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Author Topic: Medical MacGuffin  (Read 2215 times)

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Offline Dossta

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Medical MacGuffin
« on: December 09, 2010, 11:16:46 AM »
I'm working on the outline for a short story that I'd like to write, and am hitting a wall that I hope you guys can help me with.

What I want:
Something that a doctor can research that would be sufficiently threatening in the wrong hands.  This particular doctor has been memory wiped (a la http://strolen.com/viewing/Memory_Moths) and is working for the death cult that wiped him.  He's a good man at heart, so the research he's doing shouldn't be obviously evil or disaster-inducing.  For example, I'm not sure that you could create The Zombie Virus without meaning to.  Something that will kill a lot of people or is linked to death (or undeath) in some intrinsic way would be nice.

Restrictions:
Besides not being obviously evil, it would be great if the MacGuffin could be spun in a way that makes it sound like a "really good idea!".  Also this is a fantasy setting, with magic (although the doctor is not magical in any way).

The threat itself won't be horribly central to the story -- it just has to be convincing enough for someone to act on.  Any ideas?

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Offline EchoMirage

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2010, 09:50:04 AM »
Medical researcher here:
>Viral vectors come to mind - bio-technology is able to create vectors that could conceivably enter any cell and change gene expression within for years - or in the case of retro-viral vectors, that can permanently insert new DNA into your cells, and applied to your gonads, affect your offspring. Lots of awesome and horrible come to mind.
>Further delving down the path of transgenesis: a recent study showed a possibility of rejuvenating cells through extending their telomeres, a sort of cell-innate death clock... but mess with them too much, and you will turn the recipient into a bubbling mass of effing cancer.
>Nanomachines: beyond our reach as of yet, micro-robots or their counterparts on biological basis can perform a myriad of functions - and they can get horribly bad and wrong as well, given the wrong kind of input or bad luck.
>Symbiotes: a custom-bred organism that fuses with a recipient and does awesome stuff is awesome. Gone bad, you have a pulsating slime-thing of malice in your stomach... that extends a tentacle to your head, eats your brain and drives you like a stolen Harley (totally out of our reach now).
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Offline EchoMirage

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2010, 09:59:02 AM »
Also: simple viruses.
A well-meaning person could design a virus to perform a task, such as "kill all mosquitoes"... or "make all (people) sterile." It depends on how you define 'well-meaning'.
Also, viruses have a disturbing tendency to mutate: in HIV, half of the offspring are mutants. Different mutants.
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Offline Dossta

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2010, 10:13:52 AM »
Thanks, Echo.  I'm definitely digging the symbiotes idea, as it's something that could conceivably be done in your generic fantasy world with a little magical help.  DNA manipulation would be a little hard to justify, or that would have been perfect.  I had been thinking of something slightly more alchemical before this, like a serum that can regrow bones quickly and give them added strength, but use too much and BOOM -- huge, abnormal bone spurs (perfect for pimping your undead).

As for how "well-meaning" the doctor is, he's your standard Good Doctor.  Loves his job, is passionate about his work, and genuinely wants to help his patients and advance the field of medicine.  He IS somewhat gullible, however, and is being manipulated through memory loss.

I'll play around with the symbiotes for a bit in my head, and see if I can make them fit.  Thanks for sharing your knowledge, and please feel free to add more if you think of them.

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Offline valadaar

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2010, 08:47:11 PM »
Given a fantasy take, I would assume his research more of the gather the right herb/animal cure, etc as opposed to overly scientific approaches.  Germ theory is relatively recent so he might not even understand the causes of plagues any more then a peasant would.

To that end, he would be certainly focused on an end first, and then attempting to find the means - perhaps even though dark magic, if he was motivated enough. 'The end justifies the means..'

For example, he might be able to learn 'healing arts' through diabolic sources and at first these cures seemed effective and life saving. However, in time their true purpose may become evident - the cures cause the patients to become the perfect targets of possession, allowing demons to enter our world in a far more permanent  fashion. 




   
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Offline Strolen

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2010, 01:51:37 AM »
Perhaps he found a certain plant/herb that actually does allow bloodletting to actually cure the disease the person has.

So somebody gets the plague. The doctor uses his discovered herb knowledge and performs a certain blood letting procedure. The blood would, indeed, hold the plague and the person was cured. Now the blood is a toxic danger that can contaminate others through touch, ingestion, whatever. Would work with any illness you could think of. Madness? A blood mist of madness descends over the village...

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Offline Dossta

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2010, 11:04:31 AM »
A lot of good responses to this thread so far, but nothing that really fits yet.  Perhaps some more information would help:

After being mind-wiped, the doctor began working for the cult out of a sense of gratitude (after all, they "took him in" after he woke up with no memories).  The cult is directly guiding this work, giving him specific things to research in the hopes that they will be able to take his work and turn it to their own ends.  They might corrupt it, or use it in a way that the doctor did not intend.  It's important to note that the doctor does not know the true purposes of the cult -- he believes that they are a charitable organization.

I can easily see him creating something alchemical -- a serum, powder, poultice, extract, etc.  I've thought of stuff that could heal/strengthen bones, keep a person alive after great blood loss (perfect for torture), put someone into a extremely deep sleep (the doctor thinks "surgery", the cult thinks "kidnapping"), etc.  But even if these were turned to evil purposes, none of them seem serious enough to be considered a dire threat.  I'm hoping that the raw creativity of the folk here can help me get over this block.

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Offline Moonlake

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #7 on: December 15, 2010, 04:33:06 PM »
Just 2 thoughts that I have:
1. On the potion that induces deep sleep, I was thinking it could easily be modified by the cult (via increased dosage) so that people fall into a coma (sort of a state of undeath). While not a dire threat on a large scale by itself, if it's applied strategically to key individuals (eg. all the generals fall into a coma and hence the whole army is directionless and will then be easily masscared by the other side), then this might indirectly cause a lot of deaths. But then I guess this seems like a more subtle approach than what an average death cult would operate with.

2. A very rough idea- a potion that was meant to boost the ability to overcome illness/stamina over a short period (the doctor might be thinking that this potion would be useful in a time of plague or emergency etc.) but in reality has the side-effect that it would completely burn out someone's energy and cause death very quickly. Alternate version is the side-effect is less strong i.e. the death via burning out energy occurs much slower but the effect of the potion is contagious so that in effect the potion can create a new type of 'plague'.

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Offline Pariah

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #8 on: December 15, 2010, 10:41:07 PM »
#2 there got me thinking, instead of burning out immune system, it could turn them into troll/ogre-like berserkers, the potion speeds up growth enough that it spurs on a magical psuedo-cancer, the death cult disperses to a couple dozen cities at once and start selling their potion as a cure-all at ridiculously low prices, scores upon scores of people buy it for their coughs and arthritis and all of a sudden in the middle of basically every city you have a small army of /things/ that are raging around killing people and breaking stuff, and just generally being a nuisance.  Not quite as thematically flavored for a death cult as say a retrovirus that turns everyone into zombies, but it would still work.
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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #9 on: December 16, 2010, 08:56:06 AM »
I've changed the story around a lot in the past few days, and I think I've finally settled on something.  Echo's symbiotes idea had some serious levels of awesome that I didn't want to pass up, and so my whole setting has shifted from fantasy to sci-fi to make it work.  Here's what I've got:

Working on a cure for paralysis, this doctor has been trying to find a way to bypass the nervous system entirely by developing a specially engineered microorganism.  When injected into a person's bloodstream, they will multiply and begin to form chains through a person's circulatory system.  Eventually, they will link up with the brain and begin to transfer neural impulses along the chain to the various parts of the body.  In this way, someone whose spine is broken in three places may be able to walk again.

Of course, this can be problematic for a few reasons.  If the "cult" (now it's more of a false cover religion) can find a way to control these buggies externally, they will have a collection of puppet-people ready to be exploited when they flick the switch.  And there's no reason these things can't be injected into a healthy body -- they'll still form the links (trying to decide if they'd entirely override the normal neural system in this case).  Either way, the cult could sell this as a form  of insurance; inject yourself now and create your backup system, in case you are ever injured.  Soldiers could theoretically keep fighting even after injuring their spine, so some higher ups may want to make it mandatory for their troops.

Thank you all for the creative jolt -- the discussion was really good.  If you guys are interested, I can post the finished story here when it's done.

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Offline EchoMirage

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #10 on: December 16, 2010, 04:50:07 PM »
Thumbs up for liking my idea - but your adaptation could easily work in a fantasy setting, for example with a tentacled thingy attached to your body or even put inside that allows you to move even when injured, or held by spells such as Hold Person or Paralyze etc. The lure to use it would be great.
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Offline Dossta

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #11 on: December 22, 2010, 02:18:27 PM »
Good point, Echo.  I did go ahead with the sci-fi setting, but I could see that working as well.

Is there a place to post fiction here, or is that not really encouraged?  I'd love to hear what y'all think of the finished project.

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Offline Silveressa

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #12 on: December 22, 2010, 03:52:38 PM »
Is there a place to post fiction here, or is that not really encouraged?  I'd love to hear what y'all think of the finished project.

In the past I've put my fiction in the Articles/Fiction/Gaming - In General area where it was well received. Lacking an actual place for such subs, (hint hint Strolen. :wink: ) I'd say follow suit, I'd like to see how the finished product turned out.
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Offline Dossta

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #13 on: December 22, 2010, 04:36:20 PM »
Thanks, Silveressa.  Post away!

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Offline Silveressa

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Re: Medical MacGuffin
« Reply #14 on: December 22, 2010, 04:37:28 PM »
Anytime, I'll leave feedback as soon as I finish reading!
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