A Ghost in the Grounds


richard_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title A Ghost in the Grounds
Synopsis In which two watchful souls discuss absolutely nothing, and definitely nobody, of any import.
Date September 14, 2019

Neutral Grounds, border of Phoenix Heights and the ruins of Queens

Neutral Grounds.

The name of this dank, dingy coffee shop squatting on a bare fringe of civilization is either grimacingly awful or quite clever, depending on who one asks. Halfway between a dive and a literal hole in the wall, the little establishment shelters just beyond the far eastern shadow of the Safe Zone like a beetle bravely darkening one tiny corner of a spreading canvas. The view out the bars of the front door is one of collapsed concrete, of the last corners of razor-wire fencing wrapped generously around this particular stretch of the border. Beyond: an abrupt cessation of any remaining presence, or pretense, of law. And ruins, of course. An unbroken landscape of them.

But inside the cramped confines: the perfect rendezvous site for those uninterested, or unable, to pass through the requisite checkpoints into the Safe Zone proper. No ID is needed for the luxury of meeting here under entirely casual yet covert circumstances, and to those with a good reason to make use of the premises, Neutral Grounds had become thoroughly familiar as exactly that.

Nobody really comes here for the coffee.

It is under these auspices that Yi-Min waits within, a small and easily ignorable figure lounging alone at a gloomy corner booth. Her slim hands are clasped on top of one another, resting neatly on the central point of her crossed legs. As another minute rolls by in the relative darkness, she permits her eyelids to wink closed in a manner that suggests she is gently absorbing the details of her surroundings— including the lazy, redolent drift of steam from the mug sitting at a conservative distance away from her— rather than the opposite, shutting them out. She does not appear to have made any move to take a drink yet.

Yesterday, a little bird had dropped a tidbit in the ear of Richard Ray: a mode of communication bearing Eileen Ruskin's obvious signature, among all the Expressives he knew. The style of the wording itself, however, had been altogether unfamiliar. Not so much a summons as an outright directive, phrased as a mysterious but earnest appeal for help— and simultaneously, an offer of unspecified help extended out in return.

In the next and last sentence, even more curt and concise than the first, the particulars of when and where to meet.

Now, she awaits the fruits of that message. From the demeanor of the little Taiwanese doctor, one hand arching straight downwards to scratch at her thigh with one nail, there is no indication she is at all worried that the target of her request would fail to arrive.

She is, no doubt, keeping an eye on the door.

That isn’t where Richard Ray arrives from, however.

The door to the restrooms swings open and he steps out, wearing old, worn BDU pants and a bomber jacket bearing the logo of a long-defunct shipping company called Chicago Air. A pair of sunglasses shade his eyes as he takes in the shop and determines the only person who appears to be waiting for someone.

A casual step takes him over to Yi-Min’s booth, and he slides in across from her, noting, “A little bird told me I should stop by. I’m assuming it’s not for the great coffee.”

For those crucial few moments, Yi-Min isn't actually perceptibly keeping an eye anywhere except the bare tips of her fingernails, eyebrows still arched high. The sparse ghost of a smile touches the edge of her lips when she takes in Richard's arrival, however, just a second before she actually looks up towards him with dark, sharp, expectant eyes.

"This is why I've ordered tea. It is slightly less terrible of a choice here."

The accent altering the fabric of the words is clear to hear, but with far less grittiness or harshness than found in a more typical Chinese accent; it flows from her as facilely as the words do themselves— with a docility that is still somehow jarringly straightforward.

“Are those sunglasses a fashion statement?"

“It’s either that, or a sophisticated computer system that works in augmented reality,” Richard replies without missing a beat, a smile tugging up at the corner of his lips that could mean either of those things are true, “I’ll leave you to decide.”

He leans back in the booth, one arm draping over its top and his other hand dropping down to rest on the seat beside him, “So. What can I do for you? Or, more to the point, what would you like me to do for you?”

"I will assume the latter is what it is, because you look very stupid." If it was merely for the anonymity, that Yi-Min could understand, but wearing sunglasses in an interior that is already dark and hard to see in is on yet another level.

Deplorable fashion decisions aside, however, Yi-Min has other things on her mind. The prospect of Richard's accessories secretly functioning as supercomputers does not appear to have moved in her the least.

"I need your help to find someone.”

At the insult, Richard’s smile lingers, although without being able to see his eyes it’s hard to tell how genuine it is. “I’ve been told worse,” he replies casually, “Much worse.”

A single eyebrow raises at the request, and he answers simply, “Ah. And who is it that you’re looking for?”

"And you likely will continue to hear so, so long as you make such life choices." Is Yi-Min's pragmatic reply to Richard's reply, as she finally stretches out one hand to take hold of the handle of her tea mug. She still abstains from actually picking it up, letting her slender fingers rest loosely around the smooth curve of ceramic.

A tick of silence prefaces a lapse into thought, or at least a state of some apprehension that has nothing to do with the person whom she had invited to sit across from her. At the minimum, she had certainly ceased to even feign interest in anything to do with Richard's appearance.

"Someone who vanished," she says at last. "On August 30th."

Richard breathes out a low chuckle at her words, and then he leans forward, resting one arm on the table and sinking his weight down onto it. His eyebrows going up a bit over the edge of his sunglasses as he regards the woman across from him steadily.

“While I can make some guesses based on that,” he dryly observes, “Without a name there’s not a whole lot I can help you with.”

Yi-Min is getting there, Richard! Hold onto the seat of your unfashionable pants please.

"Her name is Kara Prince. She disappeared from a forested area of New Jersey roughly eight miles outside of a little settlement called Providence. Nobody has seen a trace of her after something destroyed everything in that half-mile radius. She is not among the bodies that were found there, and to— disappear without a word is not in her nature."

The way Yi-Min is looking at Richard now, one brow lifted just a few hairs above a gimlet stare, she clearly expects him to already be well-informed about this subject; reciting off the details of the incident is more of a formality than anything. In contrast to the way he had last spoken to her, she is not in much of any mood to play coy.

“I’m aware of the incident,” Richard replies, his lips pursing slightly, “It’s possible that her body was utterly annihilated; if she’d entered the anomaly - willingly or otherwise - there wouldn’t’ve been anything to find. At least not in this quantum string.”

He brings a finger up, then, tugging the shades down the bridge of his nose enough to look over their edge; eyes that are almost completely pupil with just a hint of white at the corners considering her. “But Kara… Prince you say. May I assume you’re not talking about the astronaut?”

"You may indeed," Yi-Min says in a slightly more clipped tone, her only outward reaction to the notion that Kara might have been annihilated by the anomaly completely. The chill of her composure is somewhat telling, though of what is not quite as easy to tell. It may be that this is a possibility she had already thoroughly contemplated. "This is not that Kara. The one I am interested in most certainly never became an astronaut, at least to my knowledge."

Growing reflectively still, her gaze flicks stonily right over the top of his sunglasses onto his own, as though this exchange between the two of them were a totally normal one. "I would like to find evidence of what happened to her. We had eyes on the incident, but there is nothing to reveal what happened to her."

That earnest grip on her mug handle closes into more of a curl, and her breathing slows, just so. "This knowledge must be found."

The shades are pushed back up, Richard’s hand sliding down to press a thoughtful knuckle against his lips. “She’s from the Pinehearst string, then,” he murmurs, “I wondered where she might have ended up after— anyhow— ”

A dismissive motion of his hand waves away whatever very interesting thoughts he might have been having there, “I’ll see what I can find out. There’s only one person that I know would be able to find her for sure but… well, honestly even if you could find him he’s more likely to kill you than help you find Kara.” He leans back a bit, “I’ll keep an ear and an eye out for her, however. Given her… likely resemblance to the astronaut, if she appears, she’ll probably pop up on someone’s radar.”

These are two very intriguing tidbits that Richard has just dropped here. Yi-Min's hand does not move from her thoughtful pause, as though trapped in its arc of motion. "Pinehearst," she can't help but murmur just under her own breath, staring into the most current wisp of steam as it rises upwards from her mug towards her face, eyes seeing something well beyond the hot liquid altogether.

That isn't a word she had associated with Kara any more than 'astronaut.'

But there are more pressing matters still than that of her own curiosity. "Who is this person whom you speak of, and how may it be possible to find him?" At this point, there is really no possibility that seems too strange to Yi-Min to try. The fact that she is here in the first place, speaking to someone who is probably not too fond of some of the residents of Providence, already speaks to that in a certain form.

“Once upon a time there was a girl that could find anyone, anywhere…” Richard’s tone becomes somewhat wistful, his head turning to look out the window, “She was young. A sweet girl. Samson Gray killed her and took her ability. He can find anyone, but good luck convincing a serial killer to help you. If you figure out a way, let me know, I’m looking for someone too.”

He shakes his head, regarding her seriously, “I don’t advise that course. I’d keep ears and eyes open and listen to whatever outlets you have access to. Hell, it’s possible she’s back in her original timestream. Without knowing more about what opened the anomaly…”

That is something that Yi-Min does know, in point of fact.

And that is something that Yi-Min won't be telling the likes of Richard.

Not at this juncture. And just maybe never, though future roads look less certain.

"Your company does not have access to any kind of monitoring or investigative equipment that would be useful?" she inquires, finally elevating the tea-laden mug to her lips to take a single sip from it. At long last. Even then, it’s still an action performed with a respectable measure of reserve: she is thinking. "I know you have some past experience dealing with— phenomena like this one. You, as in Raytech. Anomalies, portals, extradimensional matters." Yes, this last one is what we're referring to Kara as now. "This is why I came to you, if I am being honest."

After a pause, Richard leans forward to rest his arm on the table. “Obviously. It’s why your friends tried to kill us all,” he notes in dry tones, “But to be entirely honest — we’re working on it, but we haven’t cracked it yet. We’re taking it slow because honestly I’m worried about that particular Pandora’s Box. The Compass technology once resulted in our people being rounded up, registered, killed by the scores.”

He grimaces, “I don’t want that on my conscience regarding any dimensional refugees.”

"Disappointing, but I understand."

In the line of work that Yi-Min does, she does occasionally forget that other people in fact place a priority on things like casualties. Refugees. That certain numbers are, when viewed from a properly adjusted angle, more than numbers.

Once her mug is perched back down on the table again, she performs a singularly lackadaisical shrug, less in reaction to that particular reminder than to Richard's dry accusal re: Sunspot. "I was not yet around in Providence then, and I had no control over what my friends chose to do that day," she says, unaffected tone implying she has no real judgmental stake in the affair to speak of, either. "When was the last time someone came into contact with Samson Gray?"

“If you really want to find Samson, go back home,” is Richard’s response, one shoulder lifting in a shrug, “Eileen would know better than I would. If Gabriel’s finally crawled out from under a rock and found her, he’d know even better than her. Whether or not they’ll help you find him is another story. They’d probably try and discourage you too, but…”

A faint smile, eyebrows raising a touch, “God knows I didn’t listen when people told me not to go find Elisabeth. So I can appreciate the tenacity.”

"Gong gu gyanh dou tei," Yi-Min breathes with some derision lightly beneath her next exhalation, though it seems more in the silken, mellowed manner of a sigh than anything approaching the force of a true exclamation. Satisfied that this is just about all the help she's going to pry out of Richard Ray on this front, she drums her fingertips meticulously on the stained wood of the table, at last leaning back in her cushioned seat to stare at him through those unhelpfully opaque lenses of his.

From the way she’s resettled, her upper half is swallowed into a shaft of gloom, and her own expression becomes somewhat harder to discern as a result. "I thank you for the suggestion. I'll talk to Eileen about this. In the meantime, there is… something else that I summoned you here for. Something of slightly greater general importance."

At least he didn’t charge her for what information and assistance he had to offer — giving it freely when asked. Richard’s shoulders rest back against the booth’s cushioning, his head turning to look back across the room and ensure there’s nothing threatening going on before sunglass-guarded eyes return to her face.

Gloom is easier for him to see in than light.

“Alright. What’s on the table?”

The lack of anything for asked for in return had not slipped beneath Yi-Min's notice, but she has no reason not to operate on the assumption that it would be a temporary deferment at best. She is accustomed to dealing with people whose offers to help do not come freely, or at least, not as freely until there is some payment evident, some trade of favors involved.

There is also a reason why she had kept her own silence on the subject up until now: because it overlaps conveniently with what she is about to say next. Without breaking the comfort of her posture, she lifts her tea one-handed to her lips again for an even more unhurried drink. This time, it takes several lingering seconds.

"What could be on the table between us, Richard, is rather a lot of things. But this is as good a place to start as any there could be. I suspect you are familiar with a man named Dr. Zachery Miller."

“I’m familiar with Doctor Miller, yes,” Richard replies in careful tones, head canting just a little to one side, “He’s been operating out of Providence recently, from what I’m given to understand.”

His brow lifts a little higher, over the edge of his shades, “What about him?”

"You're more than just familiar with him." Just a casual corrective remark, before Yi-Min continues on. "In the future, you may want to improve your vetting process when you hire on your employees. I am making a genuine suggestion. You are not the only one that he has recently had."

There is a distant quality evident in Yi-Min's expression, a muted thing that is barely visible beneath the way that her eyelids are hooded. Below it, she graces Richard with a smile that does not contain humor. "Adam Monroe is another name I suspect you've heard."

There’s no confirmation or denial regarding Richard’s awareness of Zachery or his relationship with the man mentioned. There is an eyebrow that arches upwards over the edge of those shades, a query in and of itself.

“I’m quite familiar with Monroe, yes,” he admits, “We’ve had… interactions in the past.”

Such a neutral word for such a complicated man.

Richard's chariness in this situation is understandable to Yi-Min. It is a dance to which she also knows the steps well, and she is unbothered by watching his performance of it.

"I know," she utters with naturalness, taking another sip from her tea. "As have I. He is a figure that has touched the lives of many."

Clnnk, smoothly but squarely, goes the base of the cup back down onto the wood.

"This is something that I am offering to you in good faith. Our interests align more closely than you realize, at least in this alone. Keep an eye on him, for I do not know if there is something he wishes to gain by being in your employ."

“I don’t suppose,” Richard replies with a turn of one hand upwards and a shrug of one shoulder, “You have any more details about what you’re suggesting.”

His lips twitch ever so slightly, “It’s easy to make a vague connection. By your own admission, both of us could qualify for the same suspicion.”

There is a thick silence that falls after Richard says this. For a moment, the shroud of isolated sounds they sit interred in becomes more obvious to their ears again. The rustle of the edges of a newspaper from several booths away. A murmuring cough farther in the background, purportedly unconcerned. Yi-Min gazes at Richard with a heavy calmness that matches her tone when she next speaks.

"I say, often enough, that words by themselves mean relatively little. But nonetheless I require a good assurance from you that these words will not, under any circumstances, leave this room, before I am anything more than vague. I am taking a great risk merely by having said what I have. You are an unknown factor, and were this not a situation of import…"

After the trailing way she says this, Yi-Min closes her eyelids, and there in the shadows there is just the faintest imprint of tiredness behind the primness, the precision of her demeanor.

“I’m not as much of an unknown factor as I used to be,” Richard observes with a hint of dry humor, “Sometimes I miss that. I was able to take advantage of that. These days…”

He shakes his head, hands spreading ever so slightly upon the table’s edge, “I’m not a man that betrays his sources, or doesn’t return favors. While I can’t promise the words won’t leave the room - information that can’t be used is useless - I can assure you that the source won’t be revealed to anyone.”

Brows raise slightly, “I have enough enemies without going around making more.”

"You are an unknown in that any breach of trust in this is potentially very dangerous to me. More, to what I work for." Yi-Min seems to accept this correction from Richard, succinctly tacking onto it herself. Her eyes have re-opened by this point, and once they do, there is no trace of anything inside them but their former sense of remoteness.

But she also seems to accept Richard's assurance for what it is. "Fine," she begins with that same concision, as though she has no choice in the matter. "You should know, first off, that I am a researcher in the employ of Praxis Heavy Industries. I have been so for many years." This part of it is not really secret; Richard could have gone to any number of well-informed people inside Providence to learn the same thing. However, it is also a necessary base frame of reference for what she prepares to say next.

Her gaze remains cold.

“Alright,” Richard says, chin dipping in a slight nod to the woman. No real surprise there, nor judgement - Praxis is, after all, a rather large business, and even Raytech’s been known to have (minor) dealings with them.

A hand comes up, sliding the shades from his face - folding the arms carefully, he tucks them into a pocket before meeting that cold gaze of hers once more. If there’s an iris to his eyes, it’s hard to tell in this light - the pupil takes up most of it, swallowing color and light, dark circles in the paler whites as he waits for her to continue.

Maybe he isn’t just possessed of a poor fashion sense.

With the same businesslike alacrity, Yi-Min wastes no time in drawing a line between the two dots she had placed. "Just how long this has been the case, I am not too certain, but Adam Monroe wields a tremendous influence inside the internal workings of Praxis. Not several weeks ago, he entrusted Dr. Miller and I with the execution of a project that will precipitate a great deal of damage should it come to pass. I intend to ensure that it does not." Her solemnity in this is still so subdued as to almost be but a suggestion, but it is irrefutably there, lacing every word she says like the line of a cold blade.

Yi-Min delicately leans into the space between them, threading her fingers together before her chin. The nature of her gaze does not change, though she certainly notices the evolution in Richard's own; in the dark, with his gift, he can see the edge of her mouth curl in the tiniest, internal note of knowingness at this. "I know vagueness is not what you wish, but I cannot give you more actionable data than this. In the future perhaps, but not yet. I am sorry. It is much to take on trust. Yet, understand my position: I am ideally situated to continue gathering information from an inside perspective, and this I intend to do for as long as I possibly may. I cannot run the risk of you, or anyone else, jeopardizing all I am doing before I am ready. I merely need another set of eyes on my 'colleague,' from an angle that I do not have access to."

Raytech, clearly.

“Yes, that…” Richard brings a hand up, pinching the bridge of his nose, “That sounds like him. He’s good at that. He once tried to kill most of the planet with a bioweapon, you know.” Did he, asks the voice in the back of his head, suddenly doubtful. Or was that part of the redaction?

“Of course, I’ll have to start digging myself,” he notes, a bit dryly, “But I at least appreciate that someone’s working to prevent whatever idiotic apocalyptic scheme he’s got going this time.”

Without losing much of the sharpness in her visage, Yi-Min lets a definite note of wryer appreciation unveil into the ambience behind her next actions. "I have to admit, there is probably something to be said for the fact that I keep finding myself in situations exactly like these," she says with a drollness that more closely matches the pitch of Richard's. Only on the opposite side of the fence for her, this time around. She does not elaborate this aloud.

Another drink from her mug, more matter-of-fact in tone, as though she had just remembered it was still there after setting it down on the farthest periphery of her memory. "But, yes. This is no less than what I would do," she states, of the digging. "Just please. You strike me as a man who is very good at being subtle. Pray: be so, here."

It is difficult to really convey just how much depends on it, but that understated glint in her eye does a fairly good job of suggesting the scope.

“I can be quite subtle when I have to be,” Richard replies with a faint smile, giving his head a subtle shake, “I don’t think Adam even knows what happened when he worked with me, actually, so it’s probably for the best it stays that way.”

One hand lifts carelessly and then falls, “So, of course, we never had this conversation. We’ve never even exchanged names.”


Yi-Min signals her assent, and her taciturn acceptance of Richard's words, with the descent of a soundless smile in turn. "Of course," she notes with a studious kind of demureness, as though taking this dissemblance of his very, very seriously. "And I certainly won't be contacting you at any point in the future, or expecting any such thing from you."

How could she? They had never spoken before. Never met.

What a perfectly odd phenomenon, how adversity didn't bring people together.

“Anything else?” Richard crooks a brow up, picking up his shades and slipping them onto his face, “Or should I get out of this poor stranger’s booth and let them get on with their lunch?” Humor, there, but with purpose.

Cupping the very loose clasp of her interlaced hands around the sides of her mug, with whatever level of tea still remains inside of it (at this point, not much), Yi-Min looks up at the re-spectacled Richard at an angle as quizzically, flawlessly oblique as the mildly exacting expression she now wears.

"Who are you, and what are you doing in my booth?"

That should probably answer that.


Richard spreads his hands, eyebrows going up over the edge of his replaced shades.

“I’m nobody.”

He leans forward slightly, “Just a ghost.”

The light seems to turn from him, shining everywhere else but plunging him into gloaming until there’s just a silhouette that… sweeps away like a wind had blown it fluttering over the seats of the booth and the table. A shadow there and gone.

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