Chapter 9


Taub was still led on the cot, though now transported to the platform where the whiteboard and his colleagues were hunched over microscopes and notes. One of the human medics had given him a shot of morphine after he'd refused to go to the Infirmary, and he'd since picked up one of House's oversized tennis balls and begun playing it between his fingertips.

If his boss could be stoned on pain meds for a bad leg and have epiphanies just looking at the whiteboard, then he could absolutely lie here and do the same thing.

No one had spoken in almost an hour; in part because they were concentrating, but largely out of solemn interest in Ratchet's mutterings over Optimus's still form at the other end of the hanger. Finally, when Taub's fingers felt like they were going raw from rubbing the felt, Foreman slapped his hands on the table and sat back with a loud huff.

Floating on warm honey, and only vaguely attached to his bandaged and elevated limb, Taub splayed his hands in query. "Anyone getting anywhere?"

Foreman shot him a withering look. Thirteen didn't look up from the microscope. Kutner spun his chair around, pulled a face, then spun it back again.

Taub rolled his eyes and tossed the ball into the air again, catching it just before it hit his sternum. "We must have something. Can't we at least do something with the board so when House gets back it doesn't look like we're as useless as he tells us we are?"

Nothing for a moment, and then Foreman moved to stand next to the whiteboard, arms crossed and shoulders tight. Taking up the pen, the younger doctor shut his eyes, took and released a deep breath, and then regarded the scrawls again. The pause allowed him to look less like he was considering an opponent.

"Alright. Is there anything we can strike off?"

"Travel." Kutner rolled his chair back until it reached the cot, rubbing the crick from his neck. "In the context of space, the atmosphere on Earth is pretty much the same anywhere you go. They've been going overseas in the last year, but they've not left the planet, and Ratchet confirmed that this isn't anything they brought with them."

Foreman nodded, eyes narrowing in thought as he drew another line across the board. "Scratch off sparks, too. Interesting as a soul we can see is, there's been no sign of any impact by the disease. This is definitely physical."

"How about the CPU?"

"Hard to say," Taub replied, flicking the ball towards the overflowing bin under the desk. It landed a two feet short with a loud clatter on the metal grating, rolled over the edge and thocked across the hanger floor some twenty feet below. Taub cringed, lay his hands innocuously across his chest, and added, "No comparable brain-blood barrier, and the manual's pretty technical about what protects their processors on that level."

"I think we can keep the CLAs and platelets on there," Thirteen said, finally sitting back from the microscope. She clenched her eyes shut and blinked to refocus. "Comparing these samples to what Ratchet gave us, it seems they run in tandem."

Kutner nodded, sounding a little more optimistic. "Which makes it the immune system as a whole as the only thing being affected. Everything else is a knock-on effect."

"Okay, good," Foreman affirmed, daring to hope that they were narrowing down on a concrete theory. Separating the wheat from the chafe would save them a lot of time and energy in focussing their analysis of the latest readings against the baselines Ratchet had supplied. He stepped back from the whiteboard so that everyone could see and review.

Decepticon bioweapon – infected?

Cold raises viscosity "Stickiness" – poss. clotting

Heat stress aggravates?

Frequent flyers.

Domestic virus(Sasser?)/bacteria/fungus

Protoform - sepsis

Human Truckasaurus

Lungs Intake Manifolds / Vents - byproduct

Brain CPU

Blood Energon / Type O

Neurons Circuits

Lymph CLAs * (Circulating Leukocyte Analogues)

Spark Consciousness / ''''''Soul''''''

Platelets Clotting / minor-patch nanites

(Two Tiered consciousness = spark/processor)

STRESS*

"It's definitely an immunodeficiency," Foreman muttered, twisting the pen between his fingers. "It has to be."

"Y'know, I'm always troubled when good doctors, and you guys, start throwing words like 'definitely' around."

As usual, House's sarcasm preceded his appearance. He'd managed to scale the first floor of the scaffolding in near silence, and was now ascending the stairs to their level with a slowness born of dramatic emphasis. It just, barely, covered his limp, though House had hit that diagnosis euphoria that brought him as close to pain-free as he could get.

He cut through the group towards Foreman, continuing his withering tirade. "It's 'definitely' a girl, or it's 'definitely' going to leave a scar. 'Definitely' shouldn't come into your vocabulary until you've tested, confirmed, retested and applied your diagnosis. Ideally through treatment."

House snatched the pen out of Foreman's hands, stared him down, and then took a seat on Taub's vacant chair. He rested both hands on his cane, leaning forward. "In the last hour, I've successfully diagnosed and formulated a course of treatment for a terminal illness affecting at least half of the population of this military installation of the winged persuasion."

He struck the board with the cane, making everyone flinch. "You did nothing but mess up my board. For one, you crossed out the diagnosis."

"Do tell," Foreman snapped back, desert-dry and entirely underwhelmed by House's theatrics.


Apologies for the shortness of this chapter. This and the next chapter were supposed to be a single installment to conclude the fic, but it's been almost a year of nothing, now, so I'm hoping that posting what I have so far will give me the kick I need to finish this thing altogether. Thanks for your support if you're still sticking with it!