Chapter Four: Recapitulation
A few hours later, Percy stretched himself and yawned so powerfully that he saw stars. His notebook fell from his lap. As he bent to retrieve it, he was abstractly pleased with the look of it. There is something to be said for looking at a formerly blank page and seeing it filled with one's own writing, particularly if one makes the effort to be neat. Percy was especially pleased to think of submitting his notes in the form of a new Standard Operating Manual, which, he noted with distaste, had not updated since 1906. It still listed useful spells for calling horses for "high- speed pursuits." When he mentioned this to his superiors, they didn't seem particularly concerned.
"How much knowledge can Muggles possibly accrue in 90 years?" How much indeed. Percy smirked as he pictured his superior riding a horse in rush- hour traffic in hot pursuit of a perpetrator. He glanced at his magical map of London and noticed that the dot labeled "UUW684" was riding on another bus. Good. No indication of unintentional magic. He was grateful that his first assignment appeared to have a calm temperament and excellent anger management skills. Of course, it would have been easier had she been alone and not used to being followed (he wondered how often it happened to her. Daily? Weekly?). He felt a twinge of guilt, knowing he was supposed to be following her instead of depending on the map, but keeping accurate documentation was equally important. As he glanced at the map, he noticed that UUW683 had gotten off the bus near a large edifice labeled "Brisbin Institute." Percy vaguely remembered the name, presumably from one the many Muggle publications he read for his job. He recalled a focus on Muggle "sciences." Not much trouble for her to get into there! He shook his head and returned to his notes.
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
"Wow" was all Scully could say gazing around the lobby of the Brisbin Institute. She had pictured a décor that featured steel, exposed ventilation, lots of white and antiseptic lighting. Nothing like this.
Sunlight streamed through the glass ceiling and through the leaves of the large trees that grew within. The trees were covered with epiphytes at their bases were planters filled with bromeliads and other spiky tropical plants. The air was moist, though not oppressively so. At the far end of the lobby was the source of the humidity: a waterfall tumbled from an unseen source near the ceiling down over rocks and into a large koi pond. A fine mist drifted from the waterfall and turned gold as it drifted across the beams of sun. The rush of falling water covered any ambient electrical or mechanical noise. The sense of peace was almost overwhelming.
"So how much water do you think they waste ever year with that waterfall, Scully?"
"None, it's a self-contained water system." A cheerful voice came from behind them. They turned to face a young woman whose eyes were framed by attractive rectangular-framed glasses. Her eyes were dancing with pleasure. She held out her hand. "I'm Cho Wei. You must be Mr. Mulder and Dr. Scully."
Scully shook her hand. "Dr. Wei, it's a pleasure to meet you. I read your article on CD4 and T-cell development in PNAS last month. I was a little unclear on how you got the idea that HES-1 and c-Myb worked together on the first two silencer sites."
Mulder's eyebrows raised at the mention of PNAS, but he kept his comments to himself as Scully's eyes were on him.
Dr. Wei blushed. "Well, it just sort of occurred to me. Dr. Ernst told me it was a waste of time, but I did it anyway. The experiments were kind of fun to design, but it was a bit of a challenge because you can't exactly induce nuclear translocation, plus it's lethal, so you can't use mice. Fortunately, SAF correlates with decreased downregulation of CD4."
"But since Mek1 signaling inhibits nuclear translocation..."
"Exactly! I must say, you're nothing like I expected an FBI agent to be. What did you do your dissertation on?"
Now it was Scully's turn to blush. "I'm not a Ph.D. I'm an M.D. I work in forsenic pathology, though I like to keep current on the state of the living as well. I have kind of a vested interest in immunochemistry."
Understanding dawned in Dr. Wei's eyes, but she didn't ask the obvious question, for which Scully was grateful. Instead, she turned to Mulder.
"So, what is your background, Mr. Mulder?"
Mulder could have sworn she was suppressing a smile. "I see. Your work at the FBI must be very interesting." She briskly clapped her hands together. "Well, we'd better get you two signed in. I've still got to give you the grand tour before you meet with Liangru, that's Mr. Chang."
Dr. Wei led them across the cavernous lobby to a spacious security desk, which was partially obscured by a growth of delicate orchids.
Mulder and Scully clipped on their visitor badges and followed Dr. Wei behind the security area and through a wide hallway. They passed a library, a lunchroom, and some offices before curiosity got the better of Mulder.
"So why isn't anyone wearing lab coats?"
"They're not allowed in this area. Unless you're afraid of contamination by marketers or coffee, you don't need any kind of protective gear, at least not on this level."
"So when do we get to meet a mad scientist who makes oversized brains to take over the world?"
"Mulder," Scully hissed through her teeth, "please act like a professional for once, just for me?"
Dr. Wei seemed to take the question in stride. "Well, Dr. Ernst is a little on the mad side, but he works with naked mutated inbred rats, not oversized brains."
Mulder grinned conspiratorially at Scully. "Mutated inbred rats! This is already turning into an X-file! Oh by the way," he continued in a softer voice as they were led up a flight of stairs, "what's wrong with psychology?"
Scully looked at him apologetically. "Well, a lot of people in the hard sciences tend to look down on psychology as a lesser-developed science. There are just too many uncontrollable variables in psych experiments. The only hard science in the field has to do with anatomy and drugs, which is pretty far removed from what many practicing psychologists do. Many people, like Dr. Wei, are too polite to say anything, but their feelings are approximately the same as my feelings toward chiropractors."
"So I'm a pilgrim in an unholy land."
"Very astute analogy. But don't let it get you down. Just pretend you're me in small town Alabama."
"I should get annoyed when they tell me I have nice legs and laugh at my high heels?"
"No heels yet, Mulder, but when I catch you wearing a pocket protector..."
The second floor was very much like the first, minus a stunning lobby. No lab coats or interesting machines. They passed through IT, HR, sales, intellectual property, and facilites management. As they ascended another flight of stairs, Dr. Wei smiled at Mulder.
"Now here's where it starts to get interesting, Mr. Mulder. We've got some honest-to-goodness mad scientists up here. You even get to wear lab coats and sterile footwear! Standard rules apply: no sniffing in fume hoods, no drinking from laboratory glassware, yadda yadda yadda." She opened the door for them, and all three of them donned dark blue lab coats and sterile booties. "Welcome to tissue culture."
It wasn't nearly as exciting as Mulder had hoped. There were lots of test tubes and weird machines, but none of them looked particularly exciting. Even the cell-growth stimulator didn't hold his attention, in spite of the eerily flesh colored-fluid it pumped in and out. Scully and Dr. Wei were chatting merrily about hybridomas, as they left, but Mulder was observing silently.
They went up yet another flight of stairs and into a warmly furnished waiting room with several comfortable looking chairs. Dr. Wei approached a young man sitting behind a desk. "Dr. Scully and Mr. Mulder are here to see Mr. Chang."
The young man informed them rather cattily that Mr. Chang teleconferencing with some very important people and instructed them to wait.
"I'm afraid I have an experiment to get back to." Dr. Wei smiled at Scully. "I'd love to meet up with you later this afternoon. When you get done with Mr. Chang, have me paged and I'll meet you in the lobby. I'd like to show you my lab, but it's up on the 7th floor, and visitors are discouraged. But since you both will be retainers, I don't see why you can't come."
"We'd love to." Scully shook Dr. Wei's hand enthusiastically. "See you in a few hours, then?"
"Sounds great!" Turning to Mulder, she winked. "I hope you don't mind all this girl talk we've been doing. We'll behave later when I have more time to tell you more about what I do. Well, give my love to Liangru."
"You two are friends, then?"
Dr. Wei grinned. "Of course. He's my father. I must be off. Duty calls."
When she was out of hearing range, the young man behind the desk rolled his eyes. "Nepotism always did run in the family."
Scully bristled, but restrained herself. "Dr. Wei is very well-respected in her field. I can't think of anyplace that wouldn't be honored to have her".
"Sure. She's pretty and speaks English. A decided improvement over most girls in the field."
Mulder winced inwardly. The kid, who barely looked old enough to be out of school, was really asking for it.
But Scully just smiled prettily. "I shudder to think of the criteria on which secretaries must be hired if Dr. Wei was hired on account of her looks, though I shouldn't be surprised. Historically, male secretaries are somewhere between interior decorator and choir boy." She knew this was unfair and mentally apologized to every administrative assistant, interior decorator, and choir boy she'd ever known, but the boy was really starting to get on her nerves.
The young man's ears tinged pink, and he glared at Scully a moment before returning to his work.
"That wasn't very nice, Scully," Mulder whispered with barely-contained laughter.
"All's fair in love and obnoxious teenagers. So what did you think of the lab?"
"Agreed. What about all the other doors we passed but didn't go in?"
"From what I could see in the little door windows, they looked pretty much the same."
Scully's brow furrowed. "What about the ones without windows?"
"Ones without windows? Other than the bathrooms, there weren't any."
"For someone with a photographic memory, you seem to have overlooked a few things."
"For someone who claims to be scientific, you seem to have an overactive imagination."
"I'll show you after the meeting." She snapped, but then shook herself mentally. How could he not have noticed the extra doors? She'd been carrying on a conversation and noted them. Something didn't add up. "I need to use the restroom." She stood up and narrowed her eyes at the young man, who was on the phone but returned her glare. "I'm not about to ask him for directions."
"Use the one downstairs. It's the third non-imaginary door on the right."
"Ha ha." Scully descended the stairs and made a beeline for the bathroom. Doors that Mulder couldn't see? It must be her imagination. Imagination. Imagination. Mulder's voice rang in her ears. "For someone who claims to be scientific, you seem to have an overactive imagination." She wasn't a fanciful person! There had to be a logical explanation to the things she'd seen, and she was going to find it. After splashing water on her face and scrubbing it dry on rough paper towels, she stepped out into the hall.
All the doors, windowless and windowed were still there and looked real enough. Approaching the nearest windowed door, she peered at the room inside. Some kind of quality control lab, probably. She identified some of the instruments inside, and could make out the windowed door (and her own curious face) reflected in the adjacent window. But only one door, she noted to herself. From the hallway, it appeared that one of the windowless doors also led into the lab. She approached the windowless door (a closet, perhaps?) and set her hand on it. The surface of the door tingled with power beneath her palm. She quickly withdrew her hand and squinted at the door. She fancied she could see a faint blue glow around the door. Yielding to temptation and curiosity, though she knew it was probably a bad idea, she grasped the door handle and pulled the door open. She gasped in astonishment.
Inside the door was a laboratory that more closely resembled a middle-ages alchemy lab than anything else. Torches and candles provided the dim lighting, and there were odd glowing configurations of obsolete glassware in recessed spaces in the walls. And the walls! They seemed to be made entirely of rough stone, and instead of linoleum there were large flagstones set impossibly neatly together. Bottles and containers of every shape, size, and color filled high shelves that encircled the room. Ever odder were the smokeless fires in the center of the room upon which were set large cauldrons, all filled with liquids of varying consistency and color. The air was heavy with strange smells that tantalized with their unfamiliarity. A man was bent over one of the cauldrons in deep concentration. Not wanting to disturb him (or draw attention to herself), she softly closed the door behind her. As soon as she closed the door, the cellular phone in her pocket began vibrating. Damn! She took it out and saw in amazement that it wasn't announcing a call, it had gone completely haywire. She quickly turned it over and removed the battery. The flashing lights and vibrating stopped as abruptly as it had started. She breathed a sigh of relief, and hoped the man hadn't heard.
"The prodigal apprentice returns. We'll address your egregious mistakes later." The man was still bent over the cauldron, his back to her. "In the meantime, would you be so kind as to bring me the vial of henbane extract?" The word "kind" dripped with scorn. Scully was very glad not to be the man's apprentice.
As if sensing her hesitance, he snapped. "Don't be all day about it! It's on the bench with the rest of the ingredients!"
Wanting a closer look at the lab, Scully crossed quickly to the bench and selected a small neatly-labeled purple vial. She put it in the man's outstretched hand. He shoved a wood stirring rod into her hands and deftly added 6 drop of the vial's contents to the mixture.
"Don't even breathe." Scully inhaled sharply and held it. The man blew gently three times across the surface of the simmering liquid. Still focused on the cauldron, he held up an arm as if to hold her back. "Let four bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage," he murmured to himself. He took one last breath and blew steadily across the cauldron. The concoction began to hiss alarmingly, but quickly quieted and turned a bright peacock blue.
The man breathed a sigh of relief. "It seems that I may have overestimated your level of incompetence. In fact, I wish to congratulate..." He cut off suddenly when he turned his dark eyes on her. His face contorted in outrage. "Who the hell are you? What are you doing in here?"
Scully took a step back. "You appeared to be in need of assistance. I happened to be passing by, and..."
He grabbed a beautifully fashioned wooden baton from somewhere on his person and pointed it at her like a sword. "Tell me who you are and what you are doing here, or I will hex you into last week."
Scully felt an irrational fear grip her stomach. Why was she so terrified of a stick? "Be careful where you point that thing," she growled, covering her fear with bravado. "You might hurt yourself."
"You leave me no choice." He flicked his wand at her and grinned wickedly. "Stupe-..."
He never finished whatever it was he was saying, because Scully let fly with a lightning-fast roundhouse kick that sent his baton flying across the room. His eyes widened in shock, but it didn't last long. He leaped back out of Scully's range and cried "Accio!" The baton began flying back toward its master.
"NO!" Scully yelled, her terror finally getting the best of her. To her surprise, the baton stopped its flight back toward him and hovered in midair, as if unsure of which command to obey.
The man stared at her in disbelief, and she met his eyes for the first time. Her eyes widened in recognition.
"Mr. Black," she whispered. Whatever grip her mind had on the baton was broken, and it zipped back into its owner's hand. Mr. Black advanced on her and pressed the tip of the wand to her carotid artery.
"You have one last chance." His voice was deep and smooth, his breath was even, as if the encounter had not fazed him at all. She looked into his eyes. This man could kill her, and at the very least meant her harm. She had stumbled upon something that she was not supposed to see, and he knew it. And now she had only one option.
She brought her knee up into his groin. Hard.
He doubled over groaning. She snatched the wand from his hand and ran out the door.
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
Percy glanced at his map and did a double-take. UUW683 was gone. He rubbed his eyes. She wasn't there! He jammed his glasses up his nose and looked a third time. Suddenly, she appeared. Her dot was moving quickly away from a telltale red cloud, which indicated some kind of accidental magic. Oh hell. He tapped the parchment with his wand to look more closely and noticed someone following her. He tapped again to identify her pursuer. His jaw dropped when he read the name.
This was going to be messy. Very messy indeed.
Percy disapparated with a pop.
<< Back | Story Index | Next Chapter >>
(Chapter Notes) | Back to Top | Stories by Author | Stories by Title | Main Page