Coffee And Contemplation


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Scene Title Coffee and Contemplation
Synopsis A pot of "black gold" brings together three friends, conspiracy theories and the tiniest glimmer of hope.
Date December 6, 2011

The Hub, K-Mart's

The rare sound of Peyton Whitney’s voice singing drifts from K-Mart’s shop where he’d last left her to attend to business elsewhere in the hub. What’s more surprising than the rich, sweet quality of her alto voice is what she’s singing. It’s not Madonna or Britney or Kanye or Beyonce.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly…

The blue-haired young woman sits, her eyes closed, with her back against a wall. She wears a large set of headphones that look like they might be from an old stereo system from the seventies, giving her a striking resemblance to Princess Leia. She holds a battered and scratched CD Walkman in her hands.

Batteries are a luxury, but they’re one she seems to be able to afford. Like hair dye and nail polish.

All your life… you were only waiting for this moment to arise.

The grubby silhouette coming into view in the basement is a familiar one. Even in a gas mask and his biohazard suit, K-Mart is immediately recognizable by his swagger. Today it comes with a hot pink My Little Pony backpack over his shoulder.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Kain removes his gas mask and shakes out his hair, slinging the bag to land beside Peyton abruptly. He doesn't say anything, doesn't interrupt her singing, but the entire backpack is overflowing with loose paper money of all denominations. Worthless, other than by the measure of what they're practically good for.

“Ah’ found me a Hello Kitty Backpack full of shit tickets.” Kain is also immediately recognizable by his ability to break any silence with an off-color reference. But Kain is saving the best for last, another bag still clutched in his hand — an old cloth grocery bag — that he takes past the chain-link fence into his treasured collection of garbage.

Peyton’s already pulling off the headphones when she sees his approach — which is good, or she might have jumped out of her milky-white skin thanks to the thud of the pink backpack next to her. She sets aside the Walkman and headphones, picking up the bag and shaking out the currency.

“God, are you uncultured,” she says, shaking her head as if utterly disgusted by his words. “This,” she holds up the backpack, tapping the iconic pink pony on the back and tapping it, “is My Little Pony, not Hello Kitty. Does this look like a cat to you?”

She begins sorting the money on her lap by denomination into neat stacks in front of her, simply liking the lost but familiar sensation of counting the soft bills in her hands. She glances up, though, curious as to what he holds in the other hand. “What’s in that bag? Speaking of which… Muller pocketed something today. I didn’t get a good look. Maybe a watch. Something gold,” she says casually.

“Ah’m plenty cultured Miss Beauregarde.” Kain waves a hand dismissively back at Peyton as he rummages around through his possessions behind the chain-link fence. “Ah’m just of that cultured age where it’s hard t’differentiate kid stuff.” Kain looks back over his shoulder, one brow raised at Peyton, before he looks back to the box he rummages around in. After a moment, he’s satisfied with whatever he’s working on and comes back through the door to the fence with a tight black square brick in one hand.

It’s hard to tell what it is at first, a batter pack or — no, it’s a vacuum-sealed bag. Kain has a pair of scissors in his other hand, and lifts up the bag to show Peyton the label. Columbian Dark Roast. “Black gold, Violet. Black gold.” An airtight vacuum-sealed bag of coffee. “Now, the problem Ah’m facin’ is, do Ah’ use this as a nuclear option with regards to negotiation…” he hefts the small bag in one hand, “or do we just keep it for ourselves and have us a little coffee party right here.”

“Yeah, you know, where I come from, we just call that old, K,” says Peyton, with a roll of her dark eyes. She continues to count the money until he holds up the pack of coffee, and just like that, she’s up on her feet, knocking the neatly stacked piles of paper money into so much oversized confetti.

“Coffee party!” she declares, because really, is there any other option? “Jesus, I miss Starbucks.” She tilts her head and studies him for a moment, a thoughtful look on her face, before she finally snaps her fingers. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” It took her long enough — she dyed her hair blue two weeks ago and he’s been calling her that since.

"You didn't think you'd be leaving me out of the coffee bonanza, did you…?" …did you?

A shadow twists up the wall behind Peyton, until there's a bird settled on her shoulder, although it's only on her shadow and not her real body. A teasing taunt from Richard Cardinal, those words, the sneaky sonuvabitch that he is. Even down here, he doesn't take flesh half of the time.

There's always risk when he has skin and blood and a nervous system.

“Son of a bitch,” Kain mumbles as Richard materializes from the shadows. He underhanded tosses the coffee to Peyton, then offers her a sidelong look. “Ok, that’s enough for one cup for three people. Dickie,” Kain waggles his fingers at Richard. “Go in the cage and get the canned heat, a teapot, and the french press up on the back shelf.” Quickly looking around, Kain eyes the ventilation ducts suspiciously.

“We’re only gonna get about a half an hour, max, before everybody an’ their baby-daddy smells this and wants in. So we gotta big-gulp, kids.” Shifting his weight to the other foot, Kain looks over at Peyton. “Ah’ll watch th’ door, make sure no lookie-loos come pokin’ around. Drinkin’ mah fuckin’ coffee all up.” Continuing to grumble on his way to the stairway door, Kain shakes his head from side to side like a cantankerous old man ready to tell the kids to get off his lawn.

An’ Ah’ ain’t old!” Kain belatedly hollars at Peyton from the doorway. Because that seems true.

Normally, Peyton doesn’t jump when Richard’s shadow plays its tricks like some animated Peter Pan, but this time her brows lift and her mouth drops in a bit of a startle. She glances at Kain, her lips quirking to the side in a small grimace of sorts, because she might have been getting pretty damn good at poker before the Virus hit, but she still has a terrible poker face.

“Jesus, give us a heart attack. And what am I, a pirate?” she says, swatting at the shadow making it look like there’s a bird on her shoulder. “I would have brought you some,” is probably a lie, but said sweetly enough that it’s a pretty one, anyway.

“Keep telling yourself that, K. Hey, Card, you find any Metamucil on your rounds? Some Centrum for Seniors?” She flashes a smile, before looking at the shadow. “What’re you sneaking around for?” Never mind he’s always sneaking around.

"I know I'm good in the sack, Pey, but I'm not dumb enough to think I'm Columbian Coffee good…" …good… The shadow-bird spills down the wall through her shadow, a reverberating chuckle hissing in the dark corners of the basement, "Just the usual. I'll be right back…" …back.

Just as promised, Richard's promptly walking back over with the needed goods shoved in a cardboard box, declaring cheerfully, "Everything we need to make ourselves a good cuppa Joe. So hey, K-mart, what do you think of those newcomers?"

Settling down to a crouch, he starts setting things up.

“Ah’ don’t.” Kain’s answer to Richard’s question is more of a rebuttal. “They came down here on orientation day, got the ol’ salvage spiel, and Ah’ sent ‘em on their way. Ain’t much more t’say about that except the kid likes comic books in a way that seems kinda’ weird for someone his age.” Blue eyes divert back over to Peyton from across the room. “Why’s everybody an’ their mom askin’ be about them newbies?” As if Peyton might have more insight. She usually does.

“Well, that’s true,” says Peyton agreeably, regarding how good Richard is or isn’t in comparison to coffee. “To be fair, neither was Navarro.”

The talk about the newcomers draws a shrug from her. “They’re just sort of weird. And you know…super clean? I don’t know. They didn’t come here together but how often do we find people alive on the same day — even the same week these days? Their story seems a bit sketchy. The guy’s kinda cute but all hope-on-a-rope. Blondie’s… I don’t know. She about started crying at Card and me the other day. They’re just weird.

That’s her insightful opinion, anyway. “God, when’s the last time we had coffee? I can’t even remember.”

"I mean, to be fair," admits Cardinal with a shrug of one shoulder as he gets the french press set up, reaching out a grabby-finger'd hand towards Peyton, "We were talkin' about how optimists were idiots, so we might've just crushed her tiny little spark of hope."

"Besides," he deadpans, "What the hell else are we going to talk about? Dirk's crusade against safe sex?"

“Hey,” Kain snipes over at Richard. “Dirk’s a good kid. Dumb as a bag of rocks, but a good kid.” Kain looks back up to the stairway, arms crossed over his chest and back pressed against the door frame. He lets the conversation about the newcomers slip by. And while he isn't usually a gossip, Kain is usually at least willing to entertain more than he has been today.

“All Ah’m sayin’ is that we’re lucky we found two new people instead’a more of them Vanguard fuckers. We ain't exactly swimming in extra hands t’help around here lately.” Kain’s blue eyes track to Peyton, anxiously, then back to the doorway.

The bag of coffee gets tossed to Cardinal and Peyton snorts at the talk of unsafe sex. “It’s our biological imperative!” she sing-songs, with a shake of her blue head. “Like there’s much choice anyway, aside from Roman Roulette. Even when we can find condoms, they’re expired.” Probably more information than Kain feels the need to know, when it comes to Peyton and Richard’s extra curriculars.

Kain’s lack of opinion draws Peyton’s eyes his way, noting that anxious look in them, and she tips her head. She looks to the doorway as well, to see if there’s something or someone there. It’s a rare bit of empathy that makes her change the subject. “I help. Someone has to provide sass,” she says, pretending to take that last comment as a hint about her general lack of work ethic. “And you both need supervision.”

The bag’s caught, and Cardinal goes about preparing coffee. He probably doesn’t even know what good coffee tastes like anymore, really, so it may be wasted on him. Not that he’s turning it down. “Yeah, I’m not complaining about that,” he admits, “Was just wonderin’ your take on them, is all. Always some weird new variables when new people come in, you know? Gotta figure out where they all fit…”

A smirk up to Peyton. Brows lifting, “Biological roulette is more like it.”

Kain finally just slams the metal door to his shop shut, loudly. The interior latch is thrown, and he turns around to level an intense blue-eyes stare at Peyton and Cardinal. The sudden mood shift has flattened all of Kain’s southern charm out of his expression and replaced it with smoldering irritation.

Someone will know something is up if the door to K-Marr is shut and locked. But right now, judging from his expression, that isn't a concern. “What've you two heard?” Kain’s voice tightens at the end there, accusatory.

“Really don’t wanna share the coffee, huh?” Peyton’s quipping just about the same time that Kain turns back and asks that question, so the attempt at levity falls flat and is abandoned just as quickly.

“I haven’t heard anything. They’re just weird, like I said,” she says, a slightly plaintive sound coloring the words, like she’s annoyed he thinks she wouldn’t have told him anything more serious. She glances at Richard. “You hear anything?” she asks, before glancing back to Kain. “I can keep an eye out.”

He knows what she means.

“Whoa.” Richard leans back from the coffee machine, his brow furrowing as the door clangs shut like a tomb, and he looks at the scavenger for a wary moment, the shade of his body seeming to darken and fade a bit as if he’s verging on pushing back into those shadows of his. Instinctive response to danger, and that’s a dangerous look.

He looks to Peyton, then back, “Not… much. They’re new, they seem to be talking with Ed a lot, the optimist’s hanging out with Ruiz. I haven’t really heard much else, just the usual curious buzz when there’s new people. She’s a little weird, haven’t met the guy yet…”

Again to Peyton, then K-Mart, “What’s going on?”

“You yahoos are the closest things Ah’ve got t’friends around here.” Kain stalks away from the door, brows lowered, serious. “Ol’ Blue Eyes can tell me t’keep mah trap shut all he wants, but it don't mean Ah’ gotta listen.”

Rolling his tongue over the inside of his cheek, Kain looks back at the door then makes a bring it in gesture to draw the two closer. “They did arrive t’gether,” Kain explains, eyes narrowed. “But before Ah’ tell you any more, how much d’you know about the Garbage Man?”


“Aw, K-Pop, we love you, too,” says Peyton, touching her chest as if he’s touched her deeply by calling her a yahoo. But then there’s the promise of gossip, and her eyes light up as she glances at Cardinal.

She moves closer, slipping the ridiculous My Little Pony backpack on her back, perhaps just because she realizes she’s still holding the pink thing. Her brows draw together at the question, and she shrugs one shoulder. “He’s, you know. Ruiz. Should we be worried about Ruiz?” Her expression clearly states she’s never given an iota of worry over the man, and is now worried about if she should have.

“I knew it, though. That they must have been together. That Liz chick said she didn’t know him,” she says, glancing at Richard for back-up before looking back to Kain, and reaching to touch his arm lightly. “What’s wrong, K?”

The french press quietly makes its sounds as it prepares coffee, but Cardinal isn’t looking at it anymore; crouched down beside it, frowning up at K-Mart with his brow wrinkled into lines. “Not a… lot? He’s just some guy, never gave him a lot of thought,” he muses, “This got something to do with why the new guy’s hanging out with him?”

He’s in Peyton’s boat here, worried that he missed something about local politics, that there’s something unpleasant coming down the chain. K-Mart’s too serious for his liking right now. “Don’t make us play twenty questions here, man, spill it.”

“Ed’s had Ruiz off his meds for a while now,” Kain says as he pantomimes a needle to the arm. “Cause he says he's better disposal than the incinerator. So back on the 8th, Ah’ heard something fishy over mah radio.” Both Peyton and Richard know that Kain has a CB radio stashed in his bins, one tuned to the same channel usually reserved for Hub operations. Very low frequency, very short range.

“It was Ruiz, saying he had a breach in the disposal room.” Kain’s blue eyes flick from Peyton to Cardinal. “A while later — since there weren't any quarantine alarms — Ah’ figured it was a false alarm. But then Bug Eyes comes down here with the newbies, subtly threatening mah ass by tellin’ me way too much an’ makin’ me stay quiet.”

Kain’s brows furrow, lips hook into a frown. “That woman’s Liz Harrison. She died in 2008, Ah’ helped plan the fuckin’ memorial and charity dinner for all them kids that died in the rocket attack. She died.” Kain looks over his shoulder, then back to Peyton and Richard. “They tell me this story that they're from a fuckin’ parallel reality where none of this shit happened,” Kain waves around wildly.

“An’ ol Blue Eyes didn't correct them.” Kain’s brows twitch. “Either of you know him as a big practical fucking joker?

The more Kain talks, the more Peyton scowls, her brows drawn together as she concentrates on his words, on what he’s suggesting. She’s uncharacteristically quiet — and uncharacteristically scared, moving to lean against Richard when the talk of parallel realities gets a bit too… weird.

“I don’t… understand,” she says, finally, but adds, “That Magnes guy, he did act sort of like this is all new to him. Said something about trying to adjust to everything, and he didn’t just mean life in our humble hub. Talking about trying to save us. That comic book mentality I guess, if he’s obsessed with them like you said. And that Liz chick, she definitely looked surprised to see you.” She looks to Richard, raising her brows. “You know anything about parallel realities?”

"Only from comic books myself…" Richard shifts an arm to drape 'round Peyton as she leans against him, regarding Kain with a dubious expression, "I mean, I wouldn't peg Ed as a practical joker but… that all sounds a little too good to be true. You sure that they haven't just pulled the wool over his eyes with some ridiculous story?" A look down to Peyton, then back to Kain, frowning.

"I can't see him getting fooled, yeah, but…" He shrugs his free shoulder, "I mean, that sounds too fucking good to be true, you know? That they're from some butterflies-and-roses amazing comic book world where none of this shit happened and they're not slowly dying in a hole."

Kain shrugs, helplessly. “Ah’ usually know a con when Ah’ see one. There's only two possibilities. They really came outta’ Ruiz’s trash portal,” he waves a hand in the air as if trash eating portals aren't weird enough. “Or they're one of them and they told a lie so big nobody suspects the truth.”

Kain’s blue eyes shift to the side. “They might be Vanguard. If…” closing his eyes, Kain pinches the bride of his nose. “If that kid weren't so goofy.” He deflates, conspiracy defeated. “Fuck.”

Peyton’s scowl deepens and then she rubs her face, as if by rubbing away the creases of her brow, she can also erase the confusion and worry that’s set them in place. “Jesus, this makes my head hurt. Okay, so, if it’s even possible — keep in mind that not that long ago we thought people like us were impossible,” well, people like Cardinal and herself, “what does that even mean? That there’s another universe with bizarro versions of us running around?”

She may have seen a Seinfeld episode or two. Wonders may never cease.

“So wait, so the chick is dead here but not wherever they came from. What about the kid? If he finds himself in this world, does he disappear like in that movie with the clock tower?” she asks. Quantum physics are not her forte.

"…clock tower?" Cardinal gives Peyton confused look, and then he looks back at Kain, "I… yeah, I mean, if he's as bad as you two keep saying, he's either the best spy ever or he's someone that the Vanguard would've shot on sight."

He rubs a hand back over his head, "So… holy shit. So what does that mean for us, K-man? Is this— is this like an escape hatch that we can use?" A spark of hope. He's wary. Hope usually leads to disappointment and despair, in his experience.

“Ah’ still don't buy it.” Is what Kain’s settled on. “Just because they ain't Vanguard doesn't mean it isn't something else. It's like when they guy Wiley Schnook tried t’fuckin’ rob us blind when we were first settin’ up shop.” Kain wrinkles his nose. “Shoulda fuckin’ guessed something was up with him. Who names their kid Wiley if he ain't a coyote?”

Diverting from the topic too far, Kain throws his hands in the air and walks over to where the tea kettle is set up on the canned heat. Now he just wants the coffee. More than ever. “It's a scam. But if it ain't…” Kain looks at Peyton, then Richard. “If by some fuckin’ miracle there's a way out of this nightmare?” Blue eyes narrow, and Kain lays it out straight.

“We’re gonna be the first ones out.”

“You know, the one with the clock tower and the car and shit,” Peyton says. Clearly ‘80s movies aren’t her forte either. The little bit of hope on Richard’s face makes her eyes widen again, and she looks to Kain as well, whose doubtful response helps to temper whatever rising swell of hope she feels as well.

But then that last line brings it back.

She looks to the scattered money on the ground, and a slow-blooming smile curves her mouth upward.

“We might be able to use those shit tickets after all,” she says, fingers curling around the straps of the pink backpack on her shoulders.

"I still think that was an alias," Cardinal mutters under his breath. Nobody's actually named something like Wiley Schnook.

The shadow-morph purses his lips a little, looking between the two and then nodding. "Well, then," he says, brows raising a touch, "We should find out everything we can about these newcomers, then… be all— " A broad grin, "— friendly like."

Kain’s eyes flick to the money too, and a grin spreads ear to ear. He always knew he liked Peyton, but now he was sure he did. “Ah’ like th’ way you two kids think,” he notes as he picks the just whistling kettle off the canned heat.

“So, lets have ourselves a nice cup’a joe and— ” Someone knocks on the closed metal door.

“Hey K-Mart I need a— ”

Fuck off we’re closed!” Kain screams back at the door. There's silence. Kain looks back to Cardinal and Peyton.

“As Ah’ was sayin,” the Cajun notes with a grin. “Lets go make friends.

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