RP A Child First


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Laine was in her room. That was where she usually was. Sometimes some of the people came and took her to other rooms and asked her things, but mostly she stayed in her room. She did not mind. The room felt right for her.

The walls were gray and the ceiling was gray and the floor was gray. On one side, there was a bed. The frame was metal, and a darker gray than the walls. There was a blanket, which was a lighter gray than the walls. The sheets underneath were white, but they could not be seen because Laine had made the bed very neatly. On the other side was a shelf, which was not as tall as she was, and which was white and contained her workbooks. Laine had completed her work for today, and left it on the top shelf. Her pencils were put away neatly in their box. They were mechanical, so that she did not have to sharpen them. That was good, because Laine did not like sharpening pencils.

Next to the shelf was a table, which had gray metal legs and a white top. The white top was a very slightly different white than the shelf, which bothered her. Someone had said they would see what they could do, which meant Laine was not to bring it up again. Usually she left out a puzzle so that the space did not bother her. She was starting on one now, which had a picture of dogs. Laine had a neutral opinion of dogs. They were not bad, but she did not want one. She had no objections to pictures of dogs.

The table had two chairs, which matched the table. The chairs were too big for Laine, because her feet did not touch the floor and it was sometimes hard to reach the table. Someone had offered Laine a dictionary to sit on, but books were not for sitting on. Laine had read the dictionary instead, and then put it on her shelf. It was not the same as the last dictionary she had read.

Laine knelt on the chair instead, and opened the puzzle box. It had 500 pieces, and all of them were there. She did not need to count them, she just knew. Her fingers trailed through the loose pieces until she found the one that felt like it belonged in the space she wanted it for - the top left corner. She pulled it out, running her fingertip over two smooth edges and two edges with little tabs, thinking about how it was going to fit together. It was a nice feeling. She set the puzzle piece down on the table where it was supposed to be when the puzzle was finished, and then reached back for the loose pieces.

The door was open. Laine noticed that.
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DATE: **/**/2009
LOCATION: L-14: temporary containment unit
ASSET: Dr. Hal F. Note, R-Class-C [specialization: anomalous psychology; occult irregularities]
EQUIPMENT: banjo [non-anomalous], clipboard [File I-833-1 (acquisition report)]
PURPOSE: Prelude

The door opened with a hum. The doors at the Foundation didn't usually hum, and this one was no exception. The hum came from the man, who had to duck through the doorway designed for much less impressive people, but even so he had to hold onto his hat to make sure it wasn't knocked loose by the considerable stoop. The tune was indistinct, formless, as the good doctor's mind seemed to be elsewhere. Some interns said it had been elsewhere for a very long time. Most other researchers would agree.

"Mornin', Laine."

It wasn't morning, but time was a construct and there were some constructs that could make it morning. He'd just finished examining one. Time was irrelevant. Hal had a habit of focusing on the kind of information that seemed irrelevant. Sometimes it actually was. He wasn't focused on the puzzle when he came through the door, but the spidery fingers of one hand reached idly for one of the pieces out of the pile. With a little flourish and a flick of the wrist, the piece vanished.

Laine was, by all accounts, a good kid. She did her work quietly, read books instead of sitting on them. Most kids would be understimulated in a room like this. Hell, Hal would be understimulated in a room like this. But Laine was happy with her puzzles. That was on file. Laine liked things tidy, that was in her file.

So maybe the little disappearing act, changing the puzzle's pieces from 500 to 499, was a jab. Maybe Dr. Note was just an [EXPLETIVE]. Maybe it was a test. It was a better test than breaking the puzzle at least, which was his initial thought but was pushed aside. Small tests first. It wasn't like the piece had even left the room - Hal wouldn't waste real magic on a trick when sleight of hand would do it just fine. The bit of cardboard disappeared into his sleeve as he grabbed the chair across from Laine and turned it around so he could sit on it backwards, arms resting on the back.

Mismatched eyes, both pale, one green and one blue, turned down to Laine's now terminally incomplete work. His smile split his face in half.

"How're we feelin' today?" he asked, almost like he didn't already know the answer.
The man in the doorway was too tall for it, but Laine did not think that was something he had done on purpose. He was wearing a hat. Laine never knew what to make of hats. She had been told it was not polite to wear hats indoors. She had also been told that some people wore hats always, for religious purposes, and that this rule took precedence over the rule about not wearing hats indoors. Laine had noticed that many of the rules about how to be polite contradicted each other. Sometimes it was difficult to sort them out properly.

He started with morning. He did not start with good morning, which Laine appreciated. Good morning was polite, but it had always seemed strange. It had been explained to her that it was not a value judgment on the morning itself, but rather an expression wishing people would have a good morning. Laine had always felt that if you could tell someone you wished they had a good morning, you should be able to say good afternoon or good evening even if it was morning, to be proactive. Apparently this was not the case.

And here was a man who did not say anything about any time being good or bad, but listed a time that it was not. "It is not morning here," she stated, feeling that this should be pointed out. "It is 1:33 in the afternoon here. It is still morning in the Mountain and Western Standard time zones." Time zones were interesting. They made time work out, which Laine liked, except she had learned that the lines were not very tidy, and she did not like that.

He picked up one of her pieces. Laine noticed that, too. Her hand froze in the box, waiting to see what he was going to do with it. He sat down, not saying anything about it, which she did not like. Instead he asked about her feelings. People always asked about feelings. Laine analyzed hers. "I was feeling calm and now I am feeling a little bit annoyed. It belongs here." She pointed to a place on the table, one that would have seemed random at first, but it was not random at all. "The puzzle piece. It does not belong in your sleeve."

She turned to face him, slight annoyance failing to be captured in her expression. Instead there was simply an intensity, taking in the way that he was too large for the chairs she was too small for, and the fact that he was sitting in them untidily. "Is your hat religious?"
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"I know," he acknowledged, about the time. And about the puzzle, and about the piece that he distinctly did not remove from his sleeve. He didn't even feign meekness at being caught, just smiled down at the spot where it should be - belonged was apparently an important word. Most researchers would feel at least a little bad at the revelation they'd annoyed the kid. Hal very distinctly did not.

After all, that wasn't what he was here for.

Children were hard, because most people found children unpredictable. Unreasonable, even. Enough of his peers had called Hal a child for him to know what they thought on the subject. That was fine by him, he wasn't here to be liked or predicted or reasoned with. He was the wrench. Most of the time, new anomalies needed help settling in, but that clearly wasn't the case here. Laine - she was predictable, and reasonable, and did as she was told. So experiments had to be taken in a different direction. By most accounts, the wrong direction, but there was only one way to find that out. In baby steps, of course.

She asked him about religion, and he laughed. "Nah. It's a choice. Had it since I got here, nobody's told me to take it off. It's amazin' what you can get away with when nobody tells you no."
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He knew what time it was, and he said morning anyway. Laine was not sure what to think about that. She set it to the back of her mind to think about later, because sometimes it wasn't good to think about everything all at once. Sometimes that got to be too much, and Laine didn't like it when things were too much.

He didn't put the puzzle piece back. She didn't like that at all. It ruined the entire puzzle, if the piece wasn't going to be there. Without comment, she picked up the piece that she had placed earlier, and put it back in the box. The puzzle was still missing a piece, but now it only belonged in the box, and that was somewhat of an improvement, even if it wasn't exactly correct.

His hat was not religious, and he was wearing it because no one had told him not to. Laine considered whether or not to tell him not to, but she did not think it mattered to her if he wore a hat. Besides, it seemed to belong there, perched atop his head. "Is the hat important to you, or is it the feeling of getting away with something that's important?" It was probably a better question for a psychologist than a child, but Laine had spent some time listening to psychologists. Not talking to them, so much, but listening.
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Laine put the puzzle piece she'd already set away. Hal watched with disappointment. There'd been no attempt to fix it, just resignation to his decision. Her simply doing what she thought he wanted was predictable, though. It fit with other patterns. Maybe he should've waited and broken the puzzle, just to see if she tried to hold him. She'd probably succeed.

With a flourish, the puzzle piece reappeared. The piece from his sleeve, at least. He set it down on the table at the wrong angle, in the wrong place, because Hal was bad at doing things right. No, that wasn't correct. He just didn't like doing it right. He could if he really tuned his mind to it, but his heart would always be in the wrong place. Which Laine noticed, which Hal noted.

"The hat's a little important to me, but you're right," he acknowledged with a smile a fool might mistake for apology, "it's about the principle. Everything around here's about rules and regulations. Somebody's got to figure out what happens when you don't listen to 'em."

He picked up his clipboard for the first time, flipping through its addenda to check on her previous profiles. Patterns had emerged before. ACF-833 was predictable. Rules gave her necessary structure, helped her settle in. It was common after a trauma, especially with the specifics of her situation. Broken things that couldn't be put back together often included rules. They had to be reformed when something went wrong, but would never be the same. It was a boundary Hal tended to push as a hobby, and his coworkers were placing bets about when it would get him killed.

"How do you feel about the rules, Laine?" Another question asked despite already knowing the answer. "I hear you've been real good about 'em. Is that because you want to be, or you think you should be?"
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When Laine put the piece away, he brought the piece out again. She thought about that for a little while, trying to figure out what it meant. Sometimes people were hard to understand. It could have meant that once she put it away, he wasn't having fun any more, and he had decided to do something else. Laine had been told that adults did not do things like that, but her observations suggested otherwise. It could have also meant something different, but whatever it was, she didn't know. People were hard.

Puzzles were not hard. Laine barely glanced at the piece he had set down on the table, at its place and how much it was turned, then reached into the box again and found the corner piece once more, setting it down precisely in the space where it now belonged in relation to the piece he had set down. The puzzle would be built sideways and upside down and a little bit of one corner would be off the edge, she knew, but she wasn't worried about it falling apart. It would stay together. She snapped the second piece into place, starting along what would be the upper edge of the puzzle, if it had been oriented correctly.

Correct orientation would be more tidy, but that could be adjusted later. Laine put a third piece in place along the edge as he asked her about the rules. Is that because you want to be, or you think you should be?

"Yes." Laine was aware that this was probably not the answer he wanted. She had noticed that people did not like it when she answered yes or no to 'or' questions. That bothered her. She did not think people should ask questions with an or when the answer could be both or neither. It would have been different if it were something factual, like Is three plus three six or four?

Except Laine thought maybe this man was the sort of person to ask Is three plus three eight or four? so perhaps that wasn't a very good example, either. "Rules are just the answers to questions about behaviors. It's important to know what the rules are, so that you can behave the way you're expected to."
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The question slipped out before Laine's answer could finish ringing into silence. Hal didn't exactly have a reputation for patience, but that wasn't the point if the not-quite-interruption. She knew the right answer to the questions he'd already asked, even if it was phrased in a way most researchers wouldn't've preferred. He watched as she followed the outline of the puzzle, as she put the pieces into place around his.

Heh. That really did fit her answer, didn't it?

"Why are they so important? If you're always looking at the answer given, how do you know it's the right one? Not everyone's expectations are going to match up. Can't please everyone. Someday, someone's going to be disappointed, Laine, and it won't be because you broke the rules."

It was a little odd that she had that attitude when she had almost exclusively interacted with researchers. Then again, researchers tended to keep their actual questions to themselves and always had some kind of expectation. In his experience they tended to be more excited when they didn't get the answer they wanted, because that led to more questions, and researchers loved questions. He wasn't an exception, but at least he could take them one at a time. The answers were important, after all.
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Laine thought about that for a while. She thought quietly, without saying hm or making noise. That had always seemed unnecessary, but sometimes people didn't realize she was thinking about it if she didn't say anything. It still seemed strange to say meaningless things just to take up space that nothing belonged in. A few more pieces slid into place under the guidance of her fingertips.

"Rules are important because they're safe," she said, eventually. Not they keep you safe, which is what people liked to say, but they are safe. Rules were a defense, a form of protection. "People are going to be disappointed. I'm not good with people. But if they are disappointed and I was following the rules, then the problem is with them or the problem is with the rules, but I am not the problem, because I was following the rules."

In an unhurried manner, her line of puzzle pieces had reached the edge of the table. Laine slid the next one into place anyway, hanging off of the edge, staying with the one beside it because that was where it belonged.

"And if there weren't any rules, you wouldn't have anything to figure out, about what happened when you didn't listen to them. So they're important to you, too."
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Laine seemed to like the quiet. Hal didn't. There was too much empty space, not enough activity. It felt like waiting, maybe because this time it was, but he didn't interrupt it yet. It wasn't the right time or place. He may not like rules, but he did know things like that.

Quiet was safe. So were rules. She felt safe, here, kept in a box in a strange place. He saw the trail of puzzle pieces lead off the table, then curve around. He'd never trusted safe. It didn't account for variables. Even the jagged edges of a jigsaw puzzle had an order to them. Life, especially here, didn't quite fit that way.

But he let her piece it together, watched as she did. Listened to her answer. He stood up as she finished, just to turn his chair around, so he turn around the instrument that despite its length almost seemed too small for him. He made small adjustments to the pegs, and tested the strings softly.

"That's a good point," he conceded, "That's a real good point. You're better at people than you give yourself credit for, rules or no rules."

It was almost a real compliment, coming from Hal. Maybe it was meant to be one, as his fingers idled along the banjo, not quite reaching for a tune yet as he relaxed back into the chair that he was still too long for. Maybe he was just waiting for something. He was notoriously bad with people too, after all, except that wasn't what he'd said to her.

"Do you know what happens when the rules get broken here, Laine?" He wasn't sure if anyone had told her, or if this was just childish knowledge that if the rules were broken, there would be consequences, that mysterious looming threat that wasn't always carried through. He knew he could check her file for it - it was very tidy - but the tidy folder stayed on the table. He wasn't here for paperwork, he was here for an anomaly.

He was notoriously bad with anomalies.
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The man turned the chair around and sat in it the way he was supposed to. He'd picked up the instrument that he had brought with him, turning the pegs and strumming at it. The instrument was called a banjo, she recognized. They were supposed to have four or five or six strings, but usually it was five. That had been in the dictionary. The one he was holding had five as well, which Laine found interesting, for all his talk about breaking rules. He hadn't tuned it wrong, either. Laine didn't know very much about music, but she would have known if it felt wrong.

"Usually it depends on the rule, and how many times it has been broken, and sometimes why it was broken. And who you are. People don't tell you that, but it is." Another puzzle piece, the top edge completed, and Laine moved back to start the next row, one precise placement at a time. "Are you asking because you want to tell me the answer?" She had noticed that sometimes this was the case, although she had also noticed that people did not seem to like it when she pointed that out.
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Music had rules. Hal knew them, maybe not all of them, but enough. He hadn't known any of them when he first picked up the instrument, but he'd... felt them. Not an anomalous Felt, but an honest-to-the-Powers-That-Be gut feeling. He'd been bad at it at first, maybe even worse than he'd been at anomalies. Not anymore.

"Good answer. Too vague." He contradicted himself, but that was what he was. Most would eventually expect it. "I'm askin' because I want to know what you know about your rules, in case I don't have to tell you the answer."

An overture
found its way to his fingertips, never destined to find accompaniment in a voice. It could, of course. But it wouldn't be. He had much better use for his words than that right now. Another time, another place.

"Has anyone told you what you are, Laine? And no, not so I can tell you. That's not why I'm here."
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"They haven't told me," Laine answered precisely. They haven't told me was not the same as not knowing the answer. People often didn't tell Laine things. Perhaps it was because she was a child, or perhaps it was something else, but she had noticed that people had a tendency not to say things to her so much as about her.

She had learned a lot of things by listening to people who were not talking to her. Sometimes it was not polite to mention those things, because people liked to pretend that others didn't know things. It didn't make very much sense to her, but a lot of things that people did didn't make very much sense. That was why it was good that there were rules - they were something to follow, when things didn't make sense.

The man played something, on the banjo. It wasn't quiet, but she didn't say anything about it. Sometimes people expressed themselves differently. Maybe he expressed things through music. Sometimes Laine expressed herself differently too, but people often didn't notice because she wasn't doing it correctly. She slipped another puzzle piece into place, her eyes shifting to the neat file that the man had placed down on the table. She knew it would contain the word anomaly, and that that meant something deviating from the normal standard. Laine thought this was somewhat unfair, as she was following the rules. Anomaly could also mean something about the angle of a satellite, which was in the dictionary as a second definition. Laine had looked it up, but she did not think that applied here.

"Why are you here?"
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His cheshire-cat smile had started to fade, but split open again at her answer. It was another right answer, another safe answer, but he couldn't accuse her of vagueness this time. She was good with words. Knew where they belonged, all the little rules of time and place. Or maybe she'd just read the dictionary someone had provided for her one too many times.

And in the same vein of right words, she asked the right question. He didn't stop playing, but he did play more softly. A harmony, not a melody.

"Technically I'm here to study you. Like a test." He interrupted himself with a frenetic laugh, more like the Hal everyone knew. "Except the test ain't supposed to be studying me back to find out the right answers, and all the questions are open-ended."

Another row of the puzzle was put into place, and he wondered if that was one of the pieces she needed or wanted to belong. She was a smart kid, and - as her file had said - good with puzzles. Hal liked puzzles, too, but he didn't like putting them back together, that wasn't his specialty. This was quite the puzzle in front of him, with all the pieces fused into place. He wondered what she'd be like if she -

Ah, but that wasn't quite what he was here for.

He saw her eyes on the file, and glanced up at the room's one security camera before making a decision. His hands paused in their motion just long enough to slide the clipboard and folder across the table, neatly avoiding the partly completed puzzle. After all, it was very important to the test that she finish it, even if he was giving her a little distraction.

"That's your file, by the way. If you wanted to take a look and see what they already think about you."
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"I do not like open-ended questions," Laine stated, with a firm sort of crossness. Apparently she was doing the test wrong, and she did not like that either. Laine thought it shouldn't be possible to do a test wrong. Getting the answers wrong was one thing, but if it was possible to do the test wrong, then there was something wrong with the test.

She took a couple deep breaths, because that was what she had been told to do at times like this. Laine had always thought that it did not actually help or do any good, but it was what she had been told to do, so she did it anyway. The puzzle continued, the second row adding itself neatly along in order. The man was watching her build it, but it wasn't the first time someone had watched Laine build puzzles, so she didn't worry about that.

His hands slid the folder across to her. Usually that meant someone wanted her to read something, but it didn't always, and so she waited until he made it explicit. Even then, she didn't touch it right away, thinking about it. Laine thought that maybe looking at the notes would also be taking the test wrong. She didn't rush her decision, continuing to build the puzzle while she thought it over. Eventually, curiosity won over indignation, and she moved the box of pieces to the other side of the puzzle, continuing to build it with her left hand while she opened the file to peruse it. Laine was not left-handed, but puzzles were simple and did not require any particular dexterity if you knew where the pieces belonged.

The file had her name, which she had told them, and her birthday, which she had told them. It also said that she appeared as a child of approximately six years, with brown hair and gray eyes. Laine thought that was an odd way of phrasing it: appeared as. It implied that she might not be. There were measurements, which she found very nice. Measurements could be accurate and did not involve open-ended questions.

The file also said she could anomalously generate a stasis bubble. Laine stared at that line for a moment, then got up and went to her shelf, opened her box of pencils, and retrieved one, crossing out the line and writing above it, in handwriting that was very tidy for someone who appeared as a child of approximately six years: I do not do that.

Files were not supposed to be inaccurate.
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He chuckled again as she made her distaste for open-ended questions very clear. They already weren't going to get along; if he pushed the subject, it would only get worse. But more importantly, he'd gotten what he wanted from that one. The other times had been much calmer. This was almost even an outburst. Proof that Hal was getting somewhere.

He let her calm down, though. He wasn't good with children, but he was good at watching, and he watched as she multitasked in a way that seemed far above her age level. Then again, it had to be easier to figure out a puzzle when you knew where all the pieces went. She also seemed to know where all the pieces went in her file. Hal watched her read it, saw unintentional nods of her head in her approval. She'd found one place she disliked in her scan, and then moved on from it until she saw the need to get up and collect a pencil.

I do not do that.

Hal's head tilted to one side, like he needed to see it better, but he'd always had good eyes. Albeit odd ones. Her handwriting was very small and neat. He had yet to make any notes on paper, and he had no doubt she'd find his looping scrawl very un-tidy.

"Can ya tell me what you can do, then?" He didn't care that she hadn't asked him outright. But he needed to fill the space with something, and she wanted her files to be accurate, so maybe they could agree on something for once. "Never liked the term stasis bubble myself anyway. Ain't quite there. So what is it?"
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The man did not tell her she wasn't allowed to write on the paper. Laine had not expected that. Usually people got upset by that sort of thing, but Laine supposed it was sort of like breaking the rules, and maybe that was why he liked it. She was not sure how she felt about that.

He asked a followup question instead, and received another thoughtful lack of an answer. "I don't know if I can tell you," Laine said, eventually. "I don't know how to explain it." Her silence after that was not a refusal to say any more, but rather another one of those thoughtful silences where she searched for the right words. Laine wasn't entirely sure what the right words were, because she wasn't entirely sure what she could do.

"I know where things are supposed to belong," she said, eventually. Laine didn't think that was the answer that he was looking for, though. That was a knowing, not a doing. There was a difference. The doing part, that was harder, because Laine didn't know how that worked - and sometimes it didn't, at all. "Sometimes... sometimes I keep them there?" she tried, sounding a little uncertain about the word. "But I can't put them back together, after they come apart. I tried that. It didn't work." There was a hint of a tremor in her usually quiet voice at the last, something remembered, something unwanted. She didn't want to think about that.
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Laine didn't know how to say it. That wasn't unusual - words could be hard, if you didn't know the right ones. She could know, and knowing was half the battle. She could also... know. That was more than just the battle, that was half the war. Not that Hal knew much of anything about warfare, but he did know enough and Know enough things, cracked a hole in their minds, to peer through. Some of them had even cracked a hole back. It was enough to leave a man fractured, but fractures and fractals let the light come through better.

Laine did not like fractures. Or if she did, they had to be the kind that could be resealed cleanly, like a broken bone. Maybe not even that. There were some things that were right messy, that didn't slide back together.

He was beginning to understand why she was good at puzzles.

"Can't change what's done, but you can prevent it from happenin' before the doing does." It sounded like nonsense if you didn't get the idea. Most everything here sounded like nonsense if you didn't get the idea, though, and Hal was good at puzzling through the bits that made non-sense. And if she didn't understand the string of words, she had a dictionary for that, even if it wouldn't help if the strings led into a knot.

She liked puzzles, her file said, but not that kind, the kind that had to be undone to make sense. Things that clicked into place. It wasn't stimulation, because a jigsaw was too easy to be stimulating. The lines were made for her, the faults all in alignment and ready to be pressed. They were the illusion of being able to fix before the breaking even happened. It grounded her, it kept her from being pulled off into the sea of the destructive unknown, it was an...

He reached for his pen very suddenly, which like most things seemed too small in his hands, and was far more permanent than the child's pencil. He didn't set it to the file, though. He instead pressed it to the pages on his notebook for one word without context: Anchor. He didn't want to forget the word, because it felt right, even if he didn't know why. A fragment chipped off, one that could be examined later and possibly put back together if someone else decided it should stay.
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The man tried to explain. He was not very good at it, but neither was Laine. She thought perhaps that they both knew what the answer was, it was just that words couldn't quite define it properly. "Maybe." A temporizing answer, Laine did not like it. She liked it when things were yes or no, not maybe. Maybe was only acceptable if it meant that you were still working on the rest of the answer. Maybe was a pencil word, something to be erased later.

"But if it's like that, I would have to know something were going to happen in order to do something." Or, at least, she would have to suspect something were going to happen, or perhaps there were just some thing that were easier to keep together than others.

Laine hadn't come apart, after all, even if everything else had.

The man pulled out a pen, and wrote on the paper. Laine liked pens better than pencils. They were more confident than pencil - more secure in what they were doing. A pencil was saying this could be, but a pen said this is. Laine's box just had pencils. She assumed this was the default. He didn't write much, only one word:


Laine thought about that for a little while. There were many definitions for the word. The nautical ones did not make sense, and could be dismissed. Similarly, the ones related to news broadcasting were not applicable here. That left her with

- Anchor (noun): a person or thing that provides stability or confidence in an otherwise uncertain situation
- Laine was not sure about that, or

- Anchor (verb): secure firmly in position
provide with a firm basis or foundation.

That was interesting. Laine probed at it, in the back of her mind. It seemed to fit. She gave it a nod of acceptance, as if allowing it quite graciously for someone who appeared as a child of six years.

"May I have a pen?"
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The kid's words started to take shape. Hal was a man of many words. Too many, by most people's judgment. He could talk for hours just to hear the sound of his own voice. But he also understood the value of WORDS. The spoken word could be powerful, given the right circumstances, the right rules. Another observation little Laine had made that seemed beyond what most folks might notice: rules had their place, in the chaos that made up Hal's existence. They just had to stay in their place while the rest of his reality spiraled, until he needed them again.

Her words were about knowing and doing. Both important things to say, to note. Hal mulled them over while she mulled over the word on his paper, apparently not much minding the scrawl so long as it was legible. They were surrounded by unknowns, by maybes and couldbes and haven'tbeenyets, but they were important, solid words. Like rules, they were set in stone while the rest of the sentence ambled off into uncertainties.

Now, he knew he could be quite the contrarian at times, but he was a researcher first. The girl's request caught him in a sharing mood. He only had one pen on him, but that was alright. He wouldn't have much more need for notes if this was going where he thought it was.

"'Course." He rolled it across the table, a simple ballpoint that was standard-issue at the Foundation. She could've gotten almost the same pen from practically anyone here, but Hal's was the one on hand, so Hal's would be the one she received. He wasn't sure what the procedure was for her exactly, given her ability seemed now to be rooted in permanence.

But he'd always been a curious sort. Paperwork could be done after he saw what happened.
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