cn: coerced medical experimentation, threats of harm to minors, discussion of potential medical torture/bodily harm to minors, reference to threatened eye trauma
"They ain't realized I can't sweet-talk reality yet." (The other-side view of fun with genes.)
There are dozens if not hundreds of rooms like this in the sprawling research complex, and while their specific purposes vary, most of them could easily be mistaken for exam rooms at a regular doctor's office. This one -- less so. A mirror of one-way glass takes up most of one wall, the door to the other side of it heavy and missing a handle on this side. There's an intercom speaker installed with the fluorescent lighting overhead, larger and more prominent than those in some of the other testing rooms. There's a rolling exam table against one wall, with heavier restraints attached than are seen in other exam rooms -- all the exam chairs in here, too, come with restraints. In the corner there is a small set of shelves and cabinets, labeled and stocked with supplies for biofluid sampling, and minor wound care, all locked.
In one of the exam chairs, her shoes abandoned at its base, Naomi is sitting crosslegged with a paper cup in her hands, some faint steam still wafting off the top of it. The tea doesn't look great -- oversteeped, perhaps, the bag still floating inside of the cooling water -- but Naomi is clutching it close anyway. There are electrodes attached to her head, some on top of her dulling scales, some taped haphazardly under them and over her hair. She's not restrained, though her green eyes keep flicking to the straps with some apprehension. She looks up to the mirror. Frowns. "If y'all fifteen minutes late, I reckon class is cancelled," she says to her reflection. If there is a response from the other side, it's not coming over the loudspeaker.
There are guards, when the door opens, as there always are, but they don't seem particularly fussed about their current charge giving them any trouble. Gaétan has seen better days, as he shuffles in, fresh bruises stippled down his arms, but it probably isn't just his exhaustion that leads to just a little less concern about what The Flatscan might do. He stops just inside the doorway when he sees Naomi inside, and it isn't until the door has closed and locked again behind him that he seems to unfreeze. "Shit." His hands are habitually reaching for pockets that are not there. He trudges in with an even greater reluctance, to drop himself into one of the empty chairs. "I think," he says just a little wryly to Naomi, "I'm officially over this place."
Does Elie Tessier even own a white labcoat? We're not finding out today, as she sweeps in behind her son dressed more like a teacher (a cool one, probably) than a ~~researcher~~ shitfuck, in an amethyst single-button blazer, the startling cyan of her blouse peeking between the lapels, light gray slacks, and white linen pumps. "Oh! Is this one of your friends?" she asks Gaétan, not much fussed at his hesitance, before turning to Naomi. "The scheduling is dreadful, isn't it? I'll make sure there are actual refreshments waiting for you both when we take a break." Do any of the other staff say "refreshments"? Well, maybe they should! "Now, do follow the instructions as best you can, children. I'll be just in the next room." Elie kisses her son gently on his battered cheeks and keycards her way out with an almost little wave over her shoulder, leaving the room much less colorful in her wake.
Naomi turns her head when the door opens, wincing where this tugs at the wires attached to her forehead and the tape pulls at her skin, her hair. Not for long, though -- her eyes go wide, pupils constricting. Almost in time with Gae, just half a beat displaced -- "Shit!" Her eyes flick up to Elie with a flush -- "Sorry, ma'am, thank you," slips out in a meek, polite Southern lilt Gaétan hasn't often heard. "Shit that's your mom," she whispers to Gae, "and they still putting you with me? That's some bullshit." She sounds -- maybe a little calmer than she ought to sound on this front. Still nervous, though, as she sips at the last dregs of her drink.
The loudspeaker crackles on. "Miss Winters," says the voice of Some Shitfuck overhead, monotone, bored, "when the suppression grid comes down, you will instruct Mr. Tessier to use his powers on the mutant alone in the next room, and remove their X-Gene."
Naomi snorts. "Shit, y'all want to waste your time tryna magic something wild outta this human, fine by me. Sorry, Gaé," she says apologetically as she straightens up in her seat, as the suppression field comes down and her eyes start to change, "they ain't realized I can't sweet-talk reality yet. This gonna feel a lil weird, probably." Her pupils become slits, the green glow casting the whole dull room in emerald. "'Take away the guy next door's X-Gene.'"
"That's my mom. This is all..." Gaétan shakes his head, his shoulders slumping in some exhaustion. "I don't think anyone here has much choice about --" This breaks off as the loudspeaker comes to life. He's sitting bolt upright, his eyes gone slightly wider -- shooting not to Naomi but the blank glass separating them from the next room over. "Oh no." His words are breathed out, just barely audible in the moment before Naomi's eyes glow. Whatever happens next may not be sensible to Naomi, but between the machinery set up to monitor them and the Poor Bastard Next Door, surely someone is quite vividly noticing the slow wrench of genes. Warping, shifting, intricately repatterning themselves. Gaétan's hands have curled down hard against the arms of his chair, his breathing slowing and expression intent. "-- I don't even know if --" he's trying to object, even while his power works hard at complying. "-- never done this, I might fucking kill him." He's hissing this vehemently toward the door.
"'What the hell are you doing?'" This, too, comes out with an undercurrent of hissing in Gae's mind, not exactly compelling him to answer truthfully but to answer immediately all the same. Naomi scrambles to her feet, empty cup tumbling to the floor. "'Shit, stop, Gae, stop I'm sorry --'" Naomi turns to face the mirror fully like this will overcome the fact her power doesn't work through speakers. In the reflection, Gae can see her eyes return to normal, her expression pale and pained -- "That ain't me I can't do that!"
"We know, Miss Winters," comes over the loudspeaker. "This is not your testing session. Very good work, Mr. Tessier." Probably, in the other room, no one is dead yet. "We will be doing several variations of this test. Will you cooperate, or should we have Miss Winters make you, again?"
"You told me," Gaétan returns quickly to Naomi, and just as quickly frowns at the answer that's just come out of him. "I'm just -- they said to --" This faltering non-explanation is at first directed towards Naomi, but as the voice continues over the loudspeaker he turns back towards the glass. "Don't make her do this." Quiet, pleading. "Don't make me do this." There's something at work inside him, now. Almost precisely the same intricate editing -- though a little sloppier, a little more desperate as it twists and rewrites something in his own genetic pattern, this time.
"You're human!" Naomi shoots back, accusatory and pleading all at once. "I wouldn't ever -- I didn't know --"
The same device that is monitoring the poor bastard just out of sight is monitoring the teens, too. "Make him undo what he is doing now," comes -- oddly calm, over the speakers, the urgency there but muted in the shitfuck's tone. Naomi hesitates, her eyes remaining dull for a moment too long for their patience. Overhead, the threat comes -- "Or we bring in your brother."
That turns back on the glow of Naomi's power. "'Stop, Gae. Reverse whatever you're doing.'" The hissing sound entwined with her words doesn't drown out the crack in her voice. Her snake-like eyes don't meet Gae's as she looks anywhere but at him. Quieter -- "'I'm sorry.'"
The frenetic reorganization within Gaétan skids to a halt. His hands are still clenched down hard at the chair, nailbeds pressed white where they grip. "Stop." There's less bite in this than he would like, still sharply directed towards the door and the blank panel of glass along that wall. "Don't make them -- I'll do..." But this is trailing off, hesitant. Uncertain. He's looking towards the other glass, now, towards the unseen test subject beyond. "... what's going to happen to him. After."
"Absolutely nothing, dearest," comes Elie's voice over the intercom, and suddenly the plight of the man behind the wall seems just that much more irrelevant to the teenagers. "That's the brilliant part! You're going to put his X-Gene back. There's someone in the room just behind us in here, can you feel him? Watch closely, now."
Two rooms across, someone's genetic code is shifting -- where once the X-Gene there was unique, now it's slowly morphing into something familiar, the same power encoded there as was once in the poor soul Gaétan rendered painfully human. Gaé can sense not just the shifts there but in the surrounding sequences, in the base pairs up and downstream that have to change also to accommodate the new code. The original shitfuck returns to the loudspeaker. "Miss Winters will be staying with you -- it's up to you whether we make her do anything."
Naomi, for her part, is sinking back into the exam chair, the glow in her eyes faded and her shoulders pulled in, small. The looks she's giving Gaé is awed and guilty and fearful all at once. "It's Lael," she offers as a plea and apology. "I been tryin' for passive resistance an' all but --" she gives a helpless shrug. "Least they ain't gonna make me make you hold your breath til you pass out, probably."
"They make you make people hold -- what do they learn from that?" Gaétan is briefly distracted from the current predicament by this errata. "What are they using here for control, this place is..." He stops, bowing his head, his nails picking roughly at the padding on the chair. "I'm really sorry." This is quieter, to Naomi. Slowly and carefully, the once and future mutant next door is being rearranged from the inside, genetic code painstakingly copied from the blueprint Gaétan has been offered. "I couldn't -- I didn't want to tell them --" He draws in a slow breath, lets it back out slow, too. "What are they doing to Lael?"
Naomi shrugs jerkily, wrapping her arms around her torso. "Nothing, I hope. Our main doc says long as we play ball they ain't gonna -- dig out his hair to see how it works or pull out my scales one by one or cut into our eyes --" she sucks in air, holds it, breathes out slow. Quiet, only slightly trembling: "Reckon they want to see how many ways I could kill people. How you gonna scientific method that? There's only one o' me." She tries to smile -- looks down at where Gaé is picking at the chair, and it falls. "...right now, anyway. Shit, how long you been able to -- do all that?"
"Jesus," is Gaétan's first response, eyes wider, and then "... they did that to Jax, I shouldn't be... but fuck. You don't have to -- I'll do -- fuck. -- Just don't hurt them, okay?" This last part is louder, clearly not aimed at Naomi. He's staring at the floor, now, some nebulous space in between them. "I don't know." His voice has dropped much softer, again. "Maybe forever. A long time. We didn't know, I got tested and it didn't know. Matt couldn't even feel --" His shoulders are tightening, and his head shakes, slow. "He kept getting cancer. And then my roommate. And then Spence. I've just been trying and trying not to keep hurting people and now --" He starts to look back towards the window, where in the background the steady ticking shift of genes is coming to a halt, neatly patterned back into its original configuration. His eyes don't quite get there before fixing back on the floor.
No response to this plea from the other side of the glass. Naomi shakes her head. "Ain't just you, it's for -- all the shit beyond like, making Roscoe do the Macarena. The stuff that's --" Naomi swallows, hard, a haunted look in her gaze that Gae is avoiding. "Shit, Spence was you? Does he know?"
The loudspeaker crackles back on. "Again, Mr. Tessier." Two rooms down, that genome is morphing again -- something different, now, from both sequences before. "The same thing."
Naomi looks up now, trying to catch Gae's eye. "It's not like you're hurting them if I make you do it, right? Maybe it's better if it's not -- really you, I'onno." She bites her lip, her eyes still damp. "This sucks."
"I didn't tell Spence." Gaétan's voice has slid into a heavy monotone. "He's the only one I told when I found out I -- wasn't human, but I didn't tell him what -- fuck. He was going through chemo and I just avoided him, I was so fucking scared of killing him and he must have thought --" His eyes squeeze tight as if not looking will somehow stop him from feeling the shift happening in the next room. "And now here it's been like --" His mouth pulls up, just a little wry. "Whatever shit they give me for being a flatscan, can you imagine if it got out that I could just -- unmake people's --" The smile fades, his face going just a little paler, maybe, as he considers the very likely outcome of that news. "I'm sorry. What they're making you do, this isn't. Your fault either." In the next room, nothing is changing. "This sucks."
"Ohhhhhhhhh." Naomi's bite on her lip, already harsh, breaks skin. "Oh shit." She's imagining, her own face paling as her eyes cast over the bruises on her friend's skin. "...I ain't telling nobody. Swear on Baby Jesus. We gonna tell folks I made you do the Cha-Cha Slide for two hours or something, aight?" The smile she summons up is pained, yes, tight, yes, reassuring, maybe not.
"Again, Mr. Tessier." The researcher on the other side of the intercom sounds annoyed. "Miss Winters, if you would have him copy over the new mutation, please."
Naomi wipes away the small bead of blood on her lip. "You ready?" Is she? She sucks in a shaky breath, closes her eyes. Opens them, bright and glowing and snake- like, the hesitation in her expression disappearing along with the whites of her eyes.