Daphne snagged the toxicology reports from Hafida's printer, and set them on the table, next to the boxes of take-out from a nearby Thai place. There hadn't been much to choose from that was likely to have vegetarian options in the Great Plains. At least Seward's nominal standing of a college town meant that it wasn't completely hopeless… or in need of busting out cheese sandwiches from the deli. "I hope you don't mind reading while you eat."
"Learning to do everything while I eat is a survival strategy," Hafs answered, a pair of chopsticks in her hands. "Besides, I already skimmed the reports while you were fighting with the printer."
"Show off," Daphne said. Hafs stuck her tongue out in response.
Daphne grabbed the printouts for her own benefit. They had gotten the victimology in their briefing. Three women, a man, all parents of young children. All were hospitalized after the onset of severe neurological symptoms -- tremors, difficulty speaking, ataxia. Falkner and Todd were in the field, conducting interviews with the victims' families now, leaving Daphne and Hafs at their 'base camp', yet another too-small room in a police station, surrounded by police officers that weren't entirely sure why the FBI had come to investigate something that sounded more like a disease than a serial killer.
Daphne flipped through the printouts, and muffled a curse. "I really hope they did this before anyone did an autopsy." The amount of mercury was off the charts. At least now they could say it was poison, and anomalous -- mercury didn't kill that quickly. And maybe get more of the team here -- Chaz was back in DC, the others wrapping up a case a thousand miles away.
"Given the symptoms?" Hafs said. "Todd had Frost wait for the tox report. There's an old case in the files-"
"Arsenic poisoning. The McCain case." Daphne replied, showing she had done her homework. She didn't know everything that happened before she entered the WTF's office, but there were cases that were History, capital H. "Mercury poisoning," she repeated. "Do we know anything about the victims' kids? If they have anything in common?"
"Falkner and Todd are working on it," Hafs said. "I'll call them, ask them to see how many of the victims' kids are on the autistic spectrum."
Daphne blinked a few times. "I didn't realize you were a mind-reader too." The idea had occurred to her -- she'd read a few reports on vaccination rates while waiting to get her own updated, back when she was regularly dealing with taking very sick or injured people to the hospital and making sure they survived the trip -- but Hafs wasn't in the medical field.
Then again, Hafidha Gates made it her business to know things. That went for Chaz as well; she would have expected him to have picked up her thread of thought equally well.
"I keep an eye on conspiracy theories in my copious free time. And, well, I have a couple of debts I owe modern medicine," Hafs said offhand.
Daphne raised an eyebrow. That could be true for most of them -- especially given that they were regularly charging off to arrest gammas, whose signature traits were being tough and irrational. But Hafs didn't elaborate, choosing instead to finish off the carton of vegetarian pad thai, and nodded towards the phone. "Hold on a sec, Peaches. I better call Mom and tell her the news." Hafs own control over her personal superpower was growing.
Daphne realized that, even with only the two of them and a large amount of take-out, she better fill her own plate if she wanted to have dinner now. She took a small portion of everything, leaving the lion's share for Hafidha. 'Feed the betas' was already a maxim she was taking to heart.
She listened, chewing on her own selection of sweet-savory noodles and spicy curry, as Hafs summarized the reports and included her and Daphne's speculation. "Yeah, or a doctor, maybe. But I think you're right. Parent, maybe with an autistic kid of their own. Blames vaccines for their kid's illness. After you get me some names, I'll start scanning the message boards." Daphne wondered if Hafs would even need names: just start looking for the parents of autistic kids in the local area, and tying that identity to screennames and blog posts. "And now we wait to see what happens, while I unplug the tubes to find which scared and frustrated local parent is a gamma. I hate this part."
So did Daphne. She tried to change the subject. "Why conspiracy theories?" Daphne asked.
"Why not?" Hafidha said. "Besides, they're a form of mythology, aren't they?"
Daphne nodded. "They are. Conspiracy theories and urban legends."
"So, phantom hitchhikers and people waking up on ice?"
"Another day at the WTF," Daphne said. And Hafs had shifted talk away from her own past. "I wonder…"
"Hmm?" Hafidha was hunting through empty take-out boxes to see which ones still had food. "Not a bad choice, but man does not live on Thai alone. What else does this town offer?"
Daphne nodded. "I'll ask the locals. But I was wondering -- have you ever found anything definite about other betas in your hunts for conspiracy theories?"
Hafs shrugged. "You'd… no, El Jefe would insist on being the first to know, even if I had to hijack an airplane's PA system to catch him as he leaves for vacation."
"It's not outside the realm of possibility, as unlikely as it seems." Hafs replied, starting to throw out the remains of the meal. "But, no, nothing definite that either Chaz or I could find; all late-night BS level only. All on the level of X-men and lizard people, and not lit up like a Christmas tree in Vegas or making some pattern."
Daphne nodded. She'd done her own searches as an EMT, back when she first realized that there was something funny going on. But she was prepared to believe that Hafs's computer kung-fu was out of her league. Maybe out of anyone's league. If it existed on the internet, eventually Hafidha Gates would find it. "And, in the mean time, you know about any fringe belief a gamma could latch onto."
"And I have some weird openings to see if I can get Duke to tell one of his shaggy dog stories." Hafs grinned. "'The time I beat the inspiration for Charles Xavier at poker' is probably too out there, even for him."
Daphne laughed. "He'd try, wouldn't he?"
"If he could spin a good yarn about it, he'd tell you anything. Hang on -- I got something. A news segment from two years ago, featuring Elizabeth West talking about autism outreach." West had been the second victim.
"You were searching as we talked?"
"I contain multitudes," Hafs wiggled her hands, in the universal 'magic' gesture. "Bringing up the comments on the article -- wow, 'don't read the comments' is right -- and copying the names for us to check out. Back to work."
"Back to work," Daphne said. "Hafs, why do you think people believe in conspiracy theories?"
"It's all about control," Hafs said. "Knowledge is power -- if you know that you can keep your kids healthy by controlling their diet, or that all the misfortunes in your life are because you know the truth, it's more secure than believing in coincidence."
"Then where does that leave us? 'There are no coincidences', remember?"