Carter hadn’t meant to dodge her subordinate’s question. They truly did need to go in to eat.
The food was, as promised, delightful, and Carter made a mental note to come here more often for more good Vietnamese food. That note, however, was filed by her mind and set aside so that she could work through the implications of what had been spilled to her by the tabloid.
She couldn’t visit this RJ any more than she could fly out of the second story window here and back to her lab. There were several factors keeping her from doing so.
First, and foremost, it was useless. Her team didn’t need access to the Lost to do all of their work, because much of their vitals was provided as a real-time stream of data into the work group. Besides, it had been proven that physical contact registered little, if at all, to the Lost.
Secondly, there would be people between her and RJ. Not just doctors and nurses, but her own administration. She would have to go through any number of people just to get access to some variables that likely wouldn’t help her investigation at all, such as eye color or hair color.
Finally, there was the law. Carter understood the purpose of WFPHIPA: the Western Federation Personal Health Information Protection Act. Hell, she had voted on it, herself. It was something she felt strongly about. The tabloid had technically breached that (though there was no culpability) by informing her that there was a good chance that one of the group they were studying was this RJ.
There was, however, nothing to stop her from going to a show in the next day or two.
Feeling very much the sleuth, she stuffed a small egg roll into her mouth with delight, savoring the taste of it.
Yes, she’d go to a show up in Soho.
With her resolution planted firmly within her, she found it much harder to make it through the rest of the day. Rather than wrangle the two competing strands of the work group into some cohesive goal, she spent much of her time distracted. She was thinking about all of the ways in which she could possibly approach the cast or crew. Would she be able to even get in contact with any of them? Supposing she would, what would she even say? “Tell me about your sound tech”?
Eventually, though, the rush had worn off. Toward the end of lunch, she had purchased tickets (at no small cost) and been hyped up about visiting the theater. When the afternoon started to wear on, she found herself once more tied up in work.
Avery and Prakash had both settled into the routine of investigating what had gone on before the incidences of the Lost. Avery was collating what data they had from each case on the social front before the subject had gotten lost and searching for social connections between each of the cases. Prakash, meanwhile, was digging through biochemical data that had been collected from each of the patients and searching for similarities for them, based specifically on the time before they had gotten lost, rather than during or after.
Carter had supposed that this would be innocuous enough, but it seemed that Sanders had taken the opportunity of the boss dining out for lunch to chat with a few of the other members of the workgroup. Not once, but twice while she was working, she had fielded private messages from some of her teammates. Both had concerns around the direction of the project, and questions about the wisdom of separating the work group into smaller groups.
In both cases, she reiterated that this would be another temporary investigation. If it turned up any useful information, then they would have that conversation again in the near future. If it didn’t, then everyone would cohere once again afterwards. There was comfort in the words, but all the same, Carter wasn’t sure how much effect they were having.
She had an idea, one she thought worth investigating. Sanders, however, had an ideal.
Or so Carter was assuming. When assessing the team’s standing on the issue, she had used a simple three point scale: for, neutral, or against. What she hadn’t asked was, in the common usage, how many fucks each of them gave. There were, after all, two parts to making a decision. Which way you’d vote, and how much you cared about that.
Carter could easily estimate Sanders giving ten out of ten fucks against this current plan of dividing the team for exploratory purposes. In fact, until this afternoon, she would only likely have given seven or eight fucks.
That question hadn’t been asked, though.
This afternoon, it was the combination of determination to see if she could learn more for the project and the sense that she was on the right path that had bumped her up on the number of fucks she gave. And, if she was honest to herself, the hope of proving Sanders wrong. There was no small amount of competition within academia, after all.
The play was a contemporary piece called The Short Trip. According to the season, it chronicled an indecisive youth taking a small trip away from his family on false pretenses to visit a bunch of friends for three days. The goal of the trip was to visit his long-distance partner, but in the setting of a party, with guests, both known and unknown, weaving their way through the scene over the three heady days.
This much she had learned as she made her way southwest. Carter had needed to duck out of work earlier than usual to make it over to the theater on time. She had actually to travel past RJ in the UCH, riding along the yowling Victoria line, to get to Soho where the theater was. Traffic at that time was was notorious for keeping the Tube cluttered and, at times, inaccessible. She had needed to wait for three trains to pass before she found one with room.
The train vomited her out into Oxford Circus and left her spinning, looking for the right exit to the tube station, each helpfully lit up with a thin, translucent display that overlaid the older signage in painted tile. Both bore the unerring curves of Helvetica, perpetual winner of the font wars.
It was easy enough to find the theater by following the crowds, and her identity — and thus her ticket — was proved by a taking her glove off and giving touch from her contacts, a grip around a simple bar in front of the theater. Once she had done so, the bar flipped around to provide its other end to the next customer, the end she had touched getting a quick sanitization so that everyone touched a sanitary surface. It was all rather like getting on the Tube, only much slower.
Carter was surprised by just how much she enjoyed the play. She had decided not to approach cast or crew beforehand. This had initially worried her, as she suspected she would spend the entirety of the play thinking about what to say. She wound up getting engrossed in the play, watching as the lead made his way through the party and met up with his partner.
The cast did a magnificent job of portraying the awkwardness of meeting up for the first time. She had had her own long-distance fling while an undergrad, and she knew that feeling well. Her mother had even cautioned her to meet up at a public space where you know people, like a party, just in case.
It was well into the third act of three that she realized she hadn’t given attention to the sound of the play. A passing thought informed her that this was probably a good thing, that this was the sign of a job well done.
She applauded as heartily as the rest of her fellow audience members, clapping in that way that prevented any knocking of her contacts against each other. All the same, her mission, such as it was, was not lost on her. She was perhaps a little rude in her haste in making her way out into the lobby of the theater where some of the cast and the director were greeting the audience. It was opening night, after all.
“Mr. Johansson. Mr. Johansson!”
The bulky man turned toward her with a pleasant look despite the obvious worry lining his face. “Ma’am. I trust you enjoyed the show?”
“I did. Not bad at all! I did want to ask you something, though, if I might.”
“Mm.” The sound was assent, but with the rest of the audience starting to stream out of the theater, she could tell his mind was elsewhere.
“I was…It’s just, about RJ-”
That focused Johansson’s attention in a way that startled Carter out of speech.
“I-I mean, if it’s not too forward to ask,” she trailed off, leaving a hint of a question.
“It is forward,” he confirmed, eyes boring into her. “But I’d like to know how you know of em?”
“I’m a researcher at UCL, working on the Lost.”
Johansson took her elbow gently in his grip and led her off to the side, out of hearing of the rest of the audience, as well as the other curious cast.
“That doesn’t tell me how you know of em. Aren’t you…isn’t that privileged information?”
“The tabloids had a–”
He growled and grit his teeth, “They told me I couldn’t contact anyone but doctors, but said you guys had declined contact. I saw that.”
Carter straightened and shook her head, “We did not, nor would we have. Although, I must admit, the interview process would be far more formal with this. I only put the pieces together based on location and pronouns.”
“So what do you want from us?” Johansson’s shoulders sagged, “We miss RJ. It’s been a real mess without em. Please, Doctor-”
“Ramirez. Dr. Carter Ramirez.” She hesitated for a moment before continuing. “We’re looking for…well, a few of us are looking for social connections between the Lost, rather than just simple personality correlations. What can you tell us about RJ in that sense?”
Johansson looked up toward his cast, then leaned a little closer to murmur, “O’Niell’s, once we’re done, then we can talk. I have more to do here, so it may be a while. Please wait up, though.”