A Community United


caspian_icon.gif cesar_icon.gif delilah_icon.gif eve_icon.gif gillian_icon.gif greg_icon.gif joanne_icon.gif jonathan_icon.gif lynette_icon.gif mira_icon.gif niki_icon.gif raquelle_icon.gif savannah_icon.gif sofia_icon.gif squeaks_icon.gif sue_icon.gif tasha_icon.gif tuck_icon.gif

Scene Title A Community United
Synopsis The Safe Zone Cooperative holds its first quarter community town hall, and discovers that the people of the Safe Zone are united in desiring change, but divided in how that change can happen.
Date April 13, 2018

Red Hook Market

Behind Textile Factory #17's high brick walls, the inner courtyard is filled with cars where there normally is an outdoor bazaar. In the late evening hours, with the sun dipped low on the western horizon behind the ruins of Manhattan, long shadows are cast in stark angles by architecture dating back to the Industrial Revolution. Power conservation, even in Red Hook where electricity is constantly available, means that only one building within the walled compound has lights on. A lambent glow spreads from the tall, mill windows of Building #4, formerly a long warehouse space converted into meeting hall.

The interior of Building #4 is spacious, with an open ceiling some fifty feet overhead, exposed wooden and metal supports, and bare brickwork still encrusted with crawling ivy the way it was found when the Safe Zone was reopened. The vegetation in Building #4 was only fostered by Citizen's Watch member Sue Gandry, who helped cultivate the ivy and helped it spread safely across the beams and supports, giving the warehouse an earth juxtaposition of verdant green and industrial red and brown. For today's meeting of the Safe Zone Cooperative, rows of metal folding chairs spread out across the long warehouse floor, with two inner ailes splitting them, leading up to a microphone stand set before a low stage where several folding tables have been pushed together and covered with a large, blue dropcloth.

Minutes before the meeting is set to begin, there is a cacophony of voices within the warehouse. Hundreds of residents of the Safe Zone from across its many neighborhoods are gathered for the opportunity to listen to the latest news about the town, and voice their concerns about the direction the Safe Zone is moving in. Up on the stage, most of the nine current members of the Citizen's Watch sit along with the four members of the Cooperative Council, small handwritten placards set out in front of each of them, spools of black cabling along the floor connecting to individual microphones yet to be activated.

Hustling up onto the stage, Mira Sadowsky makes an apologetic face as she moves to her empty seat. Setting down her coffee beside her microphone, she sweeps off her gray knit cap off of now tousled red hair and settles in beside Joanne Dair. "Sorry about that, MPs had a checkpoint set up between here and Park Slope." Joanne just flashes Mira a crooked smile and eyes the coffee expectantly.

"None for me? That's cold, Em." Joanne's feigned indignance comes with arms crossed over her chest. Mira rolls her eyes and motions to the coffee with a somewhat flippant gesture.

"These were my last beans, Jo. My last beans." There's amusement in Mira's voice, but also a sincerity in her agitation. Those were her last coffee beans she ground, and it spoke to a larger problem the Safe Zone is experiencing.

Sue Gandry leans forward, peering past Joanne to Mira, smiling fondly and excitedly tapping a binder she's brought with her. Laying it flat on the table, Sue drums her fingers on the laminate cover and slowly arches a brow. Joanne eyes the binder, then spreads her hands wide. "Watch out everyone, Sue's got a binder! I know that look, it's going to be zoning ordinances and parking plots. Slide rulers everywhere," she makes a measuring motion with both hands, "possibly even an astrolabe folded flat, just in case of emergencies."

"Jo, I will bury you in my garden up to your neck and feed you to the dandelions…" Sue says with her eyes fixed on the cover of her binder, before flicking up a look to the target of her amused faux-ire, "…if you besmirch my binder's honor."

Joanne raises her hands in feigned surrender. "Perish the thought, Susie, perish the thought! It's a very lovely biner, honorable and without smirch." Sue laughs at Joanne's relaxed attitude, and looks to her side where Greg Farkas is casually overlooking his notes. A few sheets of loose paper rustle, and he glances over at Sue with a warm smile before turning back to his itinerary.

Still dressed from work — noticeable from the smudges of chalk in places on his rumpled grey suit and a yellow ochre and black striped tie — Jonathan Smith arrives with a pleasant smile that deepens the lines at the corners of his eyes, a folder of his own is hooked against his side and of course, a large cup of coffee. The councilman is never without it, if he can help it.

“Hello everyone,” Jon offers rather brightly to those already there, moving down the line on his way to his spot. Each Council member along his path gets a soft, “How are you? Doin’ okay? Excellent.” When it comes to Sue he notices the binder, while others groan, the teacher chuckles. “I see you have been a busy woman, as always, Sue. I look forward to hearing what you have today.”

Finding his spot, the folder is dropped and the coffee set down (though not without a sip first). Still standing there, smoothing down his tie with a hand, he looks out over the room. “This is wonderful… I think there are more people here then normal.” Always, trying to see the positive out of a potential negative.

After taking a moment to remove his suit jacket and drape it on the back of his chair, Jonathan settles himself into it, rolls up his sleeves, and starts organizing his notes, while humming a little Katy Perry tune under this breath… possibly, maybe, I Kissed a Girl?

Water Bottle is set on the table, and then a wine glass is set beside it, and arranged neatly beside it is a leopard print planner. Beside the planner is pen and beside the pen is a compact, for those complexion checks.

This is because Raquelle Cambria has entered the building, settling down in his seat with a flash of a grin to the others on the stage and blowing kisses to others not on the stage. “God damn somebody pinch me, is it legal to have this many drop dead sexy people on a stage without Beyoncé or Jane Jackson scheduled to make an appearance?” He stands up a bit to offer a bit of an applause as people take their seats. “Are those new shoes? Oh honey you are working those gloves…sugar, jaysus h Christ on a biscuit let me see those nails.” Etc, he drizzles his praise/greetings as appropriate.

As always he is dressed stylishly, a dark blue cardigan over a fitted black t-shirt, fitted black jeans, dark blue converse and his hair stylishly coiffed, a pair of black dimmed glasses on his face. He pours some water into his wine glass and leans back comfortably in his chair.

Gilbert Tucker - charismatic in small groups, poor public speaker. Or at least, he thinks he is. He's been here since they started setting up chairs. First, it was pacing and going over his notes, then it was to help direct the placement of said chairs. Then it was to answer a few phone calls. He's restless, nervous, uncomfortable. But he's here.

No matter how many years it's been, he's not a man who is comfortable being the center of attention or being known by this many people who he doesn't know personally. He spent so much of his life trying to slip below the radar, trying to be inoffensive. And it's fate's cruel trick that puts him in his current role. It took the end of the world to force him to be something other than unremarkable.

That desire to not stand out is reflected in his attire. He's wearing a somewhat ill-fitting suit, but tailors and proper-sized clothing are both in short supply these days - especially when you're on the short side. It's a nice-ish suit though, in a steel gray. He's wearing a purple t-shirt underneath it because he can't look too polished, because he's worried he'd seem self-important. His trademark blue plastic frames that have seen better days are present tonight. They aren't always in his day-to-day life, but it's handy when he needs a portable barrier to hide behind.

Despite his nerves and self-consciousness, he's still Tuck. He addresses a runner who is helping to set up. "Hey hey, sport. Easy on the waters, okay? We drink even half that and we're gonna spend most of the meeting lining up for the bathroom. Just do one per, okay? Okay. And you got something on your…oh, that's…that's a fashion statement. Ooohkkay, you keep on keepin' on." Thumbs up.

Like many of the others, Gillian brought her own beverage. A tall thermos with a lid, to keep whatever is inside warm or cold, whichever it started as. She nods in greeting to all, a fond nod given to each, and a longer greeting given in passing to a few, those she’s known since before— before she dressed in business casual suits and wore her hair with golden honey hues (courtesy of one of the very members of this Council).

Instead of a folder, she came a little more high-tech, with a small laptop. Not connected to a wifi, intended to be running on battery power when the time comes, but for now it’s turned off, settled in front of her. She does carry one small notepad, as well, but anyone who glances at it sees it’s more sketches than words and notes.

When others come in, some more frazzled than others, Tasha smiles from where the petite brunette is settled in her seat already. She too has her stationery items in front of her — a pen, a three-ring binder, a legal pad that, like Gillian’s, is adorned with sketches in various degrees of completion.

A large, probably lukewarm cup of coffee, with a Prufrock’s label, sits in front of her, and she reaches for it when she sees Jonathan’s, as if his coffee subliminally has sent her the message to drink some of her own.

“As long as we don’t see any pitchforks,” she quips to his comment about the large crowd not being a good thing, looking down the line of council members at him with a grin.

Nothing quite like starting the evening with child labor. Delilah has pressganged her son into helping set up the chairs before everyone arrived, and he is still going around straightening seats willy-nilly as his mother moves back to where she's left her things at the front tables. After he's done she's instructed him to wait to open the doors for the public coming in.

For all that kids sometimes shirk things like chores— having 'adult' seeming responsibilities is something else entirely. Dee gives him a look over her shoulder before greeting the others who have just arrived, all smiles and bright brown eyes.

"Oh, gosh, there's the binder." Delilah spots it as she moves up, giving Sue a rather trepidatious look from the side. "Heeey, Gilly, looking good." The redhead brushes a gentle hand over Gillian's shoulder as she moves to find her seat, hands carefully tugging around her skirt as she sits.

Delilah definitely makes a teasing 'really?' brow at Raquelle's wine glass of water.

A can of tomato juice, chilled even, is pressed into Tuck’s hands. Niki Zimmerman takes a sip from her own can of V8. “Drink your vegetables,” she teases in a soft voice. “Sue’s got her binder, and Gillian brought her laptop, and Tasha’s got some kind of legal pad, so we know everything’s under control. And I think Raquelle might have offered to help pluck my eyebrows? I don’t know if that helps, but…” She flashes her partner a grin and nudges him in the arm before slipping away to take her seat. If she gets a laugh out of him, it will be mission accomplished.

Her things were already set out in front of her seat. A pad of paper, a red pen, and a glass of water for when her can of juice is gone. If she drank coffee before, during, or after one of these meetings, she’d be too jittery to focus. As much as she pretends that nothing gets to her, she takes these meetings seriously, which means she takes things more to heart than she otherwise might. She’s all smiles for the others gathered, however. Jonathan’s humming makes her chuckle to herself for the briefest of moments.

Shuffling in after some of the others have taken their seats, Savannah Burton finds her own in short order. A hardcover notebook with sticky-notes peeking out of its corners is wielded as she slides into her seat, then set down on the table. “Almost lost track of time,” she says to no one in particular as she pulls out a large refillable water bottle from the messenger bag at her side and places it down in front of her. No one wants to be left out of the beverage club it seems. It’s only once she’s seated that she takes a moment to study the rest of those assembled and take in a visual account of her equals.

Greg’s attention goes to the empty seat of Delia Ryans and furrows his brows, then checks his watch. With a short breath he looks to the others and offers a helpless shrug, but seems willing to press ahead without her. Everyone has their personal lives to untangle for things like this, and he doesn't begrudge her at all.

“Good evening everyone,” Greg speaks into his microphone after turning it on. “I think we’re mostly assembled now, so I’d like to get this rolling. Thank you for attending the quarterly Safe Zone Cooperative Community Council meeting.”

Going through his notes, Greg offers a look over at Tuck and then back down to his paperwork. “Before we take any feedback from residents in attendance, we’re going to go over our Q2 project lists and give you all some updates on events. I know a lot of you are here to discuss the food situation and… that's absolutely on our agenda.”

“I'm going to open the floor to Susan Gandry, and then we’ll just go around…” Greg motions down the line of the table with his pen. Sue doesn't wait for a moment to pass before jumping straight in to things, slapping open her binder.

“So,” She asserts, drumming her hands on the interior pages. “In light of the food crisis we’re experiencing, several of the Watch members and I have brainstormed alternative food solutions for the Safe Zone to mitigate future shortages.” She flips to the first tabbed page, looking briefly at the crowd gathered.

“What I have here is a proposal, which we've made available at the town hall, for a Safe Zone hydroponics and aeroponics initiative. Now, we can't secure the funding for this entirely. Which is where a lot of my efforts on this are going to be turned. We’re — right now — looking at possibly getting financial and material support from Raytech and Yamagato Industries to get the initiative off the ground.”

Sue flips to another page. “This will also mean a need for several charity fundraisers for the project, as well as contractor scouting. There's a short list of registered COM hydrokinetics that I'm eager to reach out to, as well as civilian engineers.” Another page is flipped. “On top of that we have a citizen’s garden initiative we’re going to start pushing. We’re receiving seed donations as we speak and we’re going to be giving vegetable seed packages out starting in June along with pamphlets on how to construct rooftop and back yard gardens. Soil cultivation and do-it-yourself rainwater irrigation…”

Threading a lock of hair behind one ear, Sue flips to another page in the book. “We’ll be looking for unaffiliated volunteers willing to help with information distribution, documentation drafting, and about a dozen other postings which are all up on the SZC section of the town hall’s physical and electronic message board.”

Drawing in a breath, Sue looks over at Greg and drums her hands on the desk again. “I think that's it for meee, so…” she looks down the line to Jonathan. “Mr. Smith!”

“Thank you, Susan.. By the way, I love that idea. I’d love to get an educational program started with the schools along that line as well.” Jonathan chuckles, adding as he stands, “But that is a conversation for another day.”

Turning his attention to the crowd at large, it is obvious the man is comfortable in front of large crowds, of course, the man does participate in the local theater. “Good evening to you all… As you know I focus on what this community does for the children. I have a few points to address today.” Looking down at the folder in front of him, he reaches down and flips open the cover.

“First off, let me start by putting out a call for volunteers.” Looking up from his notes, he pushes his glasses back up on his nose where they slid from the angle. “The parks within the Safe Zone are in need of some work. Since we do not have the budget to have a dedicated team to maintain the parks within the Safe Zone, we as a community need to come together.” His come together in a gesture mirroring that concept. One thing about Jonathan, he uses his hands to talk a lot. “So I’m looking for able bodies willing to help with some clean-up and maybe, if possible, make repairs on the equipment.” He offers a gentle smile, as he adds, “The kids will thank you.”

The page is flipped as he continues, “Now, I know we are getting ready to go into the summer months, which means those classrooms will be heating up. So this is my yearly reminder for patience. We have a team of only five certified technicians to get the air conditioners of all Safe Zone schools operational again.

“Speaking of schools, let me finish by talking about a project close to my heart…. The restoration of Fort Hamilton High School, over there in Bay Ridge, is right on schedule. Still looking to get solar panels added to help ease the burden on the power grid.” Jonathan looks very pleased about this, his smile deepening as he talks. “Projected completion of renovations are pretty hopeful and our teenagers could actually get their own school by the next school year. I mean… how great is that? People have really stepped up for this.” Hands on his hips and a smile, he adds enthusiastically, “So soon they won’t have to share the halls with the younger kids and maybe we won’t have to double up grades and maybe even shrink the class sizes a little.”

Glances to each side of him at the other council members, Jon declares, “That’s it for me.” He looks to Raquelle and gestures in a dramatic fashion, “Mr. Cambria… on to you?”

The hairdresser winks to Delilah when she looks at his wine glass and tosses an arm over the back of his chair as he sprawls leisurely and lifts his glass in a hint of a toast when the meeting is officially kicked off. Glass is set aside so he can lean forward when he needs to add something to his planner. Raquelle is quiet though, eventually shifting forward to rest his elbows on the table as he listens.

When his name is called though, he just lifts an eyebrow and smirks a bit to Jonathan. “You know I like it when you say my name like that.” A waggle of his eyebrows before he presses his hands together and presses them to his lips in a contemplative pose. After a moment he lowers his hands and leans forward to speak into the mic. “How are all you lovely people doing? Good? Good. Well thank you all for coming out today to listen to us run our mouths for a bit to let you know everything that’s going on in the community.”

He stretches out a hand towards where Sue is. “Sizzling Sue and her magical binder is over there with her amazing garden initiatives so make sure if you have a green thumb to lend her your mind and if you don’t… still go out there and help how you can. Captain oh my Captain Jonathan here… he’s living the words of Michael Jackson, he too believes the children are the future.” He presses a hand over his heart. “Can I get an Amen?”

He takes a deep breath and rolls his shoulders, hand coming up to adjust his glasses. “So lemme tell you a little bit about what I’ve got cookin’ in my corner, hm?” He looks down to his planner and He clears his throat. “I am obligated to report that the Mr Rogers initiative that I’ve been working on — visiting the shut in and single parents who require extra help, doing tasks like laundry, handiwork or running errands for them and some of you lovely people are on the rotation to help with that. I’ve started offering classes to people managing larger families or groups of people on how to ration and make supplies stretch in dishes that still provide growing children with the nutrients that they need.” He flips the page. “I’ve been offering semi-internships to teenagers in the safe zone to teach them some trade skills and I encourage other business owners to do the same, as well as utilizing the amazing skills and talents of our younger people to help start making this place feel more like a home.” He flips the page and purses his lips and then sighs.

“But I’m just going to say right now… I still feel like I am failing the community. Like, if I wasn’t kinky as I am I’d say I deserve to be spanked but that’s not a deterrent for me. We have children, homeless children. Babies who have been orphaned or abandoned having to steal for their next meals…” He gets choked up. “Not sure how that is making those children feel safe. So, I’ma try to do better. I look closer. And to love harder, okay? We can’t penalize these babies for surviving when we as the grown ups have let them slip through the cracks.” He whews and takes off his glasses, waving at his eyes and clearing his throat. “Shi-if my mascara runs… gosh damnit…”

With a rough chuckle he just tosses his hands up a bit and shrugs. “So…who wants a party?” He laughs softly. “I’m putting forward a proposal to have a Charity Benefit concert for the Safe Zone, invite people to perform, accept donations in the form of food and necessary supplies annnnd, that’s all I have written down!” Still fanning himself he exhales and gestures over to the next speaker. “Okay, you take it away hot stuff.”

"Thanks." The redhead at the end of Raquelle's gesture gives him a wink and a thumbs up. Delilah sits up straight, leaning forward just so before she begins, smile wide but subdued. Her eyes skim seats and spy Walt exactly where he should be, sitting with a classmate from school in the shadow of his parents.

"Thank you, Raquelle. I think we can all agree that doing best by our children is something to remember going forward. And goodness knows we could use some levity, too." Delilah turns over her own notepad and clears her throat. "I can actually relate it to what I have here."

"I would like to propose forming an independent Safe Zone Census Bureau, apart from that of the government, and formed of volunteers… We have records with the basic information, but we all know that things move at the speed of bureaucracy and things and people get lost to that. With information such as incomes, jobs, and rates of homelessness— " Delilah lifts a hand to motion towards Raquelle, referencing his desire to help the street kids.

" — among other updates that never made it to files, we can form a more accurate picture of what sort of programs we need, who needs help, and what to take in terms of charity." Sitting back again, Delilah's features smooth out, her hands somewhat restless in their fold on the tabletop. "With a self-sufficient census I feel we can better help each other develop."

Tuck murmurs a grateful thank-you for the can from Niki. His blood's probably tomato flavoured after all these years, but for whatever reason he finds it a decent stand-in for wanting a drink of something hard. "And here's me on cruise control," he says with a grin and a lift of his brows.

Then he settles in to listen once the meeting is called to order. He periodically scribbles a note on his own pad as someone says something or other that twigs a thought. When it's his turn to speak, he pulls in a long breath.

"Hard act to follow. That's why I usually try to sit…" he points vaguely down the line, towards Sue. "Uhh, okay, first off, I wanna say a big ole thanks to the market vendors who have been understanding throughout the shortages. A lot of the food vendors could be gouging you right now, but many have only raised prices to cover their costs. Still a sting, but they're basically making zero profit. For the vendors who can prove they're just breaking even, by the way, are getting a break on next month's rental fees as a way of saying thanks." There's a thread to that which is indirectly addressed. It's not all vendors.

"Many vendors are also bartering more than normal. While this is a step backward from getting everyone back on hard currency, bartering exists for a reason. And I want to remind everyone that there's a food stipend available for market volunteers. We always need people to take on repairs, cleaning, schlepping stuff, et cetera et cetera," he rolls his wrist with the hand holding his pen. "It's not the most delish of dishes, but it'll keep you going, keep you healthy."

He takes a moment to scan the faces in the crowd, then looks back down at his notes. "Security. We're obviously tightening things up, seeing what we can do. But it's always a balance between free movement and keeping things secure. That and Evolved abilities, as we all know, makes it durn tricky to guard against everything."

"Let's see. Oh. We've got a leak in the western end of the market near the craft vendors. We've stopped it up for now, but there's some water damage that needs to be addressed. Exciting, right? So exciting. Leaks! I tried out a joke about leaking on leeks, but realized when I said it out loud, you probably wouldn't catch I meant leeks the veg— never mind." He clears his throat and adjusts his glasses.

"I think…on that bad, bad dad joke of a joke, I will pass it along and stop flappin' my gums for now."

At almost everything said, Gillian has been quietly nodding, and after turning the laptop on, they can hear the typing of fingers across keys as she takes notes on what each person is proposing. Notes on the topic, little follow up words on what she might think about them and how they might fit with her own projects, but then she glances up realizing that she’s next when Tuck finishes and closes the lid a little. She knows exactly what she wants to talk about, after all.

“I’m happy to announce that the opening of the Children’s Library has been a success. It would be a good place to help with some of the children’s projects, as we have decent meeting room space already set up there for classes. It caters to children of all ages, so it could help in locating those who need help with housing, who might be homeless or forced to steal food. Entrance is free, so it’s a good location for those looking for a warm place to read or listen to music.” That had been one of the reasons she wanted a music room, not just to name it after Else, but to attract teens who had less interest in books.

“I also wanted to propose something a little outside my usual interests. Specifically a Zoo. Within the reclaimed area of the Safe Zone alone there were two zoos. The Queens Zoo, located in what is now Jackson Heights, in what used to be Corona, and the Prospect Park Zoo in Park Slope. Both were abandoned during the war, with many of the animals left behind as well. Within the Safe Zone itself there are many exotic birds that do not belong in the wild, and just outside the safe zone there are reports of everything from herds of exotic deer to a troop of monkeys. While most of these aren’t an actual danger to anyone, they do not belong in this environment and it would be good round them up.”

After a second, she adds, as if hesitant, “In a somewhat related topic, we might want to look into setting aside some land for livestock, that we would have to bring in. Vegetables are good, but people like meat. My suggestion would be one of the former zoos be used as it had been intended, while the other one be set aside for livestock.”

One to rescue animals and put them into a safer place— one to set them up for slaughter. Not a fun topic, and definitely not one she’d ever talked about before, having usually focused on books. “That’s all for the moment, but I obviously have paperwork.” That is one thing she’d often been good at, writing up her proposals. She always had more details than she could share. “But if anyone else has more to add…” she glances toward the next one.

“I heard that,” Tasha says with a smirk over to Niki about her legal pad, before listening to the opening comments and each of her fellow councilors discuss the projects under their respective purviews. She too adds notes to the yellow pad of paper, though these get augmented by doodles and zentangles and the like, though she looks up with a nod at comments she agrees with and chuckles at the various jokes.

When Gillian finishes, Tasha sets down her pen and smiles at the other woman. “Good ideas. Sustaining food sources especially would be useful — dairy and eggs. Not quite meat, but good sources of protein,” she suggests.

“My pet project, as you know, has been to hold workshops on the rights of the Safe Zone citizens, including information sessions about registration. We’ve had a few of these and I think they’re going well. The last one was over at Brooklyn College. As always, the point is to inform, not persuade either for or against. If anyone has other suggestions for legal workshops that they’d like to see offered, please let me know, and we can put something together if there’s enough interest. If it’s something more personal, I offer pro bono services every other week in my office here, depending on income level and financial need.”

She picks up her pen again, ready to draw and take notes as she listens to the next person, who she nods to.

Next up is Savannah. She gives a nod in response to Tasha before turning to the crowd and speaking. “First off, the project I’ve been working on is a tutoring outreach program. It’s designed to work in conjunction with the programs going on in the Children’s Library, but focused more on those who might slip through the cracks or be a little hesitant to approach the library for one reason or another. It’s my hope that by individual outreach we can draw in some of those kids to the library itself. I’d like to focus especially on creative writing encouraging kids to write short stories which we will then compile into a hardcover collection that each of the kids can keep and will also be sold with the money funneled back into the venture. Naturally, there is plenty of room for volunteers.”

She offers a warm smile to those assembled before continuing. “Secondly, I’d like to announce that the release party for my new book Euphoria will be for charity. Guests pay for a ticket, price to be announced, and will also have the option of buying raffle tickets for signed copies of my books as well as personal Q&A sessions. More prizes may be revealed closer to the party’s date. The exact date of the party is pending—the publisher is still making sure that enough copies will be available on top of the existing pre-orders. So I’ll be sure to let you all know when that will be, but we’re looking in the next few weeks for certain.”

With that, Savannah finishes her bit, giving the floor over to whomever’s next to speak.

Tasha gets a wink from Niki. You were supposed to~ It’s a compliment, she promises. Tasha seems to have her head on straight, and Niki trusts her to Get Things Done.

“Thank you, Savannah. That’s very generous of you.” Niki smiles to the author and finishes writing something on her notepad. After a moment, she sets her pen down and then turns her smile to the crowd gathered. “As most of you know by now, Mister Tucker and I completed the mind-melding process and have been sharing each other’s thoughts for the better part of two years now…” It’s a joke. Not a great one, but Miss Zimmerman tries to keep her comments light. Blame that symbiotic thought process she just mentioned.

“As such,” she continues, more seriously, “we’re sharing a lot of the same projects, as usual. I’m currently focused on security for our food stores. We’re always looking for more volunteers to help with shifts. I’m not suggesting volunteers be ready to fight off intruders. People who are observant can be just as helpful as those who have martial skills. Often times they are more so, in fact. If this is of any interest, please let either myself or Tuck know and we’ll see about adding you to a rotation.”

Marking a check next to her talking point, Niki moves on. “I would also like to add that if anyone is looking for scrap for their repair projects, please let me know. I’m always willing to part with my salvage for a good cause. Seeing the Safe Zone thrive is just about the best cause I can think of.”

“Some really great ideas today, everyone.” Niki looks down the row to the previous speakers. “With the addition of the livestock and community garden elements, perhaps we can see a 4-H Club established in the schools, or through community education through the library?” She waves a hand dismissively in a we can talk later gesture. “I think that’s all I’ve got for now. So I believe that’s… Mira up next?”

Mira flips through a ragged looking spiral-bound notebook full of scribbles and notes in ballpoint pen. “Yep, yeah. So,” clearing her throat, Mira finds the page she was looking for. “Some of you know I’m a widow,” is an unusual start to her discussion. “My wife, Willa, was a member of the NYPD. I watched the good she could do in the community, the way she… helped the people of Brooklyn, back when there was a Brooklyn.”

Picking at the scraps of paper caught in the spiral part of her binder, Mira furrows her brows and gets momentarily melancholy looking. “A few months ago I organized a meeting with mayor Caroline Short. That… finally crystallized this week, and the mayor and I talked about the NYPD, the future of the Safe Zone, and when we’re getting rid of the MPs who don’t really have time for us.”

Rolling her tongue across the inside of her cheek, Mira flicks a few scraps of paper onto the table. “Short answer is that the mayor is planning on a slow rollout reinstatement of the NYPD starting next year. One precinct to start, and slowly expanding until they meet the needs of the ‘Zone. I’m here to say that as part of our discussion about that, I coordinated with Brooklyn College to host registration and classes for a Safe Zone police academy.”

“We want Safe Zone residents, folks who understand our plight, as part of our new police force. So… I’m encouraging residents to consider whether they’d be willing to train, whether they’d be willing to interface with the community. To pick up a badge, and to be someone who we can depend on. I’ve got a line with admissions at BC, so if you’re curious about the details, come catch me after the meeting.”

Mira flicks a look over to Joanne, along with a few balled up pieces of paper. Joanne flinches at the paper, then rolls her eyes with a smirk.

“Thanks, Mira, for bringin’ the man down on us.” Joanne’s smile grows, and Mira just flicks more scraps of paper at her. “Ok, ok, but uh, seriously. Mira an’ I have some similar thoughts and concerns. Y’know. Everyone’s safety? We’ve had a big uptick in violent crimes over the last few months, an’ folks are asking me what they can do t’help. Well, the answer’s help yourself.”

Joanne reaches for Mira’s coffee, only to have her hand swatted away. “See, just like that. Protecting what’s yours from folks’ gettin’ a little too grabby.” Smiling, Joanne holds up a stack of flyers. “It ain’t as flashy as hydroponics or what not, but I’m going to be hosting some free self-defense classes here at the market after hours. All ages, so kids an’ adults alike. We could all use a little refresher on how best t’protect ourselves, an’ this is a community service that can go a long ways.”

Once it’s evident that Joanne is finished, Greg checks his notes and offers a smile to the audience. “As for me, I don’t have any major projects but I do have some updates from SESA. I spoke with their press secretary yesterday afternoon and was able to confirm that SESA is looking in to the food thefts and that the situation is an ongoing investigation. They have some persons of interest that they’re looking into, but…” Greg rolls his shoulders, “nothing definitive as of yet. They’re recommending keeping a close eye on stored food and not leaving storage facilities unlocked.”

Greg sets his notes aside. “That’s all I’ve got,” he admits and motions to Sue who gets up out of her seat and moves off stage to the microphone stand on the floor. She clicks a button, turning it on, and there’s a little pop of static in the air.

“Ok folks,” Sue says into the stand. “We’d like to take some residents, one at a time, who have issues or questions they’d like to address the Cooperative with!”

“Form a line over here,” Sue instructs, motioning down one of the aisles, “and we’ll take you as you come.” With that, she steps away from the mic and starts headed back to the stage as the floor is opened to residents.

Caspian Dussault has been in the meeting since the beginning, sitting in one of the front rows, listening as the meeting moves through the announcement phase and into the public commentary phase. Dressed in a tailored pair of blue slacks and a matching vest with a yellow tie, he looks comfortable. Sort of. Squeaks is given a smile and a gentle pat as he rises to his feet and makes his way to the line, finding that he's actually the first in line. Thankfully, he's prepared, so when they motion for him to step forward to the podium, he does so.

He leans forward toward the microphone. "Good…" This is said a bit loudly as he discovers the right distance from microphone to mouth to keep from blowing everyone's ears out. "Good evening. My name is Caspian Dussault, and I'd like to talk to the council about a couple of things - one big, one not so big." he pauses, looking to the gathered faces, taking a breath and steadying himself. He seems a little nervous about talking in front of so many people. "I'm the owner of Outside Electric - one of the multiple companies that have been working on a lot of refrigerators and air conditioners in the zone for the past few months." He's holding a yellow legal pad that's flipped to the next page, filled with notes on what he's going to talk about. "One of the things I specialize in are solar installations for large buildings, and I wanted to make my services available to the Council. With the council's permission, I would like to….well…wire up the market for continuous power storage and distribution. Solar power."

The notepad is put down, Caspian standing straight. "The brownouts have been a problem for everyone, and the reason I came to New York is to help people. I can only do so much working on small things, so I was looking for something big to do. I spoke with Miss Burton about this briefly when I was working on something inside the Doyle Museum, and she suggested I bring my offer to the full council."

An offer?

"I would need to take a couple of days to determine actual power usage and do some math, plus some actual planning to be approved by you, of course, but if the council could help with reimbursing the materials cost over time and provide a secure second story room for the battery bank and power conduits, I’ll donate the labor, employ a couple of people to help, and could have the entire market running on solar within a month. Just in time for summer and the inevitable blackouts due to power shortages. This would help the safe zone in general by providing a secure, stable source of power, separate from the grid, would bring in a little money as additional power was sold back to the grid, and would get my name out there as someone who could do this job for people. Everyone wins."

Caspian smiles and steps back a little to answer questions. "Oh, one other thing before we get to the main topic. The graffiti art - the big murals that have been appearing all over the zone? That's me. I did those. Any fines or cleanup fees, I'll take care of, but as far as I know, there's only been one and that's been paid. I'm getting permission now, too."

Greg adjusts his glasses and looks over at Sue who has just settled down in her seat, then turns his attention back to Caspian. “Ah, yes. Well… budgetarily, we don’t have a lot to spread around for something as cost intensive as a solar initiative. I mean, not at fair market value. But from the sounds of it you’d be offering at cost? That’s something we could do a charity drive for, because — and I’ll be honest — our finances are somewhat shoestring with regards to major infrastructural changes.”

“It’s a good idea, though.” Sue notes more optimistically. “We’re lucky here in Red Hook where we have continuous power, but being able to farm supplemental power out to others could be a huge benefit to the Safe Zone as a whole. What I’d like to see is businesses like yours offering cheaper individual installations when possible, but that might require supplementary funding from the city or corporations like Yamagato Industries.” Sue furrows her brows and looks to the others, curious to see what they have to say on the matter.

Joanne does chime in, but not about the solar. “Spray an’ pray, Dussault. I like it. I’m a do-first an’ ask permission later kind of person myself. Hopefully you ain’t sprayed nobody’s favorite car though.” She cracks a toothy smile.

Listening and occasionally writing something down, Raquelle has put back on his glasses, leaning forward with his elbows on the table and turning his attention to the audience participation portion of this shindig. When Caspian walks up to the mic though, his eyebrows raise a fraction as he turns to his left and his right and fans himself, leaning back a bit in his chair to wolf whistle.

Then he’s just cracking a grin and nodding to Greg and Sue, eyebrow quirking and he speaks up, raising his hand a bit. “I’d let him replace my solar panels just so I can see how the sunlight lights up those pretty eyes…” He takes a sip of the water from his wine glass, and lets out a soft ‘whew’.

“But on a more serious note, let me get my thoughts together and say I think it is a very good idea, get some of those smart people we have to figure out how to make it work. Maybe you can see what you can do to get some people, younger people who might want to learn some trade skills from you in return for free labor to assist you with cutting down on the costs and such?” He winks and then ohs, setting the glass down. “Oh! And this baby right here? This gift from god straight to my eyes? He’s a talented artist anybody who complains about his work can come and see me, I’ll be sitting at the Cambria Salon and Day Spa where you can come have a glass of water in a wine glass with me as we wait for Jesus together to get our real wine. If he don’t come first, we can have a chat about it.”

He leans back in his chair and crosses his legs with a nod.

Delilah seems to brighten when she sees Caspian heading to the mic, recalling him from weeks before. He was a nice guy— and knew the kids— so he can't be that bad. She listens raptly, nodding affirmatively with Greg, Sue and Raquelle. For Jo she doesn't really have an opinion on the art— maybe that's how the kids met him?

"I am so glad you could make it to the meeting, Caspian. When you caught me at the swap maybe it was just my luck." Dee's hands are folded on the table, but she grins out at him despite the professional posture. "If you'd be willing to hash out a plan to get some extra funding going for a project like that, I think it would be perfect.” Especially when it comes to storing that extra power.

“While I’m not sure the Market itself needs such a thing, it’s got fairly reliable power considering its location, there are certain many projects that could benefit from sustainable power. So I would definitely on board for coming up with a fundraiser to help assist in this project. A book sale or something of the like. Maybe even one of those auctions that we used to have back before the war. The ones where people bought and sold dates.” That might be a joke from Gillian, but really, the council members could sell facetime, the ability to talk privately with one of the members. It could fetch a good amount of funds.

At the mention of the NYPD roll out, Tasha looks pleased — once a policeman’s kid, always a policeman’s kid, even if she’s now a lawyer and her father is now the secretary of Homeland Security. As Caspian gets up to speak, she nods a few times as he speaks, jotting down notes and of course, more doodles. At least no one really can see them but Gillian or Savannah on either side of her.

“It might take more than a month to get the money even if we were ready to say yep right now,” Tasha says with a smile for Caspian. “Perhaps a smaller-scale project at the market to offset the costs and strain on the grid itself is doable, but an auction is a good idea.” Tasha nods to Gillian.

At the mention of art, her smile broadens. “As long as the buildings you’re putting the art up on aren’t in use, most art’s good by me. But check to make sure you’re not painting on someone else’s property first — I know that sort of defeats the spirit of graffiti; Banksy and Shepard Fairey didn’t ask permission, right? But we’re a community, and I’m sure you’ll keep the community in mind. Even if we artists think we’re beautifying something, sometimes the property owner prefers an ugly brick wall.”

Savannah nods along with what the others are saying. “I’m of the opinion that it’d be a boon. Not in the we-have-power-way but also as a show of community. There would be workers hired to do the job, and a nice symbol that the Safe Zone is rebuilding. I think there’s a lot to be said for the power of hope in these circumstances. People need power, water, cell service. These things are important to make people feel like they’re living somewhere that isn’t just the remnants of a civil war, they can feel like they’re at home. So on top of the practical benefits, there’s a little something extra. Naturally though, as others have said, we’d need a fundraiser of sorts for any additional costs.”

“I’m with Greg on this.” A glance is spared down the table to her fellow councilperson. “Budget-wise, I’m just uncertain we can make it work,” Niki says into the microphone in front of her, apologetic. “But I’m glad to see someone industrious thinking of the community. We’re not unsympathetic to your need to make a living. We’re all in the same boat. It’s a good proposal and we can keep it in mind going forward, and it seems like my fellow council members also have some plans to help facilitate.” She offers a smile to Caspian. “Thank you for sharing your thoughts,” she offers before switching her mic off again and leaning back in her seat.

"It's already a sunk cost for me, Mr. Farkas." Caspian leans in to talk into the microphone, his voice carrying pretty well even without it. "I've got a building on my property that contains enough panels and the like for three very large installs, or one marketplace and multiple smaller ones. "He looks to Sue with a smile. "Just like you wanted, Mrs. Gandry." Then, he looks to Raquelle, giving him a smirk and a shake of his head before he turns his attention back to the full council. "It's all sitting there, doing nothing. I think we could come up with something for funding over time. Mr. Farkas' fundraiser would probably work just fine."

"I wanted to use the market install as a proof of concept - to show people what they can expect, what an install looks like, and show them that it just works, even keeping the brownouts from affecting them. And I'm sure getting a second cell tower in the zone would be easier if we could guarantee uninterrupted power. That's why I'm offering this at below cost. An install like this would be..well, a lot. Depending on the wattage you'd need, which we'd have to research with a 15% bump in usage for overhead, it'd be around $3 to $6 per watt to install, retail. I'm giving you my cost for material and donating the labor. I haven't done /that/ math yet, but the Safe Zone would make out like a bandit on this." He hasn't done this math mainly because he doesn't want to know how much he's giving away, but if I did, it'd be him giving you money to let him install some solar for the zone. Joanne gets a grin. "No cars, ma'am. Just walls. If you've got a spot I can bomb, let me know and I'll make it pretty for you."

"If I can get on some calendars for a quick meeting, I can give you a detailed workup so you know what I'm asking for and offering, and we can move forward with the funding stuff then." Caspian looks to the council, then steps back after a moment. "Thank you all very much."

Former NYPD, Cesar manages to restrain himself to a fist pump for mention of the return of the police. He listens to the proceedings with interest and a smile just from seeing the community coming together, hearing the people supporting each other. It's hopeful.

Upon the discussion of solar power providers conclusion, Cesar steps up to address the Safe Zone community. "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Council, hello. I'm Agent Cesar Diaz with SESA, and I've got a small update about the investigation into the food thefts at the Red Cross depot in Bay Ridge and here in Red Hook."

"At present we have two lead agents assigned to coordinate the investigation. Myself and another SLC-Expressive agent, Agent Cassandra Baumann, are considering as many avenues as possible to determine a responsible party. In the meantime, however, SESA has allocated for the active monitoring of both sites, as a deterrent and steps towards prevention of another incident." Cesar pauses from reading off his notepad, flipping it closed and shoving the pad into a pocket.

"Which really is to say, we're working on it," concludes Cesar at the end of his reading. "And of course, anybody who has further information is requested to relay that through myself or Agent Baumann at this time. Our contact info is readily available through the local SESA offices."

(Jonathan skip cause I don't want to hold up and I can't get to computer.)

“I didn't know we had a SESA representative in the crowd today.” Greg admits with a flash of a smile. “I'd like to take a moment, on behalf of the Safe Zone Cooperative, to thank you for the tireless work your organization does in advocating for the SLC-Expressive population of the Safe Zone.”

“I can't echo Greg’s sentiments enough,” Sue admits with a fond smile. “After the difficult years behind us, it's nice to know there's people out there like yourself who are looking out for us.” Joanne and Mira offer a little applause in response, which moves around the room before dying down.

When Cesar rises to speak, Tasha smiles, perhaps a little encouragingly for the strapping agent. She nods as he speaks, and then glances down the dais to Greg and Sue when they do, then back to Cesar.

“It’s so nice to see you again, Agent Diaz. We appreciate you coming tonight to give us an update — it certainly is going above and beyond the call of duty. I hope you’re getting some overtime?” Her dark eyes twinkle a little. She knows that is very unlikely.

“Let us know if we can be any help. Including if you find resistance from our citizens when you’re investigating a case. I’m sure any of our council members would be happy to act as a liaison if you need one. Public perception is something all of us in public organizations have to grapple with, as I’m sure you’re finding. Us, too.” She gestures to those on the dais with her.

At the sight of the SESA Agent, Gillian Childs smiles, to the point where those dimples in her cheeks are visible. They never went away even as she got older, but at least she doesn’t quietly hate them anymore, like she had when she tended to dress more in black and purple and leather. Now that she’s honeyed blonde and wears mostly business casual suits, the dimples just do a job of making her look young and fresh. Not that she isn’t still young, by many standards. “Thank you so much for the offer of monitoring the storage sites. It will make those who wish to store food feel more secure in the safety efforts we are trying to put in place to make sure such an incident does not happen again.”

She had intended to bring it up herself, in some form or another, but she knew that the Council would be tight on money for that. If SESA helps, though— they can update their systems dramatically. And she can’t help but smile at the man for the offer, as if he personally had been responsible for it. She may in fact think he is, too, considering she’d mentioned it to him during her interview.

“The Council will, of course, offer any necessary assistance to you and SESA.”

Raquelle looks up from his note taking when he sees the Cesar, eyebrows raising a fraction as he tilts his head to the side. There’s a hint of a squint before he just leans forward to comment. “We are trusting you all to do a good job. We’ve been dicked over before by underestimating the risks that exist in trying to create a safe community for all. We were not prepared, but I am hoping with you all involved given what your agency is responsible for will be able to provide a level of oversight that is beyond most of us. So thank you and baby, I’ll be watching you.” He makes the pointing at his eyes and then pointing at the agent motion with his fingers. “And nooot just because you are pretty.” He winks and leans back again in his seat.

Maintaining the professionalism of his position, Cesar nods and dips his head to acknowledge each council member in turn. "We're here to strengthen, protect and serve this community," he affirms to the council as much as the gathered crowd. Tasha note of overtime calls up a crooked smile from the agent, his chin tilting up once at her for only non-verbal comment. Overtime, haha. "So far our agents have not encountered any distinct lack of cooperation, so we're grateful for that," he adds. The comment from Gillian gets a return smile and a firm nod. "What's important is to determine where the vulnerabilities lie and prevent further breaches. Active monitoring, cameras, will help make the storage areas more secure, and hopefully deter further would-be culprits."

A quick pause and a lift of his brows in amusement go to Raquelle for the man's use of diminutive, but Cesar chuckles and reflects the gesture to the other man. He sees you. And finally when it seems like the council's spoken their piece, Cesar wraps his update with a short, "Local SESA offices'll be open for anybody who may have questions or information pertaining to the incidents. Thank you, Council, everyone, for your time and cooperation." Cesar motions that he's also finished for now, stepping away to yield the floor to the next speaker.

Taking her turn to address the council, Lynette smiles at Cesar as they pass one another. The expression turns toward the council as she does. She's still relatively new to the Safe Zone, but many of them are still familiar to her. From the old days. "Hi guys," she says, which is not terribly professional, but it comes with an easy friendliness. "I'm Lynette Ruiz, Executive Director of The Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center." Which is also relatively new to the Safe Zone.

"I wanted to ask the Council's opinion and cooperation on an initiative I'd like to jump start. I'd like to ask residents of the Safe Zone to volunteer their time, if they're so inclined, to teach classes at the facility, to the residents who live there. We have a couple volunteers already and we've seen an encouraging response so far. It's my hope to weave the Benchmark into the community, as I don't see it as only a place for those in need of recovery, but a welcoming haven to anyone here in the Safe Zone. It's my experience that a tight knit community working together can overcome anything, and that is something I am looking to be a part of here."

While Jonathan has been fairly quiet listening to the various people, as Lynette speaks, he leans forward listening. Brown lift a little above the thick black frames of his glasses. He glances down the rows gauging reactions, before he offers the woman an enthusiastic smile. “I, personally, think this is an excellent idea.” Resting crossed arms on the table in front of him, the councilman’s head bobs up and down. “I think you should indeed pursue this…. and I might be able to volunteer sometime on the weekends for something.”

Jonathan glances to the council on each side of him expectantly, seeing if they agree. The bar has been set… the first volunteer had been made… will he be the only one?

When the former Ferrywoman and her former landlady of sorts comes to the stand to speak, Tasha can’t help but smile again. She turns her head to listen to Jonathan’s response, nodding, before looking back and lifting her hand a little, as if asking for permission to speak.

“I’d be game to offer some beginning art courses, both for your residents and patients for art therapy, which I can personally attest to as very meaningful, but to the community at large, if you’re willing to host them. Before I went legal, I was in art school, so it’s something close to my heart and that I miss a little. I can probably give a weekend a month or so, but we have a lot of talented artists, so maybe it’s something we can do on a rotating basis,” she suggests.

“It’s so nice to see you again, Lynette,” Gillian speaks up with a smile, though her main memories of the woman might not exactly be either of their most fond moments. She still couldn’t help but be happy to see her again, looking happy and well. “While I doubt I have the time myself, I can certainly put out word to our many librarians and volunteers in the Libraries to see if they would be willing to go and do readings— I could possibly even donate some books to your own library,” she offers, typing down some notes for herself as she does. She would need to get the messages out, make sure that people set aside excess books for donation to the Benchmark. There are some they have in excess— but not many. It would be enough to add to a small library, though.

“Should I have the time, I can come and help out personally.”

“You know,” Sue glances down the line of council members and then back to Lynette, “I’ve been meaning to teach gardening classes. I think it’ll dovetail well with the hydroponics initiative we’re reaching out to Raytech for. So…” Sue smiles and dips her head into a nod. “You can count me in, Mrs. Ruiz. I’ll be glad to help out over there.”

Greg offers a mild smile and taps his pen on a piece of paper, looking up and down the rows of councilors. “Looks like we have some interest, Mrs. Rowan,” he makes a few notes on his pad. “If anyone else is interested in pursuing volunteer efforts at the Benchmark Center, I highly encourage you to check in with Mrs. Rowan after the meeting. She’s one of our local celebrities and as charming as you’d imagine.”

Looking eager to cut into the long line of people wishing to speak to the council, Greg makes a motion with his pen at Lynette and looks to the woman who wheeling herself over to the microphone. Greg makes a motion to one of the cooperative staff who hurries over and adjusts the mic stand and lowers it down to be at a more suitable level for a woman in a wheelchair. Everyone recognizes the dark-haired woman coming up, and Greg manages to stifle a grimace.

“Ms. Eve Mas,” Greg slants a look down the row of councilors, then back. “What have you got for us today?”

“My council, lords, ladies, concubines, dogs, hoodrats, upstanding citizens and the smelly ones.” Her rasp rings out from the back of the room. The sound of wheels squeaking on the floor proceed the view of the seer dressed in a long beige dress, easy to slip on. Her pale gray eyes are a light and she grins widely towards Gillian. “And to the cutest bean you've ever seen! Hi Gilly,” there's a wiggle of her fingers up at her best friend before her face grows serious. The HBIC license plate swings wildly behind her.

“Back in the days of Easy E… Big Pun.. Biggie (god rest your soul)..”

The seer has been sitting quietly in the back until now, vaping on something.. it doesn't smell like anything so who knows what it is exactly. There was a cough during Lynette’s initial question, the vape was harsh on a woman’s lungs. Her dark hair wild and thrown all around, she wheels herself up to the place to speak. “We would all gather round, bring some food and drink.. and party like it was 1990 baby! Am I right? I'm right, right?” Holding a pale hand out for a high-five that doesn't come, she isn't offended by the wide eyed stare of the man sitting near her. Instead she places both hands on the handles of her blinged out Hell on Wheels chair and leans forward. “A potluck. A god damn block party. I'll secure the treats for the kids, I am looking for a bouncy house. And any volunteers for this endeavor..” She holds up a finger, lifting her nose as well. This is very serious. “I also..” there's a coy look given to the council before her.

“Another point.” Oh no.

“My intelligent, beautiful, powerful, wordy (her books are fabulous) and very serious councilwoman best friend Gilly, has an excellent point about the furry friends.” Eve loves her furry friends, long fur, short fur, white fur, black fur, orange fur you name it. “And so I must propose.. another place. A safe place, a place we must keep secret. Maybe even I shouldn't know the location.” It's said with a cheeky smirk because of course she’ll know where it is.

“We need a sanctuary for a group of our number that is often overlooked. We just use and abuse them. Never really love them, mocking them.” Perhaps that last bit was about her. A pale fingernail taps one of the toy skulls she has glued to the arm handle of the wheelchair. “For the horses!”

There’s a smattering of chuckles across the room and they all receive a narrowed eye glance from the woman. “We must keep the horses safe, they are one of the keys!! Save a horse, save the world. Save a horse, save your mom. It all goes hand in hand!!” She smacks the arm handles of her chair.

Recognizing Eve from the marketplace, Jonathan watches her enthusiastic rants with a look of total amusement. He doesn’t even try to hide it. When she’s done, he gives her a slow clap and a nodding of his head. “Save the horses, save the world, indeed. Miss Mas… I must say that I appreciate your enthusiasm for our equine friends… Though I hope that isn’t a metaphor for something else.” Brows tick up a bit, giving her a pointed look before glancing at the others. “She has a point, horses can take the place of any vehicle in a pinch as history has shown. Though I think that can be rolled into Gillian’s plans.”

She’s watched Eve with a sense of obligation, but Delilah pays attention well enough; she seems to perk up when Eve starts going on about horses, and Jonathan entertains the idea out loud.

“We could try to requisition horses for the NYPD reformation project, if not with the livestock angle.” The redhead turns her head down the line of the others, brows lifting and eyes somewhat hopeful. “There would be grooming and upkeep involved, but I think the benefits of having mounted officers would outweigh any horse pies that escape notice.” Delilah even lifts her hand beside her mouth when she says the last, half-aimed over to Eve. She digs it. “Functioning cruisers aren’t exactly falling out of our ears, either…”

The hairdresser has a nail..file. Yes, Raquelle is idly filing his nails as he listens to the next speaker, eyebrows raising slightly. A hand moves to cover his heart as he laughs softly. “Oh I god this bish is crazy…I love it…”

He studies Eve thoughtfully, nodding slowly as he leans forward. “Yes, you are right. Oh you are speaking my language, you need help with throwing a party, you come and see me darling.”

On to the horses, he bites his bottom lip and then flashes a grin. “Save a horse, ride a cowboy…yes, yaaas. My youngest daughter has a fondness for horses and I have a fondness for rid-” He cuts himself off. “Anyways, I also think it's a good idea, but having grown up around some people who like horses and stuff, we would need to make sure we have a sanitation plan in place because those things, unlike cars, have no problem just letting it all go whenever they damn well please. But yes, exxxcellent idea..”

Then he sits back and blows a kiss to Eve.

“You… want a non-metaphorical horse sanctuary?” Niki’s brows hike up as she leans forward to speak into her mic. For a moment, she’s in disbelief, waiting for a punchline or some kind of dissent. Instead, there’s support for the project and so she slaps a hand down on the table like a judge might bang a gavel. “Why not? I’m sold.”

While at first Gillian looks mildly sheepish, she does nod in thought at the suggestion, giving everyone who mentions metaphor a little glance. Sure it’s funny, but she feels protective of her friend even then. At least they seemed to be taking it seriously. “New York always did have police horses, so it would be a nice tradition to continue.” And she’s fairly sure they had hired people to clean up the horse poop on the street, too.

“And their waste could be used to help our budding farm industry we want to get going, too.” They’ll need to put out requests for people with livestock backgrounds, but there were probably some out there who would be willing to take up a job with the usual government grant, especially if they padded it as a ‘necessary skill set for redevelopment’.

“Thank you, Eve, for the wonderful suggestion.” she offers her friend a smile and a nod.

“Ahhhh! You like itttttt.” Eve thinks she's whispering to herself but she's saying it to the whole room, hands spread and her arms come up. “Thank you my lords, my royal highnesses.” Gray eyes take in the council, “Recycling poo is a great idea for our food Gilly, outstanding idea. You see people,” She regards the crowd with a smile, “When you write books, you have good ideas. And Gilly has good ideas. If we need a president I'm voting for her.” Just an FYI. Not because Eve would enjoy countless benefits being the President’s BFF but..

Save a horse!” Hand goes to point at Raquelle, “Ride TWO cowboys.” She snaps her fingers with a hoot and a eye to eye motion to Raquelle. They speak the same language. “Don't spoil the eggplant. I'm out!” Eve wheels herself around with a wink thrown towards Gillian, the //HBIC license plate swinging freely as she goes. “Gilly I'm making cookies at the house!”

Wheeeeee! Hopefully Chicken is there to help.

“Well, ah… Horses, yes.” Greg offers a lopsided smile and eyes the other council members, seeing they don’t have much else to offer. “Well, it looks like the line is starting to thin, some. So why don’t we take our last few questions for the hour and we’ll break afterward and we can get back to the discussions. So, ah…” Greg squints at the person moving up to the microphone as Eve leaves.

“Well, it’s nice to see the young people of our community so engaged.” Greg folds his hands, offers a brief look to Tuck, and then back to the teen approaching the microphone, expectantly.

If she hadn’t been following Caspian, Squeaks probably would have lurked somewhere in the back of the gathering and slipped out long before ideas from the residents began being shared. There’s so many people, and most of them are super important. And it shows, since they’re all dressed fancy, for business stuff. In contrast, she’s a bit on the plain side and appearing as nothing close to the vagrant child she could possibly be recognized as. Well, except for that head of red, red hair, but there’s nothing to be done about that. She’s been scrubbed clean and put into used but not worn out black jeans and pale blue polo beneath a faded black denim jacket. The clothes hang loose, large but not too large as she’s usually found.

The kid is actually fidgeting with the buttons on the jacket. It’s a nervous habit she’s kept up through the entirety of the meeting, while blue eyes follow each speaker in turn. So many people. So many important people. It’s a little overwhelming, and the anticipation mounts until it’s finally her turn to speak.

Taking a deep breath, she leans way forward to grab what appears to be a tube made from paper. It’s wrinkled and a little weathered, with different colored lines bleeding through. With that in hand, she stands and marches up to the microphone, without looking back.

“Hi.” The girl begins, with none of the varying degrees of formality displayed by those who’ve preceded her to this point. Her hands toy with the roll of paper, unknowingly picking at a small tear as she regards each face she’s addressing. “A few days ago, I got asked by a See-Sah lady about the Underneath. She’s working on maps because of the stolen food and a dead person she found, and she thinks the maps will help solve all the mysteries. And especially finding the food is good. I’m hungry and lots of people are hungry too, so I decided the maps are a good idea.” She pauses and unrolls the tube. As she turns it around so the council members can see, it appears to be a map that’s been traced onto several sheets of paper taped together to make one big sheet. A handwritten heading across the top, only slightly obscured by the hand that holds it aloft, appears to read LEXINTGTON AVE EXREPRESS. From where she stands, the map is marked in places, the colors indicating different things that require notation.

“Plus, they help with a lot of things. And to show everyone, I made this map myself. It’s the Underneath just outside the marketplace.” Squeaks indicates some of the colored places on the map as she continues. “This one shows where you can’t go through, or where other people live. So it’s good for everyone who’s wanting to help the people who live there. But there’s also bad places down there, where you go and you don’t come back. So the See-Sah lady asked me to show her, because she wants to make maps and know where these places are, and I know the Underneath really good. But also, because I’m doing this to help her, that I would help you jury people, too, and take any of you who wants to go also.”

“Love,” Sue flashes a quick look to Joanne, but her focus is on Squeaks. “Are you— in the sewers?” There’s a mixture of horror and confusion in Sue Gandry’s expression. She’s at a loss for words and leans back in her seat and slowly covers her mouth with one hand. Joanne, more composed, leans into her microphone.

“Girl, I’m not sure if that’s a place anybody should be.” Joanne, in turn, looks helplessly at Greg who is already clicking away at a text message on his cell phone. “Whatever SESA might’ve asked of you, the sewers are dangerous and— ”

Greg interrupts, looking up from his phone. “Full of disease, and rats, and diseased rats.” Greg fires a look over to Cesar with brows higher than the frames of his glasses in a pointedly can you please talk to her, officer expression. “Sweetheart, how old are— ” he cuts himself off, shaking his head. “Actually, it doesn’t matter. Ah, I’m…” he looks at the other councilors, flabbergasted that there’s at least one sewer-crawling child endangering themselves below the market

Tasha’s brows lift as she listens, and glances down the dais at her fellow council members. When Greg flounders a little, she clears her throat.

“Maps are a wonderful idea, but we don’t really want to encourage people in going down there — we’d rather work on making the topside a bit more livable for everyone, I think. Including for you.”

Glancing at Cesar, who no doubt is looking nine shades of scarlet after Greg’s look, she adds, “A question we’ll have to ask SESA is if they’re following the proper, legal protocols for using juvenile informants, or, tour guides?” Her voice lilts up into a question. “Cartographers, even. Especially those without legal guardians who can give permission. I’m sure there’s a misunderstanding somewhere, of course.” Don’t make her sue SESA, guys.

The petite lawyer glances back at Squeaks. “What’s your name, hon?”

Gillian seems as perplexed by this as many of the other councilors. She shares a brief look with Tasha before her eyes settle on Cesar in questioning— cause this is probably going to come up if they ever have coffee again, but she waits to see what the answer to the lawyer in the midsts happens to be.

This draws the attention of a certain water sipping hairdresser who sits up straight and leans forward resting his elbows against the table when Squeaks steps up and starts speaking. He waggles his fingers at the teen and winks, smiling toying at his lip. Raquelle’s face goes through five stages: slight eyebrow lift of curiosity, reassuring smile of awww you so brave, jaw set of they asking my baby to do what, and finally the teeth suck and exhale of Jesus give me strength. A hint of pride twinkling in his eyes.

A glance goes to various council people as they speak up and he finally clears his throat, lifting a p shand to waggle his fingers. “Hey sweetheart, how are you?” He nods his head slowly. “Daaaaamn darling, did you make that map yourself? Ladies and Gentleman of the council lemme ask you something…do you not wish your map making skills were as good as hers? Lemme ask you something else…as we are working to make shi-stuff better up here, if someone went missing down there…would we know where to start looking?”

He spreads his hands. “There could be a safer way of doing this but she draws attention to an important point. It's the cracks that people slip through when we are busy cleaning and fixing the street. “Let's make sure that as we are trying to protect the next generation, we don’t ignore the wisdom that only those who have a unique view of the world that we are going to be leaving them.”

He sits back and nods, blowing a kiss to Squeaks and then holding up a thumbs up sign.

“I remember you. You were at Eve’s place… with the olives…” Seems that Raquelle isn’t the only one that seems to have an inkling on the girl with the map. Delilah has been listening closely to the responses of the others to Squeaks’ particular status, and while they have not left her wanting— bless them all— she is the one that leans under the table for her bag. She pulls out a card of her own and a crinkled up bill. Rather than lean out she just steps off of the side of the dais to step over to the teenager.

“Do us all a huge favor, okay? Get something good to eat tonight, and if you need a place to be safe, this is where I live. My name’s Delilah— and I know I’ve seen you at the soup kitchen.” Delilah did kind of help her steal approximately 80% of Eve’s barside martini olives. She’s cool, right? She isn’t going to take no for an answer, if her gesturing has anything to say about it— beckoning Squeaks to hold out her hand so she can put in the twenty and her address.

“That is one hell of a map. You’ve got way more balls than me, that’s for sure.” Technically a compliment?

As questions and eyes turn towards Cesar, those looking in his direction find him to also be staring towards the girl, expression flat, tight, as controlled as he can manage. Squeaks gets her chance to talk while the SESA agent remains inscrutable. He leans forward when she brings out her map, but at his angle he's not able to make out more than what the others can. Tasha's look towards him does catch him fighting a growing scowl. His eyes lift at Tasha's question, briefly meeting the lawyer's, and the agent finally moves his head in the briefest shake. This, apparently, is as much of a new development to him as the rest of them. That look shifts from Tasha to Gillian, and follows a swallow down of whatever's stuck in his throat - the workings of a scowl - to a dip of his gaze in silent apologies. And perhaps a promise made to the councilmen and women, that he'll get to the bottom of it.

There may be yelling. But not here. At least, not yet.

I know the sewers are dangerous.” And she probably knows better than the lot of grown-ups that are seated in front of her. Even though she doesn’t say as much her face sure does. The question of how old she is gets a remarkable look. That’s a rude thing to ask. Squeaks huffs and nearly folds her arms over her chest indignantly. The map in her hand stops her when it crinkles as she starts to move, so she just drops her arms to her sides. The map wrinkles anyway. Annoyance shifts through skepticism and into suspicion. So many questions!

“I lived down there for years,” she tries to cut in. Adolescent defiance tries to find a foothold, but the adults in front of her are spared when Raquelle then Delilah come in with praises and offering support. Not just for her idea but for her too. Their words shock the kid into silence. She’s never been given kudos for anything, and it shows. Blue eyes are wide with surprise, her back goes rigid with sudden unsureness. The hand from Delilah could be a snake going by the look the girl gives it.

She recovers after just a couple of seconds. Mostly. Still bewildered by Delilah and Raquelle’s statements, Squeaks steps toward Dee and accepts the offering. That action brings back an edge of suspicion, and she crams the bill and paper into her pocket and scuttles back a couple of steps. “I know about the rats and that it’s dangerous, but I also know the Underneath really good. I don’t get lost and I know where a lot of the bad places are.” Or she thinks she does. She hasn’t run into anything really bad… yet.

“I don’t have parents who tell me what to do. The grown-ups who used to have me died a long time ago so I take care of myself.” It’s very matter-of-fact. Whoever the grown-ups may have been has as much meaning to the kid as reading glasses to a blind man. “And everyone calls me Squeaks.” She rolls up the map and steps just far enough forward to put the reformed paper tube on the edge of the dais. There, they can look at it for themselves now. Quickly stepping back, she turns to leave not only the speaking area but the meeting space too.

There is a tremendous amount of commotion in response to Squeaks’ explanation of herself. Voices fill the room in murmured side discussions of her tale. Ultimately, Greg tries to get everything back on course with a quick look to Tuck. “Alright, ah… everyone, if we could settle down. This is obviously a— ”

Someone raises their voice in the back of the crowd, and there is a gray-haired woman standing up and leveling a fixed look on Squeaks. She slides out from her middle of the row seat, pushing past a few other people. At the distance what she’s saying can’t be heard, but it’s visibly emphatic. Greg raises his brows when he sees her, leans back and briefly raises a hand to his mouth then lowers it to the table. Finally, once she’s within ten or twelve feet of the microphone it’s clear that she’s been trying to talk to Squeaks.

Though it’s clear she’s addressing Squeaks, the gray-haired and thin woman’s voice is picked up by proximity to the microphone. It’s also clear that she’s been crying. “No, no, no…” she shakes her head, edging in close to Squeaks with a hand raised, as if trying to show that she’s both unthreatening and looking to rest a hand on the considerably younger woman’s shoulder. “You can’t… you shouldn’t… No, no, no.” The council recognizes her, several people in the crowd do as well: Sofia Webb, a mortician and funeral home manager.

“Sweetheart, in the name of everything that is good in this horrible world you… you do not need to live in the sewers.” Sofia’s voice is quavering with emotion, throat tight and jaw trembling. Whatever part of Squeaks’ story affected her so has driven her to get right up out of her seat and just barely restrain herself from picking the young woman up and carrying her over one shoulder. “My wife and I, we have a nice house. Spare bedroom, please. You should stay with us as long as you like. Ingrid could— we’ve got a couple of cats, but it’s fine. You can help at the flower shop if you need to earn a keep. Oh you sweet— you— you can’t just…”

“Someone-” Tasha begins, and then Sofia’s on top of it, already moving to stop Squeaks from slipping off into the night. The woman is given a fond look of appreciation.

“Please, if you know anyone else living down there, too…” she says, aloud, to Squeaks. “We’ll find places for them. I know you’re used to looking out for yourself, but… all this rebuilding of civilization, all this effort — it’s pointless if we can’t help one another when we need it, right?”

Tasha glances to her fellow councilmembers, then back to the teenager, leaning forward earnestly. “Thank you for offering to help us. We do appreciate it — don’t take our concern for your well-being as ingratitude, Miss Squeaks. We want our citizens to do better than just getting by, you know? We want this version of government and community to do better than the last. Please help us do that, by letting us help you.”

It's a story that's been told time and time again, to more people than you'd think. Caspian has heard it multiple times from multiple sources, and Squeaks, sadly is just one of many. He remains in his seat, watching, as Squeaks goes up to speak, says her piece, and makes to retreat, giving the girl a small thumbs up as she retreats from the dias, easily missed if it's not being looked for. But when the woman approaches from the rear, moving towards Squeaks, Caspian straightens, watching, and finally, when she starts drawing close, he acts.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, she's not alone." Caspian finally says as people start to approach Squeaks, pushing himself to his feet after a moment, standing straight and looking to the red-headed girl. Unlike everyone else, he's not moving closer to her at all, instead stepping out into the aisle, giving her an escape route to the mostly empty row behind him. He looks to the council for a moment or two, then back to Squeaks. "I've known Squeaks for the past month and have been offering her as much assistance as she allows me to. Food and laundry mostly. A warm place to sleep sometimes. A table and supplies to work on her map. All her idea, by the way. It was very difficult to get her to accept any help at all.” Caspian admits after a moment, looking to the council again before gesturing to Squeaks. “She’s extremely self reliant and independent, but she is starting to accept a little.” That explains the freshly-scrubbed Squeaks and the clean clothes. “She has a place to stay that’s not in the sewers that’s open to her any time she wants it, and she’s a regular visitor to my dinner table with a few other kids. And I’d really…really suggest not touching her.”

The voices of the crowd and someone behind trying to call the meeting back to order slows retreat a fraction. A commotion was not on her list of things to do when she got up this morning. Usually Squeaks tries to fly well below the radar. Except when she doesn’t and follows a harebrained idea. Like speaking to all these people and letting her mouth run ahead of her thoughts. Which has paid off in all these people making a big deal over things that don’t matter and… and now one of them is coming after her?!

The woman coming toward her gets more of a reaction to start than the words. The girl back pedals, bumping into the microphone and eyeballing Sophia with all the suspicion and unpredictability a cornered cat. “I used to live— ” she starts to yell, but she cuts off when those hands reach for her. Grown-ups can be dangerous if they get their hands on you, so Squeaks twists and writhes away from Sophia, indifferent to her tears and good intentions. “Don’t touch me, I don’t know you!”

Despite the verbal outburst, and the feral tones behind it, Squeaks doesn’t lash out at the woman. “I stay where I want,” she keeps on, shooting a look over her shoulder to those on the dais. “I stay with Brynn and Joe and Lance.” She turns to go the other way, since Sophia has blocked off the way she’d planned to go. But her eyes continue to stare over her shoulder at the council members and Sophia and Caspian, dubious of them and the big deal they’re making.

“There’s people living down there because there’s nowhere else for them.” That’s called over her shoulder in response to Tasha’s question. “They don’t have anything and they’re down there because they can’t be up here.” Squeaks’ eyes dart forward to gauge her distance to the far aisle between seats, then back again. Whether that’s all she knows or not, that’s all she’s obviously saying. As soon as she can, she’s running down that aisle and to freedom beyond the walls.

Delilah already knows that approaching Squeaks with as much as she did was pushing her luck; she’s known people like her, moreso a long time ago. She watches the girl tense up as Sofia tries to stop her, and Dee tries to shake her head to Sofia from down the aisle. It’s not going to work, see? It’s better to let Squeaks decide what she wants— or she’ll just run.

And of course, she does.

She knows there are more than just Squeaks down there— she feeds them from the food banks or soup kitchens when she can— but Delilah still feels the sting of knowing that there are people hiding there. It’s not like the Settler’s trailer park is much better—she is intimately familiar with places such as that. Rather than voice anything more, the redhead ascends back to the table and takes her seat again, brows remaining furrowed as she leans onto her elbows.

Miss Webb,” Greg calls from his seat, eliciting a sudden and sharp look from Sophia that is both surprise and subtle embarrassment. “Miss Webb, I believe— could everyone please calm down? I don’t believe this is a social services event.” The microphone squeals a little when Greg speaks up into it. Sophia, turning to look at Squeaks, curls her fingers shut and draws her hand to her chest, backing away with wide eyes and a mortified look. It’s as though she only now realized what she was doing.

“Could someone please help Miss Webb back to her seat?” Greg politely asks of the crowd, making brief eye contact with Ingrid as he does. Then, breathing in deeply, Greg swipes a hand down his face and exhales a sigh, taking off his glasses and pinching at the bridge of his nose. As he leans back in his seat he looks to Tuck with a helpless expression. Then, turning to the others he says something far enough away from his microphone to not be heard, then leans back in.

“Alright, ah, in light of this disruption,” there’s still people talking in murmurs in the crowd when Greg tries to calm everything down. “I’m moving that we postpone further discussion until everyone can get themselves quieted down. We’re going to take a…” he looks at Joanne who pantomimes five fingers and ten fingers, “a fifteen minute break,” then he looks down to Mira and Tasha, then over to Raquelle and finally back to the crowd. “A fifteen minute recess, and then we’re going to need to talk about the zoning ordinances that the town is putting in place for the Jackson Heights revitalization efforts…”

The crowd continues to talk, even as Squeaks is no longer the focus of their conversation. The revelation that there’s still a subterranean community of homeless and refugees after the formation of the Safe Zone is a surprising one. And the heart of the community appears torn on what to do. As the recess is called, Mira rises up from her seat and offers a look down to Squeaks in the crowd of visitors rising up to stand, and then steps away from the stage. Joanne and Sue also rise, and conversation rises in a murmur among the council crowds.

This wouldn’t be the last council meeting to end in a disruption, but in a way it revealed a part of the Safe Zone community they had been woefully unaware of this entire time. The people who live below the streets, the disenfranchised and self-exiled.

Some would need to see this for themselves.

Some would find more than they expect.

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