Notes: I like writing random Original Characters way too much, but it's fun to take a step back from the main cast and look at the world in general.
If you'd asked him where he expected to be eight years after being recruited into Blackwatch he never would have answered 'acting as a glorified babysitter while working as security at a top secret research lab', which just went to show you how things worked out. It wasn't that he was going to complain about his job, not when there were still guys getting killed in Manhattan, but he had expected there to be more to it all than that. He supposed he was lucky to even have the job he did, given what had happened early on in his Blackwatch career. Losing his hearing and eyesight on the left side in a freak accident during a training exercise should have been the end of it for him, but he'd lucked out. Once he recovered from his injuries there'd been a position open in a security job.
When he'd been assigned to security duty he'd been expecting something that would test both his skills and sanity because everyone had heard rumors about PARIAH. Of course rumors and reality were two very different things, and children of the corn jokes aside, the reality was both a relief and a letdown.
"Did you find out what's wrong with him?" the kid's question brought his attention back to the matter at hand, a small, darkly colored fish swimming in an otherwise empty tank.
He looked through the glass at fish swimming listlessly back and forth near the water's surface, trying to figure out how to answer the kid's question. Never had he thought that he'd end up losing sleep over a fish, but as he watched it swimming with its fins clamped tightly against its body, the once brilliant colors faded, he realized that loosing sleep over something was a poor measure of its importance in the scheme of things.
"It's not parasites or a bacterial infection," the kid tried again, holding up one of his many books on aquarium fish, "What did the internet say?"
Against his better judgment he'd let the kid talk him into going online and looking at countless aquarium websites and forums until he found the answer. Because of what the responses all suggested the problem was he had double checked half a dozen times just to be sure, in the process learning way more than he ever wanted to about breeding swordtail fish. The kid always wanted to know more, especially when it came to fish because if there was one thing the kid knew, it was fish.
Someone, somewhere along the line had decided that the kid had needed a pet to help him relate, or something like that. There were rumors of terrible things happening prior to the final decision of fish, but he knew the stories were bullshit. Or at least most of them were. When he'd first been assigned to the job he'd seen plenty of photos of the 'accidents' that had happened during PARIAH's decades of captivity, a stark reminder that no matter what the kid looked like, it was dangerous.
The kid dropped a single flake of food into the tank and watched as the fish nibbled at it. "What can we do?"
Kids and their pets. When he'd been little he'd cried for days when they needed to put down the family dog and the kid was pretty much the same with his fish, even the little ones that didn't last long at all. Little ones like the swordtail in question. At a year an a half old the fish should have been in its prime, instead it was fading fast.
Time to start the answer, one he'd rehearsed probably a dozen times before this moment, just to be sure that he got the order of it all right, "There's nothing we can do to help him. Sometimes swordtails just get sick and there's nothing you can do about it."
And if the kid let it drop there the day could still be salvaged.
"There's always a reason," the kid pressed on, "I know it's not water quality, I checked before quarantining him and everything was fine. When he came here there were no visible defects to his fin rays, spine or scales, he was healthy for months before he got sick."
He'd not been one for science when he'd started, but with the kid you picked up a lot, especially when it came to fish. It turned out that he was the only one who bothered to do much research on fish and that had put him on the spot when the kid decided to try and breed swordtails. At first it had been harmless, then after months of looking through his massive collection of books on fish the kid had decided that there was going to be a goal to his breeding project; he was going to make black swordtails. The one thing those books left out was why no one sold black swordtails, something that had been necessary to go to the internet to find. The gene that made swordtails black was the same gene that caused skin cancer in fish, because why the fuck not? Genetics weren't his thing, until meeting the kid fish hadn't been his thing, but now the two worlds had collided to create a sense of doom that should have been hilarious considering what was going on in the world.
"According to the internet," it was the safest way to start since it would put something else as the source of the bad news, "Swordtail fish get sick a lot, especially black ones."
The kid narrowed his eyes, his voice a fearful whine, "Are you sure they get what this one has, with the little spots and sores?"
"Positive," now he was afraid too. Was the kid going to throw a tantrum? Normally he was well behaved, but there had been incidents in the past…
"Just like this?"
"Have people written about it? Are there papers? Scientists have proved it happens?" the kid said in a rush, "You're sure that's all it is? There's nothing we could have done? It's not my fault?"
In the stream of questions he nearly missed the most important one, nearly, "Of course it's not your fault. I even found a website telling people not to try and breed black swordtails because of how often they get sick."
The kid looked at him suspiciously, "Really?"
"None of the others are sick, are they?"
The kid took a step back to look at the rest of the tanks in the room. Along one wall were the dozen smaller tanks with their guppies, cory-cats and other docile residents. Across from them were the three big tanks, one containing the swordtail breeding project, two others containing pairs of softball sized goldfish, the oldest of which was supposed to be nearly ten. The kid went across the room to sit down in front of the tank with the goldfish. That particular tank was on the floor to make it easier for the kid to clean and take care of. He stared into it for a long time as the pair of goldfish danced back and forth in front of him, begging for food.
It was clear that the kid wasn't convinced so he decided to deal with the matter in the safest way possible, "If you're really worried we can kill the fish and send it to the lab for testing."
Because the scientists would love that, testing fish cancer to make sure that's all it was. Not his problem though, and if it helped keep the kid happy they had no say in the matter. He'd learned long ago that the easiest way to get things done was to avoid giving too many orders, but there were times when the researchers at the lab had to be reminded of what they were doing, what was being held at the facility.
The kid looked thoughtful for a time, then nodded, "It's safer that way, isn't it?"
And the scientists were going to want him dead for sure. Disposing of the water every time the fish tanks were cleaned was enough of a headache now that the incident in Manhattan had everyone concerned about following protocol perfectly again. It was going to be a real laugh for anyone not directly involved to watch them deal with the transport of a live, biohazardous fish, then preparing it for study. At least the kid understood, probably due to his upbringing.
Little as the scientists at the compound liked to admit, the Blackwatch personnel working as security at the facility had done far more to raise the kid than any of the researchers, probably because right from the start they'd let Blackwatch handle anything remotely risky. There had been incidents early on, all long before his time, where things had gone wrong, but overall, for being the potential doom of humanity PARIAH was a remarkably well behaved child, amazingly knowledgeable in the things he was allowed to learn about, which primarily meant fish.
It had been decided early on that what PARIAH would be allowed to know about the world outside the facility would be severely limited for safety reasons. There was a whole list of subjects that were never to be discussed in the kid's presence. The swordfish breeding project skirted several of those topics and what was wrong with the black swordtail went right into the realm of what was forbidden. It put him in a very difficult situation, because the kid was very good at figuring out when he wasn't being told everything about what he wanted to know.
The kid turned his attention back to the tank with the dying swordtail, "So what causes black swordtails to get sick? I know goldfish have swimbladder problems because they've got short spines and big stomachs, but what do black swordtails have that make them different from any other swordtail?"
"It's the color," he hoped the kid would leave it at that.
"Really?" the kid leaned in closer to the tank, almost but not quite touching the glass, "Did you find out why?"
"Really, it's just the color and that's all I could find out. You know fish aren't my thing," he hoped that if he mixed the lie in with a bit of truth the kid would miss it.
"Okay," the kid didn't sound at all convinced, "We should still have it tested just to be sure and maybe until then you should feed the others and clean their tanks."
Wonderful, just like that he was responsible for even more than he wanted to be and there was no way for him to get out of it. Part of his job was keeping the kid happy and docile, which meant agreeing to all reasonable requests that the kid made. If that meant suiting up and actually going inside the kid's room to feed fish twice a day so be it. He was going to have to do it, even if he didn't like it.
The kid got up and went back to looking at the goldfish, this time not approaching the tank as closely, "You're sure it isn't my fault?"
"Yes, I'm sure. Sometimes bad things just happen and they're not anyone's fault."
Now the kid looked at him, scrutinizing him as closely as the fish. It was one of those moments that really drove home how strange the kid was, how there was something fundamentally wrong with him. There was nothing human about the vacant intensity of the kid's stare, as blank and eager as the eyes of the fish waiting to be fed.
"Okay," the kid said at last, before breaking into a smile that almost matched the little boy he appeared to be, "You'd best get ready to come and get the fish then and maybe, so it's not all just for one little thing I'll get a game of checkers set up so we can play before you take the fish. Or I can teach you to play canasta, do you know how to play canasta?"
Again with the reasonable demands he wasn't allowed to refuse. He had the feeling that there were going to be a lot of board games in his future so that he wouldn't be wasting his time when he went in to feed the fish. There were times when he wished that he could strangle whoever it was who'd tried to weasel out of getting in with the kid by telling him that putting on the protective suit necessary to go in with him took a lot of time and effort. All it had done was give the kid the idea that it was necessary to make it worth the time.
This was not at all where he'd imagined himself when he first joined Blackwatch, saving the world from biological annihilation one fish and game of checkers at a time. He'd have laughed if it had actually been funny.