RP A Brief Conversation

illirica

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The morning had been very tidy. Agent Cantrille had been occupied with standard security rounds, performing checks and measurements of various anomalies, all of which had been within normative parameters. This was not always the case, but it was occasionally the case. Currently her schedule informed her that she was on lunch break. Most agents spent this time down in the cafeteria, but she did not do that because eating food was untidy and she did not do that in front of people. It was definitely certain that she did it at some point, even if no one ever saw her do it, because that was expected and it was not necessary for anyone to ask any further questions about that. That would have been impolite, and also untidy.

This was acceptable, because it meant that she generally had the shared office space to herself during lunch break, which allowed her to write paperwork. She was very good at paperwork, especially official security agent paperwork. The official paperwork had many standard phrases and standard charts and boxes which were to have a checkmark in them or be empty, and it was all very tidy and also easy for others to understand. Paperwork was very relatable and Laine appreciated it. Currently she was graphing the number of spores produced by an anomalous mushroom over the last 24 hours, which was 1,934,228,503. This was standard for a mushroom and also standard for this mushroom. The spores would not establish themselves because there were not any bees nearby. Bees were not permitted in the vicinity of ACF-8933 on account of its having once established an apian army.

Nonetheless, information was important, and it was important to record the number of spores produced. The research team generally did this as part of their standard activities, but Agent Cantrille was very meticulous about her actions, and was also very accurate. Research generally approximated to 4 significant figures, which Laine found imprecise, but also they had to use tools for measurement and that complicated things somewhat. She would forward her reports to research, as usual. Initially there had been complaints that this was not helpful and not funny, until it had been explained that Agent Cantrille's measurements were, in fact, very accurate, and then the team had been much more interested. Laine did not mind when they were interested in the number of mushroom spores, but she did not like it when the interest transferred to her, because that was not their department as they were not responsible for researching ACF-833.

Once there had been a researcher for that, but there had not been an official reassignment because that was not necessary and so no one needed to worry about that. If anything were required, Dr. Redd was the head of research at L-14 and was certainly as involved as he needed to be in the situation.

He was also arriving at the office, which was not where he usually was at this time, but this was his location and he belonged anywhere he wanted to be.
 
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DATE: **/**/23
LOCATION: Central Offices, L-14
ASSET: Dr. Cody Redd, A-Class-D, Head of Research L-14; ACF-833 “Anchor”
EQUIPMENT: ACF-255 “Redd Medal”; notepad and pens [2x]; RedBull [unopened, lab coat pocket]; a [REDACTED] file
PURPOSE: Untidy Subject



"Relax, Cody, it's Laine. You weren't this nervous talking to the child-that-can-kill-you-by-falling-asleep or the entity-that-can-yoink-you-into-Elsewhere. This'll be a walk in the park- wait, no..."

Cody was muttering under his breath. He was known to do that when he was on his way to meetings as a way to hype himself up, and most people besides interns generally ignored it. His gray T-Shirt said, "I try to tell chemistry jokes, but there's no reaction", and had a picture of a green beaker in the background. He thought it might fit the situation, given Laine's track record of humor. It uh- well, belonged, maybe. It was hard to say if that was just his sense of humor, his nerves, or the anomaly, or a mix of the three.

But that wasn't really his department, as Isaac would say, and he wasn't here to study ACF-833. He was technically here about studying ACF-833, but - not in a lab setting. Not about anything tidy.

He hesitated before the last corridor and forced himself to breathe. Laine wasn't going to do whatever Laine could do to him just because he was about to ask about - ABC. Keep it that way internally until it needed to be brought up. Synergy Theory was starting to develop into something else around L-14, and like Isaac he'd noticed a slight shift in Laine's attitude on the subject when she stopped (normally, not anomalously) Venus from walking out at the orientation. This was important. He didn't want to cause her to backslide, but if it was for the Foundation - maybe she'd understand.

Or maybe she'd just get quiet and Cody would have to awkwardly let the nearest anohuman researcher or security maintenance personnel that 833 was out of commission for the day.

He had been standing outside for too long. C'mon, he was the head of research, he could talk to one security agent slash anomaly without breaking down. He steadied himself, and then stepped inside the office with the classic Redd smile.

"Good morning, Laine-" Wait, no, expletive, he'd already expletived up, the clock on the wall was clearly after 12 "Afternoon! Good afternoon. Hi. I hope I'm not interrupting...?"

Damn it, Redd.
 
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"Afternoon, Dr. Redd." A value judgment was not appended. Good did not seem to fit with Dr. Redd's current status, and it was not polite to append anything else, for reasons that Laine did not entirely understand. She did not comment on the temporal inconsistency, as Dr. Redd was a researcher and researchers had a distinct tendency to be inconsistent with their own temporal values even if they were meticulous with those of their subjects of study.

He was wearing a T-shirt with a commentary on humor in the field of chemical sciences, but Laine did not react to this. Similar attire was within standard parameters for Dr. Redd. His comment about interruption earned one of those distinctive Laine stares, the sort that didn't actually make eye contact but it seemed like they had because that was the sort of feeling they resulted in.

"You are the location co-chair, Dr. Redd." This was a statement of fact. "That takes precedence and is therefore not interruption. I am doing paperwork even though it does not need to be done yet. You are not doing paperwork even though you usually have paperwork that is supposed to have been done. Would you like to do paperwork, or is something else preferable?"
 
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Laine lectured him, which felt deserved, honestly. He really was taking this too seriously. This was just Laine. Especially the commentary about paperwork. He did actually hate it when people treated him differently because he was their manager, but Laine was an anomaly. Case in point, paperwork.

"Well– preferable to me, maybe." A little laugh, not nervous, but not quite his, either. He did mean it in multiple senses, though. "You may want to finish what you’re doing first, that’s all I meant." He gave her the chance, but he knew what her response to be. So he pushed on, because dancing around the subject might end in unnecessary reports, as opposed to the necessary reports that would surround this interaction.

"I need to talk to you about Alexis Charleton."

And then a mental step back, because she'd need space, because she was an anomaly and the full name was a definite no. But he couldn't say "390-A," because worse than talking about - her - was inaccuracy. If he was going to be untidy, or let her be untidy, he might as well be correct about it.
 
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Laine did want to finish what she was doing first, but that was not the action that fit the scenario, and so she didn't do it. There was a question that fit the situation, and the question was Dr. Redd, are you stalling? - but Laine didn't think it was a polite question and it was probably not a good question to ask the location manager when he was being the location manager, and Dr. Redd was definitely being the location manager.

She saved her work because it was important to be tidy, and listened for what it was that he didn't want to say. It turned out that she had not wanted him to say it either.

"Oh." This was not a complete sentence and Laine did not like that, but there were other things that Laine did not like right now that were more important. She paused - not in a way that affected anyone else, but in a way that was noticeable. It was not a hesitation, but an action in and of itself; a closing off, a withdrawal. A moment to put many feelings in the little box where they belonged. The box was open and sometimes that meant things got out, but she could still push them back in when she needed to.

This was not ideal, but it was also not untidy. Laine took a breath and let it out slowly, not because this made her feel any better but because other people thought this made her feel better and that made them feel better. It was important for people to feel comfortable around anomalies, to a certain extent. Too much was not good for security, but too little was not good for research.

Laine thought about his words, and decided he must be correct. If Dr. Redd did not need to talk to her about Alex, he would definitely not be doing that. So this was necessary, even if it wasn't ideal. Context was important.

"I see." Not I understand. That would not be the right word.
 
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Chemistry humor might not get a reaction, but that did. Both were well within ACF-833’s – no. Laine’s parameters. He let her have her quiet, although his hand rested on ACF-255, because that was what he did under stress. He showed remarkable restraint in not tugging on it, just holding it.

She didn't agree, necessarily, and that was okay. He pressed on and hoped for a clearer answer.

"Is there a better… place for this, for you?" Cody took a deep breath, too, but it wasn’t so much to settle as to clear his head, like sending the foggy thoughts away with the rush of air. "Or a better anything? I know it’s going to be hard, but I need to know about – her research. With you. And how you felt."

And like, a billion other questions, but those could wait until he was sure Laine was going to be comfortable. Because none of – that – was for the researchers; synergy theory, while being about an anomalously symbiotic relationship, was more about the anomalous. At least from Alexis Charleton’s perspective. He’d actually expected to get more resistance from Laine, beyond the simplicity of the response, but they hadn’t gotten to the actual meat of the matter, so that could complicate things. And also, Laine hadn't actually agreed to anything. That would be important, too.
 
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"There is not a better place for this." It had been a definitive question, and that was a definitive answer. It was accurate. It was very precise. It was not here is good, because it was not. There was not a good place for this, but there were not any that were better.

"I want-" Laine wanted someone else to be here for support. That would have helped. The person she wanted to be here was not here, because the person Laine wanted to be here was Alex. If Alex had been here, this discussion would not have been happening. I want Alex. That would make it better. That was not possible.

Laine decided perhaps they both knew how that sentence ended without her saying anything about it, so she left it there untidily. This was going to be an untidy conversation, after all. She picked up a pen and held it between her hands, not because she needed to write anything but because it belonged there. It was a reminder that sometimes things needed to be untidy. Also, Pens were important. They had permanence. It was important that something stayed.

"This is an acceptable parameter. No one else belongs here right now." That was a statement that could have been very casual, but was instead very causal. Sometimes, anomalies were like that.
 
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Cody just nodded, in reply to that. It really wasn’t a research thing to just nod when things like that happened, but sometimes Agents were right and there wasn’t anything else to be said. He pulled up one of the office chairs and sat in it wrong, mostly because it was better to ease his nerves if he was asking the questions, as he’d rather have a lecture about sitting wrong than a lecture about managing wrong. As much as the research itself felt wrong –

No, he’d already done that cycle. There wasn’t another way for him to approach it that didn’t involve either highly risky trial and error, or this conversation within highly variable parameters. Laine’s act of isolation established firmer parameters. Parameters would’ve been much better with a primary researcher to help –

But if there’d been a primary researcher for Laine, he wouldn’t have to talk to her directly, which was exactly the same conclusion she’d come to. Cody let the silence exist for an extra second before he pulled the Red Bull out of his pocket and set it on the nearest desk, in case this conversation got any harder. He then pulled out one of the notebooks, and the red pen Leviathan had given him. He headed the paper in the scrawl that had deteriorated over time spent among senior researchers who preferred speed to legibility. Time to get this over with, for her sake at least.

His tone was very professional when he finished the header. He didn’t turn the chair around, but his tone was correct.

"Okay. Let’s start with your relationship with – Intern Charleton." He hitched over the name, because it was hard to break habits, even when you were being as professional as you could in your circumstances. "Please describe it in full detail. I’m not sure what will be relevant at this time."
 
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This was... a report.

Laine understood reports. She had done many reports about many anomalies and many situations. It was not an unknown. There were patterns to it that made sense. They had not been applied to Alex because that would be untidy, but the patterns were still there. They started at the beginning. That was tidy, at least.

"I wasn't very interested in her."

That was the very beginning. It made perfect sense to Laine, of course, but not everyone understood things the way that she did. Sometimes it was hard to explain, but perhaps it was important to try. Laine was not sure what the right words were, or if there were words that belonged here, but she tried to find some of them, because maybe that would explain it.

It started before Alex.

"When I was very little, everything came apart." That had been before the Foundation, but there was a file about it, and so Laine did not need to explain that part. She had been six years old then and there had been an accident. The accident had not been her fault, but things that had happened after the accident had been her fault, and the Foundation had gotten involved. "And then I came here. And I was still very little, but that was an acceptable parameter, and I could be quiet if I wanted to be quiet and sometimes I could be curious about people. And once I was very curious about Strings but then the next year he came apart and that was very unsettling."

She hadn't really mentioned that before, not to anyone but Alex, because it hadn't seemed like it was important. She hadn't known him very well, but she knew him, and he had given her a pen and she had given him a Name and sometimes the little things mattered very much.

But this was not about him and he was not here right now.

"So when Alex - Intern Charleston - came, I wasn't being curious about people any more. And she was not very interesting. She was like everyone else. She asked the same questions and I gave the same answers and nothing changed and it was all very tidy." It could have stayed that way. With a lot of people, it did stay that way. Laine was careful now.

"But she kept... trying." Trying was the word that belonged there. Laine didn't know what she was supposed to make of it, exactly, but it was important. "And sometimes she wasn't asking about me, she was telling me things. Little things. Not security problem things. But maybe they were, in the end, because little things are important. But... she told me about her. About what she was doing, about what she wanted. About the people around her, Dr. Eisenberg, some of the others. And maybe I became a little curious again and I asked her little things, because I didn't mind it when she talked even if it wasn't quiet."

Laine liked the quiet, but Alex hadn't intruded on that. She hadn't ruined the quiet, she had just been there, within it, and it could have been quiet again if Laine had wanted it to, but it didn't need to be.

"Alex was why I started becoming interested in the Foundation. She was... there. She was there and I could be in my room where it was very safe, but through her I could be curious about other things outside the room. It wasn't just asking things or telling things. Alex... shared."

Laine shrugged, because sometimes the words were simple, but people forgot them.

"Sharing is important."
 
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"Alex was your friend." And he didn’t say it anomalously, even though Laine often had over the years. Not the my part – the friend part. Like there was a hole where the word should be, which there might’ve been.

The pieces were putting themselves together, even if everything was apart for now.

He’d known Alex briefly in their internships, but they’d been in different departments at the time. Alex had worked under Dr. Eisenberg in anohuman study, Cody had bounced around everywhere but under Dr. E because that hadn’t been interested in that, exactly. Not back then. Alex had been here, with the anomalies, the people in containment.

Laine didn’t need him to be there. She needed someone to be there, but it couldn’t be him. She needed Alex, and had for a long time. Cody had overlooked that need for a while, because it wasn't a problem he or Isaac could solve. But if he – or Jupiter – or he[ck], Leviathan, was going to be serious about this synergy thing –

It wasn’t a problem he could solve, but he could file a report. His personal project suddenly felt a lot less like a personal project and more like a long-term research study, which definitely wasn’t what he wanted from it. Neither Ira nor Charity would want that.

Laine might. He’d need to think about it.

"I–" Pause, correction. Words were important, not in a Strings sense, even if he was-or-was-not involved with the story. Words were important to Laine, and while Cody wasn’t the right person to be here, he had to consider them. "What did Alex share with you about herself, and her current projects?"

He decided on both, because anything could be important. It was up to Laine to determine what she wanted to say. After all, there was no telling what would be relevant. She’d already given him a lot, but this wasn’t over.
 
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"Yes." This was said quietly, even for Laine. "Alex was my friend."

Another question was asked, which brought things back to the more official sense of making a report. This was easier. Alex was your friend was a true statement, but that did not make it easy. Just because something belonged did not make it simple. "Most of the things she told me were little things. They may have skirted the boundaries of security, but I do not think she ever crossed them, or at least not so much as to be concerning. If she made transgressions they were no worse than your own."

Of course, it was a known fact that Laine had many opinions on Dr. Redd's own boundary issues in matters of security, so perhaps this was Laine's way of pointing out that even if Alex had been a little too talkative with an anomaly, Dr. Redd certainly did not have a secure position from which to complain about it. She wasn't saying that, though. That wouldn't be polite.

"About herself it was mostly her interests in her projects, but also in large part her intentions for the future. Alex had many ideas - about anomalies, about the Foundation, about possibilities that might come to pass or might not - but I have wondered if she did not have an outlet for those ambitions other than myself. She was an intern at the time and being an intern is about following direction and learning to do things the Foundation's way, not doing things your own way. This is necessary for training and security, but Alex was very determined. Individualistic. Stubborn." This was not necessarily a polite word, but it was a truth, and it belonged here. "I think she wanted to be more than she was, and was not always as patient with herself as she was with anomalies."

Laine shifted a little in her chair, with something like a shrug. "I am not certain. I was small then. And I am not good with people."
 
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Cody felt an uncomfortable part of him resonate with what Laine said about Alex, even ignoring the commentary on security. He had no argument, no complaints, about how she behaved while talking to Laine. Security issues were Isaac’s department, not his, except now that they came to research. Still, talking to an anomaly about projects was common enough that those that did cause breaches in doing so were considered outliers. It was the classic coding method of rubber ducking, a lot of the time, or encouraging engagement from people and intelligent things that were otherwise left by themselves. Outlets.

Isaac was Cody’s outlet, and the Breach had been a way for him to implement his ideas. He was of course prone to muttering to himself when concentrating or anxious, but when it came to actual information, Isaac was there. He was a person who balanced out Cody’s flaws, too. Determined, individualistic, stubborn, self-impatient. Laine wasn’t being as pointed with those, but she was making him think…

Still. Cody’s flaws, with or without Isaac, wouldn’t ever bring him to the conclusion that a breach of containment was the best outcome. Cody scratched his chin, brow furrowed in thought, smile nowhere to be seen. He was missing something.

"Do you have any idea about why she caused that breach – the one that demoted her? The record makes it seem… out of the blue. All her flaws aside it’s such an escalation. She never spoke to other personnel about it before and didn’t speak to anyone at all after, as far as I can tell. I just– I don’t understand the connection between her theory about how we can work together, and doing something that got Foundation staff killed by dangerous anomalies."

Like, personality flaws were one thing. Individualism? Everyone on Lepidopterists had that, one way or another. Impatience with herself? That was every researcher ever. Stubbornness was the key to survival sometimes, and the belief she knew better than the Foundation? Sure. But her ambition should’ve made her work harder to look good in front of superiors, to get to a position where she could make a difference. Heck, Cody couldn’t even bring himself to write it off as impatience – she’d had a research report ready. She could’ve started the process to Class-C months before she jumped to that extreme.

He’d had this question prepared, phrased that way in a jotted scribble, because he had no idea how Laine might know or of she could in her weird anomalous sense, if it fit. And even if it didn’t, Alex could’ve told Laine outright, or given some indication, especially if as Laine put it she was the "only outlet". There were other people still here at L-14 who would’ve listened. Dr. Kallie Reed, the man who was now Butterfly. Other likeminded interns who shone themselves during the Breach, who also wanted to see change. There was a missing piece, somewhere, and there was a good chance Laine had it but no guarantee. Even if she didn’t recognize it, there could be something.

There had to be, because otherwise Cody would’ve dug all this up for nothing, and he hated the idea of doing that to Laine.
 
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"She didn't tell me anything." This statement was delivered curtly, in the tone of security, or maybe a little in the tone of not my department. Dismissively, almost, which was very un-Laine-like. It didn't fit.

No.

The words fit, but the tone was all wrong. The tone that fit was something else entirely, something that still hurt, even after all these years. The tone that fit was why didn't you tell me? Wasn't I your friend? Maybe there was something of that tone there as well, lurking under the other one - hiding, because even though it belonged there, it wasn't supposed to be there. But it always had been - and maybe it always would be.

Laine took another of her I am doing this because I have been instructed to do so sorts of breaths. It did not help, as it never did, but sometimes these things weren't about her. She frowned a little bit, her expression thoughtful.

"Dr. Redd?" It was a question, a hesitance, an uncertainty. Laine did not like uncertainties. Still: "I always thought... what she did... didn't fit her."
 
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Well, that was untidy.

By Laine’s standards, anyway. By Cody’s standards this was standard anomalous entanglement. Not Strings like the Councilman, but just – the anomaly and the person who was the anomaly getting wrapped up to the point where you had to have a feeling for what was going on in order to try to make sense of it. Leviathan had a talent for it, as had Alex, apparently. But Cody felt like he’d had to learn the hard way. Hard as iron way.

But this wasn’t about him. This was about Laine and the other anomalies and, now more and more importantly, about Alexis Charleton. He didn’t notice her deep, settling breath, because he was too busy taking one of his own.

He reached over and picked up the RedBull. The can opened with a sharp crack. "Something’s missing."

He didn’t mean the statement anomalously. It wasn’t just a Laine-sense missing at all. Something wasn’t right, there was a connection somehow, somewhere that wasn’t included, something that was just out of reach. Why wouldn’t she tell Laine? Wouldn’t Laine be one of the first people Alex tried to get out, if she was doing a breach at all in the first place? She wouldn’t want her getting hurt, and she wouldn’t want her left behind if the Foundation was all that bad.

Had it been about the anomalies at the end? Or had she determined that Laine was too set in the Foundation to be removed without damage?

He took a long swig of the energy drink. It was about as helpful as could be expected, given he was mentally hitting his head on a brick wall. He didn’t know Alex, and the one person who did know her didn’t know anything because Alex hadn’t told her, and she was bad enough with people that more subtle cues might go unnoticed. He was about to end up back at square one. If that happened he was going to be–

A pause. Maybe he was asking the wrong questions. Maybe it was the questions that didn’t fit.

"Going back to what did fit her," he said, and then paused to take another sip while he formed the sentences, "what upset Alex? Not at the end – over all. What made her angry or frustrated or– or even sad, or afraid?" Another pause, but one that wasn’t completed, filled with another sip. "Or... did she try to protect you from those things, too?"
 
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"I'm not good with people." A shake of her head, but perhaps this needed more explaining than usual.

"Alex said she didn't think I experience emotions the same way as people - or I experience different ones. I feel... what belongs, what doesn't. I feel tidiness. I feel change, I feel... potential? Perhaps. I do not know. We did not have a chance to research the last one, it is... something that developed after Alex - or maybe it was always there but it became easier to explain. I think I might learn these things from other people - but I don't learn the same things that people do. I don't... I don't know what anger is. I know the word. I have read the definition, many definitions. But if people do not tell me what they are feeling, I don't understand it."

That led back to the question again. "She didn't always talk to me about what she was feeling. She tried, because sometimes that was part of what we were researching, part of trying to find an understanding. It was almost more like linguistics, trying to find the right category and the right nuances to make sense. But she would tell me about small things. I am frustrated because I cannot figure out this that I am researching, I am angry because I think this is one way and someone else thinks it is another way and they are not listening. It was not about big things, but there was something there. A small foundation."

A shake of Laine's head, quick. "But from larger things, larger feelings... yes, I think she tried to protect me from those. Alex had... a tendency to think she could solve everything herself. So maybe she did not ask for help when she needed it, or maybe she thought there was no one she could ask for the right sort of help. Or maybe she didn't want to be right about something, even if she knew she was. Sometimes that happens. Just because something belongs doesn’t mean you like it."
 
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Cody was pretty sure Laine had never said this many words to him in one sitting. Ever. He had a tendency to be the most talkative person in the room. But the research didn’t need him to be chatty right now. It needed him to sit down and listen, punctuating his interested silence with long drinks out of the can. He took what Laine said about herself in stride, because his specialty wasn’t anohumans. Eisenberg would’ve asked her to expand on that, but then again, he might already know.

Is Laine attending regular therapy sessions? That wasn’t the right question for right now, but he did make a note to check. She was still a security agent. He annotated that untidy little note in a little corner of the paper where it wouldn’t get mixed up with the other untidy but more relevant notes.

He was listening, though, and at the end came a part that fit better than the others. It needed the rest to matter, but it needed to wind up and bind together for it to work properly. It was the central piece, but didn’t make sense without the rest of the puzzle.

Okay, okay, enough metaphors.

"Did you know when she needed help?" he asked, a little hopeful again. Maybe too hopeful, but optimism only hurt the people who didn’t abide by security protocols, and he was already past that point anyway. "Or– not in a normal person sense, but in a you sense, did you ever notice when she felt certain ways. Like, you know that’s how she felt sometimes, but not why? Did you ever have any suspicions?"

She’d been young, sure, but just because someone was a kid didn’t mean they didn’t understand. Not even an anomalous kid. Maybe even less anomalous kids than normal kids. Wait– no that didn’t make sense. Focus, Codes, alright. Anohumans were not his specialty, which meant that he had way more questions than most researchers in the field. Which, now that synergy theory was overlapping with Laine and Laine was her anomaly, would’ve made focus really hard if he hadn’t been able to remind himself he was Class-D and should be fully capable of separating personal curiosity from professional inquiry.

Even if it only partially worked, it was better than actually asking and detracting from the right questions.
 
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"Alex did not want help, whether or not she needed it." This was one of those unflinchingly accurate statements that Laine had a tendency to make sometimes. "She would let me help with small things - paperwork. The busy kind that is not very interesting. I like paperwork. Alex doesn't, except when it is interesting. I think that is statistically common among researchers." This statement was inclusive of, and perhaps indicative of, Dr. Redd.

"But when she needed help, she would not ask. And I... wasn't able to help her, without being asked." Laine hadn't been a security agent back then. Security agents could assist, when assistance was needed. Laine hadn't had that capability when Alex had still been around.

"ACF-390 never belonged with her." A statement out of place, except this was Laine, and a statement was never out of place. It was exactly where she'd meant it to be. "I know that was after and not before. But it was... uncomfortable. I didn't like it. She didn't like it. I don't know if people feel doesn't belong the way I do, but she had many feelings about it and they were not good ones. It made things difficult. Once Dr. Eisenberg said that it was possible my reactions were because I was jealous that she was spending more time with another anomaly, but I do not have that feeling and Alex said he was full of expletive." Alex had not, technically, used the word expletive.

Laine shrugged - she didn't understand people. "It's possible that my... feeling? Influenced her though. The not-belonging, maybe. I don't know, Dr. Redd. Synergy theory was very new, we were only just beginning to explore it. And I don't want her to have that feeling, so sometimes I wonder if it's easier for her, if she's not where I am."

Sometimes I wonder if she left because of me.
 
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Cody had long since stopped arguing with Laine about paperwork. Now it was only relevant in the context of yet another similarity he had with Alexis.

"I don’t think it’s your fault, Laine." He was instinctively reassuring as he sorted out his own thoughts. "While she theorized synergy was a two-way street, she rarely touched on negative side effects. Like you said, it was new. But from what we know now, your anomaly wouldn’t have caused her not to belong! If anything she’d feel inclined to stay, and ignored her own feelings. It wasn’t…"

He trailed off, not because he was trying to placate her, but because his brain paused on jealousy, and the idea that it would cross Dr. Eisenberg’s mind.

But that didn’t make sense. With the exception of the anohumans themselves, Georg knew people, even anomalous people, better than anybody at L-14. He would’ve read Alexis’ files. He’d know that Laine didn’t feel emotions, he would’ve seen that theory. Cody probably could’ve too, if he’d gone looking into Laine instead of looking into Alex.

But with what he had read, the looking-into he had done about Alex, Cody abruptly realized he seemed to know something about her that Laine did not. Georg had to have known, too, with Laine’s breakdown and with Alex technically being one of his interns. Hell, it was his signature on the diagnosis. One of his signatures, along with two redacteds, on the decision to assign Alexis B. Charleton ACF-390.

Something in his gut twisted into a knot. He absolutely knew why Georg hadn’t told Laine the truth, why he’d made it seem like he just didn’t understand. It wasn’t for security, it was to spare her feelings.

Georg should’ve told her. Because now Cody had to.

Why? Why him? Why did he have to be the one to say it? Because he’d read the files? Because he was location manager?

She didn’t need to be good with people to understand that the look on his face was mostly realization, a little guilt, a bit of confusion, and an undercurrent of frustration. This wasn’t an uncommon look for researchers. It was an uncommon look for Cody, though, because most of the time he could laugh his frustrations in the face. Now he had to face them, and he had to do so in a calm tone that said less than he wanted to.

"When security caught Alex during that first breach – the little-b one, her breach – and placed her into containment as a Class-A? She became… severely depressed. You know she wouldn’t talk to anyone, but more than that. She wouldn’t do… anything. She stopped sleeping. She stopped eating. She didn’t make any physical attempt to harm her body even with her outbursts against other personnel, but–"

A long breath. Not a Cody-has-been-ranting-about-anomalies-for-too-long breath. A I-don't-know-how-the-anomaly-is-going-to-react or I-feel-guilty-and-don’t-understand-why breath. Almost a sigh, but mostly for stability, because this was going to be a bad low point, if Laine didn’t know already.

"Laine, Alex was dangerously suicidal. Clinically. The reason they assigned Alex ACF-390 was because otherwise – otherwise she would have died. She wanted to leave so badly she was ready to– to kill herself."

I’m sorry it had to be me, I’m sorry you had to find out this way, I’m sorry about her and I’m sorry I ever brought it up.

But the apology didn’t fit. It was too late for it. Now he had to be there for her, even if he was definitely going to be bad at it, because Alex had chosen not to be.
 
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Laine didn't say anything about that.

She was, in fact, very quiet about it. A single motion to set the pen down on her desk and fold her hands in her lap, and that was all. She didn't tend to be very expressive, but she was less so than usual. A hint of breathing, because she was supposed to be doing that - and maybe, maybe, something about the eyes - gray, as always, but perhaps it was a cloudier gray than it could have been.

She did not question the veracity of Dr. Redd's statements. She could usually tell, these days, what fit and what didn't - what statements were true, which were false. That hadn't always been the case. If Dr. Redd was correct, then it followed that Dr. Eisenberg had lied to her. This was acceptable. It was within Foundation regulations to lie to anomalies. Laine was not bothered by that.

Alex had not lied to her. But Alex had not told the truth, either. This was also within Foundation parameters. It should have been acceptable.

But Alex was my friend.

Had been her friend. Had Laine been hers? Did it work that way, or did that not fit, either? Perhaps, but... could she have been a better friend?

Or would that not have helped? Laine didn't know. It was hard to think about might-have-beens. Alex had wanted to leave, and Laine had wanted her to stay. Would she have left if Laine felt differently? Or did their developing synergy mean that Alex felt there was only one option?

Was that my fault?

Alex didn't belong here. Laine had said that, over the years, many times. Perhaps it was true, or perhaps she was reinforcing the truth of it. If she said it enough times, did that pressure the Foundation into feeling it as well? Laine only had developed synergy with Alex, though, not with the Foundation.

Unless she had.

This was problematic.

Alex still didn't belong here. That much hadn't changed. ACF-390 did, though, and that did not make this easier for the Foundation, and it certainly was not going to be making things easier for Alex. She was somewhere that wasn't here, and she was still alive, because Laine would know if she died, even if it was temporary. But perhaps she didn't think she should be, or didn't want to be, or couldn't be what she had meant to become, whatever that had been, or... hadn't been.

"That didn't help." It had been silent for a while, and of course Laine broke the silence with a piercingly accurate understatement. She turned a little in her seat, her eyes tracking Dr. Redd - or, rather, tracking ACF-255, even if it was under his shirt at the time. Anomalies were easier than people.

"Why didn't they give her amnestics and let her go?" Laine had a feeling she knew the answer, in an it fits but I don't want it to sort of way. Not I'm afraid I already know, because she didn't have feelings like that.

Although, perhaps they were not so very different.

I couldn't let her go.
 
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Laine was quiet.

Usually that suited her. Security was quiet. But Cody knew better. This was the kind of quiet that Laine got when she was processing something, or when she’d lost something. What he’d said hadn’t helped, and he’d expected that. But it had been necessary. He didn’t need to say that.

"I don’t know," Cody said. It wasn’t the overeager research nonquestion. It wasn’t Laine-quiet, either. It was thoughtful, and soft, and had something of “too much thought” in it.

"I’ve considered asking Jupiter, but – I don’t know. Something’s off. I’ve got theories." Of course he did, it was his department to extrapolate data. "Someone had to think she knew something important. Maybe suspicion about a GoI, maybe wondering what caused her to…snap, like that. I don’t think Dr. E would know. He doesn’t manage things, he just handles people. I could ask him about Alex all day but in the end I doubt he knows her motive."

That’s why I would’ve kept her.

That was the researcher, or maybe the manager? It’d been a while since he’d thought about the difference. Quiet hadn’t been like Alex at all. But because of it, there’d been no way to trace what she’d seen or done. It could’ve been exposure to an unknown memetic, or a last straw of outrage at a termination, or – something. Laine’s anomaly crossed his mind for only a second, but he set it aside for other possibilities. Even if it felt like it belonged, there could be other reasons. Alex hadn’t shown any signs in the past of resistance to amnestics– but then again, some people like Agent Richards didn’t display symptoms until years of stress had gotten to them. Was that it?

Cody didn’t know.

Cody didn’t like not knowing. That was why he’d agreed to stay – even before he’d decided to go into research. That was what kept him here, despite everything. Despite pain and trauma and anger and frustration. He was a good researcher, that way, now that he was a researcher. He couldn’t imagine what would make him want to leave after making it through all of that.

Or, he could, but he always came to the same conclusions. Which were apparently not the same conclusions Intern Charleton had reached. But his predecessors had both been agents. Neither of them would come to the same conclusions he did, either. Maybe he needed more insight. Maybe that would help.


"If you think it would help, I could ask Jupiter. This started with him, after all."
 
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