Another day, another intern to train. Kallie couldn’t remember who had said that to her, but it wasn’t wrong. It felt like every day, there was someone new coming through. She had assisted in the training of dozens of Class-B employees, many of whose faces and names she couldn’t even remember. It took a lot to make her remember people. They either had to fuck up exponentially more than anyone else, or they had to prove in some way that they were meant to be there.
That particular morning, Kallie had been tasked with a new intern, one by the name of Alexis. They were supposed to meet before her rounds, that way she could take Alexis around to meet all the anohumans– specifically the children since Kallie had made it her mission since transferring to the department to handle as many of the children as possible. She was in her office, getting her notes together and ready while she waited for the girl to show.
Because a girl was exactly what Alexis apparently was. A whole eighteen years old. She was barely older than Pepper, who had already begun to express interest in joining the ACF as an employee when she turned eighteen. Kallie wanted to convince her to just do what made her happy, but it was clear that she was already far ahead in sciences and maths. Precocious, that was the word. Pepper was bright, and she was going to go far.
Perhaps this Alexis would also be bright. Perhaps she would also go far. Perhaps she would belong there.
She’d gone with the black blouse with crescent moons, rather than the yellow one with orange slices, because she’d heard from some of the others that Kallie Reed was a bit of a hard– what was that replacement word people used here to replace the unladylike ones? Expletive. That was it. Kallie Reed was a hard-expletive, and so Alex wore the black shirt.
Most people probably would’ve gone with the single white shirt in their closet when they were with someone who was a hard-expletive, or even picked the black shirt because it was the more professional of the two. Alex picked the shirt for the illusion it gave of being more professional, an illusion that would work as long as she had a lab coat on to hide the short sleeves that the orange-slices shirt did not have. The camisole that interrupted the v-neck helped with the professional-rather-than-slut aspect of the choice, and the tan slacks finished it out.
“Dress like you mean it,” her father and her Nonno both said, and drilled it into the family’s sole heir both on the family business side, and the family business side. Alex did look like the kind of girl who thought too much about her wardrobe, but that was probably the contouring and incredibly lucky genetics of glossy black Italian hair that curled into cute ringlets when well cared for (worn, today, in a practical pony-tail that would keep all but the more stubborn curls off her forehead), and Anglo-Saxon bluish gray eyes. Anyone who spent more than ten minutes under Alex’s best impression of her dad’s business smile – or her mom’s pout – would know better. Only one month in at L-14, most people here would not.
Altogether, the slacks, collar, lab coat, and makeup made her look pretty put together, in her opinion. The earrings she chose for her multiple ear piercings were classy faux-diamond studs and silver hoops, which balanced that out, too, and the necklace that sat at the base of her neck was a silver star, like the buttons on the collared shirt.
The only thing to break the illusion was the clomp, clomp, clomp of her black boots. A small resonance of her undercurrent of rebellion that she was trying to keep in check for now, really she was! And it helped to have that little outlet for it when she sat down on her pretty slacks and tied up the beaten to hell – but absurdly comfortable – combat boots. At least she picked her feet up when she walked with them. Her excuse for the incessant clomping was that they were heavy, and that nobody would pay attention to any sound she made if they were three-inch heels. Most people shut up at that point.
All that effort for her outfit, and she was still rounding the corner right on time for her meeting with Dr. Kallie Reed, Hard-Expletive. The first things Alexis B. Charleton, well-camouflaged rebel, would notice about Dr. Kallie Reed, Hard-Expletive, were the following:
1. Even without the boots, Alex would have four inches on the woman. With the thick soles, she had almost five.
2. Kallie Reed wore glasses, which Alex only noted because she liked to consider it another genetic point in her favor that she did not need them.
3. Kallie Reed dressed like a professional, without even combat boots to spice up the appearance. This meant that Alex was inclined to believe the hardexpletive epithet, at least for a little while.
She was somewhere between on-time and one-minute-late, so it was a good chance to see if Dr. Reed was as much of a hardexpletive as people thought.
“Dr. Reed,” Alexis said brightly, with a smile that might’ve won someone with a better overall attitude a prom crown and just enough of a New Jersey accent to make any New Yorker’s skin crawl. “Alex Charleton, good to meet you. I’m supposed to shadow you today.”
She was technically late. The clock had struck one minute past 7:30 when the woman– girl? Woman, technically– had walked in the door. While this wasn’t really late, even by Kallie’s standards, she was trying to instill good habits in her interns as early as possible. So normally, she would give a spiel about how dangerous it could be to mistime a test, even by one minute, but when Alexis– Alex– spoke, with that bright smile, Kallie paused. She wanted to go into the spiel. She did. But as she opened her mouth to do so, and she looked at Alex’s face, she just sighed.
“Alex. I’m Dr. Kallie Reed. Most people call me Dr. Kallie, you may call me either that or Dr. Reed. I don’t mind either name. Today we’re going to be doing a walkthrough of all of our current anohuman children. I work primarily with the children, although I do work with the adults when they ask me to. Which has been often these days. I haven’t had a chance to check in on the kids in about a week, so this will be a rather detailed walkthrough. Before we begin, do you prefer Alex or Ms. Charleton?”
She didn’t pause for longer than a breath the entire statement, not giving the girl– woman– room to speak until the end. She had found it easier in general to speak in a way that allowed no interruptions from the interns, at least at first. After a certain amount of time working with them, she tended to relax.
Ultimately, Kallie’s goal was to keep any stupid idiots from getting themselves killed when they first passed through the anohuman department. Before she had started thinking of everyone who came through as having the intelligence level of a toddler, too many of her interns stayed in the department and caused trouble. Once she had started doing so, however, only the most stubborn and levelheaded interns stayed in the anohuman studies department. Maybe it was because she was a bitch, or maybe it was because she stressed safety and using your fucking brain. She never really could tell, and no one was brave enough to answer when she asked.
Alex saw the way Dr. Reed’s eyes focused on her face – which was pretty and had that too-young look of a well formed 17 or even 16-year-old, rather than her actual age of 18 – and added another point to the list she was forming on the subject.
4. Dr. Kallie Reed, Hard-Expletive, was a secret softie.
That would be good to know. She didn’t want to exploit it, necessarily. There was a big difference between exploiting something, and having a little fun with it. It didn’t help that this was a common reaction, one that used to annoy her and so she’d learned how to counteract it by being positively grating over time. But over time was the important part.
It was now just a matter of how long it would take Dr. Reed to notice.
“Oh, Alex is fine.” Her voice didn’t lose its charm, even if she’d thought about interjecting several times through the initial rant. She was genuinely excited to be here, shuffled over after she started asking more questions about one of the anohuman children on their route. Or on someone’s route. Her old route, anyway. “Is Laine – sorry, ACF-Eight Thirty Three? Is she on your usual route?”
Over time didn’t necessarily mean subtle, although she kept the trill of annoyance at the fact that Laine, age eight, had apparently been left alone for a long while. That was, if her paperwork was right, which it was Alex was certain but nobody else seemed to know what she was talking about when she’d tried to point it out. Except Dr. Eisenberg, who, instead of answering her questions (now immune to the pretty silver eyes method, sadly) had shuffled her over to anohuman studies. She was relieved for the change, actually. She was starting to feel a little gaslit before that happened.
Before Kallie could respond, Alex laughed lightly. “Sorry! I’m a little one-track minded sometimes. I’m sure we’ll find out on the way, right? Where to first? Or who to first?”
Well, that was interesting. Alex was asking after Laine. Laine hadn’t had any meaningful interactions with people in… basically the entire time she’d been at the ACF. Kallie eyed the girl, most definitely a girl, up and down once. Her outfit was professional but unique, a different kind of unique than her Pepper. She sighed quietly before answering, “Laine is not on our route today. She’s already been checked in on by Dr. Linsburg. We have a rotating team that checks in with Laine, as she doesn’t have a preferred researcher. “
Kallie picked up her clipboard and passed a second one to Alex, as though she fully expected the girl to take it. Attached was a series of forms, and a chained pen. If the forms were examined, Alex would find that each one bore a name, and age, and an anomaly number.
“The first rule of working with me, Alex, is that we call the children by their names. Not their case numbers. We do not dehumanize them or make them feel like they are less than we are just because they were born different.”
Kallie couldn’t even begin to count how many of the other researchers tended to refer to the children by their case numbers and not by their names. The kids didn’t like that, and Kallie knew this because their faces lit up when she said their names. At some point, she’d have to talk to [REDACTED] about having a talk with her colleagues.
After passing the clipboard to Alex and taking her own, Kallie made straight for the door. “Our first stop of the day is going to be Mari Coulum. Her anomaly causes her to become the color of any object she touches. Her anomalous designation is Household, low gradient, and we refer to her in documents as ‘Chameleon’.”