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Feb 23, 2019 12:29 AM
Jean, Zari, and Denice in Eclipse
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It has been a bad couple of days, and the main thing on Denice's mind is how to make it stop. Except, there doesn't seem to be a way to; usually, she needs to either figure out what she did to get punished and find a way to show that she knows it - but she's pretty sure she didn't do anything, and they're punishing a bunch of other kids the same way who didn't seem to do anything either - or wait it out - but there's only so long she can wait out not being fed.

It does make it easier to ignore them, though, when they aren't teasing her with candy trying to get her to do incomprehensible things. Easier but not safer; she returns her attention to the adult sitting across the table from her, who, from her posture of mild exasperation, has probably been trying to get Denice's attention. She notices she's succeeded, and relaxes a bit and starts talking, though as usual Denice only catches perhaps one word in three - something something eclipse, something something soon, something something dinner - and then starts again trying to get her to repeat nonsense sounds.

She plays along. Bah. Puh. Boh. No M&Ms today. She zones out again. It's hard to focus when she's this hungry. Bad things will happen if she doesn't, though. Boh. Puh. Pah.

The session ends, eventually. As the therapist is packing up to go, a roll of hard candies falls out of her coat pocket without her noticing.


When it happens, she has no idea what it is. It's a little like being drugged - something has changed, about her mind and how it works - but mostly not like that at all - no tiredness, no difficulty moving, no clouds of fog making it hard for her to think. She pokes at it, inside her head, trying to figure it out, but it's only when she looks around the lounge that she realizes - this must be the same group of kids and staff that were there a minute ago, but she can't recognize any of them; she can't even tell the kids from the staff.

From their reactions, they can't either. Most of them are panicking. It's going to be dangerous here, in a minute.

She'll get in trouble if she leaves... if anyone recognizes her, that is. If they can figure out that she's not supposed to be doing that.

She's probably never going to have a better chance to escape. She makes for the door, starts heading up the road, away from town.

 

It takes them twenty minutes to work out that she's gone, another twenty to figure out how to catch her, ten more to find her and restrain her. Half an hour more for the psion to show up and lock her down. And then everything can go back to how it should be.

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"You're joking," Zari says, into her headset. "Wow. What a debacle. --No, no, thank you for calling me, you were exactly right. Of course we'll get it handled. It's right in the job description. -- You too. Bye."

Lifting the microphone away from her mouth: "Jean?"

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Jean leans around the corner from the kitchen, hanging on the doorframe. "Yeah? Important meeting, Zari."

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Yes of course anyone he's having a private coffee with right before an eclipse is important. She'd know; she makes his schedule. "More important!"

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"Coming!"

More faintly: "If you'll pardon me a moment, Mr. Secretary. -- Thank you, yes. No, do help yourself."

And then he's right behind her. "What's up, chérie?"

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"Call from a precog -- nice lady, barely know her, I'll put her on your schedule, do something nice for her -- messy eclipse case upcoming in a mental hospital, grossly mishandled, she's pretty serious about only reporting the mess-ups through official channels but she made a conscience exemption for us. Details just coming up, here--" she pulls up the results of her search on her monitor -- "how much time can we spare for this?"

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He skims, rapidly. "For this? It's the job definition. We have all the time in the world."

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"We have an upcoming eclipse, she's not the only vulnerable preteen in the world."

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"So delegate."

He disappears without waiting for a response. From the next room, she can hear the muted sounds of him apologizing and escorting out the Secretary of -- something or other, she can't recall. Defense? Might have been defense.

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Zari taps some of her best people. There's other kids who need to be looked into; someone needs to take calls; someone to monitor the news; she has appointments she'll miss, someone needs to contact those people; someone needs to be preparing her a proper briefing on this kid while she's getting other stuff dealt with; someone to look into that precog and figure out why she's not working for them already...

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... and within an hour, they're on the road.

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Zari's got her laptop out, collating reports as they come in and summarizing relevant information to Jean.

She's been in and out of the institution's records, of course -- these places never bother to pay someone to put up decent security on patients' medical information -- and she's got a half-dozen people with decent judgement and nothing better to do combing through the immense dossier on the girl in question and live-updating a document for her with the highlights.

Someone's got her a brief summary of the kid's diagnosis, history, and treatment plan -- someone else looking into family -- someone getting them a place to stay in a town near the institution, they move around all the time anyway, no need to drag the kid all the way back to their current headquarters.

The authorization they need to take the kid is underway, too, though with all the bureaucracy in the way it's a toss-up whether that comes through before they get there. The place is clearly incompetent, though, they'll just show up looking official with a signed precog report, doctor's note saying they've got appropriate facilities to keep the kid, and a whole lot of confidence, it shouldn't end up being a problem.

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Her name is Denice Dimas, and she's severely autistic, nonverbal with an estimated mental age of six to her actual age of thirteen - she was just two months two young for the last eclipse - and a second grade education. She's a ward of the state, her parents having given her up when she was five; they seem to have never so much as called to ask about her, and have since moved out of state. Her current treatment plan is 40 hours a week of ABA, supported with a 'food plan': "I need to ask a doctor about this", the informant notes next to it, updated a bit later with "dangerous and cruel" and a link to a document on how to safely increase her food intake. She was on an aversives protocol, too, until the law changed a few years ago to forbid that; the records claim that she responded well to it, her stimming having been extinguished almost entirely and instances of ignoring her therapists having been reduced significantly by the time they were forced to stop. Behaviorally, she's noted as being stubborn, though not violent or aggressive; most of the things she's been punished for have been refusals to cooperate with treatment, though she also has a habit of 'interfering' with the other patients - trying to mitigate their punishments, in particular, and in one notable case, she worked out a way to 'lose' part of her lunch and get the staff to replace it, so she could pass the hidden food off to another kid on a food plan; it took several days after they caught on and started refusing to replace the meal for her to stop trying to pull that off.

 

Their official-looking papers get them brought to the head of the facility, who interrupts them mid-sentence to thank them for the warning and assure them that he'll have her locked down promptly.

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No, Jean explains patiently, projecting intimidating over himself and smiling a smile that could kill a man at thirty paces, that is not what is going to happen. The facility has clearly, if counterfactually, proven that they are incapable of handling this situation. The disastrous, criminal carelessness the precog saw was clearly their fault; look, right there in her records, their handling of her and in particular their disgraceful food plan have directly led to her developing avoidant-resistant behaviors around food. Like watching out for any carelessly dropped candy when it's been clearly communicated to her that she shouldn't be eating -- because they did clearly communicate it to her, of course, didn't they? Did he mention that he represents the country's most prestigious institution for the protection of young and vulnerable eclipsed -- lots of major donors look to their ratings when deciding where to give, no reason, just mentioning -- so it'll be no trouble at all for him to take over from here.

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The administrator seems genuinely surprised. Denice is severely autistic, he explains right back; food plans are the gold standard for working with kids like her, and hers was just reviewed by the house nutritionist last week. The problem is that the therapist had candy in the first place - they have a strict policy about that, she'll be let go - and not the food plan at all; food plans may sound harsh, but they're one of the few things that works for these kids, it'd be negligent not to use them.

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Well that's all really interesting and will definitely be convincing if things go so unfortunately that this ends up being brought in front of a judge, wouldn't that be just terrible, of course his organization has lawyers on retainer but he knows how high legal fees can run and how there's just never enough room in the budget for places like this. Yep, judge will definitely be entirely sympathetic. Cute kid, isn't she? Zari, love, pull up a picture on your phone and show the nice man. Awfully cute. Bit skinny, huh? He's sure the judge will get it about the food restrictions, though. After all, it's not like they were using aversives. They'll of course have stopped using those the moment they were banned. Shouldn't be a problem having all sorts of old paperwork dredged up as part of a comprehensive review, if it comes down to that, which of course no one would want.

Did he mention that Zari here is a licensed foster parent in their state? Of course he understands they'd worry about ceding care to someone who wasn't personally qualified, even if their organization handles things like this all the time. Like one of the prominent psions in the psychiatric field! The really rich one who makes significant charitable donations to mental health facilities! They worked with her extensively just a few years ago when she was a minor, did he know that? Ended up getting her legally emancipated. Such a lovely woman. Yep. Anyway. Licensed foster parent, he mentioned that. (He doesn't mention "as of fifteen minutes ago, by virtue of hacking into the registry," but it's only until the paperwork actually goes through, okay, and that's just a matter of time.)

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...okay. Well, she'll be in therapy at this time of day, he can take them to see her.

It's not far to the therapy rooms, but the route takes them past a few rooms with kids sitting around inside. Lots of them are thin. Most of them look vacant, or stressed, or drugged. One has his hands attached by rope to a belt at his waist, limiting his range of motion considerably.

When they get to the therapy room - yep, that's the girl, and there's a therapist sitting with her, using tones that'd be obnoxiously condescending from a dog trainer to try to get her to put together a toddler's jigsaw puzzle.

 

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Zari looks vaguely murderous. Jean looks very, very calm.

When they get to the room, both of them settle down before going in -- Zari with a visible deep breath, straightening her scarf; Jean slipping between expressions without fuss.

The take in the situation; Zari pats Jean's arm and walks over to the girl and her therapist. "Hello, Denice," she says, smiling at the girl, and then to the therapist: "I'm sorry to interrupt, but an issue's come up regarding the eclipse. May I steal your chair and talk to Denice a little?"

 

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The therapist glances questioningly at the administrator, but gives up his seat without a fuss. "We aren't sure how much she understands, but you can try, sure."

Denice... isn't looking at them. She's put her hands in her lap, still holding the latest puzzle piece, and is gazing rather fixedly at them.

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Zari takes the seat. "Does she have established 'yes' and 'no' signs?" she asks the therapist.

(There's clearly no sane communication set-up here, but a girl can hope.)

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"Mmhmm. Or, sort of. She'll nod or shake her head, but not very reliably. Denice, honey?"

She looks at him, balefully.

"Can you show the nice lady a yes?"

She continues staring at him.

"Sorry, she's not having a very good day today."

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"It's not a problem at all. I remember my eclipse, I wasn't in a very good mood either," Zari assures him.

Then she turns in the seat to face fully towards Denice. "Hi, Denice. I'm Zari. Please be patient with me, I'm still figuring this out." Pause. "Is it okay with you if I talk to you for a little while?"

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It takes a second when Zari starts talking to her for Denice to react at all. When she does, it's to look down at her hands again, but only briefly; when she looks back up, she seems confused, with undertones of worry.

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Hmm, okay. Hard to guess if there's an actual hearing impairment, or processing problems, or language difficulties, or she's just confused by what Zari's saying, or what; and it's not like Zari trusts the evaluations, here.

Zari smiles reassuringly, then tilts her head, looking thoughtful. After a moment, she gives a small wave, points to herself, then taps her fingers together: Hi, my name is... "Zari," she adds out loud, and then sits still and smiles at Denice.

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The confusion subsides, a little; wariness takes its place. She glances at the therapist, and after another beat, produces a quiet "'ari."

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Oh, for pete's sake, Zari thinks, careful not to let any of the exasperation show on her face. What a mess of a place.

"Actually, can I speak to Denice alone for a minute?" she asks the therapist, smiling. "I'm sure you have cameras and such for liability -- but, honestly, I'm finding this many people hanging about overwhelming."

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