Description: A mysterious illness has spread amongst those taking part in the Play To Work project. But what isn't shocking is the magnitude of the sickness, but how minor it was. Merely fatigue and nausea, with no clear other side effects. That is, except significantly reduced chi production. With the illness spreading beyond the college students, a mere bystander in the history of man, Rust Jr, uncovers a single clue on the strange ailment: A small medical shop, owned by Patricia Eleanor Nathair that is up the ways. Rust Jr. must come to the clinic for clues, which may come innocently, or may come with a price beyond prices for the answers.
A traditional medical practice, nothing out of the ordinary. Close enough to some of the colleges and cheap enough a little practice that it's frequented by students and others mindful of their budget; it's also a business that has been struggling mightily to cope with the sudden onset of a flu season or small epidemic that has taken hold of the local youth.
The extraordinary Ferrari yellow Enzo settled in curb side is however GARISHLY out of place in such a neighbourhood. Parked slightly askew from the curb with a tyre nudging against it and settled right in front of this store like it owns the street. The sides of the car are caked in mud like it has been running dirt and mud trails all week, a coating of mud baked on and then reapplied numerous times. The bonnet (hood) of the vehicle curiously propped open but held in place with bungee elastic luggage cords holding-fast the family vacation essentials, an ice chest and campfire stove in there... all packed in tightly with the rest of the luggage. Tent poles and tarp propped up in the passenger seat of the unoccupied vehicle which would support the rest of the evidence suggesting some airhead had taken a sports car where a 4x4 would have been more appropriate.
The owner of the vehicle emerges from the store and manages to steal some of the attention away from the car by being even more (or perhaps only equally) out of place. Long voluminous golden blonde hair bounces and sways as she backs up out of the doorway and wheels about. A calf length red dress with an immodest split up the side and tall strappy heels-- All of which might be more appropriate for someone going clubbing it's drastically and dangerously out of fashion for mid-afternoon backstreet Southtown.
Steering toward the trashcans where she makes a 'more effort than that required' grunt and sigh whilst disposing of the stack, at least several high and all differing in colour and branding (being from different companies.)
She makes a show of lifting her wrist to examine the inside of it, a slim gold coloured chain that must conceal a watch and then turns to look at herself reflection in the stores windows. Lifting a pair of designer sunglasses and turning her head back and forth while checking her face or perhaps her hair.
When a tiny and much wrinkled woman shuffles away emerging from the shop with in a pocket book matching the colour of the woman dress while instead wearing traditional dark blue with geometric pattern.
It's obviously to bustle it out to this full-bosomed cleavage displaying monster of unabashed and mature femininity waiting outside. Ripened and dehydrated the two women stand well apart in apparent age, status, race and class yet for anyone close enough to overhear the pair of them chat easily and match one another in both dialect and tone. They're talking shop, and discussing something specific related to treatment and results while both using turns of phrase more appropriate to the elder.
Rust Jr. is on the scent of adventure! That's... a succinct summary, and due to external circumstances, it is best the description remains brief and that the subject moves on quickly to the present.
In a rare moment in which one may mistake the man for actually having some legitimate ninjitsu training (or rather, a failure on his part to correctly hide this - whatever belief one subscribes to with him), he stands atop a roof some ways away from the medicinal shop of one Patricia Eleanor Nathair.
He holds up a sheet of paper with the address. The writing is completely incorrect, and only now right because of an improbable series of folds and holding the note in question the wrong way. He stuffs it in one of his pockets and takes a nice big dramatic leap down an alley--
A trash can rolls down from said alley, out towards the storefront, which comes to a stop where two sandal-bearing feet peek out from the open top, facing down.
"Ow." Moans the voice inside. This is already extraordinarily awkward, not that it stops the aging middle-aged so-called ninja as he less-than-gracefully pulls himself out of the garbage he leaps into.
"Ah, sorry about all that with," he says, brushing off gunk and garbage hastily as he stands between both women, young and old. His demeanor is pleasant, as though ignorant of the shameful and idiotic spill he suffers. Or that he has a banana peel on his hair, which is done up in feminine buns again for some reason.
"Could I have some of your time?" He seems kind of chipper and excited to speak with them, somehow, when there's a mild dread in the air in terms of recent events and strange circumstances.
Quirking her head to the side, positioning herself for a better view Trish startles at the cacophonous crashing and banging. Visibly relaxing only when the trashcan had emerged and come to its full and complete stop, the intruders uttered lamentation and time taken to extricate themselves from the can is just enough time for the woman to fold her arms disapprovingly and grimace. Only a brief apology before cleaning him off in such a manner she physically takes a step back to ensure he doesn't get any of that on her. The spillage on the sidewalk, smell of the freshly compacted garbage or the astoundingly improper manner of introducing himself; she disapproved of it all.
"That depends on how much of my time you intend."
A most thin smile though she can't quite help the faint quirk in one side of her lips. Discomfort at the filth or amused at the state the man was in before her it would be hard to tell with the sunglasses obscuring her eyes.
"You have not introduced yourself! Thus, I haven't yet worked out in which capacity we are speaking. Professional? advisory? social? or perhaps as some sort of new scam or blackmail I'm as yet unaware of. In any and all of these cases; the rates I charge vary rather dramatically."
The small elderly woman standing in place while the others speak literally and impolitely over her head. A passive stance and genial smile while her associate goes on a completely different and offensive track. She's anxiously kneading the pocket book in her bare hands which she has obscured behind her back.
The bizarre visitor deftly removes the banana peel and flicks it over his shoulder. It almost looks cool, but what it does is just bounce off a nearby light pole and then plop back down behind his feet. This neighborhood is not his, and yet, here he is - cheerfully throwing himself into what borders back alley business, puffing out his chest as he stands at his full height of five-fout-ten imperial, a friendly little wave to a professional.
"Ahh, sorry about that. I'm Howard! Howard Rust, Jr.!" That guy. The guy who, up until roughly ten years ago plus change, was... not exactly as pathetic and washed-up? A guy who carries himself as though he isn't a lump of a terrible joke that has long since expired past its prime. (He still breathes, so, maybe not expired, but the metaphor is at a loss now.)
He offers his right hand in a brief handshake, if accepted. He keeps it there even if it isn't, which seems like a great opportunity to hurl him away if the opportunity arises.
"Oh, it's nothing too crazy inside," which sounds like a guarantee that yes, this is going to be something crazy 'inside.' There's that bothersome way he seems to be finishing completely different sentences than the one he's currently speaking, as though his mind is on new tracks faster than he can finish speaking.
"So I've been looking into this Play to Work business! More like, had some cups of coffee with some people into it, and--" blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, "Yep. I don't know if you know what 'chi' is- ahh, y'know," blah, blah, blah, blah. There needs to be a conversion of 'blah' to 'actual time spent' somewhere...
"So I looked about after a friend of a friend of... um... two other separations of degree of friend?" How deep does a 'friend' net go, with him? "'Bout how they're feeling under the weather, and not feeling all up and full of chi, so, uhh, one thing after another-- yep! Thought I'd stop by."
This is either 'business' or 'irritating.' His hand is still there, outstretched.
She clearly did not find the situation so.
Trish makes absolutely no move to shake Jr's hand and instead the tightness of her folded arms creates a further *plump* of cleavage before spilling over her collected forearms. It wasn't too much of a stretch to reason he was talking about friends at the homeless shelters going by his appearance. This epidemic of a kind was centred almost completely around the 'Play to Work' initiative that was being trialled there and on college campus. The fact the conversation seems to be a runaway train continuing without any further input from either of the two women in the audience.
"Alright! Alright!! Stop, stop there. I'm now much more aware of your interest and significantly shorter on time."
Raising a hand in a gesture calling this runaway conversation to a halt she switches into her best 'speaking to the relatives' tone while taking this both simply and casually.
"The succinct answer I can give you is: There's nothing /wrong/ with the participants in the program. They for the most part are no worse health wise or affected by something we've found that requires curing.
The older woman glances up at her askance, whether this was an affront to the reputation of the store or reliant on the custom coming in.
"They're exhausted, fatigue. We can offer all kinds of help bolstering the immune system, overcoming dietary or environmental factors. My recommendation is to simply stop using whatever device is at the root of the program. There seems to be a --correlation between those falling ill and those who are using."
A pregnant pause as Trish lifts a hand to press her glasses further up her nose.
"As for the limits of just how specifically badly the health of your friend could be affected? The extreme of this condition is indeed life threatening, in medical terms and treatment; the symptoms can be alleviated but it's more like dealing with the common cold."
The Users were making themselves sick in her professional opinion. This would hopefully catch on if she spread the rumour in well placed and 'talkative' ears.
"Really? Whew." Rust Jr. looks relieved as Trish hits the brakes, drawing back his hand and rubbing at the side of his head with a stupid smile (moreso than usual). Why would he be relieved? It's not like this is the seventh place he's tried in an attempt to follow the chain here, yammering on and on and on until it became clear (for everyone else) that he's at the wrong stop... until now. There is merciful quiet as Trish decides to head off the threat of further verbal bludgeoning by going into further detail about the matter.
Will it last? If it first, then there is a last. (This logic is worth destroying several rules of English grammar over, it would seem.) He nods along, with the occasional 'hmm' that threatens to break the blessing of quiet as Trish gives the run-down of all that is going on in succinct detail.
"You don't say," he says as Trish does say as she draws the obvious correlation between usage of the Play to Work program and the illness. Where she presses her glasses up, he seems to fidget in colorful and even cartoonish ways. What, is this something exciting to him, in some way?
"Ooooohh, yep, that... that sure sounds it could be above." Above? What could he possibly be thinking about that would make sense for the thought to terminate in 'above,' as he scratches the back of his head. "Yep! That makes sense. Ahh, thank you very much for that help, miss--"
"Humh, I would have assumed you would know who you were talking to. Something you should be more cautious about, there's no telling what kind of debt you could accrue just asking just anyone for their time."
She was thinking fast, now clearly unnerved or at least unhappy about the position she was being placed in. With the little old woman right there then she unable to just throw out any old alias and be done with this man. A potential crazy man who made very little sense and trailed off at odd times.
"--Nathair. Though if you have more concerns in you should perhaps address your inquiries in future to Yishi Zhao." The little woman nods with the acknowledgement, not seeming to be much of a talker. The title of a medical master graciously acknowledged as belonging to the other woman. "She is more familiar with the local cases and her efforts regarding the condition."
Pass the buck.
"Though.. Mr Howard. I do hope you pass along my advice to your friend. At least... they should try staying away from the program for a few days and see if they begin to recover."
With a sudden twist of the knife or flash of inspiration she adds
"I don't know what it is exactly, but it's like someone or something is sapping these poor people dry."
Better still a headache for her enemies than her employees, and it was not the /wrong/ track or misleading of her in any way.
Can anyone really be that stupid? This uninitiated with the information trade? To just so brazenly appear, talk up a storm in public to an information broker like a store clerk as though looking for the right kind of plug for a phone charger? (The answer appears to be 'yes.')
The man's unwarranted pleasant demeanor doesn't fade. It's too bright for these parts, so dim that it somehow breaks down the other end and comes out the other extreme. He nods along vigorously, as though the well-spoken advice is as breezy and trivial as it would be advice for which fingers to stick into an electrical socket (which is to say none of them). He seems blissfully unaware of the entire awkwardness of the situation.
"Oh! Oh. You bet. Ahh, sorry, there," he steps back and bows his head in more of the eastern tradition to one Yishi Zhao, compared to the downright silly attempt at a more western handshake just seen moments before. "Humbled to meet you, eh?"
"I'll keep it all tight locked in the noggin with," he points at his head, which is reassuring a gesture to exactly nobody whatsoever, "thank you very kindly for your time. Yep. All reasonable like." He seems to be going for it. Enough to get out of her hair. Enough to hopefully never have to deal with him again.
He starts to back away, steps on the banana peel without seeing it...
And doesn't slip?
It's not too late to call for his attention one last time, if one wishes to risk another strange joke that only the heavens seem capable of composing.
That wholeheartedly sums up Trish's though on how this whole encounter was feeling. The fact she'd initially worried in the slightest the man was some kind of threat was nearly embarrassing in of itself. Never lowering her guard (that was how 'they' go you); even while she was confronted with a simple man who was merely worried about his friend.
She winces when he steps back, still distractedly yammering his foot right onto the banana peel and is surprised when he doesn't slip and fall like a cartoon character. Then, how did he so inelegantly wind up crashing down an alleyway in the garbage can?
An anomaly but not suspicious in of itself.
"Oh! Before you go. There's the matter of the bill."
That pointless yammering and explaining had taken up more than a few minutes of her time. Trish's smile turning up brightness by degree's that could be best measured in kilowatt hour.
"I suppose you didn't take up too much of my time. So a question for a small, almost trivial! Favour sounds about right."
Everything has a price. Humans are pitiful creatures who value nothing unless they have to pay for it.
"Bring your friend by here at some point in the next few days so he can get a check-up. It'll let us know if the treatment is working for him."
She drizzled her mercenary assault in sweetest honey, as was her tone; while the eyes behind those glasses might have actually betrayed her intent. It was a predatory delight to pluck at both the heart and purse strings simultaneously, people usually wanted to easily understand and discount the services they needed. All so they could afford what they desired.
Watching the bill filter through someone's thought process usually told you a lot about that person on the whole. How disciplined were they, what state were their lives in and some of the things they valued.
Extending a hand to the smaller woman she accepts her pocket book back and fusses around with the inside contents. Simultaneously removing a business card and a cigarette she passes both to her lips while closing the book and then plucks just the card form her lips to offer Howard Rust. Or had it been Rust Howard?
The card bearing Asclepius. A single serpent coiled around a rod, indented into the card while in tiny font printed on the back in gold are cell and landline numbers. Curiously, there are... UK, US, Hong Kong and Japanese listings printed. The one for Japan bearing a scratch or indentation below it from her thumbnail as she was holding it outstretched. She really didn't trust him to get that all nailed down and locked up top in the noggin. If she had a biro she might've circled AND underlined it for him. Just in case.
"There's no hidden costs or charges in that, don't worry. It's doing our business a favour."
"Eh?" Rust Jr. turns around at the mention of the bill, steps back over the banana peel, and once more does not slip. Eyes do not play tricks. There is confirmation of sandal sliding against skin, and so he saunters sans slipping on the second set of steps. He's already digging around his many pockets, tongue sticking upward from his lips as he searches. (Trish can see his fingers wiggling at the bottom of them, which is a worrying sign for anyone.)
"Oh! You bet." He reaches his left hand up over from his pocket and takes the business card. Howard Rust? Rust Howard? Dust Dullard? Let's settle on 'Big Pain In The Butt.'
"Thank you, thank you, I'll keep in touch, yep." He walks back over the banana peel again. This is three times. Three times, no slipping. He looks back over his shoulder one more time.
Then he just abruptly trips over his damn feet and takes a spill all the way down the street.
Later, by the time Rust Jr.'s friend is here - his descriptors vague and unimportant to the overall narrative in spite of association - he claims to barely know the guy and barely has much of an idea as to why he's taken him here... but the story ultimately adds up. Something is sapping this fellow dry.
It begs the question as to why the middle-aged weirdo would even care that much, to seemingly insert himself clumsily into a story he scarce seems to belong within the pages of.
With luck, that will be that, and just be another strange episode in the life of an information broker to sweep under the rug, of no more greater consequence.
Watching the retreating figure bounce and roll endlessly down the level street Trish experiences a snap back to reality where she closes her mouth, compressing her lips. She raises her fist to gently cough into it for lack of a better way to recover her composure. Was she alone in witnessing a man tumble down a plain and level street? Why had her jaw hanging open?
A silent voice of agreement and old-person nodding taking place beside her. Not even chastising her for speaking with the still unlit cigarette bobbing away.
"I... don't know if that was accidental, or an elaborate and risky way to escape payment. Possibly all of the above."
Even firmer nodding at a brisk tempo.
Raising a hand to cup around the end of the cigarette and protect it from a non-existent breeze in a practice manner, Trish lowers her still empty hand and exhales the first draw of smoke in a long thin trail.
"Let me know if there's anything outside the norm... or his friend doesn't show signs of improvement. "
The spread of this thing she had unleashed was well beyond her control, which was the point. There were always going to be some fatalities where it caught on where individuals would never recovered a healthy enough level of chi to slow and halt the progression of symptoms.
That was something she could and would share with no-one. Not even those she trusted most could know she'd deliberately engineered what could become an epidemic just to thwart the ambitions of one man. One arrogant man who had no idea what insanities he dabbled--
There was his face right there, a photograph of Lee Chaolan taken with him standing behind a podium. Kneeling to pick up the newsprint Trish gives the paper a flick to dislodge whatever that was smeared across some of the pages and begin to peruse the article.
"G-Corporation Reveals Experimental Energy Adaptor"
Just a few lines in-- The dry heave wracks her torso and forces bringing undirtied hand to her lips (though the lit cigarette still protrudes.) There were no words, she was violently nauseous just reading this article and its implications that came to mind were dreadful. Forcing herself to keep reading with a faint tiny hope this was a joke, it instead settles into her mind and the pit of her stomach with a sharp icy stab and spreading chill.
"I'm done here. --and still away from the offices for a bit."
Returning to her car even her employees thought their vain and eccentric employer was staying out of town and away from the centre, patients and epidemic alike. The contents of her pocketbook scattered on the sidewalk like so much trash already she hadn't even noticed she dropped it. It didn't matter.
The car roars to life and hurls itself away from the curb with a squeal of tires. The shriek as she then floors it and takes off in a cloud of oily blue smoke. If things ever returned to normal she would owe Li Zhao a profound and deep apology. Right now though, in her mind a doomsday clock had been started.
Inside the car the blonde was seething. That damnable fool!! Like fictional Tolkien Dwarves mankind had finally delved too greedily and too deep; based solely on one man's ego. Mr big ideas, rolling onward in the name of progress was more than likely going to burn the world down around them or throw humanity so far backwards it returned to the dark or stone ages.
Log created on 03:19:54 08/18/2017 by Trish, and last modified on 12:14:05 09/06/2017.