A Thimbleful of Blood


odessa4_icon.gif pete3_icon.gif

Scene Title A Thimbleful of Blood
Synopsis Life is full of little pricks.
Date January 16, 2021

Nuojin He Jia

Only a few months ago, she wouldn’t have been able to pull this off. Now, however… Now, she’s been seen on the right arm often enough. As soon as she found out where the Refrain was made, this became their place. Their place to take a break from the stresses of their respective days and just enjoy time to decompress, time together, and a meal.

And she’s made sure to make it her favored place, as well. The soloist seen enjoying solitude. Always smiling to those who serve. Tipping very well. Ingratiating herself.

It’s paid off, because no one bats an eye when the blonde strides in through the door from the backlot, bypassing the guards and those who work the kitchen alike, making her way through the areas limited to staff. Even without her escort, no one questions her right to be here. She’s stepped up as she’s gone along. Made phone calls, paid visits, played messenger. Her presence is viewed as purposeful.

And she does have such purpose when she makes her way down the stairs to the basement level. The shitty conditions bring a faint curl to her lip. Even she’s never had to settle for facilities as shoddy as these — and she worked out of a shipping container. It makes her grateful for what she has now.

A hand rests on the brown leather satchel that has settled at her hip, the strap of it slung across her body to make it harder to snatch away. If anyone would be foolish enough to try it. The very intimation of the man not present with her today is armor enough to protect her.

Reaching her destination, the woman lifts the cane held in her right hand, tossing it lightly so she can grasp around the shaft of it and tap on the opened office door with the cracked crystal ball set in its pommel.

“Mister Varlane.” When the blonde lifts her chin, the fluorescent lighting overhead casts a white sheen over the lenses of her black-framed glasses, obscuring her eyes from the man seated at his desk. “I require your time.”

“Wonderful,” Pete says without getting up, “I can put a cushion under my desk so you’re more comfortable if that’ll be easier on the knees.” He says without so much as looking up at her from the paperwork set out in front of him.

"Oh, fantastic," the woman replies without missing a beat, "I was in such a hurry to leave the whorehouse to get to this job that I forgot my kneepads." Pete is far from the first man to speak to her like that, and he won't be the last.

The door closes behind her with enough force for anybody else to note they shouldn't disturb.

Approaching the desk, she works open the fastening on her bag. "I have blood samples I need your eyes on." A slim metal case is procured and set down in front of him. "I need to know what you see." The cane is propped up against the desk, and she rests both hands against its surface, leaning forward slightly.

“See?” Pete wrinkles his nose. “Look, I know there’s not a handbook on what the fuck it is I do but you’re making some really blonde assumptions here.” Pete sits forward at his small, cluttered desk and folds his hands in front of himself.

Pete tilts his head to the side and looks at Odessa expectantly. “Whose blood is it? Why does Gideon need me to look at it? And what am I inspecting it for?

Pushing up from her lean, “Your ability is nothing short of spectacular,” comes out of her mouth instead of the fuck you, Pete, that had been dancing on the tip of her tongue for the disparaging comment made about what her hair color implies (misogynistically) about her intelligence. “And you’re right. I have no idea how it works, I only know what I’ve seen for myself.”

Leveraging d’Sarthe’s influence here may be enough. Letting Pete erroneously believe that this is some errand she’s been sent on for the boss might make him more cooperative.

But it also might see her pilloried, too, once it’s discovered.

“I don’t know what you can do with it, but I can’t go find another electron fucking microscope after what happened.” The blonde’s lips purse. “The subject is a teenage girl.” The history is launched into with all the matter-of-fact air of a detached medical professional. “She was born SLC-Expressive, but she’s been unable to access her ability as though she were on a course of Adynomine, and testing confirms she no longer possesses the marker. She has otherwise presented as healthy, but suffered a stroke last night.”

Crossing her arms under her chest, she projects more confidence and disdain than she actually feels. Although she wonders if he can read her the way she can read him right now. “You can see when someone’s manifesting, so don’t try and give me any bullshit about how there’s nothing you can possibly glean from this.”

Pete fixes Odessa with a narrow-eyed look, lips pursed to the side. Without moving his attention from her, Pete reaches into a small humidor on his desk and retrieves a hand-rolled cigar. Bringing it up to his mouth, Pete bites the end off then spits it into the trash. “Sit,” Pete instructs as he grabs his lighter, still keeping his eyes fixed on her.

Only once Pete has lit his cigar and given it a few initial puffs does he switch it to one hand and pick up the metal case, sliding it open to reveal the blood samples within. Pete sets the case down, then returns the cigar to his mouth and takes a longer drag, letting the smoke waft out of his mouth without exhaling as he thinks.

“This isn’t blood.” Pete says with a look up to Odessa. “Not just blood anyway. Kid’s got cerebrospinal fluid leaking into her bloodstream. Probably has six forms of fucking cancer if I’m feeling this right, which… judging from the fact you say they had a seizure? Probably tracks.”

Squinting, Pete looks like he sees something that he doesn’t understand. Sitting forward his chair creaks, brows furrowing. “Collagen in her blood too. Cartilage.” He looks up at Odessa. “Was she run through a fucking juicer before you got this sample?”

Shit.” Odessa hisses the first curse under her breath. The second is a more emphatic, “Fuck!” meant to be heard. “How the fuck did I miss the CSF?” Because she wasn’t looking. She isn’t a neurologist. So much of this is out of her scope, however broad that scope is, given her unorthodox education.

“Subjects are showing no… effects of cancer. Even though the WBC count is indicitive of late stage fucking Leukemia.” It’s a good thing she sat down when he told her, or she might have simply dropped along with her stomach. “All the things I should be seeing… They aren’t there.

But what is there… Well, he’s seen it. When he leans forward, so does she. Twisting the yellow sapphire ring on her left hand anxiously, she meets his eyes. “The fucking calcium and elastin? They’re nanites, Pete,” she says with more familiarity than Ourania Pride has any right to.

Huh.” Pete says with no surprise what-so-ever as he turns the case to the side in his hand. “That explains the other bullshit. Sodium, potassium, and chloride levels are all spiked in the CSF,” he says with the familiarity of someone who is accustomed to saying those terms, not the smug, cigar-smoking sack of shit that is sitting in front of her. “It’s funny, I didn’t think anybody would actually make these.”

Pete sets the case down in front of Odessa and shrugs. “I’d give Rich a solid mazel tov, but he’s probably unrecognizably decomposed these days, so I’ll just give my condolences.” Pete laughs softly, taking a drag off of his cigar.

“So,” Pete carries on, puffing out smoke out the sides of his mouth, “who's the lucky mom that Rich knocked up with his little babies?”

“Wait. Rich?” Odessa’s brow furrows in confusion. “This was one of our projects?” The blonde leans back in her seat, stunned and entirely unaware of the major slip she’s just made. Her throat gets a little tight, face little paler when she thinks of Rich Schwenkman. It wasn’t fair what happened to him. Or maybe it just isn’t fair that the two people in this office survived while Rich didn’t.

The question of who the sample belongs to bring Odessa back to herself. She tilts her head to one side, the tip of her tongue pressing to one canine tooth. “My niece.” So maybe don’t be so fucking vulg—ah, who are we kidding?

“Tell me everything you know about this project. What is the point of it? What was he doing?

“Rich had a million little fucking projects he was always trying to get funding for. The Director always shot him down.” Pete says dismissively, sitting back in his chair and savoring the flavor of his cigar. “This was… I forget the cute fucking little name he had for it. But we workshopped the idea back when I was up in fucking Cambridge still, before they’d even built the San Francisco branch.”

Plucking his cigar from his lips, Pete watches the smoke wind up from the end as he drifts into the past. “The concept was bio-organic technology. Machines made of organic components, nanotech. It was a work-around to avoid what was then a presumed reality of implant rejection. The Institute was interested in pursuing cybernetics research but it just wasn’t in the cards.”

Pete looks up to Odessa from the smoke. “Rich came up with some proof of concepts, drafted some abstracts, and that’s as far as it got. We never even made a prototype, it just got put in a fucking bin and never made it past Erica. This would’ve been… I dunno, 2008 or 2009? Somewhere around there. Looks like somebody had the same idea, though.”

Motioning with his cigar to the blood sample case, Pete raises one brow. “What’s crazy is how specifically similar it is. See, the chemical balance in the CSF is a charging solution. It’s designed to help propagate a heightened electrical charge in the body, which in turn powers those little buggers and keeps them moving. Like wireless electricity, except the current is directed through a fluid medium. Go outside the fluid concentration and the micromachines power down.”

“Programming them probably would’ve been handled the same way. Electrical impulses, like a human brain. The Institute was already working on research of memory engrams, ways to transfer and upload consciousness stuff. But that was Colin’s area of expertise. We’d done a little bit in biochem to program specific memories into a fly…” Pete waves his cigar back and forth. “This might be a little from column A and a little from column B.”

“This can’t be coincidence. I don’t think somebody had the same idea. I think somebody had your idea. Well, Rich’s.” Odessa reasons with a shake of her head. “Someone had to have gotten their hands on his research. Nothing ever really got binned at the Institute. Everything had backups…” She too eyes the smoke wafting from Pete’s cigar. Her eyes focus on it for a moment before flitting to him. “You got one of those for me? I’ll pay it back.” There is going to be a comment about getting on her knees again, isn’t there? Oh, good god, if there’s a Clinton joke… Worth it if she just gets to fucking smoke.

Taking her case back finally, she returns it to her bag. There’s something retrieved in its place when she withdraws from its depths again, small enough to stay concealed behind the curl of her fingers over her palm. It remains held below the level of the desktop for the time being. “You’re awful forthcoming about this with someone you don’t even know. Are you that trusting that Gideon wouldn’t ask you to do anything that isn’t important? Or do you just snap to every time he calls?”

She can relate to that last one.

Even though she’s addressing the particular elephant she perceives in the corner of the room, she’s mulling over the rest. Programming specific memories. That would track with some of what she’s hypothesized about the survivors of the crash. What she can do with that… And what it might do to them all to hear any notion of confirmation of that fear… That prospect sits cold like a stone in the pit of her chest.

“Someone I don’t even know…” Pete says with a roll of his eyes, completely ignoring her request for a cigar. “Do you think I’m a fucking idiot?” He snaps back, pointing his cigar at her. “You can cake on as much collagen and calcium as you like, but you’re still the same fucking meat inside, Price.

Pete takes a sharp drag off of his cigar and exhales a cloud of it across his desk. “The fucking gall,” he mutters, shaking his head. “Take your fucking blood and get the fuck out of my office, I have shit to do that doesn’t involve putting up with your stupid bullshit.”

Rather than be offended or upset, Odessa’s mouth pulls into a grin and she starts to laugh, a sound pitched high, but not shrill, and clear as a bell. “Wow. Your ability really is incredible, Pete.” She leans back in her seat and tosses the object in her hand into the air once.

A small pewter thimble.

Climbing to her feet again, Odessa braces her hands on the edge of the desk and leans forward. “Remember this, you corpulent sack of shit: You’re only alive to gloat at me about your big dick because I kept Donna Dunlap from turning you into a red smear all over the cafeteria floor.”

Straightening back up, she snatches up her cane. “I should’ve known better than to think a snake like you values kindness from anyone.” For all her acerbic words, Odessa is wounded to be treated this way by someone she foolishly thought might be something adjacent to a friend.

Odessa pivots on her heel and pulls open the office door. With a shake of her head, she strides back out into the sea of what passes for work stations, back to the stairwell. A drop of blood hits the concrete, trailed from her palm.

Pete waits in silence, cigar in his mouth, brows furrowed and posture hunched. Only once Odessa’s had the last word—as she is wont to do—does Pete rise up from his chair with a creak of the metal frame. He walks across the floor, slowly removing his cigar from his lips as he looks at the doorway, then slowly down to the floor.

Pete stares down at the drop of blood on the floor, points at it with his finger, and the blood bristles upward toward his finger like metal-filings toward a magnet. He bends, takes a knee, and sweeps the drop of blood up off the floor with his index finger. Pete’s eyes angle to the door, then back to the blood as he rolls it between his forefinger and thumb.

“Not a total loss after all.”

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