Idle Curiosity



Also featuring: Sarah Madsen, graduate student in the Garcia-Sastre lab at Mount Sinai

Scene Title Idle Curiosity
Synopsis Cat finds herself an expert on the new H5N10 influenza (or the next best thing to one), and floats a few questions by…
Date March 13, 2010

Mt. Sinai School of Medicine

She's had time to work up to this, establishing herself a bit with one of the lab researchers, in the days since she spoke with Doctor Brennan and Kaylee about her suspicions. There's been no deceit about her identity, in point of fact she's traded on it to a point. Claiming that the tragic assassination caused her to reexamine life and look at the medical research field. She's gotten the quarry to agree to let her see the inside of an active lab and observe what's done there, at a time when no others are around.

So it is that on a Saturday evening she approaches the laboratory's location, casually dressed, using a snowmobile as transportation. The weather, she muses, perhaps works to her favor by inspiring people to stay at home.

'No others' is relative — research with living organisms doesn't stop for moderately inclement weather. Sarah Madsen has to meet Ms. Chesterfield at the facility entrance (it being locked on weekends), offering the woman a polite smile. "Don't see those too often in the streets," the Ph.D. candidate remarks. "Smart, though. Most of the lab's gone home by now, it's just Matt and Eleonora and myself still around."

Inside — after Sarah has made sure the door closed tightly behind them — the walls are a standard white, the floor vaguely mottled in tans and browns, all of the corridors only dimly lit at best. "That means you won't be tripping over all of us, at least. As you know, most of our research is focused on influenza and emerging viruses, specifically Dengue, West Nile, and CCHFV. You said you were primarily interested in the influenza research?" Sarah continues, as she leads the way to an elevator. She's dressed in typical researcher attire — which is to say jeans, a dark gray t-shirt, sneakers; neither lab-coat nor protective goggles are in sight.

"I'm not short on funds," Cat quietly remarks on the topic of her transportation, "and it seemed a needed thing. Want one, Sarah?" A slight grin shows on her features, one that indicates she's only half-joking. Or one quarter joking. "I am," the panmnesiac confirms on the topic of her interest as she makes her way inside just behind the student. "Thanks again for the opportunity."

Sarah shakes her head. "No, thanks," she replies, smiling in response to the joke. "My car does fine by me." The elevator chimes, disgorging them onto the building's fifth floor. "We share this wing with the Cohen and Evans labs. Cohen does work on cell division and Evans on virus attachment and entry to host cells. Hepatitis, mostly." She leads the other woman, with whom she appears to be of an age, down the hall and around a corner, past several rooms with wide glass windows giving a view of black benches, wooden shelving, abundant sinks, and all manner of black-, gray-, and white-boxed instrumentation with digital panels in varying degrees of crypticity. "The lab's set up with all the benchwork in a central area, here," the researcher continues, pointing into the room she stops beside. "Each researcher has their own bench, except the undergrads, who share. That's where we do all the molecular work; centrifuges, thermocylers, your standard lab stuff. Offices are over on the side of the building, down that hall," Sarah adds, pointing accordingly. "Tissue culture, also, where we do cell work."

Along the way Cat's mind makes comparisons betwen things seen here and at Pinehearst when Roger Goodman led her down to where she met Arthur Petrelli, and inwardly she muses if she'll meet an evil madman bent on using his research for a power grab too. Her eyes track the student's gestures, ears take in what she's told. "Fascinating," she breathes out in reply.

Asking to see an image of the 510 virus is delayed, it doesn't seem quite time yet. Perhaps when she's near an electron microscope.

Sarah glances askance at Cat, then drifts down the hall in the direction of the aforementioned tissue culture room. "My research is on the influenza NS1 protein. It's a protein the virus makes inside host cells that hampers the cell's ability to respond to infection. We're developing strains that have NS1 deficiencies, which means cells can clear them more easily after infection; the thought is that they'll make good live vaccines." She pauses in front of another open door — more black benches on one side, boxy equipment resembling stacked mini-fridges behind the door (except that refrigerators never have displays reading 37 C), two glassed-in metal benches beyond them with blue light contained behind their walls. And another sink. "I could talk about that all day, of course — but were you interested in something specific, maybe? You didn't really mention."

"Well," Cat begins, drawing her words out to suggest indecision, hesitancy to ask, "It might be good to look at images of the H5N10 virus that's going around? I've never seen how an electron microscope works," she explains. "It's all such really interesting work," she breathes out. Mental fingers are crossed.

Sarah pauses, giving Cat a sidelong, somewhat incredulous look. You want what? "I don't do EM work," she informs the visitor. "Most of us don't; there's not a lot of call for it, really." She looks away, looks back, frowning faintly. "Why were you interested in our research, again?"

This is unfortunate. Perhaps she should have researched better, picked a different target. The question is met with calm, however. Cat isn't unprepared for reluctance when the moment of truth came. "The field is intriguing," she replies. "People in this line of work are at the cutting edge, developing treatments for deadly diseases which could save countless lives. There's no telling what could be out there, and this is the sort of place where the battles will be fought. Where the weapons to win them will be crafted." She pauses for a short stretch of seconds, making eye contact as she resumes speaking in a subdued voice.

"I'd thought you might be able to let me look at some images, point out how a virus interacts with cells in the infected host, maybe demonstrate it while showing me an image of one, and the 510 virus is getting all the press right now. It was just at the front of my mind."

Sarah peers at Cat for a little longer. "You said you were in politics or something?" She doesn't wait for an answer. "That makes sense. Virus-host interactions are really just like what they tell you in basic biology — that's the simple version, but it's not incorrect, especially for influenza. The problem with EM is that it isn't live imaging, by definition; and you can't see the proteins in any case. So it's not that useful," the researcher concludes.

"Working at the 'cutting edge' means you'll have a lot of catching up to do," Sarah continues, not disparagingly, but wanting to ensure her visitor really understands this. "I can't think of anyone who's gone through a full course of graduate school and then promptly started all over again in a completely different field." Of course, she hasn't known many people with perfect memory, either.

"I understand," Cat replies with a slow nod, "it'd still be really cool to see. And it's true, moving from one field to another after a full course of graduate school is an unusual thing. I mostly see myself as a sort of renaissance woman." She lets a slight smile form in a brief break to her words. "Learning things in a vast number of fields. Education's a lifelong thing, don't you believe? There are always interesting things in the world, more a person can look at. And…" she pauses again, showing a bit of hesitance, "I have to tell you, I've got uncommon memory. It makes me thirsty for knowledge."

Sarah gives Cat another one of those dubious glances. "The Renaissance was a long time ago," she remarks. "Science was a lot smaller then." Never mind every other field of study. The woman shakes her head a bit, idly chewing on her lower lip. "I can see if Neil got any taken," she finally says. "But I'll tell you now, if there are images, I can't give copies; data's never supposed to go outside the lab except in a collaboration, a conference, or a paper. Especially on something as sensitive as that is becoming."

"I understand," Cat replies with a nod. "And I can imagine the sensitivity. Science really has grown, of course. I meant the term renaissance woman in the way a lot of the people from that time sought to expand their minds, to be broadly knowledgeable. Well-rounded might be a better term for it."

Some moments later she adds "Thank you, really."

Following along and entering behind the researcher, Cat is silent. She watches and waits until the images are displayed, and when they're visible her her eyes take in the sight. There's an instant mental comparison with both the image Rebel put into their site by steganography and the images of Shanti virus from Company files delivered into her possession.

The moment is upon her, in which she'll learn what she came here for.

And it's not what she expected. They aren't the same virus, which only raises more questions. Why would Rebel use that image in connection with everything, if 510 is a different virus? Could a flu virus have been manipulated somewhere, somehow, to have features of Shanti and yet not look the same? To be influenza, but have the targeting to the SLC and the power-suppressing quality? Only Rebel know, and she doubts they'll share, but she will probably soon ask anyway.

"Fascinating," Cat opines with her eyes widening at the sight, "thank you so much, really. It's amazing how things so small can cause so much suffering."

"Not really," Sarah disagrees, as she shuts the computer down. "All it ever takes is one wrench in the works, and when you're talking biology the wrenches tend to be small." Standing back up, she looks over at the other woman. "I need to finish up an experiment and close things down. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"It's an idle curiosity," Cat muses, "that the drug called Refrain which is exclusive to the SLC popped up just months before the H5N10 virus appeared. Could there be any relation? Probably not, that must sound kind of out there," she admits, while turning away from the machine. "I think we're all good, you've been really kind to show me what you have. Thanks, again."

Apparently Cat can't leave without triggering another of those looks. The 'where did you say you left that last marble again' sort of expression. "Nnn… no, there's… no drugs that have any connection with influenza, like that," Sarah replies. Potential treatments, maybe, but… that's all. "If you're finished, then? I'll walk you down to the doors."

"You were right," Cat admits while allowing a mildly sheepish expression to form, "when you said I'd have a lot of catching up to do." She emits a quiet laugh, as if to shake it off. "But no one learns without asking." She's prepared to depart, moving to follow the researcher out.

general influenza A


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