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Scene Title Antiviral
Synopsis Dr. Pride calls Asi in to review a theory that the building blocks of what make up the Sundered might just be viral in nature. Further discussion about the nanites' purpose and who designed them leads to a tense realization.
Date February 3, 2021

Subject: Antiviral

Pardon the interruption. I know you’ve just gotten back, but could I see you in my office as soon as it’s convenient for you? I have a matter for discussion that requires your expertise.

Hope you’re feeling better.

O. Pride

Raytech Industries Campus

Dr. Pride has been staring at her screen, at a particular set of data, until she’s practically gone cross-eyed. She’s taken her glasses off and put them back on enough times that she’s lost count by now. She’s been sitting on this information too long, and the person whose assistance she needs to make something of it is the one that’s going to be the most furious with her for having done so. While she could lie about when she made this determination — and she might — it might be best to simply be honest.

Things did go more than just a little pear shaped about the time she put two and two together, after all.

After having spent some time sitting at her desk with her hand pressed into the side of her face, fingertips cusped around the ridge of her nose, Asi finally decided to take the advice she was given via another email to take her time to recover properly before diving back in to work. Her resources weren't unlimited, she needed to work, but— she doubted her ability to dive back in fully today anyway.

She'll give things one more day. Save for this matter.

When she knocks at Dr. Pride's door, it's with the knuckles of her left hand, the right leaning into a black cane with a rubber four-pronged foot. Look, Ourania, you match. But Asi doesn't look enthused in the slightest, or likely to point this fact out as she leans on the door handle and lets herself in. She's dressed down rather than professionally, in blacks and navy.

"If this is regarding anything we've discussed before, I might need a refresher," she indicates deadpan while closing the door behind her. "It's been a long few weeks." She remains standing for the time being, her expression one hard-read as she looks to Ourania. "What do you need?"

The blonde lifts her head from her screen and turns toward the door on her left. She tries to offer a smile, but it’s half formed and lasts only a pair of seconds. “Come on in. Sit down, if you like.” Her head tips toward a chair on the far end of her workbench which can easily be wheeled closer.

“I can appreciate your situation. If you feel I’m retreading something unnecessarily, please tell me so. If something is fuzzy, let me know and I’ll be happy to elaborate. Communication will only help us.”

Dr. Pride is nervous.

"Go on," Asi indicates brusquely, hooking the wheeled chair with her right foot to pull it closer before sitting down. She settles in beside Ourania, hands folding on top of the cane's handle.

Turning attention back to her screen, the scientist taps the screen with manicured fingernails. An image of blood cells that looks just like every other picture of blood cells that she’s shown the group of crash survivors over the last couple of months. “I need to ask you about…” A frustrated exhale leaves her, barely audible and yet telling. “Antiviral measures, for a computer.” There’s a quick shake of her head as Ourania thinks she might need to clarify. “I’m not infected,” she insists, the light truly dulling in her gaze now as she shifts it back to Asi properly, owing to her apprehensiveness.

“I think you are.”

Asi's expression turns from deadpan to something decidedly flatter and less amused at the realization she's being asked about computer care. Really? This is what her expertise is needed for? Her jaw tenses.

Then comes the punch. The focus on the image of the blood makes partial sense, now, at least. A moment is taken to process. Her gaze shifts to Ourania for just a glance, still so hardened as to be cold, then she looks back to the screen.


A hasty nod. “So, everything I’ve been able to determine from my own tests and the tests I ran at KC, disseminated to me by the Exterior, all of it points to your blood — the survivors’ blood — being synthetic. I realize that isn’t a revelation. That’s why I haven’t said anything before.” Ourania keeps herself from eyeing Asi as warily outwardly as she feels inwardly.

Exasperation and annoyance were expected from the former technopath, given the short notice of the meeting and the way the opener would no doubt be delivered in a fumbling manner at best. Fine. Easy enough to deal with. But she was already a rubber-banded ball of broken glass when she arrived. Barely held together, and not in any way sustainably. One shift in the wrong direction and she’ll snap, or she’ll break completely.

Neither outcome is going to be good for Ourania. The former is far more dangerous.

“I was trying to work out what I was seeing, because it didn’t make total sense to me. Then, after our last meeting of the minds, I realized I may be coming at things from the wrong angle.” Quickly, she lifts a hand to ward off any kneejerk annoyance. “The next day, you and the others were in the hospital, and I didn’t have anyone I could trust to talk to about my suspicions. So… I simply did more research on my own while I waited for you to be in a state where you’d be able to…”

Pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose, Ourania brings up another image. Again, it really only means anything to her. More blood, different angles, maybe? “Your red and white cells are completely fabricated. And there’s these…” She struggles for a word for a moment before she realizes the one she’d use with her colleagues is one that would make sense to Asi as well. “Matricies. Really elaborate matrices of DNA. All wrapped up in protein.” One finger draws a circle in the air at her side.

“Like a burrito.” Well. So, mostly professional terms.

Asi follows. Even when she becomes decidedly unamused by the euphemism used to describe the situation observed, she follows. Just flatter, sharper in affect. Like she's tempted to grab Ourania's swirling finger out of the air and tell her to focus rather than wax artistic about the matter.

"How did you get down to that level?" she asks in the hopes of shifting the conversational back to a professional tenor. "Did you get additional results from the microscope scans? Examine what you'd already received more closely?"

The steering keeps Dr. Pride from slipping into that excitement she tends to fall into when she’s explaining something scientific. A quick breath steadies her, recenters her energies. “I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions until I’d seen everyone’s results. That included Ms. Milos’ and Miss Leverett’s, as they’re possible statistical outliers, given the former’s insistence that she’s non-Expressive and the latter’s that she’s Expressive, but unmanifested.”

Grabbing a hair tie off her desk, Ourania starts smoothing her hair back so she can pull it into a ponytail on top of her head. It’s mostly an excuse to do something with her hands. “What I determined was that their readings were in line with everyone else’s. I’ve been doing regular blood draws from volunteers impacted by the November Eighth incident, and now some from the second batch on January Fifteenth. I haven’t seen any changes on my end. I’ve been continuing the studies with the pigs and nothing’s changed there, either.”

There’s something she isn’t saying yet, but she will. Later. “So after poking around at my findings and spending more time looking at them, researching… Your little DNA protein burritos are… basically a virus. The protein sheaths the DNA and the DNA rewrites your blood cells. So your blood cells adapt to the pigs because the DNA tells them to.”

Ourania takes a breath, holds it for two seconds, then lets it out. “Your blood is doing weird. wild. stuff.” Each word is punctuated by a short nod of her head. “Viruses, in the body, are supposed to rewrite other cells. This isn’t. It’s — I— I just — I don’t understand what it’s doing.” And for someone who’s often dragged into situations she doesn’t want any part of because she has the answers, that flusters her. “It’s programming something, Tetsuyama-san. And given the theories about software updates and fucking RFID transmitters in your heads…”

Over and over, she shakes her head helplessly, stammering, “I don’t — I don’t — I don’t — I don’t know. I just don’t know.” There’s a small noise of consternation that she makes from the back of her throat. Ourania’s gone beyond flustered and straight on to restless unease.

Asi, in comparison, looks calm. The job someone went through to have their bodies aggressively write themselves to be them, apparently, would be impressive if it hadn't been involuntary.

"We're the virus, then." To her, it's that simple, if this theory holds water. "This body wasn't us originally. It was— and is being— forcibly made us." Asi blinks slowly as she regards the screen. Somehow, this news doesn't threaten to expand the glass of her into something explosive. She relaxes.

Because somehow, this makes sense.

"Or am I misunderstanding this, somehow?" She turns to look toward Ourania properly again. "Is it too much to assume that what's being done to our blood isn't being done to our other body parts, as well?"

Dr. Pride gasps and her eyes slowly get wide. “Yes! That’s it! Oh, I just needed another angle!” Her excitement is quickly tempered, even in the face of Asi’s relief, couched back into something more sombre. “Oh, that’s bad, though.” The implications are certainly nothing good.

Shaking her head quickly, she moves on to the question. “No, uhm… I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that the strange quality of your blood is in effect anywhere else in your systems. Short of… going in there and taking a kidney for study, I guess. Which!” Ourania’s quick to hold up a finger, “I do not want to do except in the most dire of emergency circumstances.” If she’d wanted to let her insatiable curiosity get the better of her, she’d have handled the removal of Yi-Min’s chip herself. She’s glad she didn’t.

Asi only shakes her head. "I'm not sure I'd see a point in doing that anyway, not without a plan beyond confirmation. What are we going to do to start fixing us? Being sliced open for a science experiment doesn't sound appealing to me without there being a purpose that leads us to something outside of the same circle we've been swimming in for months."

"No offense to you," she clarifies, sitting back in her chair. "I just don't think we have the time for a slow-burn anymore. Not after what happened to Kimiko Nakamura."

“No, no,” Ourania insists with a wave of her hand. “None taken. Science without a plan is just mad, and that’s not my thing. I’m not a psychopath.” But her head cants slooooowly to one side. “That sa~id,” she draws out in a vocal glissando, “an exploratory surgery would not be the worst idea we’ve ever had.”

There’s a moment of consideration given to the notion. “Something fairly non-invasive, typical outpatient laparoscopic surgery could prove helpful. Four very small incisions in the abdomen, insert some cameras to take a look around, grab a couple biopsies…”

Pulling herself back before she can begin woolgathering on the subject, Ourania turns her attention back to Asi. “All with consent, of course. I… honestly think Mrs. Miller might be the best candidate to begin with. Whatever’s inside of you all appears to be dead within her, so she has the least risk of her system being upset by intrusion.”

Ourania purses her lips faintly. “If I can see what’s in there, I can begin to figure out how to fix it. This might be the best way.”

On the whole, Asi still looks just as enthused about exploratory anything as she did a minute ago. More than that, her thoughts are elsewhere, wondering why it took so long to arrive here. "… What did you say it was you did differently in this batch of solo research you did?" she asks absently. "How did you discover these virus proteins again?"

One hand lifts to rub absently at the patch of skin above her right eye with all the vigor, however momentary, of someone working out a knot.

“I couldn’t see this myself because I needed the imaging capabilities of KC’s electron microscope.” Ourania is hoping this is one of those recap moments and not some trap she’s being baited into. “I didn’t sit on this,” she reiterates. “I did the responsible thing and waited until I had all the data, which I didn’t have until January Fourteenth.”

Concern sees the doctor’s brow crease. “Are they giving you anything for your migraines, Tetsuyama-san? I’m sure I have something here, if you need it.”

"平気1," Asi interjects flatly in an attempt to override the concern being demonstrated for her. She rubs at her forehead only a moment longer before letting her hand fall to her lap, red mark on her forehead already beginning to fade from where she'd applied pressure. She looks hard at the blood before her, the data there.

Something doesn't sit right, exactly, she decides, even if the headache makes it hard to pinpoint with clarity.

"You did sit on this, though," she counters quietly, no malice or derision in it. Just tiredness. "If you saw from the beginning…" Slowly, she shakes her head. Attempts to be upset about waiting to reveal this fall short. She just doesn't have the energy for it. What would they even have done with the information at the time?

"What can we even do with this knowledge now, regardless? How… how does this help stop what's been happening to us? Or is this just yet another insight into our present state of inhumanity?"

She begins to shut down, folding her internal self further inward. No, that sort of talk isn't for repeating. There's a difference in acknowledging there's tech in them versus blatantly airing her belief they're no longer human— whatever the fuck they might happen to be now.

Asi's eyes flutter shut then quickly reopen. "You asked about how anti-virus programs generally work. They're programmed to look for indicators of a known library of viruses, malware, et cetera. Your program constantly needs updates to account for the latest-known bad actors and counters to them. If an infected file, registry, or program is found, most anti-viruses have a quarantine they'll place the suspect object into so they can be more closely examined, or outright deleted." Her head tilts to the side slightly, eyes still on the screen rather than on Ourania. "Generally, a clean reinstall is performed to replace the infected objects. Where that gets tricky is if it's a particularly key piece of your system. Some tools have 'repair' options where they can… try to extract the infection or rewind back to a previous state where the infection didn't exist, but it depends on what you're working with."

A beat later to let that settle, Asi wonders, "Does that behavior align at all with whatever theory you're chasing here?"

本当?2” Ourania counters reflexively under her breath, but while looking at her computer screen. It may as well be an unintelligible mutter of frustration. “You don’t look fine,” she responds in a voice meant to be heard, but she doesn’t push the issue either.

Asi isn’t wrong in her assessment, either. Dr. Pride did sit on this information, but because it was the responsible thing to do. Jumping the gun would have been a mistake. Especially when her first sets of samples were those who’d had anomalous experiences. There’s no defense she puts up, however. The point stands. She waited on sharing the information. She didn’t share it at the last session. But would it have made a difference if she had?

As to their humanity or inhumanity, Ourania shakes her head. Maybe that’s a philosophical question as much as it is a medical one. She doesn’t have the answers.

Now it’s her turn to rub at her brow. “Yes,” she admits, but it’s a dispirited sort of thing. “I could… try a transfusion maybe? But dialysis doesn’t work.” Ourania tries to run her fingers through her hair, but they snag at the binder that holds it in the tail atop her head. “I thought about trying a course of aggressive antivirals, but we don’t know what would happen if we tried to fundamentally change what your blood is doing. If it’s sustaining you…”

Pride’s expression is pained, she seems to kind of shrink as she wraps her arms around herself. “We don’t want another Nakamura on our hands.”

Leaning back in her seat, Asi turns to look at Ourania. "And if you want my opinion? I think that's exactly the sort of thing we'd be inviting on ourselves if we tried it. Even if it somehow didn't end up in death, the point stands that it's not clear what we'd gain by doing so." She begins to frown. "It's not our blood, necessarily, that's killing us. Is it?"

"I thought we had it pinned on a malfunction not of the circulatory variety," Asi ventures, head dipping in a silent tell of an ask for confirmation. "The seizures likely being the chip?"

“I’m… not that kind of scientist,” Pride admits with no small measure of defeat. “As far as I can tell, your blood isn’t actively killing you, but the nanites are still there, and I don’t know what they’re doing.” The band is pulled out of her hair, the blonde locks shaken out and the elastic left around her wrist again.

“But… What if a transfusion rolls you back to a clean install?” Ourania asks absently. “What if I can get your blood to a pre-nanite state?” Would it make a difference?

Shaking her head quickly to ward off the impending woolgathering, she fixes her gaze back on Asi. “What I have been able to uncover is that this is… almost one hundred percent an old Institute project that was so far out there, even they didn’t pursue it. That means somebody else with access to their archives did.

Ourania lifts one shoulder in a shrug and the corner of her mouth in the ghost of an impish little grin. “Maybe someone who knows how to look for the exchange of that kind of information might find a trail worth picking up.”

Asi sits through the suggestion of a clean install with an impassive look on her face. "The suggestion is a well-meaning one, but unless we find proof the nanites are regenerated, somehow," and she sounds doubtful, "I'm not sure we'd see that sort of benefit."

Her interest renews, though, as Ourania goes on— signaled in a snap of a look back to the researcher. "The use of ACTS units to contain us during travel indicated scavenge of Institute properties at least for equipment purposes…" Asi concedes slowly. But more importantly: "Who or what lead you to realize this, though?"

For a moment, the blonde geneticist looks confused by the question. Her head tilts, gaze sliding away from Asi as she seems to need a moment to repeat it back to herself before it sinks in. An easy smile finds its way back onto her face, her eyes finding the other woman’s again. “You’ve met Mr. Ray, right? He’s got all sorts of weird access to various files uncovered during the war.”

Ourania shrugs her shoulders. “I just poked around until I saw something that had enough vague connotations to suggest that there was probably a connection between this and that.”

Asi's tone slips to something colder. "Given his sister's involvement…" She lets the beginning of that statement hang, a certain ending implied by it. Likely that the information would have come out sooner, if Richard Ray had been her source. She struggles to envision a scenario where he'd not have brought it up himself. The former technopath begins to frown. She shifts in her seat slowly.

"お前は何者か, 博士さん3," Asi wonders with that same distrusting edge.

“手伝いたいものだ4,” Ourania replies, her voice pitched low. “私は悪かった, ですけど 改善しなりたくて. 重要なのはそれだけだ5.”

The doctor frowns thoughtfully, worry creasing her brow. “Kaylee Thatcher was my first friend, and Daphne Millbrook was my best friend for a time. Abigail Beauchamp took me in when everyone else gave up on me. Jacelyn Childs is my niece.” She sighs out a laugh, one corner of her mouth hooking upward. “I owe my life to Kimiko Nakamura’s brother.” Tears well up in her eyes when she says that much. Kimiko was a secretive person who didn’t let anyone get close to her, but she still can’t help but feel responsible in some way for what happened. Maybe if she’d just fought more, insisted on helping…

“And I traveled with the Wesley-Khans for a time.” That part isn’t strictly true, but nor is it entirely a lie. She has the memories of it, so how does that differ from having been there herself? Is it not memory that makes a person who they are?

She just can’t help herself. “もう知るか, 鬼?6” Ourania smiles in spite of herself. “私の名前を言え7.”

Most of the details don't fit into any slots for Asi. But the seamless transition to Japanese, it nags at something in her memory. And the use of that name— that name

"貴様8." A hard shove accompanies the accusation void of the satisfaction of announcing Ourania's true name. Asi comes to her feet along with that shove, the wheels of her own chair sending it spiraling back away from the rough displacement caused by its former occupant. "こりゃどういう意味9!"

"How?" she demands to know. Paranoia regarding Odessa's changed form begins to mount. Half a dozen nearly-idle thoughts threaten to coalesce into full-blown conspiracy with this realization partly-mounted. Her currently-more-dextrous left hand swipes a letter-opener off the desk and grasps it tightly in a reverse grip to defend herself if it proves Odessa's been a well-hidden enemy all along.

That'd just make too much sense, wouldn't it?

"Talk!" Asi barks in a command, every bit of her sharp edges ready to be raised in the name of self-defense, even if it came in the form of aggression.



Heedless of the way Asi moves to defend herself, Odessa turns in her chair and lets her arms stretch out to either side of her, bowing her head and turning her wrists and hands out in a small flourish.

She lifts a brow as she stares at that letter opener. It could hurt her if she ran afoul of it. So Odessa treats it and Asi with the respect they both deserve. “You spared my life before. I mean to do what I can now to save yours.” One less debt to owe. Wouldn’t that be nice?

The angle of the improvised weapon held by the woman opposite her shifts, slacking some in severity, but it doesn't lower.

"I'm not a part of what happened to you." Her demeanor shifts. No longer playing the wolf in sheep's clothing. "But maybe if you hadn't killed Rich, we'd have some answers." There's no challenge to that. There's… pain in her tone. The loss still hurts. "This was his brainchild, but no one would take it on. Now, someone's dug it out of mothballs."

But that doesn't answer the question Asi posed to her. "As for me, I got a facelift. Obviously. The government knows I'm here, and what I'm doing. I wanted a chance to atone, and here this mystery fell into my metaphorical lap once I joined Raytech again."

Odessa frowns, deep lines settling into her youthful face. "I don't like what's been done to any of you. I've lived with having my ability torn from me. It's a phantom ache. You don't recover from it. But… maybe you can. Maybe I can help."

Asi's expression starts to fall upon hearing the man whose research was either stolen or finally implemented successfully was killed by her hand. What kind of fucked up irony was this? It destroys the rest of her aggressive edge, arm lowering slowly back to her side.

For a moment, the revelation breaks her. Her scowl loses its fang, her eyes begin to lose their light.

But it's well and over, isn't it. And it has been; There's no undoing the decision made precisely a calendar year ago. It's done and past, and whoever did this wasn't likely to have been Rich himself. Or at least, it wasn't him now. Answers were still out there; they've only lost the shortcut Richard Schwenkman would have provided them. This was not the end of the road.

She puts away the dangerous paranoia, grip slacking loose on the letter opener. The government knows about Odessa, then. "Some facelift," Asi remarks. She doesn't like the deception, but imagine she's tripped over the discovery of some kind of bizarre witness protection program. With a simple shake of her head, she lobs the object back onto the desk.

"So this was the work of some Institute remnant—" she reflects, trying to get back on track. Compartmentalization unfolds before Odessa, witness to how Asi internally picks up the jagged pieces of herself and shoves them back in a cubby basket to deal with later. "That's confirmation. That's a solid clue. Anyone else who was working with Schwenkman before he was picked up is liable to know more about his work or what was done with it after the Ark fell…"

She's still operating under the assumption here that such a colleague hasn't already been consulted, though.

Odessa recognizes well the process that takes place in front of her. The way Asi pieces herself back together enough to make it through the rest of this exchange. She’ll either address this later, or not at all. It isn’t any of her business what Tetsuyama does with her revelations.

“I don’t know,” Odessa admits. “Kravid binned the whole project while she was in charge of things. If anything, I’d say somebody recovered the information from the data backups.” Her brows lift, her shoulders do too. “I hear Brucey Maddox was trying to salvage what he could before Wolfhound pinched him. And that V.Iris was with him.” Her shoulders drop again, the corners of her mouth turn down. “If I was a betting woman — which I am not — I’d put money on Mr. Verse having managed to get something into the cloud.”

Fingers wiggle in the air, slowly stretching up over their heads. “If someone could hack Praxis, it’s not such a stretch to assume someone could have gotten into the old Institute archives as well. Maybe your dark web will have some leads.” Odessa casts a quick, dubious look around. “In the meantime, use that respect you’ve garnered with the others to convince them to get in to see opthamologists. And get those lumbar punctures done.”

Pensive, Odessa suggests, “Skip Memorial. Go to Elmhurst. If I’m right, and you’ve got too much pressure… It’s not going to be good.” She sighs. “I can perform the procedure as well, but I don’t expect anyone will want me to. And I’d need access to the right equipment. But… that might be possible to secure.” Provided someone can convince Julie to help.

Asi lifts her left hand to smear it across her face in frustration. "That about does it, then," she mutters to herself. It'd been in her thoughts to try and track down Maddox wherever he was now, but the information about v.iris' knowledge about that project…

"He's on the project. Still. Now. If he was exposed to it before, then whoever picked him up apart from Wolfhound…" Frustratingly, still a cipher: "They're our people."

Weight shifting off a numb-feeling right to favor her left more, Asi admits with more clarity to it than before, "v.iris is partly responsible for what happened to us. Maybe more than partly. Not willingly, though. At least…" A tangle of grief and the complex emotions surrounding it interrupt her boxing process, manifesting in a ripple in her expression. "Not when it came to me."

"He tried to get a message to me. It didn't work. I didn't remember what happened in a timely fashion, and now— he's ghosting me again. I don't know if they have him locked in a fucking box like Praxis did to their pet technopath or if something else is at play but he's unresponsive. And just like he has been since the last of the Institute remnants Wolfhound hunted went down, he's been comm silent."

"Since the first time I came to America." Try as she might by glossing over it, she still ends up revealing more of how that pains her than she could possibly know. Asi rolls her eyes shut in a hard blink before she looks back to Ourania Odessa, trying to bring things back to the present.

"I'll see if Maddox's location is an easier puzzle to crack. Who knows, perhaps it'll answer other mysteries for us, too." With only a beat of thought, she adds, "I'll ask the others if they'd consider the procedure. For my part, I cannot risk being down for longer than I already have been. I've lost my ability and somehow my employers still see use in me— should I remain on the bench too long, that is likely to change."

Just how poor a position she'd be in should that happen isn't impossible to imagine.

"Raytech is more likely to be understanding, but they're also not the ones keeping the government off of my back," Asi notes with a lightness that doesn't enter her expression.

“A lumbar puncture is much easier than it sounds,” is about all the assurance Odessa feels confident she can provide. “You’ll want to lay flat as you can for the rest of the day after you have it done, but after that, it’ll just feel like someone punched you in the back. And the eye doctor won’t take you out for more than a couple of hours, while you wait for the dilation to wear off.” Ultimately, it’s Asi’s choice. And at least she’ll know this much to tell the others.

Odessa looks down at her hands, folded in her lap. “I hope you find him. Colin, I mean.” She looks up again, shaking her head. “None of us got a fair shake in the Institute. I don’t know if he wanted to be there, but I sure as hell didn’t.” Her gaze grows distant, as though she can see the past through a point in space just beyond Asi’s left shoulder. “I worked to sabotage that fucking place. Maybe he’s doing the same now, to whoever’s done this to all of you. And maybe that’ll help him if he can get out of that mess.”

She’ll hold on to that wish. Maybe there’s some hope for him. For someone like her..

Asi holds onto hope for Colin's safe rescue or escape, too, but it's a bittersweet thing filled with unresolved feelings. The most she manages by way of a reply is a softening of her eyes, and a murmur of, "Me, too."

She reaches for the cane she's left standing on its own, firming her grasp around the handle with a glance to it to confirm her right really is as set as she believes it to be. That's that, then. Isn't it? Shouldn't it be?

But no, there's at least one lingering question left. Asi glances back to Odessa with a small frown. "Of all the places you could have gone in the world with a new face, a new identity," she wonders. "Why did you end up back here?"

Odessa isn’t sure how to answer that at first. She lets her expression slip into a thoughtful one while she mulls over how to convey her feelings on the matter. “Maybe you’ve felt it too, or maybe you haven’t yet, but… Something about this city always seems to pull people back in.”

A sad smile is worn now as she studies Asi’s reaction, continuing on. “The only life I’ve ever really known has been here. My only friends — few as they are — are here. My family is here.” Shoulders come up in a helpless little shrug. “I’ve never been terribly good at being self-sufficient. And when I’ve had to fend for myself, I haven’t been in a position to be on the straight and narrow for it. I’m doing the best I can now. I do honest work. I check in with my assigned agent.” Her voice and her resolve falter. “I- I— I’m trying.”

The quiet she lapses into isn’t allowed to last long enough for Asi to decide that’s that and continue her exodus. “Do you think Mazdak still has Maddox? Or… I mean, are you beginning there?” If anyone has inroads, she expects its their contractor.

Asi isn't sure that New York pulled her back as much as it proved to be the only safe place for her to land after everything happened. It was happenstance she ended up here instead of directly in Mazdak's custody. Or was it? When Baruti Naidu had sent her on her way, he called New York home for her. She struggles to think he knew something she doesn't, but he also had seers who could still see on his side as well.

She doesn't pass comment on Odessa's trying, but trying to make up her mind about speaking leads for sympathy to stain its way into her unexpectedly. Asi's eyes flicker and then look away, down to the cane again. Maybe she'd have eventually said something after all if the topic hadn't changed.

The light in her eyes shifts, gaze not lifting up. She takes in a breath and slowly exhales it away. "I'll be beginning there. Or try to. Mazdak and I had a rather one-way relationship when it came to communication. They framed me for murder and made me partly responsible for the arrest for a large population of Evolved. I called them out on them doing nothing to help those who were arrested, and was dared to do something about it. Attempts to get closer were met with silence, all the way until they used a child to deliver a message to me on Staten Island…"

Her voice becomes dry, an unpleasant note rippling through her. She diplomatically segues, "I will see if they know what became of Maddox." Eyes flitting up to Odessa again, she reminds, "My understanding of what happened at PISEC is that not all escapees were sprung by Mazdak. Some, like Donna Dunlap for example, made their way out through other means. Somehow."

There's distance there, between her and the topic of the PISEC jailbreak and bombing— and it's not unintentional.

It’s by virtue of biting the inside of her lip that Odessa keeps from curving her mouth into a knowing smile. Instead, she half shrugs with a quick shake of her head. “It wasn’t just PISEC they attacked,” she reminds in a soft voice. She’s sure Asi remembers and requires no refresher course, but she is owed an explanation as to why the topic was brought up.

“They hit Liberty Island, too,” is how that starts, and quietly. Like to say it too loudly would invite the wrong kind of attention. Mazdak showing up at her own door would be less than ideal. “I think they may have taken someone very close to me. I… was wondering if you could find out if he’s there.” Odessa’s lips part in a small ‘o’ shape, making her seem smaller and more vulnerable than Asi might suspect her to be. “His name is James Woods.”

This… This is dangerous. Knowing is always a dangerous thing.

By the time Odessa circles back into what she's after, Asi's earlier sympathy is gone, sunken somewhere else. She has to consider her own position. "I'm not sure information about him will make its way to me," she admits. "If I don't have a reason for asking, there's no point. And I would not want to invite focus on you or him over something… sentimental."

She doesn't like the words even as she says them. But her voice doesn't soften even as she explains, "Inquiry is more likely be used as leverage to get something out of the inquirer in exchange for the information than it is to just get an… answer."

“No,” Odessa insists quickly. “It’s fine if it doesn’t.” This is too important to blow on her own concerns. If she wanted to, couldn’t she find them herself? Make herself a beacon to be homed in on? She could manage this herself. But she’s relying on someone else, because she knows better than to draw the attention to the places she belongs now.

Ultimately, Asi is right on the money. “I just… if you see him, I guess. I know it’s a longshot. I just would like to know he’s alive.” Odessa deflates, clearly heartbroken to have to be pragmatic, but it’s the right thing to do. For Woods, it’s possibly the safest thing.

A voice inside of her screams a rebellion. To hell with everyone else.

But that’s not who Odessa Price is. Not anymore.

“I hope you find what you need. I’ll continue to help however I can. You just have to let me know.”

Would that things were different. Asi's internal being moves again in the direction of sympathy, but—

She closes her eyes, glancing down when they open again. Like so many other things, she compartmentalizes it away, convincing herself it's better that way. Cleaner, safer, among other things. She still gives her next thought due weight before lifting her voice. "If I'm lucky, maybe I'll find answers we're both looking for."

That's the best she can hope for, right?

Asi lifts her head, suggesting, "I should go for now."

Odessa agrees with a quiet hum of sound, the tip of her tongue pressed against the back of her top row of teeth. She watches her with a half-lidded gaze, no attempt to veil her own sympathies.

“気をつけて, 鬼11.”

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