Needed: Chemist

April 26, 2015:

John Constantine goes to NYU looking for a chemist. He finds one.

Upper Manhattan

Not known for its tourist trade, Upper Manhattan is generally considered to start at the base of Central Park, along 59th Street, though you're just as likely to hear New Yorkers tell you to look north of 96th Street. It's one of the most affluent areas in the U.S., a center of business and commerce and upscale residences ranging from the mansions of the Upper East Side to the high-end condos and luxury high rises of the Upper West Side. While its most northerly neighborhoods may not quite rival the two sweeping swathes of ritz and power that flank the great park, even traditionally poor Harlem has seen considerable gentrification over the past two or three decades.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

John definitely looks out of place on the NYU campus. Sallow-faced, angry, wearing a stained trenchcoat and at least fifteen years over the median age, he doesn't blend nearly as well as he would in Gotham.

A few terse inquiries had led him to the chemistry department, and he'd started wandering through the labyrinth of classrooms and hallways with increasing frustration, trying to location one of the public-use laboratories used for short-term experimentation. Having heard there might be a grad student or even a post-grad working that day, it seemed a logical place to find some help.

"Hello?" John says, sticking his unkempt blonde head into the lab room. He looks over titration beakers and bubbling fonts of chemicals, sniffing disdainfully at the acrid stench of reageants bubbling. "Oye! Looking for a chemist, is there one about?" the Brit demands of the cluttered lab, taking another step inside.

Standing in one of the laboratories - namely this one - is the storkishly tall and thin, very blonde form of Aiki Miyazaki, otherwise affectionately known as Honey Lemon. Bedecked in her usual lab gear - rather more colorful and personally styled than most lab geeks would bother attempting - she is currently checking the mixtures in a complex arrangement of beakers, flasks, tubing, burners, drip chambers and more. When the grouchy British voice mouths off, her green-grey eyes are peering through two of those flasks, magnified to some unreal degree to something like beholder orbs, and blinking owlishly. "What di you need a chemist for? We're pretty versatile, amazing scientists, really. But if you want a formula to turn you into a fire-breathing kaiju, the answer is no."

"Why the bloody hell would I want to turn into a ruddy great lizard?" John asks, arching an eyebrow at the rail-thin chemist, though he does start heading her way. He fishes in his pocket and comes up with an old prescription bottle he's using as a specimen jar, where a few small crystals are forming from wartlike calcium protrusions. He rattles the orange container at Honey Lemon. "I need to know what this is," he tells her without any preamble. "I found it growing on the underside of a building a few days back. Took it off a chunk of rock that was at least as big as a grown man. Can you tell me how a ruddy giant crystal boulder would form in downtown New York?" he says.

"I don't know. But a friend of mine back home was always asking, so I thought I'd start right off to make things clear." The tall and vibrantly colorful chemist smiles. She looks young - so damned young she's more likely a student here than anything else. But she's very confident and capable in the lab, and quite graceful. "Crystals form from the accumulation of mineral deposits, usually forming from the evaporation of a suspension of water, assembling a lattice at the molecular level."

That said, Aiko takes the sample container, and walks over towards a microscope and table. There, she'll work on taking a tiny sample to examine under the microscope, while another goes into a mass spectrometer. "I would expect such growths to be more common in, say, underground sewer structures. But placement near rain runoffs might be enough. Do you have any photographs of the location in question?"

John nods and produces, of all things, a small stack of Polaroid images, setting them on the table near Honey's elbow. The show a very unremarkable building- an apartment complex- that can't be more than a few decades old. "It was a brownfield not thirty years ago," John tells Honey, jamming his hands back into his pockets and watching her go to work on the sample. "Nothing there. No cave, no running water. They excavated it, put in a rude foundation, and built up over it. I went in there this week and found tunnels that were man high to an inch and this great mess of crystals. That's off the biggest of the lot," he says with an upthrust of his chin. "But the walls were completely covered in them, going as far as I could see."

"Interesting." Aiko offers, as she continues examining. Then she takes time to take the Polaroids - how quaint! - and look them over, then scans them in on one of the computers and offers them back. "These seem to be incredibly uniform, and far more stable than most naturally occurring samples would be." Aiko comments, as she is checking results. "And the spectrogarphy of these samples implies elements rarely found in natural crystal formations. In truth, if they weren't bound the way they are, these crystals would be incredibly toxic, given their heavy metal concentrations." Aiko continues experimenting, while Constantine looks on. "You said there were multiple large tunnels with wals completely covered by these crystals?"

John tries to keep up with Aiko, but a background in forensics and magic doesn't equip a person to keep up with a world-class chemist. He scratches the back of one hand with a frown. "Yeah, that's right. I explored down one but they started vanishing into the city substructure after a few dozen yards- subway tunnels, sewers, things of that ilk. I thought that crystal formations took centuries to form, don't they?" he inquires. "I guess it would make sense that they must be man-made if they have such a uniform, unnatural structure."

"Crystal lattices are rather regular, but there are usually small irregularities scattered throughout. Tiny imperfections that let you know this is something built by nature over time." Aiko explains, as she starts blowing up some of the pictures on the computer monitor to get a better look at where the samples came from. "I would be forced to conclude that these samples came from a location that has been subject to purposeful and intent artificially induced and augmented crystal growth." What follows is a dissertation on chemical baths and source materials and electrical charges that would choke a horse, or explain to another Nobel winning chemist how this was done. "I'm pretty sure someone - or something - intended this to happen."

John squints, then pinches his brow as Aiko gets off on her tear about crystalline growth mechanisms. When she lands on 'something or someone', though, he looks at her with narrowed, thoughtful eyes. "So why the blood hell would someone want to do that? You said the crystals were toxic… how toxic are you saying?" he says, the gears behind his brow turning. "If someone could rapidly break up the crystal- say, introduce it to the air or water supply?"

Aiko considers more evidence, and John's questions, carefully. "Well, it is theorized that sufficiently rapid, directable crystal growth could be ideal for construction processes, which would seem to fit this pattern. And given the material makeup of these crystal lattices, I would say that if a sufficiently strong, properly tuned anti-harmonic were introduced, it would shatter the crystals and release microscopic particulate of the heavy metals contained in the lattices. It would be a potentially lethal combination, especially with the destabilization of the local construction that would result from the collapse."

John frowns, meandering a few steps in the way of a man who thinks when his feet are moving. "So… someone is setting up some kind of trap. A specific trap, at that- one that wouldn't look like such to even a critical eye. So it's meant to be slow moving but activated at need. They don't expect the target to leave anytime soon. It's a halfway house, and the population tends to be fairly fluid, so…" he furrows his brow, turning to face Aiko, eyes downcast. "They must be targeting someone who lives at the house or visits it frequently, rather than one of the residents."

"That is possible, at least." Aiko offers, nodding. "Or, it could be an attempt to construct an escape path that can also be collapsed on itself and ensure not just escape, but actually harm or at least threaten the health of the pursuers." Honey isn't completely unfamiliar with such thought processes, though John has no way of knowing that. "I think a review of the residents is still not out of order."

John blinks. "That… hadn't occurred to me, but that doesn't make a bad plan, either. Building falls down, toxic chemicals get released…" he starts counting on his fingers. "No one wants to go near it to check for bodies. You could be halfway to Canada before anyone even figures out that the decedent isn't even in the building. It'd be the perfect way to stage a death. Even temporarily. A perfect way to evade probation officers or the like."

"Certainly a viable route for further investigation." the stork-like blonde in the brightly colored outfit offers with a nod. "Is there anything else I can help with? Perhaps a spray atomizer with a solution that would safely collect and neutralize the heavy metal particles if released? And perhaps a fast-expanding, rapid-hardening foam that could be released to fill and stabilize the tunnels?"

John lets loose a low whistle. "Well, if you've just got them laying around, I don't know why not," the lanky Brit says. "Not my usual modus operandi, but I'm not one to turn down a wrench if all I've handy is a hammer. How hard would it be to whip up the like of that?" he inquires of the slender-built chemist. "And what would it cost?"

"I don't have any just lying around, no." Aiko answers, with a wide, cheeky grin. "But, I'd /love/ to whip some up. So, I'll get started." She pauses when John inquires about cost. "Cost? Well, I wasn't planning on having you buy it. You need it, and I have the talent and interest to make it. There'll be some material cost for the lab, but my contract with THINK should cover it. Maybe give me … two days? Two days, and I should be able to whip them up, and get together some delivery systems that should be solid, simple and fool-proof. Relatively. How does that sound?"

John narrows his eyes at Aiko, thoughtfully. "I think that not a lot of people are inclined to do much for free anymore. What is your angle here?" he asks with a tone of mild disbelief, slouched down in his trenchcoat and giving the chemist a suspicious examination. "You don't even know who I am. For all you know I'm working some angle here. Why do you think you can trust me?" he says with an arched eyebrow.

The brilliantly-attired blonde opens those wide, wide eyes, and blinks at John. "My angle is that I love science, and ESPECIALLY chemistry." she replies, with the kind of energy reserved for the truly manic and obsessed. "I don't know who you are, but I do know what the evidence tells me, and I know what risk that could present to others. So, I'll make this, and prepare it, so that I can help. If not you, then the authorities when they investigate the site." She smiles again. "Besides, you had no way of knowing I would be here, or that anyone you did find here could even find you anything to go on, let alone be able to construct the things I've mentioned. So, I'm feeling pretty safe that you couldn't have been working an angle to get this stuff out of me." Then she extends her hand. "Aiko Miyazaki. My friends call me Honey Lemon. You are?"

John gives Honey's extended hand a vaguely suspicious look but shakes it out of common decency. "I suppose that I can't argue with that logic, as much as I'd love to. John Constantine," he says, introducing himself to the woman. They make about as much contrast as a raincloud next to a rainbow. "Honey Lemon? How on Earth did a gel like you end up with a nom de guerre like that?"

Aiko chuckles a bit and tosses her head, letting her golden mane flop behind her. "I never quite asked why my friend gave me the nickname, though I imagine my hair color has something to do with it." She shrugs her shoulders. "Pleased to meet you, John. Do you think we have two days for me to get this put together? Or do I need to dedicate more time and get it done faster?"

John quirks his lips at Aiko in a hint of a smile. It's an expression the dour Brit doesn't wear often. "Likewise, miss Miyazaki," John tells the woman. And he sounds like he actually means it. "I think it'll hold for a day or two, yes. I'd rather you not rush it and risk an accident, especially with this level of hazardous material present. There must be a fair amount of toxins in the crystal and I don't want to risk anyone's health. Easy enough to forge some city utility documentation and evacuate the building entirely."

"Alright, then. I'll get started. Do you need me to call a number as soon as I'm done? Or would it be easier if you just come back in a couple of days and check on progress?" Aiko inquires. She's not one for forging city utility documentation., but she doesn't ask for more.

"I'll be back in a few days. My phone is, uh… unreliable," John says, hemming a bit at the notion of handing out his number. "Once we've got your tools in hand I'll go down and take a look at what's happening. It might be that the building just needs to come down under more controlled conditions. I don't want whoever this is toccome up with way to hurt innocent people."

"Thanks for the help, Aiko. I mean, Honey Lemon," he says, correcting himself. "I'll be in touch, soon."

"I'll see you then, John. Be careful. If you need a structural engineer to examine the location, let me know. I have a friend who specializes in such things." Honey offers, as she turns back to her computers and starts making notes and working on molecular models.

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