And All in Tune


gatter_icon.gif pride2_icon.gif

Scene Title And All in Tune
Synopsis Doctors Pride and Gatter discuss what it takes to stay sane while carrying the weight of the world.
Date April 26, 2021

Raytech NYCSZ Branch Office: Dr. Albert Gatter's Office

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Three clocks hang on the walls of Doctor Albert Gatter's lab, cheap, mismatched things chosen without care for overall design or decor. Two of them are analog, one is digital, all show different times; one of them runs backwards. All of them, however, produce the same steady ticking sound — even the digital one, thanks to some minor modifications.

Multiple whiteboards on wheels are positioned willy-nilly throughout the dimly-lit room, covered with scrawled equations and diagrams; the scrawl on one of the whiteboards spills over onto sheafs of paper piled haphazardly nearby.

At the center of it all, Doctor Albert Gatter sits in his rolling chair, slumped at the center of a three monitor setup; a mostly full bottle of cognac and a half-eaten styrofoam tray of noodles sit beside him as he snores softly.

Doctor Pride has been here before, of course. The ticking is… a comforting sound, if she’s honest. (And she’s working on being so more often.) First, she lets her eyes roam over the different displays, smiling faintly even in the face of the bittersweet pang in her chest. The watch on her wrist runs precisely on time. And how does it dare?

The whiteboards offer a better distraction from her thoughts. While she and Gatter are both scientists, this is not her flavor of it. Some of it can be followed, but then it spins off into concepts beyond her knowledge. That brings forth a small smile, too.

The man in his chair is approached slowly, her footsteps nearly silent when compared to the of the clocks. The hand on his shoulder is gentle, her voice quiet. “Albert,” she murmurs in her French accented voice, “il es temps de se réveiller.1

Gatter produces a noise somewhere between a snore and a choke, eyes opening blearily and blinking to clear themselves; a sense of palpable dismay, sharp and sour, floods through his mind, followed a moment later by a wave of mild anxiety that is itself swept away by a sense of puzzlement as he looks to discover who'd awakened him. "Doctor Pride?" he asks blearily, blinking and straightening in his chair, one hand carefully shoving aside a box of cold noodles to clear a little space.

A mix of chagrin and embarrassment is next, as visible on his face as it is detectable to Pride's senses. "C'est un plaisir inattendu. Que puis-je faire pour vous?"2 he asks, stealing a glance at the clocks to make sure he's not late for something. Also that the world hasn't ended, but mainly that he's not late for something. For now, at least.

C’est moi,” is both confirmation and apology from the empath. She wonders idly what he dreams of and if she similarly seems so upset to wake. “I came to see how you were doing.” While the conversations in French are positively adored, she switches back to English easily. This isn’t simply about having fun.

Glancing around, Ourania spots a chair and heads in that direction, moving a stack of books and pre-war magazines aside with great care before bringing it over to the desk to sit with her colleague and friend. “This is a lot. It’s good if we check in on each other, I think.”

Gatter is silent for a moment. "It is a lot," he agrees. "But it's what we've got." He takes a deep breath, gesturing at the whiteboards. "We face… a very large problem. Possibly the largest that humanity has ever faced." He chuckles, though he finds only a little humor in it. "That sounds grandiloquent, doesn't it?" he asks, raising his hands to wipe at his brow… and, not entirely coincidentally, hide his face for a moment. "Pretentious. Unscientific. Like the sort of thing you'd throw at a grant board. Only in this case, it's actually an accurate measure of the problem we're up against."

Gatter takes another deep breath. "But you already know all that," he says, clapping his hands together and rubbing them together. "Also, I do hope you'll forgive me; you came by and I didn't even offer any cognac. So. Cognac?"

Ourania chuckles just the once in return at the humor Gatter takes at his own expense. “It does a bit.” There’s an attempt made at first to keep the concern off her face, but it’s abandoned pretty quickly. He isn’t like her. He hasn’t watched the world balance on the precipice before and be pulled back from it. But she’s not seen anything quite to this level either.

“I would love some cognac.” She sits back in her chair, tipping her head further back to look up at the ceiling, half surprised not to see equations written there as well. “You know, I’ve never once dealt with a grant board? I mean, I’ve never published, either. But maybe if we manage to pull this off… I won’t die in obscurity, huh?” The thought is absurd enough to make her laugh.

"I haven't dealt with grant boards much either, thankfully; mostly just assisted with presentations," Gatter comments offhandedly, grimacing as he comes to his feet and stretches.

Then he's moving, striding over to the cabinets and digging out a fresh piece of glassware — a beaker works just as well as a glass when it comes to holding alcohol, provided it's clean. He sets it down in front of Pride and pours her a bit from the bottle, then rummages for his own beaker and pours himself a bit as well. "If we manage to weather this, maybe we can finally work on Kauper-Engel. I feel confident we could come up with something worthy of publication," he says with a grin, raising his glass. "To the future."

Of course, that's a big if, and Gatter knows it; as his gaze falls back on the whiteboards, his expression sobers. Sober. Ugh, what a word. He takes a drink of cognac. "How's your work going?"

Santé.” One beaker is tapped to the other gently and Pride takes her own drink. “Merci.” There’s no disdain for the choice of glass. Any port in a storm. Port wouldn’t go amiss right now either, actually.

Because all of this weighs so heavy, and sobriety is entirely overrated. Especially where innovation is concerned. “Not as well as I’d like,” she responds honestly to his question. “I… You know, I, ah… After that meeting, I went home and counter-proposed to my fiancé.” She laughs at herself into the rim of her glass, which she holds poised to drink from, but lifts herself away from rather than lifting it.

“I’d had it planned for a bit. A ring, some piano… He’d been dragging his feet, and I wanted him to know I was serious. Now, I just…” This time, she does drink, and stares off into Gatters office after, a vacant sort of sorrow in her eyes. “I just wanted to make sure it’s done, in case I fail.” She comes back to her present company, a sad smile on her face. “How about you, Albert? Did you ever try to make time for someone special? Other than Lady Science, I mean.”

"Really? Fantastic!" Gatter exclaims, with genuine delight… though it's somewhat more muted than his usual ebullient delivery of such sentiments, because he can tell she's not done.

Her question surprises him; for a moment, all he can do is peer at her and blink. "Me?" he asks. He frowns, his expression shifting to something pensive, distant, like he's trying to recall a song he heard a very long time ago. "No," he finally answers, his voice quiet, expression still far away.

"No," he says again. "Good times now and again; Europe was delightful. Lots of parties, lots of people looking for a good time. But… never anyone serious." He sighs, his gaze falling to the surface of his cognac; he raises his beaker to eye level so it catches the light, staring at the surface of the liquid within as though it holds the key to the universe.

"There was… never any time, you know? Life is such a… such a fleeting thing. We come, we go, and by the scale of the universe it's barely the blink of an eye. Such a little time we're given, to find our way in the world, and then… end of the line. All of it lost, like tears in rain…"

He sighs in disappointment. "It's so… unfair," he pronounces. Then he drains his beaker. "That's why I went back to school. Took science seriously. To try and do something about it. About death. To buy enough time for us to live. To reach out and touch the universe! Because we're getting closer. We stand on the shoulders on giants, of all who've come before, and we can see so far now — into the secrets of the atom, and into the heart of the universe. The stars! The stars are so close now. Maybe, just maybe… we'd finally be able to reach beyond the dark."

Now he looks back to Ourania, mustering a smile. "That's why I stopped partying it up, you know, and went back to school. Cybernetics! Transhumanism! A way to surpass senescence, mortality, and see into the future. To dig a hole in the wall of Plato's cave, to open the way to the fields of Elysium and build a city in the sun…"

Then he laughs at the sheer inappropriateness of that particular metaphor, given the givens, and his eyes come back to Ourania. "Mind you, that metaphor was a lot better before…" he trails off, gesturing at his work.

As he recounts his story, Ourania’s head tips to one side. Odessa feels envy swell in her. Europe… How lovely must have been to have had the option to see her shores, her hills and valleys, vineyards, meadows, and mountain ranges. Rivers, streams, lakes and seas. To see all of that, and still make the choice to turn away from it all and return here. Freedom is such a funny thing, isn’t it?

And his ode to science… It enthralls her. That may have been a predestined course she was set on, and one she would have had to walk in spite of her feelings, but science and medicine had thankfully turned out to be her passions. In Albert Gatter, Odessa Price sees a mirror of that passion. It renews her spirit and fills her with a warmth that doesn’t just come from the healthy swallow of cognac she’s just taken before setting aside her beaker.

Even as he begins to deflate, his partner in this is bolstered to the point of rocketing up from her chair. “Ah, Albert!” Ourania seizes his hands in her own and drags him to his feet. “Come! Come, come, come.” She drags him away from the desk, from the stacks of papers and books, from the work just for a moment.

One hand stays clasped with his and the other comes to rest at his shoulder. “Listen, listen.” She draws close, a breath leaving her as nearly a sigh. “If you listen, I think you can hear it.” Her feet start to move and she seems to expect him to fall in and follow her. “One, two, three, one, two, three,” she whispers barely audibly. She begins to hum, picking up somewhere in the middle of the piece of music inside of her mind. The one she hopes he can hear, too.

Gatter's quite surprised to find himself dragged to his feet, but when her hand finds his shoulder, he sees what she's about. "We're dancing?" he asks, raising an eyebrow, but though ballroom dancing isn't his best style, he knows the steps, and his hand finds its way to her waist.

“As Rome burns,” she muses gently, having to temper her humor with darkness and vice versa.

Her counting certainly helps; one-two-three is waltz timing. Gatter follows her lead, carefully at first but with increasing confidence as he falls into the rhythm; he can't hear her tune, but the dance falls easily into a tempo he can mark by the ticking of the clocks.

It's not until she starts to hum that he's able to put a tune to the beat, but it takes him a minute to pin it down. "Shostakovich?" he ventures tentatively, to which she only nods, his gaze settling on Ourania for a moment.

But the here and now cannot long contain him; as he grows more confident in his memory of this particular song and the steps of their dance to it, his gaze slips somewhere far away. Now he can hear it, and as he sounds the piece out in his head, he visualizes their movements and the flow of the music, laying it out as some marvelous work of mathematics; in his mind's eye, he sees the curves of stellar orbits whirling through darkness, drawing close and spinning away and drawing close again, moving to a tune and rhythm set by gravity and time and the curvature of the universe.

She knew he’d be a wonderful dancer. Sure, he’d shown her his prowess on the floor at Wonderland — and she’d shown herself more than adept in kind — but that’s an entirely different species compared to this. There’s a certain level of freedom that comes from a form where the movements are still so prescribed. One, two, three, one, two, three. Always on those beats. But what they do with those beats is up to them. Ourania is free to spin out as far as the length of his arm will reach and return again, duck under his arm or simply move the floor in as sweeping circles as they can manage in the space they occupy.

There’s no seeing things the way he does, but the empath can feel the shift within Gatter when he does let the silent music transport him in a way similar to how it does her. They’ve transcended the moment, the problem, their troubles, together, and this will do them both good, she knows.

Alas, to all good things an end may come; Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but the presence of an emperor among the bucket brigades would have done little good anyway.

So he spins her out and then back in again, and as his mental rendition of Shostakovich's piece comes to its end, he comes to a stop… then he takes a step back and bows, as is traditional. "That was lovely," he says, smiling as he straightens.

Black crepe fabric is delicately grasped in the pinch of fingers and drawn out the the sides as Ourania flares out her skirt to curtsy. “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.” She smiles warmly and straightens up again. “You seemed you needed to reset. And… judging from that? I think you may have.”

While she may not have privy to the cosmos that turned around them, it was almost as though she could see stars reflected in his eyes. Or maybe that’s just her own little fits of madness come to play. Whatever the instigating factor, the end result seems to be a lessening of some tension.

“Now. Are you able to tell me how come the plans for our cage?” She means Project: Rusalka. “No specifics, of course. But… Are you and Mx. Evans finding what you need?”

"I most likely did. There's… a lot riding on us, these days," Gatter admits. The question of Rusalka draws a frown, though.

"It's going well enough," he says, still frowning. "I'd like to say more, but I'm obligated not to. Seriously, after every paragraph of the project document they reminded us do not discuss this with Doctor Ourania Pride," he grumbles, shaking his head in annoyance. "Which is annoying because it's a short list of people I could actually have a constructive conversation about this!"

He takes a breath. "But yes. We're coming along well enough."

Dr. Pride laughs softly at Gatter’s gripe. “I know. It’s… difficult. But it’s for the best. I’m sorry I can’t weigh in. I wish I could.” She’s left with a smile and a nod. “Good, though. I’m glad you’re making progress.” Her eyes narrow faintly, a friendly sort of deepening of her pleasant expression. “I knew you would.”

Head tilting to one side, she gives a small shrug. “I may not be able to directly assist, but I can at least come by and check on your welfare. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself.” She glances at his desk and then back to him with a small smirk. “Get you out of your lab for a bit, maybe? Tomorrow, we’re going out for lunch, alright?”

Gatter is silent for a moment. "I know that you're right," he says heavily. "That I should maybe be looking after myself a little better than this," he gestures to the cold styrofoam trays of noodles still sitting on his workspace.

He lets out a huff that might be an attempt at a laugh, looking over to his monitors. "I'm prone to getting like this. Focused. Monomaniacal, maybe. In the past, I'd always tell myself that it wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't get things finished on time. But now… I can't really say that, can I?" he asks quietly. "Makes it harder to drag myself away from the work. There has to be something we can do…"

“When I was younger,” which might sound rich coming from a woman who appears to be as young as Ourania does, “I used to be able to accomplish days of work in hours.” She catches herself quickly, shrugging one shoulder. “Or at least it felt like it. Now, I feel like there’s never enough time.

Smiling ruefully, she shakes her head. “But locking myself in my office and working myself to delirium doesn’t make the answers come. If anything, it leaves me with countless mistakes I have to undo.” Dr. Pride leans forward, lifting her brows. “But you already know this, don’t you?” He hasn’t made it this far in science without figuring out what sleep deprivation does to work like theirs, surely.

"Weelllll," Gatter begins, in the tone of someone who absolutely has never worked themselves into a state of delirium with possible additional chemical enhancement and you can't prove it because the hard drive with all of that security footage mysteriously malfunctioned hahaha, "I wouldn't say that answers never come from delirium. Some of my most creative work has its roots in the oddest states," he says mildly.

"But I have learned to always double-check my work afterwards," he admits. "And possibly have it peer reviewed, as well, if applicable."

Just the tone makes Pride tilt her head to the right slowly, her brows lifting, daring him to tell her otherwise. And he does, but admits that he has to have the veracity of his findings looked into, because he’s a good scientist, so she eases up on the calling BS expression. Instead she smirks and brings her head back to center.

“The world must look very different to your eyes than mine. I… have only what already exists in front of me, even if I don’t know it yet. I can yield something unexpected, but I deal with real things. You… You create real things.” There’s an appreciation for that in her. Maybe she’s never thought about it quite that way before, because Ourania seems somewhat astonished at her own declaration.

“I don’t invent genetics. I just sometimes… find new ways to tease it all into different configurations.” Her head cants to one side, then the other, and back again a couple more times in quick succession, considering. “Virology, though. Now that’s creation.”

She probably means vaccines.


"Oh, to be certain," Gatter agrees. "It's a risky field, though. Science is all about uncovering the unforeseen, encountering the unknown, and virii are tricky enough that no one wants them to start getting new ideas, and we most definitely do not want them doing unforeseen things. The difference between something mundane and something dreadful is a matter of molecules; it'd be all too easy to make a single slip and then…"

He trails off, shaking his head. "Well. You know the risks," he says, waving a hand to forestall himself from preaching to the choir. "Better you than me in that playground. Genetics and virology are tricky. Biologicals are tricky."

Précisément,” Ourania agrees cheerfully with a bright snap of her fingers. The sound pops properly, the way it does when she's keeping a syncopated time with one of the jazz pieces she sings along to at Rossignol.

“One small error, and cell division goes haywire. Among other equally frightful consequences.” Nothing about that causes her cheerfulness to abate. “But that's why we test, test, test! — Oh. But that reminds me, I should check on my pigs.” Frowning thoughtfully for a moment, she shakes her head. Later. Definitely later.

Pride’s expression fades to something neutral again, something that shows a need to connect with Gatter. “We’re going to do this, okay? If we weren’t the best and the brightest this world has to offer, we wouldn’t be here.”

"We must," Gatter says simply, with a somber matter-of-factness, his gaze meeting Pride's. "For the alternative is unthinkable."

He nods, as if reaffirming something he's already certain of. "And so… we shall," he says, nodding again, and this time he claps his hands together.

"In any case — we've volumes of work to do. And if there is any way I can assist with your work, do let me know; biologicals are going to be very important in times to come. We both know what's coming, after all," he says, his voice growing somber again. "The restoration of biodiversity is definitely going to be a major concern, afterwards."

There’s a bubble of nervous laughter that’s one of the more honest reactions Ourania’s had in a while. “When I’ve been dealing with a mental roadblock, I’ve been writing down the professions we’d need to keep things running smoothly. Machine technicians, for example. I can run samples through my equipment and I can read the results, but if something goes wrong with it? That’s it. I have no idea how to fix such delicate machinery.”

The blonde shakes her head, at a loss for a moment. “Then I remind myself that it won’t come to that, because you and I are far too clever.” Now she’s having to remind herself of this.

Her hands are shaking.

“I’ve never doubted myself,” she admits in a small voice, looking down, “in my whole career. Not once. Not really. I’ve always been convinced my training made me the smartest bitch in the room, so long as the focus was on my areas of expertise. Now? I just feel like an impostor.” The concept of which clearly frightens her. The world has changed in the years since she was sheltered. In the years since she was unable to practice. “What if I’m not the best or the brightest and my deception dooms us all?”

For a long moment, Gatter is still; it's a state all the more unsettling for its rarity.

"I think about this, now and again," he admits, his voice slow. "About the future that would play out if we fail. If our efforts are… not enough. I see it in my dreams, sometimes."

"We would know, by then, when it would happen — exactly when the end would come. The flare would've already occurred at that point, after all; it would just be a matter of mathematics to predict when the coronal mass ejection would reach Earth," Gatter says, and in his mind's eye he sees it, just as he saw the sweep of their dance earlier — the arcs of empyrean fire, twisted and wound and curling like whips, lashing out, intersecting the curve of the terrestrial orbit — and his heart aches.

"We would have time to watch the sun rise on the living world, one last time. And I would know that I — that all of us — had done our level best… and that it had not been enough. There would be time for lasts. A last glass of wine. A last song. And then…"

He trails off into nothing, because that's what comes next. Nothing. An inevitable, relentless reduction to zero. No more hopes, or dreams, or wine, or dancing, or music, or future. Nothing.

Then, carefully, he reaches out and lays his hands on Ourania's shoulders, looking her in the eye. "But it's pointless to dwell on that… because it's not going to happen. Because, Dr. Pride, we're going to fight with everything we've got. We will fight, and beg, and steal, and stab, if necessary, to rise to the occasion, because the future of humanity is at stake and we will not be found wanting. Because, Doctor Pride, we are not the only ones fighting; we are only the tip of the spear! We stand on the shoulders of giants, an entire history of innovators and inventors! No gods gave us fire — we tamed it, and we went on and invented mathematics! Alloys! Skyscrapers! Space shuttles!"

Gatter falls silent again, looking into Ourania's eyes, and his conviction is adamant. "And we are here. And we will rise to the occasion, and we will be enough."

At first, it’s a comfort to know that she’s not alone in fearing the worst, but then he goes on to detail it. It isn’t anything she hasn’t thought of herself. In fact, it’s near exactly what she thought of herself. Maybe that’s why the comfort begins to drain. She’d rather have had her fear invalidated in this case.

By the time he reaches that point, she’s already crying silently, but hard. Ourania is trembling beneath his hands when he seeks to reassure her that, yes, they are enough, and they aren’t alone. “What do you think we’ll become, then?” she asks him, voice as strong as she can manage amid the strain of her throat. “We know the price we pay for our victory isn’t without blood.”

Gatter sighs, his hands falling from Ourania's shoulders. "We'll become the bridge to a future humanity otherwise wouldn't have," he says solemnly, because he knows she's right; there will be limits to what they can save, and those limits… will be harsh. Terribly harsh.

"And what we do will shape that future, in a way that none of us ever wanted, but has fallen to us regardless. If we do our jobs right… then we, too, will become part of that spear, striking into the future and carrying mankind forward." And if they do their jobs wrong… well. That eventuality has already been covered, in far more detail that is warranted, really. So rather than devote any further attention to it, he hands Ourania a handkerchief — deep red and made of silk — to dry her tears.

“Thanks,” Ourania murmurs as she takes the handkerchief. She takes a moment just to feel the texture between her fingers and admire the color, both of which help ground her and pull her out of her spiralling thoughts. “How unusual,” she remarks. “Inspired.” She dabs delicately around her eyes with the cloth,sitting down heavily.

“I’ve just been trying so hard to be… To do no harm.” Dr. Pride sniffs hard, but without threat of anything more emotional than that. “Sometimes that conflicts with doing what’s necessary, though, doesn’t it?” The cloth is folded, unfolded, and re-folded for something else to do with her hands while she muses. “I suppose some of us are just destined to be judged harshly by history, no matter what.” Turning her face up to flash a wan smile to Gatter, she offers his handkerchief back to him.

"We aren't doing harm," Gatter points out, accepting the handkerchief. "Quite the opposite. The universe, however, seems determined to prove that humanity has an expiration date, and for the moment, we must…" he considers for a moment, then grimaces, "…continue to deal with its bullshit," he says sourly.

"But as we survive, we learn. We grow. The next time this happens, hopefully humanity won't be forced to make such awful choices again. And that is the true point of what we do," he says, offering a wan smile of his own in return. "We strive that future generations need not face our struggles." Also so that future generations will exist, but that, too, is ground they've covered.

Her head bobs up and down several times in a nod to show understanding, and consideration. Though she remains quiet for a time, it isn’t the silence of suffering she’s generally prone to. Ourania’s smile still is not strong, but it’s on the mend. “We should block out some time on the roof, you and I. We can get high and watch the stars? I’ll show you how many I can name.”

Gatter considers. "A late shift lunch on the roof, perhaps? I can bring some of my chemistry experiments, if you like."

There’s no consideration necessary to come up with an answer to that question. “Absolutely. I’d like that.” Ourania rises to her feet again, clearly feeling better than she did even just moments ago. “Let me know the drink pairing, and I’ll supply that.” She laughs softly under her breath, then sighs. “Thanks for the…” A shrug means to encompass the nebulous everything. “Just… Thanks, Albert.”

Gatter inclines his head. "And thank you, Ourania," he says seriously, rising as well. "Don't be a stranger," he says, smiling.

The blonde’s hand rests on the older scientist’s forearm briefly, squeezing gently her gratitude and her farewell as she walks to the door and slips out to the hall.

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