Brains ordered his breakfast from room service and ate in his room. He didn't want his fellow engineers to see the huge bruise that had developed from his altercation with Rashid. He was just finishing his eggs when his phone rang.
"Hello? Hiram Hackenbacker sp-speaking."
"Mr. Hackenbacker? This is Dr. Evodie Mohenu of Abidjan Central Hospital."
"Hello, Dr. Mohenu. To what, uh, do I owe this c-call?"
"I understand from Dr. Virenov that you are a researcher of many talents. I have come up with a mystery and I would like another opinion on my findings. Are you free at all today?"
"Yes. I could sp-spare some time this, uh, morning. I have a panel d-discussion this afternoon. When would you l-like me to, uh, come?"
"As soon as possible, if you can."
"Certainly. I shall be th-there within a half-hour." He hung up the phone, puzzled. Then he dialed the number to Jeff Tracy's room.
"M-mr. Tracy? C-could I get a, uh, ride to the hospital? One of the d- doctors wants my opinion on some research she is d-doing."
"Sure, Brains. I can take you when Mother, the boys, and I go to the airport. I'll be flying Mother, Gordon, and John back today."
"Th-Thank you, Mr. T-tracy. I will be in the, uh, lobby in 10 minutes."
Brains came down to the lobby to find the Tracys, Tin-Tin, and Bekkah waiting.
"Dad, why do we have to go?" Gordon asked defiantly.
"Because your grandmother wants to sleep in her own bed. Because Bekkah seems to be holding up okay. And finally," Jeff's voice became stern, "Because your brothers need back up should there be an emergency."
Gordon didn't like it, but he said, "Okay, Dad. We'll go." He turned to Bekkah.
"Will you be okay?" His amber eyes were full of worry.
Bekkah nodded. "I'll have Hiram and Tin-Tin here, just in case. And I'm going straight from here to meet my kids. I'll be fine." She kissed him on the cheek, then smiled and put her arms around him in a gentle hug. He returned the embrace, careful of the bruises, then kissed her on the forehead. He gently wiped away a tear, then kissed her on the lips, long and tenderly. The others in the group tapped their feet, looked at their watches, and looked around, whistling. The two finally parted, and Bekkah hugged Grandma Tracy.
"Thanks for being here. You made a difference."
"You'll be fine, Bekkah Barnes. Just take your time," Grandma said. The Tracys and Brains left, John pulling on Gordon's sleeve to drag him along. Watching Bekkah instead of where he was going, Gordon nearly walked into the revolving door, and when he did finally get between the doors, he tripped and nearly fell. Or so it seemed.
"What a clown." Tin-Tin remarked.
"Yeah. But you need a little bit of clowning around every so often." Bekkah agreed, laughing. "By the way, where was Hi...Brains going?"
Tin-Tin looked at her. Bekkah hardly ever used the name "Brains".
"I don't know. Maybe he's going to get some treatment for that big bruise on his face. I wonder where he got it?"
"Come with me. We'll get a coffee and I will tell you all about Hiram K. Hackenbacker, man of action." Bekkah pulled Tin-Tin along with her to the coffee shop.
Dr. Mohenu looked harried as she greeted Brains. She looked at his face critically as she led him to her little laboratory on the fourth floor.
"Did Mr. Allabadah do that to you?" she asked.
"Unfortunately, y-yes." he answered.
"He went on and on about how you punched him in the abdomen and try as I might, I could not find a bruise."
"I'm afraid that, uh, fisticuffs is not my st-strong suit." Brains admitted.
She picked up some computer printouts and began to sort through them. When they were collated to her satisfaction, she pulled a stool up to her workbench and indicated for Brains to do the same.
"You will remember what I told Dr. Virenov. That he had an increased level of testosterone, high enough to make him aggressive. Well, his testosterone levels kept going up. As you can see here, the levels almost went off the scale. Dr. Virenov eventually got to the point that he could not think properly. Testosterone is, as you probably know, an anabolic steroid. It has not affected him physically, but cognitively and emotionally."
"Now, when Mr. Allabadah came in, I started the same general tests on him that I did on Dr. Virenov. And I found the same results. The levels had not risen to as high a level when he came in, but they have risen alarmingly over just the past few hours."
"I went searching for anything in their blood, their tissue, that could do this. And this is what I found."
Brains looked at a spectrographic analysis grid.
"This seems to be an unknown chemical."
"Yes, Mr. Hackenbacker. A drug of some kind. One that is specifically keyed to the adrenal gland."
"Does it stimulate the production of just testosterone?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen a woman with these symptoms to test if testosterone or the estrogens are secreted." She took off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "It seems that once the stimulation is begun, it does not stop. And the drug itself is a long-lasting chemical. It may even be passed from person to person."
Brains shivered. If this was a contagional agent, then it could be spread by almost any means.
"Have you been able to determine if and how it could be spread?"
"Not from the two cases I have now. They have not been able to remember being in a position to do anything that would spread the contagion."
"Could I see Dr. Virenov? Perhaps I can jog his memory." Brains asked.
"Certainly. Though I will warn you, he can be quite aggressive and is having trouble with cognitive coherence."
Dr. Mohenu led the way to the fifth floor, to the psychiatric unit. They found Ivan Virenov, chin on one hand, trying to read the newspaper. His other shoulder was still immobilized. He looked up as they came in.
"Doctor...Mohenu, correct? And you. I know you. A funny name. Hacker? Hacken? Backen? Oh, yes. Hackenbarker. What do you want?" he asked, suddenly belligerent.
"Ivan. Do you remember Rashid Allabadah?" Brains asked softly.
"Yes. I think so. Big loud man. Would make three of you."
"That's right. When did you last see him?"
"Last night. They brought him in here."
"Before that, Ivan. Before you came to the hospital."
"Why do you have that bruise on your face? And why do I feel I should be angry with you?" Virenov asked, suddenly wary.
"I'll answer your questions later. Did you see him before you came to the hospital?"
"I think so." Virenov seemed to ponder the question. "I think...yes, I had a drink with him in the lounge. At the hotel. Before I went up to see Bekkah. I told him I was going to talk to Bekkah." His face crumpled in pain. "Bekkah. Is she all right?"
"She is doing much better."
"I went to hear her sing. She sings so beautifully."
"Yes, she does. Now, Ivan. We are trying to find out if you infected Rashid with something or if he gave it to you. Did you share anything? A drink? A cigarette? Did either of you sneeze? Can you remember?" Brains was almost pleading with the man.
Ivan closed his eyes for a long moment. "I...remember...the waitress brought the drinks. I ordered a scotch and soda and he ordered bourbon. The waitress gave us the wrong drinks. I tasted his before I knew she had done it. Yes. Then we swapped drinks. He didn't...drink any of mine, though."
"Thank you, Ivan. I think we have what we need."
"Please tell Bekkah I loved her singing."
"I will tell her."
Dr. Mohenu and Brains left Ivan to his newspaper.
"Do you know what this means, Mr. Hackenbacker? The contagion might be spread by saliva. Which means droplet contamination. As easy to pass as the common cold."
"And much more dangerous." Brains straightened suddenly. He turned to Evodie.
"I think you'd better test me, Dr. Mohenu. I may be affected."
"Why do think that?"
Brains closed his eyes. "Dr. Virenov kissed Dr. Barnes several times during his attack on her. And last night, I kissed her myself."
At the coffee shop, Bekkah had ordered a hot cocoa instead of her usual coffee.
"I really feel the need for chocolate today. I'm craving it big time," she explained to Tin-Tin. "In fact, I feel kind of bloated and out of sorts. And I ache." She smiled slightly. "If I didn't know better, I'd think I had PMS."
"So you say that Brains actually punched Rashid?" Tin-Tin asked.
"Yes. Didn't have much affect though. Rashid backhanded him practically across the room. That's where the bruise came from."
"How horrible! I knew that man was trouble when I read those letters. Why ever did Brains keep them?"
A tone came from Bekkah's microcomp, which sat beside her on the floor. She put her earpiece in.
"Phone," she explained to Tin-Tin. "Hello? Brains? What's wrong? Okay, but how do I get there? A taxi? Okay, I'm coming. See you in a few." She took the interface out of her ear, and turned to Tin-Tin.
"Brains sounded upset. He wants me to meet him at the hospital. Do you want to come?"
Tin-Tin looked to the door of the coffee shop. Sir James Masters was standing there, looking around.
"I think I'll stay. There's a presentation on innovations in spacegoing ion engines. Alan might be interested in it, so I'll take notes."
Bekkah looked wryly at Sir James, who had come to their table.
"Okay. I get the picture. I'll make like a tree and leave. See you later, Tin-Tin." She rose and went in search of the doorman, who could order a cab.
Brains was waiting for her in the lobby of the hospital. He took her immediately to Dr. Mohenu's lab.
"Dr. Evodie Mohenu, this is Dr. Rebekkah Barnes." The ladies shook hands.
"Dr. Mohenu, please explain to Dr. Barnes everything you have told me...."
"So I tested Mr. Hackenbacker as he requested. His testosterone levels are high, but not as high as the others are."
"Well, he only kissed me last night," Bekkah admitted. "There has to be some time elapsed between contagion and affect." She sighed. "I'm guessing that I am also affected by this drug."
'That is what we would like to determine," Dr. Mohenu told her. "If I could run some tests?"
"Sure. Do what you need to." Bekkah agreed.
Dr. Mohenu took blood from Bekkah, and again from Brains. The tests took some time, and Brains kept looking over Evodie's shoulder. Biochemistry was not Bekkah's forte, so she spent her time reading a magazine. As she read, she was aware that she was having trouble focusing on the page. When she realized that she had read one paragraph several times without understanding it, she closed the magazine, then leaned back and closed her eyes. She ached and felt hot.
"Dr. Barnes? Please wake up." Dr. Mohenu shook her shoulder.
"Oh. Okay." Bekkah looked at her with bleary eyes.
"We have the results," Brains said. "And they are not good."
Dr. Mohenu showed Bekkah the printouts from the computer.
"Your estrogen levels are very high. The adrenal gland has been overstimulated to produce the female hormone. Do you have any symptoms?"
"I ache, I'm bloated, and I'm craving chocolate like crazy," Bekkah delineated them on her fingers. "I'm also having trouble focusing."
"Yes. I am having that trouble, too," Brains admitted. "My testosterone levels are increasing as well."
"What can we do about it?" Bekkah asked. Evodie shook her head.
"I don't know. I don't know how to reverse this or stop it."
"I'm no biochemist, so I wouldn't be much help," Bekkah said.
"I can help, to a point. But I won't be a help much longer. I can feel my mind getting more and more confused." Brains said.
"You both should return to your hotel. You both seem to be in control for the moment, and I do not see that keeping you here will help. I do not know what I can do, but I will monitor both Dr. Virenov and Mr. Allabadah for any changes." Dr. Mohenu walked them down to the lobby.
"Thank you for your hard work, Dr. Mohenu," Brains said as he shook her hand. Bekkah waved for a cab and they rode together in silence back to the hotel. As they exited the cab, Bekkah turned to her companion.
"Brains, we need to call the Island." Bekkah said, "If I am affected, then Gordon is, too"