Yours To Command


alister_icon.gif sibyl_icon.gif

Scene Title Yours to Command
Synopsis Alister sets his sights on a protege.
Date March 6, 2018

Between the Safe Zone and the Ruins of Staten Island

There are many sayings about Staten Island.

One of them is that once you go there, you can never really come back.

Sibyl didn’t believe it was true until she tried and the nine months she spent away showed like her ribs and the sharp angles of her cheekbones. She can’t remember the last time she felt as alone floating in a sea of people as she did during the Eric Doyle Memorial Library’s grand opening, so she floats instead on a boat headed across the water toward the familiar, welcoming glow of Great Kills Harbor.

The girl stands at the bow of the fishing vessel, her arms resting on the rail. Wind tugs at her hair and blows it about her face, cheeks flushed and rosy. It’s cold, but there are still damp tears clinging stubbornly to her lashes that explain her skin’s blotchy discoloration and the puffiness around her eyes, which are squinted partway shut.

She’s not the only person on board. Aside from the captain, whose cabin reeks of cigar smoke and cheap vodka, other passengers have found niches of their own. Around back, a pair of smugglers talk shop over a shared cigarette, sheltered from the wind by a slippery metal stairwell. Collapsible crab traps choked with seaweed clutter the deck.

They’ll all be home soon.

One Alister Black did not, in fact, attend the memorial. He did, however, have business to attend to in the Safe Zone. A matter of bread. He's been paying good money for shipments of bread, and he'll be damned if he's known for his exceptionally impeccable gun shipments while doling out stale bread to the Staten Island public.





So, one flipped table and a drawn gun later, he finds himself on a boat back home. He shares a brief word with the smuggler, then spots Sibyl on the rail. He's wearing a pure white suit with a black shirt and red tie today.

Sometimes it's good to wear white, shows that you can afford clean clothes.
Then, leaning on the rail next to her, he looks over. "And what has you down, young lady?" he asks, his tone sincere, even if on the slightly patronizing adult side of the spectrum of talking to children.

Sibyl’s gaze snaps up and back at Alister with a snake’s quickness. She’d been so preoccupied with her thoughts that she hadn’t been paying attention to her surroundings, except for the low drone of the boat’s engine and its hypnotic qualities. Her neck and shoulders do not hold that tension, though; the dim light reflected off the water allows her to recognize his face.

And his mustache.

She reaches up and uses the sleeve of her coat to wipe some of the residual stickiness from her cheek in what she pretends is a casual, offhanded gesture but isn’t really.

“Just the saltwater,” she lies.

"Saltwater isn't particularly fun to be around, except for people who for some reason actually enjoy playing in the dirt on the beach. But some things are a necessity in times like this." Alister stares down at her for a long moment, then says, "Just like lies."

"Are you going to Staten Island alone? Such a place is dangerous, with the slave trade and the occasional cannibalistic psychopath." He rambles on a bit, staring down at himself in the water. "I don't involve myself in that business. Catering to the wealthy. Why would I cater to my rivals?" He shakes his head, then looks back at the smugglers, and a few other rough looking people. "Though I suppose there's a chance that you are a slave."

This, he considers for a long moment, and leans in to whisper. "Is there anyone you wouldn't like to make it back to Staten Island?" he suddenly wonders, looking very serious and concerned.

Sibyl has learned to differentiate between real concern and the honeyed words that some of the island’s residents sometimes attempt to spoonfeed her. It’s not always a clear distinction, however, and she takes a moment to study Alister’s face as she reflects on his observations.

Until now, she’s only seen him from a distance, and on the other side of the fence that surrounds the Staten Island Trade Commission. This close, she has access to finer details like the firmness of his mouth and how the muscles in his hands react when he speaks. She pays close attention to where his eyes are focused and whether or not his gaze wavers from hers.

His clothes and skin smell clean. He appears well-groomed. This indicates nothing.

“I live there,” she clarifies, because Alister’s stance on human trafficking is as well-known on Staten Island as his fashion sense. “And I don’t belong to anyone.”

"Good, that you don't belong to anyone. Not so good that you live there, if you're a young child on your own. Unless, of course, you're out here trying to find work to contribute to your family." Alister's concern, while apparently sincere, is also laced with the wording of someone who tries to wrap some questions up into not having to ask directly.

Though, without really giving much pause for an answer to the last thing he says, he suddenly asks, "What does someone your age want out of life in this world?" He doesn't know her age, god knows how old he thinks she is.

If Sibyl knew the answer to that question, she might not have paid for a seat on a boat traveling to one of the most dangerous places in a one thousand mile radius. She blinks once at Alister, slow and catlike. “Fish stew,” she says, if she’s being honest about what she wants right now, “boiled over a stove. The kind with meat you have to pick out of the shell using your fingers. And bread someone baked this morning.”

"Then you'll have that, and perhaps we can discuss your more long-term goals while you eat that." Alister says, as if there's nothing to it, and pulls out his phone. "Excuse the short notice, I'll pay you extra. Yes." He turns around, having a whole discussion. "Right, that was baked no earlier than this morning. And please, someone cage that damned cat. The last thing I need is Eileen getting into the fish."

Finally, hanging up, he turns back to Sibyl. "So, tell me about yourself."

“You shouldn’t give animals people names,” Sibyl says. “It’s bad luck.” She steers her gaze back out over the water, judging the distance between the boat and the shore. It will be at least another five minutes before they come up on the dock and she feels solid land under her boots again.

Tell me about yourself.

The girl thinks about stalling, about considering Alister’s request for at least one of those five minutes, but there’s something about him that tells her she won’t be able to fill it with silence in the meantime. So, while she’s being honest: “I sell things. Sometimes jewelry, sometimes information. Business is good on the island.”

"A young information broker and, what, smuggler, thief?" Alister wonders. There's no real judgement in his tone, he asks all of these things with a casual air about him. "My parents tried hard to teach me work ethic. It's very important that you have it. Though I imagine that you're also driven by survival."

He smiles, leaning his back and elbows against the rail. He doesn't seem to be particularly concerned with how long it takes to get to shore. He's indifferent to the trip itself. "What if your hard work could be used to have more. What if you could dare to dream for wealth and security, for growth? Something more than survival."

It’s a different spin on the conversation Sibyl was having with Logan not too long ago, and her mind turns toward the Englishman in his cozy apartment inside the Safe Zone’s borders. She remembers the softness of her borrowed comforter and the peace of mind that came with being able to hear someone else’s breathing in the next room.

Before Logan, there was Epstein and his whiskey breath and unshaven face that he let her touch sometimes on occasions when she sought familial comfort and familiarity.

And before Epstein

“Security and growth are mutually exclusive,” she tells Alister. “You can have one or the other but not both.”

"Wrong, young lady." Alister looks down at his right hand." I really need a cane for emphasizing my points. Something to hit the floor with." But he shakes that idle thought from his head, continuing on with the topic at hand. "It's always possible to lose everything, for all things to come crumbling down at your feet. But you can indeed have both security and growth. The security of your comforts, the security of your mind and the experience and skills you've cultivated. The security of your connections, your ability to oppress those connections with sheer force of will!"

He grips the rail, staring down at her as if he were trying to teach this young girl the core tenets of benevolent oppression. "You take calculated risks, you make plans, and plans for those plans, and you build a stable foundation. And even then, I'm sure you're wondering, what if all of that goes wrong, what if you lose everything?"

Stepping forward, he leans down, peering directly into her eyes with the look of someone who intends to reach into her very soul. "Unless you have lost your mind, then you will rebuild, because the future is yours to command, and the world only has so much strength to resist the will of the truly powerful. Your money does not make you powerful, your things do not make you powerful." He slams his fist into the metallic rail, causing his skin to turn pink. "Willpower does." He raises his hand, showing just how hard he hit it. "Willpower and the ability to command respect cannot be bought."

A short pause, after his speech, and he finally ends with, "Do you want these things, little girl?"

“My name is Sibyl.” Alister is a little too close for her liking, but there’s also nowhere else for her to go. So. She rolls her shoulders and presses her body a little closer to the rail, looking a little like his ocelot when it has nowhere else to go except the corner. There are sharp nails concealed inside the thin calfskin gloves that she wears, and although the temptation to swipe at him is written all over her pinched face and the renewed tension in her neck and upper torso, she grips the side of the boat tighter instead.

The fishing vessel blows its horn into the black expanse. A moment later, the harbor echoes the sound back across the strait. Two minutes and counting.

“I really don’t know what I want, Mister Black,” she confesses. “I’m sorry if that’s not the answer you’re looking for.”

"You're young, you can't be expected to have all the answers, Sibyl. You can barely be expected to have any of them. That's normal. What you need are things to think about, and the knowledge of possibility." Alister backs up finally, now that he's done making his very intense point. "You'll grow, and think, and experience. But my words and my offers will linger in your head. There may come a time when you do know what you want, and I'll be there."

Th— ank you.” There’s a slight uptick at the end of that statement, as though Sibyl isn’t sure whether or not it is in fact a statement, or a question.

"You have potential, more potential than you can meet on the street with common criminals." Alister apparently does not consider himself one of those, and reaches into his pocket for a fancy black business card with red text, holding it out to her. "My contact information. Call me for anything."

Sibyl accepts the business card and turns it between her fingers. It has a weight she appreciates. “What if I don’t have a telephone?” she wants to know. And that is a question.

"Show up. They'll know to expect you once I introduce them to you when you come eat. And my workers won't bother you, they know very well they wouldn't survive stepping out of line in such a way." Alister faces forward now that they're close, smiling. "Though if you agree to come regularly, for education, I'll provide you with a phone."

“I’ll take the lessons,” Sibyl concedes after a pause. “Phones have chips in them.” She pockets the card in her jacket for safekeeping in an interior pocket somewhere between her collarbone and her heart.

The fishing vessel enters the harbor, coming close enough to the dock that it groans beneath the strain and causes nearby buoys to clamor with excitement. A cormorant, jolted from its fitful slumber, takes flight. Wings pass over the boat’s exterior lights, causing the world to momentarily flicker as it clips by and disappears into the wreckage of a tanker that ventured too close to the shore decades earlier.

The engine chugs once, twice. Rumbles to a still.

Sibyl vaults over the rail. For an instant, it looks like she might plunge into the water, but Alister hears her boots connect with the rotting wood of the pier instead.

“I’ll see you tomorrow about that stew, Mister Black,” she says, disappearing down a barnacle-encrusted ladder that leads down to the beach. “Have a good night.”

With a flick of her coattail, she’s gone.

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