Cassie agreed to help Rochelle mind the clinic while Doc set up the laptop in the conference suite. He was in there all morning with the twins and at noon Cassie and Julilla took them some lunch. They found the table littered with reference books and scribbled notes, but from the look of frustration on Doc’s face, it was clear that not much progress had been made.
Doc accepted a bowl from Cassie and peered into it with distaste. “Don’t tell me this is the best your boyfriend could forage.”
Cassie turned away. “I don’t have a boyfriend.”
While Doc ate, Danica glanced at the offered lunch, then nudged Doc away from the keyboard and peered at the screen. “We’ve established that most of the research was just ordinary stuff Dr. Brody was commissioned to do by his funding agencies,” she said to no one in particular. “But there were a couple of test results he seems to have thought worth pursuing on his own.”
Danny looked over her shoulder. “Tell them about the one where he did all those DNA sequences on rabbits.”
“Why?” Danica stood and stretched. “We don’t know what the results mean. Maybe he figured out why some rabbits have ears that stick up and others don’t.”
“That would be dumb,” Doc said, but the twins ignored him, kissing and fumbling with each others’ buttons. Doc glanced at Cassie. “They’ve been doing this all morning.”
“You should be glad that’s all,” Julilla told him. She turned to the twins. “Are you going to need a room? Because we’ll find you one.”
Danica gave a bemused grin. “Thanks, but we aren’t planning to stay the night.”
“Not with the crap you call food around here,” Danny agreed. He pulled Danica closer and fondled her through the fabric of her skirt. “Besides, we’re good at making the most of whatever space we find ourselves in.”
Danica giggled and pushed him away. “Let’s not take advantage of these people’s hospitality.” She turned back to the computer and leaned across the table to tap a few keys. “It’s weird why he went from doing all that hormone research to this sudden interest in DNA.”
“I agree hormones are much more interesting,” Danny said. He ran his hands up her thighs and ground his hips into her backside. “In fact, if it were me, that’s probably all I’d ever study.”
Julilla motioned to Doc and Cassie and together they left the room. In the hallway, Doc leaned against a wall. “I’m sorry. If I didn’t have the clinic to run, I could probably figure it out. But we don’t have a lot of time if the Pharms and Obits are after the same information. I guess we’ll have to get May.”
“That’s not something to be ashamed of,” Julilla told him.
“You already did a lot,” Cassie added. “You narrowed it down so she’ll be able to get the answer faster.”
Doc gestured toward the conference room door. “How long do you think those two are going to go at it?”
“Long enough to visit our latest food poisoning case,” Cassie said. “Let’s go to the clinic.”
“And I’ll get a couple guards and see if May is available for the afternoon,” Julilla said. “With any luck we’ll have this figured out by supper time.”
* * *
Cassie tapped on the door to the conference suite. A guard let her in and she stood a moment while her eyes adjusted to the gloom. May sat at the table, her skin lit with a bluish cast from the computer screen while Doc sat beside her, the light flashing off his glasses. They didn’t look up at Cassie’s entrance, too busy talking about telomeres.
“You going to eat here or in the dining room?” Cassie asked.
“We’re finally getting somewhere,” Doc said.
May murmured agreement.
Cassie took their answer as a request that food be brought in. “Where are the twins?”
May gestured toward the window.
Cassie made out two dark forms intertwined on the sofa. “Are they asleep or having sex again?”
“Done with sex,” Doc said in disgust. “Now they’re sleeping it off.”
“Good show, though,” said one of the guards. “Even if they did leave most of their clothes on.”
“Very distracting,” May said, with a level of absorption in her work that suggested she wasn’t distracted by much. “Look here.” She tapped the screen and Doc leaned closer. “Eighty-two percent of the population sample demonstrated a causal relation between increased rgHGH levels and reduced expression of the telomeres in the presence of the viral agent.” She sat back with a pleased smile. “That’s one hell of a correlation.”
Doc agreed. “But would the results scale to a larger sample size? Or to human subjects?”
“That’s the million dollar question. Or million mitochondria. Take your pick.”
“But what does it all mean?” Cassie said. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“If you think we’re saying human growth hormone might slow down the Telo, you’re right,” May said.
Cassie considered the implications. “So you’re saying if we could get our hands on some growth hormone, we might not get Telo?”
“Not exactly,” Doc said. “You’re already infected. You’d live longer than you would’ve otherwise, though.”
“How much longer?”
“Hard to say. Research indicates a few extra weeks with rats, months with rabbits. In humans, it could be a year or two, if the effect is similar.”
“Seems like a lot of trouble to go to, if you’re still going to die before you’re halfway through your twenties. I mean, you still have to make the stuff, right?”
May shook her head. “It’s no longer possible. Can’t get the items one needs and no electricity to run the equipment.”
Cassie slumped into a chair. “Well, I guess that’s it then, right? Totally useless.”
“Not totally,” Doc said. “It just means one would have to acquire the real thing instead of making it in a lab.”
“And how does one do that?”
With a cynical lift of an eyebrow, May said, “You harvest it. From the dead, before they start to rot.”
Suddenly the mission of the Obits became clear. “And if there are no newly dead…” She couldn’t say the words.
May finished for her. “You make your own.”