Above Board


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Scene Title Above Board
Synopsis After discovering that long-thought-dead Vanguard may still be alive, Epstein begins to assemble a team to investigate.
Date April 3, 2018

Raytech NYCSZ Branch Office

Afternoon light filters through reactively tinting photovoltaic windows. A dimmer slider displayed as a digital image with haptic feedback displays the “cool shade” option. Not far away a physical name plate reads Richard Ray, CEO. Outside, yellow construction vehicles bulldoze flat what was once a tenement building across the street. Dump trucks are filled with concrete, orange-vested workers direct the minor amount of traffic that comes through this part of Jackson Heights. It's an ordinary day, except that it isn't.

A reproduced photograph of a helicopter parked at an industrial site sits on Richard Ray’s desk, depicting the walking dead arisen just in time for Easter. The helicopter has already been identified as an Augusta A-109 British military chopper, leftover from the UK’s support of the Mitchell regime during the civil war. But the figures around it — Joshua Lang and Iago Ramirez identifiable — are leftovers of a different kind.

Looming at the other side of Richard’s desk is his guest for the afternoon, done up for sake of appearances in a black houndstooth-pattern suit. Avi Epstein cuts a respectable silhouette when he needs to, and today he feels the need.

“We shoudla’ used a bigger boulder to block the cave,” is Epstein’s colorful and Easter-timely commentary on the situation. On the dire nature of what's staring back at them both.

The horror of the past.

"I saw it, when it hit the newspapers… newsfeed? Nobody uses newspapers anymore, whatever," Richard brushes off the brief anachronism of speech, ignoring that momentary reminder of aging for the more important matters of the moment.

He's dressed in a black double-breasted suit, black tie over white shirt - the epitome of corporate style, with just enough of an edge to be intimidating to some. Beneath the desk, the shoes are black, but they're 'cunningly' disguised running shoes. He's been through too much to risk footwear that'd slow him down.

One finger spears itself into the middle of the photograph and draws it closer, and he stares down at it for a long moment. "It's impossible. Lang— maybe— maybe someone could've saved the Butcher. Iago?" Hazel eyes— the shades that used to protect his vision long unneeded— lift back to Avi's face, his jaw tightening, "I watched Iago crumble to dust in front of me, and the wind blew away the remains away. There wasn't even enough left for Darren Stevens to have brought back…"

Then he's leaning back in the chair with a heavy sigh, that hand coming up to rub over his face, "Which means they’re shapeshifters, clones, fucking Terminator robots, or… something even worse is going on.”

“That's what I said when Huruma and Claire brought this to me.” Avi lowers himself down into the chair opposite of Richard’s desk with a slow and creaking pace. He keeps his right leg kicked out straight when he does finally sit.

“But they both made a great point. Why them?” Avi motions to the photograph. “Lang was a fucking errand boy for Rasoul. Iago was a lunatic without any special power. Why not someone like Wagner, or… anyone. Name recognition doesn't matter. The living Vanguard knew they were dead, they'd suspect copies.”

There's a nervous tension that runs through Avi. “Shapeshifters or terminators or whatever of theas guys?” He snorts. “It's a waste of resources. Plus, nobody outside of,” he raises his index finger, “Apollo operatives,” middle finger, “South America Vanguard,” ring finger, “and Madagascar Vanguard would even know who they are.”

Epstein leans back in his chair, folding his hands in his lap. “So, Hana and I decided we've gotta go to the fucking source and figure out what's actually going on. She’s sending me, Bennet, and Nick Ruskin to Washington in a couple weeks.” Avi’s brows furrow, head tilts to the side. “I thought we should check in with you. Because you're the guy I was with digging up fucking graves in the fucking desert.” As if everything that happened at Coyote Sands is explanation enough.

“You’re going to go make contact with the Guardians.” It isn’t a question. Richard’s fingers splay over his lower face and jaw, rubbing against stubble thoughtfully as he nods just a little, “It makes sense. They’re the ones who took the picture, they’re the ones who sent out the message, so they probably have a better idea for what’s going on out there.”

That hand sweeps away, fingers motioning through the air towards the man, “I haven’t had contact with them since before the war, I’m afraid - a few reports during the war, but nothing since. I’ve been meaning to make an effort, but you know how it is. Things get away from you… time goes by.” A slight wrinkling of his nose, clearly wishing he’d made that effort before now. “But— what happened, happened. We move on.”

He lapses into silence, then, regarding Epstein from across the desk as he sorts out his thoughts about the matter. “Although I do have a… interest in making sure that sonuvabitch is back in the ground. And I never could resist a mystery, so…”

The man in the suit with the CEO nameplate flashes the old agent a broad and bright grin, hands spreading to either side, “When do we leave, Pentacles?”

If this were a cartoon, his smile would have just glinted.

It’s the opposite of the ashen look Avi gave back at the phrase whatever happened, happened. His face goes through several motions trying to remember what a smile is, and then he leans forward in his chair and scrubs both hands over his face. “Hana’s already started to handshake with them, so they’ll be expecting us. Unfortunately, we can’t justify the use of the ROOK to get out there — fuel expenses and refueling logistics for the distance — so we’re going to be rambling across the open road. I estimated about a four day journey to reach Snoqualmie where the Guardians are holed up with a stop in Cle Elum to see exactly what the fuck happened.”

Hands down in his lap, Avi looks through the smoky lenses of his sunglasses over at Ray, then to the window and the construction outside. “We’re looking at anywhere between 14 to 16 hour shifts at driving, and everyone’s gonna pull. Once we hit the Dead Zone it’s going to be slow going and weapons hot, so you might wanna pack a kit.” Then, one brow raised he adds, “and I guess a sampler pack or something? You might be making new customers out there.”

"I'd offer the use of one of my jets, but they're not exactly combat vehicles," Richard admits wryly, glancing out to the window, "I'm pretty sure the board would have my head if I got one of them blown up." Given that the board is literally his adopted siblings, that's saying something.

Fingertips drum against the desk's surface, and he looks back to the older man with a nod, "Full combat kit, some 'samples' to show off to the Guardians, survival gear in case we get stranded." Always gamble on getting stranded. "You going in all official about this or is this a strictly covert operation?"

“Entirely above-board, we uh… “ Avi waves a hand, “SESA’s already been informed, I think Hana reached out to the CIA as well, which is why Ruskin is coming with us.” Then, a pause. “Did you know he went Alphabet?” Avi’s brows furrow together, a small expression of pride on his face. “Good kid, really. Hes’ come a long fucking way.”

Pushing up from his chair, Avi looks around the office, then adjusts his sunglasses. “Either way, there’s no reason t’hide any of this. If push comes to shove, I think the entire world can rally together against the fucking Vanguard. No matter differences of opinion on how things might be run, or… you know, whatever.” Epstein looks from the window to Ray. “It’s a brave new fucking world, man. This time, we’re not the ones running.”

“Did he? Good for him…” Richard’s head cants a little to one side, “I know he was with— well. That mission went to hell but it wasn’t his fault.” Petrelli bears the burden there. “Never really got to talk with the guy, guess I’ll finally get the chance…”

As Epstein stands, so does he, pushing himself up to his feet with a low chuckle, “I think you’re right there, actually. Kind of a refreshing change, to be honest. So, that said, send the travel details over and I’ll be ready when it’s time.”

A hand’s offered across the table, “To paraphrase something a particularly musical woman of my acquaintance once wrote… it’s a game of Hide and Seek now. And we’re the ones doing the seeking this time.”

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