Conversation Killer


squeaks_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Conversation Killer
Synopsis Age and curiosity are a lethal combination.
Date May 1, 2019

Brooklyn Public Library

Libraries are a blessedly quiet place, and Zachery finds himself in this one on a fairly regular basis, even if it's just to find a source. Today is slightly more involved, as is evidenced by the fact that he's seated at a long table, by himself, having covered the entire thing in books. Most of them are open, though none overlap, while a pile of closed ones sits by his shoulder, waiting as patiently as a book can. The cover of the book at the top of the pile reads, "But Will I Run Again? The Story of a Hero's Sacrifice."

Currently, he's got an arm over a large book in front of him, post-it notes lining its pages. It's open on an illustration of a human arm, though the wrist and hand look strange. Upon closer inspection, these parts look like carbon fiber more than anything else, subtly patterned with a honeycomb texture.

Zachery is reading the text on the opposite page, and quickly too, despite the lack of help from the one white eye that sits in the left socket. Every now and then, he taps a finger on the page, and turns to a notebook sitting under the crook of an elbow to write something down with a cheap ballpoint pen, expression one of focus.

Zachery has a spy.

How soon he notices depends on how good his good eye is at seeing to his blind side. And through his own head. Over his shoulder, on a chair facing the opposite direction, a pair of young blue eyes capped in a mop of short, curly red hair, studies that book that's open.

They also don't miss the drawing and note taking.

Squeaks is kneeling in the chair, her chin resting in hands that are propped up with elbows against the back of the chair. It's way lots more interesting than what she should be working on. So far she hasn't said anything yet, barely made any noise.


“Do you need a robot-arm?” Asked like she might know someone who knows someone who can do that.

A handful of years ago and the voice may have had Zachery jump out of his skin.

This is not to say he doesn't still jump, ballpoint pen digging into paper mid-sentence, but at least that's the extent of his immediate response. "… Wh —…" Slowly, he turns his head toward the source of the noise, a little further than would be necessary if he wasn't working with the aforementioned blind spot.

When he focuses on her, his expression is one of critical observation, and his shoulders draw inward. His tone of voice is not necessarily one of annoyance, more of… surprise. "No, I — my arms work fine, actually."

“Oh.” Oh. Squeaks’ head tilts and her neck cranes some little bit so she can see past the stranger’s shoulders and to the book again. And also to the notes that are being taken. She's definitely not shy about showing her interest and being nosy. “How come…”

The start of the question is followed by a few seconds of thoughtful pause, then the girl tipping her head back to solidly eyeball Zachery. “Is it because you only have one eye?” It could be, even though eyeballs and arms are not the same thing.

The way Zachery's attention drops easily back to his work again, he doesn't seem to immediately mind her observation. He looks back down to where his pen hit the page a little too abruptly. Hmh.

"No. Although…" He keeps his voice a little lower, now, consideration creeping into his tone. But that's a thought for another time. After tapping the writing instrument to paper a few times, he flips the whole notebook over onto the tabletop and lays the pen down over it, fingertips left lingering on its side. His eye returns to the open book in front of him, scanning paragraphs while flatly stating, "Speaking of facial features, though, you're very nosy. Anyone ever tell you that?"

“Being nosy is a character trait not a facial feature.” Squeaks’ attention is still on Zachery when he turns back to her, but she did watch the notebook flipping with mild interest. Her expression now, just like before, is openly curious. Eyes, a little wide and eyebrows pushing upward in the vague expectation of being allowed to ask more questions.

Her arms fold over the back of her chair and her chin rests on them instead of her hands. “I ask lots of questions.” Something she's beginning to prove already. “I learn things that way. How come you're looking up robot arm things?”

For a moment, it looks like Zachery is about to indulge said question asking, but his mouth closes again. "… Don't you have someone else to ask about random things of? Maybe a… I don't know, a librarian? They're wonderful. Lots of answers. Vastly underappreciated."

He could go on, a tilt of his head suggests, even if there is the smallest hint of wry amusement starting to pull at the corner of his mouth.

“Yes but they can’t answer every question.” Definitely they can’t answer questions like why Zachery is reading about robot arms. Squeaks studies the stranger for a really long minute, probably waiting to see if he’ll actually answer her question. Or maybe not, because she doesn’t push for one.

With a huffed breath, she turns around to face the work she should be doing. It’s still not interesting. But it still needs to be done. She huffs again and gathers up an abandoned pencil to start scratching out more equations.

Zachery does not look inclined to follow up on the matter of librarians and questions. The fingertips of his right hand stay on the line of the pen, while the ones on his left slowly turn the page of the book in front of him.

But he's not really reading, though, so much as just looking. He'll blame that, later, on the fact that he's been here a while and his eyes were tired.

Apropos of nothing, he says down to the book in a lower voice still, "I'm trying to learn some things about a subject I thought I might have forgotten."

“About robot arms.” It's as much a statement as it is a question. And Squeaks also takes the offhanded response as an invitation back into Zachery’s business. She twists around in her chair, but instead of sitting on her knees, she grips the back of the seat and peers over her knuckles.

“Raytech has robots. Probably they can do better than what's in that book.” Helpfully opinionated. The young teen rests her mouth against the backs of her hands for a second or three. Then, “How come you knew it before but not now? Were you a doctor?”

"There's just something about me, isn't there," Zachery's reply leaves him tenser than his words before, "that makes people assume I used to be, rather than still am."

But he doesn't seem to want to linger on it, doing his own twist in his seat to look Squeaks up and down so he can tack on, "What are you doing, anyway? Homework? Giving you trouble?"

From the tone of his voice and the way that white eye is narrowed, it almost sounds like an affirmative answer might be met with a firm reply of 'Good.'

“I don't know,” Squeaks answers in a hushed wonder. The question about was and is probably maybe doesn't need an answer, but she misses that part. “It's hard to tell if older grown-ups are still or were.” Again that stands somewhere between a question and a statement.

Her attention flickers to the work she has. With a rankling of her nose, the girl shakes her head. “It's boring. Why does there have to be letters and numbers together?”

Zachery, too, returns to his work. He flips his notebook back over, pen picked up once more so he can continue the sentence he was working on earlier.

But the quiet doesn't last long. Still jotting words down, he offers flatly, almost as if musing to himself, "Pretend they're baskets."

“But they can't be baskets.” Squeaks turns and looks at the stranger like he's just suggested that hot dogs were vegetables. “Math isn't baskets, that doesn't make sense. They're not baskets, it's equations, letters and numbers and solving for what the letters are. How can they be baskets?”

There is no pause in Zachery's penning, least of all when he turns a new page on his notebook and starts to scribble something anew with that look of focus returning to his face.

One might be excused to think he's forgotten about Squeaks. At least until he shifts his weight, one arm coming up so he can hook an elbow onto the back of his seat. This, so he can slide a piece of paper out to in front of Squeaks.

On it, there's a crudely drawn wicker basket with the letter 'Y' on its front, and three much more crudely drawn kittens poking just over the top of the rim. Just beside it, there's a just as badly illustrated jar of what appear to be ladybugs, the whole thing with a drawn piece of tape across it that says 'X'.

He does not wait for a response, simply turning back to his own work to pull his book a little closer, peering out over a particularly complicated diagram next to what looks like an artificial muscle graft. "It's how my mother tried to teach me to care when I didn't." A beat's pause. "You may be a bit old for it."

The drawings are stared at. They're also squinted at, because that's how things make sense when they don't the first time you look. But no matter which way she tries, Squeaks only shakes her head at it. “Okay but…”But.

A finger presses to the kittens, but it's the jar that really gets a look. “That's not even a basket.” And besides. “This doesn't even make sense. Those are kittens and bugs in a jar. That's not algebra.” Twisting in her chair, she looks at Zachery like he's absolutely completely insane.

After a second, though, Squeaks turns her attention to his book again. Still it's more interesting than what she's doing, and she can get help later if she decides she really for reals needs it. “What kind of doctor are you? Do you make robot arms for people?”

"I'm a doctor of many skills." Spoken less like a brag, more as fact. "I might have a hand in making - - 'robot arms', at some point. With some luck." If Zachery is bothered by her criticisms, he doesn't show it. It's likely he's been on her side, after all. "Maybe not just arms, though. I know those are the parts people tend to lose, because hands and arms are the parts that most commonly tend to do the hazardous work that results in the loss of limbs, but…" This thought goes unfinished.

Without letting his attention leave the book in front of him, dragging his notepad halfway up onto a page, he asks flatly, "Do you have any parts of you you'd like replaced? Improved, perhaps?"

“No.” Her tone lifts the word into a question, because that's kind of a weird thing to ask. Squeaks tilts her head and looks at Zachery, purely curious. “Do you?” She already asked about the missing eye, but that's nothing like an arm or something.

"I don't know…" Zachery's attention on his book leans a little closer to browsing, as he reaches to sluggishly flip another page over, then another. His tone of voice is light, like he's talking about what to eat for lunch. "Why not? If it should prove safe, cost-efficient. Surely we can… do better."

With her eyes going squinty, Squeaks presses her chin to the back of her chair. She doesn't present any other questions, for a good couple of minutes Zachery is left alone except for the pair of blue eyes watching with unashamed curiosity. Eventually she turns around in her seat.

But instead of going to work, she slides from her seat. The chair legs offer a quiet protest from being pushed away from the table.

In a handful of seconds, the chair right next to Zachery is pulled out from the table. Squeaks claims it as her new seat and starts picking through the spread of books and papers covering the table top. “What are you researching? Do you work for Raytech or Yamagato?”

Ah, quiet.

Wait, what? As Squeaks begins to get her hands all over Zachery's THINGS (or borrowed things, anyway), he straightens up and just… stares, mouth agape. Like he's just been set upon by a wild animal and he's not quite sure how to react to it.

The books are on a variety of subjects, but one thing ties them all together — a merging of the biological and the mechanic. Some on a very small scale, though a larger number of them revolves around prosthetics, in specific, others still lean more toward transhumanism. Some of them are not studies on this at all, but rather musings on the philosophical side of it all. These have, so far, remained closed.

Most of them are likely already full of outdated information, with how quickly things have been progressing in the world of late.

"… Not- not yet. Raytech." The near-frozen version Zachery starts again, watching Squeaks' every movement as his hands resettle on his notebook to idly flip it over again. "But I'm going to." Wishful thinking will get you everywhere, right.

“I worked for them, Aunt Kaylee said I could before she was really for reals my aunt.” Squeaks tugs one of the books on transhumanism closer and opens the cover. She flips through pages, all the preface things, table of contents, boring and kind of unnecessary, until she gets to the opening lines of the material.

“Richard is way smart,” the girl goes on while letting her eyes skim over the page. “He knows a lot of things about even more things. But they're really for reals nice. They'll probably give you a job. Did you meet Sera? She's a little crazy. Don't steal her donuts.”

Sitting back, Zachery calmly slides the notebook and pen onto his lap as he observes Squeaks. If these were his books, he might care more. Now, it seems, not so much. Instead, he occupies himself with something else, voice growing a little more distracted as his brow knits in thought. "Not yet. I haven't met anyone. Honestly, me walking in for my interview - it's going to be more than a bit of a gamble."

Without pause, he asks curtly, "What's your name?"

“They hired me,” the teen points out with her eyebrows going up. “And I'm not even a grown-up.” Moreover, she was still technically homeless, and an orphan, but it obviously didn't hold her back. “I'd still be there. But SESA offered me an internship thing.” An aside, like its no big deal, and all said with her attention split between talking and reading the opening sentences of the book.

“Everyone calls me Squeaks.” Technically not everyone, but close enough. She closes the book, hands folding on top of it, and then she looks up at Zachery. “What's your name? What are you writing that you keep trying to hide?”

"I'm not trying to hide it," Zachery answers, cracking a weak grin as his shoulders lift and elbows slide onto the table, "it's just not for you."

He peers out over laxly crossed arms, the fingertips that reach the table tapping a silent, idly pattern. "Doctor Zachery Miller," this is offered slowly, before a somewhat more curious— "Do you like being called 'Squeaks'?"

“You are hiding it,” is Squeaks’ mild argument. Even as she dips her head and leans to one side. Like it might actually help her see what’s being written. It doesn’t, but she goes through the motions anyway. “That’s what it is when you keep someone from seeing it. It’s hiding.” She straightens as she explains the whole concept of hiding, and looks up at Zachery.

There’s that question again. Everyone always follows their name with asking if she likes being called Squeaks. It makes no sense. “Do you like being called ‘Doctor Zachery Miller’,” she counters calmly, even though she can’t help but wonder about the question. “Squeaks is what I’m called, except some people call me by my real name. But both are right because both are me.”

There is no immediate answer to the question. Zachery sits, patiently, notes still in his lap where he seems ill-inclined to remove them. As Squeaks answers, he merely sits, watching her face.

Only when silence takes over again, does he speak, calmly, and with amusement pulling at his lips. "I didn't mean anything by it." A calm clarification, rather than an apology. He turns his attention to textbook on the table, drawing it close to he can open it to look at the table of contents. "And yes, I do like being called that. Very much, in fact. So, Squeaks," he pauses, voice lowering a notch while his eye stays fixed on the page, "now that we are no longer strangers. What do you want."

It's Squeaks’ turn now to stare at Zachery. She's openly wondering, puzzling over him and his replies is plain on her face. He had to mean something, or he wouldn't have asked, right? Maybe it's like her questions, just asking to understand. Still, it's been asked a lot about her names, and that's a curious thing.

After a few seconds she very deliberately looks down at the notebook. It's also possible she could find out what's written with her sounds. She's never tried before, but writing leaves groves.

“I want,” the girl begins slowly. Her eyes lift from the hiding notebook and settle on Zachery again. What does she want? There's a lot of things, some more immediate than others. Lasagna would be primal right now, but that's probably not what the doctor person means. So she resorts to the easiest answer. “I don't know.” Squeaks even includes a shrug. “I want to learn all of the things I guess.”

Zachery flips his book closed again. Maybe his focus is gone. Something about Squeaks' answer has him look at her again, head angled so as to center her in his vision, stare hard on her face.

Time for another question. Cracking a grin, he pushes back in his chair, hooking an elbow over the back of it. "… Have you ever read Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland?"

“Yes. I really liked Through the Looking Glass more though.” Squeaks scoots in her seat to better face Zachery. “The Jabberwocky poem is my favorite one. I'm glad they're not real, because there's enough monsters without Jabberwockies running around gnashing teeth and snarling.”

She leans forward just a touch, meeting the hard stare with her own fascinated one. “Did you ever read Treasure Island?”

"It's honestly been too long of a time since I read it for me to remember what it was about," Zachery answers, though his tone of voice has dipped into something hinting at his thinning patience again. As if in response to Squeaks' scoot, he pushes his heels against the ground, and in turn, his chair back a little. "I thought I talked a lot." He almost sounds impressed - but against his better judgement, definitely looks amused.

His words are hurried when he continues, eye trailing off somewhere up to the ceiling before his attention lands back down on Squeaks again. "Listen— I was going to do that thing where you pull a quote out of somewhere and attempt to sound smart, so hold your horses." This time, there's only a heartbeat's pause before he adds, "By which I mean 'calm down'."

And then, he opens his mouth and— closes it again. And opens it again, but frowns, before finally saying, eyes narrowing in thought at Squeaks' face, "… See, look what you've done. I forgot what I was going to say about that stupid book."

It’s a good thing Zachery explains what he means, because Squeaks’ look shifts to a puzzled one. Obviously she has no horses to hold. And besides, this is a library, horses probably aren’t even allowed inside. Still, the puzzled look remains for a really long time. How does holding horses mean to be calm? She’s never held horses to know how one could even possibly connect to the other.

In time, seconds or minutes or both, that wondering shifts toward suspicion when Zachery comes up with nothing to say. She leans back slightly, waiting forever patiently, but doubting there’s words about to happen. The young teen’s eyes squint a tiny bit when she’s accused of doing… something? “But I was just sitting here and we were talking. I didn’t do anything.” She pauses a second, then, “Do you have old-timer’s disease?”

Something in Zachery's brain just… stops. It's not Alzheimer's Disease. It's just… something that has him sit there and blink and be unable to decide what to answer. An inability to communicate with this strange person in front of him.

For a moment, anger flickers past in that one eye of his, in a twitch of an eyelid. But only for a moment.

Suddenly, it comes to him. As his expression pulls into one of feigned shock, he clutches a hand over where his heart is, grabbing a good fistful of fabric. "Squeaks!" He chokes the name, abruptly, leaning suddenly sideways in his chair. "I'm. Having an OLD PERSON HEART ATTACK." He slams his other hand onto the table, but leeaans further still, chair beginning to teeter with him. The notebook on his lap drops to the floor as he SCRAPES forth another few words — "HhRRK. You'd better. Get — someone."

Blue eyes, which had been wavering between disbelief and fascination at what Zachery might be trying to say, widen and fill with fear. “Oh no.” Squeaks’ voice is tiny. “Oh no.” She shoves her chair backward and practically trips over it in haste to get well away from the man. But she doesn’t run away just yet. She’s struggling to process the heart attacking.

Is it like the fake-drowning that Aunt Eve did?

“Mo-om!” Squeaks’ voice is a rising pitch of terror. Gillian Childs may not be at the library right now, but it’s the first person she thinks of. After all, it was her mom who got Aunt Eve fixed and not fake drowning anymore. Books are left on the table — the librarians know her well enough to get them back anyway — and she twists over on herself to run.

“He’s… he’s fake-dying or something! I don’t know!” Her shrill shouts probably draw a million times more looks than Zachery’s dramatics. The teen doesn’t wait to see who helps but beelines for the information desk, halfway or more across the library. “I didn’t do anything,” she can still be heard, panicked. “He just started… He just… He’s got one eye and now he’s going to die!”

Zachery just… falls. He lets himself, tipping over with the THUD of body hitting floor and a sequence of harsher chair clanks. And a great deal of confusion on his face when Squeaks' words register as he lies there, just for a moment, all limbs and sprawl.

… He can't help but laugh, though, even if it is as quietly as he can manage, doing his best to hide it behind gritted teeth. Hey, he might just be struggling for breath! Ohhh nooo. Grabbing awkwardly for the notebook that came down with him as he shoves the chair away with an elbow, he scrambles to his feet.

NEXT — he must hide. Books on the table and dignity be damned, he darts into a nearby row of bookcases. This is apparently one way to end a conversation.

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