Anarchy In The UK, Part II


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Scene Title Anarchy In The UK, Part II
Synopsis Agents Messer and Gerken continue SESA's covert investigation for Jac's kidnappers in the UK.
Date April 17, 2021

Durham Outskirts
Durham County, England

6:08 pm Local Time

The pastoral countryside of Durham looks like something out of a Regency-era novel. There are parts of Durham that look centuries old, and the salt-box style cottage belonging to Cecilia Archer is among them. The house is offset from the road by a long dirt drive, one that gives Agent Liza Messer and Junior-Agent Lance Gerken time to think on their approach.

The two can barely hear the engine of the cab that dropped them off as they make the trek up the muddy dirt road, flanked on either side by wide open farmland. The Archer home must be a generational one, residences like this in Durham go for upwards of a million pounds, but fifty years ago they could’ve been paid for on a factory laborer’s salary.

There’s no car in the drive that Lance or Liza can see, nor does it look like one is kept in the old, crooked stables leaning askew far on the other end of the pastoral grounds. In the dim light of a drizzling, cloudy day there’s no sign of lights on in the house either. In a way, it’s good.

But on the other hand, it almost feels too good.

Liza's gaze sweeps along the horizon first before it moves to the house. "Pretty sure we got the scenic end of things." She looks along the drive and towards the stables, her attention looking for any sort of tracks in the mud, be it man-made, vehicle-made, or animal-made. "Not necessarily the /easy/ end of things, but at least it's pretty." Her attention settles on Lance. "I think our best bet is making sure that we don't leave any hints to our presence regardless of what we find."

Cecilia Archer is widely considered the ‘less successful’ sister. No college education, works as a waitress in a Durham pub. She inherited the family farm when their parents retired to Madrid.

"I didn't think places like this really existed," Lance confesses as he looks about the countryside with the gawking of a fish not only out of water but out of any biome resembling water, the umbrella he's carrying around stabbed to the ground beside him like a cane. He's certain it's going to start full-on raining every minute now.

He has been since they arrived. Everything he read described England as rainy.

"Definitely not the easy side of things, no. The downside of all this… this…" He waves a hand at the sheer openness around them, "Is that sneaking up on a place is a lot harder. Do we want to try the subterfuge route first and just knock, or hope they're not home…"

"Well, the good news is one of us is particularly talented in being quiet and sneaky while the other one is pretty personable in a social situation," Liza's steps are careful, mostly so she doesn't leave tracks in the mud. "It's also an incredibly convenient thing that my grandfather left me all this money in his will for me to pursue my dream of living in the countryside while writing the world's next great novel."

She shoots an amused glance in Lance's direction. "That means you're the sneaky one. If someone happens to be home, they'll hopefully be focusing on me. And my really exciting information about land values and water tables."

As they approach the farmhouse, Liza and Lance both notice the curtains are drawn on all the windows. The quaint cottage is mostly shuttered up, but a thin trail of smoke issues from the chimney, suggesting that even if someone isn’t home they were not all that long ago. There’s no sign of activity from the barn, no noises of livestock either, and in its crooked state that’s probably for the best.

Up near the house there’s tracks in the mud, they disappear about halfway down the driveway when the ground becomes more firm, but it looks like it’s from a single vehicle. The tracks are filled in with water from the drizzling rain, implying that whatever vehicle was here left quite some time ago.

“Oh, we’re switching roles then? I guess you need some practice being socially personable anyway,” Lance teases her with a grin, eyebrows going up, “I’ll give the ‘sneaky’ thing a try, although it’s completely out of character…”

He gives her a wink, and then starts along at a casual stroll past the house - until he can loop around behind the barn with an intent of making his way towards the side entrance under cover.

"Hey, if you think you can realistically look like you know about purchasing real estate, be my guest," Liza can't help but offer a grin in Lance's direction, but it's quickly tucked away in favor of perky professionalism as she makes her way around the mud and to the cottage's front door. She pauses by the door for a moment or two, mostly to give Lance time to plan his approach.

Raising a hand up to rap her knuckles against the wood of the door, lifting her voice a little. "Hello? Is anyone in?" By the looks of the tracks, she's unsure of the likelihood of anyone actually answering her.

At the front door Liza is met with silence. From the door she can see inside the two windows on either side, a sliver between the curtains in the left window shows a darkened living room with a flannel-print sofa and little else. The window to her right has small potted flowers sitting in it, and she can see the gleaming curve of a faucet. It’s probably a kitchen.

Lance’s wide arc takes him away from the house, about a hundred feet through damp yellow-green grass. There’s a rusted plough set up beside the barn, at least a century old, partly sunken into the earth with grass grown up around its metal wheels. The barn itself is listing enough to the side to be precarious and doesn’t look like it’s held livestock or farm equipment since the telephone was invented.

There’s gaping holes in the side of the barn, enough that Lance can see into it as he walks along its side. Then, as he reaches the barn door, it provides him a clear view from front to back. No tracks obvious on the weathered wood floor, no hay loft left to speak of. Just some birds nesting in the eaves, cooing contentedly to one-another.

As Lance makes his way to the side of the house, Liza still hears nothing but the wind and birdsong. Not even so much as a creak from inside. Lance reaches the side door, and the windows on this side of the house have curtains drawn much more tightly than the front. No lights to speak of, but there’s a shoe print in the mud before the steps to the door. A pointed-toe boot with a chunky heel, sunk deep in the mud.

Curiously, there’s no footprints around it, even though the ground is considerably soft and wet.

Well, whoever lives here now obviously isn’t a farmer, which makes sense since she inherited the place. Lance figures they probably hire a professional landscaper, although he’s not sure how much a waitress makes in the UK.

“I could probably push this whole barn over if I tried hard enough,” he murmurs to himself as he passes the boot heel, voice not carrying past a few inches before his silence field quashes the sound. Noting that shoe print, he steps carefully over it to the door - leaning in to press his ear against the door and listen.

Liza is being patient. While there's no response, it doesn't mean the house isn't occupied. She waits, listening carefully. When there isn't any stirring, she moves carefully to take a better look at things through the kitchen window—as it seems that it's the most unobstructed view.

"Hello?" She calls again, falling immediately quiet again to try and hear any stirring… or potentially catch a glimpse of any flashes of movement through the kitchen window. She's not moving in until she's satisfied that the situation is a safe one.

Lance can hear Liza calling out through the house. There’s almost no soundproofing as far as he can tell, the old building just lets noises in one side and out the other. Neither he nor Liza hear anything coming from either side of the door, and Elaine catches no sign of movement in the house from her narrow points of view.

The whole place feels abandoned… but the wisps of smoke coming out of the chimney say otherwise.

There’s something that feels wrong about this whole scenario, and this whole home, and Lance draws back and regards the building with a momentary scowl. His instincts say he should walk away right now…

…but he’s got a job to do, and it’s more than just a job for him, this time.

If you don’t find her home, gain entry and gather what evidence you can about if she was involved in the attempted kidnapping, who she might be working for, and her other activities. But don’t leave evidence you were there if you can help it.

He tugs out his wallet, and slides out a credit card holder— from which he then pulls out a metal card, soon separating into a series of lockpicks. And he goes to work on the door.

There's no sound to indicate that someone's there, but the chimney is enough of a giveaway for her. Someone had been there recently enough to have a fire, but the car had left long enough ago that the tracks were filled with water? Something doesn't add up. Was someone actually still in?

Liza frowns just slightly, then moves away to break away from the front of the house and head around to the side. When she's in sight of Lance, she gives him a nod and a glance that speaks volumes about her own suspicions before she goes to take a quick pace towards the area near the barn—for perspective. She's trying to see if there's a decent view of the roof.

Enough of one to see that the shingles of the pitched roof are covered in a dappled patchwork of moss. It looks neither easy to climb nor safe to do so. She also notices the handful of second floor windows lack any blinds drawn.

With a soft click Lance finishes picking the lock to the side entrance, gingerly opening it under a field of silence to quiet noisy hinges. Directly inside, he and Liza can see the back end of the kitchen through a short mud room. There’s a pair of old boots on a chest, a few jackets, knit caps, nothing that seems out of place.

Beyond the mudroom the kitchen opens up, lit only by the diffuse gray light spilling in through the curtains. The house is deathly silent, even outside of Lance’s stealth field.

Catching sight of her coming around, Lance offers an easy up-nod of his chin towards her before slipping his picks away into his wallet again. Next up, a pair of blue latex gloves, snapped on (silently) before he opens the door and slips inside.

A gloved hand rustles the jackets briefly, noticing some that are sized for a child or small teenager, and that none of them are wet or have signs of mud. Not used recently. He frowns at a thought, but slips on past the hanging garments and into the kitchen.

According to records, she’s single, no children, lives alone.

Wildflowers tucked into a glass coke bottle give the place an oddly homey touch, but it’s the box of shotgun shells sitting on the aged wood of the kitchen table that gets his attention - especially since it’s half-open and half-empty.

“Well now I’m hoping she’s not here,” he mutters under cover of the silence field, glancing up towards the living room, “And here I thought nobody in England carried guns but Bond.”

Liza raises an eyebrow, glancing in Lance's direction. "Statistically, you're more likely to be shot by a handgun than a shotgun in England," she points out with a wry grin. She glances at the box of shotgun shells for a long moment. "Easy to explain a shotgun out in the country, though. I don't think many people would look twice at that. Animals can be dangerous so the average person could see it and just assume that's what it's for."

She moves on from the shells to the flowers in the makeshift vase. "Even if this place hardly seems touched, those are fresh. If the smoke wasn't enough of a signal someone's been here, those certainly are." She tips her head in the direction of the living room for Lance to follow, then moves cautiously in that direction.

Her gaze sweeps the room broadly first, then more slowly to take in the details of the furniture. "Hopefully there aren't any shotgun shells hiding in the couch cushions," she mutters, then looks quickly to Lance. "That's a joke, I doubt we will. Statistically unlikely."

“You’re just filling me with confidence about not getting shot,” Lance quips, but he flashes a smile over to the other agent before leaning out of the kitchen - peeking left, right - and stepping out into the living room.

Nothing unusual leapt out at him here; a leather sofa, an armchair that looked comfortable enough to sleep in, a television with a DVD player. The usual things you’d find in such a place. He moved to the stairs, starting up them, creaky wood silenced by his ability.

The umbrella held in one hand defensively, but somehow he doubts umbrella trumps shotgun. He’s not The Penguin from Magnes’ old comic books.

The field of silence certainly makes it a little easier to creep around, as well as to hold a conversation even if Liza still reflexively keeps her voice low. She follows behind Lance up the stairs, eyes taking in the surroundings. She carefully opens the first bedroom, peeking her nose inside and then nudging it open with her foot once she's sure there's no one in there.

"Well, this isn't the master. Guest room?" She scans the walls, noting the posters. "Her sister's the one with a child. Why set it up like this?" Liza looks back in Lance's direction, then nods her head towards another door. "Hopefully door number two has something a little more useful."

Take note of anything unusual, anything that doesn’t fit the information that we’ve provided about her. There’s no telling what could be important.

“There were jackets and boots sized for a kid downstairs,” Lance observed as he stepped in after Liza, peering over her shoulder, “So… either her sister’s kid is here often enough that they have a room, or there’s something else going on.”

He hesitates before opening the next door, and then stops with it half-open, breath catching. Fingers tighten anxiously around the umbrella, and expands the silence field before calling out, “…hello? Is there anyone in there— look, I just don’t want to get shot.”

There’s no answer.

A glance back to Liza, then he pushes the door the rest of the way open, stepping inside slowly, trying not to seem menacing. But there’s nobody in there, and he relaxes. Just an unmade bed, and a shotgun sheath on top of the messy sheets. “Fuck. Saw that and it scared the shit out of me.”

The tension in Lance's behavior sets a president as Liza is ready in case this suddenly becomes a shitstorm. When there's no one in there, she relaxes as well and moves into the doorway after him. "I don't blame you there, I'm just glad that the odds are in our favor when it comes to that shotgun." She moves to the closet, taking a moment to rifle through the clothes.

"The sheath's still here, so I have a feeling this was a grab-and-run situation. It's not nicely packed. Think she knew we were coming?"

“Could be, or maybe she was running from someone else,” Lance considers, stepping over to the nightstand and crouching down beside it. Hairbrush, lamp, the drawer’s empty except a comb and some scrunchies, but… there’s something about the resistance as he pulled it out that makes him from.

He pauses, remembering a trick he learned from Squeaks, and reaches in, rapping a finger against the wood. “Voila,” he murmurs in excitement, fingers sliding around the edge until he finds a spot, and he pulls it up, crowing, “False drawer bottom. And— shit.”

Reaching in, he picks up a handful of bound bills from different countries, waving them around, “You wanna go shopping after? We got— passports here, too.”

Liza turns away from the closet, heading over in Lance's direction to pick up one of the passports. Then another. "This is quite a collection of aliases," she notes, then glances at the cash. "Kind of sad we can't, it'd be pretty delightful shopping for souvenirs to bring back home. One of those I-Heart-London shirts?"

She takes a quick glance towards the door, as if expecting someone to walk in now that they'd found something significant. "Given this, I'm slightly more concerned about whomever it is coming back. We should move quickly and report back in. I'd rather this not end up being an unfortunate trap."

Again, ideally she’ll never know you were there.

Lance pulls out his phone, giving it a toss up in the air and catching it. “Right? With our luck, it’d be funny money anyway…” He brings up his phone app and starts taking pictures of the passports’ names and details before putting them back with the money generally how he found them. “Just give me a minute.. alright… there.”

The false bottom’s wedged back in, and he pushes it closed, “Good to go, I think.”

While Lance works on documenting the documents on his phone, Liza moves towards the door, cautiously glancing out into the hallway again to keep watch. When he gives the signal that they can move out, she moves out of the doorframe. "When we get out, watch for the mud. That's probably the most telltale sign we're onto her. We're going to have to take a long walk, make sure we get some signal… but I'd like to report in as soon as possible, see if the others got any leads."

“No argument here. Maybe we can drag our feet a bit through the mud, get rid of our footprints…” Lance starts for the door, shaking his head, “Nothing solid here, but definitely sus as hell.”

"We can circle back, use the car's tracks to hide ours and then make our way to the grass. Shouldn't really be too noticeable over there if we're careful," Liza's heading for the door after him, her pace quick but her attention is on their surroundings, careful of any potential mud they might have left behind. "Your lockpicking trick was pretty cool, think you can find a way to make sure the door's locked behind us? I'd hate to leave any hints. Don't want her getting flighty."

When she doesn't catch any obvious signs of their presence, she takes a careful look out the door to double check for any potential hazards on their way out.

No hazards as such. Just wet earth, damp grass. Liza notices a bag of fertilizer leaned up against the house, a small garden for tomatoes and cucumbers. Nothing fancy. It goes all the way up against the riverstone foundation of the—


Liza leans back through the doorway, looking back into the house, then down to the hardwood floorboards, then over to Lance. It hadn’t dawned on her until now, but there was something missing. The garden, the backyard, the foundation. This is an old british farmhouse, probably pre-Industrial Revolution.

Where is the basement?

“Oh, yeah, I can get it locked behind us the same way,” Lance replies with a confident grin as he steps out, gaze sweeping down as he starts to drag the edge of his shoe over the footprints they’ve left, creating ridges and flats but at least making it less-obvious that someone came through. Then he pauses as he sees where Liza’s looking, glancing at the space between the back step and the ground, the foundation.

“…wait. Shouldn’t there be a…”

"Exactly," the blonde replies, her eyes rapidly scanning for an entrance. "I can't imagine there not being a basement, which means the whole thing is probably hidden. That or we're missing something else here. Take a quick peek in the house again, check the walls, the floors, see if you can find anything. I'll circle around the outside and see if there's any indication of a way in."

She pauses for a brief moment. "But be careful, don't go down without me if you find anything. The place might look empty, but we clearly haven't checked everywhere."

“Man, what I would give for Squeaks right now…” Lance motions to the mud, noting, “Watch your footprints.” Then he’s ducking back into the house. If he were a secret staircase, where would he be?

Logically, either in the kitchen or beneath the existing stairs, so that’s where he’ll check first, knuckles ready to knock on wood for luck and exploration!

As they head back into the house through the back door, Lance and Liza’s attention now lingers on details they hadn’t given as much weight before. The children’s shoes in the rear foyer makes Lance even more uncomfortable now; the jacket, the shells in the kitchen, the shotgun sheathe from upstairs. It all feels ominous.

By the time he and Liza get into the kitchen their eyes fix on the same innocuous piece of furnishing: an oval-shaped knit rug on the hardwood floor between the kitchen counter and the pantry. The rug is slightly askew, rumpled on the corner, and a pair of boots that may have once sat on it are tilted to the side as if they’d been knocked over…

With a quick glance thrown around the outside for any clear signs of an exterior entrance, Liza moves to follow after Lance once she's certain the interior is the way to go. When she notes the rug, her eyes quickly flash towards Lance. She heads over towards it, reaching to move the boots further away and to carefully pull back the rug.

There is, of course, a trap door.

Moving the rug aside she moves to test the hinges and see how easy the thing would be to open. "You want to go in first or me?"

“Whoa. It’s just like in one of those— ah, Agatha Fletcher movies,” says Lance, managing to confuse three things at once in the same sentence, as the rug’s swept back. He hesitates, then moves to turn off the lights in the kitchen and draw the curtains, explaining, “If anyone’s down there, they won’t be able to hear us opening the door, but they’ll see the light differential.”

Then he steps over carefully, crouching down and nodding once, “Open it.”

When Liza pulls back the trap door, Lance sees the bare dirt floor of the river-stone walled basement beyond. With no lights on in the kitchen and the blinds drawn over the sink, there’s little ambient light making its way down the narrow, steep stairs. The trap door doesn’t make a sound, thanks to his ability, nor does the rapid beating of his own heart, though he can feel it in his chest.

"… Agatha Fletcher?"

Liza visibly winces at the pop culture confusion. "We're going to have to expand your horizons one of these days. That's…" She trails off with a smile, but it fades a bit as she looks down the trap door and the stairs beyond it. Making sure she has the door secured in case they need to get up and out fast, she looks towards Lance. "Careful," she warns, even though she knows it's not necessary.

“If I get shot and die, tell my sister she’s still a weirdo,” Lance quips in response to the warning, bracing a hand on the edge of the trap door and slowly reaching a foot down to the steps. Then another, and he starts downwards slowly and carefully, head tilted to listen for any signs of life below.

His heart’s being awfully loud right now as his pulse races, but he tries to hear over it.


It’s the first thing Lance sees the second he drops down into the basement, the double-barrel muzzle of a shotgun primarily used for hunting birds. He can see straight down both barrels and if he focuses past them, he can see the terrified-looking redhead holding the shotgun at him less than ten feet away. Her makeup is smeared, mascara running down her cheeks, eyes wide.

There is a boy, not quite a teenager, with a tuft of short blonde hair and shaved sides hunched in the corner of the basement behind her.

No one is speaking a word.

As Lance makes eye contact with both barrels, he freezes instantly, a deer caught in headlines - no less deadly for it being a gun instead of a car going sixty. He swears he can hear his heart skip a beat.

Slowly he holds up both hands, letting the silence field dissipate as he says carefully - trying to keep a quaver out of his voice and not quite succeeding. “I, ah, I’m unarmed, ma’am. You don’t, ah— you don’t need the gun. I’m not going to hurt you or the kid.”

There's little room to move on the stairs, especially with a shotgun raised in Lance's direction. Liza puts her hands up as well, though she doesn't make much of a motion—she's not entirely sure if she can be seen from her position on the stairs behind Lance. She holds still, letting Lance handle the talking for the moment as she tries to assess if the woman has actually seen both of them.

Lauraleigh breathes heavily as she stares at Lance over the barrel of the shotgun, her grip on the gun trembling. “Where is she!?” Her voice rings through the basement and Jude flinches away from the shout, trying to make himself look small behind her. “Where the fuck is she!? I will bloody blow your fucking arms off where is she!?

As if to punctuate her statement, Lauraleigh jabs the barrel of the shotgun forward. Lance can see she’s covered in dirt from the basement, probably saw the pair walking around upstairs through the gaps in the floorboards earlier. She’s crouched down in a small alcove, maybe the entrance to a root cellar, it’s hard to tell from his angle and the darkness.

Okay, Lance, breathe. Look up, past the barrel, to the woman holding it. She’s not so much angry as scared right now (she’s not the only one), she doesn’t want to shoot you. That’s what he tells himself, anyway.

“If you— if you mean Cecilia Archer, I’m here looking for her,” he says slowly and carefully, using the singular in case she hasn’t noticed Liza up above yet, hands still upraised, “I don’t know where she is, or I’d be there.”

Liza doesn't budge an inch, frozen for the moment while she tries to assess the best way to approach this. Moving and startling the woman might be pretty dangerous with that shotgun in the way, but if she's not been spotted she might be in for some trouble as soon as the woman realizes Lance isn't alone. So she remains still, figuring that, at the very least, she'll wait this moment out. It's probably safer that way for all of them.

Lauraleigh’s expression screws up when Lance mentions Cecilia, and it’s a momentary tell of unfamiliarity that is quickly replaced by something more neutral. Lance’s gut sinks. Pieces slot into place.

There is no Cecilia Archer.

“You’re fucking American?” Lauraleigh spits out, jabbing the shotgun forward toward Lance again.

Behind Lance at the mouth of the trap door, Liza hears something outside. Her heart skips a beat. It’s a car.

The realization brings a momentary grimace to Lance’s expression, but he doesn’t take his eyes off Lauraleigh. She keeps leaning closer, jabbing that shotgun forward to enunciate her points. She’s not a trained shooter, the part of his brain that’s not dealing with being at gunpoint observes: she wouldn’t be doing that otherwise.

“I grew up in Canada, actually,” he replies to the rhetorical question asked, “Nice place, lots of Moose— “ Lauraleigh jabs the shotgun forward again and with the speed of someone not thinking twice about their actions Lance abruptly lunges forward and to one side of the gun, one hand flashing out to grab for the barrel to push it aside.

As much as Liza doesn't want to abandon the situation, there's the matter of someone else being nearby. The sound of the car could be reinforcements—and the last thing they needed was someone sneaking up on them. So when Lance lunges to try and grab the gun, she takes advantage of the confusion to climb the rest of the stairs, glancing around as she moves for the nearest door, back against the wall near it and as she cautiously peers out around the curtains to see exactly who is coming to join their party.

It takes a blink of an eye for Lance to disarm Lauraleigh and for him to wind up holding the shotgun. It’s a reflexive motion to step back into the wider basement, crack the shotgun open and check the chambers—two shells—and snap it closed again in a single, fluid motion. Lauraleigh recoils, both hands up and in front of herself as she moves to shield Jude with her body.

The glint of light off of glistening eyes in the dark. Lance turns, rifle out, and as he steps over the body of the Loyalist officer, his heel squelches in his blood. Not far away, on the other side of the garage, a woman shields a child with her body, brandishing a pistol. The slide is locked back. It’s empty. “You fucking freak! You fucking freak!” She screams, pulling the trigger with a series of impotent clicks. The Loyalist soldier must have been someone she knew.

Ghosts of the war echo in the back of Lance’s mind, but Lauraleigh is not the wife of a dead American soldier. Jude Archer’s frightened eyes, though, they match those of the boy in that garage. He doesn’t know why this is happening, doesn’t understand, and right now Lance is the only thing he fears.

Upstairs, Liza’s position in the kitchen by the sink allows her to peer through the patterned blinds to see the front driveway. There’s an SUV that has come to rest in front of the house, glossy black. All four doors open as soon as the vehicle comes to a stop, and stenciled on the door is the symbol of rampant lions flanking a burning torch. Liza’s stomach sinks into the pit of her stomach.

It’s the symbol of the Torchlight Initiative, the group that crawled out of the carcass of the Company here in the UK. The men emerging from the vehicle aren’t just dressed in suits, but nylon jackets with TORCHLIGHT stenciled on the back, body armor worn beneath. They’re armed. One of them is on a radio, lingering by the driver’s side door. The other three are splitting up to circle the house, one going to the front door and two others circling around the side.

“I’m not…” Lance breathes out a heavy sigh as he looks at the pair, the shotgun in his hand dropping to his side with the barrels pointed down and his other hand coming up palm forward as if to ask for peace, “I’m not going to hurt you. Either of you. We’re here looking for— well, your wife, I assume. We believe she’s gotten involved with something dang—”

Was that a car?

He glances up to the stairwell, calling up to Liza, “We got visitors?”

Liza's eyes remain on the blinds and the situation beyond them. "Yes. And we need to go," she calls over her shoulder. "Now. Four, at least. Armed." She backs carefully towards the stairs to the basement, her gaze going to the trapdoor. Her tone changes, enough that it's clear she's talking to Lauraleigh and Jude. "They might come in shooting, I can't be sure they'll respect the occupants. Stay where it's safe." She looks towards the window again, then back to the doors, weighing her options.

"I'm open to suggestions but we're surrounded."

Lauraleigh grabs Jude by the arm and pushes him back into a small half-door in the basement, back behind where they had been crouching. “Don’t come out until I come for you,” she says in a sharp whisper.

Mom,” Jude pleads, but she shuts the root cellar door on him and turns tear-filled eyes to Lance. “They are not getting my son.” She says with a trembling jaw, expecting a fight rather than a flight, all things considered.

Out front, one Torchlight agent gets into position beside the front door, his sidearm held up and at the ready, back to the wall of the house. “Kate Archer!” The agent bellows through the door. “This is the Torchlight Initiative! Come out and lay down on the ground or we will force our way in!

In the kitchen, Liza can see the shadows of the two other Torchlight agents making their way around the side of the house, nearly at the back door.

“Shit.” Lance’s eyes widen at the response from above, and of course — he hears that bellow. The house is surrounded, and if there was an exit from the basement — Lauraleigh surely would have taken it already rather than wait terrified below praying she wasn’t discovered.

He looks to the cellar door, then to the woman before telling her genuinely, “I swear to you, I’ll do everything I can to make sure your kid doesn’t get hurt, or— turned over to those bastards out there.”

What are their options, though?

“Liza! Get down here, drag the carpet over the door and close it— “ Maybe the cops won’t be as thorough as the two agents were.

Second floor wouldn't work, the doors were covered… Liza's options are weighed rapidly, and she falls to the same conclusion. She carefully climbs through the hole, one hand reaching up through the crack to pull the rug down behind her… after placing one of the shoes on top of it. As much as they'd figured it out, the shoes were a bit of an indicator for them, so perhaps it'd cause them to overlook the rather obvious rug.

Once that's shut, she climbs the way down the stairs, glancing in the direction of Lauraleigh and Jude. "I can't say you have any reason to trust us… but we're here because we were trying to protect a kid. Letting anything happen to the two of you is pretty much against what we stand for." She looks at the shotgun, then at Lance.

"Make sure we're not heard, if you don't mind."

It only takes a moment for Torchlight to decide that Kate Archer isn’t complying. The front door is kicked open first, followed by a bark of, “Torchlight! Step into the open with your hands above your head!” The back door bursts open next, this time they do not offer a warning.

In the basement, the sounds of the Torchlight agents footfalls thunder over the hardwood. Lance and Liza sit hunched below the floorboards for what feels like an eternity, but it only seconds. The agents walk directly overhead, briskly moving through the kitchen, then meet with the agent who breached the front door as they go through the living room.

Clear.” One agent calls. The footsteps of others go up to the second floor.

“I’m way ahead of you,” says Lance with a quick, tight smile to Liza, fading the second he hears the crash of the doors opening above, an effort of will blanketing the group of them in his silence field. He looks up at the trap door, then turns to look to Lauraleigh. “Don’t worry, I, uh— well, let’s just say they can’t hear us right now. Like I was saying…”

They might as well chat while they wait to see if they’re discovered, so they can at least get some intel out of this.

“…we think Ms. Archer may have gotten involved in something unsavory. Pretty sure those jack-booted thugs up there do too, but we’re not, uh, fascists with concentration camps like them.”

Liza looks a bit relieved knowing they're already covering their tracks with the sound, and she takes a look towards the other two in the room. "You said 'where is she'. I'm going to take a wild guess and assume that you thought maybe we knew where she was. Has she been missing?" She lets her gaze flick to the stairs. "And I'm also going to take a guess that you didn't call those goons in. Maybe we can help each other?"

Lauraleigh looks up at the floorboards, back pressed to the root cellar door, then looks at Lance and Liza with wide, red-rimmed eyes. “They fucking took her,” she says with a shaky exhalation. “Some people showed up, Kate—Kate tried to get us out of here but she couldn’t. Nothing was working. She shoved me in the basement with Jude, and I—I heard them arguing.”

The silence has Lauraleigh concerned, and her attention moves up to the ceiling again. “I heard them take her, and I—I don’t know.” Her hands ball into fists. “I don’t know what to do.” Exhaling a shuddering breath, both from the cold of the basement and adrenaline, Lauraleigh just shakes her head.

“That was last night. I just—I—” Lauraleigh says with a soft gasp of breath, her attention returning to Liza and Lance. “Who the fuck are you?” Because she’s sure they’re not Torchlight now.

“We’re— “

If it comes to a situation where you may have to identify yourself, use your best judgement.

“— with the United States government,” Lance reveals after a pause, offering her a slight smile, “Like I said, we have reason to believe that your wife got involved in something a little over her head. We’re looking for answers, just like you are.”

He glances back up to the trap door, then back, “Assuming that they eventually get bored and leave— we can get you out of here, talk to our superiors. Given you’re clearly in danger, and your wife is Slic— SLC-positive, we can make a case for asylum.”

A flicker of a look to the more senior agent, unsure if he’s overstepped, but not backing down on the offer.

Liza meets the gaze in her direction with a small nod, then she looks at the pair. "At the very least we can get you two somewhere safe," she agrees. "But I'm also hoping we can see if we can find who took Kate, get her to safety too. You said she hid you two down here but you could hear them arguing. This isn't a bad location for listening in. Is there anything you remember they said that could help us?"

She pauses after a moment, then offers a small smile. "And take your time. I know this isn't exactly an easy thing to think about."

Lauraleigh glances up at the ceiling, as if waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it doesn’t, she turns her attention back to Liza and Lance, slowly shaking her head. “I don’t—I don’t remember. There was a lot of shouting. There was someone—someone in the house, Kate said someone was blocking her ability. She—she was up there by herself. But it wasn’t too long, I—I don’t even know if she put—put up much of a fight…”

Rubbing at her eyes, Lauraleigh shakes her head. “Oh my God I just want her back, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Why—why’re they here?” She asks with a pleading look to Lance and Liza. “Kate’s—she’s not a criminal. She does contracting work. Consultant.” She stammers, wholly believing in Kate’s innocence. “She—she’s not dangerous.

“I’m not saying she is, ma’am, but she may have gotten pulled into something— maybe even against her will,” Lance says, doubting her innocence quite a bit but trying to comfort the poor woman watching her life fall apart before her eyes.Who knows? He could even be right.

“Can you explain what her ability is, exactly? That might help us understand what might be going on with her…”

"We've definitely seen people caught up in things unintentionally before," Liza agrees, glancing briefly at Lance. "But we need to get to the bottom of where she is in order to help. If she said someone was blocking her ability, that narrows it down a little as well. It means they didn't use drugs of some kind to do it, they had someone there who could block it. He's right, though. If you know what she can do, it might give us some indication of perhaps why they wanted her."

“Kate…” Lauraleigh says, glancing up to the ceiling again, then back down to Lance and Liza. “She makes places overlap. Like… folding a piece of paper. For a little bit, where she’s standing is two places at once, but also none of them. It’s like—it looks like fog, kinda’. But then there’s outlines of things, of both places. And if you follow her, she can move you between them. Anywhere in the world. Instantly.

Lauraleigh swallows audibly and laughs, a nervous and tense things. “We’d all pack in the car and take a five minute drive to Hawaii,” she says with a flash of a smile, tears welled up in her eyes. She blinks a look back to Lance and Liza. “I’ve never known her not to be able to control her power. Not ever.”

Kate’s attention once more darts up, but this time Lance and Liza also see something. A shadow moving over them, visible between gaps in the floorboards. Someone is almost right on top of them, standing halfway on the rug and halfway on the floor.

“All the way to— yeah, that’d explain why someone would want her,” Lance admits with a slight grimace, “An ability like that would be very valuable to basically anyone— “

Then that shadow darkens the dim threads of light that spill down from the floorboards, and he tenses up. “They can’t hear us,” he reassures them (and himself) verbally, though his stomach tightens with fear. Memories of hiding as a child, lurking under floorboards and between walls, flooding back.

He tries not to let it show.

Liza also grimaces as she pictures just how useful an ability like that could be. While she glances up at the shadows, she remarks to Lance for a moment. "I've never been more grateful for you being able to do that than I am now," she states softly before she looks back to Lauraleigh.

"Do you know if she can only access places she's been already? Or places she's seen?"

While the question is offered to the woman, her attention briefly goes back to Lance. "Any ideas on what we do if they find the basement? Pretty sure we don't want to get into a firefight. Especially here."

Lauraleigh glances at Lance when Liza asks that pointed question, then distracts herself from the horrible possibility by looking back to answer an earlier question. “She—she needs to have physically been there before to make a… an overlap?” She wrinkles her nose, trying to find the right word for it. “So long as she’s stood there before, she can makes those two places exist simultaneously, and then you just… step through.” Or drive through, if that story about the vacation is any indication.

Though Lance is presented with a difficult question, the answer is in part made for him as he sees shadow after shadow moving toward the back door. While no one can hear what the men above are saying, it seems at least for the moment that the Torchlight officers are heading outside.

“Well I’m not getting into a gunfight with Torchlight,” Lance admits, his nose wrinkling up a bit, “If they find us, we’re not going to have a lot of choice but to give up… so let’s hope they don’t find us.”

He takes a deep breath, then looks back at the others, “So, uh. You have a deck of cards or anything down here, ma’am?”

"Good, I don't plan on stepping up into a fight either, so we hunker down until we don't hear a thing," Liza agrees, offering a comforting smile towards the rest of the basement's occupants. "I think that'll be best. The more time we can stay down here, the better. I don't know how long they'll stick around."

Her attention goes to the floorboards above before she looks back down. "Well, I guess we're all going to get to know each other real well down here."

Sighing, Lauraleigh slouches up against the root cellar door at her back. She considers her son, his safety, and his isolation in that small room. With a roll of her shoulders forward she slowly turns, unlatches the door, and looks through the opening.

“It’s safe to come out.”

Or as safe as it’s going to be.

Three Hours Later

Four figures move through a lightless pasture over rolling hills. Fireflies flicker and blink at their legs, a sea of green-yellow stars against a midnight blue tapestry. Their pace is harried, rushing through the tall grass toward the barely visible outline of a road just past a freestanding riverstone wall.

The first of the four bounds over the wall, then turns and takes the hand of a child helped over the low wall by his mother, who crosses the wall next. Lastly, the straggler joins them, shoes clapping down on asphalt in the dark of a moonless night.

Headlights cut through the gloom down the road, and there is a moment of tension among all four that the vehicle approaching them will be their end. As they are revealed in the headlights, Agent’s Messer and Gerken, along with Lauraleigh and Jude wait in tense silence. The car rolls to a stop as it pulls to the side of the road.

…and if you need an emergency extraction…

Agent Gutierrez pushes the passenger side door open. “C’mon, get in!”

I’ll be there.

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