Cogs in the Machine

Quinton Spector's Intro

Day 1 – April 15th, 2014

Quinton is in the kitchen, getting dinner ready, when he hears keys jingling at the door.

“Hi dad!” Kaylynn calls from the front entry. Quinton hears the telltale thud of his daughter dropping her stuff on the entryway floor.

Quinton makes a concerted effort to keep the knife from slipping and cutting his thumb at the distraction. “Hey there honey. Did you have a good day at school? Lots of homework?”

“Ugh… you know how I’m taking that applied engineering class? The one that’s basically ‘how things work’?” She makes air quotes with her fingers. “Well, today we took apart a clock! So tedious!” She thuds down into one of the kitchen stools.

Quinton snorts and shakes his head, sliding the cookie plate across the counter with one hand while continuing the dinner preparation wit the other. “Just try not to fall asleep during it – I know we talked with the teacher about getting you into a more advanced class, but they only make so many exceptions. Just try and remember what it was like for you taking a clock apart for the first time when you were six. I still can’t believe she won’t let you get extra credit for helping me out around the lab.”

“At least it was a cool clock. It was one of those clocks that stand in a glass jar and the rotating spindle keeps it moving,” Kaylynn sighed. “I guess I shouldn’t complain too much, at least it should hopefully be an easy A.” She looks over Quinton to the stove, “What’s for dinner?”

Quinton looks thoughtful. “Been a while since I’ve seen one of those… And for you? Of course it will be an easy A. I am attempting one of the most daring meals yet this month – spaghetti and meatballs with some vegetables on the side.” He looks at the stove disparagingly as he shifts some pans around. “Although it might be takeout if you don’t like it.”

Kaylynn will give Quinton a look of faux-disappointment and head over to the stove. She grabs the spoon from his hand and takes a taste of the sauce. Looking thoughtful, she says, “Looks like it’s not too late to save the sauce. I need salt, pepper, and garlic powder, stat!” With Quinton as an assistant she is able to make the meal palatable, and they continue to talk as they sit down to enjoy it in front of the TV.

“Oh hey, I almost forgot, while I was at the Bistro this afternoon, some guy had a newspaper out and I saw the headline ‘Medical Student has Breakdown, Vanishes’,” Kaylynn says as they’re finishing up.

Quinton feels a smile flit over his face briefly as he passes the remote to Kaylynn. It is almost immediately replaced with a frown. “Yeah… I’ve heard that there was a dropout recently. He’s vanished? That’s not good news. You better not go into hiding on me.”

“Oh, Dad, I couldn’t do that to you.” She looks at the plates with a grin as she picks them both up to put them in the sink, “How would you ever get by without me?”

Some dark thoughts flash though Quinton’s mind and he scowls briefly before hiding his feelings with a smile. “Probably a lot more takeout than is good for me. Wait, you had said that you were at the Bistro – you didn’t stop in for another cappuccino, did you? Those things will make you shorter than you already are, you know.”

“It’s Espresso dad, geez… besides the caffeine isn’t going to do anything worse for my height than those genes you gave me,” she giggles. “Anyway, it’s a great place for me and Heather to stop and work on homework before she heads off home after school. You wouldn’t want me to fall behind on my studies, would you?” She looks up at Quinton with big puppy dog eyes.

Quinton makes some exasperated grumbling sounds. “Of course not. Do I know this Heather girl? Have I met her? And your mother was shorter than I was, so you’d be mindful to cut back on the caffeine to hold onto every advantage you can get.”

“C’mon dad, you know Heather, she’s been over for dinner a couple of times, jeez,” she tries to scowl, but there’s a hint of a smile in her eyes. “I made us order take out, remember?” After dinner is all done, Kaylynn heads upstairs to work on a school project, leaving Quinton to clean up the dishes. Quinton smiles and resigns himself to cleaning up the mess he’d made, trying to think back to meeting his daughters friend – was she the one with the shifty eyes, or the jobless father? He sighs, unable to keep all of his daughter’s acquaintances straight. After he’s done cleaning, he sets down in front of the TV with his notebook, putting on some trash Mexican soap opera to help him focus on working through his projects, barely noticing when his head drops down to his chest and he falls asleep.

Day 2

Quinton isn’t quite sure what time it was when he woke up, but there was some sort of strange image on the screen. It looked something like an emergency broadcast message, in black and white (although there was no tone accompanying it). After a couple seconds of blinking the sleep from his eyes, the TV reverts back to infomercials in Spanish. Looking around, he realizes there’s a blanket over him, which must have been thanks to Kaylynn, and the clock over the TV says it’s approximately 4:12 am. He sleepily stumbles his way up to his bedroom to get a few more hours of sleep before he needs to be at work at 8 am.

As Quinton hits the top of the stairs, he stumbles, dropping his notebook onto the landing, causing him to mutter under his breath as he fetches it back up after a long moment of considering leaving it. As he passes Kaylynn’s room, he rubs his eyes and peeks through the door, padding into her room and kissing her forehead, pausing to retrieve her stuffed rabbit from the floor and securing it into the crook of her arm before tucking her in. He pauses at the door, smiling back at his sleeping daughter. He shakes his head to clear it after recalling the bizarre image from the television before trundling off to bed.

He collapses into bed, barely setting his notebook onto the bedside table before his alarm screeches for him to wake up at 6:45. He flashes back to his younger days, begging his mom to believe that he was sick and could stay home, before snapping back to reality and growing up. Shower, clothing, breakfast – a routine so familiar it became almost ritualistic. Breakfast was the one meal he could make for his daughter without asking for assistance or a phone, something he did every day for her as long as they had been together. Eggs – scrambled, juice – non-concentrated orange, toast – slightly burnt with cinnamon and sugar. By the time the food all came together and was set out, Kaylynn had finished with her own morning rituals and came bouncing down the stairs to straighten her dad’s tie before tucking into her food.

This particular morning, their conversation was somewhat muted, Quinton a bit troubled by the images from the night before, but they parted for work and school as they had since Kaylynn was old enough to bike to school – with a triple check of the locks, a shared kiss on the cheek and a gentle shove to get her on her way. Quinton hugged his satchel tight to him as he walked to work, checking a few times that his notebook was securely tucked inside as he sipped anxiously at his morning coffee, procured from the store along the way. It’s the little rituals that make us human, he mused silently. Separates the rest of the world from us. As he entered the hospital, he made his hellos and managed to get up to the R&D labs without spilling or running out of his coffee – a personal victory, and a promise of a good day ahead. He started his day greeting his coworkers before settling into his desk and organizing his day’s priorities.

As Quinton busies himself around his desk, he can’t help but overhear the office gossip coming from nearby.

“Steve, did you hear that there was a reporter snooping around here a couple of days ago?” Ryan asked. “And I mean snooping. I heard they asked him to leave, and found him on the third floor half an hour later.”

Marsha replied, “Any idea what they were looking for?”

Jim piped up at this, “I hear they were asking about that Arthur guy, the student who took off without a word?”

“Weird,” said Marsha, “who cares about a med school drop out? Happens all the time.”

“Best not to get involved,” said Jim, “we have a pretty good thing going here.”

Their conversation steered towards work, and the various projects that they’re working on, nothing more of interest.

Quinton shakes his head as if to clear it. Arthur… Arthur… have I met him? No… I don’t think… Can’t dwell on that now. Snap out of it. He finally manages to pull his thoughts away from the missing student and towards his impending project – the MRI Refit. The hours tick by until lunch, when Quinton begs out of the office and heads towards the cafeteria, intending on beating the rush.

Quinton easily beats the rush, getting through the line in a record two minutes. He’s already halfway through his meal before the cafeteria begins to fill up. Quinton works in a hospital, full of mature professionals, so naturally the gossip about the reporter that has been snooping around has been spreading like wildfire. The hospital must’ve been trying to keep a lid on things, since the incident was already a week old. Listening to a few conversations, it’s clear that no one really knows anything about it… but that doesn’t stop people from speculating.

With his pleasant meal accomplished, Quinton excuses himself and heads back towards his office, but finds his feet carrying him to the third floor – he seems shocked initially, but decides he has a bit of time left in his lunch break and takes a quick poke around before he has to get back to the office.

Quinton is less familiar with this part of the hospital, as doing research doesn’t bring him up here too often. Just a couple of times a year to get new interns that show promise in area’s other than administering medicine. In addition to classrooms and student lounges and locker rooms, the third floor houses long term care and terminal patients. It’s a strange mix of energy and somberness on this floor. It’s fairly empty up here, just the staff required to keep it running, while everyone is off on their lunch breaks.

Not entirely sure what possessed him to come wandering up here, Quinton’s thought’s are interrupted by a high-pitched, and energetic, “Hello, Mr. Spector, is there anything I can help you with?” The questioner is a short, cute, bubbly nursing student who looks to have drawn the short straw and has to wait until later for lunch, while she helps watch the nurses station.

Back at his desk, he adjusts the small picture of Kaylynn that sits on his desk, smiling to himself as he gets back to work.

Quinton blinks rapidly before smiling at the student. “Sorry, you have me at a disadvantage. You seem to know me, but I’ve no recollection of you. I was just taking a walk through up here – haven’t been in some time, and wanted to see what that reporter was taking a look at. Lunch room gossip and all that.”

She’ll flick the ID card hanging from Quinton’s pocket, “It wasn’t that hard to figure out.”

A sheepish grin creeps across his face. “Sorry… I keep forgetting that I’m wearing that. Miss Gomez, is it? So, you seem like a rather observant lass – have you seen anything that the reporter might have been looking into?”

“I guess the cats out of the bag, huh? That was supposed to be kept under wraps.” She appears flustered for a moment, and places an hand on Quinton’s arm, “Oh, not because of anything bad, just because its bad publicity, you know?”

Quinton suppresses a wince as her hand touches his arm, nodding to disguise it. “Don’t worry – I work in R&D, I’m used to keeping things under wraps. It’ll be our secret – I won’t repeat anything you say to me, okay?”

// rolls presence + socialize, 1 success

“Promise?” She continues without waiting for Quinton to answer, taking her hand off his arm, and gesticulating as she talks. “I wasn’t here when it happened, but I heard that he was asking about that,” she motions for Quinton to lean in close, saying in a whisper, “med student Arthur. I thought he just dropped out, happens all the time, but then why would there be a reporter poking around?”

Quinton finds himself unwittingly gritting his teeth. Promise? I don’t know this girl from one of Kaylynn’s friends, and I’m hardly in the habit of promising anything to strangers… “I had heard about that. Did you know Arthur? Maybe the reporter was just a relative. Nothing serious, you know?”

“Huh, I hadn’t thought of that!” She genuinely looks like she’s considering that option, “maybe you’re right… but still he got caught snooping around up here, too. After they asked him to leave. I still don’t know what he thought he would find. They called security after that.”

Quinton sucks in air through his teeth. “Did the big guy come with them? I don’t know his name, but the one they use to sedate the… uncooperative patients? That couldn’t have gone well for our reporter friend. Did Arthur have a locker up here or something? Maybe he was looking for some personal effects – a clue to where Arthur went?”

“You mean Jeff? He looks scary, but he’s a sweetheart.” She scrunches up her face, thinking, “I suppose he’s got a locker, just like all the other students. I don’t think anyone has cleared it out…” It’s clear she’s thinking out loud, rather than suggesting anything. She catches what she might have implied, “Oh, but it’s probably locked or something…” She scratches the back of her head with one hand, “Look… I should probably get back to work, I didn’t say anything, remember? The head nurse will have my head!”

Quinton smiles at her. “Keep your nose clean, and you’ll do will here, Maria!” He waits for her to step out of sight before musing to himself. Nobody’s taken a look at his locker? What are you thinking Quinton – you’re not in high school anymore. Leave this stuff to the police…

Quinton nips down to his lab really quickly to grab a set of his precision tools before heading back to the third floor, hunting for Arthur’s locker with the tools of larceny in his pocket and curiosity in his heart. Kaylynn is going to chew me out if I get in trouble for this…

//rolls dex + stealth, 2 successes

Quinton manages to sneak past the nurse’s station while Maria is busy in one of the rooms. He finds himself in the locker room, a good number of the lockers have names on them.

//rolls perception, 4 successes

Quinton take a look through the room quickly and finds 5 lockers, with the first initial “A”. With a more careful scrutiny, peering through the slats in the lockers, he is able to identify a couple of them as belonging to female students. He notices that one of the lockers seems to have a film of dust around it, and figures that’s probably his best bet.

//rolls dex + larceny, extended action, 4 successes, failure

Quinton frantically looks at his watch, then fetches some thin prybars from his pocket and slips them into the lock in one of the ‘A’ lockers. His hands quivver and shake, causing the tools to click together occasionally. If I heard of Kaylynn doing something like this, she’d be grounded for at least a night. What am I thinking?

After a few minutes of monkeying with the lock, discretion gets the better part of Quinton, and he calls it a failure, putting the tools away. He felt like he might have gotten a couple of tumblers on the lock, but he’s never really tried anything like this before.

Frustrated at his lack of success, Quinton wipes sweat from his brow before attempting to break the flimsy locking mechanism on the locker. This? Grounded for a week. No question.

Looking around, Quinton remembers some cleaning supplies that he spotted in the corner. There was a mop with its head removed that has a quarter inch steel support bar that might work to slide in the locker.

Quinton grabs the mop handle with his coat sleeves and rams the support bar into the locker, heaving on the sturdy wooden shaft. And those rotten kids said I’d never apply physics… I’ll have to thank my old teachers if this works well…

//rolls strength + stamina, 4 successes

Applying all his weight on the handle of the mop, the locker pops open surprisingly easy. The inner edge of the locker door is slightly bent out of shape, it’s unlikely this locker will lock again without being fixed.

Quinton doesn’t find much in the locker; a pair of scrubs, some work shoes.

//perception, 2 successes

As Quinton is looking through the surprisingly mundane items, he hears a rattling in the shoe. Turning it over and shaking it out, he discovers it to be a key.

Quinton shakes his head in disbelief. Better not be the key to the damn locker. He quickly slides it into his pocket for later examination, sets the mop handle back where he retrieved it from and then heads back towards his office.

Quinton isn’t finished a moment too soon, as he is heading towards the elevators back to his office, he can hear laughter and voices coming from inside. When it opens a group of medical students pours out, headed down the hallway that he just came from.

Quinton slips inside the elevator and nervously, and continuously, presses the button for his floor, hoping the doors close before the students get into the locker room. You’re cutting this one awfully close you idiot… it could have waited…

Quinton settles down at his desk, letting the adrenaline fade, and his heart slow down. He knows he’s going to have a hard time doing anything as mundane as work after what he just did.

//The rest of the day will pass uneventfully unless Quinton wishes to do something. If not, we can pick up the scene with him arriving home at the end of the day.

Quinton slogs his way through the rest of the day, his project mostly going untouched as he finds his mind occupied with other things. He manages to sneak out a little early, hoping the walk home will clear his head.

On the way back, he stops into a small shop to pick up some pre-made cookie dough before hurrying back to his place. After the travesty of dinner, I can at least show Kaylynn that I can make something! He stops at the front door with a grin plastered on his face as he fumbles to get his key into the lock. His frustration mounts as he is consistently unable to do so for a full minute – until he realizes that the key in his hand is none other than the one from Arthur’s locker. He winces and juggles his bag around to put the key into his wallet, where it would be safe and not forgotten.

Minutes go by as he kills time for Kaylynn to get home by preheating the oven while reading and re-reading the instructions on the pre-made cookie dough. After he sets the baking tray in the oven, he hears his stomach grumble as he looks at his watch. She should be home by now. Has something happened? He reaches for his phone and his thumb hovers over the ‘9’ key before he catches himself. No, she’s probably just stopped for another latte or whatever she’s into this week… Eventually he succumbs to both his nerves and the wait and opens the package of dough again and pulls out a spoon. He’s halfway through finishing off his third spoonful of dough when he hears someone at the door.

“Hi dad, sorry I’m late!” Kaylynn calls from the front door. “Heather and I got caught up in our project for school.” She dumps her stuff in the front hallway, and heads into the kitchen to find Quinton with a half eaten roll of dough on the counter, and the phone in his hand.

“Dad?” Kaylynn asks, nervously, “Did something happen? Is something wrong?”

A weak smile crosses Quinton’s face before being chased off by a relieved grin as his hands and demeanor relaxes. He rushes forward to sweep his daughter up into a great big hug as the phone clatters into a nearby pot and a dough-laden spoon thuds onto the floor. “You’re home! I thought in light of everything going on that I would get home early and make you some cookies! I got to thinking about that Arthur kid, and how he just up and dissapeared – didn’t even clean out his locker, and that was just a floor away from my office… And then I was thinking about you, and you were home later than I was expecting…”

He coughs to compose himself, wiping a tear from his eye before setting Kaylynn down. “They’re working you too hard! What new project do they have you working on now?”

“Dad…” Kaylynn croaks out, “can’t breathe…” After a moment Quinton loosens his grip on his daughter. “I’m fine dad, jeez. We were just working on homework and I lost track of time.” Despite her exasperated words, her tone is empathetic, rather than condescending. “Why didn’t you just call me, if you were worried?”

Quinton looks ashamed as he sets his daughter down, but only briefly. Call? I coul—- no, that’s not right… I can’t tell her that I didn’t call because I was afraid… afraid she wouldn’t pick up, afraid of someone else picking up the line… She can’t know that I’m afraid of losing her, that she’s all I have left… “I didn’t want to be that dad, you know? Overbearing, constantly checking in on his little girl. Just a bit crazy at work, with everyone talking about the disappearance. Sorry I let it get to me so much!”

He retreats into the kitchen and retrieves the slightly overcooked cookies from the oven. “Am I forgiven?”

“Well…” she has a mischievous grin on her face, “I suppose, since you made cookies and all.” She kisses Quinton on the cheek and grabs one of the fresh cookies, tossing it from hand to hand while it cools. She finally takes a bite, and asks, with her mouth full, “So what kept you so crazy at work today, dad?”

Quinton laughs quietly to himself as he watches his daughter. “They can’t say I didn’t at least try to teach you manners…” He sighs and grabs a cookie as well, speaking around it much as she does. “Couldn’t really focus with all the chatter about Arthur, so I found myself on the third floor, asking around, same as the reporter the hospital’s been keeping under wraps. Well, I got curious…” His chewing slows down and eventually comes to a stop as he finds his hand in his pocket, wrapped around his wallet containing the key. Keep it together Quinton… you’re supposed to be a role model… “Well, I did some looking around, and I found this. No idea where it goes to, but it’s an interesting little puzzle.” Great job, genius… you should be protecting her from weird stuff like this… He draws his wallet out of his pocket and shows her the key with one hand while sneaking a cookie with the other.

Kaylynn narrows her eyes, plants her hands on her hips, and gives Quinton a stern look, “Dad… what do you mean you ‘found’ this key?”

Quinton mumbles something and turns away, burying his face in a cookie. When he looks back a minute later to see his daughter remaining firm, he sighs and tries to look a meek as possible, shrugging his shoulders by way of offering a defense. “I may have broke into the locker. There were just some scrubs in there anyway! I didn’t think there’d be anything, honest! I was just curious!”

Kaylynn’s jaw drops open. “YOU WHAT!?” she yells incredulously. “You would kill me if I tried to do something like that!” She looks shocked, but Quinton can see a familiar mischievous twinkle in her eye. The twinkle that accompanies something she knows she can use later against him. “Why did you even do it, anyway?”

Quinton moves his spectacles down his nose slightly and looks across them at her. “Now listen here – I know what I did wasn’t right, and you’d certainly be grounded if I found out you did it, but I had good reason – those were scrub lockers, and they likely would have been discarded, and the key along with them. What if it turns out to be important? I don’t know why I did something instead of calling the police… it just… felt right. And no, you can’t use that as an excuse. I have a good number of years on you, and that experience is worth a lot when making judgement calls.” He turns the key over in his hand. “I don’t even know what this is to, nevermind what I should do with it…”

Kaylynn puffs herself up, “I most certainly will use this get out of jail free card.” Quinton can’t help but catch her emphasis on the word jail. “But for now…” she sits down at the dining room table, with a grin on her face. She leans forward, towards Quinton, “How did you get in?”

Quinton deflates, leaning against the kitchen counter, gesturing at Kaylynn with a cookie. “Just as long as you don’t do what I do in these circumstances.” You’re digging yourself further away from the parent of the year award…

He sighs, resigned. “I tried to pick the lock like you see in the movies – it’s harder than it looks, apparently. I had to resort to breaking the locker open with a mop that was hiding nearby. In my defense, there were people coming down the hallway at the time.”

Kaylynn looks impressed, “I wouldn’t have thought you had it in you, dad. What are you planning on doing next?”

Quinton stares down at the key next to the plate of cookies. “You mean aside from consider eating some more cookie dough? I have to figure out where the key belongs to. It’s shorter than usual… could be a locker key, safe deposit, or even a mail key. Don’t they have key identification courses at that school of yours? How were your classes today anyway? Hopefully you are staying out of trouble at least?” There is some deep intonation in Quinton’s phrasing.

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Gus Halter's Intro

Day 1

Gus is sitting at the kitchen table, sorting through and grading tests when he hears the garage door open. A couple of minutes later, a tired but eternally upbeat Lindsey enters in from the garage.

“Hi babe,” she calls as she kicks off her shoes. Lindsey comes into the dining room just a moment later and plops down next to Gus, giving him a kiss on the cheek. She sighs heavily, “I can’t wait until I’m finished with this job over at Mercy. Everyone over there is so high-strung. I even heard that a couple of weeks ago some student or other had a complete mental breakdown and ran out of town. Or, you know, that the pressure just got to him and he dropped out. Depends on who you ask.” She smiles, “But that’s enough of that, I don’t want to talk about my work. How is Wellington’s treating you? I know it wasn’t your first choice, but it seems like a good place.”

His wife’s return interrupted the monotony of grading. A brief smile appeared after the kiss, but soon dissipated as his focus returned to the mountain of assignments. An eyebrow is raised as Lindsey mentions the rumors at work, but he dismisses the thought as she declares her lack of desire to talk about it.

“It goes well, but the brilliance of these kids makes it tough to stay awake during grading. Everything is right, everything. I can’t tell if these children are cheating off one another, or if they really are just damn good at math.” Gus motions to the mountain of work in front of him. “Case in point, I’m only 20% through grading these assignments.”
Gus sighs and gets back to grading.

Lindsay sighs, “You work too hard, you said yourself that they get everything right all the time… why not just skip the rest and give them an A? I mean, what did you expect at a school for the,” she makes air quotes with her fingers, “gifted?” She laughs lightly.

Gus shrugs his eyebrows and continues grading. “That’s the problem with children this bright. They know when you haven’t really graded their assignments. They’ll find what I’ve done wrong and blackmail me with it, or worse: tell Dr. Morimoto! As much as I wish I could just give them credit for effort, this isn’t 3rd grade anymore.” Gus scowls at the pile of papers and slogs through his work.

A growl from his stomach betrays his hunger level. “Ugh. Honey, what’s for dinner?” Gus asks as he reorganizes a stack of assignments from his “grading” pile to his “completed” pile. Progress was slow, but rewarding. Well, for his students at least.

Lindsay smiles, “You’re in luck! I didn’t feel like cooking tonight, so I picked up your favorite from King’s Chinese.” Gus perks up at the announcement of Chinese for dinner. He clears the current class’s stack of work from immediately in front of him and scoots the rest of his assignment fortress far enough away from him to eat without spilling on any of them. The two of them sit down to a quiet meal, Lindsay’s naturally bubbly personality serving to pick up Gus’s spirits a little. They don’t talk about much, but they don’t need to, each other’s company is good enough.

When the meal is nearly finished, and the conversation has invariably steered towards work, as both Gus and Lindsay are very involved in their respective careers, Lindsay suddenly exclaims, “Oh, I almost forgot! Apparently sometime last week, there was some reporter snooping around at the hospital, they asked him to leave, and then found him again, up on the third floor. They had to get security to throw him out!”

Gus shows interest in his wife’s work stories, but does not have much to add. He echoes her sentiments that the end of her stint at Mercy General cannot come soon enough.

Lindsay offers to clean up the few dishes so that Gus can get back to work.

After dinner is cleared, Gus returns to the never ending pile of papers. They are diminishing, but so is his focus. Page after page of correct answer after correct answer. The only infractions coming from minor mistakes: a forgotten sign here, a flubbed operator there. The kids knew their stuff, some just needed to learn to double check their work.

Gus continues to slog through the mid-terms, finding that most students have used the same methods flawlessly, perhaps an error here or there, probably due to getting cocky and going to fast, but otherwise it looks like the curve is going to be set at an A once again. Just when he thinks he is going to die of boredom, Gus finds one mid-term that catches his eye.

When he finally gets to his 7th grader’s mid-terms, one exam catches his interest. The methods used don’t match the ones he instructed, but the answers still matched up. It didn’t seem like cheating, but it was hard to comprehend what else it might be. Gus sets it aside to return to later and continues grading.

The rest of his grading complete, Gus goes back to Ms. Kaylynn Spector’s exam. He examines the methods used, and finds nothing wrong with the results on this second pass. It was not the most bizarre thing Gus had ever seen, but it was significantly bizarre. Though they were not the methods he had instructed, they seemed logically sound and the answers were proof enough. Gus decides he will ask Ms. Spector to his office to explain what exactly is going on with her exam.

Gus organizes his assignment fortress one last time before he calls it a night and heads to sleep.

Day 2

Gus sleeps and dreams normal dreams. He wakes with a start, with no recollection of what startled him awake. After laying there for only a few seconds, his alarm goes off, followed by his wife’s weak, sleep-induced slap. Gus smiles a sleepy smile as his wife whaps him in her sleep. He gets ready for his day, gathers his assignment fortress, and heads to work.

The streets are exceedingly empty this early. Teaching may not pay exceedingly well, but at least he has a traffic-less commute.

Gus arrives at work, greets his boss in passing, and heads to his office to give the assignments one final organization check before he returns them to his students today. Gus wonders if Dr. Morimoto ever sleeps, or ever goes home if he is here before him at this early hour. Gus chuckles to himself and shakes his head in disbelief as he double checks his organization.

Checked and double checked, curiosity gets the better of Gus. He wonders what Dr. Morimoto may make of Ms. Spector’s methods. Gus picks up Kaylynn’s test and walks to his Boss’s Office.

“Dr. Morimoto. Do you have a moment? I found something peculiar on one of my student’s exams I’d like you to take a look at.” Gus introduces from the doorway.

Morimoto narrows his eyes as he takes the sheet from Gus, “Mr. Halter, if you suspect one of your students of cheating…” His voice trails off as he looks over the work. “Is this from your advanced differential equations class? I’ve been teaching mathematics for over 20 years, but there are some bright students here. They may have discovered some techniques in their independent study that we are unfamiliar with.”

Gus shakes his head and raises an eyebrow as his mentor mentions cheating. The standards this school held itself to did well to dissuade cheating. The kids are so damn bright they didn’t need to cheat either.

Gus’s eyes resist the urge to glaze over as Dr. Morimoto mentions Gus’s Diff Equations class.

At Dr. Morimoto’s prompting, Gus scans the page for something that looks familiar to his 11th grade curriculum. A hard stare and two blinks later, Gus shakes his head. “Actually, it came from my 7th grade algebra class, Sir. And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think the methods employed here are in our curriculum at all. If we could prove these worked… It feels like it’d be worth a Millennium Prize.”

Gus feels his head begin to spin after another attempt at comprehending how exactly Kaylynn’s methods work. Gus sets the exam down and looks up at his mentor. “Well, ignoring the headache it induced trying to grade it. The answers still fit the answer key I wrote and my vaguest comprehension of her work tells me it checks out. What do you think, Sir, full points?” Gus smirks as he awaits Dr. Morimoto’s guidance.

Dr. Morimoto’s eyes widen slightly at the mention that she is only in the 7th grade, but that is the only betrayal of his reaction, “I think you should speak with her, and find out who is helping her with her homework. I would still be impressed of the top student of the senior class were to utilize it, but a 13 year old… that seems too unbelievable.” He straightens his tie, “I’m not saying she’s cheating, but I think it’s worth finding out where she was taught these methods, clearly they did not come from this school.”

Gus can’t be sure, but he thinks that last comment might be directed at him, personally. Dr. Morimoto is stingy with his praise at best, so this is hardly a surprise.

Gus takes his mentor’s conclusion as admission that he’s as stumped as Gus is. “Oh, I’ll certainly be talking to her. This is far too interesting to just let pass.” Gus departs his boss’s office and hurries back to his own.

With not much time before his first class, Gus sets aside Kaylynn’s exam until his Prep period and prepares for a day of exam review.

During his Prep, Gus looks over Kaylynn’s exam once more. He still can’t piece together how it really works, but the answers are correct and the methods feel right, even if Gus doesn’t understand them. Gus tags a post it note to the last page. The note requests Kaylynn’s presence after class or after school, whichever is more convenient for her.

After class, Kaylynn approaches Gus, per the note’s request. She agrees to stop by his office after class, as her free period has already been booked for another project that she is working on. She seems nervous, like she’s done something wrong, but heads to her next class, whisked away in the press of students.

Gus goes through the motions of the rest of the day, but understandably is preoccupied. After all, if he can’t even understand the work she was doing, then how can he question her about it.

The rest of the day flies by, and Gus finds himself in his office, waiting. He doesn’t have to wait long, as a timid knock followed by a, “Mr. Halter?” interrupts his thoughts.

The school day goes well. Exam review goes quietly and uneventfully. Kaylynn approaches him after her class and agrees to Gus’s request. Gus smiles and responds, “I’ll see you there after school.”

Kaylynn’s knock interrupts Gus’s wonderings about what he might discover during this meeting. “Yes, come in.” Gus responds. “Come in Ms. Spector. Thank you for your time this afternoon. Have a seat.” Gus states as he motions to one of the chairs for students in his office.

As Kaylynn enters and sits, Gus continues. "Ms. Spector, I have asked you here this afternoon to ask you about your exam. Your answers are correct, but your methods are puzzling. This is nothing like what I have lectured about, but there is still a logic to it.

I’m sure you know our Academy’s policies regarding cheating, so I won’t bore you with them. What I want to know, is how you came upon these amazing methods. And, if you have the time, to explain them to me, if you can. Work of this caliber deserves to be published." Gus folds his hands and rests his chin on them, his attention focused on his student. Overbearing, perhaps, but it helps Gus emphasize how interesting this situation is.

Kaylynn sits nervously as Gus asks about her results, the color draining from her face when he mentions the word cheating. To her credit, she waits until Gus is is finished talking before she blurts out all at once, “I didn’t cheat, honest Mr. Halter! I was just doing the homework and this seemed like a better method for solving the problems. I didn’t think I was doing anything I shouldn’t!”

Her words are all coming out in a rush, but to Gus, it at least sounds sincere, if a bit puzzling. “I’ll prove it Mr. Halter, ask me to solve an equation that I haven’t seen before.”

Gus acquiesces to her request, presenting her with several more problems that would have been exam worthy. She solves them all easily. Not only does she solve them, but she solves them in the most precise manner possible. On some of them, that means using techniques seen in Gus’s class, and on others she uses techniques and forumlae that Gus hasn’t seen before. Stunned, Gus begins introducing more advanced problems, until he’s finally at the level of the 12th grade students. Kaylynn solves all of those as well.

Despite her obvious knack, or genius, or whatever label seems appropriate, she doesn’t seem to think that what she is doing is that incredible. She just works through each problem like any other. By the time she is done, Gus is starting to develop a slight headache, simply from trying to keep up.

Slightly dumbstruck at Kaylynn’s almost supernatural ability to handle any equations that Gus can throw at her, finally he puts up his hands, “Alright miss Spector, you’ve proven your point. It’s obvious that you have no need to cheat, as you have a true gift. Those last several problems were from the advanced differential equations class that Dr. Morimoto teaches.”

“Really?” Kaylynn blurts out. She puts her hands over her mouth, embarrassed by her outburst. She looks a little nervous, “Is something wrong with me? I can just sort of… see the connections and equations. Its easy.”

Gus’s voice takes on a softer tone, “No, there’s nothing wrong with you, although your ability is quite exceptional. If you would be willing, would you be mind meeting with Dr. Morimoto and a couple of other members of the school board? I think we could schedule a meeting by Friday of this week?”

She appears nervous as Gus looks at her expectantly, but she squares her shoulders and says, “I think I should talk to my dad about it first, but that sounds like it would be okay Mr. Halter. Is there anything else you need tonight? I’m running a little late, and my dad will be wondering where I am.”

Gus looks up at the clock and realizes that he’s been grilling Kaylynn for nearly two hours. “Oh, of course, of course, thank you for your time. If your dad has any questions, please, have him call me. Goodnight miss Spector.”

Kaylynn gets up to leave, “You’re welcome Mr. Halter, good night.” She closes the door behind herself on the way out, leaving Gus to consider what he may have just discovered.

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