The case of Roberta CainDisclaimer: none of the characters are mine, but belong to SyFy™.
Once upon a fine morning, Dr. Nathan Stark, the CEO of the Global Dynamics, woke up feeling slightly more bored than usual.
"This is curious," he thought, musingly. "I have woken up feeling more bored than usual. What could that mean?"
A quick glance at his calendar (that was hanging on the wall – one of Nathan's less admitted hobby was his calendar collection) revealed the cause of the boredom increase: today was one of Nathan's 'be nice to little people' days.
"Ah! These are always fun! I haven't had to act magnanimous for a while," Nathan cheerfully told his reflection. "Let's go and be nice to the first character I shall meet today!"
Across town, Sheriff Carter also woke up, but he felt anything but bored at that time.
"Warning! Warning! Unidentified biomaterial located in the water supply! Warning! Warning!" SARAH's alarm-system voice resonated throughout the house.
"SARAH, I am awake, I am all right, what is going on?" Carter asked hurriedly, as he jumped off his bed.
"Oh, good morning sheriff, sorry about waking you up," SARAH switched back to her regular voice. "Some unidentified biomaterial was located in my water supply and you have to go and report it to Dr. Cain at Global Dynamics."
Carter glanced at his watch: it was quarter to nine in the morning. "Can't you just fax or e-mail him or something?" he said crossly.
"No," SARAH replied matter-of-factly as even as her fax printed some sort of a report for the doctor in question. "Sorry about that sheriff. Do you want a bagel and a coffee for your breakfast?"
"How about a sausage instead?" Carter eyed one of SARAH's supposed video cameras.
"This would take 15 to 20 minutes, a time period that is inadvisable to waste in such a situation. Off you go, then!"
SARAH's voice really brooked no argument, Carter thought several moments as he drove to the Global Dynamics' office building. He really had to talk to Fargo about her personality one of those days.
"Ah, Stark," Carter muttered crossly about twenty minutes later, "have you seen Alyson around? I want to talk to her."
"I am afraid not, my fine fellow," Nathan Stark replied politely, causing Carter's eyebrows to go for his scalp. "Allison is unavailable this morning, so can I be of any assistance?"
Carter blinked and stared at Nathan, who just stared beatifically back at him. "O-kay, normally I'd be freaked and take you to the medical wing or something," Carter finally said, "but right now I suspect that I may already know the reason why. Care to look at this and tell me where I can find this Dr. Cain fellow as well?"
"Hmm," Stark stared at the print-out in a manner that was much more regular to him. "I haven't seen one of these in, well, ever! And it's Dr. Roberta Cain – she was my predecessor as the head of the Global Dynamics: a very remarkable woman, so you will have to treat with respect, got it?"
"Fine, fine," Carter muttered back, "just tell me the address, or does Jo know it?"
"Nonsense!" Stark replied thoughtfully. "I haven't seen Dr. Cain since, well, she has passed on her duties to me. It will be an honour and an experience for both of us to talk to her about this. I'm coming with you."
"Joy," Carter muttered crossly and was "rewarded" by Stark grinning back at him. Today just wasn't shaping to be a good day for Sheriff Carter.
After a tense ride in Jack's car, during which Nathan hummed something really out of tune, and Jack wondered if he wasn't better off by letting Nathan drive his car and him walking alongside it instead.
But then they arrived at Dr. Cain's house, and immediately the situation has changed. "Something is wrong here," both men muttered at the same time, before taking a double-take.
After some confused blinking and mutual, silent staring, Carter indicated that Stark should go first. "Roberta was a very neat, very orderly person," the other man replied, clearly picking his words carefully. "Certainly she was specializing in biology so it's possible that her front lawn is an experiment in some sort, but I seriously doubt that she would allow it to get so unchecked."
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Jack nodded in reply, before exiting the car and starting to quietly approach the front door: there were windows in front of the house, but the shades were drawn in front of them, and he couldn't see any movement behind them.
He could, however, detect movement behind him. "Stark," he growled quietly, "this can be a crime scene. Call Jo for back-up and stay back!"
"No," the answer was clearly final, Carter could hear it without turning around. "Roberta was my predecessor, if there is something wrong with her, I must know in any case, so I am starting from the start, pardon my tautology."
"Fine, but stay behind me," Carter didn't want to get into an argument at such a moment in any case. (Plus he suspected that he just might lose it this time.)
Slowly and cautiously the two men approached the front door. "Dr. Cain?" Carter knocked on the front door.
A somewhat dry-sounding and metallic creak was his only reply.
"I don't like this," Stark muttered crossly and pressed a sequence of buttons on Dr. Cain's electronic lock. There was a crackling of static and short, sharp burst of electric sparks, and the door almost fell off its hinges.
"That's even worse," Carter muttered, as he and Stark looked inside and so the desolation that lay within, covered by around two inches of dust alone. "Stark, I don't think that Dr. Cain has been at her home in quite a while."
"Really? But do you think she's still alive?" Henry Deacon answered instead.
There was a short pause during which Star and Carter stared at Deacon. "Henry. Where did you come from? We didn't hear your car arrive-"
"Actually, I've been up since six in the morning," Henry confessed, a bit sheepishly. "I've been working on this anti-gravitational device and have finally succeeded on a working prototype. I've intended to fly to GD's offices and show it off to Nathan personally; when I saw the two of you drive up to here instead. So, is Roberta still alive, Jack?"
"Well, I can tell you that she was alive when she left her home," Carter replied thoughtfully. "If her remains were here, there would be signs. That's my area of expertise, sort of. So, when did you last see her, Henry?"
"What makes you think that Henry had talked to her? Dr. Cain was a rather introvert person, I confess?" Nathan asked, curiously and almost without sarcasm.
"That," Carter pointed to a small, vaguely humanoid robot standing on one of the shelves. "Stark told me earlier that she's a biologist, so she probably had some help with robots, and you're probably the best robotics expert in Eureka."
"No, Jack, wait!" Henry's warning came too late: Carter reached to take the robot off the shelf. Immediately, the tiny machine came to life and spat a small stream of acidic liquid at the sheriff. Its aim was slightly off, however, from all that dust that lay on its face, and so the liquid hit Henry's anti-gravitational machine.
"Crap," muttered Henry, as he began to hurriedly strip off his device. "It's going to blow-"
Nathan and Jack, working together for once, literally tore Henry device off of him and dragged him away. "What are you doing?" Henry asked before a veritable swarm of tiny machines – some humanoid, others shaped more like wingless beetles – practically swarmed his device... just before the acidic spit of the initial robot finally came in contact with the anti-grav's fuel and the whole thing exploded.
As the flames bathed the front doorway of Roberta Cain's house, Jo Lupo finally arrived in her own car. "So what did I miss?" she asked Jack.
Jack just spat out a mouthful of dirt and grass. "Can you just go and get Dr. Cain's laptop?" he replied instead.
It was a couple of hours later. Henry, still feeling down about losing his latest invention in less than six hours after its' completion, took over the examination of Dr. Cain's laptop files, with Jo keeping him company, while Allison took over checking Jack and Nathan for injuries.
Really, it was a very nice state of affairs, except for the small, almost chips-like pills that Allison was taking every once in a while. Clearly, it was a medication of some sort, but since this was Eureka, the odds that this medication wasn't what it looked like were pretty great.
Stark, for once, seemed to be thinking on the same wave length as Carter was. "Allison, these pills – they are not something made by Brandon and Deacon, are they?"
"Yes, they are!" Allison snapped, even though before she behaved rather mellow, even for Allison. "Want to make something of it?"
"Considering that they're like Fargo, only with medical degrees, as opposed to Fargo's-" Stark didn't finish: Allison grabbed him by the collar and looked him in the eye.
"Now listen, Nathan," she growled. "I know that Cross and Micklethwaite are not the best people around here, but they are medical prodigies, and if their pills help me pass this time of the month without ripping somebody's head off, then Einstein so help me, take them I will!" She half-turned and looked Jack straight in the eye. "And that goes straight for you too, sheriff!"
"Hey, Allison, can I borrow these two for a while if you're done with them?" Jo's appearance was most timely, Carter even suspected that his deputy had purposefully timed it for a better effect, but kept this thought to himself, since right now Allison was clearly in no mood for any masculine speech.
"Yes!" Allison snapped. "They're fine!"
"Great!" Jo said cheerfully, grabbed both men by their arms and dragged them to apparent safety.
"I don't know which one of your geniuses has set Allison off, but," Jo said in the corridor, when they were away from Allison's eyes and ears, "stop it. Yes, Brandon and Deacon aren't the most reliable people and there's always a glitch or two to hammer out, but this is the most mellow anyone has ever seen Allison, especially at this time of the month. Please play along. In a day or two everything will be back to normal, and we will resolve whatever crisis their pills have wreaked on Allison with minimum problems."
"Fine," Jack admitted, unwilling to add yet another problem to his growing list of them for this day. "Now did you come just to rescue us, or do you have any news about where Dr. Cain may be?"
"Both, actually," Jo replied cheerfully. "Dr. Cain, apparently, has erected a personal field lab in the north-west suburbs of Eureka, and has gone there as well. She may be there ever since."
"Good!" Stark said suddenly. "Then she may be just fine, only too deeply involved in her work to notice the passing of time!"
Jack and Jo just stopped. "You're really worried about her," Carter stated.
"Yes," Stark admitted after a very brief internal struggle. "She's the one who made the deciding vote that made me the CEO, you know? She has influenced my life a fair bit. The least I could do is to ensure that she's fine."
"Yes, well, shouldn't you have done it before I got my message about biomaterial from SARAH?" Jack couldn't help but ask.
"I did – who do you think made those initial robots for her? Henry? Henry makes most of the machines, but robots are my thing," Stark said flatly. "Seriously, you don't get to be the butt of so many Iron Man jokes without learning a thing or two about robotics in the process."
"Really? Fancy that," muttered Carter, who himself may have made a joke about the whole 'Iron Man' thing in the past. "Anyways, look, thank you for the entire 'playing nice for a day' thing, but I and Jo will take it from here."
"Nonsense!" Nathan replied cheerfully. "In case you haven't noticed, I may have a lot of making-up to do, and today seems to be the perfect day just to do that! I'm coming with you. Why, let's take my car that I have built for just such an event – it is designed exactly for three people!"
Carter exchanged a look with Lupo. "Thanks but no thanks," Lupo said quickly, seeing that Carter looked like he would rather go by foot than ride anywhere else with Stark for today. "Tell you what: why don't we arrive there first and do our thing with Dr. Cain, and then you can arrive and impress her, and appease her, and do whatever you will plan to do. Henry got her location and all, so there shouldn't be any problems catching up to us."
"Humph. You don't know what you're missing," Nathan said, sniffing. "When you'll see my car you'll beg for a ride in it, I'm sure! Well, see you soon!"
"Let's go," Carter stated matter-of-factly to Jo. "I've had all I could handle of Stark for today. If we run into him at Dr. Cain's, I just may do something really, really stupid."
"Noted," Jo said thoughtfully. "Let's roll!"
As they approached the location of Dr. Cain's field lab, Carter's spirits sank even further. The woodlands around Eureka were usually well-managed, whether on purpose or accidentally. Here, though, none of signs of this management was evident. "Not good," he muttered to Jo as they have abandoned their cars by the roadside and began to approach to the field lab's theoretical location on foot. "This is the same state of desolation that was at Dr. Cain's house. Just how old she was, again?"
Jo gulped. Despite all of the mishaps, Eureka was relatively death-accident free, and with Jack becoming the city's sheriff the numbers of work-related accidents and the like went even down. It's been a long while since Jo had to deal with a dead body and she would rather not do it again anytime soon. "Look," she said almost desperately, "maybe everything will work out fine, you know? She is a master biologist, maybe this is her way of feeling homey, and-"
"Jo," Carter said softly, "you're babbling."
It was then that a huge wad of something resembling spider silk almost hit him. "What the-?" Jack exclaimed, as he and Jo has leapt for cover. "What is that thing?"
'That thing' was shaped like a human, but was naked, covered in thick and short grey fur, and had a fanged mouth stuck in a face of a deranged lemur. Thick strands of web-like sticky saliva dropped from its mouth.
"That's new and unexpected," Carter muttered, as the creature effortlessly leapt over a twenty foot distance from one tree to another, apparently possessing some sort of a gliding pataglia as well. "I think that I don't like biology all that much."
The creature prepared to leap again, when a great robotic arm, attached to an even greater robotic battle-suit that was piloted by Nathan Stark caught it effortlessly in mid-leap.
"Now what have we here?" he spoke grandly.
"Nathan, careful, it spits webbing!" Jo called out even as the creature did just that.
"Gross!" All of eloquence had left Nathan for once. He swung his arm, his suit's arm did just that, and the creature flung across the clearing into a tree, already covered with the creature's webbing that connected it with several other trees in the woodland.
The creature fell down the web-wrapped trunk with a thump. The tree trunk itself followed suit, breaking into sawdust in the process. This revealed a clearing in the web-connected trees, revealing a clearing containing several web-wrapped, mummified corpses, and one of them was definitely human.
"Merde!" The shock caused Carter even to remember his French. "Stark? Please feel free to beat the crap out of me if I'm wrong, but I think that we have found Roberta Cain."
The mood was more than a bit subdued when the clean-up crew, led by Henry, arrived at the scene and relieved the mismatched trio from the scene.
"How?" Stark was speaking morosely to no one in particular, "how could such a brilliant woman have ended-up in such a, such a way?"
"I don't know," Jack admitted, "but I'm thinking Dr. Frankenstein here. Come on, a brilliant scientist that has created artificial life? I'm thinking that Dr. Cain might've been thinking along the same lines here."
Stark didn't reply, so Carter decided to try again, against his better judgement. "So, you built that battle-suit to impress her, hah? I'm sure that she would've been very proud – that suit was the coolest thing me and Jo have seen in this town, and we have seen a lot."
"I like working with robotics. I had a career before I took over from Roberta," Stark said acidly. "You should see my replica Gatling gun some time. I have built it a long time ago, when I thought that I should go into politics and become the next president of the US. After all, if Roosevelt was able to do it, why not I?"
"...Okay," Carter decided not to follow Stark's logic at the moment. "I see that we're not functioning at the same brainwave length here or whatever. "Fair enough. I'll just go and talk to Henry to see what I should do with SARAH and her water contamination alarm from this morning, shall I?"
"The water purification plant of Eureka's is actually not too far from here," Stark suddenly said. "Might as well show it to you and your deputy before you need rescuing, once again."
"If you say so," Carter decided against raising an argument, glancing once more at Stark's battle-suit that by now had transformed itself into a van – a very long one, but a van nonetheless. "Lead on, if you care to."
The head scientist of Eureka's water purification plant was one Joseph Sherman, and as soon as Stark saw him, he realized that his day was about to get worse.
"Mr Stark!" Joseph Sherman gushed. "What for do we owe your visit on this fine day?"
Instinctively, everyone present looked at the sky: it was rather overcast, and today's weather prognosis did promise a thunderstorm in the evening.
"Uh, SARAH informed me that there was unidentified biomaterial in the water," Carter replied instead, "so here we are to make an official enquiry at your place – here."
"Nonsense! Our water purification system is fine! Why, Dr. Roberta Cain has designed it herself, I have you know!" Dr. Sherman said indignantly. That proved to be a miscalculation, as Stark glared at him very, very meanly.
"We know, Dr. Sherman," he said in his most argumentative voice. "We are fully aware that Dr. Cain has participated in establishing your system. However, Dr. Cain has- has passed away some time ago, and the system's check is now your primary responsibility, so can you please do it now to discovery why Dr. Fargo's Habitat is reacting the way it does?"
Unlike Carter, Dr. Sherman lacked any qualities to stand-up to Nathan Stark when the latter was on a warpath, so he wordlessly complied instead.
"This is our control center," he explained (primarily to Carter) some time later. "Here we monitor the entire Eureka water system. Here are the current images of the mini-cameras located in the branch that supplies water to your quarter..."
Dr. Sherman pressed the button. Immediately, his face fell and the eyes of the others' goggled, since the mini-cameras' screens produced either utter static or the images of some sort of bluish-grey ooze before breaking down into static as well.
"Oh dear," Dr. Sherman pulled out a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his pocket. "A part of Dr. Cain's water purification system has appeared to have gone rogue. That's- that's not good."
"You think?" Carter grimaced, looking in Stark's direction.
But the other man was gone.
Today was shaping up to be very lousy, to put it lightly, Nathan Stark thought as he walked up to his vehicle to go to back to the GD HQ. First the incident with Roberta Cain, and now Joseph Sherman. Out of the various scientist types that inhabited Eureka, Joseph Sherman was definitely the more bureaucratic type, the kind that would rather do the paperwork for the others rather than invent anything by himself. To have him associated with Dr. Cain was the last thing that Stark currently wanted.
His cell phone rang. "What?" he all but snarled into it.
"Uh, Dr. Stark," it was Jo Lupo rather than Carter. "Apparently, a part of Dr. Cain's water purification system has gone rogue. According to Dr. Sheridan, it is highly caustic. Where can we find several gallons of acid to neutralize it?"
Stark froze. "Acid? Get me Sherman – I think I might have enough acid for a short-hand solution at least."
It was a strange gathering that had assembled around one of Eureka's water pipes. They were wielded shut, but because this was Eureka, Henry was able to cut-out a hole in it with a minimum fuss. In fact, even less than that, because there was something pressuring the pipeline from within, and as the cut-off piece of the piping flew away into the air, the people could see what it was – a very aggressive, very violent, clearly animated and active bluish-grey and highly caustic ooze.
"Dr. Cain," Joseph Sherman explained even though it was rather pointless at this moment in time, "has created a sort of a primeval slime to keep our water pipes clean: it's nanotechnology and biochemistry rather than pure biology, and-"
"Where the acid needs to be applied?" Carter rudely interrupted Dr. Sherman's litany.
"Uh, anywhere, really," the man flustered. "It's a single organism, a biomechanical one, one that generates a highly caustic liquid that is neutralized by acid-"
Bam! Bam! Two missiles, loaded with pressurized acid gas hit the emerging ooze, exploding on impact. The acid contacted and reacted to the ooze's caustics and neutralized it, causing the ooze to explode in a shower of harmless goo.
"A fitting end for this day, don't you think?" Jack muttered to his deputy as they wiped the remnants of the neutralized pipe cleaner off their faces.
Jo just nodded in agreement.
It was some time later. Nathan was writing-up the report about the pipe-cleaner incident. Really, he would've happily relegated it to anyone else, like Allison, but she had to go home early: apparently the hidden catch in the latest medical invention of Brandon and Deacon has caught up with her at last.
Sadly, not even the realization that he was right once more, and Allison was not failed to cheer Nathan up: he just couldn't help to mentally correlate the elegant Dr. Roberta Cain when he had last saw her with the corpse that he had briefly seen in the woods today. This sort of transformation somehow appeared very wrong.
"Well, I got news, Nathan," sheriff Carter was able to tone down his usual aggression when talking to Stark. "Dr. Cain did die of old age, actually, she had medicine to take care of it – not designed by Micklethwaite and Cross, by the way – but forgot to take it in all of the excitement of her latest breakthrough." He took a look at Stark. "Not good news?"
"Not really," Stark admitted. "This is wrong. She was a remarkable woman and didn't deserve to die like this. If only I-"
"Yeah, you should've come back to down to earth every once in a while to check up on her at least," Carter agreed easily. "That said, so should have a lot of other people, probably including that Sherman family, for example. You, at least, can feel remorse and understand what you've done."
"You know I may not be your superior, but I can chastise you," Stark glared. "I did save your life, remember?"
"Yes, and thank you for that," Carter nodded seriously. "You want to get with me, Jo and Henry after work and have a private wake for Dr. Cain. Henry feels that the state-funded funeral of Dr. Cain will not be something you will currently enjoy."
"And what does Allison think?" Stark asked curiously: usually Allison did try to keep Stark and the sheriff apart.
"Allison thinks that if she gets her hands on Micklethwaite and Cross, she'll kill them. The fellows have called me already and asked if I couldn't lock them up for their safety instead."
"Don't," Stark snorted despite himself. "A bit of fear will do them good." He paused. "You plan to go to Coffee Diem, are you not?"
"Probably the best place," Carter nodded back seriously. "So, are you in?"
Stark measured the options. On one hand, he really didn't want to be around Sheriff Carter and his crew, on the other – go home and get drunk wasn't particularly appealing either. "Fine, since today is my 'be nice to little people' day, I'm in."
"You're all heart, Stark," Carter only chuckled.