[San Francisco] The UCSF Symposium on Emerging Cancer Treatments and Oncological Theory

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Aug 26 16 9:28 PM

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The Sea View Inn and Suites was a lackluster little hotel that was, notably, a good twenty miles from the anything that could be described as a "sea." Still, it was independently-owned, and had a good deal more character than a glitzy Hilton or ultra-economical corporate inn. The entire (furnished and carpeted) basement level along with three of the four first floor conference rooms had been rented out by UCSF for their symposium, and the normally sleepy Sea View was buzzing with activity. UCSF students, doctors, research scientists, lab technicians, and a few scattered science journalists flitted about, schmoozing over the complimentary breakfast buffet and listening to lectures of both the luminous and crack pot variety.

Ana, of course, was in heaven. She hadn't changed since freshman year of high school, which in Audrey's mind and in Ana's particular case was quite the compliment. Ana had always been quiet, withdrawn, and reserved, but also secretly driven. After her mother's divorce and her family's subsequent move back to the West Coast from which they hailed, Audrey had lost one of her best friends. Ana was naturally bright and curious, someone you could count on to help you with your homework. And while she generally avoided confrontation of any stripe with almost allergic persistence, if she was backed into a corner, Ana could always be trusted to go to bat for you when it really, really mattered.

Like, for example, when you're desperately messaging people on Facebook from the tarmac of San Francisco International. Some of whom you haven't spoken to in years. Ahem.

It was awkward for all of a day, but soon Audrey and Ana both remembered why they were friends. It was tough not to appreciate Ana's natural curiousity and generosity, even if she scoffed at Audrey's new interest in the occult. Here, at the University of California, San Francisco's Third Annual Symposium on Emerging Cancer Treatments and Oncological Theory, Ana was truly in her element. She was still trying to decide between oncology and obstetrics as her specialty, but she talked about some of the doctors speaking here the way Audrey sometimes caught herself talking about photographers she really admired.

Ana was brimming with energy, dressed professionally a smart pantsuit but wearing a "Hello, My Name Is..." sticker on her breast adorned with Sharpie-drawn smiley faces. After wandering for a bit around the hotel and getting a lay of the land, Ana turned to Audrey and presented her with a pamphlet. "Okay, so, who do you want to see first?"

There were three speakers lecturing simultaneously for the first section. The first, Dr. Sylvia Bachchan, was delivering a lecture on "Evolving Methodology in Immunotherapy." The second was interesting to Audrey, because it appeared to be the only lecturer of the day with any occult significance: "Understanding Panacea: Ideals and Spirituality in Medicine," by Dr. David Teofil. The final lecturer Ana dismissed out of hand as, "nobody, a graduate student."

Audrey could tell that Ana was being polite in letting her choose (she was palpably chomping at the bit to see Dr. Bachchan), but she also knew that Ana had been worried that Audrey was depressed. Of course, Audrey wasn't depressed... but she had recently moved across the continent in order to escape an experience she couldn't discuss or even acknowledge with Ana, so it was understandable how the young medical student drew that conclusion. Audrey could tell that Ana was overjoyed to simply see Audrey momentarily out of their shared apartment, and would gladly go with her to either lecture.
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#1 [url]

Aug 27 16 12:46 PM

Ana and Audrey knew that they did not appear to belong with each other. A mismatched set. Her knees poked out of her jeans. A black man's dress t-shirt, over it and a nametag with Ms. Battle written on it in cursive script. She had a press pass on a lanyard around her neck. "Photojounralist", she had called herself, something of a lie. After, she would try to sell the photos but who could say? 

Nothing she can seen so far really looked visually interesting. She could at best hope that the incongruity between the subject matter and the subjects might make for something.

"Ana, why don't you go to your thing."

Her finger pointed to the Dr. Bachban's lecture. 

"We can meet up, after. Have lunch or something? Does that sound good to you?"

The Teofil lecture appealed. It sounded fucking bizarre. Not like anything she had seen or heard so far. Not sure what I expected... 

"If you don't mind... Becuase if you do, I'll just go to your lecture with you."

Audrey's interest had begun to wave once she got to the actual conference. After nightfall she thought of slipping away to the event at that White Space place, though she supposed she did not want to pass up a chance at photographing the dance or whatever they did here. That had potential... Incongruous subject matter. Something. 

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#2 [url]

Aug 28 16 1:49 PM

Ana is all too happy to let Audrey do her own thing. "Oh no, of course! Lunch! I'll text you after... bye Audrey, thank you!" With that she's off, dashing to the west side conference room.

Dr. Teofil was in one the basement conference rooms, which were not as gloomy as they sounded thanks to some creative use of sky lights. Dr. Teofil was a stocky but handsome man in his thirties with a messy brown hair and a Star of David around his neck. His lecture was not very well-attended, so Audrey was free to sit where she wanted. Dr. Teofil's lecture centere on alchemy's influences on chemistry, and the ramifications for that in medicine. It was big on rhetoric and light on facts, but Dr. Teofil was clearly a practiced and passionate public speaker, and those few who attended paid rapt attention.

Teofil's overall thesis was a little murky, but he seemed to be claiming that discredited alchemical concepts, such as the creation of homunculi, the tranmutation of lead to gold, and the creation of a universal remedy or "panacea" bear philosophical and spiritual merit, even if the science behind them has over the centuries been proved quackery. These concepts could be ideals to strive for or philosphical possibilities physicians will need to grapple with. He's essentially arguing for academics to take alchemcy's cosmic themes and imagery seriously, if not scientifically, then as metaphors for the transformative powers of the profession. The arguement is more an emotional one than a logical one, but Dr. Teofil speaks with authority on both the esoterica of alchemy and complex surgical procedures with equal ease.

Afterwards, a few of the listeners leave. A group of college students approach Dr. Teofil, asking him to sign and verified they viewed his lecture, which he does with good humor. After a few minutes, all that are left in the conference room are Dr. Teofil, Audrey, and some admirers and colleagues he's chatting with near the lectern at the front.


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#3 [url]

Aug 28 16 4:51 PM

Strange lecture. I wonder how he got to teach it. 

Not what she expected. Not New Agey or psychotherapeutic in a Kübler-Ross kind of way. Maybe his lecture would have mad more sense had he more time to expound on it unpack it. Really, she wonders, what must his patients feel about it? How much, if any of it, did he reveal to them? 

She lingers around the enthusiasts speaking to him and tried to easedrop. The medallion interested her, particularly. What did that mean? And his intensity. Hanging out in the periphery, she rehearses asking him for a potrait, later. The camera makes a good prop in that regard. Audrey she did not wish him to misinterpret her professional interest in anything more. As soon as she got a close look, she will try to see if she wears a wedding band. 

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#4 [url]

Aug 30 16 10:12 AM

Dr. David Teofil's Star of David looked like an ordinary symbol of Jewish faith. Getting close enough to view jewelry meant that Audrey could also see that Dr. Teofil wore no wedding band. During her eavesdropping, Audrey witnesses Dr. Teofil speaking to a thin brunette woman he calls "Chris," and a few others. "Not bad David," Chris says, her tone teasing. "I think everybody even stayed awake through this one."

"Very funny, Chris," he responds, smiling warmly. "Unlike you, some of us can still see the magic in our profession."

"Unlike you," an avuncular-looking man to Dr. Teofil's right suddenly cracks, "most people can only stand about fifteen minutes of drivel about the hare in the moon and his magic potion."

"It was a bit long," Chris admits. Dr. Teofil shakes his head, blowing past their criticism. "Trust me, I cut all I could," he says, "but that barely scratched the surface. I'm telling you, I could teach a class on this stuff. Or write a book!"

"Write the book first," the sarcastic older gentleman mutters, "then we'll see about the class, David."

After that, the topic of lunch comes up. The group wants to leave the symposium early to go someplace nicer, but Dr. Teofil wants to stay and check out some other lectures. He waves goodbye to his well-wishers, who leave him alone in the conference room with Audrey. Dr. Teofil begins shuffling papers at the lectern, getting ready to leave, when he notices Audrey and smiles at her. "I'm sorry, did you need me to sign a verification for a class? Or... did you... uh, want a picture?" he says, noticing the camera. It seems he more doubts his talents as a model than Audrey's talents as a photographer; why would anyone want a picture of him?

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#5 [url]

Aug 30 16 12:03 PM

"Yes, if you wouldn't mind. I would be grateful. I'm a photojournalist, not a student."

She takes the lanyard and shows it to him. Not as if he couldn't see it, but like a talisman.

"My press pass. I won't make you if you don't want to. It can me now or later, or this evening. It's all the same to me. But I think you would make a fascinating subject."

She waits. If complely honest, she would have said, the only remotely interesting subject, so far, and that more because of his theories than his appearance.

Last Edited By: azuria Aug 30 16 12:11 PM. Edited 1 time.

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#6 [url]

Aug 30 16 7:53 PM

Dr. Teofil just frankly seems flattered by the attention. "Sure. I'd be more than happy to. Now would be good, I suppose... or, hey, seeing as how my fan club walked out on me, do you want to get some lunch in the hotel restaurant?"

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#7 [url]

Aug 30 16 8:57 PM


Someting about his smooth tone assured him he might pay for lunch. Audrey feels bad about ignoring Ana, she knows she probably shouldn't, but, damn she needed all the cash she could have right now. She can text Ana and say something had come up, which it sort of had. She gusses. Did it count as lying?

"We can do either, just give me a second..."

Guilty, she fumbles out her smartphone and decides to ignore it. She hopes she won't run into Ana. Either her or Teofil. It looks inevitable to have to blow off one of them, at least for now.

"First food, then I can take a portrait, all right?"

If they eat together, that should make him more at ease with her and him more at ease with him.

Goddamnit, I hope I can make it up to her. Have dinner with Ana or something. Apologize...

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#8 [url]

Aug 31 16 10:55 AM

Dr. Teofil cheerfully brings Audrey to "The Rose and Thorn", the Sea View Inn and Suites' attached restaurant. Like most hotel restaurants, it's wildly overpriced, but Dr. Teofil reassures Audrey that lunch is on him. On the way in, Audrey spots Ana at a large table with a gaggle of students and a few lecturers. She smiles and waves excitedly to Audrey, but doesn't interrupt, too absorbed in her own hobnobbing. At least she wasn't offended by the brush-off!

David orders a cobb salad (the menu is uninspired but the food the neighbors are eating looks pretty good). The conversation naturally turns to the content of Dr. Teofil's lecture, and he explains a little more of his background: he's an oncological surgeon, by all accounts a very good one, but he studied medieval history and folklore in undergrad and never really shook his taste for it. His lecture today was sort of a pilot for a class he's hoping to teach. The working title is "History of Medicine, Chemistry and Alchemy," and Dr. Teofil freely admits that teaching such a class would be a good way to "supply some undergrads with a needed history credit, while also nerding out about some of my favorite subjects." He's self-effacing about his interests, but his passion as always is palpable.

At about the time your food arrives, he suddenly shakes his head and looks embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I feel like all we've been talking about is me and my lectures. What about you? How long have you been in journalism? That has to be a fascinating job."

Last Edited By: Foreboding Aug 31 16 4:20 PM. Edited 1 time.

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#9 [url]

Aug 31 16 2:09 PM

"A week, maybe two weeks from now."

She has finished the vocado roll-up she ordered.

"Because I sort of lied. I do take photos and I have sold a few, only not as a photojournalist. I only just moved here, from western Massachusetts. I had an upheaveal, I had to move and then I ended up here with my rooomate Ana, who we passed by earlier. Yes, so I guess you could say that I am working on spec, as they call it. I have some experience, though, with artistic photography. Ana invited me to come along and they did give me a press pass, so... Where does your interest in old folkore and so on come from, if you don't mind me asking?"


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#10 [url]

Aug 31 16 4:19 PM

Dr. Teofil smiles knowingly. "Perfectly understandable. You're not the first east coast transplant to make a go of it here in California, and I doubt you'll be the last. I was one, myself. Trust me, it gets better."

David then takes a forkful of salad and chews it thoughtfully as he answers Audrey's question. "That's tough to say. I suppose it was always there. When I was a kid, I'd devour books about paranormal experiences. They were just collections of unfounded anecdotes, but they were my favorite and I'd talk my parents' proverbial ear off about them. Of course, I was also very intelligent, precocious even, and science and history were my favorite subjects. I had dreams of being a paranormal investigator when I grew up, of discovering real evidence of ghosts or telepathy or... or something!" He makes a vague gesture and chuckles in self-deprecation.

"And then I grew up a little, I suppose. Every Bigfoot sighting or alien abduction or accusation of witchcraft I saw in the news was inevitably and swiftly discredited. I found it hard to take that stuff quite as seriously, but the imagery and the metaphors still resonated with me. And, while anecdotal, I've seen and experienced some things I can't quite explain. Of course, now I believe that such phenomena have a rational, scientific explanation, and I believe it's my duty to search for those explanations, but for me that doesn't reduce their magic and the mystery. I guess you could say that, if there is a 'god of the gaps,' then I'm the sort foolish enough to worship him. What about you? Do you believe in ghosts and ghoulies and ESP and all that?"

Last Edited By: Foreboding Aug 31 16 9:28 PM. Edited 2 times.

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#11 [url]

Sep 1 16 1:45 AM

Just now, Audrey could use a cigarette. Or something much stronger. How had she walked into this trap, anyway? Allow him to treat her to lunch and then prod a bloody-raw memory she would sooner, much sooner forget?


"That is a rather private and personal question. I know you disclosed your own thoughs, I know you buy this meal..."

She closes to her eyes briefly to compose her thoughts and then opened them. And makes her face as cool and masklike as she can, which she has long practice doing.

"It isn't something I am prepared to discuss, not right now. You know, I have to look out for myself.But I do wonder... have you heard of the Muchison House?"

Last Edited By: azuria Sep 1 16 11:30 AM. Edited 1 time.

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#12 [url]

Sep 1 16 9:17 AM

Dr. Teofil looks mortified, and begins to stammer an apology, but then clams up when Audrey continues speaking. He furrows his brow thoughtfully. "Hmm. Muchison House? It doesn't ring any bells, personally. Sounds like some sort of local haunted house legend?" He says this without judgement; all the derision he usually expresses toward the supernatural he seems to reserve for his own theories and experiences.

"I'm not familiar with that particular place, but... look..." Dr. Teofil reaches for a napkin and scribbles down some instructions and a URL. "Are you familiar with the dark web? Darknets and secret website and so on? There's one I frequent. One I trust. You might be able to find some answers there." He hands her the napkin, which also has his personal cell phone number, and looks her in the eyes with sympathy.

"I understand if you don't want to discuss it, of course. But I'm always interested in anecdotes of the preternatural. And... well. Talking can help, right?" Dr. Teofil then sheepishly returns to his salad, not wanting to push Audrey further.

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#13 [url]

Sep 1 16 11:35 AM

She pockets the napkin without thinking about it.

"No offense... Doctor, I hope I don't come off as standoffish or anything... It's just really recent."

The last escapes her lips without her willing it. She could really use some of that nicotine gum and to call her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor. Fuck! Now she also couldn't wait to get go online, use Tor to anonymize herself like when she would order drugs via Silk Road, before it got busted. Not that she had heard of these particular URL before.

"Changing the subject... Are you still interested in my photographing you? I haven't lost interest."

The caption could read something like, "Dr. What's-His-Name Teofil, studies the intersection between cancer and spirituality." Or something like that.

Last Edited By: azuria Sep 1 16 11:38 AM. Edited 1 time.

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#14 [url]

Sep 1 16 3:37 PM

“Yes, of course,” Dr. Teofil replies with enthusiasm. “You’re the artist, though. Or artist-cum-photojournalist, I suppose. Where and when should we…”

And then suddenly David trails off, his gaze focusing on something over Audrey’s shoulder. She turns around reflexively, following his gaze, but not before she sees his face light up with recognition. Recognition… and maybe fear?

Turning around, Audrey sees two women approaching their table. The women are roughly the same height, about five and a half feet each, though one is thin and willowy, while the other is muscular, built rather like a gymnast. The athletic-looking woman is wearing a dark and professional-looking suit, bulky sunglasses, and a Bluetooth earpiece. The thinner woman is dressed in a white smock or lab coat, like the type a lab technician might wear, her high heels tapping a staccato rhythm against the tile floor of The Rose and Thorn.

“Alice? Alice Taline?” David asks, his brow furrowing in confusion as he focuses on the woman in the high heels and lab coat. “You’re aware this is an oncology conference, right?”

The women walk up to the table, all but ignoring Audrey. “Yes indeed,” the woman apparently named Taline says, her lips pressed into a thin and joyless smile. “But with a surgeon like you, David, your patients will be mine soon enough, won’t they?”

David’s expression darkens. “What the hell do you want now, Alice? What right do you have to come in here with your jackbooted iron star-”

Alice Taline, for her part, doesn’t answer. Instead she turns her head to her companion in the black suit and gives an almost imperceptible nod. At this signal, the woman removes her sunglasses, revealing a pair of brilliant blue eyes that seem out of place set against her swarthy complexion. The blue-eyed woman then stares at David and interrupts him in calm and even tones: “You will leave the symposium now. You will speak to no one. You will pay for your meal, get up, and join us outside.”

Dr. Teofil doesn’t say a word. His eyes widen slightly, as if in shock or surprise, but his mouth snaps shut as he moves to stand. He tosses a wad of crumpled bills from his pocket onto the table, and then stands up mechanically from the table.

As if noticing her for the first time, Taline's attention flips momentarily toward Audrey. As Taline turns to leave, she says simply to her companion, “Take care of her, too.” And then those brilliant blue eyes turn to Audrey…

Last Edited By: Foreboding Sep 1 16 3:40 PM. Edited 1 time.

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#16 [url]

Sep 1 16 8:17 PM

During the exchange, Audrey notices that Taline has a slight Armenian accent. Audrey also notices a pin with a seven-pointed star on the lapel of muscular woman's suit.

The woman in the suit with the blazing blue eyes stares straight at Audrey and says, "You will sit here for five minutes and tell no one what you've seen." Then she turns to walk away with Taline and Dr. Teofil.

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#17 [url]

Sep 6 16 3:51 PM

Did I hear that? Did I really?

She sits in place momentarily, as if her thoughts had liquid form and something just spun a spoon through them. Time suspended, momentarily. Audrey stands up, pushes the chair back and tries to locate her smartphone.

"I will what? I will what?!"

She presses a button to turn the smartphone into a camera. Maybe she should call 911. Better to get the evidence now, maybe.

"You just told me what to do what?"

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#18 [url]

Sep 7 16 2:08 PM

Taline and her blue-eyed companion pause for a moment, glancing back at Audrey. The woman in the suit looks calm and emotionless, but fear and surprise momentarily flash across Taline's features. Neither bother to slow their steps or stop to answer Audrey's questions. Taline simply shoots her a death glare and continues on, her stride unbroken as she and her companion in the suit try to usher a dazed-looking Dr. Teofil out of the restaurant.

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#19 [url]

Sep 9 16 10:31 AM

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