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Science and Magic Don't Mix

#1
Doug Offline
Ezra

Sixty attendees with over one-hundred advanced degrees between them. Each person wore a red and white nametag filled in with black sharpie spared the need for formal introductions and allowed them to launch into their credentials if asked.
 
“Hello, my name is Dr. Douglas Stevens” adorned the space above his heart, just below his breast pocket where the cap of an expensive pen peeked out from the top.
 
Some might consider it pretentious to add the “Dr.” in such auspicious company. Everyone possessed at least one, the minimum credential to be taken seriously in their field, which allowed the formal address to fade into the background, generally dropped in favor of familiarity among equals. For Doug, this was less boasting or adherence to hierarchy and instead simple pride. He had worked hard to earn his title, and while he didn’t expect anyone to address him as “Dr. Stevens” at a cocktail hour (as opposed to when fielding questions after presenting a paper), he wore it with the pride of a Kennedy throwing around their family pedigree.
 
The first in his family to go to college, and look where it had taken him.
 
Syracuse, New York. Home of the Carrier Air Conditioner factory, a university known better for its sports teams than its academic reputation (as well as the building on which Charles Addams based the house for his titular comic strip family), and the most obnoxious traffic circle known to mankind.
 
No, that was uncharitable. True, the small city lacked most of the cultural, architectural, and historical cache of Chicago, but the weather was familiar – a chill in the air that began in September and continued through May, punctuated with blizzards and wind storms – and his job had treated him kindly.
 
They were, after all, footing the tab for this conference, including the coffee that kept him awake and the liquor to motivate him socially for the evening.
 
Doug sauntered up to the bar, weaving through dozens of men and women with their similar nametags and manner of dress, many bespectacled (although surely requiring weaker prescriptions than him; bifocals at his age…) while a fortunate few retained keen enough vision to escape, or simply preferred contact lenses for comfort or effect. Making eye contact with the bartender, he pulled out the laboratory credit card and handed it over while requesting, “A rum and coke, top shelf.”
 
Three minutes later, his drink in hand, he cast about for an empty table. Spying one near the corner, he crossed the room – narrowly avoiding a collision with an older woman – to claim it for himself and to celebrate his victory with a deep sip of fermented molasses and sugary cola.
Witch

Played by: Dane

Age: 33

Species: Witch

Power: Magical Detection and Augmentation

Posts: 12
#2
Ezra Offline
It was almost impossible to decipher the thick-tipped sharpie scrawl marring the stately expanse of Dr. Ezra Halabi’s nametag.
 
Hello, my name is…
 
Ah, who the hell cared? Certainly not the bartender – who, at that point, had taken on a distinctly glazed expression. Understandable, given that Ezra had been standing mutely before him for the better part of the past ten minutes. He just wanted a damn order, a straightforward cocktail. And a tip. They always wanted a tip – extra payment for a job they should be doing well anyway…
 
“Whiskey, neat.”
 
Leaning heavily against the bar, Ezra drummed an unnervingly arrhythmic beat atop the cold granite. His head was throbbing, he felt jumpy, and it was growing increasingly difficult to mask the fine sheen of perspiration glistening at his temples. In a broader sense, it was a miracle he’d lasted throughout the six hours of panels, keynote speakers, presentations, and poster exhibitions, and still managed to be (somewhat) steady on his feet.
 
Six fucking hours.
 
Ezra could hardly remember the focus of this year’s conference. It was something to do with epigenetics and chromatin regulation or remodeling or…whatever. Probably. He’d mentally tapped out before even arriving at the damn thing – painfully evidenced by his complete surprise and bewilderment when the company car arrived outside his front door to chauffeur.  
 
At least it was over. Sort of. He was certain Carmine wouldn’t give a shit if he dipped out early, missing a majority of the annual nerd-fest tea party. One drink, then he’d slither out. One drink, and maybe he wouldn’t puke on the ride home. Claiming the whiskey in exchange for a handful of bills, Ezra pushed away from the bar and looked for a corner or something to brood in.
 
“Jesus,” he breathed, dropping down into one of the few remaining seats. The table wasn’t exactly empty, but its sole patron made for a preferential choice – especially as the surrounding spots and floor spaces were filled with the distinct frenzy of too many lab rats, rats with too many fucking letters in their names, plucked from their aseptic, basement burrows and made to speak face-to-face.
 
This guy – Dr. Douglas Stevens, according to his prim sticker – looked okay.
 
Ezra watched him for a moment, nursing his cocktail with a hell of a lot more TLC than he showed most breathing things. He nodded stiffly at Dr. Douglas’ shirt pocket.
 
“Your pen,” Ezra barked by way of greeting. “Can I borrow it?”


Doug
Human (Carmine)

Played by: Meg

Age: 34

Species: Human

Power: N/A

Posts: 26
#3
Doug Offline
Ezra

Christ’s given name belted by an unfamiliar voice startled Doug from the depths of his imagination where he retreated in large groups unless retrieved by some matter or another. A conflagration engulfing the room, a song he enjoyed on the stereo system, an empty glass, or, in this case, a stranger’s sudden uninvited presence.

His sixth sense lay dormant, alerting Doug right off that his incidental companion was as human as his own father. Absent the deluge of information his power provided, Doug instead relied on his five normative senses and his observation skills to fill the gaps.

Tearing his eyes from the scuffed spot on the wall that had captured his attention, his curiosity piqued by a more interesting target, his gaze swept over the other man and settled on his nametag.

The smudged chicken scratch would win no penmanship awards, but Doug recognized an “E”. That narrowed the options to some three hundred names stretched across just as many languages. Curious blue eyes (he had never quite mastered the disaffected look – his interest burned too brightly to smother for the upper-hand moved to Dr. E-Something Something’s face. They were in the same ballpark, possibly shared a birthday; more than enough scientists occupied the room for that statistical party trick to apply. Not too young; not too old – mid-thirties: the first benchmark of mediocrity within the scientific world. In one’s teens and twenties, one donned the mantle of the wunderkind, and in one’s late-forties and onward, one evolved into an elder statesman of sorts. But the thirties dragged on interminably, one foot trapped in each world, straddled between both with a claim to neither.

What was it about conferences that left him vulnerable to such maudlin musings?

A quick sniff of the air under the guise of clearing his sinuses filled his nostrils with the woody aroma of straight whiskey. Dr. E-Something Something possessed a stronger constitution or less sensitive taste buds than Doug to choose that for his (presumably) first drink of the evening.

The world would never realize, and thus never express proper gratitude for, the bullet dodged when Doug manifested his particular witch power rather than telepathy. Sparing the world the invasion of privacy and, in this particular moment, shielding both men from an awkward moment where Doug might dissolve into laughter at being deemed worthy through such faint praise. And yet, preferential choice and okay numbered among the more charitable personal descriptors applied to him over the years – outside of his work, his hobbies, or his potential.

Or his pen.

Two months ago, Doug wouldn’t hesitate to slip his hand into his pocket and share the implement with another person. Two months ago, the veil remained firmly in place, clouding the minds of the human majority to render his curious forgettable. Without the veil, circumstances forced Doug to make a series of calculations regarding everything he carried on his person. Was this the enchanted pen whose magic ensured the writer would never forget a single word committed to paper with its ink? Or was this the identical pen – presented upon completion of his dissertation – which remained inert and served only to record information and contribute a half-notch to his middle class disguise?

Truly, he should stop carrying the enchanted pen with him outside of the house, but, a creature of habit, more than a month needed to pass before ingrained behavior could erode, replaced by a better adaptation.

The fingers of his left hand touched his pocket, grazing the top of the pen. He felt nothing behind the thin cylindrical contours and the smooth casing – not the pulsating warmth of magic.

Crisis averted.

“You can.” Two fingers enclosed around the pen, tugging it from his pocket; he held it across the table towards Dr. E-Something Something, his thumb obscuring the University of Chicago logo engraved alongside.

“What lab are you with?” He might as well make an effort to be social. They were tethered together at least as long as the other man had custody of Doug’s pen.
Witch

Played by: Dane

Age: 33

Species: Witch

Power: Magical Detection and Augmentation

Posts: 12
#4
Ezra Offline
"Great," Ezra muttered flatly, accepting the forced offering. His gaze swept briefly over the subtle maroon crest. "Cre scat scientia; rita excolator."

Rah-rah, go Maroons, or whatever the fuck those who attended University of Chicago referred to themselves as. Phoenixs, possibly, or whatever. Tipping back onto the hindmost legs of his chair, Ezra began a twitchy show of baton-twirling. The glossy pen flew through the fingers, rolled around the knuckles, spiraled up in the air, landed with a shaky catch…  

Dr. Stephens had travelled quite the distance from his alma mater, though surely not in the name of… Ezra's gaze flitted around the room before landing squarely on a welcome banner hung overhead: Syracuse University. Wonderful, what a host. Yeah, he had his doubts about the the conference being worth the cross-country excursion. Didn’t the west coast have its own shit? 

Elbows back on the table, Ezra set about his dissection. Cap off, spring unloaded. Inkwell out. Liquid black splattered across the white tablecloth, bleeding out generously and widening into a spiderwebbed splotch that just kept growing. It didn’t help that Ezra’s hand trembled while he worked to set the inkwell right... Fuck.

Another long drink of whiskey, then he went about piecing the pen back together. 

People were everywhere: overwhelmed antisocials lingered in the hallways, attendants manned the bathrooms, event planners scuttled about like ants in the foyer, the valet circle, the ballroom, the back utility rooms… How was it so fucking difficult to get just a bit of blow done? A quiet line, a pinch of powder across the gums...

Not for the first time that evening, Ezra craved the privacy of his lab; the complete isolation and space to do whatever the fuck he wanted, because what the hell did Carmine care as long as he was continued to produce results? And hell, were his results spectacular while he was bumping... Thoughts going a mile a second, endless energy, endless drive. Didn't need to stop to eat, to piss, to sleep...

Dusted fingers flew faster over computer keys, and a powdered nose was better for sniffing out causation and correlation--

--what?

What lab?

Douglas’ socially-polite inquiry was enough to momentarily interrupt Ezra's snow-sprinkled cravings. 

"Uh, Quest," Ezra coughed, spewing out the first thing that came to mind as he went back to twirling the pen. Thankfully, the Quest Diagnostics promotional poster illuminated across the makeshift bar had caught his eye at just the right moment: bright, legible, laughably common enough to be a forgettable, dependable standard... 

"In their Biochem and Molecular Genetics department. You?”
Human (Carmine)

Played by: Meg

Age: 34

Species: Human

Power: N/A

Posts: 26
#5
Doug Offline
((OOC: I tried to reply via PM but the board said you have it disabled. However, I was excited for the reply, and I look forward to continuing the thread!))

The other man’s utter lack of care with the pen served as a harsh reminder to Doug about why he shouldn’t lend out his possessions to strangers. His years at University, surrounded by those who came from greater means than his modest origins, had taught him that many, if not most, people displayed a careless disregard for others’ belongings, if they could muster even that much consideration.

What did a stranger care about his graduation present, one of the first expensive items that he had owned, bestowed upon him to signify a great achievement from someone who cared about him and, in return, he respected beyond measure?

His neutral expression gave way a frown, his expression turned to stone as the other man unscrewed the pen not to jot down a note but to remove the inkwell. His forehead creased as the black liquid spilled everywhere, coating the tablecloth in what might serve as a perfect representation of his patience and generosity. Long, pale fingers gripped the side of his glass more tightly as he grappled with the impulse to snatch the pen away before Dr. E-something something could make a worse mess or destroy the item entirely.

But that would make a scene, and while he would not have hesitated when the veil stood firm, he was on his own now and had to make better choices. Curb his impulses. Rely on his atrophied sense of diplomacy.

Stare daggers at the item as though he could will it into one piece.

Dr. E-something something’s singular word broke through his own musings, dragging him to the broader world outside of concern for his pen.

Quest.

Doug possessed only passing familiarity with their laboratory, having interviewed there for a round one before accepting his position elsewhere for better benefits and greater independence. Unfamiliar with their current roster, he could not peg this as a lie, writing off the other man’s behavior as the shakes for something more stimulating than straight whiskey, with a touch of introverted disdain for social gatherings.

“Same department, different lab. Alliance.” Somehow his voice remained level, even as his gaze drifted to the mess once more.

Ezra
Witch

Played by: Dane

Age: 33

Species: Witch

Power: Magical Detection and Augmentation

Posts: 12
#6
Ezra Offline
"Same department, different lab," Ezra echoed, a tightly drawn smirk warping his words. Pen pinched between thumb and index finger, he continued to fidget, bouncing the sleek instrument until its steel form melted into something more malleable, more flimsy. 'Look, it's bending,’ he wanted to exclaim, itching to wriggle the pen right underneath Douglas' nose. Cool magic trick, eh?

An au pair had taught him that once. She'd done it with a silver spoon and then pulled a bright, shiny nickel out of his ear. Definitely neat, but those tricks were nothing compared to her greatest show of all: the marvelous disappearing act she'd pulled three months into the job. The drumroll began, the curtain fell, and she had suddenly vanished – along with over seventeen-thousand dollars’ worth of mom's jewelry and the family's classic, limited edition Rolls Royce, right out of the garage. And though it had gone relatively ignored in the wake of the collector car's disappearance, Ezra's piggy bank had been broken open too, all thirty-seven dollars and eighty-six cents gone without a trace…

Ripping off his name tag, Ezra began a lazy series of doodles around its curling edges: a line of jagged mountains, an endless spiral, a house—a tree—perhaps a bicycle. Oh, not a bicycle. Ezra scrawled it out as quickly as it’d appeared, his faintly quivering wrist shining black with ink. It'd been shit anyway.

Same department...

His red-tinged stare flickered to Douglas – pinched frown and all – before settling back down, unperturbed, on his inked creations.

Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. A hot topic, was it not? He supposed labs everywhere wanted a bit of the action – yes, of course. It's where the heat was: the ethical dilemmas, the danger of a (warranted) god complex, the world even lay people wanted a part of when they had no business knowing, understanding… Where their voices meant nothing – not to tried and true scientists. Like himself, and Dr. Douglas Stephens, he supposed.

Gene therapy, CRISPR, RNA interference... Genome editing. Lamarckism, especially their climate. Epigenetics.

Carmine was champing at the bit for Ezra and their gaggle of vitamin-D deficient researchers to turn the field's hottest topics into realities. Their code wasn't quite one of ethics… but perhaps what made it so easy to follow:

What don’t we know?

How can we benefit off of it?

Turning the pen into something of a drumstick, Ezra slumped over the table. Halfway through his whiskey, and his headache and twitchiness had been dulled only slightly.

"Ah, so tell me, Dr. Douglas Stephens: have you bastards over at Alliance figured out the vamps' secret to immortality yet? If so, would me buying you another drink loosen those lips?"
Human (Carmine)

Played by: Meg

Age: 34

Species: Human

Power: N/A

Posts: 26
#7
Doug Offline
Somewhere between sitting stacking faded blocks, edges worn away from drool and frequent use, in his family living room and sitting at this conference with his name tag watching his graduation pen die a painful death of vivisection and ink loss, Doug had happened across Marx and Engels and then fallen down the rabbit hole of Communist, Socialist, and then anarchist, literature and their attendant philosophical underpinnings.
 
There was a certain attraction on his part to the notion, even as he had traveled a more mainstream path - the world certainly comported to many of the tenets outlined in Das Kapital. The wealthy took advantage of existing systemic blind spots to create their wealth, often through exploitation of those less materially comfortable, and then they tilted the system further in their favor to cement those advantages. Doug had witnessed it in his own life with his parents and his time at school, and even now with the laboratory. How often had his father come home in the middle of the night, overalls stained with mud and tar, shirt soaked through with sweat, for whatever pittance he’d earned that day? How many nights had Doug been forced to entertain himself because the hands that should have smoothed back his hair or played with him had been occupied cleaning other people’s houses?
 
And the ability to pay for replacements led to the commodification of everything, and the dehumanization of people. What value could anything have - even someone else’s property, when one believed everything and everyone was for sale.
 
The thought, uncharitable as it was, crossed his mind as his gaze raked over Dr. E-something something who sat there shamelessly stained in ink from the pen on its last gasps. After all, only the wealthy could don insipid nicknames like Mitt and be taken seriously in the political arena. Only the wealthy could spend hundreds of dollars on ripped jeans in a mockery of the poverty to which their lifestyle consigned millions of their fellow countrymen, Doug’s parents included. Only the wealthy could sit in a prestigious conference smeared with filth without a care, because only the wealthy walked through their lives with that teflon aura.
 
This was a man of money, and as he could afford anything, he could appreciate nothing. Surely he had never gone to school in clothing stained black from mud or dusted white with chalk because it was the end of the month and laundry became a luxury they could ill-afford.
 
Against his better judgment, and in the interest of holding his tongue, he knocked back his glass and drained the contents in one fell swoop. Complete sobriety was over-rated.
 
 Bastards at Alliance…and then something about a free drink. Doug glanced at his now empty glass, right hand caressing the rim like a lover. Yes, he could do with another, although he idly wondered what Faustian bargain that might conjure.
 
Studying vampires? What a frivilous waste of time, just as the post-humanism devotees poisoned the research well for the rest of them, chasing fairy dust and positronic brains, sucking up the research grants to leave concrete avenues of medical study to scrabble over the scraps.
 
The siren call - you’ll live forever too enticing for the donor and political class to pass up. The fraction of the population with cystic fibrosis could have a normal lifespan lacked the same appeal.
 
Of course, Doug’s research tended towards the latter than the former.
 
“Is that Quest’s current quest? Bringing vampire immortality to the masses sans the blood lust?” He asked, one eyebrow arched elegantly.  "And here I was worried someone might beat us to a leukemia vaccine."
 
Ezra
Witch

Played by: Dane

Age: 33

Species: Witch

Power: Magical Detection and Augmentation

Posts: 12
#8
Ezra Offline
Ezra shrugged: fuck if he knew.

"It’s one of mine," he admitted dropping the pen with an unceremonious clatter. Clicking his tongue, he rolled it -- the priced, sleek silver instrument -- tauntingly towards its true owner and back again. The thought that arose immediately (who needed a vaccine, a treatment, or therapy of any kind when you could simply surpass any of that nonsense entirely) wasn't typically a thought that awarded him much positive attention.

Not in most circles, at least.

"And even then, what kind of quest would that be?" He mused, forgetting his scrawled-upon scrap of a name tag entirely in favor of etching nonsensical lines and patterns directly upon the tablecloth instead. "Immortality to the masses... Think we don't have enough of a population and resource problem with what we got now, doc?”

“C’mon," he prodded, grinning and leaning across the ink-smeared tablecloth (upon which he'd hastily wiped the pen, a half-assed attempt to clean what he’d soiled) and shakily slipped the pen back into Doug's shirt pocket.

Immortality would need to be bought, bartered, or earned. No one ought to have an endless allowance to the world unless they had something truly, endlessly, important to give. Or fat wallet. Ezra wasn't an idiot; he knew the far-reaching value of a checkbook, a dollar sign…

Giving the broad-shouldered man a well-intentioned clap on the forearm, he nodded twitchly in the direction of the bar.

"Whatever. Keep your vaccine," he laughed, polishing off the rest of his whiskey without hesitation. His lips glistened. "For leukemia, polio, and the flu too. I can't fucking sit for another fucking minute. Drinks, then we walk.''


Doug
Human (Carmine)

Played by: Meg

Age: 34

Species: Human

Power: N/A

Posts: 26
#9
Doug Offline
“One of your projects?”

The other man’s phrasing struck Doug as decidedly off. One of is, as in a pet project? There was nothing wrong with that on its face, of course. It was common enough if a person ranked high in their laboratory to divert funding or else had the ability to apply for grants in their spare time.

Still, it was a peculiar distinction in the context of a conversation about their laboratories, with the inquiry into whether Doug’s had devoted any time and energy. That implied competition, didn’t it? Competition implied the backing of his corporate master, but then why draw the line between them?

Inwardly, Doug reviewed what he had said to the other man, aware now that he had took care with his speech (or so it seemed) in the same manner of a fairy from Irish legends, although he was clearly human. What had he said to earn that splitting of hairs?

He’d asked about Quest’s current project and had phrased it as such. Which meant-

Wait, did he just call it a population problem? Dr. E-something something coupled it with resource problem, but that wasn’t the issue, and Doug bristled at the implications. In his experience, with medical options as a child that covered him while using his family as a cautionary example about family planning, and who refused to cover family planning that might include a second child, he knew what those words meant. Population problem meant too many poor people.

Truly, the resource problem was not availability but distribution, and even those logistics could be solved relatively simply if the powers that be cared. They did not, and thus people around the globe died of starvation, preventable illness, lack of clean water, and natural disasters worsened by global warming so drastically that one should reconsider classifying them as ”natural” at all.

“Actually-”

Before he could share that sentiment, a hand touched his chest, slipping the pen into his pocket, where the last dregs of black ink seeped from the tip, pooling at the bottom of his protector where it might drown if there had been even a smidgen more ink left therein. At least he had the pocket protector.

And he could repair the pen at home. Doing so here without the veil was an unnecessary risk, no matter the symbolism of the trinket.

The reminder of a drink spurred him to his feet, leaving behind his empty glass, and all evidence of his pen’s elaborate murder.

“Drinks, then,” he conceded with a curt nod. The mention of the polio vaccine rang closer to Doug than Dr. E-something Something might realize, if only because he aspired to Jonas Salk’s ingenuity and genorosity. A major contributing factor to his race towards the vaccine was the ability to patent it himself and then give it away for free or reduced cost, beating out a less civic-minded laboratory who, like the ghoul now serving time for pilfering the pockets of the wealthy and gained notoriety for increasing the price of Daraprim by 5000% over night, would hold parents and hospitals hostage to an obscene ransom.

The trip back to the bar was a short one, yet Doug left behind his jacket, laying claim to the table lest some others take the seats left open for those few minutes - someone not put off by the ink stains and the sorry state of the table cloth.

“They didn’t water down the drinks, which is my favorite amenity of these conferences,” he remarked, while studying the menu to see whether he would change alcohols midstream.


Ezra
Witch

Played by: Dane

Age: 33

Species: Witch

Power: Magical Detection and Augmentation

Posts: 12
#10
Ezra Offline
Catching the bartender’s eye before even hitting the counter, Ezra raised his empty glass pointedly.

"Two more," he ordered curtly with the easy grace of someone comfortable giving orders. His face was familiar enough to guide the uniformed server into reaching for the top shelf whiskey without direction. Good man. Leaning against the counter, weight settled into crossed forearms, Ezra watched with a hawk's stare as the drinks were poured.

"Dilution, especially during these conferences such as these, should be a crime punishable by death," he conceded, eyeing the bartender reaching for the register after passing over the fresh beverages. "It's hard work - thinking the way we do. We deserve a touch of anesthetic." 

"Halabi," he quipped, fully anticipating the blank stare he received on the bartender's behalf. "My tab: Ezra. H-a-l-a-b-i..." Easy enough considering the other sorts of names bouncing around in his family tree, but there was just something apparently so complex once one began moving away from the Americanesque Smiths, Jones, and Stephens.

Of course, a company card would've made things miles easier, but hell would have to freeze over before Carmine ever even entertained the idea of gracing the public with its existence.

Handing one of the whiskeys over to Douglas, Ezra gave a pointed nod towards one of the back doors. Without waiting for a verbal agreement (or any indication, really, that Douglas was interested in continuing their allied romp), Ezra grabbed him by the crook of the arm and began pulling him towards the exit.

His disrupted dopamine-receptor neurons, fried from years of steady cocaine abuse, were screaming for some sort of reprieve. But it wasn't like Ezra could lay out a line in the middle of the conference room - even if he had come prepared. So he'd have to settle for booze. And his newfound friend, companion, distraction - whatever, whoever, the hell he was. Just long enough that he could tolerate an hour’s worth of traffic home.

Tweaking in public was bad enough, but it was pure hell in a stuffy car.

Lucky Doug.


Doug
Human (Carmine)

Played by: Meg

Age: 34

Species: Human

Power: N/A

Posts: 26
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