Experimental Lemonade And Other Important Matters


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Scene Title Experimental Lemonade And Other Important Matters
Synopsis Seren and Gatter meet to discuss beginning work on Project Rusalka and theorize on what the motivations behind it might be.
Date May 5, 2021

Gatter's Lab, Raytech Industries Campus

Doctor Albert Gatter's lab is, at the best of times, organized chaos; this, however, is not the best of times, and so Gatter's lab tends less towards organized anything and more towards outright chaos.

Two mismatched clocks tick along merrily on the walls, both marking different times, and several whiteboards on wheels have been positioned throughout the lab, blocking access to the counters… not that there's much space available there, anyway. What's visible of the counters in the space between whiteboards is piled high with tools and parts interspersed with half-finished devices and models; a chemistry setup is visible sitting in one corner of the lab, glassware and burners waiting to be put to use.

The doctor's current focus, though — and his focus for the past few hours — lies on a three monitor setup at the back of the lab. "Interesting…" he muses aloud.

His focus makes him easy enough to sneak up on— whether or not that was the goal. Hands clasped behind their back, standing a few paces back but looking over his shoulder nonetheless, Seren wonders, "What's that?"

Never mind they probably shouldn't be looking at this. They weren't invited to the meeting about the end of the world, after all. And for a well-meaning reason, too.

Their grey eyes shimmer with silvering light. "You've gone down the rabbit hole here, haven't you?"

Gatter spooks, looking back. "Seren! You're early. Or am I running late?" he asks, looking to the clocks — neither is right, but Gatter apparently knows how far off they are. "I'm late. Apologies," he says, hitting a key to pause the display and coming to his feet… and with him out of the way, what's on his monitors is clear — two of the monitors are taken up by two identical-seeming views of the sun, while the third contains an empty notepad document.

Gatter's attention, though, is on Seren's words; he arches an eyebrow. "Down the rabbit hole? You mean this?" he asks, gesturing to the many things laying about. "Nah, it's usually like this; I like to keep my work close by so that when I find inspiration I don't have to waste time digging for what I want to work on," Gatter grins. Then he pauses. "Except for the whiteboards. I borrowed those recently." Somewhere, someone might be missing their lab's whiteboard, but too bad for them; Gatter borrowed them fair and square and he intends to make use of them.

He sweeps aside some tools and sits on a counter, regarding Seren. "So. Work. Rusalka, specifically. What are your thoughts?" he asks… then frowns. "And… can I offer you anything? Water? Lemonade, regular or experimental?"

"I'm— not a fan of drinking at work," Seren announces with a grin tugging at one corner of their mouth while they slide both hands into their slack pockets. "So just regular lemonade for me."

Baird announces himself with the tiny sounds of claws on the top of one of the stolen whiteboards. A stout little brown owl with a white-tufted chest, he wears a little green bowtie and waves a talon in hello, amber eyes darker than usual.

"Rusalka," Seren repeats thoughtfully. "The Siren project. I remember hearing the breakdown after Detroit when we obtained the one back from the government— former Institute technology, meant to disrupt teleporters, yes?" They glance back up to Gatter after their visual attention drifted off in thought. Because why the sun, Gatter? "I wasn't sure at first how I could help you with this. Most of my designs are for eco-friendly, energy-friendly designs. Not something so…"

Their brow knits but they shake their head once. They absolutely trust in Raytech's purpose, even without being told specifics.

"Anyway, my point is, I'm relatively sure you're asking for something too small. Sirens were meant to be set up in a web, so I'd recommend at least something to take up the space of a large room in design, if not an entire building." They cant their head slightly as they point out, "Assuming we're trying to keep something out and protect the people inside the zone…"

But suddenly they're not so sure, and it shows in the hint of suspicion they wear as they trail off.

"I suspected as much," Gatter says, heading towards the cabinet nearest the chemistry set. "Believe it or not, I'm not either. Not all of the time, at least. Hello, Baird," he says, nodding to the bowtie-bedecked bird as he heads for the chemistry set.

"No, the experiment in the experimental lemonade doesn't involve chemical additives. Quite the opposite, actually; distillation is involved, though not for the usual purposes," Gatter states, rummaging about in the cabinets for a moment before pulling out two beakers, then moving across the lab and fetching a pair of bottles from the refrigerator. Tucking the bottles under an arm, he makes his way back to the nearest available bit of cabinet top, depositing the beakers and the bottles.

"In this bottle — conventional lemonade. Lemon juice, water, sugar," Gatter says, pouring some into a beaker and passing it to Seren. "I made it for… something, awhile back. I've forgotten what," he says, waving a hand absently. "But I started thinking about how I could improve it; I distilled the lemon juice, trying to isolate the compounds that give it flavor and remove impurities from the juicing process. I've been experimenting with different sweeteners, too; right now I'm using honey and monkfruit extract. Haven't had a chance to test this batch yet." Gatter pours himself a beaker full of something that looks almost clear.

Seren's commentary on Rusalka is met with a slow nod. "The specs on this project specifically call for something the size of a small room; I'm not sure why. The only thing I can think of is that this is intended as a proof of concept." The only possibility he'll put forward, at least, because like Seren, he has an unpleasant feeling about this.

"As to why you've been selected for this… given your area of expertise, it would suggest that energy efficiency is something we should be shooting for. And given the givens…" here Gatter pauses, giving Seren a slow grin. "It seems to me that we might be ahead of the curve if we worked on a design for a larger structure concurrently."

In the end, Seren is too curious about the second mixture. They arch an eyebrow as they slip a step closer, looking to the distilled experiment. "Okay," they concede. "Maybe I'll try."

Then it's right back to business. One hand comes from their pocket to adjust the thin red tie splitting their dress shirt, tucked into the dark grey waistcoat slimming them down. "The… smaller design makes me wonder if it's not intended to contain the thing that possessed Eve Mas in Detroit. But that sounds dangerous and reckless to take on ourselves… maybe it's a proposal that will be sold to the government. I don't know."

With a sigh, they go on, "Anyway, I could not see harm in preparing for both scenarios. A building preventing teleporters from coming in would be great for our most sensitive projects, or even our dorms— given the previous kidnapping attempt that happened by teleporter." Seren looks unusually serious about this. "Not even once, right?"

Baird spreads his cartoonist wings and beats them in a moment before swooping down to land on their shoulder. "I need the technical specs on the Sirens to be effective here, if we have that— what we have regarding long-term use of one. Failing that, we plug the one we have in for a while and generate our own data. I'm positive no amount of solar energy will be sufficient for powering this thing, given current cell efficiency, but I can at least make recommendations regarding the needed type of grid, with more data."

Gatter raises an eyebrow, but his grin remains. "Alright," he says, passing Seren the beaker he'd poured for himself and taking back the conventional lemonade beaker. The talk of possession sees his face curve into a deep frown, though he waits until they're finished before he speaks. "Possession? You're certain?" he asks.

Seren hides their face in the drink, small as the 'glass' may be. Baird answers in his own way, tilting his head in a knowing look at Gatter even while his summoner tries to obscure their reaction. But they gulp the drink down, making a soured expression briefly. "Wow— still— really strong, that," they laugh, back of hand to their mouth before they hand it back. They look a little cowed and sheepish nonetheless.

"Yeah, um… Detroit," they admit unpleasantly. "A-all that stuff she was wanted for, wasn't a farce. But it wasn't her. Mr. Ray— Richard— said it wasn't her. That she, um— something had hold of her." They glance up uncertainly. "And that even though Eve had died in front of us, that the thing that possessed her and opened up the sky," a detail generally omitted from news reports, "… hadn't."

Swallowing, part from the sourness of the drink and part from the taste of the topic, Seren supposes, "If Eve came back to life somehow as herself, I mean, I believe it. It makes sense it is still out there, too. It was just… one of the ghosts I saw that day."

The haunted sadness of the Catalyst— Inanna— as it turned to them never leaves them. Makes them question what they'd done that day.

"My point being, it makes sense if we'd be working on something to potentially hold a ghost like that. Or something like it. Because it's still out there." With a perfectly straight face, Seren adds, "And it tried to end the world."

"Yes, I've been told my tastes run to the intense. I'm going to guess from your reaction that it's not sweet enough. That's a problem with sweeteners in general; sugar molecules tend to be terribly inefficient at actually binding to the taste receptors. I was thinking about that at one point; an additive to bind to the sugar molecules, make them better able to line up with the receptors, but I never got the chance to do much work on it. Maybe next batch," Gatter muses. Then he grimaces. "Whenever that is," he murmurs, more to himself than to Seren.

The talk of Detroit draws an attentive frown as he listens; an eye-witness account of the events that transpired in Detroit is something he hasn't heard yet. He moves while he listens, though, dumping Seren's beaker, rinsing it, and filling it with the regular lemonade before passing it back to them. That last stinger, though, sees a momentary stillness come over him. "End the world?" he asks after a moment, frowning to Seren. "How, exactly?" There are a number of things he has to say, but he wants quantification of that first.

Seren looks uncertain at having to qualify it. There was so much going on then. "Whatever it was trying to do," they begin carefully, "it, um… after Eve brought a woman who'd been shot dead back to life, and then the concrete kept moving like it was water, people came and attacked her, and the sky, um—" They think they're telling a cohesive story as they try to get their thoughts together. But they take a moment to focus regardless.

On their shoulder, Baird suddenly darkens from his bright, dapper self to something dark all over. His eyes close and he ruffles up, and he looks for all intents and purposes to be a black hole situated off the side of Seren's head.

"This hole opened in the sky…" But they shake their head, trying to provide a fuller context. They go back, gesturing as much with a small wave of her hand. "Okay, so Eve eventually went to the woman she'd resurrected and— it looked like she was trying to rip her ability out of her. It sounded so painful. So I wished, hard, that Eve believed she already had what she wanted. That she'd just go in peace. Baird, too, he…" The creature off to their side begins to sparkle, starlight in that dark as it gradients from grey to an overwhelming white shine. "He helped me with wishing. And at some point, I swear time just… froze, but didn't. It felt like so much had happened even though nobody had moved. And then when everything started again, she was hit with so much at once, she died. Her body just… vanished, turned into light. There was an explosion, almost, of energy when that happened. That same pink-red color that Eve had been trying to steal, it went out in a wave from the plaza onward. And the sky opened up, this pillar of white light going up from where Eve had been, upward for forever and spinning out green light around it. It went in the shape of a spiral. And then the black dot inside appeared, and it got larger until it blocked out the sun, almost like an eclipse."

"It got bigger, until suddenly it didn't. Whatever had been propelling it to exist, with Eve's death, wasn't able to happen. I— I convinced not-Eve she'd had everything she'd needed, I think, and it wasn't everything it had needed to be, but…" Seren looks off for a moment before shaking their head slowly. "But it felt bad, Al. I could feel what was happening overhead in my bones," they stress, hoping to be believed.

"The sky opened up into a void that felt like the end. Like it'd have swallowed us all, had it kept growing. But it didn't. It collapsed down, and all that was left was the aurora high in the sky, shimmering all over." They sip gingerly at the lemonade they've been offered. "I don't know if I'm remembering all the details right. So much was happening. But I remember the sky opened up, and the auroras, for sure."

Gatter's expression is one of increasingly intense concentration as he tries to make sense of Seren's experiences; his eyes only flicker to Baird a few times as he puts on his display. "Auroras… electromagnetism… a… spatial rift?" he murmurs, shaking his head. "The wave…" That at least had been well documented, along with the corresponding increase in Expressives. He shakes his head, still muttering to himself. "It all ties together — it must — but the pieces… how do they…"

Finally Gatter brings his attention back to Seren, considering them for a moment. "There is, I think, already a project to contain the… Detroit possessor, or whatever you want to call it. I've been assigned to it."

"Oh," Seren breathes out, a little surprised. Regardless of whether or not they should have expected someone to be working on such a topic, it's still strange to hear.

"Well at any rate," they say mildly, "with some more technical details about the Sirens' function, we can definitely get started on charting designs and recommendations." They smile a little as they propose, "Both on the smaller design and one at scale."

Gatter nods seriously. "It might be that this Rusalka is meant to house whatever we come up with for Bright Eyes," he shrugs. "But yes. I absolutely agree; I don't think it would be amiss for us to also plan on a larger scale model. Possibly up to… city size?" Gatter frowns, considering that for a moment, then nods. "Yes. There are a lot of potential tangents we could take while working on this; it'd be a shame not to fully explore them," he concludes, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

Seren lets out a quiet note of amusement as Gatter suggests going fully off the deep end, shaking their head and looking off for a moment. It leads them to look back to the screen with the footage of the sun on it before returning back to him just as smartly-dressed Baird swoops and alights on their shoulder.

"One thing at a time, Al," they remark with a half-grin of their own. "Now do you actually have the detailed specs on those machines anywhere down here in this organized chaos, or do I need to ask around for those?"

"I do have the specs! I've been working on them…" Gatter trails off, frowning uncertainly for a moment, then shrugs. "Sometime," he says, with an off-handed shrug. The when isn't particularly important for this. "Fascinating devices. As the name implies, it's the resonance that's key. In fact… it might be possible to use the structure itself to further the resonance, which would allow us to reduce the size of the actual Siren emitter — "

Gatter cuts himself off, grimacing. "Right. One thing at a time. That's… not a thing I'm terribly good at. As you can see," he says, gesturing to the barely controlled chaos that is his lab space. "Let's see…" After a moment he settles on a particular section of the counter and begins sifting through it; luckily, what he's searching for isn't very far down. After a moment, he draws out a small black binder, opens it, then nods and offers it to Seren. "Here we go. It's been annotated a bit; I was thinking on possible modifications. I look forward to seeing what your thoughts are."

Seren sympathizes with the split attention with a roguish grin, gratefully nodding and taking hold of the binder to flip it open. Baird too turns his head down to look— after all, he's half the brains of this operation. "It's going to take me some time sitting down to come up with my best ideas, but…"

Their eyes narrow thoughtfully at the pages as they leaf through, turning on one heel for one of the whiteboards servicing as temporary office walls around his other projects. They grab a dry-erase marker off what must be the latest steal, as there's still just slightly enough space for them to begin drawing. Uncapping the marker with their teeth, they begin a rudimentary sketch. "But I was thinking, maybe if we started with something like this, then—"

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