Louise racked her cybernetic brain (she was still coming to terms with that “cybernetic” part, though already having a replacement hip helped a little) for the rest of the day, trying to think of some way to get into the agency’s files without resorting to Penelope’s extensive skill base. (“Because,” said Penelope, “the first rule of my trade is ‘why raise flags if you have other options?'”)
She found her answer in a bowl of noodles.
It was an odd string of connections in her mind, the sort of thing that happened to everyone—the sort of thing that didn’t happen to her any more. She was sitting there, eating a bowl of cold sesame noodles, and she noticed a flavor in the sauce that reminded her of the first time she had eaten sesame noodles. It had been in a tiny hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in the middle of Indianapolis during a conference, and the noodles had seemed like the least American thing on the menu, so she’d ordered them. She was there with a couple other people—a college mentor, a friend from grad school, and the man who eventually became her supervisor at the agency, Joe. Whose job she had done in addition to her own. Who had never let her be promoted because he was a sexist, racist, homophobic jackass who thought she should sleep with him to learn the error of her lesbian ways. Who could never even keep track of his passwords, much less his caseload.
Who had had unfettered security access to agency files.
The agency website let her in under his ID as easily and sweetly as it had let her in under her own. She would have to send a thank-you card to the IT manager later. Or maybe not.
She was exhilarated to find that the several gigabytes of clinical trial writeups, data tables, and surrounding correspondence were already bundled up neatly in a compressed archive. The archive barely fit on the memory key that Penelope had loaned her (“Your machine is backed up and examined nightly, I can guaran-damn-tee, so if you find anything, throw your files on this and run the program on this other one to wipe the cache.”), but it was enough. She pulled that key out, logged out of the agency website, and ran the cache-cleaner.
Then she put on her cardigan to walk to Penelope’s flat. Her Minder said, “Louise? It is rather late for you to be going out.”
Louise glanced at the clock. It was 7:30. “I’m feeling very energetic, so I want to go for a walk before bed.”
“Very well, Louise,” her Minder said. Did she imagine the dubious tone of voice? “Please remember to be in by 9.”
“I’ll remember my curfew, Mumsy,” Louise said under her breath after she’d shut the door behind her.
Penelope opened the door and wheeled back to let her in without a word. Louise walked in, made sure the door was shut, and handed both keys to her co-conspirator. Penelope rolled her chair over to the tech setup in the living room.
She waved one of the keys at Louise. “It’s old tech, but solid. And most people don’t think of them any more.” She shoved the key into a slot in the wraparound desktop that she pulled out of the console, and settled her glasses on her nose.
Louise seated herself where she could see the big screen.
Penelope brought the archive into her main view and barked a laugh when it asked for a password. She typed something into a small pane in the lower left corner of the screen, and text started rolling by there too fast to read. A moment later, it stopped and chimed softly. “Huh,” Penelope said, glancing at the window and then typing something for the password. “People never change.”
“Why do you say that?” Louise said, watching the archive unpack itself.
“The password was ‘qwerty’,” Penelope said. “People will always be lazyasses.” She selected all the icons and opened them simultaneously. “Here we go. This part is all yours. I don’t do biology.” She pushed the desktop toward Louise.
The initial study design was unsurprising. “Proof of concept stuff and Phase 1 trials are pretty much always in men,” Louise explained, pointing to the relevant lines in the document with the cursor. “Scientists are terrified of our hormones.”
“Yeah, we’re so creepy and wiggly and juicy and unpredictable and crap,” Penelope said, squinting at the screen. “Where’s the list of patients?”
“That’ll be in that database file over there,” Louise said. “But hang on, I want to read the outcome summary.” She skimmed forward expertly to the summary page. “Hmm. Highly variable efficacy. Small percentage with significant responses. And… oh. Huh.”
“So why’d they stop the trial six weeks in?” Penelope said, squinting at the screen. “Why the hell don’t these people put the good stuff up front?”
Louise was already running the document forward. “Adverse reactions… adverse reactions… here we go. Severe. And…”
“Half a dozen suicides?” Penelope almost shouted. “Why did it take them six to stop the study?”
Louise frowned. “One right after the other. Look. Day 35. Day 36. Day 38. Day 39. Day 40. Day 42. And Day 42 is when they pulled all the medications and stopped the trial. I’m guessing they didn’t associate the suicides with the medication immediately. They were interviewing people, doing psych evals, after number two, I bet.”
Penelope yanked another keyboard out of the console and opened the database. It balked, asked for another password, and Penelope, swearing the whole time, ran the password search.
Louise kept reading the while. “More than sixty percent of the patients had disturbed sleep after their nighttime doses. The patients that killed themselves had some of the most severe disturbed sleep events. But none of them were depressed or anxious. In fact, they had reported significant cognitive improvements and relief from depression.”
Penelope crowed, “There he is, the little bastard,” and pointed to the database window.
Louise looked up. Patient #0094, Wachelski, Victor, white male, 75 years old. Withdrawn from trial. Reason for withdrawal: severe adverse reaction, death. She looked back at the summary. “Patient #0094 was the one who died on Day 38.”
“Son of a bitch,” Penelope said feelingly.
A different chime drew a curse from Louise. She fumbled her watch from her pocket. “I have to go,” she said. “Mumsy says I have to come in from playing.”
Penelope nodded. “You come back tomorrow for lunch. I’ll see who else pops out of the woodwork of this thing.”