"Unfortunately that sounds like half the guards here." (Set 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.
Mondays don't quite mean the same thing in here as out in the free world -- few clocks and no windows tend to make the days kind of blur. Even so, with many of the research staff on regular work week schedules, the weekends often offer some sort of respite from testing schedules, and even in these monotonous halls there's still some lingering Monday dread that sneaks in. Monday breakfast isn't the most lively of affairs.
Flicker is dragging as much as anyone as he shuffles in -- he's been absent from meals all of the previous day but, now, is getting himself some runny flavorless oatmeal, juice, a banana. The bruising that had darkened his face is mostly faded, though now he bears new dark splotching on his arm and holds himself with a stiffness that suggests it isn't the only one. He carries his food carefully to a table, bowing his head over it once he's gingerly seated himself.
Wendy's breakfast tray looks much the same as Flicker's. Sad oatmeal, sad reconstituted orange juice -- at least the banana is fresh and ripe. She seats herself opposite Flicker, using her spoon to slice open the stub end of the banana and peel two sides of it. Then start slicing thin rounds of it into her oatmeal. "That isn't from testing, is it." The flatness of her tone doesn't mark this as a question, really. "They haven't been taking you upstairs."
While Winona has been pretty scarce in the cafeteria lately, she looks a lot less pale and at least a little more hungry this morning than many of them in the recent past. With equally bland breakfast fare places on her tray, she scans the room to search for a spot to sit, but her eyes stop on Flicker when she notices him heading to a table. Without much thought, she turns and follows, placing her tray next to his. She raises her chin in greeting at those seated. "Hey."
Dread or no dread, Polaris seems to have more energy than usual this morning, and an appetite to match. Trailing Wendy by a step, her tray sports oatmeal, as well, heavily doctored with sugar, a banana, two slices of bread, and a little sauce dish of syrup that she's already spilled a bit. "I think they're too scared to take him upstairs." She unceremoniously dumps the syrup onto one slice of bread and then puts the other one on top. Her "Hey!" when Winona joins them is--perhaps not bright, exactly, but emphatic, anyway. When she looks back at Flicker, though, her eyes skip between his new bruises and the old ones. "Motherfuckers," she mutters quietly, jaw clenching.
Flicker looks up, manages a quick small smile as the others join him at the table. "Oh -- no," he shakes his head, just once, small, "they're not taking me up. Just -- got on a guard's bad side, that's all." There's a casual dismissiveness to his tone. He gulps down a long swallow of his juice. "He said --" He stops, shakes his head quickly. He takes a small bite of his oatmeal, then a slightly bigger one. "Do they let you all know any kind of schedule ahead of time or is it just like. Surprise mad science every time?"
Wendy nods politely to Winona, still meticulously slicing her banana into her porridge. "They're prison guards. They don't have good sides." Her voice is quiet, but her words are clipped and sharp. Her brows pinch inward. "What did he say?" Her eyes flit about the room as if searching for the man right then. "They like to mix things up. Keep us on our toes. Sometimes you know in advance, so you get to be anxious about it all day."
"Yeah, usually a surprise. Each day an adventure," says Winona with an unamused swirl of her spoon in the air next to her before she dips it down into her own bowl of oatmeal. She glances around as well, but quickly just turns her attention back downwards to her meal., and she comments, "A guard's bad side? It's easy to bruise their egos. Or be the wrong person on the wrong day at the wrong spot."
Polaris peels her syrup-soaked bread slices apart and lays them out on a plate, then begins to peel her own banana. "Depends on who's wanting to poke at you, too. Some of them are more hung up on 'procedure.'" She makes air quotes despite having a banana in her grasp. "Usually when I know it's cuz of restricting food or water or whatever, but then...up until recently they only took me upstairs sedated, so." She shrugs. "YMMV." She starts slicing her banana as well, not near so neatly as Wendy, but much faster. "Which one? I feel like, it's maybe not quite as random with this guy's rep."
"I don't know his name. He's -- tall? Short brown hair? Head too small for all his muscles? Kind of --" Flicker's brows furrow briefly in thought. He fails to repress a shudder as he tries giving a more detailed description, ultimately just faltering and ending with, "... glowery." He hitches his shoulder up in a quick shrug. "Do you have any idea how many of them are, um, are mutants too?"
"Unfortunately that sounds like half the guards here." Wendy's lips purse sympathetically, her own shoulders tightening at Flicker's shudder. She tips the last of her banana into her oats, stirring slowly. "More of those traitors than there should be, but I don't know concretely. Did he tell you he was?"
Winona's eyebrows raise and her eyes widen slightly, betraying her surprise. "I didn't know there were-" She raises one side of her lip and furrows her eyebrows in a mixture of anger and disgust. She glances over to Flicker and then down to the oatmeal that she has started jabbing at with her spoon. "He got tattoos or anything?"
"'Glowering meatheads' is kinda like their platonic ideal. Also, the name of my new punk band." Polaris mashes the pieces of her banana between the syrup-slathered bread and makes a kind of sandwich out of it. "But yeah, I heard the PMC that runs security specifically recruits people who get booted out of the military for being mutants. I used to always get assigned at least one of them as escort back before -- oh, hey maybe you should ask Number--" She stops. Steals a sidelong glance at Winona. "--Jamie."
"There are. I think they started hiring them some years back. Probably --" Flicker shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "Probably because of us steamrolling the human guards every time." He nods at Winona. "Some kind of weirdly angry looking donkey thing on his arm and it says 'Noli Me Tangere' on the other. Very, um, meathead." He takes another small bite of his food. "He told me. He -- he was mad that --" His laugh is kind of breathless, kind of sharp. "He thinks people like me give us all a bad name."
Wendy's eyes open wider, and she splutters a little around her first bite of oatmeal. "You? A worse name than a bunch of thugs torturing people for money?" She stabs her spoon into her oatmeal, too. "That one is Covey. He's pretty typical, for a guard. I didn't know he was... not human." She stares down into her bowl a moment, nods to herself. "I've been getting a pretty decent idea of who works when, but if Jamie could help me sort the humans from --" Her lips compress, "not, that would be useful. Did the guard --" She catches herself, looks over Flicker a longer moment. Nods to herself again. "I'm sorry," she says, quieter.
Winona's attention snaps up towards Polaris, at first seeming a bit confused before her eyebrows furrow darkly. "He's here? Why? Why would he help with anything?" She exhales sharply in an almost laugh, plenty full of bitterness. "Uff... if Covey is 'one of the good ones' then we're in a lot more trouble than I woulda thought. Always thought the guards were some kinda freaks to take this kind of work, but I don't know how a mutant can even..." She points at her head and then opens her hand in a disbelieving gesture.
Polaris's "ohhhh" at the description of the guard is nearly silent and devolves into a distasteful grimace. "Not that I needed help hating the guy before, but ugh." She had just taken a big bite of her maple-banana sandwich when Winona's question brings her up short. She chews rapidly and swallows, nearly choking in her haste. "Yeah, him and Messer. But..." She licks her lips. "...he's like. Reformed?" She darts a doubtful glance at Flicker, then Wendy. "Reforming? And is supposedly down to help us gather intel so we can GTFO. Which involves him continuing to act like their good little walking suppression field." Her eyes catch Wendy's studying Flicker, and she grits her teeth again, shoulders hunching inward.
Flicker's eyes have fixed on his breakfast as he nods. His hand jitters up and down rapidly, tapping the handle of his spoon against the side of his bowl. "I don't know, either. I don't understand how someone can --" He shakes his head sharply. Swirls his spoon through the oatmeal. "Jamie's working on it. Enough of those guards out there and we'll -- be really glad. For a walking suppression field."
"Do you know they don't actually tell people getting hired here what -- these places are?" Wendy's eyes pull away from Flicker only slowly, turning up to search some ambiguous spot on the ceiling. "I mean, the guards have to catch on pretty quickly with all they see, but --" The hitch of her shoulder is a delicate motion. "There's a brand new custodian and he had no idea what this place does. I'm sure the ones who stick around have to get hardened to it if they want to keep their jobs but -- the new people --" Another shrug. She takes a large banana-laden bite, her expression kind of resigned as she swallows it down.
"Messer's here too?" repeats Winona, with even more distaste in her tone, "She must be real pleased to be in the loser holding facility." She shakes her head and says skeptically while scooping up some of the oatmeal, "Well... I just hope that we can trust Nu- Jamie? To not just fall back into old habits." She glances towards Wendy and raises an eyebrow, "Seems kinda unreal that they wouldn't know, but it'd be tough to put that in the classifieds. Help wanted: Janitor for secret government torture science lab."
"It's amazing how creative people can get with their rationalizing." Polaris's eyes cut over to the line of kitchen staff members serving breakfast, to the guards standing by the doors. "I guess it's even easier if they're sold a sanitized version of this when they get hired on." To Winona, she shrugs. "I...just don't know. But I trust Wendy's judgement, and--well, like Flicker says." She jabs her spoon into the rapidly congealing oatmeal. "Our chances are sure a lot better with him on our side." With that, she starts shoveling large spoonfuls into her mouth with sullen determination.