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Eggshells

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Something about one of the new hires was off from day one. She breezed her way through physical training faster than anyone you've ever known, for a start, and you've known people who entered the company with a solid decade of military experience under their belts. You heard things from the other trainees; how abrasive she was one minute, how overly familiar the next, all while never actually connecting with anyone. She's weird, they said. She's going to make a bad team player, regardless of her proficiency. Hopefully they won't have to work with her.

So you have your reservations when she’s assigned to your team, but you're curious. People tell you you're too soft sometimes, but you operate under a specific set of principles in life. One of those posits that people always have a reason for being the way they are; you want to assess her firsthand before you pass judgement.

They may not have been entirely wrong about her. The first hurdle is getting her to carry a handgun.

"I already have guns," she says, as she stares down the Ares she’s supposed to be carrying.

You just blink at her slowly. Aside from it being absurd, you don’t see a single weapon on her.

"These are standard issue," is what you're about to say, but then she holds out her hands, and from her palms protrude... the barrels of two guns. Oh. Hm.

 

 

"What are those?"

 

 

"Machine pistols." Okay. This is. Okay. You sigh and press your hand to your forehead.

"Are you--Look, we're obligated to carry these, okay? Company policy. You have to keep it on you. But if you’re in a pinch… I won’t be the one filing a report on you for using those." She looks--you don't know how she looks--accepting, maybe, of the answer, and holsters the pistol. This is already getting off to a weird start.

She’s bright, and she’s attentive, and she certainly seems to know exactly what’s expected of her on duty; in that sense, she fits in much better than some of the rumours about her would have led you to believe. But you really do have to concede that some of the other rumours about her are true, too.

Sometimes she's impossible to talk to, ranging from aloof to outright aggressive. Other times, she tips too far the other way; she throws her weight around a little too heavily, pushing her way into conversations left, right and centre. It's uncomfortable, but you don't think it's malice. You see the way she watches you all during her quiet phases while you’re on breaks, off-duty, when it's a dull day and you get maybe a bit more lenient than your superiors would like and start fucking around (hey, they're not there to see it). If you had to take a guess, you'd say she's trying to mimic you. She's trying to be part of the team. She just doesn't know how.

You can't get that thought out of your head when you see her show up looking tired and unkempt, when you only ever see her drinking Soylent or picking at weird combinations of pre-packaged snacks. It’s odd. She always looks like something’s eating away at her. It gets you curious again. You need to do some prodding.

 

 

You get your chance when you're rotated out for a lunch break during a weekend day shift. When you return with your bait, Aubrey is exactly where she was when you left: tucked away in a corner by herself, staring absently out of a window. She notices you before you even draw close.

 

 

"Hey." You wave your fast food bag in the air and then set it on the table, reaching inside for the tacos and spinning one across it to her. "I was just getting lunch, and I thought it might be nice to get you one. Y'know, if you want it. It's okay if you don't."

She looks at you, then at the wrapped taco that's come to a stop just in front of her, then picks it up and slowly starts peeling the paper away. Success? Success.

"There's a drink, too, if you want that," you add, presenting the two cans of Coke from inside the bag. "Sorry, I don't know if you like Coke. I just figured it was a safe bet."

"It's fine," she answers. "I don't... no, never mind. Coke’s fine. Thanks." You lift an eyebrow, but don't push her. You just unwrap your own taco and get to eating.

"So," you start, after a minute of silence, piecing together your next words in your mind very carefully. "Can I be really candid with you for a second?" She freezes, and maybe looks scared, just a little bit, just for a fleeting moment, but otherwise doesn't react. You take it as an invitation to continue.

"I really just wanted to ask, like... are you... okay? I feel like you've been having a hard time getting integrated, and... I don't know. You just look really tired." She does look tired. More than anything else, she looks tired. "Obviously, you're here for a reason, because I've never known anyone ace training like that at your age, and… you know. You’re doing good. But it’s not just about what you can do. We’re a team. I want you to feel like you fit in, too. If there’s anything I can do to help with that, if something’s bothering you..."

She stares, then looks away, chewing her food slowly. You feel bad, cornering her like this, but you don't know how else to get a meaningful answer out of her. You crack open your drink and take a sip, giving her time to formulate a response.

"I'm-- It's--" She stops and starts a couple of times, her gaze flicking between you and the table, like she wants to say something but can't bring herself to. "It's complicated, okay?" she says, finally.

Complicated. Complicated is always a code word for something more sinister.

"I'm not going to ask you to explain everything if you don't want to. But--and not to be too bold here--if you’re having trouble and you need social or health support, work can help with that. If you need help getting set up with it, I don't mind lending a hand. If you want it," you add, quickly. "You don't have to do anything, and I don't have to be involved. I just want you to know the option's there."

Aubrey puts her taco down and stares at it very intently, hands on her knees, breathing heavy. You already know you went too far.

"Aubrey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to--"

"Leave me alone," she snaps back, still not making eye contact. You stay seated at first. Something is up, and the last thing you want is to stand back and let it consume her. But she asked you to leave, and she looks like she might start freaking out if you don't, and you aren’t here to make a scene or cause her any more undue stress; you take your food and your drink and stand.

"Okay. I'm sorry. If you want to talk about this another time, I'm always happy to." With the seeds of concern having firmly taken root within you, you turn to leave the room. Maybe she'll seek out those support systems without your help. For now, you can only hope.