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Posted on Wed Sep 20th, 2023 @ 2:34pm by Oliver Lucas & Evelyn Reynolds

Mission: Fractures
Location: Converted Science Lab
Timeline: Backpost (prior to arrival)
2163 words - 4.3 OF Standard Post Measure

"I thought I might find you here."

It was, technically, the end of Evelyn's shift. As was becoming more and more evident to the rest of the staff, that tended to be an intangible thing not very well-represented by actual adherence to duty rotation and could herald anywhere between an additional hour up to four or five before the doctor succumbed to responsibilities elsewhere and actually handed the reins to those perfectly capable of managing in her absence. Excessive fixation on her work had always been a problem for Evelyn and nothing about her abrupt career change seemed to be encouraging any improvement. She had noticed a similar pattern to Oliver's behaviour since they'd left Hysperia behind, understandable given the coursework he now had in addition to regular duties, but finding him in consultation with the holographic diagnostic unit when she'd sent him at least an hour ago off to find some food and respite was far too indicative of her own choices for Evelyn to do much more than lean against the doorway and smile in resignation. She'd tried to tell him hers was not the best example to follow but, rather stubbornly for him, the message didn't seem to have sunk in.

"I need to figure out how to put a curfew lock on the door."

"Given how far ahead Beya seems to be in studies, I need all the advantages I can get to keep up," he explained, a mix of an apology and an excuse. And in some ways, he appreciated the peace and quiet of a converted lab that nobody ever visited. "Some of these concepts don't come as easy to me as they do to you."

"I'll have to get my father to tell you how long it took me to understand the principle of proportionality." Moving into the room, Evelyn approached the opposite side of the holographic unit and cast an eye over the case study he was working on. "Of course, I was four-years-old at the time, proportion wasn't a concept high on my priorities." Glancing up at the display, she added, "You seem to have this under control."

Her gaze wandered downwards to meet his.

"You're doing very well, Oliver. Comparisons are invalid, Beya has had additional experience you have not."

Indeed she did, Oliver noted. Beya was far more worldly than most would have given her credit for at a relatively young age. She was only slightly younger than he was, but seemed to display much more maturity. Or perhaps it was confidence. It was difficult not to make silent comparisons.

"Did you say you were looking for me?" he finally asked, trying to deflect away from the compliment.

"I did. And I was."

Adopting a tone that was intentionally different to her professional demeanour, Evelyn leaned her weight against her palms, averting her gaze once more as an attempt to survey his work became a smokescreen for not watching his face, and added, "According to several sources, I've been working far too much. I think the general gist of the conversation was that if I didn't take some time out, our Executive Officer was going to lock me in my quarters with a dozen puppies. Or was it kittens." The clearly absurd threat didn't warrant more than a wrinkled nose. "Either way, I apparently have some holodeck time. I thought we could try to find a nice park with a chess board. If you're done here," she added, an attempt to smother a sudden hesitancy that too closely resembled Oliver's normal fluster.

"I..." Excitement welled in him as he stepped forward, then sharply shut himself down. "If the XO is suggesting R&R to the Chief Medical Officer, I suppose there must be something to it." He straightened a set of testing beakers unnecessarily, veiling his emotion behind the pretense of professional courtesy. "If you need an opponent, I suppose I can finish up here and join you."

"I believe I was offered guidance," Evelyn corrected, reaching up to switch off the unit to decisively cement his fate. "I think I've picked out a program we can use, though if you have your own in mind..." The blonde very quickly added the latter, aware that already she was in danger of taking control over what was meant to be his time to lead.

"It sounds like you already had something in mind," he said, falling naturally back into being the 'follower'. "I'm afraid I don't know many parks..."

The sound of babbling water always struck her first. The program had been designed to deposit them right by one of the park's many water features and Evelyn, who had spent some time at sporadic moments wandering through the actual venue back in London, found familiarity in the ambience it created. What struck her most this time, however, was a barrage of nostalgia that ached in a way that wasn't exactly pleasant. Being reminded of home wasn't as enjoyable as it had once been, not when a self-imposed invisible barrier kept her separated from ever experiencing the real thing again. Swallowing the sudden lump in her throat, she introduced the setting in subdued tones that masqueraded as quiet reverence. "Holland Park, a relatively faithful reconstruction. I've seen the real park several times, my father has property nearby."

"You lived near here, then?" he asked for clarification, admiring the sights and sounds. It was a real place that he would have to visit one day; naturally peaceful even in holographic form. An escape, he suspected, for a younger Evelyn. As kindred spirits, that was what he would have wanted too.

"At times," Evelyn replied, lifting her gaze to the branches of the nearest tree. It was always difficult to know what season to set the program in but a slight preference towards autumn provided plenty of contrast, from the piles of red and yellow that gathered beneath the feet to the stubborn outliers still holding fast to their foliage. The grass was still damp, signs of an early morning start, and the slightest puff of vapor after exhalation was a lingering symptom of overnight frost. Evelyn had no idea what Oliver's preference was but she could hardly show him London without introducing him to its weather. "My father's main residence is far more rural but the city apartments were a useful place to stay if he had business in the city."

He motioned to the waiting outdoor chess table, already set up with enamel pieces in their starting positions. Only in a holoprogram would they be so perfectly arranged and waiting. He politely motioned for her to seat first, then sat himself down at the side of black. "A far cry from the dark hallways of a cube and a thousand voices whispering in your head," he remarked dryly. "I sometimes...I wonder whether I would have had a life like this one had it not been taken away from me."

In many ways, one of the most unusual and captivating things about Oliver was his apparent willingness to refer to his assimilation in such open terms. Evelyn hadn't really had any opportunity to witness whether this was a normal inclination regardless of company or he had somehow latched on to the fact that she had at least some experience with supporting repatriation. Quizzing him about it now seemed a poor choice of response but she tucked the curiosity away for another time. "Do you remember much of your life before your capture?," she asked instead, glancing briefly at the board before moving her first pawn.

"Pieces." His eyes went distant for a moment, between moving a chess piece and recalling. "Images. Occasionally a smell will trigger something familiar. I don't know how much normal people remember of their childhood, so it's hard to draw a comparison. But I know that things were pretty simple. The colony wasn't very large." He pondered the board rather than the woman sat opposite, using the game as a way to escape the darker parts of those memories.

"There's nothing wrong with simple." Careful to keep her tone gentle, Evelyn regarded her opposition for a moment and then took her cue from his body language. Studying the game board intently, she reached forward to move another piece and kept her gaze trained on anticipating future plays rather than risk any discomfort from provoking eye contact. "I'm not sure you could say that my upbringing was very orthodox," she continued. "We travelled quite a lot, most of my schooling was undertaken with tutors. It wasn't a lifestyle that lent itself easily to making friends my own age."

"We seem to have that in common, then," Oliver noted. He pondered the chess pieces a few moments longer, then furtively glanced up at her. "What kind of friends did you have?"

"Not very many." It was a soft admission and, suddenly, it wasn't much of a struggle to keep her gaze averted. "I only started attending public classes when I was 10 and..." Evelyn exhaled softly, an expression of resignation that became a weary laugh. "It was a shaky start, I was far more used to setting my own pace, which happened to be a lot faster than what the educators were able to provide." Reaching out, she moved a piece. "My mother had passed away the previous year, I don't think it helped my acclimatisation that it felt as if I was thrown to the sharks to get me out of the way." Her blue eyes met Oliver's briefly. "It wasn't the case, of course, my father was a grieving widow with three young children and traveling as we had been simply wasn't feasible at the time. I figured that out eventually but I think it's safe to say I wasn't really in the mood to make friends." Her brow furrowed. "That really only started to fade once I was moved up to classes that matched my ability and, even then, I had a tendency to befriend the adults around me first." She smiled faintly. "I'd say it's certainly got easier as I got older. What about you?" The question was gentle, since it was reasonable enough to suppose that childhood friendships may have been tarnished by events since.

His eyes dropped quickly back to the chess set. Friends. Not a subject he knew plenty about. "Nobody wants to be friends with the trauma kid," he said softly. "As much as they try. Jeassaho, Cami and the others do their best to involve me, but...we're very different. I prefer the quiet." He looked around at the environment. "My time would rather be spent somewhere peaceful, rather than the chaos of a nightclub. I guess I find it hard to 'get in the mood' to make friends too," he explained, mirroring her previous statement.

"It is alarming," Evelyn agreed with a soft smile, "how many people seem to panic at the notion of not craving an endless succession of social events." She had been raised to navigate them, at least at a superficially polite level, but that wasn't the same as enjoying them. Her recent issues with crowd-induced anxiety had really only exacerbated a pre-existing reluctance. "Though I suspect it's less them not wanting to be your friend and more a case of not understanding how to go about it, at least on your terms. They are a gregarious lot," she concluded, lost in her own consideration of the fact for a moment despite it being her turn.

"One way of describing it," he muttered. Pushing a knight forward, he dared himself to flick his eyes back to her again. "You're about to corner my queen," he said, a faint smile on his lips. Pride, maybe. Or perhaps the purest sign of enjoyment of this moment. And his deep affection for this woman who simply 'got' him.

A twinkle of mischief met his gaze. "I'm aware." Lips pursed in such a way as to utterly fail at hiding her mirth, Evelyn completed the move and then winked. "I'm rusty but that doesn't mean you have to hold back." Several moves had been clear attempts to accommodate her lack of practise but Evelyn wasn't a woman who enjoyed winning unless she was absolutely sure she'd earned it. "We'll count this as a warm-up. Next match, no pulling punches."

His fingers touched the tip of his King, toppling it over. As he moved his hand away, he put it on top of hers. She was cool to the touch. After what felt like an age, he looked her in the eye. "I promise I won't. I..." He earnestly smiled. "I really enjoyed this. Thank you."

Caught out yet again by her own disorientation, Evelyn drew in a steadying breath through her nose and smiled warmly, turning her hand just enough to allow her thumb to stroke his in reciprocated thanks. "So did I. Let's make sure we do it again soon."


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