1964-05-24 - Fail Safe
Summary: Some surprising news leaves Vesper reeling.
Related: If there are no related logs, put 'None', — please don't leave blank!
Theme Song: None
nexus vesper 

New York University, biology lab. It sits on the north side of Washington Park Square, which is great for the university's real estate and terrible for noise and pedestrian traffic. More than students run through there, and the latest sit in activism involves folk singing and complaining about the Soviets. It makes parking a nightmare, as if it's ever good here.

Vesper knows nothing about this. A book cart is pushed inside the lab, blocking the door. Several titles are so fresh they about bleed ink still, and she stands in her lab coat in front of cabinets, putting away sampling equipment. The comfortable whirr of a centrifuge and the air conditioning making the place freezing cold have everything to do with turning the area into as inhospitable as possible. A coffee cup forgotten by her stands on a counter. In another corner, a rather intricate series of incomplete helices replicate something known only to biochemists. Or maybe nothing at all. There's a bit of music playing quietly from the radio, crackling and hard to make out, but jazzy.

Nexus has been in this city for two days, and it is time he make initial contact with the woman. He's dressed in a navy suit with a pale green button up shirt beneath, though it is not his outfit that draws attention. It is the pale lines that criss-cross his skin in a pattern that looks like circuitry: and for anyone close, the lines continue on his irises, where they are pure white on his blue eyes. He pays no mind to whispers or looks, and makes his way towards the biology lab. He's aware of the lab itself before he steps inside, his mind touching the machines without him really even trying. But at the door he pauses, knocking twice, "Miss Mezieres?"

This woman: slim, brunette, unquestionably busy. Her outfit is suitable for a researcher at a prestigious university, maybe a hospital. White lab coat, a blue blouse and slacks speak to her professionalism. Nothing that really attracts attention other than a chignon. Aides and students tend to shuffle past, minding their own business. Heads full of knowledge don't much care about people weird unless really weird.

She doesn't have much time to pay attention. She looks over shoulder at the mention of her name. "Bonjour. Is there something you need help with?"

"I am…" Nexus pauses, but only briefly, "Josua Smith." He steps in, letting his eyes sweep the room, "I am a fellow at Boston University's biology department, working on my thesis. I was in town, and considering I've heard interesting things about your research, thought I would stop by…" Josua was his name before terrigenesis, though 'Smith' is purely made up.

The name clearly rings no bells, sets off no flares. She steps away from the cabinets and turns around. Hands smooth over her lab coat; her name is embroidered above the pocket. Surname, at least. The badge with a typed account and her photo clearly affirm this is a Miss V. Mezieres, accents optional, thank you. She clasps her hands in front of her. The lab is her home turf. Not that it's helped much in recent days. "Boston University? You may wish to talk to Professor Sobel. He is the distinguished fellow and chair." And, in academic speak, the boss over all the equipment and studies performed, no doubt. The small touch of a smile means well. So much for classic Gallic rudeness, but the doe-eyed girl wouldn't likely be able to muster much that sticks. "It is good to meet you, Monsieur Smith. I can show you to his office for any deep inquiries. Though I can help answer some questions."

Josua hesitates a moment again as he gets a better look at the woman; some small part of him sees some familiarity, but why doesn't register. He moves further in, shaking his head, "Oh, I wouldn't want to bother the Professor." As he nears, he offers his circuit-lined hand to the woman to shake, "If you had time, I just thought it would be interesting to talk. Genetics isn't my field directly, but I work with researchers in the field regularly. I work in bioinformatics: programming the University's computer to analyze biological data." He smiles, "Perhaps, if you would consent to tell me some of your research, I could help improve your data analysis."

Young and breathtakingly so for a research position of her own, Vesper does not wear age well. She never will, with any luck. At sixty, they'll mistake her for thirty-five, if she watches her skin regimen. The young woman tucks in one of the drawers full of various papers, manila envelopes and folders carefully arranged by colour, type, and tape. "Then please be welcome. The coffee on this floor is not the best, but palatable. Would you wish for some?" The question is given as she approaches him, picking her way with care. Hand extended to meet his, her touch is cool and light. "You have the advantage of me. What is your thesis subject? The relationship of biological data sets? Bioinformatique?" She relies sometimes on her French, but not often. A thorough Cambridge education doesn't allow for anything less than critical and precise English when she needs it.

"Yes, thank you. I have rarely had coffee, so I might not especially be an expert on quality." Truth be told, he's never had coffee in his life. Nexus shakes her hand firmly, smiling as he does so. "It's a system for analyzing biological data sets to discover deep relationships that are not apparent: it will be used to discover linkages that are not first order or direct." He tilts his head to the side, "My understanding is your research is on biogenetics, can you tell me what you are working on?"

Vesper gestures to the door after retrieving her hand from the shake. "This way, it's in the common area a space over. There are better chairs, actually." Hers are not meant for guests and comfort, so much as gathering places for paper. If Nexus goes ahead of her, she closes the door behind and locks it, the key on the same tag for her identity card. Then a short jaunt down the hallway to find the common area where a coffee machine has place of prized position, among magazines and journals, and way too many coffee mugs. The door is unlocked, and the place brightened by an awful lot of plants. It stands, for being a biology department area. "Quite grand, your studies. Those will be no doubt very important in the future. The very volume of material to go through would require human computers months to effectively go through, even with the best of mathematical minds. I know my own work is limited to how long a day I can put in." The complaint of scientists, especially the junior sorts, everywhere. She glances over to him. "Biogenetics, yes. Right now it's an understanding of the sequencing of the human genome, improving on the x-ray crystallography. We have a general understanding but… it is not to say crude, so much as the technology has not been there to give the best insight. So measuring and refining the present data, in order to have a more complete picture of formation and deviations from a baseline."

Nexus turns and heads the way Vesper gestures, and once they are in the common area, he looks around before making his way towards the coffee pot. His eyes stray over to the magazines though, and he flips through them with some curiosity. "Grand? I don't know about that. Useful, if successful, certainly. Every year computes become more powerful but as a tool they are limited because the expertise it takes to program them is not the same expertise it takes for the fields that use them, such as yours. So scientists must become experts in two fields just to take advantage of them. My hope is that with proper analytical software, biologists can focus on biology and feed data into the machine then interpret results, instead of having to program a special program for every test." Then he nods his head thoughtfully as she explains her work, "Fascinating. Are you making progress in the sequencing?"

The common area probably seats six. It boasts three unmatched padded chairs in hideous paisley upholstery. The loveseat for three, saggy in the middle, is no better. But comfort beats constantly leaning over beakers or penning out notes when eyes blur and burn. No doubt the average researcher sleeps on that couch.

Vesper goes over to empty and rinse the glass carafe. Water from the sink and a squirt of Sunlight allow her to quickly assure the next batch won't taste like swamp water or runoff from the Thing having a bath. "Grand, yes. I think many scientists doing complex studies are inhibited by resources. Having new ways to check our research for flaws and inaccuracies due to a calculation or data issue will improve the amount of time we can dedicate to replicating our results." She tips the carafe over after a scrub and a swish of water, the suds draining into the sink. A plastic jar ends up filled with water, poured into the dented steel basin. "Factors of data slow down the sequencing. We are looking at the smallest things under very high powered microscopes, seeing blurry fuzz. I cannot sharpen the image better than this. Not without the aid of very expensive equipment the university simply will not buy. But I have hope! It is hard, manual work. Maybe it will help open doors and broaden understanding. Genetics is not well understood."

Watching the process of making coffee, Josua files it away for the future: if he likes this he might well have to make some himself. "I feel that resources will always be a limiting factor: it can be lessoned, we can learn to do more with what we have, but there will never come the day that resources are a factor. What I know of your…" He pauses, and rewords that statement, "…I mean, what I know of the process of scientific research has a great deal of it hindered by a lack of political will. It seems not enough value it for its own sake: and people who are not scientists often determine who is given resources." He nods his head slowly, "Every bit of new knowledge builds on the last. The genome somehow encodes all the complexity of life— that may be a lifetime of studying to understand the full breadth of what is written in our genes. Is there a certain sample you are studying?"

"They will. I am comfortable, at least, discovering a broader array. Tools to help with the limitations imposed on us are welcome. Something which assists us building a common language, a wider base, I would not shun." Vesper moves along the counter, looking in the cabinets for a clean cup. Turning up only one, she has to wash another. It happens without much complaint, the dish soap and the warm water making for clean suds. Josua's statements are considered while she scrubs and rinses, waiting for the water to heat up. "Scientific research comes second or third, sometimes. Do you have similar trials for funding and attention? We write our work and submit for reviews. We wait. Science is not so much a field for the impatient or the retiring, no matter what the comics and books say about us." A smile for him then as she puts out the two dried and cleaned cups. Hot coffee is brewing. The creamer is powdered, a sin, but not something she touches. Vesper prefers it black. "Many samples. One could have inconsistencies with others. There is some thought in the medical community that imperfections in the genomes are cause for so many illnesses and ailments."

"A common language." Josua inclines his head slightly, "That would be useful: without it a great deal of programming is reimplementing the wheel from scratch, despite that problem having been solved dozens of times by dozens of engineers in dozens of disciplines over the years. You'd be surprised how much time is wasted by not sharing." He crosses his arms over his chest, "I… have to endure a similar process." he says hesitantly, "It is simply… wrong. Science is the panacea, it should be what we look to first when problems arise and what we fund first. Of course, I'm sure the military industry has their own feelings on the matter." Disdaste shows on his features. Without really thinking of couching his answer correctly, he scoffs, "They had that thought, did they? Brilliant. So they can rub two ideas together and come to a conclusion. Of course imperfections in the genes account for many diseases. It is the instruction manual by which the body functions, and though there are many safeguards to prevent flaws, replication is not perfect. Transcription flaws or simple mutation will cause problems."

"A common language, exactly that." Vesper nods as she carries over the coffee cup to Josua. The impenetrable darkness of the brew smells heady to anyone unprepared for it. The taste won't match the scent though. "We have trouble already in the English speaking world. Scientists who live in France or West Germany may make discoveries no one in Portugal or Brazil can read. Numbers are helpful, but not perfect. Your thoughts are on the right track. It would help ease much of the mental and intellectual congestion." She swivels back and covers the short distance to pick up her own cup. It's only half full. She chooses to sit on one of the chairs rather than the saggy couch, and tucks her arms close to herself. "Agh, funding is no joy in the least. I am always troubled when corporations give their dollars. It is improper. The government supplies some, of course. The university tries."

"Is not, after its fashion, English the international language these days?" wonders Josua with a pursed lips, accepting the cup with a quick nod of his head. "Why do corporate grants bother you? They have an agenda, certainly, but no government is without one." He heads for a chair as well and takes a seat, "Tell me, the resolution on your equipment, can you make out the discrete differences between the nucleotides to start accurately sequencing the genome, or is it only capable of estimations?"

"English is but not only. The Italians or the Japanese or the Indians all speak something quite different. Bit much to ask they learn it, no?" Vesper tucks her knees together and raises the bitter brew higher. For now, she breathes in the steam and the sight around him. "Corporate grants are for profit. What we learn should not have price tags and stocks attached." So, safe to assume she is not exactly a fascist. The Red Scare isn't far enough away to leave her clear of accusations of Communism, either, but hello, Cambridge. It's not like the Soviets didn't have the most famous spy network in the English-speaking world there.

"The equipment is not the best." She hesitates to answer him. "Nearly. But the glass and the resolution we need is difficult to obtain. NYU has some of the best research facilities." Pride hasn't any place in here, only straight fact. "We have made some breakthroughs, but some distance yet before I have accuracy down for the nucleotide labeling I need. For the latest samples, I have been comparing the order of the amino acids as a basis. But the work with the codons is…" She shakes her hand slightly. "Problematic. Results are still somewhat unclear. I've been working with different methods to measure the nucleotides, to see they are consistent and reproduceable."

Nexus looks somewhat surprised, "I would expect that until you have the ability to reliably sequence nucleotides, you won't have much success with mapping individual RNA codons, let alone the process of protein synthesis. Are you studying the genome itself or how it is put into action?" He sips the coffee, and has another surprised, somewhat bitter expression. Whoa. That's an experience. "I was assuming your work was on mapping the genome itself: the elegant dance of adenine to thymine, and guanine to cytosine. Perhaps I was mistaken?"

Vesper laughs into her cup. The sound is soft and not unkind. "The work is piecemeal. Various teams attempt different methods. I get the journals and the papers from peers. Sometimes, you see the work and it is hopeful. But then in review… no, it's not. We have a good sense for how the pieces begin and act at a basic level. Not how they fit together precisely. But, sometimes, it's terribly smooth when we change the resolution of the lens. Like the cinema. Tighten the dial, the image is clear." Her hand lifts. "That's part of the trials. I think I may have something, right now, and this is the crux of my research. At least the first part. There have been excellent responses for using a polymerase to improve the protocols we have. One of my colleagues in the United Kingdom has been experimenting with radiolabelling."

"I might be able to create a program to apply some basic static analysis to the images to clear them up more: you have but to feed the data into the lab's computer, and perhaps it will be done." Josua purses his lips, looking thoughtfully at Vesper for a long moment, "If I assist with tuning the parameters in particular, I imagine we could improve your resolution significantly. I have quite a bit of experience with computational matrices."

Vesper is still sipping her coffee, such as it is. The process is particularly slow, her thoughts turning over in the secrecy of her mind. "It is a very generous offer from a stranger. Why would you be so willing to help me? I do not want to seem ungrateful. I am not. Yet so few people have been friendly. Especially as a woman." She gestures slightly. "Many people, many competitions."

The truth is, so he can use her equipment to sequence her own genome and run it through the genetic records of the core. But what Josua says is, "I am a scientist, and my life's work is analysis and infomatics. Helping you will help advance my field. If it works, I might write a paper on it." Then he tilts his head, "Besides, very few people look at a mutant and are kind."

Truth that may be, and Vesper has no reason to suspect misuse or tampering. Academic dishonesty and poaching are another matter altogether. Her shoulders twinge as that insistent cough reasserts itself. Habit brings responses immediately. The half-full cup goes to the windowsill, even if the window is actually a niche filled by posters. She pulls out a handkerchief from the inner pocket of her white coat. It goes to her mouth, the muffled noise of her lungs cleared silencing her. "Pardon." Apology comes between the twinges of her shoulders. When the spell passes shortly after, she shakes her head a little. "Doctor Sobel would need to sign off. Any project he handles. I am happy to present it."

"Of course." Josua rises, and eyes the coffee he barely sipped, "Apologies for wasting it, but this… does not suit me." He regards her cough for a long moment, "I should get going: thank you for seeing me. I'll be in touch and we can discuss the project in more detail."

Vesper puts her hand on the arm of the seat and helps herself up. "Oui, of course. I wouldn't wish to keep you. You do not have to like the coffee, it is an acquired taste. The British prefer tea for a reason." At least the arrangements aren't the problem for him. She bobs her head and smiles. "Thank you for the offer. It is very kind."

"I consider it not a kindness, but a potential for mutual benefit. I'm in town for awhile — I'm at Columbia in the mathematics department temporarily as a guest lecturer — and while here, may as well advance my own research. And since my research is all about improving other people's ability to analyze data? I can't work without a partner." But Josua smiles, and nods his head, "It was good to meet you. Have a good day."

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