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Latest revision as of 15:39, 28 June 2020

Even in laughter the heart is sad, and the end of joy is grief.
Dramatis Personae

Leo, Olivia


"It's not a part of a story folks like to tell." (In the Blackburn Prometheus Facility.)


Blackburn Research Facility - Cafeteria

The sign by the door says "Refectory", though the "R" has at some point in the past been re-written with a permanent marker to a "D", and then been subject to a half-hearted attempt at cleaning. It's one of the larger rooms on this level, tiled with the same variegated pea-green linoleum throughout, its walls clean but bare of any decoration or relief for the eyes. The floor space is mostly taken up with long, rectangular tables with attached bench seating, a stainless steel counter at one end serving up bland, often overcooked, but reasonably nutritious food day in and day out. The acoustics are awful in here, rendering mealtimes loud and the occasional fights that break out here even louder.

Leo's table is usually empty at mealtimes, the plaguerat's area given a wide berth by the other inmates. Today, though there are actually others stopping by the back table where he sits with his tray of spaghetti and meatballs. They don't stay long, don't bring their food, don't sit, don't join him. Just a very small trickle who come by to sit briefly -- or not, to talk to him in hushed but excited voices. The whispered word on the others' lips that spreads throughout the room as they drift away, head back to their actual friends to continue their conversations?


When Olivia arrives, the whispering grows a little more quiet. It never completely stops -- though wherever she walks, it becomes more hushed and guarded. She doesn't seem to mind.

Her hair is a dense, dark, curly mass that swells out behind her head like the mane of a lion; it's pinned in place by a braided hair-band. Streaks of faded purple run along the thicker curls, extending down to her mid-shoulders. There's a bit of tasteless pudding on her tray, along with stale french-fries and a bundle of over-cooked vegetables... and a dog-eared copy of Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings, complete with an image of a winged, horned, human-faced beast on its cover.

She cuts a path past several other inmates who were thinking of sitting down (and who now think better of it). When she sits and sets her tray down, the older woman is wearing a crooked smile that shines through her thick, coke-bottle glasses... which she pokes back up along her nose with a delicate and boney finger-tip.

"Hi!" she exclaims. "You're Leo, right?" Very friendly-like. A few inmates turn away; others look at him with sympathy -- a few others at her with, well... they aren't nice looks.

Leo looks up without a greeting. He studies Olivia's face with a slow blink, reaching for his plastic cup of water to take a gulp. He twirls a few strands of spaghetti around his fork, finally nodding slowly. "Did you need something?" Even once the pasta has been fully wound up, he doesn't stop spinning the fork very slowly between finger and thumb. "I don't work on other projects."

The crooked smile fades just a hair. Not in response to his words -- more like she's just remembering to relax. "Oh, I know. Most of them are more than a little terrified of you." There's a hint of amusement, there; as if something about that strikes her as funny. "I heard that you made a new friend."

Leo's shoulders sag. He lets out a small puff of breath at Olivia's amused statement; he just looks kind of tired. He pops the spaghetti into his mouth, almost prim with his care to keep the sauce off his lips. He blinks again as he chews -- this time quicker, a little owlish. The small tilt of his head is kind of puzzled. He dabs at his mouth with a napkin, shakes his head. "You heard wrong. People here aren't my friends."

"Really? That's a shame. We're a social species, you know. Friends are as essential to us as food and water -- without them, you'll starve." She plucks a stale french fry up between those delicate, nimble fingers. Instead of eating it, she twirls it. "You have to take them wherever you can find them. Even if they aren't... entirely to your taste." As she lifts the fry to her mouth, she pauses to add: "I don't suggest eating them, though. Your friends, that is."

Crnch. "I had friends, once. Did you know," she reaches for another fry, "that I was there, too? At the first lab he escaped?" She doesn't say who 'he' is. Apparently, she expects him to know.

"No," Leo says simply, briefly clenching his jaw. "I don't." He slices a small sliver of meat off the edge of one of his meatballs, mopping it through the sauce. One of his eyebrows raises. "I don't know how I'd possibly have known that."

"I suppose you're right. It's not a part of a story folks like to tell. What happens after the escape. What happens if you don't get away." She's still smiling, but there's a sliver of teeth behind it, now. Those silver-teal eyes are half-open, her jaw ever-so-slightly tensed. "What they do to the ones who get left behind."

CRNCH. "Oh, sorry. I'm getting a little grim here, aren't I?" She bobs back, the tension in her evaporating. Her smile is so bright that it nearly presses her eyes shut, squeezing down on those developing little crow's feet. "It's just been so long, and I'm curious to know how he's doing. Our schedules haven't sync'd up -- too much going on at once, you know?"

Leo bites down hard at his piece of meatball, his teeth *clacking* against the tines of the fork. "So it's his team's fault you chose to spend years working with them?" His other eyebrow joins the first. He's not smiling. "People are scared of what I am. That's why I don't have friends here." Only now does the very -- very smallest upward twitch pull at the corner of his mouth. Briefly. Extremely minutely. The extremely quiet-mild cadence of his voice doesn't change one bit. "He's been around plenty the past couple days. If you spent more time with us than getting cosy with our torturers, I'm sure you'd have run into him. I can see how the schedule management is hard, though, with your particular -- responsibilities."

"'Their' fault? Why would I think it's their fault?" she asks, her tone distant and amused. "My choices are my own -- I made them for my own reasons. People just seem to forget that, though. That there usually are reasons." One of the french fries finds its way to the tasteless smear of pudding. She dips the tip in and stirs, treating it like ketchup. It does not improve the flavor.

"Well, I'm not scared of you," she adds. With this, there's a surge of amusement -- a breathless little laugh. It's snuffed by the time she reaches the next sentence: "I'd be willing to bet that he isn't, either. You should try being his friend. He'll need them. You will too, if you want to get out of here alive."

She doesn't respond to the last accusation, outside of just a slight puff of air and a movement of her mouth. It's hard to tell if it's a smile, a frown, or both. "Mmh. Tell him something for me, if you get a chance? Tell him that his arm is here."

"No. People don't forget it." Leo puts down his fork, with a vague compress of his lips. "But reasons aren't excuses." His index finger traces lightly against the edge of his tray, wiping away stray droplets of water from where it's been rinsed. He flicks them from the pad of his finger with a thumbnail. "And I do," he adds, examining his hand, "want friends." He looks back up at Olivia, meeting her paler eyes with his dark ones. "But in here, I'd much rather keep to my own kind. If you don't mind --" His hand turns -- upward, outward, "I have dinner to finish."