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Biological Imperative

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Xerostomia. Dry mouth. Common causes were aging, dehydration, chemo- or radio-therapy, side effects from a multitude of medications . . . and nerves.

Nerves it was, nerves was all she seemed to be as Angela fidgeted with the files held at her side, her fingers playing anxiously over the corners of the pages, shifting her weight back and forth between her feet as she rode the lift down, down, down into the bowels of Overwatch. She licked her dry lips to no avail and she thanked God when the others in the lift left at earlier floors, and no one followed her down into the research laboratory complex. No one ever came down here, even she would rarely visit. Dr. O'Deorain didn't report to her, she was assigned to R&D, and she would hear a general report of whatever progress O'Deorain may or may not be making on current projects at the bi-monthly meetings. She never had reason to come down. Besides, Moira O’Deorain made her nervous.

She had always been civil, to her and to everyone at Overwatch. While she had never been untoward, something about her cool, calculating demeanor had given Angela pause from the get-go, the way O'Deorain always seemed to be sizing her up, evaluating her worth with every word she spoke and every move she made.

Her talent made her no less intimidating; Angela had heard of O’Deorain before she had arrived at Overwatch, and to be honest she had been taken aback that someone like that would be brought on. Angela tried to remain objective. Dr. O'Deorain’s research itself was fascinating. It was novel, her methodology was sound, and the application was far-reaching and could help millions around the world suffering from genetically linked maladies. This could be the end of Tay-Sachs, the end of cystic fibrosis, an end to several types of cancer if they could manage to isolate the right SNPs. Hemophilia, Niemann-Pick, thalassemias, all could be a thing of the past if Moira’s research were followed to its probable conclusion.

As silly as she felt to admit it, Angela got a thrill when she read O'Deorain’s research, it truly excited her, that this woman was doing so much to help so many. But then had come the discussion section, and it had become clear in her discussion of future applications and possible areas for further research that O'Deorain’s interest in curing genetic disease was more a means to an end. No, she sought to do more. It wasn’t about curing, it was about changing. While her vision had never been fully articulated in any of her papers, Angela knew that for just that reason, that even O'Deorain would not put it to paper, that it was probably something she didn’t want to know.

Thankfully, Angela had very little reason to interact with O'Deorain. While her research had medical implications, she was assigned to research and development, and what benefit they could gain from one another's research was facilitated through access to shared resources on the Overwatch database. No, Angela had very little knowledge of . . . whatever it was O'Deorain was doing down here, and she had been happy to keep it that way thus far.

Angela exited the lift and in the long, dim hallway of the basement lab complex there was no sound but the dulled clack of her high heels on the perfectly clean floor. She knew O'Deorain typically worked alone, which was imperative for this meeting in particular. Not a meeting, really, Dr. O'Deorain wasn’t even expecting her. She had considered setting up something more formal, but she panicked at the very thought of O'Deorain asking her about the nature of the meeting, what they needed to speak about. And so she had opted for “just dropping by for a chat.” Truth be told, this also gave her the opportunity to back out at the last minute if her nerves got the best of her. She licked her dry lips again, no use.

She’d thought about this for a very long time. Not about involving O'Deorain, that wasn’t added into the equation until recently, but about the whole thing. She was resolved that this is what she would do, but she had always had her doubts. But with the expertise O'Deorain could bring, perhaps her concerns could be pushed aside, dealt with. Moira O'Deorain could be the missing piece to this puzzle.

The privacy shades were in place for the genetics laboratories, but a dim light was on. As Angela reached the door she stood quietly for a moment, willing herself to breathe slowly, trying to work up some saliva for when she finally had to speak. Standing up straight, she pressed the small call button on the door’s keypad.

A few moments went by before a voice responded, distorted by the small speaker, but clearly O’Deorain, “Yes? What is it?”

Angela stuttered for a moment as she found her voice, “Dr. O’Deorain? It’s Angela Ziegler, do you have a moment to speak with me?”

An annoyed grunt. “If this is about the lab budget, I included a rationale for every expense on the second sheet of the workbook.”

“N-no,” Angela shook her head at the speaker which could not see her, and her voice was a bit quieter as she admitted it to herself and to O'Deorain, “This is about, uh, a personal matter.”

Silence. What was she doing in there? A long silence. Was Dr. O'Deorain still considering her request, or had she simply decided to ignore Angela entirely and go back to her work? Angela nearly lost her nerve, and considered turning to leave when a small chirp was heard and the door slid open.

Angela stepped cautiously into the lab. She had been here early on, before O'Deorain had come to Overwatch, so she was familiar with the general layout of the laboratories. In fact, most labs were just replicas here; each lab had its own specialized equipment for whatever work was going on, but the cupboards, countertops, safety showers, eyewash sinks, fire blankets, and glass disposal were all in the same locations in every lab. It was safer that way, and it helped Angela feel less alien to this lab despite the fact O’Deorain had apparently colonized it for herself.

The lab was an absolute mess. The kind of mess that the person who made it can traverse perfectly, can find anything in, but a mess all the same. It was good O'Deorain worked alone, or else she’d have driven any lab partner to insanity. Books and periodicals formed haphazard piles on benches throughout the lab (safely away from the gas hookups, Angela noted with relief), used glassware in desperate need of Alconox filled three deep sinks along the near wall, and across the trays of implements lined up on the center bench was a row of cages on the far wall, each holding a single rabbit. Some looked at her when the door opened, some didn’t. O'Deorain didn’t either.

She was on the far end of the room, not far from one of the intercom and door release switches, sitting on a stool with her back to the door. The lab itself was quite dark, and the small desk lamp immediately beside her cast a warm light which illuminated her and cast her shadow back onto Angela as she approached.

“Dr. O’Deorain, I’m sorry to interrupt,” Angela said as her heels clicked against the polished, sealed concrete floor.

O'Deorain waved her hand dismissively, dog-eared her page in the text she was reading, and closed the book as she turned to face Angela. It was disarming, whenever O'Deorain would look at her. Angela sometimes wondered if the heterochromia was what had caused her interest in genetics. Someday maybe she would ask. But it wasn’t just the strange eyes, it was the way that O'Deorain’s gaze always seemed to be appraising her, sizing her up, like an animal trying to determine if you were a threat . . . or prey. Angela shivered in the cool lab, but kept her pleasant smile.

The stool on which O'Deorain sat was one of the models which could be spun up or down, and she had spun this one up so that her long legs weren’t cramped below the lab bench, and so even sitting down she seemed taller than Angela, especially as she straightened up upon turning. She smirked, “What brings you to the mines, Angela?”

The lab was cool, that was why Angela’s skin prickled into gooseflesh upon hearing her call her by her given name, something she never did in the bi-monthly review meetings. Was this the first time? Angela was fairly certain it was. But then, wasn’t this the first time they’d spoken one on one, alone like this? The gooseflesh wasn’t going away. Angela shook her head a bit, “M-Mines?”

She let out a single breath, a half-chuckle, and gave a small wave of her hand to indicate the lab itself, “I’ve heard that some of the recruits upstairs have taken to calling it the Mines of Moira.” She grinned a bit more this time, and Angela couldn’t help but giggle a bit herself. It was rather amusing, the jokes that some of the younger agents would come up with, and at least this one indicated they probably were getting some reading done in their spare time.

“Ah, I see,” Angela’s smile was easier now, her mouth not so dry. She’d never heard O’Deorain make a joke, and while this one wasn’t really her joke, it still put Angela at ease that she had shared it with her. But then, the subject for this meeting. She fidgeted with the files again. They weren’t relevant, she just brought them in case she needed something to do with her hands so she didn’t begin to wring them, “Well, I . . . I was hoping for your professional assistance on a personal matter.” Angela had no idea how to explain this to a near-stranger, and O'Deorain’s gaze was no less piercing even paired with a charming grin. Angela looked around instinctively.

O'Deorain raised a brow in curiosity, and motioned toward the cages, “The rabbits aren’t a very talkative bunch, they don’t gossip much,” she assured Angela, “But if you’d be more comfortable, I have an office?”

Yes, she would have an office. That was part of the default laboratory floorplan, a central office attached to the two divided laboratories for privacy and desk work. In Angela’s case, it was also the focal point of some couch-centric power-napping.

In O'Deorain's as well, it seemed. As Angela followed her lead into the office, the main difference between Angela’s office and this one was that her couch was much, much longer and made of dark brown leather. It looked comfortable, a look completed by the pillow and green quilt hanging off the side, which O'Deorain quickly scooped up and placed on an end table.

“The fluorescent lights make a noise,” was all she said in explanation as she turned on a series of small desk and table lamps throughout the room instead of the overhead light, and Angela found the idea interesting. The hum of the lights in her own office was sometimes deafening in the still, quiet nights. She'd always opted for music, but perhaps she should buy some lamps.

She sat gingerly on the couch, faltering a bit as she sank into it unexpectedly. It was soft, well-used. She wondered how often O'Deorain went back to her quarters. She pressed her knees together and smoothed out her skirt, then placed the files on her lap and looked down at them despite their irrelevance. It was nice to have something to do with her hands and her eyes.

O'Deorain had walked behind the desk and bent down, and Angela heard the sound of glass. As O'Deorain straightened again she placed two old fashioned glasses on the desk and held up a fat green bottle, “Drink?”

She was already pouring her own when Angela said, “Yes, please.” She normally wouldn’t be one to drink during working hours, but something to calm her nerves might be nice. If only it weren’t too late to back out now . . .

“Freezer’s peeled, so I haven’t got any ice right now, sorry,” There was a small clunk, and Angela presumed she had kicked one of the small Overwatch-issued refrigerators behind her desk. She poured a sizable amount of liquor into each glass, enough to make Angela raise a brow but not enough for her to complain at this particular meeting, and handed Angela one.

Angela took her glass with a nod of thanks, and as O'Deorain retreated to sit back behind the desk Angela found that she had exceptional taste in whisky. She took a decent-sized drink, then held the glass over the stack of papers in her lap. Dr. O'Deorain had settled in behind the desk, and Angela felt somewhat like she was in the headmistress’ office as the older woman’s appraising stare found her again. O'Deorain took a long, slow drink from her own glass, never removing her eyes from Angela. She was waiting for Angela to speak.

Angela cleared her throat and licked her lips, her mouth impossibly dry again for someone who had just taken a drink, “I . . . before I get into the specifics I want to ask for your discretion, Dr. O’Deorain. This matter is . . . very private.”

O'Deorain gave a single nod of her head in agreement, and motioned with her glass for Angela to continue.

Angela took a deep breath. Like a bandage, that was probably the easiest way to do this, all at once, out with it, rapidly spilling out, “I am a thirty-seven-year old woman who never leaves her job and hasn’t had a real date in three years.”

Whatever O'Deorain was expecting her to say, this was clearly not it, and she let out a half choke, half laugh and sat back in her chair. She gave a small sound of apology and covered her mouth with her hand briefly, but when she pulled it away she had an amused grin as she managed to push out the words, “I . . . I see. And, um, what professional assistance do you think I can offer you on this matter, Angela?”

Angela felt her face flush. Oh no, she didn’t think Angela had meant about the date part, did she? Oh no, oh no, this wasn’t good. Okay, the rest of the truth, before this goes further off the rails. All at once, one long spiel. Angela looked down into her drink as she explained nervously, “I’ve always wanted the life I have but . . . I’ve always wanted to have a child, too. I’d thought I would just let life happen and someday I would have children but—but that doesn’t seem to be coming my way, and time is running out.” She paused for a moment to look up, to gauge O’Deorain’s reaction. Her amused smile had given way to a look of quiet contemplation, and when she saw Angela look to her she motioned for her to continue. And so she did, “I have come to realize if it is going to happen I need to make it happen on my own. I’ve looked into it, into, ummm . . . using donation and it’s something I can do. But the more I’ve learned and, uh, taken stock of my own situation, I realized my window may be gone already.”

“You’d be very young to be already entering menopause,” she responded plainly, though of course they both knew that they both already knew this.

Angela nodded, enthusiastic that O'Deorain was engaging with her in this conversation instead of laughing at her, mocking her, turning her away. She leaned forward a bit in earnest as she continued, “Yes, it’s not absolutely too late for me, but the older I get the less likely any pregnancy will be viable. I need to do it soon, if I’m to do it at all. At the very least, I can't sit around waiting for . . . for someone else.”

O'Deorain nodded, her brow furrowed. They sat, regarding one another in silence, for several moments before O'Deorain finally said, “I am not sure where I fit into all this.”

And here it was, the request she’d come down to make. Angela took another drink, then continued, “I want to stack the deck in my favor, to be sure the time I have isn't wasted.” She raised a hand and began raising fingers as she counted off the aspects of her plan, “I can take fertility medications, make sure I’m healthy, pick a healthy donor,” She raised a final finger as she looked past her hand at O'Deorain, “But you can go deeper, can’t you? If given, uh, a sample you can modify it on a cellular level, increase the chances of fertilization?”

O'Deorain considered only for a moment before nodding, “Yes, this has been done before, but I believe most find it not worth the effort.” She grinned as she leaned back in her chair, “Then again, most people are happy to just keep shagging til’ it works." She spent some time looking Angela over before adding, "But I suppose that doesn’t really apply here.”

Angela blushed, never in a million years expecting to be sharing drinks and talking about ‘shagging’ with Dr. O’Deorain. She took another drink before smiling nervously, “No, no it doesn’t.” After a pause, “So . . . you can help me?”

Still leaning back, O'Deorain placed her long legs up on her desk, crossing them at the ankles as her chair tipped back. Angela was jealous of the ease with which she conducted herself as there Angela sat, a tense bundle of nervousness. The older woman held her glass up to the warm light of the lamps and watched the liquid swish around, clearly contemplating something. Angela was about to ask what, but O'Deorain angled her head back and finished the remainder of her glass, setting it down on the desk with a clunk and her own contented sigh, “Yes, I think I can help you, but I’ll need to look into it more first, I don’t know much about the actual procedures. Fertility is not my area of expertise.”

Angela’s smile was wide as she leaned forward, nodding happily, “Yes, of course, I understand. Thank you so much, Dr. O’Deorain, you have no idea how much I appreciate this.”

“Mmmmm,” O'Deorain continued, her face stoic, “I suppose we don’t have forever, though. What timeline are you envisioning on this, Angela?”

Gooseflesh. “I hadn’t known if you would say yes, I still have to look through the database for a suitable donor, and,” Angela found herself faltering for a minute, but pushed on as she assured herself this was a medical and academic discussion between professionals embarking on an endeavor, “Given my own cycle I won’t be ovulating for another three weeks.”

Dr. O'Deorain nodded and stood. Angela instinctively stood as well, recognizing she was about to be dismissed, “Less than three weeks then. I will look into the literature and the procedures. Let me know if anything should come up in the meantime.” She smiled down at Angela as she fell in step beside her. They walked to the door of the laboratory, and Angela felt warm inside. Perhaps the alcohol. (She would have to give that up soon, she hoped.)

“Thank you, Dr. O’Deorain, this means so much to me,” Angela said sincerely. She fought against the overwhelming urge to embrace the taller woman, and instead held out her hand. Professionals. Medical procedure. Colleagues. Science. Nothing more.

“Moira,” O'Deorain corrected her as she placed her cool palm against Angela’s and shook her hand with a smile.

“Moira,” Angela said softly, and she liked the way it felt to say Moira’s name, “I’ll talk to you soon then, Moira.”

Angela made sure not give in to her need to smile with excitement until after the lift doors had closed and she was on her way back to her own department.