A Nyssa Sylvatica


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Scene Title A Nyssa Sylvatica
Synopsis In whittling down the list of known agrokinetics who could be tied to the Baldwin case, a SESA Agent and Intern investigate the ruins of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.
Date November 14, 2019

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens

Park Slope

Back in April, a complaint had been filed about an aggressive agrokinetic holed up in the ruins of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Given the number of higher-priority concerns the agency faced throughout this year, following up on this report fell squarely on SESA's backburner. At least it had, until the Baldwin case.

Now, it was time to turn over every stone.

The property, much like other areas in Park Slope, seems to have clung to the last bit of autumn as hard as it possibly can. Fall colors still display prominently where other trees in the Safe Zone have long since shed their leaves. There's no lack of those here, either— the abandoned grounds covered in crunchy dead leaves as well as a web of roots that both take hold in and emerge from the concrete pathways and plaza.

Nearly abandoned grounds might be a better term for the place, though. For all appearances of being untouched, there was likely to still be one (or more) people living in the park. The report they'd both read before heading out here stated the agrokinetic had emerged from the Aquatic House ruins off of the Lily Pool Terrace.

And after all, the agents weren't here just for the scenery.

“You know, I’m really not certain what the best method of approach here is,” Agent Liza Messer muses. “It could go all sorts of ways. A direct approach, trying to be stealthy, a mixture of the two… I still feel like it’s best to go for a gentle approach, but that’s just my preference.”

Her eyes skim the surrounding plants and the greenery retaking civilization. She looks the slightest bit wary of her surroundings. “Remember, we’re in their territory now.”

“All the evidence suggests that they just want to be left alone out here,” says Lance in agreement with a tip of his head over to Liza, “So I think that they’d… probably react poorly to someone being sneaky about things. Gentle but direct would be my advice.”

Dryly, he points out, “Depending on how their power works, we may not be able to sneak up in all of this greenery anyway.”

“You make a very fair point Agent,” Liza says, chipperly. “We don’t know the scope of this individual’s ability. The complaint said ‘aggressive’, so just keep an eye out for anything that looks off. I’m sure we’ll be able to get to the ‘root’ of the situation.”

She grins, looking at Lance as if expecting the affirmation… or the facepalm. Regardless of what she gets, she proceeds forwards, sharp eyes looking around for signs of a person. Or, barring that, signs of where an agrokinetic might have been.

The wind sweeps across the terrace, sending leaves skittering underfoot while Liza and Lance move down the walkway in front of the long-abandoned administrative building. Thin vines cling to blown-out window frames at random, growth from within the building clinging on despite the cold and the fall gusts. What they can see from outside doesn't lend to any presence in particular.

But then approaching the aquatic house, that starts to differ. There's purpose behind the growth— deliberately filling the few missing panes in the glass structure. Looking up, there's a skylight panel previously blown out that's been boarded over.

The glass house looks just as fragile and abandoned as the rest of the long building save for these little details. The plantlife within grows thick and strong, vines and roots plating across windows in a bid for better insulation.

Or privacy.

As he’s called Agent, Lance flashes her a grin of his own. “Well, we can’t just ‘leaf’ them alone, so…” He makes his way along the walkway, keeping roughly to the middle so they’re obvious to anyone watching. He doesn’t want them to think they’re being sneaky walking up.

As they get closer to the house, his steps slow, and he clears his throat before calling out, “Hey! Anyone home?”

Keeping her pace slow enough that she can react quickly if someone pops out, Liza’s eyes scan the roof and the way the building has been reinforced. “We don’t mean to intrude on your territory here, we just wanted to ask a few questions. We were hoping you could help us with something. Is it alright if we come in?”

Liza glances back to Lance, a half-way hopeful smile on her lips before looking at the door.

After Lance calls out, it takes but a moment for the sound of movement to carry out to them, the shifting of leaves sounding agitated. At Liza’s addition, those steps slow but don’t quite pause, continuing to get closer. A bramble of roots and vines that create an excessively tall threshold into the glass house roil and shift, revealing a thin, sharp-faced woman on the other side with her hair pulled back from her face. She stands behind the waist-high growth like she’s standing in a trench, using the vinewall as cover. Her chin is tucked, eyes going between both figures she can see.

Hoisted against her chest is a shotgun that seems like it’d blow her away if she used it, though it’s pointed at the ground rather than at them. Still held, though, in case she changes her mind about shooting. Hands wrapped in fingerless gloves curl around the barrel of it as she warily considers both agent and intern, scrutinizing.

“If you’re with that construction company,” clearly a swear word, filled with vitriol. “You’ve got five seconds to clear out. I told them last time what would happen if they came back again.”

Voice marginally lightening, the thin woman grudgingly goes on, “And if you’re not with them…” which is a thing she doesn’t seem to believe, squinting at them both. “Then what do you want?” Dark, earthy eyes dart back to Liza in particular, remembering she’d asked if she could come in. “You can stay right there,” she adds severely.

As those vines shift and twist to create both an opening and barricade, Lance’s eyes widen slightly. “Primal,” he exhales under his breath, and then he’s clearing his throat. Be professional! You’re here on business!

He spreads his hands first to show that he’s not holding any sort of weapon, clearing his throat, “We’re not with any sort of construction company, don’t worry. Personally I think what you’ve done with the place is pretty primal, like, the post-apoc eco-punk look you’ve got going here is great.” Business, Lance.

Oh right. “We’re with SESA, but we’re not here to try and make you register or disturb you out of your home or anything, we just have some questions.”

Liza might be someone a touch more on the playful side, but she’s got her limits. Lance’s rambling gets a bit of side-eye before she holds up her hands as well, offering a genuine looking smile. “He’s right, we’re definitely not with a construction company. I certainly wouldn’t really have a great skillset for a construction company. And don’t worry, I’m staying right here. We aren’t here to try and uproot you or your life here.” That one was unintentional.

Her gaze goes to Lance briefly as she seems to be pondering something. She nods, just slightly, though it’s clearly to herself as she speaks again, hoping Lance will follow what she’s doing. “We could really use your help. Do you happen to be acquainted with any other agrokinetics?”

The woman with the shotgun flexes her grip around it while she considers the two. Lance's flattery gets him a moment of consideration, but no visibly gained ground. The question about other people like her sees to that. "I'm failing to see why you're asking. You said you're with SESA?" She sounds dubious, but she's living in a glass house, not under a rock, so she likely knows what that acronym means… on some level, at least. "Don't you have registries you use for that kind of thing?"

Registries like the kind she wasn't on, and yet here They were on her doorstep anyway.

"And if they're not on it… why should I be talking about others' business with you?" The woman frowns.

“It’s not the bad old days under the Linderman Act, ma’am,” Lance offers with a shake of his head, “The registry is one-hundred percent voluntary now, except in cases of, like, felons. We’re not coming here to check your paperwork or register you or anything— look, I grew up at an Evolved orphanage back then. We probably would’ve been safer hiding, so I know where you’re coming from here.”

A glance to Liza, uncertain how much they can say about what they’re here for.

“I’m not sure how to phrase this other than to start by saying that again we’re not here to bother you, we’re here to try and get some information that could help in an investigation into the death of a young woman,” Liza offers a small smile.

“To that extent, how familiar are you with growing trees or do you happen to know any agrokinetics who are good at growing trees?”

The woman's eyes sharply narrow and she slides a step back. After a moment, for all her defensiveness she slowly lowers the butt of the shotgun from her shoulder, holding it more loosely while she looks up and around at her surroundings— trees and plants abound. Her shoulders slump while she weighs answering versus not answering. They're asking, it seems, instead of coming at her with a warrant. The kid all but openly said he's Evolved, too. It makes her opt to answer.

"I know a handful," she admits warily. It seems like she won't say more, but then she volunteers abruptly: "But— there's nuance to it, you know. What we do. It's not the same between us, not exactly."

She takes in a slow breath, chin tucking as she looks between the two with that same caution, leery of saying too much. "But it's no secret Park Slope didn't grow to be like this on its own."

“No, we figured,” Lance admits, his tone rueful as he looks around the overgrown area before looking back to the woman - and now that there’s a mention of the death he has a general idea what they’re able to say. “And you don’t seem like someone that leaves your… territory a lot, so I’d be surprised if you knew anything about the incident in particular.”

“I think what we’re looking for is… rapid tree growth, in particular.”

Liza nods her agreement towards Lance. “If there’s anything you can tell us about that, either from what you understand about your own ability or what you know of another agrokinetic, it would be appreciated. Again, no pressure. We just want justice for this young woman and we’re really hoping you might be able to point us in the right direction.”

The woman frowns almost instantly at the last thing Lance says, her grip on her gun relaxing entirely so it's held only in one hand. Her eyes dart this way and that, reviewing a mental map. It doesn't look like she's deciding whether or not to answer.

It looks like she's thinking.

Finally, she shifts her gaze to Liza, weighing her addendum and how much she can be trusted. No pressure, she insists. But suddenly it feels like there's a lot anyway. The barrier growth shrinks again, sinking down in one spot so she can more easily step over and through a narrow gap. Once on the other side, it's clear she isn't comfortable, but she doesn't retreat back. In mud-spattered black galoshes, she ventures a step closer.

"Now, I don't know if this is what you're looking for," she explains, then takes off determinedly between both Liza and Lance. "But it's something I can't explain. So I'll show you."

She looks over her shoulder as she heads across the broken terrace, footsteps finding a path leading deeper into the gardens. "I'm Ava," the agrokinetic says, a lift at the end of the introduction from the distrust she still has for them both. "I've been out here since the middle of the war, after everyone else was driven out. I came down from the Catskills, not figuring anyone would come back. Not like they have."

"I was wrong, clearly." Ava mutters ruefully.

“You don’t know New Yorkers, then,” Lance replies with a slightly-crooked smile, turning to follow the woman - one arm sweeping out in oh-so-gallant invitation for Ava to go first, “We’re a stubborn punch, especially when it comes to our home.”

Then he starts after her, “Lance Gerken.” He almost added SECRET AGENT on there but Liza’s present.

“Liza Messer,” Liza offers by way of introduction, not hesitating in her pace after the agrokinetic. She glances briefly to Lance before her attention rests on Ava. “I think if things had gone differently for me I’d be hunkering down in a place like this.” It doesn’t sound like she thinks that’s necessarily a bad thing.

"You're a whole different breed, that's for sure." Ava agrees with Lance while they walk. "And barely more than a sprout yourself."

Look, she can make bad plant puns too.

She's all seriousness after that, though, as they emerge from under the shade of a still-overgrown tree into the Japanese gardens. The maples planted here have grown some in the years they've been left to their own devices, but they're still not exceptionally tall. They do still bear dark leaves, mahogany and indigo, some even nearing orange.

They don't touch the bloodred shade of the leaves that are settled around a tree that rises above the rest, standing distinctly out of place.

"I've gone through cleaning up the grounds around here ever since…" Ava trails off with a frown. "Ever since that construction company first tried to tell us off the property. Checking roots, making sure they're deep. Keeping everybody as hardy as I can make them." She pauses by one of the Japanese maples, fingers wrinkling through the air. The roots on the tree begin to shift, snaking in their lay on the ground. The earth pulls around them. "I've covered a fair portion of the grounds…"

The small shift continues as she continues to walk, tree by tree. Then she stops in front of the thin-trunked tree with its egregiously wide embrace compared to even the largest of the smaller maples.

The roots do not move. The leaves so not so much as shift.

"This one… won't listen to me." Ava explains, lifting her head to look up into the brilliantly-colorful canopy.

“Oh…” Lance stops in his tracks, his gaze lifting up the trunk of the tree, regarding the crimson leaves of the canopy above it - the color, and the agrokinetic’s words, making his stomach clench in sudden horror at a possibility.

He glances to Liza, then back to the tree, “I… ah… you’ve been here for awhile. How long has this tree— been here?”

The ideas floating in her head have Liza frowning in concern as she observes the tree. “That’s a good question. I’d be curious if it was here before or after you arrived.” There’s a pause. “This may be a dumb question, but as an agrokinetic is there a way you can gather information off of a plant even if it isn’t alive anymore?”

Liza looks back to Lance. “And what if the reason this tree won’t respond is that it’s no longer a tree.”

Ava looks dubious at that. "Well, I mean, it's a tree, all right," she says a bit skeptically. She knows trees, after all. She shunts a glance back and forth between the agents, shuffling the shotgun to her offhand while she thinks on Lance's question. She takes a step forward closer to the tree, laying her hand on the ridged bark while she peers up at it.

"It wasn't always here," she admits. "So it's odd it's this large. I had thought maybe someone got their hands on it, made it grow faster than it should have, but…" Her palm grinds into the bark before she pats the tree and steps back, brows furrowed at it and what she feels coming from it.

"It's been here a few months. Since late summer. I don't know… three months? Four tops?" Ava doesn't look particularly concerned with the particulars until after she's said as much aloud, taking in the expression the other two wear.

Maybe it's a detail she should concern herself with. The boy looks like he's seen a ghost.

Lance looks back at Liza with a grimace at her words, echoing his own worries, and then he steps slowly forward towards the trunk to look up at it. He’s silent for a moment, then draws in a slow breath, exhaling it before looking back over to the agrokinetic.

“The… reason we’re looking for agrokinetics,” he says carefully, keeping Liza in view at the corner of his attention in view for cues, “Is that the… victim in question was found within a tree.” They already mentioned a murder, they’re talking about agrokinetics - not too much information given away there.

He’s still trying to figure out how much he can say. He’s still learning!

Liza gives a quick look towards Lance, then looks towards Ava. “I know this is basically your territory so I’m going to be nice about this… I want to see if I can bring someone Evolved in to test the tree, maybe see if it’s not what it appears to be. But I’d rather have your permission than to go tromping about in your turf without giving fair warning.”

There’s a pause. “If we can do some formalities, ask a few questions so we can show you’re not involved, we might be able to get you in as a consultant on the case, maybe get something out of it. We’d even be willing to speak to that construction company for you, see if we can get them off your back. We just want to help figure out what happened and make sure that there’s no one out there getting away with murder.”

Ava's listening. Really.

But not really.

The small woman has her head turned up to the tree again, brow knit at it. What she read, what she felt from it, has distracted her. She knew from afar that this tree wasn’t like the others, but she’d never gone so far as to touch it before. She looks back at Lance without really hearing him, checking in his direction only to make sure she’s not walking into him.

She slides a step back, still looking up, and hesitates briefly like she might be considering what Liza is saying — but no, Ava is still focused on the tree, everything else forgotten. It’s a mystery to her. Her free hand raises, fingertips brushing the length of a branch. It’s then that she clearly, visibly tunes out, her expression blanking. After a moment of hesitation, she presses one of the remaining leaves between her thumb and forefinger, running her thumb along the smooth top of it.

Her brow knits, focus deepening. Silently, she poses a question without any actual sound coming, and tugs the leaf free from the branch.

Ava flinches, holds her position for a moment before looking down at the leaf in her hand, trying to decide what it all means. Her thumb rotates on the top of the leaf as she suddenly looks around the area, pressing down on the leaf harder and harder. “You said… it…?” she asks, but the question doesn’t fully form.

Her thumbnail breaks into the top of the leaf at some point, leaving a half-moon of red around her finger. She digs in further and the leaf oozes.


Lance sucks in a sharp breath as that crescent of red oozes down the surface of the leaf, dropping back a step with a horrified look on his face. “Liza, it’s…” He looks to her, then back, “It’s another one. Just like the first, oh, God. Yeah. That’s…”

He swallows once, hard, trying to seem less shaken than he is. “Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. Ma’am.”

“And the tree definitely has no reaction to your control?” Liza’s eyes are fixed on the leaf and she mutters ‘shit’ under her breath before she looks between the tree and Lance. “Okay, we need to make sure no one hurts this tree in the meanwhile. This one’s still standing and might be able to help us figure out what’s happening but that won’t work if someone decides to chop it down.”

She looks quickly towards Ava. “I need help with two things from you, if I may. First, can you remember the name of the construction company giving you hell here? Secondly… if you see anyone from there trying to worm their way in until we can give this a good lookover, can you scare them off? Let them know you’ve got SESA authority for it and see if that keeps them from nosing around.”

Liza’s head swivels back to Lance. “I need to call Agent Ayers and let him know about this. I need to get a team here as soon as possible and we need to make sure no one harms that tree in the meanwhile.” She doesn’t wait for a response before sliding her phone from her pocket and stepping a short distance away to make a call.

Ava is just about as shook as Lance is, but she manages a nod. Several of them, actually. One to acknowledge Lance, one to acknowledge each of Liza’s requests. “Y-yeah,” she says belatedly, then looks down at the leaf in her hand. She holds onto it for only a moment longer before releasing it with a jerk, the bloodied leaf falling to the group. She takes a moment to look at the other leaves that have fallen, then back up to the tree itself.

“I don’t understand how something like this is possible,” the agrokinetic finally says after Liza’s stepped away. She just shakes her head and looks to Lance. “I… oh no.” Ava looks at him for everything he represents by being here, the phone call that Liza went off to make that will bring even more people here. It’s a good thing overtures have been made about respecting her space and the area’s autonomy already, otherwise it might be just a bit too much for her.

It’s still all a bit much, though, and right now, Lance is the only one she’s got to look to. “It— it’s a tree that’s not a tree. That’s got to be it, why I can’t move it or help it grow— it’s not of the earth, it’s human.” The look in her eyes shift and she takes a step toward him, the gun still held loose by her side. “I didn’t have anything to do with this.” Ava declares, her voice raised so that point definitely doesn’t go missed. Her eyes are widened, worried. “I’ll answer whatever you want, I’ll keep it safe— I … I didn’t have anything to do with this, I didn’t realize what it was.”

“Y-yeah, of course, Agent Messer. I’ll keep an eye on…” Lance gestures a bit with his hand towards the tree, as if ten paces away Liza couldn’t see it anymore. He pulls himself up straighter, focusing on trying to be professional and not seeming as distraught as he actually is about all this.

He’s seen worse. The monster that came to eat them in their beds. The eyes of a dying man at his feet. The rats in the sewers and their victims, He’s good at repression by now.

Then the agrokinetic is panicking a bit, and he turns towards her - both hands up, nothing threatening about them. Trying to calm her as best he can “No, no— I know, we know, you didn’t,” he reassures her, drawing in a deep breath and looking back to the tree, “We thought this was— an agrokinetic we were looking for. It’s not. They’re some kind of— organic transmuter, or… something else. God.”

He looks at the tree, saying even quieter, “Are they— are they even dead, technically?”

Liza looks over her shoulder at the pair, then the tree, before looking back to her phone. She holds it up to her ear, then scowls. “Curses, foiled again.” She pulls it away from her ear and proceeds to start the call again, holding it up to her ear as she looks back to the pair. “Don’t worry, this will take just a sec. I think. Hopefully.”

She doesn’t sound too sure of that.

At Lance's question, Ava looks back toward the tree, silent for a spell. Her gaze slides unfocused as she remembers the way the tree felt under her hand, and what it had done when she pulled the leaf. It's not that she's suddenly calmer, she just doesn't know how to answer.

"I don't think so," she decides.

She doesn't sound too sure of that, either.

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