Class-A Orange 65
rating: +34+x

"All in all, I guess things could've gone worse," says MTF Lambda-One "Lethe" Agent Charlie Delano, bringing the cigarette to his lips. The time, according to the cheap watch he pulls back the sleeve of his standard-issue fleece jacket to check, is five forty-five AM, and the mid-spring sun is just beginning to rise over Burnett, Wisconsin.

"That's kind of the point, isn't it?" The man sitting on the library steps next to him runs a latex-gloved hand through the short curls of his mousy hair, the coated fabric of his half-open hazmat suit crinkling as he moves. "This is the one job where things can always go worse."

Agent Delano inhales slowly, the acrid taste of smoke more a justification for the five-minute break than an actual source of comfort. Despite the morning chill he can feel a thin sheen of sweat beginning to gather on his forehead, and he wipes at it with the back of his hand. "I guess you're right," he says.

Just across the street, a sort of barely-controlled chaos reigns. The threat itself is long-contained, whichever armed-to-the-teeth band of kevlar-vested maniacs that had taken care of it returned to their site hours ago, leaving behind the actual work for everyone else. Most of the people milling around the jagged, smoking remains of the two-family house are cleanup crew, dressed in either the standard label-less gray-and-black of MTF Agents working in public spaces or else unenthusiastically pretending to be firefighters. Delano watches one of them halfheartedly spray what's left of the front entrance with water from a high-pressured hose. Approximately an hour earlier he had watched the same people set the building aflame, observing with the same detatched curiosity as the billowing fire slowly masked structural damage too unnervingly geometrical to have ever passed as a gas explosion. Next to him, the man in the level B suit sighs. "You got the time?"

"Forty-something past. You in a hurry?"

"A little." Agent Caldwell stands up with visible reluctance, and suddenly Delano has to crane his neck back to look him in the eyes. The man is the sort of six-feet-something that's well on its way to seven, with both the approximate build and countenance of a slightly misshapen concrete slab. He looks down at Delano blankly. "I'm running late back to taking witness samples. You know if they managed to round up everyone that might've seen?"

"Probably?" Delano shrugs. "You'd have to ask Reed to be sure." He pretends not to notice the cigarette in his hand is beginning to crumble away unsmoked. "One of the Swedish Fish caught me while we were taking care of that, so I can't say for sure. Was filling out papers. Making sure we got the official story, what kind of amnestics we were cleared to use, so on. You know the drill."

Caldwell's expression remains totally blank. "One of the who?"

"Swedish Fish?" Delano sighs. "Red Herrings. Bad joke."

"Oh." There's a beat. Caldwell awkwardly crosses his arms over his chest. "Listen, I… Should probably go."

"Right. Yeah." Delano nods, a little too fervently. "Good luck," he starts to say, but Caldwell is already halfway down the steps and gives no indication of having heard.

Agent Delano, now alone on the library stairs, allows himself another sigh. Then, with a profound sense of relief, he stubs out the remainder of his cigarette against the cold concrete. Across the street, dark smoke spirals upwards over the tree-lined street and into the gray morning sky.

The civilian processing area is a cluster of small tents set up in the street in front of the charred house, comprising mostly of a simple decon system and a medical tent repurposed for amnestics application. Caldwell makes his way towards it, bypassing the Foundation-owned EMT van parked haphazardly on the curb. The back of the vehicle is open and Caldwell can feel the eyes of the people inside follow him as he passes, a pair of small children wrapped in the shiny foil of shock blankets that he tries very hard not to look at.

Agent Specialist Emily Reed is propped up on a folding chair in front of the amnestics tent, and she gives Caldwell a curt nod as he approaches. She's wearing the same dark gray cargo and black fleece as most of the other agents, but her hair is long instead of shaved short- a tight silver ponytail sticking out of the back of her black baseball cap. A privilege, of sorts, for those who would consider retirement from high-risk field work a reward. She's holding a paper cup of gas station coffee in the hand that still has all its fingers, and she gestures vaguely towards him with it. "You're late," she says.

"Sorry." Caldwell shrugs absently. "Lost track of time."

Agent Specialist Reed narrows her eyes at him, though as far as he can tell there isn't much real irritation behind it. She huffs exaggeratedly. "Don't let it happen again, Agent."

"No ma'am." Caldwell passes her to pull back the lowered flap of the tent, then pauses. "How many do we have left?"

"Just the one inside." Reed turns her head back to look at him. "You did everyone else before you went on break, and I don't want any of you greens dealing with kids yet. I do that myself." She pauses, considering. "I took the liberty of saving us some money and had Laurie let the drunk that came down from Depot Street to take a look go without a dose. Didn't look like he remembered anything anyway, and I'd rather he not find the injection site later and decide he'd been kidnapped by aliens or nothin'."

Caldwell nods slowly. There's a reply slowly taking shape in his mind, some combination of words just passably funny enough to be worth saying, but before he can open his mouth to speak there's a shout from inside the tent.

"Hey! Sample collection, over here!"

Caldwell turns to locate the sound of the voice- the agent manning the amnestics station proper, a large man with dark, close-cropped hair and the wormlike curve of a long, ropy scar cutting its way up from his left brow and across his scalp. Right. Bryce. Bryce who is just a couple years younger than him and just a couple inches shorter and somehow unable to live either of these things down, the type of man who works out just to be able to brag about lifting weights and who had gotten his personnel ID code tattooed onto his right forearm after barely a month on the job.

Bryce has a lot of tattoos, actually, most notable of which is a snarling eel winding its way over his ribs and around his left arm, some sort of intricate joke that he had once snidely remarked that Caldwell simply lacked the clearance to understand. They had been in the showers, then, which was the only reason it had come up in the first place, really, and Caldwell had simply replied that he hadn't been aware that eels could snarl and that since as far as he knew they were the same clearance level so maybe Bryce should check in and make sure he wasn't reading any files he wasn't supposed to be aware of. Bryce had snapped back at this, said something that probably would've sounded cooler if he hadn't been shivering hard enough to make his teeth chatter and absolutely soaked in decontamination fluid. Caldwell hadn't paid it much attention.

"I need you to take over on the dosages," Bryce says without so much as a hello as Caldwell approaches, too busy trying to convince the shell-shocked woman swaying dazedly next to him to get onto the portable scale to even look in his direction as he speaks.

"Isn't that Laurie's job?" Caldwell crouches down to pop open the seals on the unlabeled cooler standing by the makeshift treatment station, releasing a cloud of icy vapor into the early-morning air as he lifts the lid. Inside are rows upon rows of tiny vials- low-class amnestic solution carefully separated by concentration and dose size, each carefully marked with the dot of a colored sticker- green, yellow, orange, no reds, "-and if you need a red A you should already be using B's," says Agent Specialist Emily Reed, voice clear and high in the dead silence of the lecture hall- and a number indicating patient weight.

"Laurie's on break," says Bryce over his shoulder, and then; "No ma'am, I just need to weigh you to make sure we get the dose right," and "Yes ma'am, standard procedure, we take blood samples before and after to make sure the antidote works," and "No ma'am, that's gas leaks for you, you may have been experiencing hallucinations," and then the scale finally beeps and he turns his attention back to Caldwell. "Orange, sixty-three point four, round up," he says.

"Orange, sixty-three point four, rounding up," Caldwell repeats, reaches into the cooler for the appropriate vial. He pauses. "Standard procedure is to round down, isn't it?"

"Don't you pull procedure on me," Bryce snaps. He sounds tired. "Laurie rounds up, you're rounding up too."

"Alright, your call." Caldwell shrugs. "Orange sixty-five it is, then. Your name's on the form."

"Whatever." Bryce takes the vial from Caldwell's outstretched hand without so much as a thanks. He signs off on the clipboard resting on the field table in front of him, then almost gently pulls the lost-looking woman over to sit on the unfolded cot in the middle of the tent. "I already took a blood sample for you," he says over his shoulder to Caldwell as he works, pulling on a pair of latex gloves and preparing the amnestic for injection- unpackaging sterile needles and a syringe, hands steady as he draws the clear liquid out of the vial.

"I see," says Caldwell.

"It's on the table." Bryce pushes the plunger of the syringe inwards, watching the last tiny bubbles of air disappear from the barrel.

"Oh," says Caldwell, very slowly. The vial of deep red is indeed very much lying on the table and not anywhere else, such as, for example, the sample cooler on the ground next to it. "I see."

"It wouldn't kill you to say thank you once in a while," Bryce says flatly. He turns back to the woman on the cot. "I'm going to need you to lean forward now, ma'am. Just like that, elbows to your knees. Just a moment now." With his free hand he pulls up the back of her shirt, just enough to expose a fragment of the curve of her lower spine. "I'm going to disinfect a spot with this alcohol wipe now," he says to the woman, who has gone completely quiet. "Might be a little cold."

The woman does not react, doesn't even flinch right up until the moment the injection needle sinks into the soft space between her vertebrae. "Ow," she says, blankly. "That feels… weird."

"Sorry, ma'am." Bryce finishes and withdraws the needle. "It'll pass soon."

The woman straightens her back, reaching up to brush away the strands of damp, ashy-blond hair clinging to her forehead with a thin hand. The first thing Caldwell notices is that instead of just unfocusing, her pupils have begun to dilate. "I don't know…" She trails off, head turning to look at Bryce. "I don't feel very well. I can't feel my leg."

"Ma'am, you'll be fine." Bryce is already stripping off his gloves, unceremoniously dropping used equipment into the biohazard-marked wastebin. "Temporary loss of sensation is normal. Just a moment."

"I don't know," the woman repeats, more firmly now, and then she stands up abruptly, nearly overbalancing as she rockets upwards. "I don't feel well. Where am I? Why can't I-"

-and then, suddenly, she is no longer speaking. For a moment the sounds coming out of her mouth still almost resemble words, and then, in a moment that seems almost agonizingly slow, her eyes widen in some sort of horrified realization. She begins to hyperventilate.

"Jesus Christ," Bryce says, sharply. "Caldwell, what the hell is-"

"I don't know." Caldwell pulls himself to his feet. "Looks like a panic attack or something, I don't know. I'm getting Reed."

Bryce grimaces, gaze flickering from Caldwell's face to the woman and back. "Hey, no, we can handle this," he says, though there isn't much conviction behind it. "I'll calm her down and- hey, lady, ma'am, I need you to sit back down and-"

"What's going on?" The tarp flaps of the tent entrance rustle as Reed pushes her way inside. "I thought I heard my name. Who and what is-" She stops dead in her tracks. "Oh." The woman still standing across from her lets out an agonized gurgle.

"You guys really fucked up," Reed says.

"What is- what-" Bryce's voice rises in pitch petulantly. "I didn't do anything, she just started to-"

"Bryce, shut up." Reed reaches the fold-out table in the corner in a few brisk steps, flips through the report file affixed to the clipboard. "This isn't finished," she says. "You weigh her?"

"I, yeah, I-" Bryce withers a little. "Sixty-three point four kilos."

Reed nods curtly. "Dose?"

Bryce's lips tighten into a thin, pale line.

"Dose?" Reed repeats. Caldwell watches a muscle in her face jump as she clenches her jaw. Bryce doesn't answer. Behind him the pale-haired woman sways unsteadily, breath coming in shallow gasps.

"Sixty-five," Caldwell supplies reluctantly instead. "Orange."

"God damn it." Reed drops the clipboard back onto the table. "Alright. Alright." She inhales, loudly, through her nose. "Bryce, you're gonna sedate her now. I'll deal with you idiots later. How long ago did you make the injection?"

"Forty seconds, maybe? A minute?" Bryce turns to rifle through his supplies, hands far less steady than they had been the first time around.

"Shit," Reed says. "Not worth bothering with mnestics now, then, I suppose."

"Mnestics?" Bryce freezes, halfway through unpacking a pre-prepped syringe. "Why would we give her-?"

"Mitigating the effects of an amnestics overdose, if you can get them in while there are still neural pathways to salvage." Reed sighs. "I always forget we're not supposed to tell you new guys about that bit." She pauses. "Sorry. Look, did you really think it was possible to completely limit the effects of a drug to a single, tiny, specific part of the brain? A specific memory?"

"Oh, God." Bryce pales visibly. "I just thought she was having a bad reaction. I've always dosed up, just to makes sure it works, I-" he breaks off. "What did I- I mean- what did that just do?"

"What do you think it did?" Agent Specialist Emily Reed meets Bryce's gaze with eyes as impassively cold as they are blue. "She's forgotten how to speak."

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