"The Girl Who Spoke in Pictures"


Dr. Arnette Williams

Liberty City

Alicia Nightgrove, the girl who spoke in pictures, had two fathers: David Grove and Lillian Dean. David Grove, the new Director of Operations at the Liberty City Ruby Biotech Headquarters, was in his early sixties and was almost unnaturally good-looking. He didn't look falsely young for his age—he had just the right amount of gray in his closely cropped hair—but everything about him was almost too perfect. He had the body of a linebacker with the face of a model.

His partner, Lillian Dean, looked to be in his early 40's, tall and thin, with a wild mop of honey blond hair, a narrow face, and eyes that ranged from blue to green depending on the light and what contacts he chose to wear that day. He claimed to be a mere senior research scientist, but I sensed he could be far more. Despite his shy, befuddled exterior, there was something regal about him. When he entered a room, you felt it.

Sometimes when I was trying to make my life far more mysterious and exciting than it actually was, I fantasized the unassuming Lillian Dean was actually Ruby Biotech's reclusive founder, Lillian Ruby, but I knew he was far too young. Most likely his parents named him Lillian hoping the name would magically grant him wealth and power along with the grace and intelligence to handle them. Plenty of parents did that back when the real Lillian Ruby was still shuttling around the world dispensing folksy words of wisdom in his Bayou accent.

The couple had relocated to Liberty City from Crescent Region where they had lived for quite some time. David had a chance for a promotion; the Crescent was roiling with violence, and they longed to give their newly-adopted daughter a fresh start.

They interviewed me at their house in Liberty City Dome's swank East Quadrant. They'd barely been in region a week and hadn't even had time to unpack. Their expansive living room was cluttered with unopened boxes.

David Grove explained the situation. Alicia had been orphaned by the recent spate of political violence in the Crescent. Her aunt, the only mother she knew—her biological mother died not too long after Alicia was born—had been brutally murdered in front of her eyes and Alicia hadn't uttered a word since. She communicated through a series of gestures and by drawing pictures. "You come highly recommended, Dr. Williams," said Dr. Grove. "We'd like you to try to give Alicia back her voice."

"In your e-mail you mentioned something about a recent illness," I said.

"An environmental leukemia," Dr. Dean chimed in with a slight Southern accent. (I noticed Dr. Grove didn't have one.) "Those are quite common in the Crescent."

"Do you think that might have a bearing on some of Alicia's difficulties?" I asked.

"No," insisted Dr. Grove a little too forcefully. "Before the murder she was a normal girl."

So, the illness was a sensitive subject. "You say she uses pictures to communicate?"

Dr. Dean responded by producing a sketchbook and a damn nice one, too. Leather binding, heavy cotton paper. I flipped through the pages and was astounded. The drawings were photo perfect, done with clinical precision. "How old did you say Alicia was again?"

"Seven," responded Drs. Grove and Dean in unison.

"These are..." I fumbled for the right word. I didn't want to call the drawings brilliant. Because they weren't. They were marvels of technique, but they weren't art. They were completely devoid of emotion. They looked as if an alien had come down to earth and drawn pictures of what they had seen. I saw no pictures of people. Just plants, insects, and the decaying buildings of the Crescent. "This is how she speaks to you?"

"Yes," replied Dr. Dean, somewhat taken aback by my question. "It's sort of like jazz. The sense is in the heart, in the play of light and dark, never in the straight line."

There was an uncomfortable silence. I had no idea how to process what he'd said. Up until that point, the couple had been very scientific and rational when speaking about their daughter. Then, without warning, Dean went all mystical on me.

The next thing he said was even stranger. "Dr. Williams, do you have any psychic abilities?"

I swear: that was the first and only time anyone had ever asked that in an interview. Then again, the Crescent was known as the Land of Restless Ghosts. Maybe Dr. Dean and Alicia had seen a few.

Another strained silence. I feared I wasn't going to get the job and despite the enormity of the task the two men set before me, I really wanted to tackle the challenge. I took a few deep breaths and looked directly into Dr. Dean's eyes. He was dead serious and desperate; he really wanted to know. Anything that would help his little girl. So, I told him the truth. "Yes, I do. I have the Sight."

He was visibly relieved; he even smiled slightly. &