Island of the Snark, Part 3
A lot of things may have gone wrong…but at least one thing went really, really right.
We spent another week in Shanghai, shuttling back and forth between Dr. Lee’s inappropriately kitted-out lab, the Science Ministry offices, and what I’d taken to mentally calling Snark Island. It does have a name, Shengshan Island, but my version seems more fitting. I use the right name in my reports, though, because autocorrect is programmable.
Dr. Sing did finally confirm that he’d used the mod to get rid of incipient arthritis, not to mention the lengthening list of small complaints that comes with getting old. You’d never guess he was in his sixties at this point. He claims it’s mostly due to the fact that he modded himself before his physical condition had degraded too much, but Danny says it also probably has something to do with him using DNA from a very young something in his mod – there is apparently something else in there besides panda, but Danny won’t talk about what it is. He says they aren’t going to share that with anyone for a while, because first they need to see how the world is going to react to mod-based human repairs without also unveiling what could potentially be the fountain of youth at the same time.
Although I’m pretty sure the minute we leave, several of Dr. Sing’s also-in-their-sixties friends are going to start paying him visits. Hopefully the Ministry of Science won’t end up full of red pandas, although at least if it does they won’t be able to blame GenoMod for it.
Just as a side note: Professionalism be damned, I could not trust myself alone in a room with Dr. Lytkin right now. Mike had warned us way back at the beginning, he warned JoJo and I not to get too chummy with the staff at the Moscow lab or their security guys either. Not because they aren’t great people, they are, but because their government can put pressure on them in ways we wouldn’t anticipate. But to the team at GenoMod those guys were their science buddies and now they don’t know what to think. I do. I know Joey didn’t understand the look on Dr. Lytkin’s face while we were having that impromptu conference call, but I did: It was the look a man has when he knows he’s been put in a position he never wanted to be in, and done things he never thought he’d do. There is no doubt in my mind that he betrayed Ivor somehow, or that he’s been lying to the rest of their team about what happened. Was he ordered to do it? Possibly. Or possibly he was upset and confused when Ivor didn’t immediately write his relationship with Danny off after finding out about the mod, I don’t know. All I do know is that something went terribly, terribly wrong in Siberia, and Dr. Lytkin, whether he wanted to be or not, was involved somehow.
Erik knows this too, of course. I know for a fact he told the network’s forum administrator – also an Interpol agent – to keep a closer eye on the Russian team’s interactions with everyone else for a while, and to check back through the archives to see if anything telling had been missed. Erik is mad. But he’s not half as mad as Agent Ben, according to Mike. Agent Ben – who used to be Captain Thando Bennijnckinck of the South African Police Service, in case you didn’t know – is not a guy you want to piss off, and he is all the way there right now. Whatever it was he knew about the games the Russians have been playing, he did not think it was going to go in this direction. And since he’s a higher-up Interpol agent assigned to the Security Council’s favorite task force, I’m sure a lot of people at the U.N. are currently giving the Russian ambassador and his staff a wide berth, not to mention a lot of side-eye.
But I digress. Danny and Wu and Joey, not to mention Dave and Pete, burned the midnight oil for 48 hours, give or take, and then Minister Xu brought his nephew out to the island to ‘see the new animals’. That poor kid. He just turned eight, and he’s still scared of his own shadow; last year he was a perfectly normal little boy visiting his dad in London for the holidays, now his mom is dead, his dad is staying in London, and Kai lives with his uncle and has a special private tutor because they can’t send him back to school. The explosion didn’t just cost him his eyesight, you see, it also damaged his hearing and left him with scars all down one side of his face and neck – and regular Chinese schools not only aren’t equipped to handle kids with disabilities, according to Dr. Sing they’re usually pretty forthright about not wanting to. Even just the scarring by itself, apparently, could have been enough to pretty much bar Kai from the national educational system for life.
I thought Joey was going to explode when he heard that. Danny already knew, of course. It makes him mad, but he says all the laws in the world – and China does have some that are supposed to protect the disabled – won’t make people change their minds when prejudice and stupidity are ingrained that deep. He also told us that if this process works for Kai, he already knows it’s going to eventually be used in a way here in China that we would consider at the very least ethically questionable. “I’m torn,” he said. “On the one hand, it means these people can rejoin society and have better lives. But it also means that not only is the prejudice going to stick around, it’s going to get worse.”
“It will,” Dr. Sing agreed placidly. “That is inevitable. But weighed against the number of lives it will save, I will lose no sleep over it – and neither should you.”
Dr. Sing, I noticed, has been getting on Danny about taking too much personal responsibility for the science they both do – not their own research, but for the potential ripple effect the research could cause. I am all for this correction, and once I told Mike about it so was he. Joey may or may not have noticed, he’s got a lot on his mind right now and we’re all just kind of leaving him to it. He doesn’t really want to talk, he’s trying to sort it all out in his head and that’s fine; he’ll go back home and discuss it to death with his wife and that will finish off the process and then all will be right with his world again.
Anyway, Minister Xu and little Kai and the doctor who Xu apparently trusted enough to bring into the situation came out to the island, and everyone was nervous. Danny and Dr. Sing had expected that, so they brought along their secret weapon: Jin. He went into his tour guide spiel the minute everyone stepped off the dock, just like it really was a sightseeing trip; luckily no one but us could smell him, because the guy was somewhere between sick and enraged after seeing Kai. Never came out in his voice, though. They ‘looked’ at abandoned houses, and at the abandoned cocoon, and at the vines that were covering everything. Dr. Sing even scooped up a jubjub bird – literally just scooped it up, they’re not smart or easily startled – and some petting got to happen and Kai was happy. And then they went up to the lab, and Danny talked to Kai about what was going to happen with Jin translating – Danny has had experience giving this talk, and for a guy who’s never wanted any of his own he’s pretty good with kids. Kai was out of his shell enough by then to ask questions. He wanted to touch Danny and Dr. Sing both, and they let him. Was he going to have big ears like they did, would he have a tail? No and no. He was just going to be a normal little boy, and normal little boys don’t have big furry tails. “They’d make fun of you at school,” Danny told him. “We don’t want that.”
Which got him a hug, and then got Dr. Sing and his uncle one, and then the doctor gave him the sedative and they followed it up with the mod serum. And then we all sat around and waited. Minister Xu had insisted he wanted to watch the process, even though they’d warned him it wouldn’t be pretty. It’s not, even with relatively little to change – the short-term accelerator they use in the serum to make the mod take effect in hours instead of years does its work really effectively, but it’s visually horrible to watch. Again, though, this change wasn’t all that big, it was just repairs, so in two hours Kai looked like a normal little boy again. And in four he woke up, opened his eyes, and screamed.
Because he could see. The doctor almost couldn’t pry Kai and his uncle apart enough to examine him, but he confirmed that everything seemed to be back to normal; his scent said he’d just seen a miracle. And then Kai saw Dr. Sing and squealed in delight, which made Dr. Sing laugh, which made him look even more like an animated teddy bear. Personally I think he’s milking it, but I may just be thinking that because I’m used to Danny trying really hard not to.
I reflected as we walked them back down to the dock that an eight-year-old’s squeal of delight is a pretty good way to kick of the beginning of a whole new world. That, and the possibility of a Chinese science ministry full of red panda people.
Two days later we saw Joey off at the airport – Danny is always on the ball when it comes to knowing when Joey needs to go home to his wife instead of home to the lab, even when Joey doesn’t – and then we went back to the other end of the terminal where our plane was waiting. Erik and Gill and Sylvi weren’t there yet, but our pilot was so we went ahead and got on board.
I waited until Danny got himself situated, then made a show of wiping the glitter off my hand and let my scent ask the question for me. He shrugged. “Dave double-checked the chemistry and confirmed that it can’t be considered a controlled substance – yet, anyway. It’s not addictive, and no real side effects except for a kind of fruity taste at the back of my throat. Well, that and having to comb the glitter out of my fur.”
So he was using it topically, good; I remembered Dr. Sing saying it was more potent when taken orally, so Danny obviously wasn’t needing a whole lot. “How long?”
“Just until we get home. I only have enough for that, the rest is Dave’s sample, and it’s sealed.” He sighed and met my eyes. “Wu had a long talk with me. Humans learn to ‘manage’ stress by holding it in, trying to control it, but other animals aren’t built for that. If Wu hadn’t been there when…the news came in, trying to handle it the way I normally would have could have hurt me. I’m going to have to…change my approach to handling stress.”
“Okay, now we know.” I let him smell my casual acceptance of that, because I knew he needed to know that I didn’t see it as a big deal – Danny doesn’t like to inconvenience people, or to show a weakness someone else might try to exploit. “We’ll need to get some guidelines written down to add to your file ASAP, just so everyone is on the same page. What about Joey? I got the glitter off his jacket before he could see it, so unless somewhere during his flight he puts two and two together to get sixteen someone is going to have to tell him.”
Danny shrugged. “When he comes home to the lab, we’ll talk to him. I already told Dave and Pete to wait on that, he’s…he’s dealing with enough right now.” His nose twitched, so did his ears. “You and Erik are sure?”
“Yeah. You didn’t lie to him, Danny – they don’t dare piss you off.”
He snorted, and some grief and anger managed to pierce the soft, fruity overlay Dr. Sing’s pixie dust sedative gives to his scent. “I wish they would have remembered that earlier. Do you think they apologized because they…”
“No, I don’t think they killed him.” I’d known he was going to wonder, of course. “I think it was probably an accident, just like they said it was – he got lost, they couldn’t find him, and then someone jumped to the conclusion that he’d been running off to meet his boyfriend. The Russian government doesn’t think much of gay people, Danny, you know that. Ivor had been getting a pass because of his position, and because he was a big, masculine-looking guy who kept his orientation to himself most of the time…but he wasn’t working with his usual security team in Siberia, and the guys up there were the ones who decided he must have gone prancing off into the sunset.”
He choked on that one, not able to stop himself from laughing, which was what I’d intended – the mental image of someone like Ivor Markovic ‘prancing’ is more than worthy of a laugh. And now I knew I’d gotten my point across: The people who’d made that bad-judgment call had not known Ivor, or Danny for that matter, and that was why the situation had played out the way it had. I was a bit concerned about how much involvement Dr. Lytkin might have had in what had gone on, but that was a conversation I needed to have with Mike and Erik and possibly Agent Ben before we said anything to Danny and the guys. More ‘guessing’ was definitely not what this situation needed.
Danny got more relaxed after that, and within half an hour of us taking off he was asleep. “They’re not going to tell Joey about the pixie dust until he gets back to the lab,” I told Erik. “I guess Dr. Sing wasn’t too happy that Danny didn’t already know how to manage his stress appropriately.”
“Oh, he found an opportunity to convey that to me.” Erik took a drink of his beer. “His exact words were: If you want to keep using him to save the world, you need to take better care of him.” He rolled his eyes. “Like any of us knew how to do that, even Danny was just guessing.”
“Tell me about it.” Technically under our partnership agreement with GenoMod I’m here as a member of the team, not just as a bodyguard, but I still consider myself on duty so no beer for me. I got myself a soda and took the chair across from him; Sylvi and Gill were already asleep, just like Danny. “He’s got enough with him for the trip, but if anything goes wrong we also have the sealed sample Dr. Sing sent for Dave.”
“Hopefully nothing else will go wrong.” He sighed. “Enough has gone wrong already, I think.”
I took a drink of my soda. We had gotten to see some things go right this trip – I mean, Dr. Lee wasn’t able to create a rabies bush, Dr. Akker didn’t kill him for trying, and I’d gotten to see the science we’re usually cleaning up after give a little boy his life back. But I still knew what he meant. “Yeah, I think so too.”