the calm

“Sitting at a picnic table was a thoughtful suggestion, Lainey, but it doesn’t exactly help our current situation.” Anders crossed his legs under the table and pushed down on his lap, leaning forward. All of the exercise shifts had been cancelled for the subjects, so the yard outside was empty and void of anybody but the meeting-goers.

“I thought that the fresh air might calm your nerves a bit.” Lainey tossed her hair, feeling it billow out behind her, and the lone police officer who’d joined the meeting scoffed. The rest of his squad remained inside, scrutinizing every corner of the building.

Austin hugged his zipped-up jacket close to his skin. His foggy breath blew away quickly in the brisk breeze, slapping Lainey in the face to her displeasure as it passed by. “Is the meeting starting anytime soon? Anders said that he’d pay me extra for this, but I’ll forgo a few more dollars in order to get out of the cold.”

The junior caretaker to his left smacked Austin’s cheek as he tried to pull his hood up. “It’s only sixty degrees Fahrenheit outside, you pansy.”

“Alright, enough banter. I want to be a part of all the fun stuff going on inside, but I can’t do that if you all won’t shut up.” The police officer scratched his mustache and pulled a notepad out of the pocket on his uniform shirt. His macho demeanor, however, fell away as his eyebrows furrowed. “Um… What exactly was this meeting about again?”

Anders’ throat constricted as he winced. “Picking a replacement for Giles.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, Anders.” The police officer fiddled with his sunglasses. “I don’t suppose you were close to him?”

Anders hissed, balling his fists in his lap. “What do you think? He was my right-hand man. Half of the administrative responsibilities were on his shoulders, and he did them all perfectly.”

“I sure hope that you can pick another workhorse, Anders, because I don’t think you’ve figured out how to revive corpses with all this fancy technology.”

Anders sighed, bowing his head. “Alright. Who would you recommend?”

Austin raised his hand, and a listless Anders nodded to acknowledge him. He put his arm down before suggesting, “Why not Lainey? You seem to have gotten all nice and cozy with her-”

Anders jerked his head up and pushed away from the table, standing up on the dewy grass. “Do you want to keep your job, Austin?”

“I-” Anders’ eyes flashed with offense. Austin trembled in his seat as he looked up to face the provoked man in front of him. “I meant no offense, sir-”

“I will not have you insinuating that I’ve been bedding Lainey.” She shivered at Anders mentioning her by name, and he resumed his seat on the bench. “I’ve been chaste since Miranda disappeared, and I intend to stay that way until he comes back home.” Anders jerked his arm towards the glass doors leading inside, where a few of the policemen were milling around. “You are dismissed, Austin.”

“But-”

“No buts!” His eyebrows rose, and he kept his arm up until Austin vacated his seat and slunk back inside. Once he was past the glass doors, Anders rested his head on the table, blocking his vision with his arms. “Dammit. I’m turning into a monster.”

Lainey laid one hand on his shoulder. “I’m not adverse to helping you run the Laboratory, Anders. I would just need to handpick an assistant of my own. It’s no big deal.”

“Hey, um…” The policeman tapped Anders’ other shoulder, and Anders raised his head to glance up for a moment before returning to the darkness of his arms. The officer brushed his elbow against the resin planks of the table as he requested, “Can I abandon ship and join Austin now? You’ve pretty much made your choice already.”

“Just go.” The officer made a yippee noise as he abandoned the two adults and joined his comrades. The dorms, which they were just about to vacate, had already been emptied of all subjects- who were now bunking in the emergency dorms deep in the basement.

“Anders, it’s going to be okay.” Lainey rubbed her knuckles along Anders’ spine, and he released a long groan. “I promise we’ll get past Giles’ death. We’ll find the killer, and I’ll help you slog your way through Project Nevermore. And then Miranda will probably come home, and everything will return to mostly normal.”

“I wish that’s how things worked around here.” Anders raised his head and cast his weary eyes upon Lainey. “I should get going now. Church is in a few hours.”

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