The facility was far better than anything Armin was used to. It really was a wonder, considering all the updates in technology and research that had been done over prior years. Even though there were places like this, with security measures like keypads and thumb scans, and containment areas that he was certain his last director would have been jealous of, other facilities were practically dungeon-like in comparison. They were dark, dank places, typically made of some kind of thickened brick made for the sheer purpose of containing Titans, even though there were already at least seven different types of tempered glass and metal that served the same purpose.
Of course, he had to keep in mind that students were often given the lowest jobs in places like that, doing barbaric tasks like vivisections on Titans chained to walls or tied to crude wooden frames. The tests that were given the label of ‘social’ weren’t much better, involving what was essentially torture in order to get any sort of reaction. He supposed it was research as well as a way of desensitizing students so when they reached levels like this, they wouldn’t be stuck in the mental muck and mire once they studied Titans three times the size of the ones imprisoned at the older facilities.
However, even if that was the intention, Armin wondered if perhaps he just wasn’t strong enough for the end result. When he had been studying, performing all the needed tasks--however grim they were--he flinched and cringed, trying his hardest not to turn his head away when a gash was opened on rock-hard skin and blood oozed onto the floor. He had to pretend not to gag when he swiped the blood for testing, even as the stench filled the room. Even when he slept, he could sometimes hear the screeching and howling of Titans being prodded with white-hot iron stakes, just to see if they could indeed feel pain. The sound, even though it was distant now, never failed to make his stomach wrench, and no matter how hard he tried to forget, it was too difficult.
Regardless, desensitization must not have been the utmost desired thing to his instructors, as he still passed with excellent test scores and warm regards from several of them, most beaming in pride over his intelligence and diligence. His thesis papers earned him lauded comments, passed through the ranks of researchers, soldiers, and evidently, the government if his current position had anything to say for him. Only a few months after his schooling had finished, he had been called to the Trost Testing Facility, headed by a certain Director Levi. The man was oddly relaxed, if not a bit condescending, and where Armin had expected a lengthy interview for whatever position the director felt he could fit, he was instead silently assessed, his papers getting more attention than his actual presence, and then nodded to and given a stiff, curt welcome.
Armin wasn’t sure if the hiring process normally went that way, but he wasn’t one to turn down what would be the job opportunity of a lifetime. There were others in his class that ended up with jobs like field research, which had a higher mortality rate than he was comfortable with. Although working at a testing facility wasn’t exactly prime, there was still a thick pane of glass between him and any Titan he faced.
Subject TF-1505 had confounded everyone pretty soundly. He wasn’t the largest Titan they’d captured, although he did clock in at an astounding fifteen meters. He was just the least violent, and that was a shock in itself. Armin couldn’t help but read his file a few times through, just so he was sure he didn’t somehow hallucinate the details.
It was all there, though. On the date of his capture, TF-1505 had shown minimum resistance, aside from a slight struggle to fight the ropes on him, though that quickly ended when a soldier fell out of a tower after the subject had yanked too hard on a certain rope. Instead of the soldier falling to her death, the subject saved her by extending his arm, so that she landed on the back of his hand. Of course, he was quickly subdued, and she was allowed to escape. Whether or not the rescue was intentional was a hotly-debated mystery.
TF-1505 hadn’t shown any violent tendencies even when he was placed in his confines. According to previous researchers, the subject just paced back and forth, pausing once in awhile to glance up at nothing in particular, and continue. He didn’t seem to need rest, either. Verbal attacks didn’t change anything, and the researchers were still hesitant to try anything physical on such a massive being. They began to wonder if TF-1505 was just mentally incapable.
As he looked over the log of previous researchers, he began to wonder if maybe TF-1505 was some kind of introductory thing in the facility, as if every researcher had observed him at some time or another. They came and went in quick succession, he noticed. Some had been frustrated, others bored, and a select few citing their reason for leaving as ‘unknown’. The Titan just seemed to be like a scientific revolving door. The worst part seemed to be that even with something so massive, and with such a strange past, hardly anything of value was gleaned from him.
Armin puzzled over this as he walked down the hallway to TF-1505’s observation deck. There were six of them in total, each on a different floor to observe the Titan at every height. The second highest, where Armin headed, would have him stand at the Titan’s eye level. His containment area was massive, so each deck was oval in shape, allowing the scientist to walk completely around the specimen, observing at every angle. Catwalks could be extended into the containment area for up-close observation, but these were rarely used.
Immediately, he noticed that the floor was remarkably empty. There weren’t many Titans at this height, he knew, but it still came as a surprise that there weren’t more scientists. Idly, he wondered if he was the only one here.
He slid his key card down the slot, listening to a series of locks clicking into place before the door swung open. Unsurprisingly, the floor was empty and dark, the only light coming from the containment area itself. Overstuffed couches and chairs surrounded the container, an end table placed by each. To his immediate right, there was a panel of controls, handling lighting and temperature. A detachable remote rested below the panel, and Armin recognized it as the controller for the container. Gingerly, he took it and placed it in the pocket of his lab coat, hoping he wouldn’t have to use it much.
The container was massive. Definitely large enough for a Titan to move around in, but it certainly didn’t look comfortable. Of course, the facility was far from thinking of what would have been the best environment for their test subjects. As far as they were concerned, all the Titans would die eventually, be it by testing or execution in the end. There was no need to make them feel at home, if they could feel anything at all.
Taking a deep breath, he walked toward the containment area, wondering with a mixture of anxiety and excitement what he was about to see. First, he could make out a massive head covered in messy black hair, shining dully under the too-bright lights. The Titan was turned away from him, holding still despite the reports about his pacing. As Armin approached, he could begin to see all the muscles and nerve-laced skin, stretching endlessly downward.
“You’re enormous,” he whispered, mostly to himself.
His eyes widened when the Titan began to move, muscle rippling under skin, a faint creak coming from somewhere below as he shifted his weight. Armin was suddenly thankful for the thick-paned, unbreakable glass. Even if the Titan was non-violent, it wouldn’t take much for him to move the wrong way and shatter anything less sturdy than that. As the Titan walked, Armin could feel the floor wavering a little, which was a miracle of sound architecture, he thought. Anything less and the floor would collapse.
Slowly, TF-1505 turned toward Armin, or at least in his general direction. Armin was sure that the Titan didn’t notice the scientist was there at all. Either he didn’t care, or the theories were right and he didn’t know. However, the theories seemed to stop as soon as the Titan did. He paused, right in the middle of his container, his head low, his hair concealing his face.
With a movement that looked outright burdensome, he raised his head. Enormous, dark-ringed green eyes looked him over, flickering back and forth, before he gave something like a deep sigh, steaming misting from his mouth. Even in that brief moment, it was enough for Armin to see something that he hadn’t counted on.
He had seen the eyes of Titans. They were sometimes glassy, unfocused, pupils shrunk down to pinpricks, or dilated to empty black discs. They never adjusted, never fixated on one point, never moved in response to action. This Titan, though, had the eyes of a human. They were focused, wide and lively in a way that other Titans could never mimic. They followed every tiny movement Armin made. When he moved his hand, the Titan watched, eyes alert, pupils moving and constantly adjusting with the changes in light.
“Ahh...” he said softly, leaning forward against the railing as though that would give him a better look. “So, you did notice me, at least.”
Oddly enough, the Titan snorted in the form of a plume of steam pouring from his nose. Whether or not it was an affirmation, or just a reflexive move of his wasn’t something Armin could decode.
Regardless, Armin couldn’t help but gape, and watched as he craned his neck, returning the surprised stare as if trying to replicate it. When he leaned back, the Titan leaned in closer. There was nothing in his expression denoting the primal desire that Armin was used to observing. He was curious, and evidently had taken notice that Armin was surprised with him.
He knew it was a long shot to try, but he pressed himself close against the bars, trying to get as close to the glass as possible. “Can you... can you hear me?” he tried, then immediately chastised himself. The glass was far too thick, and even if the Titan did hear him, he couldn’t understand him, right?
Then the Titan snorted again, tilting his head upward. A reaction. He had heard him just fine.
“Can you understand me?” he tried, feeling a well of excitement growing within him.
A long plume of steam came from his mouth, and his eyes glistened. Verbal response be damned.
The clipboard and pen sat abandoned, and even though he knew he should be scrawling down notes, he couldn’t bring himself to turn away from the Titan. ‘Abnormal’ was a restrictive term for him. This creature was magnificent.
His mind went a million places at once, the logical part of it going to experimentation and different types of observation he could now be capable of if the Titan was indeed as tame and responsive as he appeared. If he could get close to him, take samples without fearing for his life, it would be a miracle unto itself.
Suddenly, the door behind him opened, and immediately, the Titan turned away, resuming his Sisyphean pacing as if nothing had happened. Armin frowned and turned to see another scientist walking in. It was an older man, one of the researchers Armin recognized from when he had been hired. The man approached, looking at the container with a crooked smile.
“First day of observation with this one, eh? Must’ve been fun,” he said, and Armin could almost hear the sneer in his voice. For some reason, it made him uncomfortable.
“Oh, uh.” He wasn’t sure how to respond. Armin didn’t want to be laughed out of the facility for seeing what he had seen. It felt as if he mentioned anything about a Titan responding to any stimuli, they’d make a mockery of him. He supposed it was best to research TF-1505 further before he said a word. Besides, there was some gleeful part of him that wanted to see that again, uninterrupted. “No sir, he was pretty boring to watch,” he lied, biting down on his bottom lip as soon as he said it.
The man snorted and shrugged with one shoulder. “Well, you and fifteen other researchers seem to have the same opinion. This one’s big, but he’s got rocks where his brain would be, if he ever had one.” He laughed under his breath and shook his head. “Anyway, just came to tell you that your session’s about up. We’ve got a short meeting in twenty minutes before you have to go to the lab.”
“Right. Thank you, sir,” Armin responded, inclining his head respectfully.
The researcher left and Armin immediately turned back around, looking at the Titan who had paused again. Armin tapped on the glass, causing the Titan to glance at him. “I’ll see you tomorrow, alright?” he said, a grin on his face.
If he didn’t know better, he would have thought TF-1505 tried to smile back.