Thursday, February 14, 2019

Query 2.16: Priorities

“What the fuck are you talking about!” Chief MacArthur screamed. “How the fuck are we supposed to arrest these people without touching them!”

The small group was standing inside the church foyer, which was intended to make this conversation a private one. At least, Py suspected that was the intention of the Q.C.B. administrator when he’d pulled Chief MacArthur inside.

“I’m sorry,” shot back the Q.C.B. official, one Roger Pollock by his name tag, his tone more condescending than anything else, “but we can’t have your officers touching infected people without the proper gear.”

“You expect us to subdue these people in fuckin’ containment suits!” MacArthur continued to rage. “We can hardly even move in those things. You’re trying to turn us into fuckin’ bags of potato chips!”

“It’s the best I can do!” Pollock said, clearly getting heated himself. “Protocol clearly sta…”

Py gave a snort of laughter and both MacArthur and Pollock rounded on him. A short time after the cavalry arrived to extricate Py and Logan from their vehicle, the D.P.D. established New Covenant Church as their base of operations for riot suppression. Not long after, the Q.C.B. had swooped in and, to use Chief MacArthur’s colorful narration, “stuck their dick in it”, resulting in the current argument. Py had been waiting for a chance to get in a word with Chief MacArthur when Pollock’s statement about protocol had caught him off guard.

“Is something funny, Mr. Black?” MacArthur asked, clearly not amused. Py gave a quick glance over to Logan who was leaning against the wall and found that he too had an annoyed look on his face.

Py decided it was best to attack this head on and adopted a tone of authority.

“Mr. Pollock,” Py began, “Have you ever dealt with a rapidly spreading contagion?”

Roger Pollock puffed out his chest like a supercilious rooster. “I assure you I’m well versed in quarantine procedures.”

“Then you know WHO is going to be here any minute.”

Roger Pollock gave a wince and Chief MacArthur was looking between the two of them with irritation painting his face.

“What exactly am I missing here, gentleman?” MacArthur demanded.

Py stood up straight and affected a more somber tone. “When the W.H.O. gets here they’ll assume full command. Any of your protocols and procedures will go out the window and any say you may have in the matter will vanish.”

MacArthur’s brow compressed into a many layered scowl. “Is that really necessary? I understand that Rathford needs quarantine, but the W.H.O.…”

MacArthur was right to be concerned. WHO was something very different from the soft humanitarian group of the early 21st century. It was now an organization hell bent on one goal, to make sure global pandemics like Rapture never happened again. To that end WHO had been given the authority to act with total impunity. They were vicious, militarized, and approached possible outbreaks by three simple precepts: secure, contain, eradicate. Py knew these tenets all too well. After all, he used to work for them.

Py began shaking his head and MacArthur look confused.

“I’m afraid,” Py said, “you don’t understand. The W.H.O. isn’t coming to shut down Rathford.” Py gazed out the open church doors to the skyscrapers in the distance. “They’re coming to shut down Delphi.”

“What!?” MacArthur exclaimed. Logan had pushed himself off the wall and Pollock at least had the decency to look embarrassed by his ignorance.

“I think you’ll find,” Py continued gravely, “that all incoming and outgoing flights were suspended from Delphi International some time ago. It’s very likely that the border stations are on lockdown as well.”

“Jesus Christ…” Chief MacArthur said, his right hand coming up and dragging down the length of his face. “Then what the hell is procedure with something like this?” The Chief was completely ignoring Mr. Pollock and addressing Py directly. Pollock, despite his earlier bravado, was looking at Py just as expectantly.

Py gave a heavy sigh.

“Listen, none of us are trained for this. There’s no procedure written for this. Your men are in danger no matter what you decide. I can’t tell you what to do. I can only say that your resources are deficient and in a few hours it could be a moot point.”

Chief MacArthur was rubbing his chin and looking at Py with a thoughtful expression.

“Alright Black,” MacArthur said, “I want you to help me actively coordinate the D.P.D.’s efforts with the W.H.O. and...”

Py held up his hands and interrupted the Chief.

“Chief MacArthur, I’m flattered, really, but Logan and I have other things to do.”

MacArthur’s scowl returned each fold looking like he wanted them to crush Py into submission.

“Mr. Black, we have a crisis on our hands here. Exactly what could possibly be more pressing than handling this situation?”

“Chief, I don’t think there’s anything more important. We just need to prioritize… Mr. Pollock, would you give us a moment alone, please.”

Pollock seemed obstinate about it, but the collective stares of Py, Logan, and Chief MacArthur finally drove the point home, causing the man to pivot and head out the doors of the church without so much as a departing pleasantry. Py waited until Pollock was well out of ear shot before continuing.

“Listen, Chief MacArthur,” Py said, driving straight to the point, “I know WHO policy in cases like ours. We have twelve hours, maybe fourteen, before they have ground support in the city and full lockdown measures in effect.” Py had begun to pace back and forth, his own anxious thoughts driving his movements. “That means we need to have all samples, evidence, subjects and leads necessary to manufacture a cure in Vergeron’s custody before they touch down.”

To Py’s surprise, it was Logan who responded.

“I don’t understand, wouldn’t Vergeron still have access to all that even after lockdown?”

Py stopped pacing and turned to Logan.

“Unfortunately that doesn’t secure our access to it. And it’s worse than it sounds.” Py did his best to put gravity behind his words. “It’s not WHO’s first priority to find a cure.”

Py let that sink in a moment. Chief MacArthur seemed struck dumb by the implication behind those words and before he could recover Py pressed on.

“In other words, Chief MacArthur, me coordinating D.P.D. operations over the next few hours is not the most optimal use of our time, but letting Logan and I chase down our own leads, that has the potential to save millions of lives.” Py could tell MacArthur was conflicted, that some piece of the man’s conscience was still wrestling with his tenuous control of the situation and it took all of Py’s resolve to ease off and let the man digest everything that had been laid at his feet and come to his own conclusions.

MacArthur finally brought his gaze up and looked not to Py, but locked his eyes on Logan.

“Maxwell, what do you think about all this?”

Py expected an immediate response and was unsettled when he saw Logan was taking his own time about it.

Py and Logan shared a long look before Logan let out a sigh like a great bellows compressing flat.

“Chief, I can’t speak to any of this shit. It’s all a flavor of bizarre I don’t fully comprehend.” Logan took a few steps forward so he was standing next to Py. He clapped a hand on Py’s shoulder with friendly, if considerable, force. “But I think discounting what Py’s saying would be a mistake. He’s only ever done what he thought was right, and that’s saved my ass and the D.P.D.’s ass in the past. Bottom line, Chief,” Logan said with a sincere half smile, “I say we trust him.”

That seemed to be what Chief MacArthur needed to hear. He gave an approving nod.

“Alright Black,” MacArthur said, “you and Maxwell are cut loose for now. Do what you have to do.”

“Thank you Chief MacArthur.” Py said, letting his mind settle back to the problem at hand. “Now if you’ll excuse us, time really is of the essence.” MacArthur shook Py and Logan’s hands as a parting farewell as together they stepped out into the collective chaos in front of New Covenant Church.

“Hey, thanks for that back there.” Py said awkwardly, when they were out of range of MacArthur, swallowed by the hodgepodge of Q.C.B. and D.P.D. agents. “I don’t think he would’ve agreed without your endorsement.”

Logan gave a crooked grin. “Nah, I think Carl would’ve been on your side in the end. Just might’ve taken him a bit longer. Besides,” Logan glanced at Py with an amused, if somewhat weary, expression, “whatever the Chief’s decision you were going to do what you wanted anyways.”

“No comment.” Py said without hesitation and Logan let out a snort of laughter.

“Fair enough. We shouldn’t get off in the weeds. So, what do we tackle first? Maybe one of the other drug labs?”

Py shook his head, distracted as he tried to locate his target. He had almost everything he needed. Just one more thing…

“Waste of time.” Py replied mechanically, his eyes roving over the parking lot. “I’ve been at two of the sights already, I think we have everything we need.” Py found what he was searching for. Parked a little ways down the block was a Q.C.B. supply van.

“Really,” Logan said with surprise, “you seemed so gung-ho about it before?” Did you get a result?

Py gave a preoccupied nod. “I found something interesting, but I don’t know if it helps. I had Alice aggregate the data from the two locations, focusing specifically on the formula found at the sites. The short story is that the data’s garbage, and unless I miss my guess, it’s manufactured garbage. Someone’s been planting false leads.”

“You think it’s our mole?” Logan asked as Py led them through the throng towards the storage vehicle.

“Even if it’s not our mole it’s certainly a Red Herring. Better to come at the whole thing clean, I think. I didn’t tell the FBI about the third lab. No sense in getting them suspicious on how we found it if there isn’t anything to gain.”

They arrived at the van and Py wasted no time in opening the back and taking stock of its contents.

“What are you doing?” Logan asked, sounding uncomfortable.

“Hmm, oh, I just need to borrow something… ahh, there it is!” Py jumped into the back of the van and pulled a small device from one of the travel storage racks. It was a portable V-bot phlebotomist module and Py was happy to see it was already loaded with a string of needle caps. Light and compact it was perfect for drawing blood in the field.

Py hopped down and shut the van back up. A quick glance showed him nobody was paying them any attention and he moved away with Logan in tow, towards where he thought the D.P.D. had the witnesses corralled.

“Okay...” Logan breathed, and Py could hear exasperation in his voice, “so how do we think this is connected to the Night of Madness?”

“I don’t know.” Py responded, pulling his sleeve up and placing the V-bot around his arm to draw a blood sample.

Logan looked pensive as Py finished up. “Alice had a whole stack of case files on Rathford and the surrounding area. Even without Abigail we would’ve been here in a few weeks following leads. It’s hard to believe it's a coincidence.”

“I have to agree.” Py replied, spitting into a petri dish he pulled from inside his jacket. “Here spit on this.” Py handed a similar dish over to Logan, pulling up his sleeve and wrapping the V-bot around Logan’s arm. “I hate to think the Night of Madness might have been practice for something bigger.”

“Do you think it’s the same chemical or something new?” Logan asked as Py removed the device from Logan’s arm.

“That’s a great question.” Py confessed, wandering over to a group of witnesses huddled behind a line of yellow tape. “The last time we had this problem we never identified any candidate compounds. It seemed to be in and out of the body so fast it wasn’t present in any of our specimens.”

Py called out over the crowd of nervous subjects. “If everyone can please line up I’d like to take some samples.”

“The Q.C.B. already took samples.” One member of the crowd called back.

“I am so sorry.” Py replied earnestly. “Those samples are headed to the wrong lab. We’ll need to take fresh ones.”

The crowd started to reluctantly form into some semblance of a line, some grumbling, some crying as Py started filling vials.

“Where did you get all this stuff, anyway?” Logan asked, helping to arrange the filled vials into a storage box for safe keeping. Py realized then that Logan had only seen him grab the blood drawing device.

“I snuck it off the back of a truck when nobody was watching. By the time they have it sorted out we’ll be long gone.”

They continued in silence for a few minutes as they lead the procession through the blood draw.

“You know,” Logan said, strangely reminiscent, “I was just thinking back to the Night of Madness… You know my favorite part? That my life was probably saved by a stupid cat with a camera glued to its head.”

“God, that’s brilliant!” Py exclaimed in excitement. “Can you take blood samples?”

“Sure, I guess.” Logan said with a reassuring smile to the now anxious man at the head of the line.

“Excellent, pass around some more of these dishes too, and if anybody has any clothes with food or anything spilled on them see if they’ll let you have it.” Py said stepping away from the crowd.

“Wait, Py,” Logan called over his shoulder, “blood samples are already a little sketchy, but contaminated clothes are actual pieces of evidence under chain of custody.”

“I see, well, get what you can. I’m going to call the lab.” Py took his phone from his pocket, and quickly found Brian’s contact. The phone rang for what seemed like an extremely long time before Brian, sounding a little agitated, finally answered.

“What is it Py? If it's weird, I’m running out of space.”

“Do you still have that cat in the lab?”

“Who, Pythagoras? I’d have a mutiny on my hands if I ever tried to get rid of him. He’s costing me a fortune too, I have to keep replacing all the HEPA filters in the clean rooms.”

Py winced a little at the name Pythagoras. He felt it a dubious honor to say the least.

“Has he been doing anything strange since Abigail came in?”

“The strangest thing that cat ever did was enslave the affection of everyone in the lab. Of course Abigail and company are locked down pretty tight.”

Py hadn’t wanted to ask a leading question, but he felt he should be more specific just in case there was something Brian had forgotten.

“When we were hunting for the Alleyman, animals, specifically the cat’s in the area, seemed to be able to tell when he was around.”

“Like I could ever forget.” Brian said back. “Putting cameras on cat’s heads was one of the most dangerous things I've ever done. They scratched the hell out of my arms.”

“Alright, I was just hoping we could make a quick connection between New Covenant Church and NoM.”

“Sorry Py, based on what we have now this looks like a whole new deal. The only thing I see in common so far is a bunch of negative test results.”

Damn! Couldn’t be easy, could it.

“Thanks, Brian let me know when you find something.” Py ended the call and made his way back to the group.

“Any luck?” Logan called over his shoulder, having stacked an impressive number of samples.

“Nothing conclusive, but we’ll see what develops.”

“Hey, over there! Get away from my witnesses!” A police officer called from across the parking lot. “Nobody talks to anybody until they’ve been processed.”

“Sorry.” Py called back, shuffling his treasures to the Vergeron car before anyone thought to take them away.

“Okay, let’s go.” Py said, moving with Logan into their vehicle. “We should hit a market. Grab some hot sauce and maybe a few other things.”

“Hot sauce?” Logan asked quizzically.

“Have you ever eaten an MRE?”

“No, I’m proud to say.”

“Then I take it you’ve never eaten an MRE everyday for six months?”

Py felt strangely excited and somehow apprehensive. Everything was about to become harder, but his opponent was becoming more brazen, and in that state they couldn’t hide for much longer.

“Hot sauce huh?... Anything else?”

Py thought for a moment and then smiled. “Better grab a slice of pie.”

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