"'How're the hormones treating you?'"
Sharpe gripped her fingers on her thigh, clearly more affected by it than Priscilla Locke was, "That's…. She does it in front of other people?"
Priss nodded. They both sat in the waiting room of a doctor's office, the room steadily clearing out minute by minute.
"That's a fucking cunt-move. No offense to you… but that's a fucking cunty fuck thing to do. In front of total strangers."
Priss shrugged, "It doesn't bother me as much as it seems to bother you."
"It should," Sharpe reached a hand out, as if to touch Priss's face. She awkwardly jerked it back, seeing no reaction from the other woman, "You should've taken a few more teeth from her."
"I can't. It's not just…"
"No, I get it. She protected you when you were kids, and now you think that makes you beholden to her for the rest of your life. She helped you once, but now she's on a downward spiral and she's intent on flinging as much of her own shit onto you as possible before she crashes."
Priss shook her head, averting her gaze from Sharpe, "It's… she's family…"
"Don't give me that crap… 'blood is thicker than water' horse shit. Psychopaths like your sister exploit that to their advantage. Just because they're related to you doesn't mean you should have to bear the burden of their assholery. What if you had an uncle who kept stealing your panties and sniffing them and selling them? What if you had a cousin who kept beating the fuck out of you and stealing your things? What if your father was a sexual predator who kept raping people and asking you to keep it secret — ?"
"Except she's not," Priss gnawed on her lower lip. She wasn't angry, but the reaction at least got Sharpe to stop, "And what is it with you with those crazy-ass examples? Everything's always 'uncle pedophile' with you."
"Aurianne Sharpe?" The voice of one of the attendants interrupted.
"She's not a psychopath out to hurt everyone around her. She's sick, and she needs help."
Sharpe rose up, straightening her jacket, before leaning over to meet Priss's gaze, "Then get her help. Professional help. Mental illness isn't a zero-sum game — half-assed help isn't better than no help."
Shi Mingxia couldn't focus with the lab assistant staring at her. She cast a sidelong glance at him. He was still staring. She finally gave up and turned to face him. That got his attention.
"Are we going to have problems here? Should I send for another lab assistant?"
He stared at her, eyes widening as he realized what she meant, "My apologies, Doctor. I do not mean to — I am not particularly fond of women."
She caught on, and sighed, "Can you stare someplace else, please? Shouldn't you be taking notes?"
He held out his notes to her, "This is what I have managed. We cannot conclude if it is man-made or not. If not —"
"I know what it means."
"Dr. Sienowicz was killed by this disease, wasn't he?" The assistant was on the edge of his seat, thinking himself on the brink of some new realization.
"Or he was killed by whomever was responsible for engineering this bacterium. You know, the more realistic possibility rather than assuming the bacterium is intentionally targeting some people but not others."
She glanced down at the counter. She had been wearing gloves when she handled the bacterium. Visualizing the old man in her position, shuffling papers and pretending to look busy whenever she was around, she couldn't remember if he had been wearing gloves…
She almost stopped herself, and had to actively fight the compulsion to give up and try something else. Very carefully, she slid the sample out from under the microscope, and adjusted it to give her hand some space to take its place. She held still, and peered in to the microscope. Why she had expected anything, she could only ascribe to her own general ignorance. Sienowicz was the true scientist; she was only an assistant.
There, nestled amongst the grooves of the latex, but unable to perforate the polymer fibers, was the bacteria. As if noticing her reaction — the subtle tension of her muscles, the sharp intake of breath — the bacteria stopped moving, like cockroaches caught out in the open when the lights came on. The mere fact that they were there, on a solid surface, outside of a moist environment…
"You," She flailed her free hand at the lab assistant behind her, hoping he was at least staring in her direction now, "Quarantine. Get on the phone, tell the manager to quarantine this lab."
"Where did it come from? 'We don't know'. How does it work? 'We don't know'. Is it trans-dimensional, trans-universal, both, or neither? 'We don't know'."
Dr. Jaime Marlowe felt like a failure. The more she filled out the report with those sorts of non-answers, the more she wondered how a Dr. Eddlestein, Dr. Bright, or a Dr. Eastwatch would have handled this sort of anomaly. How quickly would they have deciphered the incoherent number patterns on it, or begun to grasp the thermodynamics behind a thing like this, which left the room freezing the more it was used, while making those obnoxious clicking noises as it started to overheat. She couldn't even understand how they had figured out it was called "Anabasis".
She spun the paper about on the cold desk top, contemplating just how long it would take for her to run out of things to do, button combinations to press, and random trash to "warp" in from the fifth dimension. How long before they decided to give up and stick it in a box in a basement someplace, and assign her to something utterly pointless, realizing how much of a failure she was and how she couldn't be trusted with potentially game-changing anomalies like this one.
She jumped to her feet, gasping and heading out the door before she ended up having a panic attack. The place bustled with activity; Foundation personnel assigned to the site, looking busy. She hated how easy they made it look. So often, she had long stretches of time with essentially nothing to do. Meanwhile, everyone else always seemed to be busy at every moment, and she ended up re-reading the same files, re-typing reports, re-doing things, just to look busy.
Again, she felt her chest tighten and stomach churn violently. Panic attack. She rushed down to the cellar where it was being held. At the very least, the temperature in there would be cool, so she wouldn't start sweating so horribly.
"Nothing?" She asked the small group clustered around the Anabasis. It always alternated, and that annoying woman was always among them.
"Nothing," A male voice said.
"No, wait," Of course, that woman Priscilla Locke, "I think I've figured out the first two knobs."
"Have you, or have you not?"
"The numbers change with the last click. We've been testing it a bit, and we figured the first three clicks are for length, width, and height, setting up the dimensions of whatever is going to be brought in."
Marlowe glared at Locke. Her stupid freckled face and that stupid way she stared back without blinking. Was she retarded, or did she think it was cute? Marlowe looked to the others. They all seemed to be in agreement.
"It took you a month to figure this out?" She asked incredulously.
"To be fair, we were using the first three knobs all at once and thinking they were each for length, width, and height," The first man, a technician called Edgars, said, "We saw it wasn't actually working consistently each time, so we started going by trial and error until we figured out we only needed the first knob for shape."
Dr. Marlowe gripped at the side of her head, fingers curling in her hair and tugging until they were tense around her fingers, "So you've figured out how to adjust for size."
"And it doesn't like… re-set any of the other settings?"
"Okay. Start testing with D-Class."
They all stared at her, and Locke butt in, "Excuse me, Dr. Marlowe, but —"
"Put in a fucking man-sized space, put in a man, send him out, then bring him back. Make sure he's got a hazmat suit and oxygen. Logical?"
She knew the looks on their faces. It wasn't anything to do with the device or the potential testing. It was the D-Class. Always with them. They couldn't handle the simple fact that the D-Class were there to be used. That they had to be clothed and fed and taken care of was incidental due to the fact that they had to be as human as possible when facing the unknown, so that no real loss would be suffered should something go wrong and they died. People had done it with animals for centuries. Suddenly they cared because it was humans being used instead of animals? Did they care enough about the D-Class to clothe them and feed them and shelter them from their own pockets? To have one sleep in their home? Date their sisters or daughters?
"Get it done," She gave Locke a last smoldering glare, then turned to leave, feeling much better now.
Shi Mingxia didn't mind being naked around others. It was entirely fine for her; it was just unpleasant when those others were dressed in big white hazmat suits, and had her in the center of a room wrapped in plastic. She smirked at them as they looked her way again, and gave a little wave. They turned, heading back outside.
"Can I at least get a bathrobe?"
They didn't listen. She sighed, and lowered herself onto the plastic, sitting down and getting to work thinking. She hadn't had anywhere near the level of experience with the bacterium as Dr. Sienowicz had, so she could only guess as to the mode of its transmission. Thus far, it had demonstrated itself to be waterborne, highly resistant to extreme temperature, and now potentially able to survive on dry surfaces, given what had happened to her.
Best-case explanation she could think of… it was a weapon. A nanobot posing as a bacterium, perhaps, changing based on commands being received from a hacker somewhere. Despite the fact that it was very clearly not a nanobot, and very clearly biological.
That left the lab attendant's goofy-ass theory, that the bacterium was somehow sentient, and forcibly mutating based on what it overheard… despite the utter impossibility of something that small being able to discern human speech. But she wasn't an expert in any of this… she was little more than a glorified intern. And now she was squatting in a quarantined room, completely naked, and probably about to die at any moment.
The door slowly started to open. She glanced up, and could see an unprotected face through the plastic, looking around quizzically. It was that lab attendant… She couldn't remember his name. Xi-something…
He noticed her, eyes widened, then he opened the door into her little sealed chamber. She bolted to her feet, rushing to try to stop him. It was too late; he stepped out, nearly bumping against her.
"What is wrong with you? How did you get out of quarantine?"
"They're dead," His eyes briefly traced down her bare body, only seeming to put him more on edge, "All the scientists. All the officials."
She glanced over his shoulder, noting someone in a hazmat suit approaching the doorway. She turned him around, just in time to see that person fall over, face-planting on the threshold, and starting to curl like a worm on fire. Xi the attendant started to whimper and sob. She gingerly reached out, turning the squirming body over.
The man's eyes were drenched in blood, his mouth working open and shut, with nothing but reddish-black and dark green pooling in his mouth. The site alone made her gag. He'd been sweating profusely, and coughing up blood.
"He's dead," She murmured.
"But wait, he's moving. The others —"
"He's dead," She reiterated. She drew up, and peered out of the containment room. Other bodies lay around. Some were squirming.
"It's zombies. Zombie apocalypse. Heaven help us, zombies!" The boy was getting hysterical.
She smacked him to get him to stop, "It's not zombies, you twit! Go find my clothes. We need to contact someone. And do not go squawking about zombies to people."
All it took was once; "Steve Chin" he'd introduced himself as, forgetting that it was family name first, then given name. They all laughed at his embarrassed reaction. Now he was "Steve Chin", or "Chin Steve the American".
"Ey, Corporal Steve," One of the men beside him nudged, noticing how profusely Chin was sweating, "how're you enjoying the weather?"
The convoy had crossed into Indo-China an hour earlier, part of the Emperor's surge in forces to put down the Communist elements in Dai Viet and further pacify the region. The eight-year plan to annex Indo-China was five years behind schedule, so the Emperor's patience was understandable strained.
"This blows," Chin grunted in response, "Why don't we burn out the jungles so we can force the fuckers out in the open?"
"This is the Emperor's land. You wouldn't dare slash and burn what's properly his."
"The damn I wouldn't. The Emperor has plenty of trees all over China. What's a few more square kilometers to him? I say burn it all, rebuild later."
Despite the heat, Chin sneezed, and found himself starting to shiver. He glanced up, and noticed all the others around him were sweating profusely too. Not a big deal, he figured; it was rather humid today. He wiped his face on his sleeve, and got odd looks from the others. Looking down, he realized he'd sneezed up a big wad of bloody mucous.
"Must have caught something."
The man beside him nudged him again, "Just a little blood, Corporal Steve. At least you didn't get to see the crime scene I left in the toilet back at base."