An American Elm


corbin_icon.gif emily_icon.gif lance_icon.gif liza_icon.gif

Scene Title An American Elm
Synopsis A body is found in an unusual location and SESA shows up to begin an investigation into how it got there.
Date November 4, 2019

Jackson Heights

This area seemed to be in a constant state of construction. Destroyed buildings being demolished, plants and rubble being removed. This area had once been a block of old buildings, likely tenement housing in what was now Jackson Heights, but it would be difficult to see it as such now. What was left of the buildings was hollow shells.

And one, conspicuously large tree that seemed to grow into the foundation of the building. The construction (or deconstruction) in this area has ceased, yellow tape lines the area as the two SESA agents lead the young interns closer to the large tree, that was partially sawed through. A small group of military men stand about, along with one of the new NYPD officers, taking notes, and two SESA forensic scientists are nearby, discussing something quietly over their machines.

“So,” Corbin speaks up as he leads the group over, looking unusually dour as he looks up at the tree with a frown. “We don’t see one like this very often.”

What this is, he didn’t give a briefing on, yet, just told them to grab their things and come with him up to Jackson Heights. They had a new case.

And he’d also asked for Liza to help him personally. Because they had been Agents together, once. And he trusted her to see things that only someone who had been with the Company might see.

“They were doing basic demolition, from what I’ve been told. And they found something that forced their work to stop.” He glances over at the two forensic scientists, “Is it verified?”

“Oh yes, Agent Ayers. It’s definitely Courtney Andrea Baldwin. We managed to get prints. Some of her right hand was… intact. It’s definitely her.”

With a nod, he turned back to the two, “Over a year ago, Miss Baldwin went missing from a Halloween party at Brooklyn College. No leads were found, it was chalked up as one of many… unfortunate disappearances.” They both knew something about those. “But apparently, she didn’t end up on Staten Island…” or worse. “They found her in that tree. Someone… grew a tree around her.”

A very, very big tree.

The scientist interrupted, pushing her glasses up to the top of her nose. “An American Elm, to be exact. Also known as a White Elm. Or a Water Elm, or…” she trailed off, mildly flustered. “They’re not completely uncommon, though a tree this size would normally have to be much older than the young woman was missing, the trunk is almost four feet wide!”

“Thank you, Agent,” he cuts her off, then looks back at the tree. “Any thoughts?”

At the realization of what happened to the woman in question, Lance’s eyebrows go up to his hairline and his color pales a shade or two. “Oh. Oh, man, that’s…” His gaze slides to the tree and he grimaces, one hand coming up to adjust his tie uncomfortably. He’s no stranger to grisly death, unfortunately— he grew up around it— but it’s not at all pleasant to see or think about even now.

A breath’s taken, and he looks back to Corbin. “Ah. Agrokinetic? Or if the tree was there beforehand, uh, teleportation or phasing, either accidental or, uh, purposeful. I’ve been in a teleportation accident before, it was— well, not fun let me tell you, Agent Ayers.”

Unlike Corbin’s dour expression, Liza is a little more chipper. Not so much as to be inappropriate for the situation, but she takes it in with a calm and serious demeanor that belays more experience with this type of thing than she might care to admit. Still, she does have if not a happy expression, a peaceful one on her face as she surveys the scene.

“There’s all kinds of interesting bits to this… my thoughts go to the girl. Did she have an ability? Or maybe close ties to someone with something relevant? Sure, she’s someone who disappeared at a Halloween party but she surely meant something to someone. She didn’t end up in the tree… the tree ended up in her. I mean, logistically that’s wrong but I think you get my meaning. I hope. Probably.”

Arms pulled tightly around her like it's against the cold— because it's definitely the cold, right?— Emily Epstein has taken in the scene in silence. The sharpness of her gaze shows it's not a passive silence, and the eventual shifting of her feet to bring herself somewhat closer to the tree. It's in that movement that cracks show in her solemn facade, brow furrowing.

"What kind of Speaker for the Dead bullshit is this?" she asks herself in a near mutter. It'll disconcert her later how similar their lots were before this young woman disappeared, being students at the same college, but for now there's a keen interest in trying to discern what she can from the situation. She looks hard— though it's hard to look at all— seeing how the tree growth parts around what of the missing woman can be seen. Her eyes narrow in trying to see if it looks like she displaces the tree or if something else entirely is going on. Before a sudden thought leaves her, though, she abandons her scrutiny and turns back to the agents they've come out with.

"Agrokinetic, maybe, or what about what happened to Agent Baumann?" Emily asks bluntly. She'd heard rumors about how they'd found her. "Some kind of … matter manipulation." It wasn't too long ago that saying those words out loud would have sounded awkward coming from her, but now they're delivered with confidence, save for the pause to make sure she says the exact thing she meant to. "Is there any kind of forensic evidence that could help identify any one possibility over the other?"

“All probable situations,” Corbin has to admit, finally losing some of his dour expression, perhaps because of Liza’s infectious attitude. “I doubt it is related to Baumann, though. Too bad, we could’ve used her to give us a few leads since the scene is so old and disturbed.” They might not have been able to use her visions in testimony or evidence, but it could possibly help them find physical evidence hidden under layers of dust and debris. “So, what do we have to work with so far?” He asks the young scientists when the other speaks up instead.

A curly-haired man not yet far into his thirties, he up and down from the datapad he’s recording things on as he answers, “We’ll have to take a bigger slice to be sure, but it didn’t seem she was fused with the tree. The tree itself is remarkably healthy. We’re going to check to see if any radiation from either of the Manhattan bombs are present in the layers, which would normally give us an idea of age, or at least tell us if it was alive before the incidents, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case. We haven’t found any physical evidence besides the body— we don’t know if she was alive when it happened yet or not.”

He’s talking all business, cause this was probably something they were, unfortunately, used to discussing even if the exact details were different.

“Oh, and here’s her file.” He flips over onto another screen. “If she died not long after she disappeared, she was still 21, her birthday would’ve been in March. But we don’t have much on her except what was in the missing person’s report. Not Expressive. No declared major. Originally from Arizona, she lost almost all her relatives except an uncle during the war, who moved out here with her. He hired a private investigator to try and find her.”

“We’ll need to talk to him, probably.” Corbin doesn’t pull out anything tech-based, just an old notepad, where he writes down the name, office address and a phone number to which he looks at the two interns, “Who’d like to do the interview?”

“What about the construction company? They would’ve taken survey photos, like— way before they started, right? That might solidify if the tree was here back then or not,” suggests Lance, regarding the tree with a sympathetic expression. Lower, he mutters under his breath, “Hope she wasn’t alive when it happened. Bad way to die.”

He shoots a look to Emily, then to Corbin before asking hesitantly, “Has he, uh— has he been informed yet?”

“Maybe it was some effort to protect her,” Liza muses, looking a bit puzzled. “Someone thought it would protect her from something and were tragically mistaken. At least it seems like it wasn’t something she did that caused it.” Her attention drifts to Lance briefly at his comment. “It was probably quick. I like to think so.”

She doesn’t really speak up to anyone other than that, she’s still in thought. “… hiding the body? No, that seems too odd…”

Corbin just asked them what? Emily is unable to mask her shock at the bluntness of his question, looking quickly between Lance and Liza both to confirm she'd not just imagined he'd said what he did. As interns, was that remotely something they should be doing?

Concerns she keeps to herself. Somehow.

"If— you're looking for a people person," Emily manages, sounding only slightly offput. "to handle that, I'd be willing to join an agent on that." She doesn't consider herself a 'people person' generally, but handling hard conversations both straightforwardly and with compassion— it was something she felt she had a handle on, and wanted to excel at.

Her ability, she reflects, could depend on that. Another thought she keeps to herself.

Similar to how she doesn't entirely volunteer herself for the interview. That feels way above their paygrade to be taking on alone.

For a moment, Corbin tilts his head as if listening to something, but whatever that is it’s not audible to anyone else. Then he suddenly laughs, as if he heard a joke, or, realized a mistake he made that caused this small misunderstanding. “No, no, this is the address for the PI he hired. I’m not going to make one of your inform next of kin. Maybe in another year or two if you stick around.” That required a certain mental and emotional fortitude, he knew. “We should be able to get a warrant for his files, but anything he’d be willing to share without is good too. It’ll be good to have insight closer to when she actually disappeared. He hasn’t been notified yet, so you can practice on him if you really wanted to try informing someone of a death.”

Even then, he hands the piece of paper over to Emily, as he adds, “You can make it a group trip, if you can wrangle someone with the agency to go with you.” He didn’t think it was a two-man job, but she could take Lance or Liza or someone else with SESA if she wanted to.

After a small pause, the young woman in glasses cleared her throat. For the last few minutes, since the other tech started speaking, she’d been rocking slightly as if she wanted to interrupt but didn’t want to interrupt either. “Um. Agents. We did actually have pictures of the site, but they were from the Spring. The tree was here then, maybe if we could go back further we could pinpoint a time frame, but…,” she says looking at Lance first, to answer his question. But then she looks toward Liza, as if to address something she’d said. “What were we— uh— able to sample was remarkably preserved. It even bled a little when they— uh— cut into it. At first. Which is kind of impossible, if you go by pre-SLC-E science standards. SLC-Es sometimes break the standard, obviously, which is really a headache sometimes. So maybe someone thought the tree could protect her, she might even have been alive for a while afterward or even until they cut into her by accident, with an SLC-E ability one never knows, you know.”

The other tech gives a slight huffing sound, as if this might have been an argument they had earlier. “We can’t confirm any of that until we more samples back to the labs, Horner. We don’t feed them theories without evidence.”

“But it did bleed, Soto,” the younger tech, Horner, insists again, as Corbin takes more notes, quietly, frowning a little.

Catching something said, Lance blanches. “Wait, it bled when they cut into it? But if it was here since at least Spring— maybe since Halloween— she shouldn’t’ve bled unless…” His gaze slowly returns to the tree, and he covers his mouth with one hand, “Holy shit.”

Just give him a moment, he’ll bounce back after he digests that horrific realization.

For a moment, Liza appears to be confused about the timeline. She makes motions like she’s counting on her fingers, but then stops and doesn’t remark upon it. “Guess that changes the theories a bit. Maybe we’re not looking for someone making trees, but someone who can get inside of one. Phasing? Teleportation?” She then pauses. “Are we sure it’s only one body in there? Like… really sure? That blood thing sort of complicates matters a little.”

Emily doubletakes, looking back at the tree. If she bled, maybe she was still alive, and— no, they had to have already verified she wasn't. Surely. She waffles in place for a moment, rattled, then looks down to the paper in her hand. "Fuck," she mutters, trying to put away the ludicrous dash of hope she'd had. "Um…"

She splays the paper open with her thumb to read Corbin's writing, then dashes it closed again to look back to Lance, troubled. "So we… just—"

This was a sudden shift in pace from the desk work she'd been doing the majority of her internship.

“She’s definitely not SLC-E at least, we confirmed using the blood so she wasn’t falsely registered,” Soto says with a slight huff to his voice. “But the decay has been stunted. It still hasn’t set in and it’s been a day. That’s why we were able to get fingerprints so easily. Her hand was sticking out between some roots,” he explains, giving even more horrific an image, likely. Corbin was starting to think he threw the kids into the deep end before checking to see if there were snakes. Too late now— if they wanted to really intern they should get experience. The Company had had some agents who were almost as young as them.

With a nod, as if to himself, Corbin starts to give orders, “I’ll authorize the removal of the tree. Based on the size it will be difficult to transport, so I’ll get a portable lab set up for you near here. With apologies to the construction crew for the delay, though I’m sure they have other sites that can move forward until we’re ready to move. Make sure they’re careful in cutting it down, Soto. I’ll put you in charge of the lab. Track the condition of decay at each step. It could be related to the tree still being alive.. Horner, take the samples you have back to Governor’s Island. Run any tests you can think of.”

He pauses again, as Soto just nods and begins moving about, and Horner breaks off to… likely secure the sample they had already taken. Likely meaning the hand they had mentioned and whatever else they had. After a second he nods again as if agreeing with himself. Or someone in his head. “Lance and I will work together trying to get a timeline, see if we can access satellite imagery to pinpoint the time the tree appeared on site. Agent Messer, will you accompany Emily?”

Lance swallows that lump in his throat, straightens, and reaches over to give Emily’s shoulder a squeeze— his hand falling, joining the other in a quick few motions her way. You got this.

Adjusting his tie, he steps over towards Corbin, “Sounds like a plan. If this place was abandoned, too, maybe we could talk to the local homeless population— they might have seen something, or remember something about this place. I know there’s not supposed to be any homeless, but— “ But there are, of course.

“Absolutely,” Liza agrees as she’s asked. “Don’t worry,” she says as she looks pointedly at Emily. “I’m a people person. I’ll teach you how to fake it when the going gets rough… which it will. It’s one of the pitfalls of the job. The people part is honestly easier than you’d think.” She doesn’t consider herself a pro by any means… but she does have experience.

“Come on, we’ll get you being a people person in no time.” She beckons, already turning to leave with a hand up to Corbin. “Good luck, Agent Ayers!”

They're apparently going, they're going right now. Emily makes a simple sign to Lance even as Liza starts to pull away, more just body language that she'll be okay rather than any actual unspoken words, accompanied with a sliver of an attempted smile. "Don't have too much fun without me," she tells him, making an attempt at showing she's not as phased by the whole ordeal as she actually is. There's little time to ascertain her honesty behind it as she follows after Liza.

Emily didn't know this agent well, but it sounded like they had a long day ahead of them together.

As everyone follows his orders, Corbin’s shoulders seem to visibly relax, as if he only now trusted the orders that he’d given. “Maybe we can get more people on this case, but for now…” For now the four of them would do well enough. He already had one person in forensics he wanted to tap if they needed another hand there, but he would wait before he dragged Lee out of whatever project she might be on.

“We can only hope this was an isolated incident.”

Later that Evening

Cedar Grove Cemetery - Ruins of Queens


“It’s amazing how little of the city they have even attempted to reclaim,” a whispered voice said under the cold wind, muffled by the dark cloth wrapped around the figure’s mouth, a scarf of some kind perhaps to guard against the cold. The heavy hooded cloak hangs loosely over the tall figure, hiding their face in shadows only elongated by the low light given off by the small glowing sticks resting on the ground in a circle. A deep hole had been dug into the earth, the topsoil pushed aside, and inside a young woman lays, clothed much too little for the weather, blond hair splaying around her shoulders. She sobs around the gag, tears in her eyes, shivers racking her body.

“This used to be a cemetery. People could come here and visit the graves of their dead, families, friends. Brothers and sisters. Children and parents. Do you ever wonder how many unmarked graves lay in the city after the war, bodies unclaimed, unburied? Do you?”

The young woman shook her head, trying to say something against the gag, pleading in her eyes.

“Don’t worry. Your grave will be marked.” The figure bent down, pressing a leather-gloved hand against the girl’s head. “I have decided. You… should be a Maple. A Norway Maple. I think that will do very, very nicely.” The young woman tried to scream, as a green sprig burst through the gag and out of her mouth. Within moments, any screams faded into the lonely, abandoned cemetery.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License