Sliver Of Serenity
rating: +18+x

by Rigen

"Excuse me, sir."

Umar Hadid turned around to find a woman with impressive backpack, tapping his shoulder.

"Umm, can I help you?"

"I am working with the state government to test a new method to detect viral pathogens, would you like to donate saliva and swab samples?"

Hadid studied the woman. She can't be on her thirties yet, and she was as tall as him, with black hair in ponytail. Her glasses glimmered with odd shimmer under the spring sun, making it difficult to see her eyes. The rest of her face was hidden behind olive green mask. The backpack that caught his attention was large enough that it seemed to be trying to envelop her from behind, like a bizarre polyester amoeba.

"With the state government?"

"Yes, with Wadsworth Center specifically. We're developing a method to enable faster detection and response to future pandemics, since it probably won't be enough to significantly alter the course of current one."

"I see. Sure, I would very much like to donate samples, for science!" Hadid chuckled, the woman followed awkwardly. "Although, I took THC pretty recently, will it affect the result?"

"It shouldn't, but I will note that." She looked around, before landing her eyes on a bench. "Let's sit right there, shall we?" She walked towards the bench, not waiting for Hadid's answer.

"I am Umar Hadid, and you are?" Hadid trailed behind the woman, who already started sifting through the content of her backpack. She turned around.

"Oh, I am sorry, where are my manners. My name is Maria Ambrosetti, with Wadsworth Center through UAlbany." She paused. "Well, it's actually a bit more complicated than that, but it's a long story." Ambrosetti returned into rummaging her backpack, taking out several spray bottles and packages of iridescent fuzz similar to steel wool.

"Please do tell, I like listening to stories. Only if you wish, of course."

"I was technically enrolled to La Sapienza in Rome, studying Molecular Medicine. I got into a student exchange program with UAlbany the autumn before all this happened," She gestured vaguely at her surrounding, before taking out a pair of latex glove and start wearing them. "and long story short I was stuck here. Wadsworth Center took me in with some other UAlbany students as interns, I guess they need all hands on deck, but I never planned to stay more than a semester here so it was quite hectic when the rent lapsed. I even had to stay in a church for a bit."

"Damn, sounds really rough. But hey, at least you have a unique experience to tell everyone back home."

"I honestly just want to get past the experiencing part and straight to the storytelling part. Here." She presented four clump of the iridescent fuzz, slightly compacted into squares just a bit less than an inch on the sides. "You just have to bite these. It's silver wool, so it's sterile."

Hadid obediently bit into the squares of alleged silver wool. Ambrosetti sprayed them with the different liquids from the spray bottles, before putting them into zipper bags marked with numbers and letters.

"Now is the fun part. Swab test, for comparison." Hadid groaned.

A couple minutes later, Ambrosetti dropped the spindly swab into another zipper bag, clipped all of the samples, and put it in a box within her backpack. Hadid would've normally wondered if the bag is just that massive, or there's dimensional shenanigans involved, but he's currently too distracted to notice the slight distortion in its interior.

"That should be it—oh wait I need a contact information in case I need to verify something with you. And in case of, you know."

"Sure, here, scan my contact." Hadid fished his phone out, entering his 10 digits pin with one hand; his other hand was preoccupied with his sore nose.

"That's it. Best case scenario, I'll contact you when the research got published, along with a copy. I have to clean up, so, see you?"

"See you around. Hopefully we'll have a less painful meeting next time." Ambrosetti watched as Hadid stumbled away.

"Did you get all that?" Ambrosetti flicked a hidden switch on the sample box, incinerating everything within it. A single swipe on her phone reset the fake contact she exchanged with Hadid.

"We have recorded all relevant data." A voice replied from her earpiece.

"He has no fangs, didn't react to silver, and the reagent doesn't show anything weird. He's not a vampire, or they have gotten really good in concealing themselves."

"The Silver Compass still points at him. He is still under our suspicion. Either we eliminate an enemy in him, or find a glitch on the apparatus and fix it."

"For the Silver Compass to be locked on to someone literally called iron, wouldn't you say it's quite…ironic?" Ambrosetti grinned, there's no sound coming from her earpiece but she knew her colleague was groaning on the other side.

"Another one of these horrible pun and be assured that I'll make you regret it."

"There's no need to bring down your iron fist for petty jokes." With a grunt, she heaved the comically large backpack over her shoulder. "Would've been easier and funnier if he's just anemic like the other false positives, but it's never that simple, is it? There's gotta be a better way to find vampires that doesn't involve pointing at every iron-deficient person in the world."

"Perhaps. But until then, we work with what we have."

"Yeah. And even if we found a better method, I feel like the theoretical device would point to him anyway."

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