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Dr Archeville

Second Opinion [IC]

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Date: March 25th, 2011 (Friday), mid-morning

The experience of being thrall to the Conquering Mind was quite disturbing to some, though mercifully most did not recall specifics of what had happened. But for one man, for whom issues such as altered brains and mind control were of both intense professional and close personal interest, it had been gnawing at him for some days.

I know I am probably okay... there is some expected paranoia from this, fear at loss of control, a sense of violation.... but, given my past, can I really afford not to be 100% certain? I think not. Of course, for that, I will need some outside confirmation, and there are only a handful of people who even could do the kind of work I require. And of them, there is only one I would trust, as she has already shared a very personal secret with me.

"Miss Americana," her ArcheTech lab's com announced, "are you there? Miss Americana?"

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Down in her lab, Miss Americana was hard at work, as usual. She'd long-since repaired the damage to her arm and gotten it back into tip-top shape, but the fact that it had frozen up at all did not please her. To be a superhero, one had to be able to sustain extreme damage at times without breaking. Especially without breaking in a way that looked mechanical and strange! Today she had an entire arm assembly up on her lab table, shoulder to fingertips, and was putting it through its paces. She paused the test when the call came in.

"Yes, Doctor, I'm in my lab. Is there something that you need?" she asked cordially.

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"Had a few ideas for some projects to run by you, if you were free," the comm replied. However, as his voice came over the comm, Miss Americana's internal communications systems received a text message.

Personal project, discretion preferred.

"They are not exactly in your preferred field -- mostly new types of scanners -- but I think you will find them interesting, and of use in your prosthetics work. I can send the R&D work to you now, or we could discuss them over lunch?" Archeville tended to do a lot of work over meals (or drinks); one perk of working at ArcheTech was the great catered fare.

Your space in The Lab, this evening?

I am not a fan of this secrecy -- reminds me too much of the double-dealings my Other would do -- but in this case, I would prefer not to have the extent of my personal problems leaked out to the public.

Besides, if anyone can help me, I am sure she -- or perhaps one of our friends at The Lab -- can!

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This evening, Miss A agreed by text, even as she answered breezily, "I'm a bit tied up to be going to lunch today, I'm afraid, but why don't you shoot me the schematics and I'll have a look?" She wondered what exactly he was playing at, and what might need such secrecy in his own company, but she supposed she'd find out soon enough. "Send it to my personal email and I'll look at it right away." That should, she figured, keep whatever it was entirely secure until she had a chance to memorize and delete it, if appropriate.

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"Now, now, Americana," the comm cheerfully scolded, "you know I do not like to hear that my people are skipping meals." Whether Archeville's tendency to cluck over his employees like a mother hen -- all his employees, which alone was a testament to his phenomenal recall -- was a mixed blessing with working for ArcheTech. In an odd way, it reminded Gina of how Protectron fussed over everyone (especially Dragonfly) in The Lab.

I know she does not need to eat, but I would ask the same of anyone else!

"At least have an energy bar or two, hrm?" A ping from her console announced the arrival of new e-mail. "I shall leave you to it," he signed off.

The e-mails did in fact contain R&D files, a trio of them. The first was for an inhaled MRI contrast agent, which could safely diffuse trough the body faster than injected ones. The tricky part was that MRI contrast agents are usually chelates of Gadolinium, so the project worked on two fronts: finding a nontoxic alternative to that, or developing a nontoxic and non-reactive coating to be applied to the particulates so as to avoid damage to the patient. Second, a 'portable' (in that it could be lugged about by two strong people, or one super-strong metahuman) MRI, taking advantage of the latest developments in miniaturization of the powerful magnets, superconductors, and other assorted components, was detailed; its drawback was that it still required as much juice as a standard MRI. Third, a piece of software, for carrying out meta-analyses on differences in brain activity or structure as found by neuroimaging techniques such as dMRI, fMRI, or PET.

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The specs were fascinating, so much so that Miss A set aside her experiments to devote several hours to them that afternoon, but not exactly what she'd been expecting. Though advanced medical devices like this would be susceptible to industrial espionage, that wasn't much of a problem at ArcheTech, with its sophisticated security and thorough employee screening. She herself had freely bandied about several projects that she wouldn't have wanted to see anywhere near the hands of a competitor. There had to be more to this than met the eye.

After her day at ArcheTech was done, Miss A took off from the rooftop landing pad and headed the short distance over to The Lab. She checked her messages, then locked herself in her private office long enough for Gina to go have supper and a stretch. By the time most commuters were home and in their houses, Miss Americana was back among her instruments, having already cleared Doktor Archeville for her level when he arrived.

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Miss Americana's sensors picked up a soft displacement of air behind her. "Thanks for agreeing to this." She did not experience the minor vertigo those near his teleport departures/arrivals felt, so she reasoned his sudden appearance was not via teleportation; she further (and correctly) surmised his sudden arrival, with no notice by the Lab's security or sensors, had to have been via some cloaking technology.

My microwormholes can be tracked, and that would defeat the purpose of this secret meeting! Besides, I should not be seen near here anyway, lest rumors start regarding ArcheTech's relationship with The Lab!

"I do apologize for all this," he said, his fingers fidgeting, "but this is a highly personal matter, and one I do not want leaking out, for both the reputation of ArcheTech and myself. Ah, I presume you were able to study over the trio of projects I sent earlier today?"

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"I was," Miss A agreed, bringing up the schematics on the wall screen next to them. If she was startled by his sudden appearance she didn't show it, but then, androids didn't have much of an adrenaline response. She was still dressed in her work outfit, a subdued blue pantsuit with maroon accents, subtle yet designer and quite expensive, for those who noticed such things. "It's fascinating stuff, very possibly revolutionary. I already see things I would like to incorporate into my own projects as soon as we have working prototypes." She turned away from the screen to face the doctor, perching on the edge of an empty lab table and folding one leg over the other. "At the same time, I didn't see anything that would warrant this unusual level of secrecy. Care to tell me what's going on?"

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"I am glad you think so," he said, fidgeting slightly less, "and I did send those to you via the ArcheTech servers as they are ArcheTech projects, though all three were initiated by me. You see, I- hrm... well, let me just show you."

Alright, moment of truth! You can do this!

He offered her a small flash drive. When she connected it, she found scores of brain scans, spaced about a month apart over the course of several years, using a variety of common (and slightly uncommon) methods.

"The subject has presented symptoms of numerous mental and behavioral disorders, including the auditory hallucinations and paranoia of schizophrenia, as well as certain hyperfocus aspects of Asperger Syndrome, and the cognitive peaks and valleys of bipolar disorder. The most prominent symptom, though, is dissociative identity disorder, with a strong secondary personality embodying many of the subject's instinctive drives and impulses. As you can see from the scans, though, they show little to no deviation from standard brain functioning." He paused, swallowed, "many members of the subject's family have expressed mental and behavioral disorders, so there appear to be strong genetic predisposition to these conditions; subject also had a tumultuous upbringing, with many environmental factors that could have contributed to the disorders. Subject was receiving medication -- a mixture of carbamazepine, clonazepam, fluoxetine, and lithium carbonate -- but approximately six months ago the subject was exposed to an unknown energy field which appears to have completely suppressed many of the disorders, including the manifestation of the second personality. Concern remains of potential relapses, of course, and there is additional concern that the recent mental usurpation by the 'Conquering Mind' could be a trigger for such a relapse. Subjects is highly visible and respected, though, so discretion is requested."

Just one more step! Come one, you can do this!

He paused again, took a deep breath. "And because it needs to be said, for my own good if not also yours: the subject is me. And I am hoping you can lay some of my fears to rest."

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Miss A listened dispassionately as Doktor Archeville recited the case study, though her mind was racing. Even before the kicker at the end, she knew what the punchline to this story had to be. The good Doktor was known to be somewhat eccentric, what genius wasn't, but if news that such an influential and powerful genius had such a host of mental issues was ever publicized, it would be a disaster. Not only for him personally and for his company, but for everyone who wouldn't be helped by an ArcheTech innovation because they were too afraid to use it. This was a matter that would have to be handled with the utmost discretion.

"I see," she said aloud, her voice neutral and nonjudgmental. "And I'm assuming the newest sets of scans use the new equipment, and thus provide a better and higher-quality view of the brain chemistry and behavior? That should be helpful in future comparative studies, but for now we'll work with what we have." She sent the parade of brain scans to another wall screen where they hung looking almost decorative, if not for the host of illnesses they bore witness to. "What can you tell me about the energy field you were exposed to, the one that suppressed the symptomatic disorders?"

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She is taking this remarkably well! I knew this was the right choice!

"Indeed," he nodded, "though I would certainly appreciate a second opinion on the brain scanners as well as the brain scans. My ultimate goal is to develop some medical nanites that could get in there and get a close-up look, tiny cameras actually inside the brain... but, as for the energy field..."

He took another deep breath, and exhaled slowly as he made himself comfortable on a nearby chair. "It happened when I was visiting a colleague, here in Freedom. She is a very powerful metahuman -- well, she would say 'sorceress' -- and I opened and read a passage from one of her 'spellbooks,' thinking there would be no harm in doing so. Arrogant, in hindsight, or at least foolishly cavalier," he chastised himself. "Anyway, next thing I know, I am speaking in tongues, and several weird octopus-like creatures appeared in the air. They flew out, started attacking people, but fortunately there were other heroes on hand who quickly stopped them before any serious damage was done. Sadly, the creatures dissolved and evaporated once they hit the ground. Shortly after that, I returned home, feeling exceptionally drained; when I woke the next morning, I slowly realized that... well... that the voices were gone."

And it has been ever so nice!

"Unfortunately, since then she has not returned my calls, so I have been unable to talk to her about what may have happened. My hypothesis, though," he leaned back slightly, getting slightly more at ease with the shift in topic, "is that the symbols in the book somehow caused a physical manifestation of certain aspects of my psyche -- almost like an exorcism, used by those who mistook schizophrenia for demonic possession -- which could then be confronted in a very direct and physical manner. Which, if true, would be quite revolutionary in a number of fields..." His eyes lost focus for a moment, then snapped back, "Of course, my concern is that if those creatures were formed from my atypical mental energies, some negative aspects of my psyche, then what happened to that energy when they were beaten and dissolved? Did they return to me, but now more controlled and subdued, fully integrated into my mindscape? Or did they jump into the nearest person, cursing them with all my problems? Or did it dissipate into the 'collective consciousness,' a meme waiting to pounce on someone trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time?"

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Miss A studied the scans, considering what the doctor was saying. "Those are all possibilities," she told him carefully, "but I'm not convinced of the validity of your hypothesis. Given that you were exposed to "magical spells," shall we say, which were in reality punchcard programs to the difference engine of the universe, it's entirely likely that your mental illnesses may simply have been healed, whatever abnormality or imbalance had caused them cured by the force that you unwittingly unleashed."

She walked along the row of scans, looking at them one by one. "We know from anecdotal evidence that these spells can be dangerous if attempted by the uninitiated, and that some even appear to be booby-trapped. You may have unleashed some force when you read the spell, but there is no reason to think that the entities you fought were in some way an extraordinary manifestation of your psyche, or that they are still lurking in some collective unconscious. In fact, Occam's Razor would rule that out until well after we have delved further into the nature of the spell that was used. It may be that your hypothesis was formed not from the facts so much as from your memories of the dissociative disorder and a lingering compulsion to see those aberrant mental patterns as truly distinct from yourself." Her voice was gentle rather than condemning, but it was clear that she wasn't planning to buy his theory anytime soon.

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"I had considered that," he admitted, "but, well, I am biased and not nearly as objective as I should be on this particular case." He smiled half-heartedly at the self-deprecation. "Also, the fact you have pointed all this out further indicates I made the right choice in coming to you with this." At this, the smile had some genuine warmth behind it.

She is helping! Yay!

Many of the scans were unusual (even given what had been described), in that while numerous regions did show abnormalities associated with the disorders he had mentioned, she could detect no pattern to the damage, the peaks and valleys of activity, which she should have been able to do given the timeline of images presented. It was almost as if his brain was acting like an improperly overclocked computer, with greatly increased overall performance, frequent minor glitches, and occasional near-catastrophic failures. Yet the glitches and failures all somehow got corrected, at least to a level he had been able to manage.

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"Much as I'm loathe to ever admit something falls outside my purview," Miss A said at length, after almost ten minutes of looking at the scans, "your brain scans are like nothing I've ever seen before. My specialty is dealing with the rebuilding of bodies and neural networks for largely neurotypical brains, so I haven't given this area the depth of study this case requires. But I have a colleague who I believe has, and could shed valuable insight on this case." She looked over at him, her lovely face set in lines of concern. "If you'll let me, I'd like to consult with Dragonfly."

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Another person? Eeee!

"I-," he began, then paused, brow furrowing.

Well, no, hold on -- think this through. Dragonfly is a founding member of The Lab, so she is certainly skilled. And Gina knows the stakes, but she would only call Dragonfly in if she felt she could be trusted to act with discretion in this matter. And based on what I know of the petit space-warper, secrets are something she is adept at keeping.

"Right," he nodded, "bring her in, let us see what she can make of it."

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"Let me check if she's still in the Lab," Miss A told him. "It's after hours, but she often works late." Walking over to the intercom, she activated the circuit to connect to Dragonfly's lab. "Dragonfly, this is Miss Americana. If you're still around this evening, I could use your input on a rather interesting data set that's come to my attention." She waited patiently, knowing that when her colleague got very involved in a project, it tended to take her a long time to switch gears for something as mundane as talking to others.

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"What?" Dragonfly blinked, sitting up straight from the circuitry she'd been working on and glancing toward the intercom. odd - not usually interrupted this late - not usually anyone to interrupt - unusual - worth investigating?

She put her tools down and stretched a little, lights dancing behind her eyes as she glanced around for her gauntlets. "Still around," her voice came back over the intercom, with that odd reverb that usually meant she couldn't be bothered to use the physical interface. She yawned a little, glancing at the clock. didn't think I'd been here that long "Odd request. Could take a look - your office?"

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"My central lab," Miss A told her, smiling now that her colleague's whereabouts had been ascertained. "It's a matter for strictest confidentiality, but I think you'll find it quite interesting. I'll clear you into my lab." She disconnected from the intercom and turned to face the doctor. "I trust Dragonfly implicitly," she told him. "No one but you and Citizen, my sidekick, know more about my precise methods of fighting crime. I'm sure she'll behave with the utmost discretion regarding anything you tell her or show her."

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"Sidekick?," he repeated, tilting his head to one side. "'Citizen'? I... I would not think you the type to take on a sidekick. However did that happen?"

Citizen... ah, he is that odd 'sentient computer program' that helped stop the 'Conquering Mind'! He- oh!

"Ah!," he straightened up and snapped his fingers, "he is something -- pardon, someone -- you created, right? A partner to assist you, like the robot you brought into ArcheTech... ah, Colin, right?" He nodded at the recollection, "but not a robot, a sapent AI. With a holographic body, from a very compact holographic emitter, right?"

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"I'm flattered you think I could create an AI as sophisticated as Sharl, Doctor," Miss A said with a smile, "but he's not one of mine. I've never delved too deeply into the realm of creating sentient machines, it's simply not an area of interest to me. There are so many already-sentient beings who could use a little mechanical assistance, building new brains for the machines seems superfluous. Colin and his friends," here she gestured to Mavis, powered down and silent in one corner of the lab, "are just smart enough to help me with my work. They don't think and feel the way that Citizen does. There's a story there, but this isn't really the time for it."

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"Dangerous, anyway," Dragonfly dryly threw in as her two cents, yawning and belatedly untying a bit of cord she'd been using to keep her hair out of her face while soldering. "With free will, no guarantees the AI will help or trust you. Without free will...would hesitate to call it sentient. Or humane. Not much middle ground."

She paused mid-step as she realized who Miss Americana's guest was, head pulling back a bit as she realized this was perhaps a hair more unusual a 'consultation' than she'd expected...and she'd been expecting something fairly unusual. Miss Americana was a more than capable engineer and programmer, after all. She quickly glanced between Archeville and Miss Americana, and then over at the wall screen featuring the brain scans. That certainly got the lion's share of her attention, moreso even than the presence of the Doctor: for nearly a full minute she stood still glancing up and down the wall of images, her head tilting so far to the side it was a wonder it didn't swing around in a full circle.

".....I've seen worse," she said at last, glancing back at the pair. She didn't sound awfully confident about it. "....I think. Very...unusual?"

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"I," he began, chuckling despite himself, "I suppose that is somewhat comforting."

I wonder who she has seen with worse? The poor person!

Archeville repeated what he had told Miss Americana earlier, complete with 'dramatic reveal' at the end. "Oh, and I should also mention an additional method of treatment I had been using: telepathic therapy, with... oh, I may as well," he shrugged, "let the few people who know my secret know of each other. In addition to the two of you, three others know the full extent of my problem, though there are likely many others who suspect. Hexe, a heroine from my homeland, was the first to learn of it. Scarab, with whom I have worked on numerous cases, also knows, and it is with her that I have been undergoing psionic therapy, with marginal success. Last, but by no means least, is dear Mona, better known to many as Fulcrum."

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"Doktor Archeville has seen a tremendous improvement in his symptoms over the past few months, without the use of any new treatment regimen," Miss A said, moving over to the most recent set of scans. "We have differering hypotheses as to the cause, but I believe that the most important indicator is whether or not the pattern of brain development and degeneration is consistent with a physiological cause for those improvements. I personally am not terribly experienced with looking at brain scans, but I think you've done some research in that area, Dragonfly?"

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"Some," Dragonfly cagily admitted, chewing her lip and frowning at the recent brain scans. The subject at large seemed to make her more than a bit uncomfortable, like she was choosing her words with utmost care. "....research, I mean. Have a - vested interest - no new treatments?" She raised an eyebrow at the pair, tapping a finger against her leg. "Have seen...there are things that cause...degeneration, seemingly-spontaneous self-repair -" She gestured at scans indicating each in turn, frowning. "- but....last I knew, not...subtle. Would notice them being done to you. Or would show up in bloodwork, or require...extensive time strapped to a table. Assuming you would know about those, if they were happening, unless you had frequent blackouts to account for required time."

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"Oh, I have definitely noticed the alterations to my brain!," he said with a laugh, "it is why I know I am -- hopefully, was -- quite mad! Thankfully my dissociations were never so bad, never so thorough, that I could not stop myself from doing anything seriously bad, that I ever fully lost control. No blackouts," he added, shifting slightly in the chair, though I have found, after waking from a short nap or a long night's rest, blueprints or schematics for things that... that I would never consciously, or in good conscience, create. For example, one day I was working on a new medical sensor, to detect cancers in the body. I dozed off in my chair, and when I woke I found a rough sketch for a cancer-causing raygun."

This was true... to a point. Specifically, to the point when Archeville was exposed to pseudonatural magical energies at Avenger & Phantom's home. Before that, his 'Other' self was little more than an insistent, persistent voice. It could persuade and taunt and tease, but not take control, save for when he slept, and even then it was only to the point of scrawling notes or typing on any nearby keyboards. Since the exposure, though, the Other Self had been able to fully take over, with an accompanying physical change to the Doktor. Thus far it had only happened when Archeville slept (and it had proven very good at hiding any evidence of its manifestations), but the Other was growing stronger, and staying in control longer and longer. In time would be able to manifest whenever it wanted, and stay as long as it wanted.

'Vested interest'? Does Dragonfly have something similar, a differently-functioning brain that is both boon and bane to her? Some of what I have seen of her does point that way... well, best not to pry too much; no sense in offending!

"Oh, and no new treatments since the exposure," he added, "though I am continuing to see Scarab for telepathic therapy. I have also worked up a schedule to slowly taper off on my self-prescribed regiment of anti-psychotics; of course care must be exercised due to their numerous side-effects."

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