molasses on my feet

“Aye, Giles, I got all four kings. I win.” Austin the caretaker tossed the four cards a few feet across the main hallway, stopping where Giles had parked himself earlier and rustling the uniform that was clearly a few sizes too large. “Ya wanna play again? Best of three?”

“You two better,” Lainey scoffed, engrossed in typing an email on her tiny phone. “We’ll be here for a few more hours yet. It would be better than staring at the ceiling.”

“I’m sure the experiments on the other side of the door would beg to differ.” Giles scooted a few inches closer to the glass doors outside the dorms. “We wouldn’t be making any noise then, and then they’d get to fall asleep more quickly.”

“Oh, please.” Lainey rolled her eyes. “Austin would be making as much noise as he possibly can.”

“Hey!” Austin jerked his arm, scattering the pack of cards in Lainey’s direction. “Great, now look what you’ve made me do.”

“Not my fault.” Lainey stared at the mess for a few seconds before putting her phone down and leaning over to begin cleaning the cards up. “Austin, what do you even do here?”

“Surgical team. Who do you ask? Shouldn’t you know already?”

“Well, being that this is the first time that you’ve bothered to volunteer for the evening watch before the lockdown, I haven’t gotten the opportunity or the motivation to learn that.” She handed a small stack of cards to Austin, who added them to his own. “You look young. What exactly made you want to come here, of all places? You could have picked any career you wanted.”

“I was fresh out of high school last year, and my parents wanted me to move out of their basement as soon as possible, so naturally I picked the only one that didn’t require a college degree.” Austin shook his head and picked up the last of the cards. “In retrospect, I probably should have just applied for a scholarship while I was still in school and paid the extra money for a dorm.”

“And now you’re stuck here.” Lainey stole Austin’s pile from his hands and handed it to Giles, who started shuffling. “At least until you’re legally allowed to drink alcohol, and then you have to sign a silencing contract before Anders will let you go. Sorry, kiddo.”

“Please don’t call me that.” Austin sat back up and leaned against the hallway wall, feeling the cold stones behind his back. “What’s been up with Anders recently? I used to see him all the time, and now his schedule is all irregular.”

“He’s in that blasted Nevermore project.” Giles scoffed, sliding the shuffled cards back into their box.

“You say it like it’s a bad thing, Giles,” Austin countered, pulling his jacket off and discarding it into his lap. “What’s so bad about immortality?”

Giles leaned forward, scooting closer to across from where Austin was perched. “Austin, do you remember on Wednesday when you helped perform an organ harvesting?”

“Yes. Like something out of a bad dream.” Austin shook his head. “Blech. I wonder what could p0ssibly happen to a subject to make them that horrifying.”

“A week ago, that person was doing absolutely fine. They were assigned to Project Nevermore last Thursday and were subjected to the first few rounds of body preparation before the real treatment was to begin, and then somebody let them run away in the middle of a session before they could stabilize.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Lainey slid over by the two. “And your point is?”

“Anders is unstable, but that doesn’t preclude the necessity of having other subjects complete the treatment and come out alive with no side effects before joining in himself! The idiot, I swear-”

“Have you tried talking to him about the risks before whining to us about it?”

“I have, Austin!” Giles squeezed his eyes closed and clamped his hands on his own bald head. “Every night that he’s here, I yell at him behind closed doors because I fear for his life! And you know what he does every time? He threatens my job security, and I’m pretty sure that a circus couldn’t possibly provide competitive enough pay to make me consider overstepping the line and physically barring him.”

“But-”

“No buts!” Giles opened his eyes and held out his left hand, exposing the large patch in his palm for all to see. “Have you noticed, Austin, that more of me is artificial tissue than human? Who’s going to want to look at me in the normal workforce? I’m a freak, to state the obvious! I can’t get a job anywhere else!”

“Well-”

“No wells, Lainey! It’s fact! And Miranda- god, I can’t even begin to get a grasp on how deep the waters of trouble would be if I helped her or him or whatever get away from Anders.” Giles gazed at both of them in turn, putting his hands down and resuming a normal sitting position. “I’m stuck here as Anders’ puppet, and then I have to hear every day that you all feel like you’re trapped. At least you have the choice of physically leaving past the age of 21.”

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