Outcasts & Runaways – Part 1.15

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Chapter 14 – Earth, Four Months Ago

The Plea

At first, Jenny was uncomfortable around anyone but Dr. Thomas; the way she brightened when he came for her made Mercury feel ill. He had been the only scientist allowed to work with Jenny so far, which Mercury grudgingly admitted was a blessing. But over the course of Jenny’s first few weeks, she began to open up to the other girls and be less nervous around Mikey and Brock. Dirk still scared her, but no one blamed her for that, and he grouchily proclaimed that he didn’t care. At least he’d grown less outright hostile towards the others over the past year.

It turned out that shy little Jenny was a chatterer; she could talk a mile a minute in her imperfect kindergarten vocabulary, mostly about her strange “friends.” She would shut down quickly if guards drew near, but Mercury had gained her trust enough that Jenny would ask her questions, and even listen to their late-night secret conversations about the outside world. The small girl hadn’t had her memory erased, according to Dr. Thomas, but she didn’t seem to recognize things like TV and playgrounds. The only thing she knew – and about which she might have had an even more extensive knowledge than Mercury – was animals. Or at least the many, many animal parts that appeared in her strange creations with startling accuracy.

So much about her didn’t make sense. But the biggest roadblock for Mercury was Dr. Thomas. She couldn’t say a mean word about him without Jenny nearly tearing up. Finally, when they had a moment alone, Mercury couldn’t keep it in any longer.

Do you like Dr. Thomas?”

Jenny had been placed in a room next to hers, in one of the last remaining cells. Only one empty cell remained, on the boys’ side. What would happen when they were filled, Mercury wondered?

Jenny nodded happily. “Ah-huh! Doc’s nicer than, than the other people.” Her round, green eyes clouded over slightly. A creature that looked like a blue dog and a white bunny combined appeared at her feet – Dunny, she called this one, and it was clearly a favorite. Jenny petted it, the fur acting more like a stuffed animal’s than a real dog. Her fingers showing no trace of the slightly sinking-in sensation the others felt when they touched the creatures. “The other people aren’t, um… aren’t nice.”

“But…” Mercury struggled to find the right words. “Does he ever do things that hurt you? Does he stick you with needles? Does he make you feel like you have to do things?”

Jenny shrugged, rubbing her bunny-dog’s fur. “I get shots. I don’t like those. But he’s, um, he’s nicer than the others. They make me bring my friends and then yell when my friends don’t look like they want.” Jenny beamed up at Mercury, an impossible picture of child innocence in a place that ate childhood for breakfast. “Doc gives me snacks and plays games with me.”

This didn’t totally satisfy Mercury. It could be a classic case of Stockholm’s Syndrome. But… none of the kids had ever claimed that one scientist was better than the others. Some were certainly worse, but nobody liked any of them, not really. Her own experiences placed Dr. Thomas in the same category. Why would he change tactics now?

She’s probably just too little to know the difference, Mercury thought. But that seed of doubt grew bigger.

—-

The nanites came back with images of Dr. Thomas and the Director arguing. She’d never seen any of the scientists argue with the Director. They obviously feared him. Mercury wished her nanites could record sound.

Dr. Thomas came to her testing session again, under the guise of gathering more data for his personal studies. As soon as the door shut, he gestured her to the chair. Maybe this time they weren’t going to talk.

Then he slipped the note into her hand. Testing proceeding as normal – well, better than normal, because he was respectful again. It was so different from what she remembered in the other place; she was finding it harder to reconcile the two versions of this man.

She waited until bedtime before looking at the note, barely able to pick out the words in the dark.

Can’t use the same trick twice or they’ll suspect. Destroy this when you’re done. I need to know if you’ve considered helping Jenny escape. You still know what the outside world is like; she has her best chance of survival with you if I don’t make it.

I’m starting to fear for her safety. The Director believes I am too attached to her – he’s not wrong, but I can’t let him see it. She is important to their research, might be a breakthrough. If I don’t become more aggressive in my studies over the next six months, I may be asked to leave, and then I won’t be able to help. If I try to take her myself, I’ll be caught, but I think I can orchestrate a small jailbreak.

You could be free. I know where you can take Jenny and be safe until I can reach you.

Please. For her sake, help me.

There was no signature, but if anyone found this, they would know who had written it. Mercury stared at it for a long time, hopeful and angry in parts. Angry, because how dare this man raise her hopes like this? A desperate part of her wanted to believe his words. She could escape this nightmare! She could go home!

But what about the others? She knew with instant resolve that she could never leave them behind. And she couldn’t, she couldn’t trust this man! It would be safer, saner, to destroy the note and be done with his lies once and for all.

Then a twinge she hadn’t felt in years passed through her, and Mercury’s stomach dropped. It wasn’t words or anything so obvious. Just a deep-seated conviction, a flash of reassurance. She almost rejected it; it had been too long, she’d been through too much, how could anything be expected of her NOW?

But guilt and hope made her curl in on herself beneath the covers, the residue of that rrassurance pulsing through her like an echoing call. “Forgive, as you have been forgiven…”

The thought scared her to death. But with that fear came a new idea. Something bigger than what the doctor wanted. Something so worth accomplishing, she could even bring herself to trust him in order to attempt it. And the more she considered, the more that growing sense of resolution squelched her fear.

She wasn’t sure she could ever forgive him. But maybe this was a chance to start making up for her own mistakes.

Mercury scrawled her own message on the back of the paper. When next the Doctor read it, he would have his answer, short and sweet:

No.
Not unless you can get all of us out. Won’t leave the others. All seven go, or none.
But if you can, I’ll do my best to keep them safe. I promise.
~Mercury

– Three Months Ago –

He came again and again. The messages varied, but always the same plea. It was hard to stay strong; Mercury could see Jenny losing her cheerful spirit even in the two months she’d been here. No matter how Dr. Thomas might try to reserve her training for himself, the others had to have their turns, and they were no more kind to the new child than to the rest. She was another Subject, one of particular interest for some reason, and she would be molded into whatever form they wanted. Some days the only comfort Jenny would accept was that of the strange creatures who let her lean on them while she cried.

The visuals from the nanites didn’t help. The doctor and the Director seemed to be arguing more and more, however civilly. At one point, she even managed to get a visual on one of Jenny’s testing sessions with Dr. Thomas. And she couldn’t deny that he seemed… different than she remembered him. Was that really tenderness in his eyes?

The twinge grew stronger. It brought pain, as well, her desire to lash out at this man fighting against this new conviction that working with him was the right thing to do. Mercury held onto that conviction, onto the hope of finally DOING something. Finally getting out of this nightmare.

When he came the final time, she could tell it took all his efforts not to cry in front of the cameras.

“Please,” he begged, his hand against the clear wall of her cell. None of the others were around, except Brock. At a nod from Mercury, the boy’s face contorted in concentration, and she knew he was doing what he could to fuzz the cameras against seeing the doctor in his distressed state. “Please, I can get you two out. But they’re talking about sending me away, and… and wiping Jenny.” The words made Mercury’s gut wrench. Dr. Thomas’s jaw clenched with barely held emotion.

“I can’t,” she whispered. “I want to help, but I can’t… I can’t leave the others.”

“I can make things worse for you here, you know,” he said quietly, but she could tell his heart wasn’t in it. Something really had changed. For a brief moment, the constant anger she felt around him gave way to the smallest pang of compassion. Maybe she couldn’t forgive him yet… but she would help him. For herself. For the others. Just say yes, she silently begged.

“We’ll be caught,” he choked, fingers curling into a fist against the glass. “I don’t know if I can save you all.”

Mercury waited, giving him time to compose himself. But when he looked up again, she poured all the conviction that had built within her these last few weeks into her answer.

We can do it.”

After a moment, the man nodded. A tiny spark of hope entered his gaze. “…Alright. Maybe we can.”


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A/N: Can someone who has done truly horrible things have a change of heart? Can someone who has been hurt horribly find a way to overcome their scars for a noble purpose? Mercury is going to find out. Fortunately, she has a little help on her side.

When I originally wrote Jenny, she was much more peppy than this, to the point that she seemed almost completely ignorant of her situation when she first appeared. But when I compared this chapter to how I have been writing her in Part 2 – timid, subdued, watchful, needing to trust you before she shows her enthusiastic true self – I came back and edited a bit. I think this fits her better with the situation she’s been through, although I definitely kept her chattery joy about her “friends.” Kids chattering about stuff they are really excited about is precious and wonderful.

-Jenn/River

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