Parlez-Vous Francais?



Scene Title Parlez-Vous Francais?
Synopsis Non.
Date August 24, 2019

Not all that long ago the New Jersey Pine Barrens were home to a number of thriving communities, suburban neighborhoods encircling the perimeter of a vast stretch of rural woodland. These days nature has pushed back against the encroachment of urban wilderness, trees grow where mailboxes once stood, bushes spout up through the absent flooring of rusted automobiles lost on forgotten roadsides. This isolation is part of why the new settlement of Providence has thrived in spite of the questionable legality of the resettlement of the area.

One old house on the edge of Providence, a mile and a half from the nearest home, used to be a rural butcher’s. There was once a barn out back, now just a pile of dark gray wood and green new growths and tall stands of untouched grass, glittering with fireflies in the dim evening light. A sign that reads PHYSICIAN swings on a post halfway down the driveway, something salvaged from the dirt and hung to indicate the new resident. The physician in question, Doctor Zachery Miller, is the lone silhouette walking up the dirt driveway in the waning hours of daylight. The mud on his boots speaks nothing of the tumult in his chest, what with how his day has gone.

Parked alongside of the house, hidden under a sprawling tarp held down by rocks and covered with leaves, an old car — one Doctor Miller would be thankful to be driving after his long walk — lays both unused and obscured from casual view. Only the glimpse of a single tire from a corner where the tarp has rolled up reveals it for what it is.

That signpost along the driveway creaks in gentle, late summer breeze as he walks past, muddy ground squelching underfoot. Birds call out through the boughs of tall trees. His front door lays halfway open to the driveway. One of these things isn’t helping Doctor Miller’s anxiety.

Zachery’s Residence

Providence, New Jersey Pine Barrens

New Jersey

August 24th

8:23 pm

Even in this moment, coming to a slow halt on tired legs, the only thing the owner of the home can think to say to himself is, "… Home sweet home."

The amount of sincerity and enthusiasm in Zachery's statement is mirrored cleanly by the absolute lack of life in his eyes. And that's taking the fact that one of them is quite literally lifeless already into account. The other fixes a stare on the doorpost - old home, could have opened by itself. But no, that lock was replaced a few weeks back. It should be fitted perfectly.

He'd checked. So many times.

He starts forward again, slower but not particularly quietly, straightening to push his shoulders back a little.

"If you're still here!" He starts more loudly, in an uneven tone that suggests an insufficient amount of thought preceded the action, "Can you leave the antibiotics in the office, please? I really don't want to - order more, it's a fuss, there's not really anyone who delivers this far out, and cold season's rolling in, and…" A sigh ends his ramble, as he reaches to push the door all the way open.

Unsurprisingly, he has a house guest.


“Doctor Miller,” Zhao greets from where he leans against an open door frame in clear view of the entrance. He has changed little since Zachery saw him just a few hours ago and Zachery is under no allusions that Zhao needed to use the front door, it felt more like a courtesy warning than anything else. But it isn’t Zhao that’s here to meet with Zachery. He may have just been playing facilitator to the man through the doorway, the one Zhao gestures to with a sweep of his hand. Standing with his back to the doorway is a tall and broad-shouldered figure familiar to Doctor Miller from his last polite home invasion.


“Zachery,” Garza says as he slowly turns around from surveying the interior of the house, “sorry to drop in uninvited, but it sounds like you’ve had a challenge of a day. Regretfully, I may be dumping a bit more into your lap.”

Though still visibly tense when he's scanning over Zhao, Zachery's shoulders drop back down when Garza's form comes into view. It might look like relief if not for the knitting of his brow.

For a moment, there is silence. A racing of thoughts as Zachery's attention darts hastily between visitors before it pulls off into a side room - a dark mahogany excuse for a living room with nary any furniture and still full of boxes, not a light fixture in sight. A partially filled bookcase that takes up almost an entire wall is visible in the dying light that streams in from the windows across from it, letters on spines only just legible. Non-fiction, mostly, a lot of it tangentially related to medical practice if not direct case studies.

He shifts his weight and starts to make his way past an upright piano, one hand thoughtlessly reaching to trail a knuckle along the wood that lines the black and white keys. It's only then that he finally says, tone flat with exhaustion, "Evenin', boss. I'm beginning to think you thrive on this." Then, in the same breath and when his eye settles on a leather couch in a corner of the room, "Let's hear it, then."

Zhao quietly excuses himself out the front door, hands tucked into his pockets as he does so. As Zhao makes his exit, Garza's eyes follow him, then settle on Zachery. “I'm glad you remembered that I requested you make sure it had a basement. Your house.”

Garza steps to the side, making a motion with one hand toward the closed door nearby that leads downstairs to the aforementioned basement. “I know you've already had a long day, what with everything transpiring with Isis, and I'm sorry to add to it, but your timing and our timing… lined up. I'm going to overlook the extracurricular experimentation, as I've been told Isis will pull through.” Garza’s brows knit together. “Hopefully you still have an appetite for research.”

At that, Garza indicates for Zachery to lead the way downstairs.

Zachery's so close to sitting. There's a couch right there. He uses the time while Garza speaks to him to stare longingly at the piece of furniture, sigh before gritting his teeth. The subject of Isis and her lack of untimely demise has his gaze finally lifting, and he finds the energy to turn and walk back.

There is a lot to address, but nothing of it makes it past the mental wall as he's dragging himself toward that basement door. At least until, "I think you'd sooner find me dead. Speaking of," his voice lilts upward a moment, facetiously, though it grinds back down to grimly monotonous by the time he reaches the end of his sentence, "you closing the door on me here would be a sublime way to end this day."

With that, he elbows said door open and begins his descent with heavy footfalls, letting gravity do most of the work as he breathes a quiet hiss at the slight change in temperature.

The rattle of a chain in the dark is, perhaps, too well-timed on their descent into the basement. Garza cracks a smile at Zachery’s back, then follows him down the stairs. “Fortunately, you’re not the one I’m interested in keeping down here…” The short flight of stairs leads down into a dimly lit basement, one that once held ephemera of Zachery’s move to Providence. The counter spaces have been cleared, the metal table once hidden by a stack of boxes now bare. But it’s over by the old hot water radiator that the rattleclack of handcuffs jingle.

Qui êtes vous?

The voices comes from a woman sitting on the basement floor, handcuffed to the radiator. Her curly blonde hair is disheveled, brows knit in consternation. Her restrained wrist is reddened from struggling, but as Zachery and Garza come into view she slowly stands upright, straightening the front of her untucked button-down shirt, its floral print soft shades of magenta on a field of powder blue. “This is your new lab partner,” Garza says over Zachery’s shoulder.


“Doctor Adrienne Allen.”

"Oh." Zachery says dully, standing in the center of the basement, perfectly still. At least, until his fingers curl restlessly inward.

"Oh." This time said much more keenly, and something draws him forward a step. His attention is drawn to that wrist in more ways than one, and his new guest is looked over while a number of different emotions seem to fight to make it to his face. Not least of all concern. But then it just… fades. It's a glad shade of of eagerness that makes it into his voice and expression when he finally looks her in the eye and says, bright and crisp, tiredness forgotten, "I haven't had a pet in ages."

Suddenly, Adrienne looks infinitely less inclined to get her new captor’s name. “Is this really necessary?” She asks past Zachery to Garza, who raises his brows and spreads his hands slowly. “You did give one of our men a concussion the last time we moved you. I understand your reluctance to cooperate, Doctor Allen, but you know what — and who — is at stake here.” The small smile that Garza offers after that comes with a clap of a hand on Zachery’s shoulder.

“Doctor Allen is a specialist in molecular biology and genetics,” Garza explains, soon lifting the hand and walking past Zachery over to a brushed metal case sitting on the nearby countertop. There’s a light on by the latch, a soft hum coming from it like a powered up electronic device. “She also possesses a unique ability that allows her to spontaneously generate cellular fission, allowing her to rapidly promote cell growth. Your research is being centered here for two reasons, one for accountability. This is your work and our partners that provided Doctor Allen to us are washing their hands of the, uh, particulars of the research.”

Garza picks up the case and flips open the latches, then lifts the lid. A low-hanging mist pools out of the refrigerated case, revealing a single metal vial ensconced in foam padding and beside it a circular plastic dish usually reserved for cultures or tissue samples. “This vial contains a lethal virus known as Gorgon, it attacks the nervous system of people like us,” he says with a gesture to his chest, “and causes fatigue, paralysis, and eventually brain death. I need you and Doctor Allen to develop a new virus based on Gorgon, but one that targets something else.”

“Inside this dish,” Garza points to the plastic case, “is a tissue sample from as close a proximity to our target as we can get. Doctor Allen should be able to help you replicate cells from this necrotic sample and produce new, viable nervous system tissue to test this new virus on.” For a prisoner, Doctor Allen doesn’t seem too surprised by any of this research, nor nearly as confrontational as Zachery would expect.

“This is important work, Zachery,” Garza says with a graveness in his tone. “This is the kind of work that will save the world.”

There is a definite twitch and a roll of the shoulder that Garza's hand lands on. It pulls his attention back to the other man, where it stays while the explanation is rolled out.

When all goes quiet, something uneasy pulls at the corner of his mouth. It takes a few seconds for him to speak up again, and when he does, it's with a correction: "It will save a world. Which I'm, ah —" he stops, breathes out a chuckle, and flashes a lopsided grin before genuine and audible relief creeps into his voice. "Which… I'm okay with, actually."

Without looking away, he motions a hand toward Adrienne. "But is she? All jokes aside, there's only so much you can do while cuffed to a radiator. And - allow me to save the rest of this story for another time, but - the last time I tried to cooperate with a restrained woman, she took my fucking eye out."

Garza looks from Zachery to Adrienne, one brow lifted slowly, as if that question was for her to answer. Adrienne looks to the handcuff around her wrist connected to the radiator, then down to the floor and her shoulders slack. “Oui,” she says quietly, defeatedly. “Yes,” again, remembering herself.

“Doctor Allen has a vested interest in the success of this program, but it has taken some work to get there and… she backslides?” Garza admits with a frown. “If it’s all the same, I recommend you keep her on a short leash, so to speak. Doctor Allen has already been instructed not to stray from your residence or speak to people other than yourself, but I’d make sure there’s a lock on the outside of the basement door all the same.”

Adrienne looks at the handcuff again, then to Zachery. “I’ll help. But once this is done—”

“You’re a free woman,” Garza interjects, “as promised.”

"Now a lock, that's something I can get behind- no." Zachery frowns, "In- in front of- behind? I suppose it depends on your perspective-" He shakes his head. Let's abandon that branch of thinking all together, shall we?

Drawing a new breath, he looks to Adrienne and says cheerily, "I'm sorry, I've had a long day - though for all I know yours might have been longer." He takes a few more determined steps toward her, expression equal measure amusement and sympathy, "But I promise civility. Probably more civility than I've let on. This will be, after all, in some ways, a situation of mutual trust, yes?"

With that, he extends a hand within reach of the cuffed hands while he studies her face. And, by now, her heartbeat.

And all of it is strange.

Doctor Allen’s body exists in a state of cellular suspension, not just with cells dividing as normal but constantly dividing and splitting and dying and recycling. It isn’t quite like the way a regenerator’s body functions, but it’s something parallel. Her control over her own cellular aggregation seems profound and Zachery sees evidence that would suggest cancer risk in anyone else, except that she seems to be in perfect health. Not even so much as a cavity or a blemish.

Garza, unaware of the discovery Zachery has made, turns to look up the stairs in the silence. Adrienne feels no such compulsion, though, as she glances down at her handcuff and then back up to Zachery. “I haven’t eaten today, I’m tired, and I haven’t showered,” she says in a fluid English accent peppered with a lilt of French. “Trust will come after all three of those issues are resolved.”

Garza slowly looks back to Zachery, then Adrienne, and back again. “Doctor Allen used to work for the Commonwealth Institute. I’m sure you two will have an abundance of things to talk about as you complete this work. Which,” Garza looks to the case, “needs to be completed by no later than February 1st. Someone will be coming to check in on you monthly.” Then, after an affable smile Garza asks, “Questions?”

"Mh." This seems, for a few seconds, to be Zachery's only response to Adrienne, while he pulls his hand back with a look of clinical scrutiny, grin receding into mirthless smile. There is a lot to consider here, both in anatomical anomalies and the answer to his question.

Coldly, one more word leaves him in idle thought given voice. "Cute."

It's not that her issues won't be resolved. But they might have gotten resolved a mite quicker had she given a different answer.

He calmly steps back to a distance he gauges to be out of reach, and turns to Garza again. Behind the exhaustion there is a pinpoint precision to his attention on the other man's face, his own expression frozen on one of necessary niceties. "Not as of right now. I assume I can reach you if something comes up." He pauses a beat, then lifts his head a little, and says, "This may be - this… may have been… exactly what I needed. Thank you."

Garza offers a look past Zachery to Adrienne, then back to the less handcuffed doctor. “I’m glad,” he says with a gently clap of a hand on Zachery’s shoulder. “If there’s anything else you need, don’t hesitate to… reach out in like kind. There will be some lab assistance from Praxis Heavy Industries coming in the near future as well,” Garza so flippantly explains, “a virology specialist. She’s very good at her job, or so I hear. Trustworthy.”

With that, Garza lowers his hand from Zachery’s shoulder and looks back to Adrienne. “Be mindful of that one, though,” he offers as if speaking about a beloved family pet.

“She bites.”

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