I meet him on a Sunday -- summer vacation, quarter after eleven, nearing lunchtime -- surrounded by people and things who don't really matter at all. Shouldn't, anyway, not with my mother acting as the lead director of the facility's new program. There are exactly three starkly dressed men in the room right now, all bearing lab coats, identification badges, and the tendency to speak over one another, and with their discussion steadily reducing itself to a heated, nearly incoherent squabble, my ability to pay attention has already excused itself several minutes ago. I find myself staring at the perfectly monochromatic linoleum instead, counting the outlined squares, then at the perfectly bare walls, then at the scuffed edge of an oxford shoe bearing one too many scratches to be in good condition. Then the shoe is speaking to me, and I'm looking up and into the disapproving gaze of one of the lab workers. The urge to slap him for his disrespect rises so quickly that my fingers twitch. I don't, of course. Mother had pulled me out of my activities for the day to show me her newest endeavor, and pleasing her remains priority over all else. Knocking one of her trusted scientists unconscious, possibly putting my own image in bad light in spite of this step out of line -- no, that wouldn't sit well at all. So I stare back with the wide-eyed, innocuous gaze I've adopted just for bastards like these. Hold my tongue. He doesn't bite, not fully, but he hesitates a bit and begins to speak in that professional, level tone again, reiterating.
"He's a feisty one, this boy," he explains, pushing up the bridge of his spectacles. "Lacks obedience. Difficult to handle. He is intelligent, though, and possesses a grasp of language and abstract logic like we haven't experienced so far -- but I'm sure that's what you're here for."
And I'm not sure exactly what that is. I don't deign to ask this underling the obvious, though, and instead opt to raise a brow in confusion. Give a blank, questioning stare over the edges of my own wire-rimmed glasses. He almost returns the stare, as if it had been my fault for not listening in the first place -- before the taller, lankier of the trio steps in front of him, placing a hand on his shoulder. It's difficult not to smirk at the sharp look he chances at him.
"If I may, Miss Fujino," the taller man addresses correctly and formally this time, "would you have your attention directed to your left?"
And then become completely and utterly clear on the task at hand.
As the first on a long, long list of anomalies, the boy is encased in glass. In a tank, actually, with countless tubes connecting to both him and various apparatuses scattered about, unknown monitors tracking unknown conditions. He's a small, delicate little thing -- no taller than I stand, probably, with slender hips and shoulders and limbs -- and the considerable size of the tank itself dwarfs him to the likeness of a child. He's albino, of course. All the results of the program are. But he's the first one I've ever seen with such androgynous, youthful features that I can't help but be thrown off by the pretty lips and pretty eyes, the thick, thick lashes fluttering gently over rounded cheekbones. As if he'd been pulled from some fairy tale storybook, almost. As if he were some gentle, benign prince draped in gold and finery instead of breathing apparatuses and electrodes. The short, undeveloped feathers of his budding wings flicker occasionally in time with his breathing; the tips of his fingers quiver as if he's been caught dreaming. Then it's his eyelids that are quivering, slowly but surely, and I find myself staring into the cloudiest, most opaque set of rosy irises I've ever seen. Willed into stillness. He's just like --
"An angel, isn't he? I thought you'd like to see our newest success in splicing."
The proximity of the voice behind me startles me out of my reverie, forcing me to tear my gaze away from the creature -- and to eye-level buttons on a perfectly pressed, perfectly white blouse. My mother. My mother had come to see me, me of all people, instead of letting her secretaries inform her how this briefing had progressed with her daughter. There's a smile on my face before I can stop myself; I try to think of a phrase to best express my understanding and interest in my newest task.
But the short, bespectacled underling is on her before I can speak, and my fingers are twitching again. He taps his cheap shoes against the linoleum excitedly as he does so. "Director Fujino, what a pleasant surprise! What brings you here today?"
My mother allows his nearly shit-eating grin a dismissive glance before acknowledging me. Small nod, slight hum escaping her lips. I feel like I'm going to burst. She turns towards the taller man as he whispers something in her ear, makes a sound of approval, then leans so closely in my direction that we're nearly face-to-face, eye-to-eye. Begins speaking in that low, level tone I've only ever heard her use with her colleagues, and says, "Lucy, do you know why I brought you here today? Do you know why I've decided to show you, out of all my colleagues and partners, this subject? Why I've trusted you with this? Tell me what you think of it, Lucy."
She's talking directly to me. She's talking directly to me. The three squabbling scientists and stark walls and floors are gone, suddenly, as is the beautiful, winged subject in the tank. She wants to know the answers to exactly three distinct questions, all imperative to the program, and she's going to listen to me directly as I answer them. As I explain my role in this task in the most knowledgeable, most appropriate answer possible.
"I-I'm going to monitor the development of subject 0049. This high-functioning subhuman will be under my responsibility until the duration of the experiment expires. Until then --" I take a quick breath to stop my heart from jumping out of my chest," -- I will do everything in my power to ensure the progression of the subject's mental and physical capabilities, no matter the cost."
And? I think quickly, studying her features.
"And -- and because I am the most controlled and least likely of all possible participants to produce lurking variables, I am the best suited for this task."
She frowns a little at this -- that half quirk of a lower lip lasting for only half a second -- before setting her smile again, nodding. I've made a mistake somewhere, I know. Probably should've commented on the immaculate state of the subject, the methods in which I would explore the subject's psyche and capabilities. Anything but that too simple cop-out of an answer. Too late now. She's already turned to leave, the room and squabbling scientists and tank returning to their rightful places; within moments the taller man is briefing me about the experiment in short, informative statements, tapping his pen against the clipboard. The man with cheap shoes has spared enough glances between me and the subject to be grating. I listen to the click of her heels as she leaves the room, exits the hall, and places the world right back where it should be in her absence.
At the end of the day, I'm alone again. My mother's decision to include me in her newest developmental project has been categorized as an internship under my university; the details are already neatly filed away. So I wouldn't have had a choice in the matter, anyway. Not that I ever would decide against it. The boy sits across from me in his tank, watching me curiously as I divide the paperwork into manageable sections. Stares with unfocused, rosy eyes as he taps the glass every so often. I'm not even sure if he's aware that he's under my care at the moment, if he had even heard anything of the conversation -- but he's supposed to be the best and the brightest of all the spliced subhumans, so I imagine he's understood at least a few things. He's a pretty, lovely little thing to look at, at least. My mother would appreciate the mint condition of his appearance at the end of the trial. The sound of a heavier, harder tap catches my attention for a moment, and I glance back to see the boy resting his palm against the glass, looking at me expectantly. A greeting of some sort, I suppose.
So he'd already figured out more than a few nuances in human body language. I can see why my mother had thought him so impressive.
I press my fingers in a reflection against his, immediately scouring his small frame and features for any sort of response. Pause. He studies me, grins, and mouths inaudibly but unmistakably:
Hello. How are you today?