SUMMARY: If they win this game, they get to live. Pity they don't know what they're looking for.
CHARACTERS: House, Wilson, various OCs.
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: This is the second chapter of Part Five. The first chapter is New Hires. Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
Krater awaits them at breakfast, his plate barely touched. His smile makes Wilson's chest tighten. "You slept well, gentlemen?"
"We, ah ... yes," Wilson says. "It's a very nice room." He sits down, trying not to think about what Krater thinks happened in there last night.
"I know what's wrong with you," House announces, flopping into the chair at Wilson's left. The table -- a long one, hosting eight crew members other than Natan and Krater -- goes silent.
Wilson suppresses his groan but can't stop himself from massaging the suddenly-pounding spot right between his eyes.
"I am glad Edgar Poland did not oversell himself, then," Krater answers.
House leans forward and snaps up a piece of what looks like roast bird. "It's the bruising-when-somebody-breathes-on-you that gave it away. That, and you come from the Khirjin Ring. The universe sucks, and you have Tend Syndrome. Sorry about that," he adds, and Wilson thinks he really means it. "You can squeeze out ten, maybe fifteen decent years if you can find a DGM who doesn't care what you do for a living."
DGM, Wilson thinks. Genetic Mechanisms. Wilson feels his eyebrows rise in astonishment; he vaguely remembers Tend Syndrome from his university texts, and it really might fit. Cascading epigenetic collapse, cause unknown, treatable for a while, but no cure. He hadn't paid much attention because the disease was considered extinct.
Krater laughs, a real laugh -- not what one might expect from a man just handed a death sentence. "Excellent guess, Doctor," he says, lifting his glass in salute. "But wrong. Testing would have found it, and my family has no history of this disease."
House leans forward and squints at Krater. "Genelabs look for hard genetic defects, not slippery epigenetics like Tend," he says. "Especially since Tend's supposed to be extinct. And even if they looked, mistakes happen. Contamination; accidental switching of samples. Deliberate switching, if someone has a motive. You're sure your daddy was really your daddy?"
Krater shakes his head. "I do not have to be. You may have forgotten that Tend is passed through the mother's line only. Men may inherit but not bequeath this gift."
House sits back, reconsidering. "You're sure your mommy was really your mommy?" he asks sharply, and one of these days Wilson is going to learn not to eat while House is talking. Krater's not eating at all; he chuckles softly.
"Ah, it is good to have fresh blood aboard," Krater murmurs, and Wilson almost chokes.
"Wilson here is going to re-test you," says House. "This time for protein markers specific to Tend." Of course House commands instead of asking him, but Wilson is relieved to have something to do other than squirm.
"I'll ... look up the information," he says, "and target the search. Maybe --"
"Maybe you were switched at birth," House interrupts. "Maybe you were adopted and your idiot parents thought that a happy lie was better than knowing that your real mommy was a teenage hooker. Maybe they bought you on the black market; who the hell knows? But if it isn't Tend," says House, "it's got to be a toxin. You do any dealing in weapons that don't go zap or boom? Biologicals?"
"There are lines," Natan answers, "even we do not cross."
"So you're ethical crooks. Good for you. No sideline in illegal pesticides, by any chance?"
"What?" Natan appears confused, but Wilson thinks he knows what House means.
"Organophosphates? Who even uses those now?"
"Only Exeter Prime and a thousand other third-rate dumps. While you go chasing phantom genes, I need to see the ship. The whole ship. Preferably with the aid of a scanner targeted for phosphates and heavy metals."
The other conversations that had started, stop again. Everyone's looking from House to Krater and back, waiting.
"Dobie will escort you," says Krater. "Len, pass the bread to me, please."
"I think these two are full of shit," Len says, but he passes the bread, and the meal goes on as if nothing has happened.
They start where House always starts: in the patient's bedroom, exploring every inch for medical and other reasons.
Krater's quarters are brimming with possibilities, and House begins by pulling open the drawers on the pair of nightstands. Printouts and lab tests have their place, but they won't tell you what a man does in the dark.
Or what he doesn't do. The drawers' contents are pathologically chaste: no lube, no prophylactics, no pills, capsules, or toys. No pink-tinged vidcrystals, even. Diminished libido or the guy's a monk, House thinks, and adds the former to his mental list of symptoms.
The differentiating scanner is cool, smooth, quiet in House's hand. It's no longer than a compact pistol, but the business end of it is wide -- an array of uptake sensors nestled into a broad, flattened housing, with a display screen on the upper surface. People call these things dogs, but this model looks like a blackaxe fish, something Jerome might keep in that deadly aquarium.
"Ever tracked a person with one of these?" House asks, while he's target-scanning Krater's closet for toxin traces he knows in his gut he won't find.
"Once, yeah. Really easy." Dobie says it without smiling. "I was damn glad it was him and not me."
By the time they get to the kitchen, Dobie's acting more like a cordial tour guide than a bone-crushing goon. He tells House everything he wants to know and a lot of crap he doesn't, especially when it comes to menus and cooking. From the full shape of Dobie's face and the touch of padding around his middle, House guesses food is a particular interest.
He also guesses, from the shape of those arms and shoulders, that he'd better keep that thought to himself. An average haemovore's much stronger than an average vulgaris, but Dobie could punch his way through Novaglas.
The problem with organic scanners is that in order to be effective, they've got to be looking for one particular thing or class of things, and House needs to look for everything. It isn't enough to simply scan and move on, because all the scanners do is eliminate the prime suspects; for the other possibilities, they'll need the spec array; for the spec array, they need samples. Of basically everything.
It's almost an hour later, when they've finally got all the kitchen specimens, that they run into Len. He's clearly been waiting, and has rooted himself in the hall, in House's path. The overwhelming urge to ram him with the cart is foolhardy and not worth doing, regardless of how much fun it would be. Len's an inch or two shy of House's height, and lacks Dobie's sheer bulk, but he's muscular, hard -- a powerful guy for his species. In a fair fight, House could take him, but this wouldn't be that kind of fight.
"Find anything yet, Doc?" Len's arms are crossed, his black sleeves rolled up to better display his build.
"Unless somebody's dying," House says, "or unless there's a hot girl-on-girl vid you need to share, I don't have time for --"
"Sure you do. Because you are full of shit, and you are dicking around instead of helping Krater."
"Your devotion is touching, but I doubt he'd approve of you harassing his doctors." House raises the wrist-com Krater gave him for the day. "I could ask him, if you want to make sure." Behind him, House hears Dobie snort.
"C'mon, Len, let the guy do his job. Or not," he adds, cheerfully, "in which case we all know what happens next."
"Go annoy Wilson," House says. "Unless you have, I don't know, a job to do or something." He rolls the cart forward until it bumps Len's legs. When Len doesn't budge, House touches his wrist with the com attached. "Krater's call number is ... one, isn't it?"
"That's right, Doctor," Len answers, quietly. "One." He shoves the cart back, keeping hold of it so that it stops just short of hitting House in his thigh, and walks away.
They've been at this for hours, and it sucks like an open airlock.
Dobie knows guys who'd have just shot the doctor and been done with it by now, but he's surprisingly not all that bored. Probably because he actually likes Doctor House. Of course, he likes pretty much everyone; it's the one trait of his that Len can't stand, and Len is probably right.
Now, for example. House has him pushing an already-loaded handcart through the laundry bay, collecting packets of tergent like they were exotic species of bugs or something. Len showed up again a minute ago, standing in a doorway to glare at House as they passed, and House? Smiled sweetly and cooed, "Miss you too, darling." Dobie'd had to bite his tongue and turn his head.
He's supposed to be calibrating the steering thrusters today, not dragging all over the ship with some cranky foreign pain in the ass, and really, the guy is a pain in the ass. He's also the best entertainment Dobie's had in weeks. If he can't help Krater, it'll be a damn shame.
"You're sure he doesn't come down here?" They're standing in the middle of a cargo bay stacked high with weapons off Fourtwenty Station. Only three sets of people see this much of Krater's inventory: there's Krater's crew, and a handful of his best clients, and at a few transfer points there is the occasional nosy idiot who may or may not live long afterward. Dobie wonders if Doctor House realizes how dangerous their quiet Mister Krater truly is. If House does understand, it doesn't seem to bother him. "No personal inspections of the merchandise?"
"Krater goes everywhere, but inspection was before we took delivery. He was getting sick by then anyway."
"And by 'took delivery,' you mean you stole it. Which is why your boss doesn't want to dock up anywhere he could be found."
"Yeah, we stole it. I'm not shedding any tears for our marks. Bunch of fuckin' slavers."
"Bullshit," says the doc, "and even if it wasn't, you wouldn't care."
"Wrong, and right." Dobie turns the cart around, careful not to topple the stacks of makeshift swab packets. "Those Fourtwenty bastards run slaves all the way from Iyo to Eastleg. And I'd care if it was me with the collar on, but otherwise, no. Don't see the point. My caring isn't gonna stop it. C'mon, only thing left is my quarters, and then I'm done being your personal escort."
Len will be coming off his shift by then, and the two of them will have a few drinks with dinner and bitch about their jobs, like either of them would want to be somewhere else. It's killing Len, seeing Krater so sick, and he's taking it out on the docs any chance he gets. Taking it out on House, mostly, because he roughed House up and now House pisses him off on purpose. It'd be sad if it wasn't so damn funny.
Dobie wonders if the docs realize that if they fuck this up, if Krater dies? Len will shoot both their asses out the airlock.
Hell, Dobie'll probably help him.