A Girl's Praxis


adam_icon.gif joy_icon.gif squeaks_icon.gif

Scene Title A Girl's Praxis
Synopsis Squeaks has made her choice.
Date July 1st — July 27th, 2019

The sound of aircraft has become commonplace.

Standing on 43rd floor balcony overlooking the military-industrial complex of Praxia — an island that was once the city of Alameda prior to the Second American Civil War — Jac Childs has stepped into another world. The California sun and heat is unlike anything she’s experienced in her young life, but the beauty of the San Francisco bay is also unlike anything she’s experienced. The island of Praxia is a sprawl of factories, airstrips, squat concrete buildings, and shipping ports. It is trafficked by thousands of automobiles and spider-like drones that perform automated construction, fabricating houses from seemingly thin-air. In the two days since she arrived here, she’s watched half a dozen houses constructed across the divide of the San Francisco Bay.

In the distance, the derelict arches of the Golden Gate Bridge reach northward into untamed wilderness of rolling hills and dense forests. But that ruined bridge connects to a place where life itself is becoming anew. The California Safe Zone occupies the northern end of a peninsula across the bay from Praxia. It was once San Francisco before the war, but in the wake of years of fighting little remained of the once-storied city except the bombed-out shells of buildings and evidence of humanity’s inhumanity to itself.

In the years that have passed since the war, Praxis Heavy Industries has worked to rebuild everything, starting from the city’s northeast corner and gradually expanding southwest. From her balcony, Jac is now seeing the fruits of all that labor. For the last day, commercial airlines have been coming and going from the small island called Passport located between Praxia and the Safe Zone, shuttling in thousands of settlers coming to be the first residents of the second Safe Zone in America. Families, pets, whole lives returning to a place that was once little more than a ruin. It is, at times, hard for a girl of her age to reconcile this renewal with the world beyond the walls of the Praxis Ziggurat that looms over this industrial island.

But if nothing else, she’ll have all the time she needs to adjust.

Praxis Ziggurat



July 1st

7:32 am Local Time

Stepping inside and out of the sun, Jac is welcomed by the cool climate-controlled air of her apartment. It is nothing like her arrangements were back in the NYC Safe Zone. Inside the Praxis Ziggurat her world is both larger and more confined all in one. Her residence is a concrete-walled apartment in a richer brown shade than any concrete she’s accustomed to. The floors of the two bedroom apartment are cooled by forced-liquid coils that seep away the California heat. The entire west-facing wall leading out to her spacious balcony is an angled wall of subtly tinted glass hanging with potted plants and iron trellises adorned with tropical, flowering plants.

The living room she comes into has a recessed sitting area in the middle of the floor with cloth-upholstered couches in a circle around a round repurposed wood table that may have at one time been a large tow-cable spool. The aesthetic of the living spaces is a strange juxtaposition of industrial and recycled ephemera. It isn’t what she anticipated. But the ultra-modern conveniences are hidden all around her. Voice-activated controls for ambient radio, a television that retracts from the ceiling that actually receives television channels brought in through satellite connection. Primarily international, but more than she’s ever seen in her young life.

Books, too, are in abundance. A shelf by the doorway to her spacious bedroom is stacked with select books on philosophy and science that Adam hand-picked, books on poetry and art and wild animals from Joy, and then an entire shelf of books that they let Jac pick for herself. The door locks from the inside, everyone knocks and waits for permission to come in. They are, more than anyone, treating her like an adult.

Adjusting to that, too, is taking time.

A breath of cool air is drawn in, like a much needed stretch for all her insides, and then it's slowly let out while her eyes wander over the furnishings and all of the things that have suddenly become hers. She doesn't marvel at it quite as much as she first had. The excitement has worn away a tiny bit with her first few sleeps and mornings as homesickness rudely reminds her of all the changes.

Her head shakes at the room with its fineness. No sad thoughts this morning. The ache for her family and her old bedroom remains, but it's dull now. Like the pressure behind your eyes after not enough sleep.

Another breath of cool air fills her lungs, and Squeaks crosses the living room. She climbs over the back of the couch and drops into what's become her spot since the very first minute after she was given the apartment. It's almost the best seat for watching the television when sitting up, and perfect when sprawled along the cushions. Her hand reaches into the cushions with movements that mimic anyone else searching for the television remote, but it's the small cellular phone that she liberates from its depths.

A thumb hovers over the power button. Seven days is a really long time, and in all of those days she's never had so much as an attempted signal connection on the device. Squeaks taps the pad of her thumb against the button slowly, then slides the device into the space between the cushions.

As her hand comes back empty, the teen takes both to rub her face and chase away the last lingering tentacles of sadness. “This is home now,” she reminds herself out loud. “Until it isn't anymore.”

Grasping onto that understanding, she pushes herself off of the couch. There's a lot more building to see, more places to find. And maybe even she could finally talk her way into some of those secured areas. It might happen. Squeaks steps onto the couch and over the back again, on her way to the door and her new world outside the apartment.

Golden Gate Memorial Park

Sunset District

California Safe Zone


July 2nd

5:37 pm

Before the war the San Francisco Presidio was a series of verdant, rolling hills interspersed with million-dollar homes, historic sites, museums, and an abundance of wealth and culture. Now, from one sandy beach to the next the entire two mile wide stretch of city is a reminder of the horrors of war and the chance at renewal to come.

Every single building on the hills were long ago laid flat by bombing raids, then later bulldozed to the ground by Praxis Heavy Industries. Now, there are miles of manicured grass lawns, stands of tall shade-giving trees, and where the Golden Gate Welcome Center once stood, in view of the rusting remains of San Francisco’s most iconic landmark, is now a forested memorial. A black marble wall winds around a quarter mile of park land, etched with tens of thousands of names of confirmed dead and missing from San Francisco alone.

It's here that Squeaks stares into her own reflection, mutely shown in the smooth polish of the marble. Behind her, Joy is just a dark silhouette in the stone. They had come out here for a day of touring the new Safe Zone and getting some time away from Praxia and the ziggurat. She very purposefully wanted to show Squeaks this memorial, even if the sheer scope of the tragedy may be hard to comprehend.

“The spoils of war,” Joy says quietly, resting one hand gently on Squeaks’ shoulder from behind. “This is the real price.”

The names and reflections are an unfocused blur. The New York City Safe Zone has a memorial wall too, all covered with names of people who were dead or just never seen again. The importance of it isn't completely lost on her — she's heard how it's necessary to remember the past so the same mistakes aren't made in the future. But Squeaks isn't certain how to feel in the moment. Dead people are dead, and she'd argue that they can't come back, except now they can somehow.

Joy’s voice brings the engraved names back into focus. Shifting her feet slightly, the teen lets her gaze wander. Her eyes draw to the familiar shapes of letters, without recognition of any name specifically.

“It’s a lot of people,” she points out. There's a hint of question in her tone. Squeaks raises a hand to trace a carved name at eye level. As she reaches the last letter, she tilts her head to look up at Joy. “A lot who didn't have to die. They could have just… not hated or…” Unsure of what else, she fills in the dangling thought with a shrug.

“Most of them didn't fight,” Joy says quietly, coming to stand beside Squeaks rather than behind her. “Many of the dead were civilians, people hiding in their homes hoping for the fighting to stop. But it didn't. The entire city was destroyed, and those who didn't — or couldn't — evacuate died for it.”

Joy mirrors Squeaks’ gesture of touching a name on the wall, then slowly lowers her hand. “But I wasn't here when that happened, and I couldn't save anyone.” Eyes falling shut, Joy takes in a deep breath and lowers her hand from the wall, blinking open her eyes and settling a look on the young girl beside her.

“What does this place make you feel?” Joy asks, a hint of determination behind the forcefulness of the question.

Contemplation pulls Squeaks’ expression into a light frown, and her eyes seek out the wall again. Not everyone named was fighting, or even agreed with the reasons for the war. Somehow she knew that before. She didn't fight, she hid far under the city or stayed way away from the sounds of yelling and heavy machines and guns. Lots of people did that too, there were a lot of camps in the Underneath with people trying to escape the war.

Somehow, though, hearing it said out loud makes it more real. It wasn't just in the little corner of the world that she's from but here too. Probably other places.

“I don't know,” couldn't be a more honest answer. There's a lot of feelings that come from better understanding the purpose of the memorial. The girl takes a half step forward and splays a palm against the cool surface, palm and fingers touching a half dozen strangers. For a minute she looks at those names peeking out from behind her hand.

“Maybe mad. A little anyway.” Squeaks turns her head and looks up at Joy. “Mad that there had to be a war. Sad because people died that shouldn't have.” Her hand slips from the wall and she steps back so she's beside Joy again. “And… also scared that it could happen again.”

Joy makes a soft sound in the back of her throat and looks over to Squeaks. “Wars happen, and all too often the people who could forestall them aren’t in a position to. That anger you have, the feeling of helplessness at preventing what’s already come to pass… that feeling is natural. That’s empathy. Empathy for all of the senseless death, for the suffering inflicted on the undeserving. On the innocent.”

Turning her back to the wall, Joy looks out over the rolling parkland of manicured lawns, benches, and trees. “Kensei— Adam— has been alive for over four hundred years. He’s lived through every war in modern history, often times directly participating in them. That isn’t to say he’s been an altruist with his choices, but…” Joy furrows her brows and looks back to Squeaks. “He’s gained and lost everything across lifetimes. He’s seen wars rise and been indifferent, he’s seen wars rise and tried to stop them. In the end, there is… inevitability. Hopelessness…”

Unsure of where she was going with that, Joy turns to face Squeaks with a shake of her head. “Take that ball of anger you have, and imagine what it would be like spread out over that long a time. Imagine losing everyone you love, over and over again. Imagine losing your self, forgetting who you truly are and where you came from… and it was the people you trusted most who inflicted that on you.”

Joy looks down to the ground and crosses her arms over her chest. “Then, you might understand Adam.”

Squeaks watches Joy, listening with a concentrated effort to understand. She might never fully grasp what she's being told, but she's trying. Because she wants to know. Her gaze wanders to the parkland when Joy finishes speaking and looks down. Worry that she couldn't explain if she wanted to etches through her expression.

For a minute, she doesn't say anything. Silence helps the words sink in, gives her time to feel just a little bit of the weight Adam probably always feels.

“Can…” the question stalls, and the teen slides a side-eyed look up at Joy. She reaches up, laying a finger very lightly against the woman’s arm. “Can I… that's not what I would do. I won't. Because it wouldn't help and I want to. I want to help him.” It sounds like a question as she says it, but Squeaks’ gaze is steady and honest.

The earnest innocence of Squeaks’ response elicits a flash of both guilt and nervousness in Joy. It's quick to pass, replaced by a wan smile and an aversion of her eyes. “You can't always help people,” she admits quietly. “Sometimes, no matter how much you want to save someone, there's no way to do it.”

Swallowing audibly, Joy looks back at Squeaks. “It’s— ” She stops herself from saying something she'd regret later. Instead, Joy gently rests a hand on Squeaks’ shoulder again. “Come on, we should go see the zoo. They're bringing in the deer today.”

“I know, but…” Squeaks cuts off her argument before it can really get made when she feels the gentle pressure of Joy’s hand on her shoulder. If they were closer in age, like with her friends, she'd push her point until it was understood. With Joy she keeps her sound reasoning to herself.

There has to be a way, and she will find it.

A sigh follows the redirection and the girl turns a doleful look to the open green space. As much as she'd like to see the deer, she also wants to ferret out all of the things Joy isn't saying. But, like with the arguing, Squeaks lets it go for later. She looks up at Joy and nods. “Are there lots of animals there now? Can we see all of them today?”

“Not as many as there will be,” is Joy’s soft spoken response as she takes one of Squeaks’ hands in hers.

“But there's enough for now.”

Praxis Ziggurat

Floor 42, Wing-C

July 3

10:17 am Local Time

The Praxis Ziggurat is a city inside of a building. It is so large that a light rail system traversed the outer perimeter of each of the first ten floors. The first ten floor are public access, with shopping centers, indoor parks, and restaurants. Above that are the corporate levels where Praxis Heavy Industries operates, full of office spaces, conference rooms, and IT departments.

The final five floors of the ziggurat are reserved for executive use, and what happens there is largely unknown to even the Praxis Heavy employees. Adam Monroe May ostensibly be in charge, but he has kept that fact a secret from the majority of the company he has a controlling interest in. But in the spaces where he has freedom to move, he is king.

Squeaks, less so.

But her freedom to maneuver is largely split up between the upper few floors and the lower public venues where she can simply blend in. Even then, the ziggurat is so large that she has only seen a fraction of it in her time here. It makes wandering the halls of the upper levels where she doesn't need a handler or chaperone appealing. It makes new discoveries all the more exciting.

Like what was behind this one door.

The space is wide open and the floor made of polished wood. An entire wall to the left of the door is a mirror nearly sixty feet long with seams every fifteen feet or so. The opposite wall is angled as it abuts the exterior of the ziggurat and is simply a gigantic window. In this brightly-lot space catching the morning sun, Squeaks finds not a spacious and empty room… but Adam.

In the middle of the open space Adam is alone. His gray workout sweats look well-worn and old, and it's unlikely he attended Harvard University in spite of the college’s logo across his pale gray hoodie. He's moving in sharp, quick motions, holding aloft a sword made from four strips of bamboo bound together with strips of cloth. He brings the sword up over his head, pauses, cuts in a downward arc then swings it to the side. Then up again, then a pause, and he repeats the motion with mechanical fluidity.

“Come in and close the door,” Adam projects as his sneakers squeak across the wood with each shift of his footing, “if you're staying.”

If it wasn't known before she appeared on their doorstep that exploring would happen, it's likely known by now. Squeaks hasn't kept it a secret but she hasn't gone talking about. Maybe from fear that she'd be made to stop or find herself with a babysitter all the time. That’s probably also why she looks faintly guilty when she's caught watching Adam from the doorway.

For a solid second she isn't sure what to do. She wasn't told to leave, just to close the door.

“Staying.” Quietly stated, the girl eases the door closed. She's already interrupted once — two times if her answer is counted. It's something she doesn't want to continue by closing the door loudly.

Her hands leave the door once it's shut and she slinks several steps along the wall. Squeaks glances at her reflection in passing, then focuses beyond it to Adam’s. Blue eyes with simple, honest curiosity track his movements. She first watches the image shown in the mirror for a few seconds, then turns to watch the real thing.

When the door shuts, Adam looks to Squeaks’ reflection in the mirror, then to her. Mirroring her own interactions with his image. “Go over there,” he motions with the head of his bamboo sword to a low set of square shelves with folded clothes in them, next to which stands a tall rack with five more of the same kind of lightweight wooden sword in them, “there’s pads in the bottom shelf, just get the hand and arm ones. Then take a shinai.” He must mean one of the swords.

After instructing Squeaks, Adam turns his sword around and rests the leather-padded tip down against the floor, swiveling it around as though it were a downward-pointed umbrella. He rolls the heel of his palm over the pommel, watching Squeaks with furrowed brows.

Squeaks’ feet obey quickly, if hesitantly, carrying her to the shelves. Her head turns from Adam, eyes seeking out the equipment as instructed and then squinting over what she finds there. Following another quick look over her shoulder, and seeing Adam watching and waiting, she bends down to find some padding for her hands and arms.

Those found, and pulled on with the sort of slowness reserved for curiosity about things, she turns next to stare at the shinai. At least that's what the girl guesses they are, those sword looking things but not like any sword she's ever seen.

It's over the weapon that she more obviously hesitates, but no looks to see if she's still being watched follow.

Two seconds pass before Squeaks raises her hand and wraps slender fingers around the leather-wrapped handle. With as much care as she'd show fine porcelain, the shinai is lifted from the stand and carried away. Her eyes come up to find Adam again, eyebrows bunching when she comes to stand in front of him.

He allows her one moment as she arrives back, a curt nod of his head, and then a high-pitched shout before he swings his own shinai in a downward arc, striking the floor next to Squeaks with enough speed to disturb her hair. The practice sword makes an overly loud crack as the bamboo slats contract. The sound is distinctive, whistling and clattering. Squeaks feels it like a texture in her tongue and in her nose.

“You,” Adam says, lifting his sword up again, “need to learn how to defend yourself. Because the world — this world — is a mouth that will grind you up between its molars. You can't count on anyone to save you. Not your friends, not your family, and especially not me.” He grips the sword one-handed, widening his stance, then takes it on both hands and squares his shoulders and relaxes his elbows. “Like this.”

Squeaks goes entirely rigid with surprise and fear as the sword swings at her. In that instant she tries to place what she did that would mean she’s in trouble. Maybe snooping around? There isn’t time to make any good guesses. A flinch as if she’d been hit follows when the bamboo cracks hard against the floor. Something about that noise is far more unnerving than even not knowing why it happened.

Blue eyes precede an uncertain expression when Adam starts talking again, first one then the other angling up to the man. The words sting, even if she knows a lot of them are true. The ones she’d question, her friends and family — him — not being able to save her, those ones bite hard enough to hurt.

Yet there isn’t any reason that she can settle on to argue or even disagree. Families and friends fight, but she’s been on her own longer than she’s ever had any of those. It’s a strange conflict, wanting to defend the goodness of everyone while knowing the reality of people.

Eyes dropping to the sword in her hands, Squeaks’ fingers wrap more tightly around the handle. Her hands work over the leather wrapping, settling into a comfortable grip, and she lifts her attention to Adam again. The weapon is raised as she shuffles her feet into a wider stance. Like the mirror she’d watched his movements in, she now tries to mimic Adam’s stance and posture.

Adam turns to stand shoulder to shoulder with Squeaks. He looks down at her, blue eyes partway lidded in silent contemplation before he raises the shinai over his head. “Follow my movements. Feel the weight of the shinai in your hands and find the center of gravity. You, of all people, should use close weapons to defend yourself.”

Adam slowly brings the sword down in a chopping arc, allowing Squeaks to watch his hand placement. “You are sight unseen, Jac. Echolocation. In the dark,” he raises the shinai again, “you are queen. You can see, disorient your enemy,” and then down again, this time faster.

“…and strike without anyone knowing before it's too late.”

Squeaks’ Quarters

Praxis Ziggurat, Praxia

July 6th

8:12 pm Local Time

Flashes of colorful light flood the walls of the suite Jac Childs has been given. The gauzy white curtains bloom with reds and purples even as the thunderous eruption of the third straight night of fireworks over the bay is muted by thick windows and concrete walls. A celebration of the California Safe Zone, writ large in the sky.

It's been days since Adam had started training her, teaching her how to fight and protect herself from attackers. The small bruises on her body are a roadmap to discovery and understanding. The callouses starting to form on her palms a reminder of where she has been. Adam is patient, knowledgeable, but also guarded. He has not opened up to her, unless his sharing of the sword is a means of communication.


From the back of the sofa, Squeaks only half watches the fireworks light up the world outside. It seems like a lifetime ago that she would have been beside herself with excitement at the spectacle. Now the event is only given cursory attention, a more focused look when the colors or movement are particularly eye-catching. The wonder remains, it’s just quieter now.

It’s a contrasting backdrop to the deeper thoughts that fill her head. They’re not dark or sad things, but still heavy in their own way.

Twisting, Squeaks slides herself down to sit on the couch properly. The movement reminds her of the achy muscles and joints — her shoulders especially like to protest at being used sometimes — and that one bruise on her elbow that’s at least four different shades of purple. Since Adam invited her into the training room, first began instructing her, she’s been absorbing the knowledge like a sponge taking in water. Vocal questions have been few, usually brought up when they'd ended for the day. Simple things about the lesson, oddly nothing deeper.

She pulls her feet up, tucks them in front so her knees become a shelf for her chin.

The time spent with Adam, even if it's only a portion of the day that leaves her feeling like a piñata, and even if the walls between them seem to stay up, is something she looks forward to. For some reason she can't totally explain why that is. Being able to defend herself — learning the sword of all things, she's only ever read about it in stories — is an obvious reason. But there's something more.

Maybe she's tired of those walls, wants to actually, really know the man who says he's her dad.

With a sigh, Squeaks turns her head. Her cheek rests now on her knees, eyes following the wall of her apartment from the sitting area to the door. She could go out, find Adam, then… They'd probably sit and stare at each other in a slightly awkward and vaguely uncomfortable silence. It isn't any different than the silence she's in now, it would actually be better.

It would be a lot better. She wouldn't be as lonely then.

Squeaks unfolds herself, rises off the sofa. Wrapping her arms around her middle, she crosses to the door that will let her out into the corridors.

Maybe Adam wouldn't be either then.

Praxis Ziggurat

Floor 42, Wing-C

July 9th

6:27 pm Local Time


Adam’s shinai connects with Squeaks’ and sends vibrations down through her hands and wrists. He is taller, stronger, and leverages those attribute against her parry. “Do something!” Adam shouts down at Squeaks, his appearance divided by the line of his practice blade. “You can't out muscle people twice your size! Fight!

The impact jars her arms from wrists to elbows and makes her hands sting. It isn’t an unfamiliar sensation, but it isn’t a good feeling either. Squeaks’ jaw clenches, the grip on her shinai tightens, nervous frustration flutters like a tiny flame in a breeze. Her eyes shift from the sword leveled in front of her to the man holding it.

Fingers curl and dig into the leather wrapped around the handle of her weapon. Her weight shifts, easing from one foot to the other. It sets her up to move, positions her to use her days of experience against Adam’s years.

Eyes narrow a little bit, barely a squint, before Squeaks does something. There’s a whirlwind of unexplainable emotions that bubble up at being shouted at, with frustration taking the lead. But she moves, she’d charge if they were further away but somehow still manages to throw her weight into the movement. Her sword swings, all those feelings channeled into the strike and into a wordless yell that announces the oncoming attack.


Adam brings his shinai up to block the attack faster than Squeaks could even imagine. It's like he could anticipate, like he could see, exactly what she was going to do before she did anything. But it isn't precognition at work, it's the intuition of hundreds of years of life experiences. Which, in a way, is a power all its own.

Squeaks’ reward for her strike is a quick blow to the shoulder, followed by Adam’s shinai whipping close to her face in a circular flourish. “No,” he says sharply, “you're fighting me like a normal child!” Adam readies himself again, practice sword gripped in both hands. “Do something!

Her face turns from the sword that nearly catches her there, hiding the wince for her shoulder. Tears prickle in Squeaks’ eyes the same way perspiration stipples across her forehead and down the back of her neck. She takes a breath, lifts her head and eyes to Adam again. It's part of the process, it isn't the first time her eyes sting after a strike and it likely won't be the last. Like the sweat that leaves faint tracks near her temples, she ignores the tears.

She doesn't ignore her frustration, irrationally angry at Adam and herself. She hates being slower and weaker than him, but also hates the shouting and seeming impossible demands.

“Stop cheating,” she shouts back. Simply, it's a childish response that's full of emotion.

It precedes another swing of the shinai, a sweeping motion with all of the finesse of a hockey player and none of the grace of swordsmanship that Squeaks has been striving for. It comes with another yell, a wordless, instinctual sound that begins in her gut. It carries a vibration, a buzzing, as it lifts out of her throat.

The noise catches Adam aback, not enough to slow him down but it surprises him. Outside of the occasional click and squeak he hadn’t heard much of her ability. But this, it was an attempt. Adam rewards the effort with a forward lunge, one that’s telegraphed enough for Squeaks to see it and raise her shinai to block. Adam leans into the strike, then releases his shinai entirely and grabs Squeaks by the wrists, twists his body and throws her with a motion of his hips down onto the wood floor.

The moment Squeaks hit the floor Adam looks down at her, and then offers a hand down to help her back up.

“It’s not cheating,” Adam says with certainty, “it’s evolution.”

Praxis Ziggurat

Floor 42, Wing-C

July 13th

5:23 pm Local Time

Adam isn’t dressed in his workout clothes when Squeaks arrives for their evening sparring. His suit is crisp and black, tailored just-so. It looks formal, and to an extent it is. The white undershirt, the black bowtie. There’s also someone else in here and there never is when they’re practicing. A woman, a little older than Gillian, dark hair that flows past her shoulders, angular jaw and a prominent nose that gives her the profile of a Greek sculpture. The black cocktail dress she’s wearing also looks ill-suited for sparring.

[[image aftermath%3Alog-icons/sabine_icon.gif link="afchar:Sabine"]

Whatever they were saying ends when Squeaks comes in. The brunette turns from Adam to regard her with one raised brow, followed by an expectant look back at Adam. He holds a hand up to her, pause it implies, and turns his attention to Squeaks.

“I can’t do practice tonight, there’s an invite-only event on the ground floor with investors. I need to make an appearance…” But Adam isn’t dismissing Squeaks, not judging from his tone. As one of his brows rise slowly, he asks of her, “Would you prefer a tux or a dress?”

The presence of someone else is what draws Squeaks’ attention from Adam and his fancy dressed up clothes, stalls the questions that definitely would have interrupted the explanation that is soon given for the change in routine. She still leans backward, still eases the door closed, but the whole time she's eyeballing the woman and directing wordless questions at Adam.

“What?” She heard the question, but it's the first word that she fully forms. Why probably would have been more appropriate. Face scrunching until her nose wrinkles, the young teen looks at their finery.

Squeaks steps away from the door, a small shuffling gait that brings her half the distance closer to the adults. The woman is side-eyed for a second before she works out an answer. “Is it… am I going with?” The idea draws some rare notes of excitement. Her eyebrows push upward, but the bouncing and wiggling she'd normally engage in is absent. “I think… I think I would rather not wear a dress.”

“I told you,” Adam's dark-haired guest says in a playfully chiding tone. Turning her attention to Squeaks, she offers a warm smile and an incline of her head into a nod in the young girl’s direction “And yes, the Director has seen fit to invite you to the event with some caveats.”

“This is Sabine Hazel, by the way. She's an old friend of Richard Ray. I believe you and he are acquainted. Sabine works for me now.” Adam explains as though it were a matter of Sabine transferring jobs. “As for the— event. I'll understand if you'd rather not come. It'll be some good free food, but mostly a bunch of surly and drunk old politicians and investors. That isn't to say there's not something to learn, but… I won't make you go.”

“It's in two hours,” Sabine clarifies. “Which is more than enough time to find you something appropriate to wear in your size. If you're interested, that is.”

An uncertain look darts to the woman. Told what? Squeaks stares hard, weighing Sabine’s presence more than the conversation. “Yes,” she turns a vaguely worded, slightly distracted confirmation to Adam. She knows Richard Ray.

After a minute, the teen shifts her attention to include Adam. It's less judgy, but still focused. Food sounds good, old people not so much.

“I think,” Squeaks begins slowly, thinking. It isn't a hard decision to make. It was already made minutes ago. But she still goes through the motions, making it an important choice. Her lips press together for a second before she asks, “What caveats?”

“That you follow my lead,” Adam says with a rise of his brows and a self-amused smile, “and do as I ask when I tell you to do something. That's all. There's— security we have to maintain. An appearance.” Adam glances at Sabine, then back to Squeaks.

“Not everyone knows who I really am,” Adam explains, “and it needs to stay that way…” This time its Sabine giving Adam a knowing look.

“For now,” he adds.

Praxis Ziggurat

Floor 2, Promenade Ballroom

July 13th

7:37 pm Local Time

A sea of people dressed in crisp black and white spreads out across a smooth marble-tiled floor. The Promenade Ballroom is an expression of brutalist architecture in its stark concrete lines and steelwork-framed windows in the sloping glass wall that overlooks San Francisco Bay. Soft piano and cello music emanates from the five-piece band sitting in the center of the ballroom and ice sculptures of birds in flight stand tall and proud on long tables of tiered champagne glasses.

There is no fanfare when Adam Monroe enters the ballroom a half an hour after the celebrations begin. There is no one to greet him, no entourage of security, just a sleight young redhead in a sleek black suit with a straightener bow tie at his side. “Here, I'm not anyone special. Just a private investor, not even a top-dollar one. Enough to be known, enough to participate in conversations. Richard Sanders,” he clarifies. “Here to see the fruits of his investments with his daughter…” His tone at the end is expectant.

Squeaks gets to choose her alias here.

She gets to play the same game.

The finery is taken in with a wonder that the young teen can't quite mask. She tries though, and that counts for something. Maybe her youth will excuse the wide-eyed looks and the way she stays close to Adam’s side instead of going off to entertain herself in adolescent fashion.

Squeaks tilts a look up at the unspoken prompt. It's the interruption needed to better compose herself. She tries to match Adam’s presence, mirror his bearing and fit the role of an investor’s daughter. How that should appear to everyone else is sort of a mystery, but the effort is there.

“Polly Sanders,” Squeaks supplies, after only a couple of seconds. It's simple, and she can remember it easily. After a breath, following a look to the adults in their tuxedos and gowns, she adds, “and I'm traveling with you until I return to school in the fall.” Her eyes lift to Adam, cautiously searching.

“Fabulous,” Adam says with an incline of his head to Squeaks. As the two walk side by side into the meeting, Squeaks recognizes familiar faces around the ground floor. The woman who was with she and Adam earlier, Sabine, as well as Joy. Each of them are far apart from one-another, talking to unfamiliar people in black.

“Most of these are private donors, many from China, some from Japan, and the Philippines. Some of them are American politicians, most of them Pro-Expressive. I have to be careful not to invite people who’d recognize me by my face. Predisposition to bias,” is how he explains it. “I haven’t always been the one to make popular — or smart — decisions.”

As they pass by an ice sculpture, Adam looks over into the crowd to see a Chinese man standing all alone by himself near the stacked glasses of champagne. “That’s Shengjiao Wu, he works for me directly. The gentleman at his side,” and Squeaks only notices him when she steps around to look past the sculpted swan of ice, “is Claudius Kellar. We’re going to go, you know, make an appearance and talk to them.”


But before they do, Adam looks over to Squeaks with a smile. “Is Polly old enough to drink champagne?” He won’t tell Gillian.

Attentive to a fault — if fault can even be placed on attentiveness — Squeaks takes in the guests with renewed interest while listening to Adam’s explanations. She tries to show nothing more than passing familiarity for the faces she recognizes. Perhaps they're people she's met on other business trips. Or they just seem familiar somehow, the way a stranger might spark curiosity.

Her eyes touch on the ice sculpture and she pauses for half a step to admire it. That much ice hasn't been seen anywhere except at winter, and it was never as pretty. She reaches with a finger for the smallest of touches, enough to verify it’s real, but stops short.

A hasty step returns her to Adam’s side when he starts speaking again. Squeaks follows his gaze, half lifting onto the balls of her feet to see past shoulders.

“No,” is an amused answer. She could play the game and pretend a lot of things, but probably can't be old enough to drink champagne. It's followed with a quizzical look. “But sometimes she's allowed to anyway.” The girl’s tone hitches into a question. “Only for really special occasions though.”

Amusement crosses Adam’s features and he makes a face of feigned confidence, nodding his head as though they were sharing a dreadfully important secret. “Duly noted,” is his glib and genuinely cheerful response before he begins making his way over to where the two men are making conversation. Claudius is the first to see Adam, and his pupils narrow to pinpoints when he sees Squeaks, leaving his eyes looking like two sunny-side up eggs with a dot of pepper in the middle of the yolk. Doctor Wu’s reaction is not nearly so otherworldly. Rather, the old man just smiles tiredly and turns to Adam, casting only a brief look to Squeaks.

“Mr. Sanders,” Wu says quietly, humbly. Kellar offers an askance look when Wu calls Adam by his assumed name, but says nothing of it. Adam nods to Wu, then motions to Squeaks at his side.

“This is my daughter,” and Adam leaves enough of a pause there to make Wu’s eyebrows nearly fly square off of his head, “Polly. Polly, this is Mr. Kellar and Dr. Wu.” He gestures between the two. “Mr. Kellar runs a consulting company that provides me with futures insights,” and the way Adam phrases it makes it sounds like stock futures, though there’s a double-entendre hidden in there. “Doctor Wu is the head of our genomics department, researching the origin of our kind.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Wu says with an incline of his head, and Kellar just takes a sip of his champagne and stares at Adam.

Other than a quick glance up at Adam, Squeaks stifles any reaction to the staring. She looks back at Claudius, politely inquisitive. Possibly staring right back a bit herself. Those eyes are a little bit weird. When she's introduced though, she breaks from her scrutiny of the stranger to offer both a shy smile.

“Hi, Mister Keller and Doctor Wu.” She's read more than enough books to know how these things work. At least in stories. “Genomics. That's… that's kind of like genetics, right? But like for the whole thing and not just green eyes versus hazel eyes or left-handed versus right-handed.”

Her own blue eyes flick to Claudius, perhaps as a way to draw him into the question. But he's staring at Adam with that same strange look. And those eyes. “I don't… I don't know a lot about consulting futures,” she eventually admits to, an apology maybe. Whatever implications to futures and insights might have been used, Squeaks misses them.

Nobody does!” Claudius says with a wide smile and an awkward laugh, toasting Squeaks with his champagne before taking a sip. Wu offers Claudius a side-eye, then looks to Squeaks.

“Yes, it’s… a broad field. Our research specializes in SLC-Expressive research, looking into the past to find answers to the future and the like.” Wu offers a brief look to Adam, who just nods slowly and discreetly as if to give permission to continue. “The lion’s share of our research has been thanks to your father’s assistance. His… ability— its medical purposes are both manifold and unlike anything I’ve seen in my many years of experience. We’ve been… making some amazing discoveries.”

Adam offers a look over to Squeaks, pausing as a waiter comes by to take a flute of champagne for himself. “Also protect us,” he adds, “from people who would want to do us harm simply on the merit of who and what we are.” To that Wu says nothing, but Claudius cheerily chooses that moment to chime in.

“The ones who didn’t get the noose a few years back anyway,” Claudius adds with a wink.

Squeaks squints and looks when Claudius speaks up. That’s weird, okay, but maybe he's just had too much to drink? Something about his demeanor kind of makes her doubt that's really what's happening. She nods slowly, agreeing apprehensively because arguing — even politely — could be dangerous.

“I think it's really interesting,” she carefully returns to the topic of genomics. Her brow creases with the smallest of frowns, even though it smooths away when she looks up at Adam then Wu. A question forms, her expression turning thoughtful, but it stalls when Claudius speaks up again.

That's a dark subject, one she's not sure she wants to be part of.

With a lightly huffed breath, Squeaks pockets the questions. Another time she can start asking, maybe. Or she can search out the answers herself, find them in books or someplace.

Mr. Kellar!” Comes from outside the small circle, following a broadly build gray-haired man in a subtly ill-fitting tux coming over. Claudius flicks a look in the man’s direction than flashes him a practiced smile. At the same time, Adam’s posture and countenance seems to shift some, losing a little bit of his relaxation and adopting a feigned smile that is at once polite and indifferent. Doctor Wu excuses himself without another word.

“Senator Hesser!” Kellar calls out as if they’re old friends, but everything Squeaks can read in Kellar’s posture is that they are absolutely not, even if the senator doesn’t think so. “Well look at you, huh? Big man about to be on the big campaign trail, I was just talking with one of Praxis’ stockholders,” he motions with a champagne glass toward Adam, and the senator pays he and Squeaks a briefly respectful nod and a flash of a smile, but diverts his focus back to Kellar.

“Claudius, we should talk sometime about that southwest annex program.” Hesser says with a nudge to Kellar’s arm, to which Kellar smiles and laughs in a way that is nothing but the fake tightening of meat in his throat and the forcing of air through it. Hesser eats it up.

Hesser takes a sip from what might be his second or third glass of champagne and eyes Squeaks for a moment over the rim, but largely ignores her. Before he can dive back into conversation, Adam quietly says, “If you’ll excuse us, Mr. Kellar.” To which Claudius raises a champagne glass in a feigned toast, to which the senator doesn’t even seem to hear.

Hooking an arm around one of Squeaks’, Adam gently guides her aside and turns to offer a comment down to her as he walks. “You see how the senator ignored us, because he thought we weren’t important? That’s power.” His blonde brows rise. “Not his, but ours. Being ignored is quite possibly one of the greatest ways you can leverage your power, because when people think you’re insignificant… they let their guard down.”

The new voice stirs curiosity, and Squeaks turns her head to observe the senator’s approach. Her lips press together and pull off to the side, but it isn't a smile. It's thoughtful. Judging without meaning to be. Or meaning to be without intending it to be obvious, since this new person just barged into the conversation.

All because that Claudius guy.

Her eyes shift between the adults, following Wu as he leaves then looking up to Adam when he pulls with him.

Squeaks nods at the explanation. She knows all about being ignored and unimportant. “Because they say things,” she adds to his commentary. “They say things either that they don't know you understand or think you couldn't or wouldn't use.”

“Precisely,” Adam says with a nod down to her. “Precisely.” Then, those old blue eyes lift up and train on a server walking by with a tray of champagne glasses. With a hesitant smile, Adam offers out a bent arm to Squeaks.

“Let’s go inquire with that gentleman about special occasions.”

Praxis Ziggurat

Floor 42, Wing-C

July 17th

4:14 pm

Dressed in her training clothes, pads in a small cinched bag over her shoulder and ready to continue her training, Squeaks is met not with Adam in his private training room, but by the bohemian silhouette of Joy, carrying an aluminum watering can, risen up on her toes and stretched to the fullness of her height, trying to water the hanging plants by the windows, long shafts of golden afternoon sun cutting through them, casting Joy’s shadow as tall as a giant on the far wall.

Dark eyes flick over to Squeaks, and Joy flashes the young redhead a welcoming smile and motions with a jerk of her head for the young woman to come in. “Adam isn’t here right now,” Joy explains as she tips the water can up, spilling some on the floor. “But if you don’t mind different company, I could use someone to talk to.”

Finding Joy instead of Adam brings Squeaks to a halt just inside the room. Her hand tightens around the strap that keeps the bag on her shoulder. It isn't a regular thing to find anyone else in the room, unless Adam is there also. So she watches without speaking until the woman notices her. She's learned that, if there's an explanation, she'll be told soon enough.

Noticed and then invited to stay, she slides the bag from her shoulder and sets it on the floor near the door. She wanders a few steps forward, looking up at the plants as she gets closer.

“I don't mind. I like talking with you.” Squeaks doesn't explain further than that. Her path takes her to the plants, standing almost beneath them. A foot is freed from its shoe and she swipes it across the floor to mop up the dribble with her sock. That done, the teen looks up at Joy like nothing had happened. Just curious. “What do you want to talk about?”

Joy smiles, thoughtfully, and eases back down onto her heels. “I don’t want for much,” she dismisses the notion casually, bending down to set the canister on the floor with a soft clunk of metal on wood. “I can’t say the same for you, though. You’re younger, and young people have an intrinsic need to understand the world around them and their place in it.”

Rather than stand and talk, Joy walks over to where Adam keeps the shinai lined up against the wall. She runs her hand over the hilt of one, letting her fingers glide over the creases in the wrap around the handle. “I know you were curious about a lot of things when you first got here, and now…” Joy looks down to the floor, then turns to look back at Squeaks. “You must still be. So, what do you want to talk about?”

There are a lot of things Squeaks could claim to want. Understanding of her place in this new world is definitely on the list. Knowing her father, and about his work. And going home, to New York. Those are certainly highest in her wants.

Her arms fold behind her back and she wanders a few steps away from the plants. What are some things she could talk about? It's become kind of a habit to keep her own counsel, ask only things immediately important and then only if she can't reason out the answer on her own. Her head lifts, eyes finding her reflection in the wall of mirrors. The smallest shift of her eyes shows her Joy near the rack of shinai.

“What do you do here?” The question is probably unexpected. Even the teen seems surprised by it, a flicker of confusion briefly shadows her gaze as soon as the words are spoken. “With… with Adam and all of the things he does.”

The answer is complicated, because Squeaks has seen the look on Joy’s face on other adults before. That look of why would you ask that mixed with begrudging but you deserve an answer. In spite of herself, Joy smiles and threads dark hair behind one ear, making a soft noise in the back of her throat before she sidesteps around both Squeaks and the question, pacing barefoot a few steps past the redhead.

“Adam and I have known each other for a long time,” Joy admits in a thoughtful tone. “I… I’ve felt lost, for almost as long. It— our relationship is complicated. Fraught. You see it’s…” she closes her eyes, breathing in deeply and then exhaling a slow sigh. “I love him, but sometimes love isn’t enough… but it’s also difficult to break that bond. I want Adam to be happy, I want him to be safe, and…”

Joy isn’t sure how to continue that thought. She’d been hoping for an answer for that for a long time.

“I…” Slowly turning around on the balls of her feet, Joy folds her hands behind her back and looks Squeaks up and down. “I help him,” is how she decided to finally answer the question. “Because I know he can’t always trust the people around him, and… in spite of everything, I just want him to live. To be happy. So… I help him to… try to find that happiness.” It’s a vague answer, and even Joy doesn’t seem satisfied with it.

“Sometimes it means helping him in my own way,” Joy admits in a small voice, “other times it means helping him how he would want. They aren’t always mutually-exclusive paths, but sometimes…” she trails off, slowly shaking her head.

Squeaks looks away when Joy starts to answer. Her face grows a little tense with consternation as she listens to the woman speaking. She recognizes the way the answer is circled around — she knows it's also something adults do, saying just enough but not really giving information.

She tries to gather what she can from what's said. But maybe it's better to leave that topic alone. For now. The teen looks up at Joy as the words trail off, showing more uncertainty and less confusion.

It's a change the subject, quick! moment.

“Okay,” she responds. The word is stretched out a little bit. Squeaks folds her lips into her mouth and lets out a breath. “Do you… is Adam still mad that I'm here?” Not exactly the topic she meant to touch on either, but at least it's different.

“No,” is Joy’s succinct answer. “If he was mad, you'd know. He doesn't hide it well.” It's then that Joy’s attention turns back to the shinai she'd been inspecting earlier, pulling it out from the wooden rack. “Adam is… I think he's actually happy that you're here. He's mad about the circumstances that led you here, about you being orphaned, about your foster care,” her brows crease together, “but he doesn't blame you for any of that. I think…” Joy tests the balance of the shinai. “I think he genuinely cares about you.”

But there's a subtle uptick at the end of Joy’s sentence. A shame the uncertainty, does he? She doubts herself, a small seed of it taking root so subtly.

“He's never trained anyone before,” Joy explains as she starts walking back to Squeaks, extending her hand to the rack and pulling another practice sword out with nothing but her mind, sending it slowly floating over to Squeaks, pivoting in the air to be offered out grip-first. “Would you still like to practice?” Joy asks, gripping her shinai with just a single hand, her profile narrower and side-on when she takes a loose stance.

“I've never taught anyone either,” Joy admits with a hesitant, vulnerable smile.

The answer gives Squeaks a measure of relief, visible to a sharp eye in the easing of tension around her jaw and the haze of apprehension thinning. The subtleties in Joy’s tone are either ignored or not noticed. Maybe it doesn't matter that the woman isn't completely sure, and that there's even a chance is the important part.

“He hasn't?” The teen’s eyes dart to Joy, to the sword that's moving toward her without hands on it, to Joy again. She reaches for the practice weapon when it nears, wrapping slender fingers around the familiar leather grip.

A nod bobs her head as she takes control of the shinai, adjusting her grip for its weight. “Yes.” Squeaks eases into a stance, mirroring the one Adam has been teaching her. “I've only ever been learning.”

“That is life,” Joy says, shifting her feet slightly as the muscles in her shoulder tense up. Then, she brings the shinai down in a swift arc.

Always learning.

Praxis Ziggurat

Floor 42, Wing-C

July 19th

5:12 pm

Squeaks brings the shinai up and her bamboo blade makes a snap as it connects with Adam’s. He's taller, stronger, forcing her back with each advancing blow. “Don't freeze!” Adam shouts, switching to lateral cuts and once more Squeaks brings her shinai up to parry with a resounding


Praxis Ziggurat

Floor 42, Wing-C

July 20th

5:02 pm

“When your opponent moves, you stay still!” Adam shouts as he sidesteps around her, “and when your opponent stays still— ”

Squeaks lashes out, striking with quick ferocity as her shinai collides with Adam’s. One sword strike after another, the rapid-fire clak-snap-clak of the blades colliding. “And when your opponent over-extends themselves,” Adam interjects, stepping forward to kick Squeaks square in the chest, sending her tumbling backwards to

Praxis Ziggurat

Floor 42, Wing-C

July 20th

3:44 pm

the floor. Squeaks’ cheek is pressed to the wood tile, and she quickly kicks her legs up into the air and flips back up onto her feet just like Joy had been teaching her to. The shinai felt lighter in her hands now, each swing easier, her shoulders hurt less each morning and she was beginning to see definition in her arms.

Adam watches her gain her footing, flourishing his practice sword around before tossing it up to grab like a javelin and hurl at her. Squeaks barely dodges the fling sword, but Adam closes the distance between her and grabs her by her right arm, twisting and

Praxis Ziggurat

Floor 42, Wing-C

July 21st

2:21 pm

flips her onto her back, but Squeaks swings her legs around and gets back up onto one knee and strikes her shinai out to hit Adam in the knee. He winces at the slap, then brings his blade down to meet Squeaks with a thunderous clack of the slatted bamboo. Squeaks rolls backwards and away in a somersault, still slow with those acrobatics, but she's a quick student and Joy an eager teacher.

Adam watches her for a moment, as still as a lake on a windless day, blue eyes distant and cold as they meet Squeaks’. But it is only for a moment, brief in its life, before he rushes back in at her and swings with renewed force, knocking her shinai out of her hands and sweeping her leg to send her back down

Praxis Ziggurat

Floor 42, Wing-C

July 22nd

6:18 pm

to the floor again. Squeaks rolls to the side, avoiding a downward strike with her shinai and as she sees Adam coming in with a blow angled for her head she lets out a reflexive shriek that is focused in a piercing, clattering chatter that sends Adam reeling backwards, clutching his head.

Adam exhales a sharp, surprised breath. As surprise as Squeaks is when that shrill sound comes out of her mouth. He stares at her, wide-eyed, and then

of all things

he smiles.

The surprise lasts a full second. Maybe two. Squeaks stares up at Adam with the same kind of confusion of a puppy trying to make sense of a sound. Did that come out of me?

But as fast as the shock of it hits her, as Adam’s mouth begins to curl upward, she moves.

Fingers tighten around her shinai and, in the same sweeping movement of bringing the practice sword to her, Squeaks finds her feet. Days of study, of taking falls and strikes, facing the demands with a stubborn energy she didn't know she possessed propel her forward.

When your opponent is still

The wordless yell is pitched with instinctual intensity. A chittering undertone rides the current that flows at Adam. The downward and diagonal swing of the girl’s shinai is fueled by the sound.


Right in the face.

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