A Trip To K-Mart


vf_elisabeth_icon.gif vf_kain_icon.gif vf_ruiz_icon.gif

Scene Title A Trip To K-Mart
Synopsis A Blue Light Special, it is not.
Date November 09, 2011

The Hub: K-Mart's

“K-Mart’s here.”

Those two simple words started this short voyage. With Elisabeth not far behind, Ruiz leads the way through the depths below the old power plant, the dim lights flickering as they go. Not because of him, this time. With the injection fresh in his neck, that constant feeling has disappeared with his ability, only the faintest hint of a whisper that could be his imagination. But the soft hum of the lights, the drip drop of liquid somewhere— that’s enough to drown it out.

“Thankfully no one has questioned your origins. But I imagine we should introduce you two in case someone asks him about you.”

So far, those in their community have accepted the cover story. It’s enough. Even if he wants to hold onto the hope of finally escaping this place. To a place without Kazimir. Without Vanguard. Without constant death.

He carries a backpack over his shoulder as they walk.

Being negated in this place keeps Elisabeth in a semi-constant state of preternatural situational awareness. Were she not negated, however, it —might be— would definitely be even worse. This place seems practically designed to trigger her worst nightmares and although she doesn’t deal with it as often anymore, PTSD doesn’t just vanish.

As they make their way through the tunnels, Liz is breathing very slowly, measuring her breaths by the number of steps they’ve taken to get here. “The only thing anyone needs to know is that we came from outside and that we’ve been medically cleared,” she tells Ruiz firmly. “Anything else they want to know, we are simply saying we would rather not talk about it. But yes, it’s a good plan that he should know us on sight, given the story,” she agrees.

As they get ready to enter what evidently passes for ‘stores’ in this community, Elisabeth glances around. “Does he like being down here in the darker regions for a reason? Or is it just the only place that was available and easily secured against theft?” Because… rationing and deprivation often brings out the worst in people along with the better.

The tunnels — dark, deep, and labyrinthine — are a part of the old New York. Not even merely referring to the time before the virus, but the New York of the 1930s and 1940s. These steam tunnels were decommissioned decades ago, and now serve as a claustrophobic maze of pipe-lined concrete that all smells faintly of rust and mildew. Ruiz leads Liz down a flight of stairs that breaks away from their current tunnel, descends into what has to be approaching the lower subway levels of Queens, before opening up into an old maintenance office.

The room is some sixty feet across on a side with twenty foot high ceilings. Down here, though, there’s been newer construction. Tall metal shelving is bolted to the wall, filled with all the world’s garbage; coolers, ratty blankets, folding chairs, folding tables, plastic milk crates full of children’s toys, assorted headphones, old cell phones, laptop computers, battery bricks, power strips, televisions, bicycles. All of it is restricted behind a tall, rusted, chain-link fence bolted to the walls. A rectangle has been cut out of the fence and an old office desk pushed up against it from the other side. Atop that a little hula doll with a grass skirt wobbles from side to side next to a wind-up radio and an ashtray filled with cigarette butts.

Behind the chain-link fence stalks a tall and broad-shouldered man dressed head to toe in an oiled canvas jumpsuit. It looks like something an old mill worker might wear when handling coal, tucked into tall rubber boots. The figure’s head is hidden by a hooded gas mask strapped to their head. Whoever he is, he’s slinging a backpack off of his shoulder to land on a nearby table. The chain-link door to the storage space is open, and when he hears footsteps approaching he rapidly darts to the door and slams it shut, followed by clicking a padlock around it. The jumpsuit has a name on it, crossed out in sharpie market, with “K-Mart” scribbled below.

«Nice try, Champ.» K-Mart shoots to Ruiz, pointing a finger through a hole in the chain link. «Don’t have yer’ headphones, pal. So— » K-Mart pauses, spotting Liz. There’s a momentary stillness, and he steps back. «What the fuck is this, Chachi?»

“I haven’t lost them this time, K,” Ruiz immediately responds with a friendly smile, dropping the backpack off his shoulder and fishing out something. What he fishes out is a square, cardboard sleeve, for a vinyl. The cover is faded and stained, but the vinyl remains in good shape. It’s one of his more prized possessions, even if he doesn’t have anything to play it on. K might, though, so it made for good trade. The cover is for Duran Duran, their title album, in fact.

This is Elisabeth. She and her friend just joined us.” They didn’t get new people often, and rarely would they be brought down to their storage area, either. That alone probably gave suspicion, even if he intends to leave the details out for the moment. “Elisabeth, this is the infamous K-Mart.”

The vinyl is held up as he adds, “I’m hoping to trade for some comics or graphic novels, if you got them.” After food, water and anything resembling a drug, entertainment that could actually be consumed might well have been on the highest list of desires.

“Nice to meet you, K-Mart,” Elisabeth says, a touch on the wary side with the way the person looks. A gas mask makes sense, though, if he’s going outside. It’s at least some amount of protection, right? She glances at Ruiz and smiles faintly. “You and Magnes are going to get along just fine if you share your comics with him.”

Clearing her throat, she looks back to K-Mart. “I’m told that you’re the man to talk to when I need something. Although… being new here, I don’t think I have much of anything I can trade,” she admits ruefully. “I think Edward was … expecting me to simply ask you, maybe?” She’s actually not sure.

It's silence that greets Ruiz and Liz back. K-Mart is quiet for a long while, then unlocks the paddock of his collection and steps out. «Oh, Ah’ know who the fuck she is, Chachi. Ah’ remember her face plastered all over the news when all them kids got shot up.»

There's no mention of comics, no confirmation of anything Ruiz was sent here for. Instead, there's just a tension that grows in K-Mart’s posture. Reaching to grab the back of his gas mask, K-Mart pulls it forward to reveal a shaggy head of dirty blonde hair and the dark five o’clock shadow of one other than Kain Zarek. “You're supposed t’be dead.

It seems Kain Zarek is the only one who watched that news. “Good thing K’s the only one who’s known you so far,” Ruiz responds in a quiet way, lowering the vinyl back into the bag for now. He can do the trade later, after all. The comics aren’t that important. They weren’t even for him. But since he seems to know the woman, at least enough to know she died, it explains why the filtered voice had sounded the way it had.

“Looks like you get to tell him the whole story, Lizbeth,” That would apparently be the nickname he’s picked for the woman he had to pull out of some kind of armor earlier. “Explain away.”

Elisabeth’s blue eyes go wide at the sight of Kain Zarek. Blowing out a slow breath, she shoves a hand through her hair to rest at the top of her head while she stares at him. And then she starts to laugh. “Son of a bitch.” Because OF COURSE it’s going to be Kain Zarek. Shaking her head, she drops her hand and then shoves both into her pockets.

“Right then…. Long story way less long. You know how in the comic books there’s all this bullshit about parallel universes? DC’s multiverse and shit like that? Basically, they’re right. Me and another person got pulled through a dimensional rip and landed here. In my world you’re dead, in your world apparently I’m dead.” She shrugs slightly. Everything has been said in a matter-of-fact tone that belies the absurdity of what she’s telling him, but she looks dead serious. “Edward doesn’t want anyone to know that’s where we came from, but we need you to back up the cover story that you found us outside and brought us in until we figure out whether we can replicate what happened to us and possibly get all of your folks out of this hellhole.”

She tilts her head at Kain and asks him with a wicked glint of amusement, “Following so far, swamp rat?” She has no idea why Laura’s nickname for him popped out of her mouth. Maybe because she wants to tweak him just a bit for actually knowing she was supposed to be dead.

“Look sugar, it was mah job t’know all the sad tragedies of the world so Danny could donate to ‘em and smell like roses.” Kain’s posture stiffens as he explains that, pointing two fingers accusingly at Ruiz. “An ah’m just about sick of —”


Kain just stops. He blinks, brows furrowed, and turns to look back at Liz again. What she said, her cliff notes explanation, finally rattles around in the back of his mind. He looks at her with narrowed-eyes confusion, then looks to Ruiz for a telltale sign of a smirk — that this is all some elaborate prank.

We?” Is all Kain asks, with color draining out of his face. Flashing a quick look to Ruiz, Kain focuses back on Liz. “Who— who’s with you?” It's a heartbroken tone, and the Cajun can't hide that as it spreads across his face. He knows better than to hope for who it is, but nevertheless he asks. Everything else is cast aside.

There’s no grin on his face to show it’s a joke. And Ruiz has been prone to jokes in the past. But not about this. With a nod, he shows that, yes, they are telling the truth. “When I called out the breach on the 8th— that’s when they came through.” He is sure that Kain heard it, it’s still his job to pay attention to those things. He just didn’t come investigate like Woods had. “The other one’s a kid. Early 20s. Named Magnes Varlane. Ray didn’t know who he was. Kid’s ability seems to interact with mine, so we’re working on some way to— do what she said. Get us all out of here.”

Cause the alternative had always seem to be ‘wait to die’. It would be happening someday. Either Kazimir would find them, or the virus could mutate to the point that not even the injections would stop it from killing all of them. One day.

The possibility of leaving had been the first hope they’d found in awhile.

“But since their identities might cause a riot, we’re keeping it hush. Only Ray and Woods, and maybe the President know. We’ve been using you as a cover story to how they got here.” Through a door, not a black hole.

The pain is obvious to her — she has lived it. Elisabeth’s demeanor immediately shifts from teasing to serious. “I’m sorry,” she tells Kain quietly. “There were only the two of us caught in the radius of effect.” She isn’t sure what to say to him next, and so she chooses to do what she’d have done for anyone who might be pissed that his vulnerability showed to a stranger — she pretends she saw nothing.

“Are you willing to stick to the story?” She asks in a quiet but businesslike tone. “I don’t know enough about your world to fake knowledge of it… so I was hoping you might be able to give me a decent feel for what it’s actually like out there at present. A few details would be helpful to sell the cover.”

“Ol’ bug-eyes doesn't pay me enough t’keep all these secrets,” Kain dejectedly grouses, quickly trying to brush past his momentary emotional turmoil. Instead, he lobs his gas mask into a bin nearby filled with more. Then, he just turns around and walks back into his cage, grabbing a step ladder as he does.

“Ah’ got yer comics,” Kain adds, setting up the ladder and stepping to reach a high shelf. He pulls down a plastic bin full of the things in individual sleeves with cardboard backing. He nudges the stepladder aside with a booted toe and then circles back.

The box of comics is laid out on a folding table beside Liz. “Ah’ve got yer Batman, yet Spider-Man, couple’a old 9th Wonders.” Kain grabs one of those put and holds it up, depicting a goofy-looking rock monster with bright gold eyes on the cover that is screaming, “Who dares to DEFY ME!? I am Uluru the Invincible!”. The issue title is I Fought Uluru. Toward the bottom of the comic is a crouching figure in a fedora and jacket shouting, “Nobody believed me! Now I'm humanity’s last hope!

Kain wags the comic up and down. “Each one’ll cost ya a pack of smokes — an’ none’a this Virginia Slims shit.” But then Kain sees the record in Ruiz’s hand. “Holy shit is that —” Kain snatches the album and gives Ruiz an askance look, leaving the comics in the bin. His brows pinch together, then an accusatory stare up and Ruiz as Liz, then back to the album cover. There's a visible, emotional response from seeing it. But Kain is quick to tuck that expression away, and the album under his arm.

“Does ‘ol Blue Eyes think you two can get us all outta here?” Kain’s blue eyes flick to Liz. “If yer really from some sorta mirror universe… it's better’n here? Like— really better?” He's accepted the idea so quickly, so eagerly.

“I keep trying to get Nette to quit, but I think she’d kill me if I gave away her cigarettes for comic books,” Ruiz responded with a joking voice, but thankfully the record looks like payment enough. He doesn’t quite understand why it gives him such an expression, but he won’t ask, either. Everyone has their own trauma. Instead he steps forward and begins picking out some of the comics, waiting for the man to tell him to stop. “They’re for Magnes, actually,” he adds to Elisabeth before she gets any idea that he’s a comics fan.

“Oh, this one’s in Spanish,” he flips it over a few times. Green Lantern/Flash: Faster Friends Part One. He adds it to the pile even if he doubts that the boy reads Spanish.

“The Professor’s got hope, enough that he had me go off the injection and practice with him, complete with a video camera.” He is trying to keep his hope tempered, because, no doubt, there’s many people he wants to see get out of this death trap of a world… “It might work. Eventually.”

Elisabeth’s eyes are drawn to the 9th Wonders comic, if only because … she’s never even heard of Uluru and she doesn’t remember that one from the stash of comics that they kept locked away. Wait… actually. Has she heard of Uluru?? Isn’t that the name of the big red rock in Australia? The only reason she even might know such things is because of Jaiden. The comic books were not something she really looked at closely — fucking prophetic books and paintings were NEVER a good idea — and the blonde hesitates before commenting, “We had a series called 9th Wonders back home too. He’d like that one.”

To Kain, she gives a serious answer. “If we got here once, we can do it again. I just… don’t know if it will be in time to do anyone any good. However, that said? Yes. My home is a far fucking nicer place than yours… and Kazimir fucking Volken is dead in my world.” She shrugs a little. “You’re a gambler, Zarek. Take the chance — it’s not like you have a lot to lose here. Except maybe dying of the fucking plague. Anything has to be better than that, right?”

She slants a glance one more time at Ruiz’s digging. “Do you think the album might be worth enough for those and possibly something to play tunes on?” Liz offers Kain a grin. “I’d arm-wrestle you for the vinyl, but … well, you’re probably the only person around here who’d have the equipment to play it, yeah?”

You're a gambler, Zarek He was so distracted by everything else, Kain hadn't quite parsed that comment. But when he does, “Th’ fuck d’you know about me?” It's a little too antagonistic, and Kain grimaces the tone away and looks down to the floor. “On second thought, Ah’ don’t wanna know.”

Record in hand, Kain starts to make his way back to the cage. Beyond, Liz can see an old Magnavox record player on a stand beside a hideous wooden lamp carved to look like a fisherman in a yellow raincoat. “Ah’m not much’f an optimist. An’ Ah’ve seen enough shit t’believe this parallel world bullshit. But…”

Kain closes the cage door behind himself, his silhouette divided by the mamy chain links. “Ah’m not an idiot. If the Vanguard gets one whiff a’this… we’re all dead.” Kain looks back through the chain link to Elisabeth. “Even you, Lady Lazarus.”

At Elisabeth’s reminder, Mateo adds the 9th Wonders comics to the pile, even if he thinks the art looks overrated. With the mention of Kazimir fucking Volken being dead though? That makes his eyebrow twinge slightly. Even just the mention of him causes that small effect. That’s one chance this man is certainly willing to take, and he looks up to see if Kain’s willing to as well.

And if the other man wants more in barter for what the tunes the woman’s asking for as well. He does still have some. Including, no doubt, some smokes. Not his, either, so he’d probably be willing to part with them.

For more than comics.

“Technically she’s not Lazarus. She didn’t die.” Little does he actually know, right?

“But if you got something she can listen to music on to spend the time while we figure out how to save our sorry asses, I’ll trade you some of those smokes after all, too, if I need to.”

Elisabeth’s blue eyes have a hard expression in them. “Well, I guess I better hope your little group of refugees doesn’t have a traitor in it, hadn’t I?” Her smile is faint, and she pulls in a slow breath. “What I know about you, Kain Zarek, is that if what I’m doing will benefit you personally without a lot of risk to you, you’re usually willing to play ball. In this case?” She shrugs. “I’m hoping that the fact that I can at least offer a chance of surviving this hellhole is enough to gain your help.”

She purses her lips, glancing between the two men. “I realize you have no reason to trust me. But in my world, I helped stop the Vanguard and kill Kazimir Volken. I have no agenda in this world except to get the fuck out of it and take as many of you with me as I can.”

Kain steps out of sight for a few moments, rummaging around in his shelves and bins. He has no response to either Mateo’s charm or Liz’s assurances. Instead, when he slowly comes walking back out of his cage, it’s with a pair of old foam-padded headphones duct-taped together and a battered casette player and AM/FM walkman. Coming through the doorway of his cage, he looks at Ruiz, then holds out the headphones and walkman to Liz.

“It ain’t much,” Kain says, sweeping his blue-eyed stare over to her. “One kinda’ warped copy of ol’ Mikey Jackson’s Thriller.” The corners of his mouth crook up. “The AM/FM bands still work, but there’s usually nothing out there but static. Sometimes y’pick up all sorts’a weird shit on the high bands though. Ghost signals,” he waves a hand at the air, “bouncin’ off the stratosphere or some shit.”

Handing them off, he looks back to Ruiz. “It’s got brand new batteries, Gomez,” Kain’s brows furrow together. “You owe me a carton. So,” he turns around and seeming to be in an even worse mood than he was earlier, starts to leave. “Ah’ll let’cha know when we’re even.”

A mole? The very idea makes Ruiz shudder. They’d all be long dead if their location had been given up. Vanguard hadn’t released a virus for fun, after all, they’d done it to cleanse the world of what their leader viewed as the disease. A disease that consisted of just about everyone in this very room. Just about.

“A whole carton, K?” is his reply, even as he lets the bag drop and pulls out a couple packs of something labeled Eclipse. Nearly 90% less second hand smoke! “You should try these, then. For starters.” Not Virginia Slims. He tosses them down and leaves them there. He half expects the other man to take one puff and demand a refund.

“Thriller’s better than nothing. You can borrow mine when I’m not needing it, too,” he offers to the not-actually-dead woman as he stuffs the comics into his bag. He’ll pay the man back the rest of the way later. Somehow.

Even if he has to dip into someone’s smoke stash to do it.

As Liz reaches out to take the Walkman, she meets Kain’s gaze for a moment. “Thank you.” The simple gratitude is sincere, and the tone is softer than her bit of snark earlier. Pulling in a slow breath, she glances at Ruiz. She’d like to talk to Kain alone, perhaps ask him some questions… but now is not the time.

Looking back at the man who runs the supply depot, she nods slightly. “See you around, Kain.”

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