
Arden: Um, no.
Rina: I meant that tongue-in-cheek. You know that.
Arden: No, I didn’t. (off Rina’s expression) That’s okay. I do now.
Rina: How ambitious is this woman?
Arden: What do you mean, ‘ambitious’?
Rina: Would she want to publish her findings? One of her colleagues? This stuff is supposed to be secret, right?
Mike: Let’s not worry about the publishing. It’s—
Arden: She’s more of a political animal, than a medical animal. In my humble opinion.
Rina: Can we appeal to that side of her to make her stay silent on stuff that we might inadvertently uncover?

Arden sighs.

Arden: Choice A: Tell her everything. The truth. We don’t know her allegiances or her proclivities, so that’s probably out. Choice B: Tell her as little as possible, which will arouse her suspicions and she’ll want to know more immediately. Choice C: A full-fledged lie. Choice D: A mixture of the two, which is probably what we’re going to have to do.
Rina: Okay. Talk. But lie.

So…we say we ran into Mike on Beaumonde. There was an explosion at a factory that made some sort of chemical, surely it made the news here, and we think that Mike had been exposed to the chemicals, causing his current problem. We’re just trying to fix it. Will that suit?

Rina: Which is pretty much true, if the zombified workers are any indication of what it does to you.
Arden: We don’t know anything about zombified workers.
Rina: Oh, no. There was something very definitely not right with the people takin’ the crap off our truck.
Arden: They were fine.
Rina: Well…
Arden: Weren’t they?

The Cortex feeds on the event had nothing but praise for the brave workers who stayed behind and didn’t leave the facility, despite the fire. Dedication? Or drugged apathy? Rina remembers how slowly the workers unloaded the truck and installed the shipment into the mixer. Then again, drugs might not have been the cause: they could just have been too bored at their jobs to rush…

Arden: We’ll use the Beaumonde story. I mean, that’s what happened, except he wasn’t exposed to the chemicals there.
Rina: Okay. We’ll talk, but lie and we’ll make it plausible so she won’t recognize the truth when she hears it.
Arden: I think you should be the one doing that. I tend to say too much.
Rina: (sighs) Fine.
Mike: (quietly) If I could make a recommendation. I don’t know how good you are at blending in at hospitals here, but if we could take her a blood sample or a CAT scan or something that maybe had something unusual in it, her curiosity might be piqued just enough that we might be able to get her to do this.
Arden: I have my doctor’s bag, I can get a blood sample from you here and now.
Mike: Right here on the sidewalk?
Arden: No, I meant once we’re inside.
Rina: If you put me in a candy striper uniform, I will kill you.
Arden: Trust me, it wouldn’t even cross my mind. I don’t know about Mike, but it didn’t cross my mind.
Mike: (dragging us back on-topic) If things are unusual, which we already know, there might be enough interest there to get her agree to keep it under wraps.
Arden: And a blood sample’s probably not going to do much if we’re talking about neural pathways. She’s going to want an MRI or a CAT scan and see how your brain is working.
Mike: All right.
Rina: She’s going to get one of those anyway, so get to it and get this done.
Mike: Whichever you think would work.
Arden: I think laying out the Beaumonde story is the best way.

Enough already. We have our story to tell Valerie. We quit the sidewalk and enter OCURC. No lights flash, no alarms blare. Rina is relieved to find her ret-job from Mike is still holding up. It goes far to reassure her despite the absence of her gun, her knife and her mesh. She still feels naked without them, but at least she’s got some measure of weaponry with her pocket tools. A Leatherman and some duct tape can be surprisingly lethal, if need be.

We find Valerie Sampson’s name in the office directory and take the elevator. It’s a smooth ride up twenty-five floors and is over quickly. We step out onto a high-tech array of office suites, with curving polarized plastic walls that go opaque or clear with a flip of a switch. Holographic images flicker and gleam here and there on the plastic, displaying informational signage, art, and news. Likely security scanners hide behind some of them. Rina tries not to gawk even as she starts mentally cataloguing all the different ways the displays are constructed and made to spy on people passing through.

The receptionist looks up from her desk.

Arden: (crisp doctor’s voice) We’re here to see Dr. Sampson. We have an eleven-forty.
Receptionist: Why don’t you wait there for a moment?

We take a seat in the comfy chairs in the reception area. And we wait. Rina notices Mike looking a little nervous, unusual for him. But then again, there is nothing usual about the reasons why they’re here.

Heels clack on the polished floor and we turn toward the sound, seeing a stylishly dressed woman approaching. It’s Valerie. Her business attire is conservative, but attractive. Her manner cool and professional, despite the informality of her greeting.

Valerie: Hey, it’s good to see you. Come right in.

She turns around and walks back to her office. We rise and follow her. Rina keeps tabs on all the entrances and exits as we go. She spots an emergency exit, the elevator we came up on, and one very secure-looking door. Her first thought pegs it as a pharmaceuticals closet, but on second thought she changes her assessment. It makes no sound, no hums, pops or ticks, that might clue her in as to its purpose. It’s a metal door, with a sophisticated control panel on it, and an incongruity in this environment. It’s a definite oddity and she makes note of it before moving on.

Valerie rates a corner office and she shuts the door behind us as we sit down. She takes up her place behind her desk, and the interview is on.

Valerie: Which one is the patient?

Not one for small talk, this Valerie.

Arden: Valerie Sampson, this is my friend Mike Carter.

Rina mentally kicks herself for not warning Arden to give a false last name. Damn. Too late now.

Valerie: (to Rina) And you’re Mr. Carter’s significant other?
Rina: Yes.
Valerie: Ah, I see. A little small. (to Arden) I got your wave, but perhaps you can go into a little more detail as to what we have here.
Arden: We ran into Mike on Beaumonde…

And Arden tells her the story we’d agreed upon. He wraps up quickly, saying:

Arden: … and since then, he’s not been himself. He has a tendency to have no governor on his actions, if that makes any sort of sense. You can ask him a direct question and he will answer it. He won’t try to prevaricate even if you ask him to prevaricate.
Valerie: Okay.
Arden: That’s what we want fixed. I can give you the records I’ve compiled of the chemicals in his blood over the past several weeks, etc. but neurochemistry is not my forte like it is yours.

Valerie pulls a pencil torch from a pocket of her suit jacket, goes over to Mike, shines it in his eyes in the classic pupil-check fashion. She speaks to him abstractedly, watching the results of the simple test.

Valerie: So… you were exposed to… chemicals at a factory explosion.
Mike: Well, not exactly exposed.

Oh, shit. There he goes. Arden covers quickly.

Arden: Close enough.
Valerie: (ignoring Arden) What do you mean, you weren’t exposed?
Mike: Ah…
Rina: Actually the entire neighborhood was exposed. It was a big damn explosion.
Arden: And it was all over the news, I’m surprised you didn’t hear it.
Valerie: You said it was in Beaumonde? Isn’t that in the Georgia system?
Arden: I believe so.
Valerie: Yes. That sounds vaguely familiar.

Actually, it’s in the Kalidasa system, but you know how the Core bias is: those Rim worlds all look alike. And for the purposes of subterfuge, it actually might help cover our tracks just a little bit more.

Valerie stands back and pockets her torch.

Valerie: Well, I am intrigued. We’re going to need bloodwork and we’ll do a scan. That’s the least we can do. Of course, if it’s a neurochemical thing we can try to extract some of the chemicals via a spinal tap. It’s not very pleasant but…
Arden: If you don’t mind, I’d like to be involved in the process, even though I’m sure your practice has areas I cannot be involved in. But I still would like to be kept up to date on what’s going on.
Valerie: I’m sure it will be educational exercise, if you’re open to that. Let’s do the bloodwork first and I’ll see if I can arrange a scan.
Mike: Is it possible I could have my bloodwork in-house?
Valerie: What do you mean?
Mike: I’m a little uncomfortable with my private details leaving the hospital.
Arden: That’s understandable.
Valerie: Hmm. It’s not really standard practice….but I’ll see what I can do. Head on to the other room. (Valerie gestures in the right direction) Nurse Janet will get you started on the bloodwork.

Mike rises and Rina goes with him. When they’re gone, Valerie pulls Arden aside.

Valerie: You’re not going to get me in trouble?
Arden: Not if I can help it.
Valerie: Is there anything about this patient I need to know?
Arden: He’s sick. He has some neural-chemistry mix up in his brain, that is causing him problems—.
Valerie: I’m talking about the privacy business. Is there some kind of secrecy or something?
Arden: He once upon a time was involved with Browncoats and that unpleasantness. And I’m sure he doesn’t want anything from his past to catch up with him. You know how people from that area are like.
Valerie: I guess I could say I’m surprised that you’d be hanging out with the Browncoats.
Arden: He’s not a Browncoat anymore. There are no Browncoats. Haven’t you been paying attention to the news?
Valerie: Well, I’ve heard accusations, to be sure. Some think that whole Miranda Wave probably had something to do with Browncoats. A new Insurgency.
Arden: I thought it was more … In any case, I’m sure we have differing opinions on this. Whether the Miranda Wave was true or false, I’m sure it didn’t have anything to do with this.
Valerie: All right. We’ll see. You can observe his blood taken and make sure his details are kept private and there’ll be a scanner there.

Arden goes to the next room, sees everything’s done properly. It takes but a minute to get the results back. Arden looks them over. There is something a little odd in Mike’s bloodstream, a ratio a little off here, an element off a touch there….There are no signs of drugs in his system, no serotonin or inhibitors. Nothing that leaps out at Arden, but taken as a whole, the bloodwork certainly isn’t quite right.

We three are taken to another lab and watch as the sample is put under the microscope and examined. Again, the results are noted and as we are leaving, we see two figures in what appear to be hazmat suits, sans breather hoods, pushing a gurney with a bagged corpse on it over to the odd door Rina had noticed earlier.

One of the suited men pulls off his glove and taps in a sequence of button strokes on the control panel and presses his palm to the screen—obviously the lock is a combination alpha-numeric/biometric one. Rina listens hard to catch the touch tone on the keys, but comes away with nothing. Either the tone has been turned off or she’s too far away to hear them. The men push the gurney inside, the door closes, and there’s nothing more to see.

We take the test results back to Valerie’s office, where she examines them.

Valerie: Hm. Well, those numbers are definitely off. (to Mike) Have you been feeling feverish at all?
Mike: No.
Valerie: Interesting.

She puts the results up on a screen and examines them some more. She zooms in on something in the blood cells. Rina watches and it’s all colors and lines and dots and nonsense to her. Valerie zooms in some more, frowning.

Valerie: Hm. This is interesting. All right. (looking over at us) You’ve got my attention. Mr. Carter, have you been genetically engineered?

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