Awake, Alone, Regretting


chess6_icon.gif ff_gracie_icon.gif ff_huruma_icon.gif ff_marlowe_icon.gif ff_nadira_icon.gif robyn7_icon.gif ff_ryans_icon.gif ff_silas2_icon.gif wf_squeaks_icon4.gif ff_tay_icon.gif

Also Featuring:

ff_edward_icon.gif ff_hart_icon.gif

Scene Title Awake, Alone, Regretting
Synopsis Gracie's truth is tested.
Date July 6, 2021

In spite of the nerves twisting up her stomach, Rue leaps. She moves out from behind the obscurement of the curtain onto the faux moonlight of the stage on strained legs aching from too long of a walk back from the bar the night before. But adrenaline dulls the ache and tomorrow she can beat herself up for the lapse in judgment.

The other dancers on the stage move to accommodate her and with one half turn Rue can see the rows of audience members faintly illuminated by the simulated moonlight. She bows, drapes her arms forward, then then blooms back up as the music swells from silence. The dancer dressed in white laid out in front of her on the stage floor unfolds her arms like a blooming flower, embracing Rue and allowing the redhead to pull her to her feet.

Light strings tremble and the deep notes of cellos reverberates into the audience. As the oboes join the chorus, Rue shifts her feet into the fifth position and then lunges into an assemblé. It is a short, hopping jump backwards and when she lands to put her feet back in the fifth position her ankle is at the slightest of angles.

Rue feels the pop, the knife of pain up her calf and into her knee, and the involuntary scream as she

Broadway Street
Ruins of Toledo

July 6th
7:00 am

wakes up gasping for breath.

The pain in Rue’s leg is not a phantom one. It is visceral, bone deep, throbbing. The air inside the train car Rue wakes to is cold. But the blanket draped over her cuts the worst of it off. Thankfully it’s summer and sleeping in a derailed boxcar is survivable, but with her current injury prognosis for survival is short. It’s almost impossible for Rue to look at her leg, she knows how bad it is and knows that’s why no one bothered to handcuff her, they just shut the door and left her with a flashlight.

The roar of the boxcar door sliding open comes before Rue even has time to process why she’s awake. Taylor Epstein’s broad frame darkens the blinding, gray light of day as he climbs up inside the abandoned boxcar. There’s a small crowd gathered by the train tracks outside, though the thick morning fog makes it hard to see them all.

“It’s time.” Tay says with an inscrutable tone of voice, dark eyes like a shark’s and yet difficult to read.

Gracie feels clammy and sick. She’s been sweating out the pain all night, whether she’s been conscious of it or not. Every movement pulled her out of whatever compassion is found in sleep, leaving her in sobbing agony again. That she’s been conscious of. The cycle of fits and starts of tears and nausea, the ebb and flow of her ability to find calm again, and with it more rest.

The door opening sees her raising an arm to shield her eyes, a sharp breath sucked in between her teeth. She can’t quite push herself up to sit, because that would mean having to shift her hips and move her leg, but she gets at least to an incline, one hand braced against the floor of the car, the other holding her blanket up just under her chin. For being a hair shy of six feet tall, she looks very small in this moment.

“Do I have to go out there, or…?” Gracie swallows nervously, eyes holding steady on Tay. She eases her grip on the blanket, letting it slip from her opening fist gradually before reaching toward the looming form. While it’s difficult to say if it’s for the stability he can provide in getting her to a proper seated position or for some kind of reassurance, she knows enough to know Epsteins aren’t known for their supportive natures.

“Better if you stay put on that leg.” Tay says in a hushed tone of voice, never really making eye contact with Rue. There’s a look in his eyes, the way his posture is hunched up, that looks like something adjacent to shame or grief. He glances up at her, but the expression is briefly apologetic and yet at the same time cold.

Her eyes dance between his, trying to read him. “Tay?”

“She’s awake.” Tay calls out to the group gathered outside the freight car. “Let’s do this.”

Gracie’s heart sinks.

It's with a tired sigh that Robyn Quinn climbs up and into the boxcar, shoulders sagging and bags under her eyes as her gaze glides up to Gracie. Almost immediately, her face twists into one of annoyance - but not at Gracie, from how quickly she looks over to Tay. "Christ, you all left her leg like this? That seems like a bit much," she remarks cooly.

Probably not a great start, but so it goes. That they had fewer people that could handle that particular problem seems distant to her in the moment.

Crossing her arms, she angles an apologetic look down at Gracie, quickly crossing across the boxcar to make room for others to file in. "How exactly is this going to work, Tay? Interrogation? Good cop, bad cop questioning? I'm not going to pretend to know how you all do things here, and without coffee I have a low tolerance for bullshit."

"Fuck you, Quinn." There's coldness to beat the misty morning temperature in Marlowe's voice as she steps into the derailed boxcar, the profusion of hair tied tight up on her head first, and the rest of her following. In one hand, she carries a folding camping chair constructed of scrap metal and sail canvas. Who the intended seat is for remains unclear as she approaches Gracie, then moves behind the woman and unfolds the chair to set down. Her eyes pin on Tay and the others, her words gruff. "Help get her up." She's not asking, but she's not assuming anybody to readily hop to as she looks down to Gracie and juts out a hand in offer of a lift.

“We all get a chance to ask questions and offer insight,” Squeaks explains from the opening, at first a silhouette against the grayness outside until she’s climbed in properly. The teenager lacks a little of her usual animation, sobered by the cold and early hour and the task ahead of them. And for the streaming of her perceptions back to Elliot. It’s time to stay serious. She watches Marlowe for half a minute, lingering just inside the frame of the boxcar door, until she understands the queen’s intentions. “Then,” she continues as she crosses, “we all together make a plan for what should happen next.” She’s seen one or two of these as part of the Cerberus crew, but this is the first time she’s acting as a representative of anything. On Gracie’s other side, she also offers an arm up.

Of the dogs in this fight, Huruma has few; happens that one is still the survival of herself and the convoy, and gossip travels fast when there is tragedy. An impartial group is near impossible, if not already. Perhaps it is fortunate that what they did lose was, by practical means, not as much as they could have. The marauders chose the wrong prey, whether or not things were compromised.

Huruma's features are unreadable and sharp in the provided light, coat shed and arms bare; her stunted forearm ends in a safer crook, set with leather and metal around the guillotine-straight stump. For all that she desperately misses the limb— the image sometimes brings her pleasure. One makes do, and at times image is all you have. The tall woman lifts her chin to where Marlowe stands as she slips inside the car, eyes lingering on Gracie's form, the leg, the chair. Impassivity balances precariously in the shadow of pursed lips and muted sigh.

"You've seen this before, after a fashion," Silas says to Robyn, his expression implacable and inscrutable as a blank cliff face; in his black coat, he looks ominous. "When you arrived, a Council of Captains was called, in which all the captains of the Pelago came together to weigh an issue of greatest import.

"For a group of ships at sea, the custom for matters dire enough to merit it is similar. A representative from each ship — if not the Captain, then a duly selected representative empowered to speak for them — is assembled, and the issue brought before them. Usually that custom's followed formally only in matters of greatest import — the changing of courses or itineraries in the face of dire news. Or in matters of treason or mutiny," he adds, his mouth tightening as he glances to Gracie for a moment.

As Chess enters, her blue eyes find Gracie; she’s quiet as she regards the other woman for a moment, before she looks around at the others, listening to Silas explain the protocol.

“I can try to help her,” she says quietly, “but I don’t know how yet. If it’s just… instinctual, or what.” The soft words, along with her pale eyes, announce what she hasn’t officially said aloud to anyone yet – that Natalie Gray had given Chess her ability to heal.

“Do you want me to help now – if I can – to maybe take a little of the edge off, or just wait until…” she shrugs. Until they decide what to do. It’s a big if, and a big until. She glances over at Gracie, some contrition in her expression, before looking back to the others for the answer. Her hands slip into her pockets, finding the stone in one, letting its smooth shape fill her palm. Diplomacy is not her forte.

“There is no need to torture her, I would like to think we are not that barbaric.” Nadira’s voice is smooth, but there’s still the slightest hitch to it—this is all hard for her, and this isn’t the kind of confrontation she wants to have. She offers the tiniest of smiles in Gracie’s direction, but it’s tinged with a sorrow of a sort she doesn’t usually show.

She glances quickly towards Chess, and although she doesn’t exactly know how she plans on doing it, she gives a little nod towards her in encouragement of the idea of taking the edge off.

As the Council file into the boxcar with her, Gracie watches each one in turn. Marlowe’s offer of the chair brings the blood to drain from her face. Robyn’s disgust for the situation brings a furrow to her brow. Jac’s calm doesn’t do much to inspire the same in her. Huruma makes for an imposing figure, an intentional one, she suspects. Silas’ words make her eyes wide as fear settles in her properly. Chess’ presence brings with it a birdlike tilt of her head in confusion, easing some only when she speaks of potential compassion. Nadira’s smile can’t quite be met with one of her own.

There’d been a short list of those Gracie thought might be most charitable to her in this situation. She’s just mentally scratched one name off and added question marks behind two more. With both arms braced against the floor now — decidedly not reaching out for help as yet — she leans to one side in an effort to better look beyond the doors.

Spotting Richard, Gracie leans harder, like she might grab his eye when she realizes he isn’t boarding with the others. There’s confusion there, worry, but no sense of betrayal or anger when he stays where he is. The slim woman comes back to center, drawing in a sharp breath through her nose, eyes wide again as she looks up again, mouth pursed small.

The tang of Gracie’s fear is sharp on Huruma’s senses. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather stay right where I am while my leg’s like this.” Head swiveling this way and that as her eyes dart among the gathered, she swallows uneasily and tries to decide which face to focus on, to pick the right answer — if there is one at all.

Tay purses his lips and looks at everyone gathered, arms crossed over his chest to keep them from swinging. Outwardly he seems mostly fine, but Huruma can feel the bees buzzing around inside of his head. Tay is unpredictable internally, a rubber bouncy-ball thrown off of an overpass, likely to spring in just about any direction if given the opportunity to. That he is practicing any self-restraint here is thanks to a tenuous grasp he has on a self-perceived chain of command. This is his convoy and as the senior officer he has to act with decorum.

The minute that’s out the window, it’s back to shooting his gun into the sky.

“We ask enough questions till we’re satisfied we got all the answers, then you all make a decision and I’ll carry it out.” Tay says, putting the onus of action on himself rather than the others. He blinks a look at Gracie, jaw working from side to side. Huruma senses the bitter, oily texture of guilt in his emotions.

“On the fourth, when we stopped at the rest station.” Tay says, clipping his words off at the end to keep something unproductive behind his teeth. “You argued against going up this route. Said there’d be muddy roads. Tried to get us to go down south, way off course.” His lips twitch. “You knew this ambush was comin’, but what I can’t figure out is if you were tryin’ to warn us away from it, or lead us into a bigger one we dodged.”

Tay glances between the representatives. “Because if you were tryin’ t’warn us you sure didn’t mention the important part.” His breathing hastens. “So why don’t you start explaining.

Robyn locks eyes with Marlowe, immediately seething. As Silas speaks to her, it takes restraint to not bark out a laugh as she continues to stares ahead. "You're right, Silas. I have seen this before." A hand rises up, brushing something away from the corner of her mouth, and up alongside the scar on her face.

Even then, Quinn looks up from the sweatshirt, straight ahead at Eileen. "You're not fuckin' serious, right?" Obviously they are given, exactly what's going on here, but her brain hasn't caught up to her mouth yet. "Are you out a' your god damn minds? Doin' something like this out here? For everyone t' see?!"

Barbara’s expression thins, looking from Quinn to Rue. "Ms. Lancaster," she remarks quietly. "I- saw these buried myself, in a manner of speaking." She states flatly. "I found them, last night, with the aid of several other witnesses." She lets out a small sigh, shaking her head. "If you have a better explanation, now is the time." Because right now, there's only one.

A heavy sigh escapes Ryans through his nose; possibly out of relief that he did not have to do that himself, or at Edgar's blatant display. "Thank you, Edgar," though there is no way to know if he means it through the blandness of the old man's tone.

Ignoring the rain and mud, he takes a knee next to Rue, giving Quinn a warning look. "Miss. Lancaster," Ryans says her name with the firmness of a father. Which he is. "Rue," is offered in a soft rumble. "You are…" Is it really arrest? "…to be confined, under the watch of Special Activities, until such time as the whole council on the island," he gives a pointed look at Barbara, "can hear your case." His hand comes up to forestall her protests. "And a decision can be made."

"But it wasn't a council meeting." Robyn shakes her head and crosses her arms. "It was an inquisition."

Clapping her hands together, she steps back forward, eyes still on Marlowe as she brings up a clearly fake smile. "Good morning, Marlowe. I see you've chosen to play the role of callous bitch this morning!" The smile fades away, hands falling to her side. "She stays put. I'm sure she's in enough pain, and there's no need for any of us to play the part of Cruella today."

Crossing her arms, she leans against the wall of the boxcar, looking over at Nadira, and then over to Tay. "My questions are as much for the whole of us as they are for Rue." Oops. "Because I'm curious to know how anyone thinks she could have helped set up an ambush like this from either Delphi or the Pelago."

She looks down at Gracie. "I hear you encouraged people to surrender via the radio, as well. Motivation there?"

“Quinnie,” Gracie’s voice is quiet. “Please don’t do this.” Not right now. Not while others are upset. But her attention shifts to Tay quickly to answer his questions. “I didn’t know about the ambush, I swear. I would have said something.” Her eyes plead with him to believe her just as much as her words.

“Am I saying I told you so right now?” The way her eyes go wide when she says it shows her immediate regret. That was an unproductive choice. “We passed through their territory back in Pennsylvania. We’ve gotta be at least a hundred miles outside of it right now.” Which highlights the question of Robyn’s. If it was as completely unexpected as she claims, why was she so certain of what to do on the radio?

“I recognized their tactics immediately.” Gracie’s gaze casts down to the blanket in her lap. “I’m not proud of it, but I used to run with them. They’re not—” Her mouth flattens into a line as she tries to decide how to best explain herself. “They’re just people trying to survive. The MO is disable the drivers — which doesn’t mean kill them,” she’s quick to assure, “take out anybody who fights back, give everyone else a chance to surrender, then… Give ‘em a choice to join the community.”

She lifts her head again, glancing around before settling on Robyn to properly answer her question. “I panicked when I realized what was happening. My motivation was to tell people that it… wasn’t meant to be a slaughter. That people who didn’t fight would live.” Again, she looks around, the shadows of her fear deepening. “How many were there?” She never had a chance to get a good look.

When Gracie rejects her hand, Marlowe retracts it. It's not all the same to her, but the offense is simply tossed onto the pile of mental charges already. "Suit yourself," Marlowe says to Gracie, "was only seeing if you'd want to meet us at a little higher level than the floor." That much is an honest statement from Marlowe; it doesn't take an empath to tell. The Syndicate leader rolls her shoulders in a shrug to Squeaks - what can you do? - and claims the camping chair for her own. She eases herself on to the chair like a throne, legs crossing one over the other, but more so to do as Tay is doing in finding a way to contain herself and listen. Seeing Chess enter the boxcar and offer the bit of healing gets a shake of Marlowe's head, but no sort of command or comment on the matter. It would be Chess' choice to engage in that offer.

It's then that Marlowe does finally note Robyn's dagger-like glaring at her, and responds to the morning greeting and being called a callous bitch in the same breath with a sardonic smile and a pucker of her lips in a kissing motion at the angry woman. Kiss my ass, the gesture invites. Marlowe does not quail from the challenging staredown.

But, her attention goes back to Gracie as the quorum for her fate begins. Her brows lift at the revelation of the previous private meeting. Marlowe's smile has since faded, replaced by a stiff mask echoing that callousness she'd been accused of moments before. "Just 'trying to survive'," Marlowe echoes bitterly, "and what would they have let us do had we surrendered? Live like the starving beggars and bilge-level pirates that they were? Sounds like they got more desperate. More greedy, when they saw the potential spoils." She tosses her head in a huff, gaze flashing to the other reps. "What was the final count? Over a dozen, nearly two, at least."

“M’sorry,” Gracie mumbles and angles her look back toward Marlowe, “I appreciate the thought, but I’m just not ready to move my leg yet.”

She falls silent again and listens, ready for the next question and shaking her head quickly at the assessment of the community responsible for this attack. The breath leaves Gracie’s lungs and her eyes get wide when the syndicate leader gives her assessment of the headcount. “Wh- What?” Her jaw goes slack, shock and horror gripping her heart plainly to Huruma. “How many are… left?”

For the empath, fear has a tangible similarity to the smell of blood; Huruma does not seem to concentrate her gaze on any one face as the others begin the exchange of words. A lot of fierce emotions pass between them, some invisible and others flashing with the silent heat of an ember being stoked. In one visitor, the taste of anger is full of bile— it is a personal matter. A moment is given in a look to Robyn before Huruma edges forward on soundless steps. She passes between Marlowe and Gracie when she circles, cutting through without preamble.

“Not many, of the incursion party.” Voice low, Huruma crouches down opposite of Gracie, features shifting as she speaks. Unblinking yet filtered through something sympathetic, head tilting. Inquisition, by a simpler definition. “I am of the impression that you would never have advised they come for us, even if you did have the means of conspiring a trap from the coast…”

Brows lift, giving only a few scant seconds until looking to the others. “She is more of a rabbit, not a dragon. Why must we tilt at windmills?”

The prisoner watches the towering empath’s movements, her trepidation only growing. Her breath is juddery, every bit the rabbit Huruma posits she is. Gracie gives her head another series of little shakes. “No,” she insists emphatically. “Those people were my friends once. I wouldn’t have led them into this. They could never have known…” Her eyes close heavily and her chin dips toward her chest, pulling in another deep breath and swallowing back emotion. “How many E- Evolved among the survivors?” she asks shakily.

They may not know, she realizes. Gracie lifts her head again, choosing to keep her focus on Huruma. “I know… I know Ren’s dead.” A glance almost makes its way to Chess, but she forces herself back. “Lenny? He can… turn into rock. Was he there?” Tears start to fall, and sniffles miserably. “Or Jonas? He has hair like mine.” Only then does she start to look to the others for signs of recognition.

"Could you, any of you, really think she would've been treated fair if she outed herself then?" Squeaks' first question goes to Tay's statement, no accusations toward anyone, just purely wondering out loud. She straightens, arms folding across her chest. A look flicks to Robyn then raises up to Huruma as her shipmate passes by. "I'm betting she was hoping to avoid what happened, but also I'm pretty sure she probably didn't know where exactly or when anything might maybe happen before any of us did."

The teen takes a half step to the side, giving Gracie a little bit of space. "Remember, I was in the van too," she continues addressing everyone, "and she seemed surprised too. There's no real communication out here unless Gracie's hiding it in her butt or something. Which is kind of primal and for reals gross. But I saw her and I heard the message. She didn't see it coming either, until it was too late, and she was trying to save as many of us as she could. Maybe, if we got captured, we could find a way to mutiny and take over? I don't know."

Gracie nods quickly to indicate that Squeaks has her motivation right.

Squeaks huffs a breath and lifts her shoulders in a shrug. "Why would she try to save anyone, when she could have just saved herself?" She pauses to let that question air for two or three seconds, then tilts her head so she can look at Gracie. "Do you know what were they probably looking for? Or if… you said Ren? If Ren has other traps ahead? Could you identify more like that?"

Gracie takes the time she spends in silence to wipe the tears away from her face, even if they just continue to flow, however silently. "Ren doesn't — didn't work like that," she asserts. "If…" She seems to surmise those particular people she asked about were not among the survivors, if the pang of loss picked up on the empath's emotional radar is anything to go on. "If Lenny and Jonas… No. I…" She covers one half of her face with her hands and draws in a deep breath to try and steady herself. "Jesus Christ. They're all dead."

Another wave of emotion is swallowed down. "Ren went all in on this. There's… There's no one left." Her next breath is ragged, a croaked noise on the edge of it where she tries not to give in to her desire to break down. "That whole community is basically defenseless now." There's no blame in her tone when she makes that statement. She's talking herself through the facts of the matter.

"Ren, Lenny, Jonas, and—" She seems to catch herself, hesitating. "They were the only Evos in the whole group." Gracie's hand shifts from its shielding of her face, although her fingers stay at her mouth. Her middle finger brushes over her lower lip in an unconscious gesture of her anxiety, while her first rests at the dip of her cupid's bow.

"Ren was crazy," Gracie continues quietly, attempting to continue answering the questions put to her, "when she forced us out of the van. She accused me of having brought you out here to kill her." It takes a moment of focusing on her breath to keep panic from rising. Huruma feels it build, only to be resisted and gradually recede again. "Maybe she saw me while patrolling. Maybe she'd been waiting to see if I would leave the Pelago again all this time."

Slow breath in, slow breath out. "But more than just our supplies, I think she was looking… For Ms Gray." Gracie lifts her gaze from where it had been focused on her lap and looks around again. She pauses on Chess only briefly. The blue eyes, the offer to help; she's pieced enough of it together.

"There's a kid, Mikey — Lenny's son." The fourth name she hesitated to speak before. "He's sick. Really, really sick. But he has a gift. Divination, kind of? He can scry on people and see not just where they are, but where they will be. That has to be how they knew to hit us exactly here. How they got ahead of us to do it." Gracie runs her finger along the teardrop shape of her lip, gaze going distant. "That's the only way. Because I sure didn't tell them." Her free hand gestures toward the awkward shape of her splinted leg under the blanket. "Look what she did to me." The momentary bitterness fades from her, covered over by regret. She glances about again, ready for the next round of questions.

Silas's only reaction to Quinn's tirade is a slow turn of his head, a slight curl of one corner of his mouth… but behind his stone-faced mask is a surge of pure venom. One that, thankfully, he is able to wrestle down.

For the rest he listens implacably, until it's his time to speak. "Natalie Gray," Silas says quietly, his eyes resting on Gracie, "is dead. Took shrapnel to the gut at the very start of the attack. Spent the last of her time healing everyone she could before she bled out."

Silas studies her grimly for a moment, then shakes his head. "The charge is conspiracy," he states, before finally breaking his gaze and looking to the others, "but so far I've heard no evidence beyond the circumstantial. First, that Gracie advocated we went a different route. Second, that they knew where we were heading before we got there, with enough time to lay an ambush in advance. Third, that Gracie didn't admit association with these goons, and fourth that Gracie advocated surrender."

Silas shakes his head. "I'm not seeing it. The fact that Gracie advocated against the route we took is a point against her involvement in this, unless she had an opportunity to communicate with them well after the route was chosen. Which, as Jac has pointed out, she likely did not, unless we're seriously considering the option of a butt-mounted radio transmitter," Silas says, his expression indicating that he is not. "The fact that they were able to hit us as well as they did without advance communications — an ambush involving a mostly working semi and explosives — lends credence to the idea of precognitive planning."

"As to admitting association beforehand… hell. Not everyone's proud of everything they've done, and it can be hard to drag stuff like that out into the light."

"The sole remaining point against her is that she advocated surrender, and to that… I ask this. If she hadn't said anything, would we be having this conversation right now?" he asks, looking around tiredly. "I dunno. I just don't see it. I don't trust coincidence, but every once in awhile a horse is just a horse and not some kinda crazy metaphor for the atomic bomb." Silas looks to the others and shakes his head again. "I've got no questions for the moment."

While he’s not necessarily in her corner, Gracie looks relieved to have at least examining the evidence before him and sharing his opinion that he’s not seen proof of guilt in it. Her eyes speak to sympathy and more regret as she addresses him. "I swear, if I had known it was coming, I'd have tried to do something. I'd have tried to protect all of us."

Suddenly she looks to her lap again when her hands clasp together there. "All of you." She's starting to feel less like an Us, and instead like a Them.

Conflicting responses on whether to heal or not from those who answered makes Chess hang back, finding a wall to lean against as she watches the proceedings. But when Gracie says their attackers’ MO is to simply disable the vehicles and not kill, her expression turns grim.

When it’s her turn to ask a question, she shakes her head. “They shot at the same time as we were hit up in Scout. Castle was hit by gunfire before we even had time to figure out what had happened, and they could have died then and there. From what you say, I don’t think they had sniper level skills where they could shoot a person in the chest and be sure to just disable them,” she says quietly, her eyes narrowed a little as she studies Gracie.

She glances around, and sees that Ryans isn’t there just yet. “I only came in to see if people wanted me to heal first, but I’ll step out so Ryans can ask his questions. Someone come find me if you need me. I’m not built for any sort of council.” With that she turns to exit the boxcar.

Gracie winces, fingers curling against the blanket in her lap like she’s braced against something physical. “I just meant that they didn’t have to do that,” she tries to clarify, trying not to seem like a liar. “It’s awful, what they did. That wasn’t how it was when…” Nothing she says indicates that she disagrees with what Chess says, or that she’s attempting to defend anyone but herself. She’s the only one standing judgement here, after all. Everyone else seems to have been executed for their crimes.

Blue eyes follow Chess’ departure and linger on the open door of the boxcar even once she’s out of sight, catching up the Scout representative. “I don’t know,” Gracie’s forced to admit. “Maybe things changed after I… fucked off.” The emphasis makes it sound like more than just I left. There’s yet another splash of guilt added to her emotional canvas.

"I do not think they would have spared us, even if we had surrendered. As you say, they have a settlement and protect their own and we would just be a drain on supplies," Nadira says, watching Chess make her way out before she looks at Gracie. "They did not try to just slow us down or make it so we would surrender. We could have lost Speedwagon entirely, had we not veered into that building. They did not shoot to disable. They shot Walker in the head."

It's still a tender subject, and Nadira's composure breaks only for a moment before she pulls herself together to continue, glancing around at the others. "That being said, we are all hurt and angry. We lost some of our own and we could have lost more of our own. There is no way that anyone here is going to feel okay about this. So, having established that, Gracie is not the cause of all of our problems. We need to remember that taking our anger out on her will not make anyone come back or heal any wounds. We are biased because we want someone to blame and an outlet for this anger. I think that we need to remember this as we go forward and focus only on what Gracie herself did."

She settles her gaze back on Gracie, letting out a small sigh. It's hard seeing anyone in her position, but Nadira keeps her gaze on her to ask her questions. "When did you leave their group and why? You sound as if there is a bit more to leaving than just waltzing away to the Pelago."

It’s clear Gracie wants to argue at first, but her expression gradually softens from one of restraint to one of uncertainty. None of them will ever know which of them is right, so she stares down at her lap and lets the shame wash over her. “I only acted on the information I believed to be true,” she says softly when she’s left to respond. Other than that, she offers no more defense on that subject. Instead, she takes a deep breath to begin to answer Nadira’s questions.

“I wasn’t the best at judging the passage of time,” she admits with a shake of her head. “We were set to raid a hospital. Not one still functioning, but one that was being controlled by a group of raiders that wasn’t too keen on sharing the supplies they were sitting on.” Gracie lifts her head. “Like I said, Mikey’s sick. He needed medication.” Her lips flatten, expression grim. “And he’s how we — they survived. Knowing where to look for things, knowing how game would migrate…”

Gracie scrubs a hand over her face. “The night before the raid, I just had a bad feeling. I was meant to be in the thick of it with Ren, and I wasn’t afraid, exactly, but just something didn’t feel right. It didn’t sit right. I would have been happier trying to sneak in and take what we wanted, but… The world out here doesn’t work like that.” She falls silent as Benjamin Ryans climbs into the car to take Chess’ place at the metaphorical table. “I went to see Mikey. Part of it was just to check on him, and partly… I wanted to know what he could see.”

Another brief moment of silence follows, where Gracie’s eyes go distant as though she could see back to that moment. “The vision showed that I didn’t go to the hospital with Ren. Instead, I went to the Pelago.” She blinks, still not quite in the here and now. “So, while everyone was resting, I gathered supplies, provisions, everything I thought I would need for the journey, and I left without a word.”

Closing her eyes tightly, she’s focused again when they reopen, letting out a deep breath slowly. “Ren was my partner, so I didn’t just walk away easily. But as Mikey got sicker, things became less certain and she became more desperate.” There’s a brief and sad smile from the redhead. “I didn’t want to be that person. And I trust Mikey’s gift, so…”

The old man is exhausted, having been moving heavy concrete and rebar and it shows in the less than pleased expression. By the slight hunch to his shoulders, Ben isn't even using his ability to hold himself up to relieve aching joints.

In the confines of the boxcar, he listens to what Gracie has to say, after having gotten a quick rundown from Chess what was said already.

“Wouldn’t be the first time someone left home because of a precog’s word,” Ben rumbles out from his spot. It isn't a defense of her reason, just a simple observation.

Knees crack loudly as Ben lowers into a crouch, to put him at her level. “Gracie…” He sighs heavily, with the weight of what they were doing. Ben never felt pleasure in this task. “You knew they were out here and by your own admission, knew they had someone who’d scry out what was needed.” There isn't so much as anger in his words, but disappointment. His emotions to Huruma are a mix. “You also just admitted to being their leader's partner and that their biggest source of survival was sick and you care about that sick child. Can you see how this looks?”

Ryans leans a little closer, studying her face as he speaks, “The thing that really sticks out to me and keeps nagging at my brain is that you didn't warn us… oh…you might have tried to get us to take a different route, but… that doesn't hold much weight.” His head tilts a little to one side, in consideration. “Could be the other way was an ambush route that was closer to where you last knew the camp to be, because we have what they need most and you still care.” There is a way yellowed blue eyes stare at her, as if the old man was weighing her soul. Judging her.

But then suddenly, Captain Ryans sits back on his heels. “Not that I blame you, I’d do anything if my kids were sick. Lucky for you, I trust my Second and crew.” Huruma and Squeak’s defense of her clearly held weight. “May not have been intentional, but I also cannot trust you.” Finally, rising to his feet, Ben glances at the others.

“However, you can start working on that long road to trust,” his gaze falls on Tay, “or at least gain some form of mercy, by giving us intel.” His attention falls back on Gracie there on the ground. “Such as there other groups we need to be concerned about? Rival gangs? Potential ambush spots? Actionable intel so that we can avoid any more visits from Death while we’re in your old stomping grounds.”

Fear grips at Gracie again, her eyes getting large, face going paler than it already was. “No,” she stammers, “no, no, nonono.” Her head shakes quickly. “It’s not like that. I’m just trying to be honest. Yes, I care about Mikey, I care that he’s sick and that he needs help, but he’s a kid.” Her brows slant, begging for understanding. “I’d be pretty fucked up if I didn’t care about a sick kid, right?”

She swallows hard and presses her lips thin. “I didn’t orchestrate any of this. Nobody came after me, so I didn’t think… I’m not like the kid. I’m not instrumental to anyone’s survival. I’m just a—” Overwhelmed, she needs a second to keep from crying again. “A whore trying to make my way to a new life.” It’s clearly difficult to reduce herself down to so base a thing, but she also believes it.

“Yeah, okay? Yeah, I should have said something about Ren’s crew, but I was… trying so hard to distance myself from all that. I never thought that she’d have Mikey looking for me. I don’t even know if she did! I just had too much fucking time on my hands and started trying to make sense of this!” She is not the precog the ailing child is meant to be. The panicked bluster begins to fade, her voice grows quieter again. “They’ve been looking for a healer for a long time, so that’s why I thought maybe… Ms Gray.”

Swiping her fingers under her eyes, she sniffles. “We are so far out of her territory. So far. I didn’t think… I didn’t think.” Gracie lets out a breath of bitter laughter. “I’m not some kind of evil mastermind. I’m just always along for the ride.” Her right hand settles at her chin, finger worrying over her lower lip again. “The only other group I ran into was the fucking Arrowoods that were gonna—”

Gracie shudders. “Ren and her people took care of them. That’s how I ended up with them in the first place.” There’s another pause to think. “Anyone else is scattered. I’m doing my best to help navigate, but I don’t know territories and I traveled alone. I was a small target.”

Staring hard at the wall, she draws in a deep breath and gathers her courage. “You wanna avoid getting ambushed again?” Her blue eyes fall on each of the gathered in turn. “We double back, we find Mikey, heal him and take him with us. I can’t do shit for you, but he can.” The accused huffs a weary sigh edged with frustration. “Or don’t. And I get that you’re not gonna believe me, but everyone is dead. They are all. dead. There’s nobody left to protect that kid or fight you. Your choice.”

A rueful smile tugs at Gracie’s lips as she repeats herself. “I’m just along for the ride.”

Tay sighs loudly and shifts his weight anxiously to his other foot, watching Gracie with furrowed brows. There’s a lot on his mind right now, and though this has his attention Huruma can feel he’s distracted by something, emotionally off-kilter. It’s not from his immediate surroundings, and he’d been bringing it with him since he was in her range. Still, he does a fine enough job of outwardly passing it off as irritation with the current events.

“This kid’s real convenient.” Tay says with a shake of his head. “Just happens to have the perfect ambush ability, lets them lay a trap for us, makes ‘em nice an’ sympathetic.” He works his jaw from side to side, then down to the boxcar floor. “‘Cept I went and had a talk this mornin’ with the fellas Jonathan’s keepin’ an eye on. An’ they mentioned this kid too. Before she said word one about it.”

Tay sighs again, running both of his hands over his head. “I didn’t talk long, but nothin’ they said contradicts what she’s tellin’ here.” He looks at the representatives. “That don’t mean she ain’t real good at lyin’, but it does mean that’s all I got.”

Gracie doesn't attempt to defend herself any further from Tay's suppositions. It is convenient that Ren's crew happens to have a clairvoyant kid able to lead them where they want to be.

"Did… Did they have anything to say about me?" There's a false start at first; Gracie looking up, then down again before finally managing to settle on Tay's face and wait for his answer.

“Nothin’ you wanna hear.” Tay says flatly.

"Thanks." She thinks sparing her is a kindness she probably doesn't deserve, if her rueful but genuinely grateful expression is anything to go on.

"Quinnie," Rue begs. Tell them, tacit. But Quinn's caught Rue skulking around too.

The nickname catches Robyn offguard, eyes widening as she looks down at Gracie in a manner that makes a poor attempt at hiding her surprise. Almost instantly, she falls quiet, the anger that was boiling just under the surface having seemed to have been at least momentarily diminished.

"Fine," she replies to Gracie in a low voice. Some of the following comments pass her by as she stares down at the floor, lost in a memory. The news of Natalie Gray's passing brings her back to the present, huffing out a breath as she looks back up and across the boxcar.

"That's a very small timeline," she says in a low voice, looking back down but not at Gracie. "You were at the Arcology, if I'm remembering right," which may only mean so much to some, but she has a point. "Which was just two and a half years ago. So, I suppose the better question is, how long do you estimate you'd been back in the Pelago?" Because if it was only a short time before they arrived, well, concocting some plan does seem more likely.

She looks over to Ryans, wanting desperately to argue with some of his reasoning - but that's not her role here, not this time. Not that directly, at least. "I do wish this Ren wasn't dead, though," she offers, shaking her head, one hand rising to brush over her facial scar. "Because when prophecy is involved it's just as easy to become a pawn as it is to go your own way." An exasperated sigh, and she crosses her arms again.

"So, only a handful of evolved in their ranks, assuming you're on the level," she notes, continuing on as she finally looks back up at Gracie. "I believe that largely eliminates the chance of coordination, because I can't imagine a telepath or otherwise mentally aligned evolved strong enough to cover that sort of distance wouldn't have tried to make use of their ability in the fracas, and more traditional means…" She taps a finger against her chin. "Still possible, but not probable with how the timelines line up of us commiting to this trip, making our way to Delphi, and then getting on the road."

Robyn waves a finger in Nadira's direction, her flat expression curling into a soft smile. "Nadira's got the right of where our focus should be." She looks off to the side again, rather at Gracie, and shakes her head. "Without going back to their camp I don't think we can get a complete picture, and while there's evidence of bad decisions being made," which is pretty standard for any Rue, it seems, "I'm not willing to condemn someone without evidence of actual wrongdoing."

Gracie shifts her focus to Robyn, listening and starting to look more scared again than panicked. How long was she back at the Pelago? "I don't know… About a season? Three, maybe four months?" She shakes her head slowly, then shifts back to looking at her lap again. “Long enough that I thought if Ren was going to come after me, she’d have done it by then.” She drags a hand through her curls, fingers getting tangled briefly.

Marlowe hasn't looked away from Gracie throughout the entire round of questioning, but her focus has shifted in and out of the staredown. Fingers intertwined, chin rested upon knuckles, the Syndicate leader remains deadly quiet. Outside, her face is a mask, stony, cold. Inside, a storm: offense, suspicion, anger, mixing with sympathy, anxiety, fear. It's all muddy with wrongness, with grief. The woman shuts her eyes, exhales at Gracie's emotional plea, at her strategy. Their choice, she said.

Eyes open again as Tay speaks, mentioning a questioning with the prisoners. Marlowe lifts her head from her fingers, uncoils herself from the chair. She leans forward in it to Gracie, brown eyes cool as a cobra's, studying the teary woman further. "They shot Jonathan at minimum three times in the chest. Right in his big ol' soft heart, those would have been. Levi, you know, right in the head. How 'bout those up front, hm? Nathalie? Chess? Doc's dead and buried," she says stiffly. Yes, she counting the vehicle as a soul too.

Marlowe continues, "An attack on any of them is an attack on me. My crew is loyal. Ren's crew, too, sounds like. But what about you? All I'm hearing is the moment shit starts going down for you, you cower, you run. You abandon ship. Even as things get desperate for others around you, your first instinct is to pack up and walk away. Those raiders. The Arcology. The Pelago." Her gaze narrows, darkens. "I've heard nothing to convince me that you're not going to turn away from us again. No, don't think that I wish misfortune on you, Gracie, or any of your former friends. But should we test our luck? Mm, no, I don't think we should. There's no guarantee the kid will help us or flat out lie to our faces and get us all killed after we heal him up. Not after knowing we killed his father, his family."

Rising to her feet, Marlowe rolls back her shoulders to loosen them. "And do we want to delay this convoy further? Do we dare?" It's a question she poses to the other representatives gathered in council. But to Gracie, she gives a hard look over. "We heal her up. Leave her and her companions with some supplies and the horses. And we go," Marlowe proposes to the council.

No,” Gracie whispers each time Marlowe lays out her sins, trying to refute any of it. “I can only tell you— I didn’t know—” Beneath the terror, there’s a growing frustration that comes from a need to be understood. She keeps shoving it down, even though it can’t be long before the pressure becomes too great and it can’t be contained any longer.

The suddenly hollow feeling that shows plainly on her face and in her eyes, that leaves her ears ringing, makes everything else meaningless. “No, please. Please don’t leave me. Please—” Gracie buries her face in her hands and begins to sob in earnest. This time, she does nothing to attempt to bring herself under control again. There’s just not enough fight left in her for it.

Squeaks opens her mouth to speak — Elliot has remained silent, though he watches through Squeaks's eyes with keen interest and a mind heightened by Wright's donation of cognition. He spends his time watching Gracie's every movement, weighing her response time and intonation. It's clear that she believes almost everything she's saying, and he draws Squeaks's attention to his skill to line up what he's surmised. — but stops herself before the words become more than a breath that gets exhaled with a huh sound. She can study through his memories of this conversation and compare against his talent for reading people.

"I believe her," he says, “but she's hiding something about the conditions she left under. It's quite possibly just personally embarrassing, I'd recommend we don't dig into that until she's cleared of this. If there's more we can learn later, we can decide if it's worth bringing up when she's not on a gallows. But I'm certain she didn't know about the ambush." He even cedes some of his cognition to her, taking on the burden of her effort to access his skill.

Head tilting like she’s listening to a sound she doesn’t recognize, the teen casts a long look at Gracie, studying the older redhead with Elliot’s skill. She takes a minute, maybe it’s a little bit longer than a minute, to really consider what she’s offered through the network and what’s been said in the present setting before she takes a new breath for speaking.

“She’s not lying.” As Squeaks says this, her head swivels to look at Captain Ben then Huruma — they know her best and hopefully she can gain something from that — before she settles briefly on Marlowe. Normally she isn’t one to buck words with the Syndicate leader, and the offered nod is meant to acknowledge what’s said about the loss of the crew. That alone is pretty damning. But still, “Whatever she was or did before shouldn’t matter. We’re here because of what happened yesterday, not two years ago. If you want to convene about that later, primal, let’s do it. But she isn’t lying about the ambush. She’s guilty by association.”

Squeaks taps a finger against her chin as she glances around, not really looking at anyone but using the few seconds to think. “Turning her loose maybe isn’t the best idea,” she offers. “What if she gets a crew and chases us? She knows some things. Keep her shackled or…” Blue eyes lift and find Captain Ben and Huruma again. “She could be useful even though she never told us what she can do. Maybe… Maybe she’s in charge of our catholes for the rest of the trip?”

Even as Squeaks defends her, all Gracie can do is whimper pitifully through her tears. She only finally looks up when it’s suggested she would chase the convoy down if left to her own devices. At first, she’s only peeking between her fingers, somehow amplifying the fright in her wide eyes. “No.” The word is at first muttered against her palm and she lowers her hands when she realizes it. “No,” she repeats more clearly. “I wouldn’t. I don’t wish harm on anybody here. That’s the last thing I want.” There’s no look of recognition for the term cathole, but there’s a faint grimace before she hides her face to cry again that suggests she can make some best guesses.

It is all a very delicate dance, even if sordid in the eyes of another. The pacing and growling does none of them any favors, at least to Huruma, who has stepped aside in order to watch. Her view gives her everything, and her range gives her the rest, pale eyes tracking tides of emotions in silence. Only when Marlowe seems to gather herself does the second of the Cerberus move from her idling, a swaying step carrying her almost lazily past Marlowe, around Gracie, more or less putting herself between the two. The hook of her arm is placed at the line of her belt, other hand hanging free; Huruma looks to Squeaks without a word, mouth taut in her intent to let the girl choose her words.

"Leaving her behind is as good as an execution," Huruma angles her chin to look past her shoulder in a glance to Marlowe, then the others, eyes hooded. Her voice is as much a warning as it is something- - personal, possibly. The sound of experience. "You should see that. There are no 'companions' for her here. Just the potential to prove herself useful- -"

"In such a situation as going to fetch that boy, perhaps. Or, she can go." Breath leaves through Huruma's nose, chest rising and falling with the small sound of irritation. "Her ignorance only goes so far as neglect. Failure to disclose, certainly. Yet only knew them to capture and not kill, hence where we are now. She believed her actions to be the safe option." Needless to say, they weren't. No way of seeing that when she made the choice. "Cowardice does not designate malice."

By this point, Gracie is too afraid to lift her head again and catch even another glimpse of scorn from anybody. Quivering like a leaf in a storm, she draws in breaths that hiss between the gate of her teeth, trying to calm down. She’s sick with fear, sicker with pain, and now silent, save for those soft sounds that betray both.

The subject of the Arcology sees Silas's emotions go dead, though his face retains the same impassive mask of an expression.

"Begging pardon," Silas says mildly. "But as someone who's been there, I'd like to offer some perspective on the matter of running from the Arcology. The Commonwealth Arcology was an underwater hell ruled by a despot, a madman who ruled through violence and oppression. He welcomed us with a dinner, and over that very meal had Captain James Woods, Geneva, Meredith, and Jasper all executed without provocation for the sole purpose of making an example," Silas states flatly. "Should you meet anyone who claims to have been to the Arcology, then the reason you've met them is because they ran. This, by the way, includes me. Everyone who didn't run died, either when the Arcology's nuclear reactor melted down or when Kenner decided they were looking at him funny and had them gunned down." The words are delivered in an even tone, but there is an old, old anger burning within that memory, not unlike the embers of a nuclear fire itself.

And as Silas speaks, that anger starts to grow, starting to burn through his mask, to make itself known in his voice, though he works hard to keep it restrained. "With that said… I reiterate Squeaks' question. Does what Gracie did two years ago really matter? I didn't think we were here to judge the color of her character — I thought we were here to address the question of whether or not she collaborated with the enemy here and now in setting up this ambush. Isn't that why we're here? Because for all that's been said, I have heard no one bring evidence to that effect."

Silas takes a breath, his expression tightening. "Is there any? I ask this Council now, before we start thinking about the boy or about anything else. Is there a shred of evidence that Gracie colluded with the enemy in setting this ambush? Any evidence to merit exile or… or chaining her up like some kind of animal?" Silas asks, disgust curling his lip at that last suggestion of Squeaks'.

By the time he’s finished laying out the reality of anyone’s running from the Arcology, Gracie has gotten her breathing under control again. She doesn’t trust her voice again to utter thanks for his support, however. Perhaps later, when it feels less performative.

"If there is any piece of concrete evidence, I certainly have not seen any. If we keep her chained up, if we do not heal her, if we treat her as anything other than a member of our convoy, can we call ourselves any better than them?" Nadira sucks in a slow breath. "We are not here to decide if Gracie has never had blood on her hands or made a mistake and condemning her for that. People died and no one is forgetting that, believe me, I will not soon forget the image of–"

She cuts herself off, mostly because she doesn't want to think or even talk about Walker's death at this point. "The point being that I believe all we were supposed to be doing here is determining if she somehow helped cause this. So if anyone has any actual proof to offer forth, I would certainly like to see it. As it stands right now with what has been said, she is not perfect but she did not betray this convoy."

Gracie lowers herself forward enough to start wiping the tears from her freckled face with the corner of the blanket. Her head nods numbly, acknowledging rather than agreeing. She still won’t look up.

There is bristling at the edge of Huruma’s empathic periphery in the direction of Ryans, but it doesn’t show for anyone else. Something said bothered him. The old man had retreated enough to put some distance between him and Gracie, but also putting himself near Marlowe. He was, after all, one of the Queen’s men. He owed her as much.

“You question why we give a shit about the color of her character? It gives insight to her motivation,” Ben says, simply. His time as an investigator, especially, as a Captain, carrying his thought process as he tries to explain. “Knowing her past, helps us know why she wanted us to give up now, whether it was to hand us over or to protect us.” He glances at the one on trial out of the corner of his eye. “You can’t judge simply on a single action without knowing what happened before. And the evidence? When did the words from a defendant’s own mouth stop being evidence? Self Incrimination is always a thing.” Which was what he had tried to get across to Gracie, when he laid out what she had said. He hadn’t twisted it, only parroted it back at her to get her to simply stop digging her hole deeper.

Ryans’ gaze sweeps over to Silas, resolute and unapologetic for his part in this tribunal. “And last time I didn’t take that all into account? The Cerberus was blown up, taking good people as a result. So pardon me if I am a bit hesitant to judge without more facts.”

He looks at the others before turning to Marlowe, lips pressing together. Ryans knew this next bit would be tricky. The Queen had a temper and he needed to hear reason. His voice gentles, head dipping slightly, as he addresses her, “That being said, I don’t believe that leaving Gracie behind is the best course. She’s not a fighter,” Like her and him, he means. “And her former crew has a strong opinion of her, as Epstien says. So…” He hesitates to continue, taking a moment to ensure he agrees with what he plans to say next. “I agree that leaving her would be the same as leveling a death sentence and I don’t believe her actions warrant that or warrant turning her into a slave.” The last said for Squeaks’ benefit, before he sighs, “But, there is no trust in her, at least not for me… not right now. And despite that, I believe she should be given a second chance. Most of the people I have sailed with, that gave their lives in protecting the Pelegos, were given second chances. And we can always revisit this, if any of her future actions warrant it.”

All he could do was hope that what he says hold’s weight, not just for Marlowe but Gracie, too. Ryans adds, “But do I think she’ll need to be watched from this point forward.” He turns to look at the youngest person there, “Squeaks would makes a good shadow for that purpose.”

“I’m sorry,” Gracie says softly. “I should have done things differently. I shouldn’t have just hoped for the best.” Her eyes close heavily, guilt and shame consuming her again as she clutches the blanket tightly in one fist as though it were composure she could cling to. “If you give me the opportunity, I will do better. I’ll speak up if I think anything even might be off.”

The accused cringes in on herself, a shudder running through her. “I never want anything like this to happen again. I’m so sorry.”

“She’s gonna need a handler.” Tay says, crossing his arms. “If she stays with us, I don’t want her going around half-cocked without somebody trustworthy having an eye on her. No sneaking off. No funny shit. Maybe we all forget about this in a few weeks and that can fall to the wayside. But if she sticks with any vehicle under my care, someone needs eyes on her at all times.” Tay shrugs. “That’s my only stipulation.”

Crossing her arms, Robyn glances over at Tay, and then down at Gracie. "You're in luck then," she remarks, raising her gaze to look up at Marlowe, and then at Ryans and Squeaks, a shade of disappointment writ across her face. "I'm of the mind that you cannot condemn someone simply for being guilty by association, or because they've made some poor decisions in the past. I stand by my assessment that I have yet to hear any clear evidence of actual, clear and present wrong doing or betrayal."

She holds up two fingers. "There will be no one left behind, that's far too cruel. There will be no shackles, because that's needlessly controlling in the face of what evidence has been provided today." Both fingers fold back in, and she exhales sharply. "Where I come from, in my line of work, we'd remand her into someone's custody, probation for lack of a better word." A finger taps at her arm, and she motions to herself. "My custody, since I'm actually a cop. If you find that unacceptable, then Elliot or Richard. Any of us travellers, really."

She knows it's an inelegant solution, but it's one that hopefully keeps Gracie safer. "And that way, it becomes our responsibility should something else happen that is demonstrably her fault, and our responsibility to keep an eye out, regardless of how warranted anyone believes it may be."

Settling to lean back against the wall of the boxcar, she shrugs. "On that note, I would also like to propose we take two or three of those fancy bikes they left us and see if we can go find this kid. It may slow us down a bit, but having a reliable precog among us?" She shakes her head and chuckles. "The safety it potentially brings may well be worth it in the end, and I'm not too keen on leaving a child to die if we can do something else."

Just, you know, don't tell the kid we killed their dad, right?

“She said we’re more than a hundred miles out of their territory. That’s days in the wrong direction, even by bike. Plus you ain’t gonna have our truck to refuel. Whoever leaves for that ain’t catching back up with us.” Tay says as an aside. “Ain’t sayin’ don’t do it. But that’s goodbye, not see you later.”

Frowning, Robyn nods and shrugs. "It was a thought, if nothing else. I just feel… hollow leaving any child behind like that." But if there's nothing to be done for it, well, then there's nothing to be done for it.

Gracie is clearly demoralized at the notion of leaving Mikey to the cruelty of bad fortune, but being in no position to argue, she holds her tongue.

Marlowe lifts her chin as the crew of Cerberus slowly but certainly make their case ultimately in favor of Gracie. Her eyes gradually slide their gaze over the three, youngest to oldest and rising rank. Then the Syndicate leader looks towards the boxcar's open doorway, perhaps to gauge the weather rather than the words of the others. A gritted swear in her native tongue escapes.

It is Silas' recounting of his experience in the Arcology that ultimately turns her focus back to the group. "At the risk of sounding like Juror number 3," Marlowe says more calmly, but her posture remains tense despite the attempt to loosen it earlier. "I am fighting my bias, my… loss. Levi was one of mine." Her head cants towards Nadira, acknowledgingly. "But as I've come to understand it, you've all made your points. There is reasonable doubt against the accusations. So, I'll change my vote there. And if I'm counting it right, we're all in agreement of permitting her to stay on."

Marlowe's gaze swings to Robyn next, narrowing at the other woman. "And I understand what you're saying, about the kid. But this," she gestures to the gathered, then to the world outside, "This is bigger than that, isn't it? Your mission. Mine. Ours. We have a schedule to keep, and no room for more kids than we already have. You or anybody else wants to go back, that's your choice."

Finally the Syndicate leader drops her gaze down to Gracie, traveling from face to broken leg and back. "No more fuckin' sob stories," she says. "No more excuses, and you pull your weight. I don't care if you have a handler or you don't, because I don't think you're stupid. But you wind up in this position again…" Marlowe doesn't finish the phrase, knowing she doesn't need to. At that, she turns to the gathered council, hoisting the camper chair on to her shoulder. She twitches in a nearly imperceptible wince, and straightens out. "Anything else? Or else I'm going to give the healers the thumbs up and get final checks done before we roll."

There’s a short nod of the ginger’s head. Her voice is soft, gaze deferential when she speaks up. “Yes, m—” She catches herself. “Ms Terrell.” She saw how the attempt at that particular expression of respect went for Spades before they could even finish getting a rundown of the vehicles that would make up the convoy. “Thank you.”

Squeaks' brows pinch in frustration that pushes toward anger. "I never said slavery. Why would…" Her frown holds a second longer and then she shakes her head. "Whatever. It's not what I was saying."

She folds her arms across her chest and makes a fine effort of pushing her irritation down. She's almost good with the misunderstanding when something else is said. Her eyes lift, first squinted with suspicion at Robyn, then eyebrows raised with incredulity. "You think… woah." She flicks a glance to Huruma and Captain Ben, then swivels quick looks to Silas and Marlowe.

"Okay." Squeaks holds up her hands and takes a step backward to yield the floor, shaking her head.

Huruma's shadow is long, but the captain's is longer still. She waits in silence, her reception of what is next unbowed by the story before it. All that really matters now is that it's done, or at the least, appears to be. Her eyes trace after Marlowe, reading her as she makes a final call for last comments. Huruma has none, though Squeaks' own affront has her giving a small narrow of eyes.

Huruma steps to her side and lazily bumps her off-hand against the back of Squeaks' shoulder, a middling gesture for the redhaired girl to gather herself before they are soon to depart. Don't worry.

"No need for handling. I believe that she understands well what is at stake." Huruma's eyes flick from Gracie to the others, back again, quiet.

Gracie glances to Squeak before meeting Huruma’s eyes. Somber, she nods her head to show she agrees.

Silas nods. "I've got nothing further," he says heavily, letting out a heavy breath. The idea of a sick kid sitting in the middle of the woods waiting for a father who's never going to come home leaves a bad taste in his mouth… but then, a lot of what's played out today and yesterday has left a bad taste in his mouth. At the very least this trial — an inquisition, Robyn had called it, and as much as Silas wishes he could say she was wrong, he finds he can't — had come to the right conclusion at the last, even if it had gone way farther into Lord of the Flies territory than Silas had suspected. But we got it right. This time, at least. That's what counts.

Maybe the survivors can take care of the boy… because on this, Marlowe's made the right call. They can't afford to go back.

Nadira exhales as it mostly seems like the situation is handled, though her eyes are wet–even if she hadn't known Levi as much as she might have wished, thinking about his last moments with her is clearly personal at this point. She clears her throat, simply nodding and refraining from speaking. Her mind is too far elsewhere now to find words.

There’s a long moment spent where Gracie watches Silas, as though maybe if she just stared long enough she’d have a better notion of the words he doesn’t say, if there are any to be found between the lines at all. Tearing herself away from that, that gaze darts between the others gathered. When it falls on Nadira, she sees the tears, and quickly diverts her eyes to her lap again.

Flat blue eyes stare at Robyn, as his jaw muscles flex with his clenched teeth. Clearly, the woman had said something to get his hackles up. When Marlowe packs up her things, he finally lets out a long drawn out breath and looks down at the woman on the floor of the boxcar. Gracie gets to see a flicker of pity, but that is all before he turns towards the open door.

Clearly, Captain Ryans has nothing further to say.

It's when Ben grips the edge, ready to hop down, that he pauses. “You act like this world is yours, but while they may share similar struggles…” His head turns slightly towards Robyn, to indicate who he is talking to, though he doesn't really look at her. “You don't belong here.”

With the assistance of telekinesis, Ryans hops out of the boxcar and turns back to offer Marlowe a hand to assist the Syndicate Leader. A sign of respect for the woman he owes much too. Still, his words are for Robyn. “Here you’re not a cop, so I wouldn't go throwing that around. You nor your government has authority here. You’d do well to remember that.”

"You're not wrong," Robyn notes with a raised eyebrow, keeping her eyes on Gracie rather than looking up at Ryans. "But you're missing my point. My point isn't authority. It's experience and expertise. And I have plenty of that, in situations eerily similar to this." She shrugs. "I'm keenly aware that this world isn't mine, but I'm the one that's here. Just offering what I can."

There is simply a grunt from the old Captain to show he heard Robyn, but he has at this point written the whole thing off. There were more important issues that needed Ryans’ attention.

Gracie’s eyes lift to Ryans as he rebukes Robyn and reminds her of her place — or lack thereof — in this particular world. She darts a look to Robyn, then back to the Cerberus’ captain. It isn’t until after he’s taken his leave that lets out her hitched breath. It’s in an exhale heavy enough to surprise and alert her to the fact that she’d been holding it at all.

“Jesus Christ.” Tay mutters into his palms as he rubs his face. “Alright, ’ain’t shootin’ her and ain’t tyin’ her up, so we’re done.” He claps his hands together as if that was the end of that. “Everybody get back t’the fucking vehicles, we’re rolling in the hour.”

Ambling forward, Tay slants a look down to Gracie. He doesn’t offer her a hand to help her up what with how he rests his hands on his hips. Instead, he just jerks his head to the side indicating where the leader of the raiders died. “Pack it in an’ pack it down.

We’ve got a longass way t’go still.”


Music thrums in the cabin of the Wildcat.

The volume is raised so loud that nothing else can be heard from the outside. Seated in the driver’s seat, Edward Ray slouches against the door and winces, covering one ear with his palm. Across the cab in the passenger seat, Hart rests her hand on the radio, raising the volume just a little more.

Well If I get edgy, I want you to know
I never mean to take it out on you

She makes a beckoning gesture, leaning forward. Edward joins her hesitantly. “Something’s wrong,” she says up against his ear, and he can only just barely hear her. Edward pulls away just enough to cast Hart a worried glance before she continues. “Gracie.”

Life has its problems, I get more than my share
But there's one thing that I would never do
'Cause I love you

“The trial’s—” Edward starts to say. It isn’t about the trial.

“She’s not what she says she is.” Hart says, pressing something into Edward’s hand. Battered, white, plastic. An iPod. He furrows his brows, and Hart touches it with two fingers, making it scroll through the contents.

Oh, now don't you know I'm human
I got my faults just like anyone

“I checked out her music,” Hart says against his ear. “Noticed something. Wrong.” She stops on an album with a black and white cover, a woman with bright hair and wide eyes. The title: Born This Way. Edward doesn’t understand yet.

And sometimes I lie awake, alone, regretting
Some foolish thing, some sinful thing I've done

Look.” Hart urges, using her thumb to press down below the title on the tiny screen.

I'm just a soul whose intentions are good

Edward squints, looking at the publication date.

Oh Lord

2011. After the Flood.

please don't let me be misunderstood

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