An Injudicious Wish


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Scene Title An Injudicious Wish
Synopsis "Actually, I think monastery cells are as old as it gets," Sabra continues. "Or rather solitary contemplations and a life spent in deeds of charity. Seeking peace from God, from one's own soul — not man. Men, as a rule, don't actually care about penance."
Date October 18, 2009

Manhattan — Department of Homeland Security Headquarters

Kayla Reid is absent today, along with other familiar faces; most of those who work in this building are not Company employees. But the difference, to the outside, may be inscrutable; they certainly don't try to make it obvious.

After the last little stunt he pulled, Teodoro Laudani's face became exceptionally prominent in internal memos. Needless to say, he's recognized the instant he enters the building; before, even, as unobtrusive security watches the approach. However, he's left to his own business at first, until an average-looking administrative flunky kindly steps in to direct him to room 411. He's expected, no less.

Any well-honed sense of preservation would decry that instantly for a trap. But it may also be just the meeting he was looking for.

The door to the room in question is slightly ajar, though the blinds on the adjacent window are closed. It's an office, spartan in decor; the heavy desk is well-used, two nice-quality prints framed on the walls, books and knicknacks on a shelf. No potted plants; where one might have gone is a second desk. Though in truth Sabra doesn't work here at all, never mind on a regular basis, it's hard to figure that by appearance alone; even Ashton is here, filling out papers to the side.

Ms. Dalton would justify office space to be kept for her, even in a building that sees as much traffic in service to a city so dense, so this makes sense. Or doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Trap, meeting; he might be looking for both, one endemic to the other, either with firearms blazing and tasers and shit or the purple hills of promise solidifying out of the fog of his bleak agenda. He knows what he wants, and he's used to operating off that without any real way of knowing what to expect.

Maybe someone taller or better-armed in front of the elevator. That wasn't an insult, was it?

Sometimes, it's difficult to track which of the supervillains in this genre stoop to engage in social warfare. "Good afternoon." He looks more tired than network security showed him last time, smudged underneath the eyes like some coffee-running intern, an image completed by the black simplicity of his suit and his purported age. He glances over the prints, richly dark book spines, bric-a-brac using his eyes, and then the other sides of the walls using something else. Intended movement in his hands turns stillborn, an aborted effort to sign Hello at the aide over the papers. "Thanks for seeing me."

One blonde brow arches as Ashton regards Teo across his papers, even if the gesture wasn't completed. The aide inclines his head slightly, expression impassive, and returns to his work. That he keeps an eye on both is inevitable, unsurprising; but his observation is as unobtrusive as experience allows.

Teo doesn't rate tea — at least not yet. Blue eyes incongruously bright for a woman of her years regard the Sicilian across her work. After a moment's consideration, the elderly woman nods towards one of the chairs on his side of the desk. "Please, be seated, Mr. Laudani. I believe we have a great deal to discuss," Sabra continues, folding her hands on the desk surface.

The indicated seat is taken without ceremony, accepted despite the absence of tea. Teo doesn't slouch despite there's a half of him inclined to do so, his hands folded up on his lap and regard steady from over the use-weathered plateau of the desk. The smile he acknowledges Sabra's assessment with is more of a tic of his cheek than a finished expression in and of itself, the sort of joke that soldiers are wont to share between themselves, gallows humor, punchlines so dry they pass for wilted in other society.

"Isabella Sheridan is fine," he says first, making the psychiatrist's health out to be a priority for either politeness' sake or for the captive's own. Bella fosters few delusions about her importance to the grand scheme of things, never mind Sabra's various and sundry schemes, but her relief had been palpable when he'd told her he'd made contact. As it were. "She's in good spirits, all things considered. Eating enough to keep her strength up. Still," he measures a fragment of a shrug, illustrative of his Empathy and Understanding on the subject: "she's made no bones about how much she'd like to be released."

Toward this end, he doesn't link in, but it's there anyway: "I would appreciate it if you would lend me use of a discreet and competent Evolved memory manipulator. I need to shed some weight."

The elderly lady regards Teo in silence for a moment's time, head canted at a birdlike angle. "I see," she finally says, the tone of those two words noncommittal. "What I fail to understand," Sabra continues, musing curiously, "and what I would like to know before we puruse this potentiality any further, is why you're set on this course of action." Shed some weight is a tremendously non-specific phrase.

Be a bad time for a fat joke; Teo keeps his face set sober, is unable to stop his features from shifting faintly downcast, a slanting to the lines of his face that do not take Ashton out of his peripheral vision. All right. That's a fair question, and the woman who has the capability of rendering the services he's after deserves to hear the answer as much as his psychiatrist captive, if not more. "I have some information about Phoenix and a few other people that could jeopardize some of their operations if I experienced some kind of—" he looks for the word in his considerable vocabulary. "Weakness, and gave it up to someone with malicious intent.

"Most of it's already out-of-date, or will be soon," Teo adds, a shrug lifting his shoulders. It's pragmatic understanding, that addresses change, names traded for aliases, even faces mutable in this day and age. "But it's appropriate precautionary action. I've decided to confess my crimes to the New York Police Department." A beat's pause. The irony comes even without a deliberate twist of tone: "Four or five of them, anyway."

It takes a certain amount of gall, at the least, to seek out an audience with someone whom Phoenix certainly considers an enemy and request a favor in order to hide information about Phoenix — possibly from that very enemy, in the end. And to be bluntly honest about it. "How very… poetic, Mr. Laudani, that you're seeking this from me."

Sabra sits back in her chair, gaze never wavering from Teo. Ashton, meanwhile, continues about his work in a quiet background susurrus of paper; nothing that draws attention, nothing that suggests he's actually paying more attention to them than the forms beneath his hands. He could fill them all out in his sleep.

"Turning yourself in?" Sabra rephrases in echo, a touch of surprise to her voice that certainly seems sincere. "Certainly not an act that I would expect to benefit your feathered friends, unless you were planning to try and get at something from the inside." Though the statements could be the woman fishing for a reaction from Teo, her pause doesn't grow long enough to become expectant; she doesn't actually intend him to reply to that.

"Is surrendering to due process the new path of expiation, Teodoro?"

There's a lopsided grimace, a crooked half of a grin; Teo sits back in the chair, lets his posture slip a few inches closer to sloppy, a rumpled rookie flippantly enthroned on all of his egotism and blithely unaware that the hammer of remonstrance is about to be brought down on him from the unassuming superior on the other side of the desk. That's what it would look like. "To be fair, I think it's a pretty old path of expiation, as far as that goes. Generally, people don't surrender to due process because they're making any other kind of point.

"There's some information about the Company you probably wouldn't want available to whomever should be expecting me," he says. "And you should probably be aware I'd prefer that the memories be destroyed— or the nearest thing, rather than transferred. I'd probably be able to tell if your employee was—" Polite euphemisms fail him. Teo hikes his eyebrows, meanders a desultory glance across the surface of the desk, which makes him the first to break eye-contact, in case anyone's running tallies. "Peeking."

"Actually, I think monastery cells are as old as it gets," Sabra continues. "Or rather solitary contemplations and a life spent in deeds of charity. Seeking peace from God, from one's own soul — not man. Men, as a rule, don't actually care about penance." The elderly woman smiles faintly; she hears, marks Teo's continued explanatory words but doesn't address them now. "If you sit in a jail cell for decades, find yourself in the chair awaiting that last stroke of the clock…" She leans forward again, expression somber, serious, intent. "Riddle me this, Teodoro: to what benefit? If you do no harm, you will also do no good. And if you do nothing at all, what reparation is truly made?"

No, the real poetry is in that the very enemy from which all that information must be hidden, who might benefit from its hiding, and separately also from Phoenix's erstwhile co-leader being dropped into a hole and paved over for the rest of his life, would appear to be trying to use rhetoric to lever him off that gangplank. Despite having been dedicated to the passionate study of languages for many years, Teo is not accustomed to finding genuine poetry serving itself up day to day, his regard for the woman reshapes itself gradually but unmistakably into a stare. "I would've thought you'd know to try to use reverse psychology on me, Ms. Dalton.

"I was part of a faction that passed a lot of moral judgment on yours, and that kind of advisement," a callused forefinger flicks air, empty except for the memorable trails of Sabra's question-answers, marking the distance between Phoenix's knight errant and the wicked witch-queen they say reigns over much of the Company proper, "sounds a lot like the excuses that your agents use to rationalize fucking everybody else over. Assuming their conscience happens to be active enough to require excuses.

"I'm sorry if that sounds rude." Teo isn't really sorry if that sounds rude, but he might have been if he thought Sabra might actually be offended. It's possible. He always did have a thing for rote, generic goodness.

"I'm quite certain it is" is her equanimous reply. Rude. Doesn't mean she's actually going to take offense; that isn't of any use. Sabra Dalton sits back once more, letting her hands rest easily in her lap. A faint, genial smile deepens the lines of her face. "It is unfortunate that what you hear is so heavily filtered by that moral judgment — I have no interest in persuading you from your course, to offer rationalization or excuse," she continues with a slight shake of her head. "Indeed, if your compatriots made the same choice there would be rather fewer concerns on my plate. But I admit to surprise, Mr. Laudani. The members of Phoenix have held fast; to have one… well, I am certain you follow well enough."

Teodoro Laudani's strayed far from the coop, it's true. He can acknowledge that easy enough. She isn't even being rude about it. He scrawls the lady a brief smile and drops his hands on his lap somewhere below the level of the table. Rustling paper sheaves take up the noise of the air for a few long seconds. "Cool," he remarks. Mirrors Sabra a chickadee's quirk of his own head, though he cants his in the other direction, studying her flat-eyed, thin-lipped, with something akin to expectation. "Does that mean you're going to help me?"

Help. What exactly does that word mean, anyway? To different people, different things. The elderly woman regards Teo Laudani steadily for a long moment, face turned at a slightly oblique angle, the fractional drop of eyelids suggestive of deliberation. Weighing cost against benefit, perhaps; acquiescence against surety. And then she inclines her head.

"Let us walk," Sabra says, rising from her seat behind the desk and stepping around the obstacle it presents. A gesture of one wrinkled hand directs the Sicilian towards the open door. "You will return Isabella Sheridan to me, and —"

The smile beneath those blue eyes is affable, genial, everything that could be expected from a benevolent grandmother.

"Yes, Teodoro. I will help you."

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