An Urban Expedition


chess4_icon.gif jac_icon.gif

Scene Title An Urban Expedition
Synopsis Two sisters explore a treasured relic in the form of a library.
Date February 20, 2021


Pick you up at 11:30. Wear warm clothes and comfortable shoes.

When Jac gets into the Mini Cooper, she finds its tiny backseat packed with a lot of things that Chess doesn’t usually haul around the city — a compound bow, a water canteen, a backpack, and a first-aid kit. Chess herself is dressed in hiking boots, jeans, a hot-pink-and-black flannel shirt she stole from Basil, and of course a coat and gloves. It’s a colder-than-average day, even in February, which makes the big sister of the equation second-guess her plan a little, but both have been through far worse than the threat of snow and squatters or even wild animals that might inhabit the area Chess has chosen to explore today.

Far worse.

“So… I remembered you wanted to find that library in Park Slope,” Chess says, brows lifting as she glances to the back seat full of REI gear. “I don’t think it’s going to be in great condition and it’s probably already been looted of anything good, but we can still explore it.” Her brows lift. “You still game? If you’re not up to it, we can wait until it’s warmer or you’re feeling better.”

They both know that while the first is a certainty, the latter is not, but Chess isn’t going to use such negative words as if.

As instructed, Jac appears dressed for the cold when she climbs into the passenger’s seat. Jeans and good boots are pretty standard for her, as is the hoodie and denim jacket that hang from her shoulders. But she's included some gloves and a beanie, although she's not wearing those just yet.

Following a quick hi after closing the door, it’s the back seat that gets far more attention than usual. The first full minute that Jac is in the car is spent with her slowly dragging the seatbelt across her body and her eyes picking at the details of the gear. She's nearly to the point of bubbling over with questions though, when Chess gets to explaining the plans for the day.The library.

The teen’s eyebrows lift up into her hairline and she sinks back into her seat. Blue eyes seek out Chess’, searching for anything that might imply a falsehood. She doesn't believe her half sister would lie to her, but some habits are hard to give up. It's covered half a second later with an emphatic nod.

“No, let's do it.” Clearly Jac’s feeling fine, probably even ignoring the lingering symptoms of her episode a month ago. Not only is this too good an opportunity to pass up but she's also not going to let whatever experiments happened hold her back anymore. “I'm fine. Better than fine if I can get out of the house.”

Chess grins at the expressions that play across Jac’s face, and she nods once the decision has been made. “Awesome. Full disclosure — I didn’t clear it with Gillian, but I am 100 hundred percent sure that you do more dangerous things without parental permission,” she says with a smirk. “I’ll take the blame if anything happens though.”

She puts the car into drive and pulls away from the curb. “We’ll have to park a little ways away, since it’s too overgrown to drive really. It’s actually not far from the old armory — one of the places I used to squat, back before Ivy found me and I had to abandon it.”

That’s a bit of sugarcoating. She hasn’t talked much to Jac about the fact Ivy tried to kill Alix and Chess that night, that Chess had been in hiding from the rest of her sisters and “the Director” before she had volunteered to join them in Praxia.

Chess’ attention returns to the topic of the library and she tips her head. “I can’t really remember what state the library was in, last I was there. Everything sort of looks the same out that way — overgrown, broken, fire-bombed, you know.”

“You're not taking blame for anything,” Jac counters in a completely casual tone. Like it's part of some conversation they'd had a million times before. As sisters who've known each other their entire lives instead of maybe a year. Never mind that it's likely true there have been much more dangerous adventures than a field trip to Park Slope, she at least isn't going to let Chess take any fallout for anything.

As the car starts to move, the teen settles back in the seat with her eyes out the window. “I'm not broken,” she points out, a gentle reminder that whatever happened last month isn't holding her back. “I'm just glad to do something… different. Not school, not work, just…” Like how things used to be, before all of those things now.

“It's okay if we don't find anything.” Jac turns and looks up at Chess. “Part of the fun is going. And hanging out together.”

Chess glances at Jac through the corners of her eyes, then back out at the street ahead of her. “Definitely not broken. But I’d like to keep it that way, yeah? No tripping on rubble and spraining your ankle or anything, deal?”

As if anyone ever plans to sprain their ankle.

30 Minutes Later

Park Slope

“It should be just around that corner,” Chess says, lifting her hand and pointing a half a block up. They’ve been walking for a good ten minutes, having parked the Mini Cooper in the last bit of street that was still drivable, where the cracks in the pavement and asphalt were still passable and the trees and foliage from yards and parks hadn’t overtaken the sidewalks.

But with every block, the growth has become thicker. The agrokinetics who have helped to manage the place have helped clear some paths for those who want to hike through the green space. Green space now means mostly brown and dry, and a few patches of snow here and there give a hint to what the place would look like right after a snow. The buildings themselves are mostly covered vines and creepers, the worst of those damaged by the war, squatters, or nature itself having been removed, given way to more flora.

It’s not an easy walk, even for healthy and fit people, and Chess keeps an eye on Jac, though tries to make it seem like she’s not watching the teen for any reason other than to make conversation. “The wheelchair was a stupid idea,” she says with a soft laugh at her lack of thinking. “This place has gotten even more wild since I was here… I guess two years ago? Was the last time I came here.”

For the most part, Jac does a fine job of keeping up if not getting a few steps ahead. She hides the infrequent right-sided shift pretty well, except for the one time she stumbled. But there were some roots, too, so it could have been one of those catching her foot at the same time. “It never would have made it,” she agrees before pulling a long swallow of water from a bottle. The hike is a little harder than she expected, not that the teen will ever admit it.

“Last time…” she stops walking for a second to wonder. When had she even been to Park Slope. “I think I was with Brynn and… Emily.” It's been a couple of years for her too, and she shrugs because of it. “Too long ago. But I never found the library. Brynn was scared to go far and Emily is… practical.” Which she likes but it makes it hard to go on adventures.

As Jac begins walking again, with the water bottle tucked into a sling made for carrying such things, she stoops to gather a stick. It looks suitable enough for walking with, at a length nearly as long as she is tall. “What if we find treasures in the library? Maybe there's some books we can return, or… I don't know, relics from before the war?”

“I imagine there’s some books left — I can’t imagine all of them got picked up, but not sure if there’s anything that’ll be worth salvaging. I’d imagine people who knew what was valuable took some of it and squatters burnt a lot for fires, but there has to be something, right? We can take some back with us but we’ll have to make a second trip sometime or get some help if there’s a lot,” Chess says, stopping for a moment and looking around. It’s not the first time she’s stopped just to look, and it’s probably to give Jac a chance to rest without making it seem like it — but there is a lot to look at — and a lot to reflect on.

“It’s so weird to think this was just another neighborhood with people living normal lives,” she muses, looking up at a row of brownstones, covered with ivy that twines in and out of the now-glassless windows.

Nearby, a sound of a twig snapping can be heard, and when the sisters turn to look, a doe and its fawn stand just a few yards away, stilling when they see the humans. For a moment, it’s easy to forget that they’re in the middle of what was once New York City and not in some meadow of an upstate park.

“I don't remember it that way,” Jac counters thoughtfully. But then she was a young child when the war started, and outings with her original foster family were infrequent and never for fun.

She looks at the wooded surroundings, trying to picture a thriving neighborhood instead of the reclaimed wilderness. The sound pulls her eyes to it and her initial wariness melts to wonder. “Look!” she whispers to Chess, obviously excited but somehow remembering to keep her voice hushed. The teen even tugs at her sister’s sleeve so the creatures aren't missed.

The older of the two pulls out her cell phone, thumb swiftly clicking the sound off so that even the fake shutter of the camera won’t startle the two deer. She snaps a few photos as the deer watch them, then continue to do what it is they do — chewing some grass and sniffing the air. The mother begins to walk again, and the fawn stays a moment, tipping its head, before it follows, unbothered by Chess and Jac.

Only after they’re mostly out of sight, does Chess seem to breathe again. “Wow,” she whispers, turning back to Jac. Her dark eyes are a little damp, touched by the sheer beauty of the close-up encounter. “I never really saw them that close when I stayed in the armory, though sometimes at a distance. It’s a lot more wild even now than it was then.”

She begins to walk again, returning to their conversation. “I grew up in Colorado. Near Denver, so not like, in the wilderness,” she adds. “But I never saw New York the way it was before. I wish I had, but Bazz says if wishes were buckets, the oceans would be empty.”

As they make it to the corner, turning from 8th Street to 6th Avenue, it’s hard not to see the building, as it takes up the length of a block. Bordered by trees and gardens before the war, the building seems to be amidst a thicket of bare trees and brown bushes, with climbing vines hiding most of the brickwork and wrapping the entirety of the neoclassical columns at the front in their tendrils.

The building seems to be mostly in good shape aside from missing windows that have been boarded up by the city, graffiti and tags overlapping in a cacophony of colors and shapes, nothing truly standing out due to the many layers of paint. The front doors are boarded as well, but there is one window where the board’s been broken, the gap large enough for a person to enter. There’s no telling how long ago that was, at least at a glance.

“Mostly I've only ever seen strays.” And rats, and the occasional other scavenging animal. Jac tilts her head up to look at the library as they finally find it. Her eyes widen with wonder, and all the reminders that they'll probably not find anything are immediately and completely forgotten.

She hurries ahead, unconcerned about what might be hiding anywhere. Her head tips back and she turns a full circle as she passes the columns on her way to the doors. The boards, another time maybe, would have been pried at. But as the teen gets near enough she drags her fingers over the rough surface as she detours toward the one opened window.

“It's actually still standing and everything,” Jac calls out as she leans through the opening for a look inside. “I bet there's things hidden in here. You just need to know where to look.” Dropping back, she looks over her shoulder to Chess.

Chess opens her mouth to argue, to maybe say she should go first, but she closes it again. “Just be careful. If you see anyone, get behind me, yeah?” she says quietly, following Jac to where the broken board allows entrance. The window’s not too high off the ground that Jac needs a boost to get through. The older of the two does hold the board open a bit wider so that none of its rough edges scratches Jac on the way in, and then she too climbs up and through the window.

The room they find themselves in is musty, covered in dirt that’s made its way through the cracks and crevices, but it’s easy to imagine how it would have looked in its prime. Clusters of small chairs and tables in cheerful red give children a place to read; what were once probably glossy wood bookshelves and wainscoting line the walls. There are books — faded and yellowed with time and sun, probably eaten by insects once opened. To the left, doors to the entrance hall are framed by a golden arch of art-deco glass — some panels are broken, but it’s mostly intact. The hanging lamps and wall sconces are unlit, but it would be easy to see what a warm and inviting place this once was.

“So long as we don’t find anything dangerous. Happy fun time memories today only,” Chess says with a laugh, looking around with a little bit of wonder. “This makes me a little homesick for Denver for the first time. Well, for the library. Also mountains. I kind of miss mountains.”

There aren't any promises from Jac about hiding if they find trouble, only the exaggerated roll of her eyes. “I'm not a kid,” she points out after hoisting herself into the window.

Her feet thump against the floor inside the building, and her brief annoyance vanishes with the sound. She's already several steps deep into the large room when Chess gets through the window. And she looks ready to move on, although indecision is obvious. Should she go left or right or straight ahead?

“Which way?” Jac turns for only a second to make sure Chess is following. Then she's wandering to a bookshelf that still houses some books, something to pick up and investigate.

“You’re not a kid,” agrees Chess, matter of factly as she looks around the room. “You’re probably just a few months younger than I was when I ran off and joined the resistance. But I also have a shiny new defense mechanism that’ll protect both of us but not if you’re in front of me, yeah?”

She hasn’t discussed that new aspect of her power — or new power — with her sister, for a few reasons, and she looks like she might regret bringing it up now, so instead she runs her fingers along dusty books. Many are displaced, thrown on the floor — there are whole sections missing, probably used for fire kindling over the years. A tile fireplace has seen better days, the plaster friezes spray painted in green and orange.

“You’re the boss,” Chess says with a smile as Jac moves forward. Walking toward the center of the building, Jac can see the square circulation desk in the center area and beyond that, another reading room that looks similar to the one they stand in, but with more adult furniture. Turning her head to the right reveals the “stacks” — rows of books in black iron shelving. Stairs lead up to more of the same, and above that, a lay light made of golden glass with an art-deco design arcs overhead. The center seems to be in better shape than the two rooms flanking it, by virtue of having no windows to let in sun, dust, or weather.

For half a second, Jac pulls herself away from the books to give Chess a dubious look. A shiny new mechanism seems like a stretch of the imagination, since there isn't anything to see and all she knows about Chess’ power is that it turns things into explosives. So her disbelief is worn pretty plainly in that split moment of time, returning to wonder when she's turning to the books again.

A couple of lesser worn books are gathered as she follows the shelf. Their spines are faded, the corners chewed so much they're rounded. The covers seem to be intact, perhaps protected by the worst of the elements by being pressed between others. Her path takes her generally toward the circulation desk, but her eyes wander everywhere.

“If I still had my ability,” Jac laments quietly as she cranes her neck to look up to the second floor. She could know what's inside and where all the hidden things were. It might seem like it takes half the fun out of exploring, but she's found it to open so many places that would be missed otherwise.

“Your face is gonna freeze like that one day, all Doubty McDoubtface,” Chess says with a huffed laugh and a roll of her eyes for the look Jac gives her. “It’s true, though. Some people… after what happened in Detroit, they got new abilities or second abilities, I guess. I haven’t talked about it, because, well.”

Because Jac doesn’t have any ability at the moment, and it seems in poor taste.

Chess doesn’t say that, but trails after her sister. Now that they’re discussing why Jac should listen to her if they run into trouble, though, it seems important to explain. “They seem to be related to the first, for the most part. Mine saved my life at Xpress, for the first blast.” Castle’s ability saved her from the second, but she hasn’t told her sister that, either. “It’s basically… it’s Ivy’s.”

Chess’ brows draw together and she kicks at some broken glass on the floor, glancing up at the broken light fixture above. “Sort of feel haunted, to be honest. It’d be nice if we could have a choice in these things.”

On the back wall of the center section is a bank of framed photographs — dusty but in good quality — under a sign that declares them “employee of the month.” It would be easy enough to ignore, but one of them seems awfully familiar, even through the coat of dust. Gillian’s photograph is on the bottom row, two from the end.

“Is it like a shield or something?” Somehow that makes sense in Jac’s mind, related by how offense balances defense. Plus Chess said to get behind her if things go bad. Her head turns and tilts so she can look over her shoulder at her sister. She can't remember if she’s seen Ivy’s ability before or not.

The motion leads her into turning a full circle. That, in turn, allows her to spread her arms and take in the whole of everything she can see.

“There's ghosts in the sewers.” It's never actually been proven, but it also hasn't been disproven. So it's a statement Jac stands by. “Maybe they like to come here and that's why it feels haunted.” The teen’s slow spin takes an abrupt detour, and in a few seconds it's easy to see why. She's spotted the picture frames which is obviously something to investigate more closely.

Fingers brush against the glass to wipe away years of dust from unfamiliar faces. “I bet some people would like to see these,” she muses. She works her way toward the end, unconcerned with the filth on her hand or the smudge she left near her chin. And it seems everything is forgotten when she finds Gillian’s picture among all the others. A couple of fingers linger lightly against the glass once she's cleared the dust from the image, blue eyes stare at the face captured in time.

“Kinetic absorption. But it can make a shield. It kicked in at Xpress,” Chess murmurs, her mouth turning upward into an amused smile at the reason her sister gives for the library feeling haunted. “Well, I meant I feel haunted. It’s a good ability to have, but…”

She shrugs, rather than following that train of thought into its inevitable collision point, following her sister toward the row of photographs.

“Oh, my God. I didn’t know she worked here, but I guess that makes sense.” Chess says of Gillian’s photo on the wall. The younger Gillian is younger than Chess by a couple of years in the photo. Her hair is dyed black and she wears heavy makeup and a dark sweater in the photo.

“Speaking of ghosts. Look at her all gothed out,” she adds with an affectionate laugh for the other woman. “I wonder if she has any stuff here somewhere.”

“She looks…” Normal. And not like a mom is what the teen decides against saying. “Like Brynn and Lance’s age.” With her sleeve, she wipes more of the dust from the glass and frame.

“Maybe.” Jac doesn't remember much about the war, but she's confident to guess that when it happened, it happened fast. The pair of books she'd found are set on a counter, so her hands are free to pull the picture from the wall. “There should be a… work room or office? Somewhere the library workers could do… other things.” The Doyle library has some office space, and Gillian has an office there.

Looking up at Chess, Jac adds the photo to her small pile of finds. “We have time to look.”

Chess pulls her phone out of her pocket and scrolls to find the photo she’d saved of the floor plan, something she’d found on a city planning document about its renovations of the past — all now for naught, given the state of the place.

“Looks like the work rooms are upstairs,” she says, which makes sense, with the two large reading rooms and the circulation desk taking up the bulk of the ground floor. She moves to the metal stairs to give them a bit of a shake, making sure they’re stable. She starts that way, glancing over her shoulder as she heads up slowly, taking a moment to turn the flashlight on her phone on, and pointing it forward.

As they climb, suddenly something comes flying at them; when it comes into the beam of the phone, it becomes less abstract motion and they can see it’s an owl, startled from where it had been perched up on the books on the mezzanine.

Chess throws one hand over her face to protect it from talons, her other hand reaching out to grab Jac’s wrist, to keep her from tumbling down the steps, whether the teenager was thrown off course or not.

The bird simply flies past them, finding a spot below to perch before reprimanding them with a put-out sort of whoo.

The first sense of movement draws Jac’s eyes toward it, and instinct has her sinking against the stairs to avoid it. Chess’ grasp keeps her from going much further than that, which is just fine since it also allows her to stare at the owl once it's perched.

Standing again, she lets out her own little whoo on a breath. She turns and looks up at Chess, eyes wide and bright with excitement. “Come on, there's probably something totally primal up there.”

Turning her hand, Jac gives her sister’s arm a tug to get moving again. She doesn't linger, or even hang around for the chance at second thoughts, but clambers ahead and up the stairs.

“Jesus,” breathes out Chess with a breathy laugh. “I’ll take him over some of the crazy people I’ve seen out in the ruins. Can’t believe I used to live out here.”

She follows her sister, sighing softly as Jac makes her way past her so that if anything else comes flying out at them — or anyone else — she can’t protect her.

At the top of the stairs are more of those books, but a door behind the bookshelves reads employees only. “Maybe back here,” Chess suggests. She curls her fingers around one of the small rocks she carries, feeling it warm on her hand as she charges and uncharges it, before she opens the door.

Inside, dim light filters through a couple of gaps in the boarded windows and illuminates the place, dust motes shimmering like pixie dust in the beams. A row of lockers lines one wall, and the rest of the space includes a couple of desks, a xerox machine, a table with a paper cutter and other office supplies, all gathering dust.

“You should see where I used to live.” Most people already know that Jac once haunted the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city, but not many have actually seen those places. “My stuff is probably still there,” she muses thoughtfully while following Chess between stacks of books. She tilts her head side to side, looking the shelves up and down.

So distracted by her own wonderings and the relics from before the war, she nearly runs into her sister’s back. Blue eyes flit forward, first at Chess after an abrupt stop then past to the door. She's right on Chess’ heels once the door is finally opened to let them into the room.

Her head is on a swivel as she tries to take in everything all at once. Shoulders and feet follow the turning when her neck can't go far enough. “I wish I had my ability,” she breathes, mournful in a way she's never actually shown. Jac’s sure there's so much more she could find if she had it, and the discovery of the hidden room hits that loss a little hard.

The lament earns Jac a sympathetic look from Chess. “We’ll figure it out somehow. It can’t be permanent,” she says — she believes it, too, in a rare show of optimism.

Studying the various lockers, she points to one, masking tape that’s mostly worn away with fading Sharpie letters that may read Gillian if one squints hard enough. There are a dozen or so lockers, most with their own locks, though a couple are unlocked and empty.

“Should we?” Chess asks, glancing at her sister. “I wonder if we can find some of these people, return their belongings to them.” She puts her hand on combination lock around Gillian’s maybe-locker, waiting for her sister’s approval to break it apart with her ability. “You know, if you do get it back, your power, we could make a great safe-cracking team,” she muses.

“Yeah.” Jac’s hope still lingers that the loss, however it really happened, can be reversed. But that hope has faded some, as things do over time. She turns a small grin for Chess’ efforts before following her to the row of lockers.

A couple of the locked cabinets are tried, even though the teenager doesn't have any tools for breaking the locks with her. “We should try,” she agrees, giving one padlock a tug. “I would want my things returned if I thought I lost them forever.” Looking up again, as she speaks, she gives her sister a nod to try exploding the locker open.

With the smallest amount of power into the lock, the kind that cuts rather than explodes, the lock breaks apart and Chess pulls the loop out of the locker, dropping it quickly so that the heated metal doesn’t burn her fingers. “I’ll look at some of the others,” she says. “And maybe something to haul stuff in.”

Chess steps away, leaving her sister to look inside the locker and its contents, giving her a glimpse into Gillian’s past. Inside she finds a small treasure trove of abandoned items: a sketchbook full of what look like tattoo designs and other drawings, a notebook with articles about PARIAH and notes about the group and what they had done, Activating Evolution by Chandra Suresh, a book of poetry by Tennyson. A first-generation iPod touch rests on the floor of the locker, next to a magnetite bead bracelet.

“Whoa,” murmurs Chess from the next locker over. “This guy Sanjay had a ring in here,” she says, showing Jac an emerald-and-diamond ring nestled in a little blue box, clearly intended for a girlfriend. “I wonder if he’s still with her.” She doesn’t say alive.

After the locker has been broken into, Jac gathers all the belongings. It makes a haphazard pile, but she manages to juggle and find a spot on the floor to sit, not too far away and within sight of the door. Just in case. The Tennyson and Suresh books are placed beside a hip following a quick turn over in her hands. The teen does similar with the iPod and bracelet, probably lingering a little longer on those before setting them down.

Jac’s eyes lift at Chess’ quiet exclamation, clearly impressed by the find. “Maybe,” she says, sounding hopeful. She pulls the sketchbook and notebook into her lap, opening the latter first. “The police could probably find them. Or SESA maybe. Or they could say where to look.”

“Good thinking,” Chess says, as she goes through the process of breaking more of the locks. “I’m going to see if I can find a cart or something to haul get this stuff out with. We’ll want to make sure we keep each person’s stuff separate. Maybe take a photo and label it with each person’s name.”

She disappears for a few moments, leaving the contents of the open lockers for Squeaks to explore. Most of them aren’t particularly interesting or valuable, though they have some things that might have sentimental value — photographs, letters, a book full of handwritten recipes, a rose-quartz rosary.

Chess returns with some yellowed computer paper and shopping cart of sorts, though it has the library’s name on the placard at the front and no place for a child to sit. “If we can’t find them, maybe someone who knows them would like it. Gillian might be able to help too.”

She begins to load up the contents, writing names on paper with a pen she’s pulled from her backpack. “We should probably get moving back to civilization before it gets too late,” she suggests, glancing at her phone’s clock, before snapping a photo of the pile belonging to a Rosa Garcia.

The project takes time, but it’s time spent together, as sisters — and a chance to give something back to people who’ve lost so much — so long as they can find them again. A

At least one person will be reconnected with their relics from the past.

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