A Fool's Errand


emily2_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title A Fool's Errand
Synopsis The list of people Yi-Min can turn to in her search for Kara Prince being smaller than she'd like, she turns to yet another stranger for help.
Date September 13, 2019

In the wee hours of an otherwise lazy Saturday morning, an electronic chirp informs Emily Epstein of a text message from a name she hasn't seen for months now.

Eileen Gray Ruskin.

Red Hook Market, bakery stall, 6pm.
I have a job for you.

That’s all. Any attempts to reply or press for more details are met only with silence. If Emily wishes to find out what the hell is what, there is exactly one way forward. And that’s—

Red Hook Market
6:04 pm

Twelve hours later, the open-air thoroughfares of Red Hook Market are bustling, as befits the tail end of a pleasant weekend afternoon like this one. The wind that dips in from the sky above brings a promise of sweet, general cheer, intermingling with the first gleams of golden lights for the night and a potpourri of rich aromas from the sundry food stalls.

The stall in question, Margot's Bakery (as indicated by the handsomely penned placard set in front), is not difficult to find. It is a relatively new addition to the market, but sits clustered inside the rest as though it has always been there, advertising charmingly laid-out rows of breads, sweet and savory pies, strudels, and other artisanally baked pastries.

It has seen no shortage of passersby, nor customers thronging around it in varying numbers at varying times.

But in all of them, there is no sign of Eileen.

No slender figures that look like her, no sign of the blonde wing that she'd worn on an occasion they'd previously met. Emily's posture settles as she lingers nearby the stand but not at it, thumbing through her phone. In the heat, her hair is tied back in a mess of a loose bun that's pinned to the back of her head. The straps and shape of a dark cami are visible beneath a thin, peach shirt. Pale legs shift back and forth in denim shorts as she adjusts her stance, lifting her head from the phone.

Five minutes late when coming from out of town shouldn't be a concern, ultimately, but she's getting restless. She'd not heard at all from Eileen since the fireworks, and definitely not since news of the explosion near Providence, one that could be felt all the way in New York. Eileen didn't owe it to her to notify her she was safe, especially when they weren't on speaking terms, but she was still relieved that news came, even in the form it did.

The phone sits in her hand with the weight of the message it holds. It was short, to the point in a way that messages from her hadn't been since…

Her brow furrows.

She's not sent me a message like that since she was still Eileen Gray. it dawns on Emily. Her lips thin into a line and she reconsiders everything suddenly. Was it even Eileen she was meeting with at all? In the past, when she'd still been passing requested information and making arrangements, it wasn't usually to Eileen directly.

Furthermore, why change her mind and begin this kind of contact with her again? Why now, especially?

It's too late to be having this sort of thought, but she appreciates abruptly this meeting is somewhere public, assuming this is some kind of trap. She doesn't like persuasives, Etienne had so aptly put it, and the look Emily had seen in Eileen's eyes when they were at the docks …

It's five past. Buy something, and if you're not approached, go home. Emily begins to direct herself internally. She plots a course— escape routes. She keeps her phone in her hand, grip firm, in case she needs to signal someone for help. She predials Devon's number and then shuts off the screen, leaving it flat against her stomach as she approaches the bread stand.

Smiling is beyond her as she walks up to the bakery stand, for all that she tries to be pleasant. The bakeress did nothing to deserve her suspicion, at least. "Hi," she greets, turning her head as she approaches to look down at the wares like she'd not been studying them out of the corner of her eye for the last ten minutes. "I've never been by here before, what would you recommend?"

Emily may find an answer to some of those questions sooner than she expects.

Margot, an extremely kindly-faced woman with her dove-gray hair folded into a neat plait down her back, had risen up from her seat with hands unfolding as soon as she'd caught Emily's interest. "Oh, welcome, love. A recommendation? Hmmm. Well, it depends on your mood, but our mini-teacakes are very popular. Freshly baked here every morning, as everything is." Her eyes flit warmly over to the new stranger who had just quietly appeared by Emily's side at the stall, including them in the address.

Despite the mirroring of warm, if much more reserved acquiescence in the stranger's posture, they— she— does not seem really intent on buying anything. With a gracious and unobtrusive little dip of her head, the second figure excuses herself from the stall to head towards a less crowded spot in the market a modest distance away, but not before murmuring "when you are free," into Emily's ear as she turns on her heel to leave.

That definitely isn't Eileen. The strange woman in question matches her in approximate (lack of) height and slightness of build, but the similarities end there.

It doesn't look like she is going anywhere, either. Emily can feel dark, shrewd eyes on her from that new distance, seemingly bearing all the patience in the world for whatever teacake-related transaction Emily may or may not be involved in to finish.

One that's strained again, through no fault of Margot's own. Emily finally manages a very thin smile when presented her order, taking the bag gratefully. It crinkles under her hand as she slowly turns back, looking in the direction of the woman who'd approached her.

The ice of the young woman's eyes grow flinty in her study, goods transferred from one hand to the other before she approaches. As she begins that way, she pulls the blue-shaded aviator sunglasses perched atop her head free only to set them over her eyes. It's not entirely necessary, but it puts an extra layer between her and this stranger, one which might help if her ability threads into her voice unexpectedly.

Emily inclines her head just so when approaching the other woman. "Eileen sent you?" she asks with a forced lightness, polite as she's able to manage. For all that, she keeps a healthy distance.

"Not exactly. She… is not in much of a state to be sending anyone anywhere, at the moment." As Emily gets closer, she gets a clearer view of not only the stranger's comprehensive physical appearance— a little woman of Taiwanese ancestry, tidily attired in a daisy-white cocoon coat— but her emotional state, more veiled though that is. Beyond her dark gaze is something much more distantly evocative.

A small pinpoint of pain in a sea of calm.

When Yi-Min draws in her next, silent breath, it carries in it the faintest whiff of humorless awareness. "I apologize deeply for the deception," she says, sounding actually apologetic. "Eileen is my good friend. My name is Yi-Min, and we are in need of your help."

The news of Eileen's unwellness brings Emily's approach short, the blues of her eyes invisibly flicking in alarm behind the shades of her sunglasses. Before suspicion and alarm have time to gather and make themself manifest, Yi-Min's introduction stays her retreat.

For now.

"Emily," the young woman says of herself. "But you already know that."

Her weight shifts while she mulls over her thoughts visibly, head turning away while she considers the rest of the market. "Walk and talk," she suggests next, beginning a slow pace across the market in the direction of Eleanor's coffee stand. Unfurling her bag there and getting a cup of coffee could help them blend in just fine.

Not to mention, kept the stranger she faces now from suggesting somewhere more quiet, somewhere potentially more dangerous for a girl like Emily.

A few steps in, her chin ducks and she glances to Yi-Min out of the corner of her eye. Voice softening, she admits, "Last time and Eileen and I spoke, she didn't seem like she'd want my help with much of anything anymore. It's been heading that way for a while now, actually." The accidental reveal of her ability had just been the final nail in that coffin.

"… Is she all right?" Emily wonders, unable to stop herself. "What happened to her?"

"I'm not sure. Neither of us are." A sense of candor radiates from Yi-Min's snow-soft demeanor, cold and bare and open: an offering as much as an act of expression, if utterly impassive either way. In contrast to the care Emily is taking to hide certain reactions behind her sunglasses, the older woman appears to hold few such reservations.

Without a word, she accepts the motion to walk at Emily's side. It was better than just standing around to discuss this, she would agree. Indeed, it seems as though she'd been expecting the progression.

"Something happened in the explosion in the Pine Barrens a few weeks ago. …Well. More than one ‘something.’ Eileen is fine, in the sense that I don't think she is in immediate danger, but something happened to her ability. She is seeing things that are not there, and it is troublesome, to say the least."

Knowing something was wrong and hearing just what are two different things, Emily realizes. Walking in Yi-Min's periphery, she loses some of the distance her shades might otherwise afford her, the paling of her expression in concern impossible to truly mask. She doesn't say anything until they arrive at a standing table by the coffee bar, settling the paper bag of baked goods down between them. Her eyes are on it, like it not falling is somehow very important, and finally looks back up to the other woman.

"What is it you need my help with?" she asks with a stern earnest, one that was lacking before. Where before she wielded the blade of her voice in defense of herself, now it's plain she's ready to know who it needs turned on.

It's Yi-Min's turn to sweep her gaze analytically up Emily's form, meeting Emily's eyes at last like a compromise in the space shared between them. Whatever judgment she apparently comes to goes unspoken.

"There is a woman who vanished in the aftermath of the explosion. We need to find her. I will be honest. I do not expect there is much you can do. But we find ourselves in the strange position of desperately needing extra sets of eyes, especially here in the Safe Zone, and the eyes of Eileen's birds— well." Have been broken, unsuccessful, useless. Pick an adjective, really.

"She's seeing things that aren't there to be seen," Emily supplies, since that answer has already been given to her. It helps slide that context into place, done so with a thoughtful frown. "That's…"

With a shake of her head, she folds her arms against the side of the curved table. "Are you sure they didn't go in the explosion?" That seems like the biggest thing to address first, however unhappy a topic that might be. It had been an event so large the authorities took note, after all. "And… do you have a photograph, anything useful to help me look? Are they from around here, is there any place they're likely to have gone that I could do some calling around to?"

They're off the cuff, lightly asked, but she's settled too strongly on waiting for the answers for them to be throwaways.

If it weren't for the solemnity wrapped up into the way Yi-Min looks at Emily next, quiet and plain, there would probably be some gladness in that small, unsmiling upturn of her mouth. Yes, she has these things, her expression says without saying. She had only been waiting for Emily to verify her own willingness before moving on.

"We are as sure as we can be," she certifies, unclasping the hooks of a flower-engraved leather billfold slowly as she speaks, gazing through it as though it holds her answers. "We have scoured the area so many times, and found the remnants of others. But not her. Everyone who was there was there has now been accounted for, dead or alive, but not her— it is as though she disappeared into thin air."

Between fingers and palm, she offers out a photograph for Emily to take: an idyllically-hued Polaroid that appears recently taken. Inside the whitespace, against the backdrop of a wildly yellow field, Yi-Min clings joyfully to the side of a much taller woman in utilitarian clothing— a blonde woman who is holding her close in turn but with a rather more resigned smile, maybe in direct response to the picture-taking itself. Most of the details of the photograph are crystal-clear, from the faces of both the women to the slight breeze ruffling through the shrubbery behind them.

"But you'd normally see her with her hair done up tightly," the Yi-Min standing in front of Emily remarks, no longer able to keep a tassel of sadness from seeping into the body of her voice. "Her name is Kara Prince, and she does not go in for that sort of nonsense." The nonsense of wearing her hair down, clearly.

Emily's fingers curl and pinch the photograph as she looks down at it, eyebrows kneading together on her forehead— the sunglasses can't mask that bit of her reaction. Whatever she expected from the photograph… it wasn't this.

She feels abruptly as though she's tread on something very personal, something that's not hers to see, even though she's been handed it. Yi-Min's attachment to the missing woman is clear to note, and it creates a sense of burden to what she's already agreed to do. She'll look, of course, but the weight of failure will be so much heavier on her thoughts.

"Kara Prince," Emily repeats back, attempting a clinical distance. She pulls out her phone, flicking the screen unlocked. The photograph is carefully set aside so she can snap a picture of it, then it's pushed back to Yi-Min with a simple glance. From there, she begins a note to herself with the information she was provided so far.

And then she lets the thoughtful furrow of her brow deepen, looking back to the photograph one last time. "I think I've seen her before," she realizes belatedly, airing it quietly, more to herself. She compares the image in her head against the description Yi-Min provides of Kara's demeanor and lets out a huff under her breath. "So she's out at Providence with you all."

Emily turns her head back up, eyes seeking Yi-Min through her sunglasses. The next question is … important, she knows, but it doesn't make it any less delicate of one to have to ask. "Is she, um…" She breathes in before asking as delicately as possible: "Is she like Eileen? As in, if I go digging online or in official records … will things not match up?"

Despite the sorrow now mantling Yi-Min's small shoulders like an invisible shroud, as faint in actual presence as it is heavy with intimation, her voice never once seems in danger of losing its evenness. Her reaction to the last Emily's observations is even a little wry.

"She's exactly like Eileen," Yi-Min notes when the comparison is made, offering a curt nod of satisfaction at being able to address the issue so directly. "If you know about Eileen, about where it is she comes from, then I can safely tell you that my Kara comes from the same place. 'My' Kara versus, well. That other one. God, none of this ever gets any less strange to say." This last sentence, sunk to a sudden dry murmur in volume, feels like an addendum aimed as much at herself as it is at Emily. It would probably sound even drier yet, but for the bittersweet acceptance in it that mutes the color away.

The lack of explanation needed here is something, at least. "Anyhow. I am very glad you understand already. It makes things easier. And if you have seen her already, I am guessing it was right here, at this very market? She would often come here, on the weekends." Conveniently, that should also mostly answer one of Emily's earlier questions.

Being very honest, Emily had hoped to hear her situation wasn't like Eileen's. Any type of reliable paper trail she could leverage would have been useful, and knowing it'd all be unreliable discourages her from doing any searching on that front. Where Yi-Min is relieved she doesn't have to dodge around the topic of selves from alternate dimensions, Emily can't help but frown. Invisibly behind her aviators, her eyes flick around as she tries to build a plan anyway, slowly standing upright again.

"Yeah, I've seen her here before… what I can do is I'll take her picture and show it around to a couple vendors, ask them if they've seen her recently. Ask them to keep their eyes open… leave them my number, and then get back to you if anyone reaches out."

It's not satisfying, but it's the best she could do.

"As for a matter of 'your' versus…" she starts, meaning to say something comforting. Instead, all she comes up with is, "Well, 'my' Eileen's dead. So."

Jesus. That wasn't comforting at all, Emily. In fact, it might've been a stupid thing to say.

With a forceful sigh, she looks away. "But yeah, all that shit is strange. It's starting to get a little unnerving knowing how… how many people like that there are." How to phrase it, she wonders. She feels the need to clarify. "Displaced people." is what she finally settles on.

Looking back to Yi-Min, she circles back to topic by saying, "Listen, I can't make any promises. I'm working now, dealing with my own bullshit besides." A touch of distraction enters her voice, one shed with a shake of her head. "But I'll see what I can't do. All right?"

In the scheme of things, it may have been a stupid thing to say. However, it also elicits a laugh from Yi-Min, even if that sounds gently blunt rather than anything even approaching mirthful. "Don't I know it. She is no less my Eileen," Yi-Min says comfortably, dark eyes flickering sedately over the movements of a nearby passing couple. "She was as close as a sister to me. Her death is a reason I have stayed away." What was the right phrasing? Was? Is? It seems reasonable to assume that Emily, like the others, is unaware of the truth of her Eileen's existence.

It's also delving into a tangled and unnecessary topic. One that isn't what she's here for.

Yi-Min's gaze comes to rest again on the opaque surface of Emily's aviators, quiet with forethought. "Good," is another word she sets down concisely, as though shedding a weight. "I would not want you to make promises you cannot keep. This may be a fool's errand, so to keep an eye out is truly all I can ask. I am beyond thankful for whatever you can do."

Satisfaction is not an outcome Yi-Min had expected, nor would come to expect. But it was probably worth at least noting aloud, "Eileen trusts you. And so, I do as well."

Without meaning to, before she can really stop herself, Emily starts to shake her head. She doesn't think anything she's done is worthy of being thankful for, and she shifts uncomfortably for it. Belatedly does she dig into the paper bag of baked goods, snaking away a miniature teacake for herself and leaving it open between them.

"Yeah," she answers in noncommittal acknowledgement at first, biting down into the little cake. It was good, at least, so she was glad for that recommendation.

"I hope whatever Eileen's going through, that she's able to work it out soon. She's… I mean, she's been through a lot, and that sounds rough." Emily tilts her head only slightly back up to Yi-Min, the movements of her eyes felt anyway in that tick. Swallowing the last of the cake away she wonders, "Was there anything else?"


Is a good, noncommittal enough answer for a lot of things.

Right now is as excellent a time for that vagueness as any, Yi-Min feels. "This is everything," she affirms, meeting Emily's shaded eyes one more time over the top of the bag holding the teacakes. Acknowledgement shines briefly but much more clearly from the space behind her own eyes, like a lone, cool, plangent chord in a song, and this sense of stark mellowness remains even when she turns to depart. "感谢. Take care of yourself, Emily."

Emily doesn't know quite what it is Yi-Min says, but she can infer enough from the tone, from the way Yi-Min looks when she says it. At least, she thinks she does. When the other woman turns from the table and means to head off, she only lifts her head, calling out quietly after, "Yeah, you too," even if it's too late for that message to really be heard.

She looks down at the rest of the small bag of teacakes she bought for herself, brow furrowing. Remaining where she is rather than leaving immediately, she ends up tapping her phone screen again to bring it back to life on the picture of Kara Prince.

As much as she doubts the woman is still out there, she'll keep her word and ask around on Yi-Min's behalf.

It was the least she could do.

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