Beneath the Stains of Time


faulkner_icon.gif nova2_icon.gif

Scene Title Beneath the Stains of Time
Synopsis In a symbolic act of minor rebellion, two of the Sundered travel to a place forgotten by time.
Date April 23, 2021

Nova🌟 5:28 p.m.
Hey, Peter Parkour! 🕷 U up to living dangerously tonite or too old and mature for that? Got a plan to blow off some steam but 💯 not approved by The Man or MGMT. Meet @ DeMarco Park, Shore and 21st in JH @ 8 pm?

Isaac 5:35 p.m.
you def have my attention; unapproved plans are the best plans.
any gear i need to bring along for the heist? :P

Nova🌟 5:40 p.m.
Wear dark clothes, hiking shoes, dress for outdoor excursions. I got snacks & water covered. This will be at least a 3 hour tour but probably longer? i.e. if you have early day tmrw we can resched.

Isaac 5:42 p.m.
a 3 hour tour, lol
i can make it. see you there!

5:43 p.m.

8 p.m.

Jackson Heights

The park is a small length of green belt with a walking loop. Before the war, before the bombs, it would have given the joggers and pedestrians a beautiful view of Randall park to the west, and beyond that, the Manhattan skyline. Now, past sunset, the skyscrapers are black shapes jutting brokenly against a darkened sky. This is the edge of the Safe Zone, the edge of civilization.

Nova waits at the edge of the water, her pale face illuminated by her cell phone. On a bench nearby sits a backpack stuffed full of supplies. She’s in dark and warm clothes, as suggested for their evening attire, with a black toque covering her thick dark hair.

A two-person kayak, painted in camo grays and greens, sits on the grass nearby.

Once upon a time, Isaac Faulkner would've made an entrance; walking down the side of a tree, tethered to its surface by the shadows of his boots, or maybe walking down stairs that materialized just beneath his feet.

Once, the night had been his time. Now he's just one more person walking in the shadows.

But hey, apparently he's going kayaking. That's rad, right? He's got the suggested gear, at least — an old black cable-knit sweater, a secondhand black bomber jacket lined with fleece, black pants and boots. No hat for him, but he's wearing a royal blue scarf — virtually the only touch of color in his attire. "What's up, Tony Hawkgirl?" he asks, walking up beside her.

She looks up, grinning at the nickname. If she’s still feeling the after effects of her worst birthday present to date, it’s hard to tell. Of course, those come and go, and it could be a good day or at least a good few minutes. It’s hard to tell with such matters.

“I figured I may as well take advantage of the fact that someone else poured probably millions of dollars of tech into these meat suits we call bodies, and learn to care a little less about doing damage to it doing dangerous things,” she says, then points out across the water. “That’s North Brother Island. Literally home to Typhoid Mary, creepy hospital ruins, and lots of sea birds. I got a hankering to go visit and see what’s what, but the only way to get across is boat, so…”

Nova gestures to the kayak, then looks back at Isaac, brows lifting. “Still in? I figure we’ll stay toward the west, don’t want to get too close to Rikers or they might shoot us,” she says with way too much energy for such a danger. She waves a hand as if to wave away the worry. “It’s fine. Kayaking in the river’s not illegal. We just can’t look like we’re trying to land at Rikers, and it’ll be fine.”

"Creepy hospital ruins, sea birds, close encounter with a creepy prison, chance of being shot." Isaac pretends to mull it over, then grins. "Well, that certainly sounds like an adventure, and I'll be in good company, soo… why not? I'm in."

Nova grins, pocketing the cell phone. “It’s about 30 minutes to kayak there, so I figure that’s an hour round trip, maybe a little longer because, well, who knows, one of us might suddenly lose sensation in our limbs for some of it, but that’s just part of the excitement, right? And then however long you wanna tromp around there. I have flashlights! And granola bars and stuff. The weather should be okay, and the water not too bad.”

It’s definitely not the safest of plans, but that is precisely the point.

“Ready?” she asks, moving toward the kayak. “If you think I’m a crazy person and don’t really want to go, but are only saying yes so I don’t go alone, I promise I won’t go by myself. I just…” Nova bites her lower lip, and looks off to the north. “I would never do this normally. But I figure what the hell, you know?”

In her profile, it’s easy to see the moment the tears well up against the convex curve of her pale blue eye. She blinks them away, then turns back to him. “But it’s pretty stupid.”

"Is it?" Isaac asks, distantly. He's staring off at the sunset, the way the broken buildings look like claws rising up to capture the sun. He's definitely not looking at Nova. Having to cry is bad enough. Having someone watch you cry is… the worst.

"Well. Maybe it is, a little. But why not?" Now he looks back to Nova, giving a grin — hopefully she's had enough time to dry those tears. "Besides, I'm already here. It'd be rude to back out now, and it'd leave me wandering around aimless and unsupervised. I might run into a wall or something."

His words draw a smile; her eyes are dry but for wet lashes, and Nova appreciates the fact he pretends not to notice. “Well, we can’t have that. You know how to get in a kayak?” she asks, before walking toward the little vessel, bending down to drag it toward the edge of dry land and into the water.

She slides one of the paddles against the back of the seat to use as an outrigger, so the wide oar will catch on the land, and slips herself into place in the front of the kayak — after all, he’ll be able to see over her head.

She reaches out with one hand to hold on to the ground, while she waits for him to join her — at least she’ll be holding the thing steady if he’s not as familiar with the process — also it’s easier for someone her size to slide into the snug seat than his taller self.

"I can't say as I have," Isaac says gingerly, though he watches intently as Nova demonstrates; if nothing else, she seems to be moving well at the moment. Then he's up. He takes a deep breath, then eases himself in. "Ready," he says, grabbing the other oar.

Her grin flashes as he looks a little unsure — it’s a far cry from the parkour artist that earned him his nickname of Peter Parkour. “So you’re bigger, which makes the back seat better for you. Front seat dictates the rhythm,” she explains. “It’s usually most efficient to go in unison, so we don’t bonk paddles. If you notice me getting a little off course, you can correct with a backward stroke on the opposite side to straighten us out a bit.”

With her oar, she pushes off. “Watch for a moment, then join in? Sometimes a song helps, so if you want to sing a sea shanty, go for it. At camp, we sang Katy Perry.”

After tossing a slightly chagrined smirk over her shoulder, Nova begins to paddle, falling into an easy rhythm that’s almost a figure eight, sweeping her paddle on the left, and then on the right.

Isaac frowns, watching Nova paddle. Left, right. Left, right. Seems simple enough. And a backward stroke on the opposite side to course correct, if needed… right, to pull the boat towards that side.

Okay, simple enough. "I don't know any sea shanties," Isaac says, dipping his oar in the water and paddling along with Nova. Left, right. "Or much Katy Perry either," he admits, grinning faintly. "I'm more the classic rock type, but… somehow I don't think Blue Öyster Cult would make for good rowing music."

She grins over her shoulder. “It’s okay. It’s not a hard rhythm to keep and with two of us, it’s not too hard to keep in time. I’d play something on my phone but the phone speakers are an insult to good music.”

It isn’t a far trek across the water, and luckily the water is still enough tonight. Their voyage is made a little longer due to veering closer to the west and out of the path of the Rikers Island searchlight.

After paddling for a couple of minutes, Nova glances back at him again. “So this weird excursion is obviously a futile grasp for some modicum of control in my life. How are you handling everything after, you know. Your experiment?” He literally died for them to have this knowledge, no matter how temporary a death it was. Her brows draw together as she wonders if that’s something you thank a person for.

Isaac doesn't answer immediately; when he does, his tone seems a little flatter than before. "Had bad dreams for awhile. This wasn't the first time I'd been abducted."

He rows awhile longer in silence. "Went to therapy. Found a nice lady who does psychoanalysis and doesn't charge an arm and a leg," he says tersely. He's silent for a moment. "She said I needed to take some time and just… think about who I was. Maybe ask others who knew me what they thought about me. What qualities they thought of when thinking about me."

Again, he's silent for a bit.

"So. What do you think about me?" he asks, sounding idly curious.

Nova paddles a few minutes in silence to think about the question, but finally glances back with a small smile.
“Brave,” is her first answer, and she turns back toward their destination, before supplying the rest of her answer. “Thoughtful but in a way that shows you don’t really think about being thoughtful? If that makes sense. Like it’s just your nature. It’s not a big production.”

A few more strokes take the little craft efficiently through the water, and she adds, “Smart. You ask good questions. Everything that’s happened is like a miles above my head. I feel like I’m always grasping to understand any of it.” She lifts her shoulder. “And willing to indulge me in a stupid idea like this — that probably fits in with the first two things but not so much the third.”

Nova tosses another grin over her shoulder, before pointing toward the left. “Looks like there’s a dock that way, so I’m gonna point us toward that.” As she takes a couple of strokes to angle the kayak slightly, she adds, “Does she know we’re, you know. Other?”

Isaac blinks. None of those answers had been things he'd been expecting. It's… pretty high praise, for someone whose chief contribution has been literally dying and getting cut open, but hey, he'll definitely take it.

It's the second one that gets him. Thoughtful, but in a way that shows you don't really think about being thoughtful. "To have good form without knowing it is the best form of all," he murmurs aloud as he paddles. It only comes to him a moment later where he'd gotten that from — Peter Pan of course. Ha. That's funny, in a way; also a little sad. Like Peter, he really has lost his shadow, though his may be a little harder to get back.

Isaac does his best to help Nova steer, but her question draws a snort. "Nah. By the way, I got abducted and replaced by a really well made meat golem of myself doesn't really seem like a good way to lead with a psychologist," he says wryly. Then he pretends to think about it. "Although she might have put me on all sorts of interesting pills if I had…"

More seriously, he continues. "Jokes aside, it'd be a lot to dump on someone; it's possible it might have provided some context, but… not really enough to be worth it. Not on a first meeting."

He considers for a moment. "Only doing the smart thing all the time gets boring after awhile," he offers off-handedly. "Sometimes you have to do something a little crazy, I think… and accepting a mysterious invitation counts." He lets that sit for awhile, then grins; she can't see it, but it's clear in his voice. "Last time I ended up at the Deveaux Society's Halloween Gala. Hopefully there's less shooting this time."

“I love Peter Pan,” Nova exclaims, as if she can read his thoughts. She laughs at the imaginary explanation given to the psychiatrist, and nods. “I haven’t really found the words for that myself, even with people I’ve met more than once.”

North Brother Island

A few more strokes brings them to the dock — it’s not in as bad of shape as it should be, for how long the island’s been abandoned, so it must have been replaced at some point in the past decade. “I’ll climb out first and hold it steady,” she says, sliding her paddle across the back of the kayak and then turning to pull herself up and onto the dock.

Once there, she leans to hold the kayak steady for him. “I was at that too. Definitely hoping for less shooting and tear gas. Kaylee and Yi-Min were there, too. Small world. Glad no one was hurt.”

Beyond the dock, the island is an overgrown jungle of foliage. She peers over her shoulder. “Maybe a machete would have been smart.”

"Heh. Hard not to. It's a classic. I always thought Hook was an underrated sequel, too," he says, shrugging.

Isaac's grin fades a bit as he looks at the dock — it does look to be in pretty good shape, given the state of everything else — but Nova's reminder of her presence at the Ball sees his grin return. "I remember. That's what you said then, too," he says, with some genuine amusement. He starts working on extricating himself from the kayak and getting up onto the dock. "You looked like a fae princess or something; I was impressed," he admits distractedly as he pulls himself up onto the dock.

Now out of the boat, he dusts himself off and glances to Nova. "Also Dr. Pride and Mr. Stoltz, as Christine and the Phantom. He had the better Phantom outfit. But mine came with the invitation," he shrugs, looking for a line to moor their kayak with; it won't do at all for their boat to wander off and leave them stranded.

Once he's got that accomplished, he turns his attention to the path beyond the dock and frowns. "A machete might have been good, yeah, but it's a little late. Besides… I think we can probably handle this, and I don't really fancy going back to get more gear at the moment," Isaac says dryly, glancing over to Nova. "Do you?"

Nova brings a closed fist to the side of her temple to bonk it lightly. “Shit. One of those ‘my brain’s been scrambled and I forgot what shoe goes on what foot’ moments, sorry,” she says, grimacing, before her lip pouts outward at the mention of the fae princess gown. “I was so sad that dress got grass stains on it. I think it cost more than a month of my dorm rent.”

Once the kayak is moored and they’re both on dry land, she pulls two flashlights out of her backpack, handing him one, and reshouldering the bag. “The actual hospital’s on the north side so I figure walking around the perimeter is probably easier than plowing through the brush,” she says, then points to the west. “That side brings us closer to the morgue and the physician’s house, and this side,” she points to the east, “brings us by the nurses’ and staff houses…nothing right on the shore, unfortunately, so be careful of poison ivy.” Luckily they’re wearing long sleeves and pants.

She turns to look up at him, tipping her flashlight below her chin like she’s going to tell a scary story at a campfire. “I absolutely brought s’more makings and a six-pack, so if trampling through ruins in the dark sounds terrible now that we’re here, we can just make a fire on the beach,” if one can call the slim bit of bare land around the overgrown island a beach, “we can just rebel by getting fat and drunk.”

Isaac winces. "Hope you were able to get the worst out of it," he says of her dress, taking the flashlight she hands him.

He raises an eyebrow at the choices she lays out, one corner of his mouth turning up in a faintly sardonic grin. "You come prepared. But as much as hanging out by a campfire on the beach sounds like fun, we probably ought to trample around at least a little bit, right?" he asks teasingly… then his smile fades just a bit as he studies her. He's fine with trampling around, but she's more recently off getting her brain shaken up than he is.

After a moment, he looks to the west. "Wanna go check out the doctor's house?" he asks, his grin going full roguish.

“I didn’t buy it myself, at least,” Nova says, regarding the ballgown. “Someone sent it. It was kinda weird, and maybe should have rung some alarms, but until last summer, literally nothing interesting ever happened to me, so I figured I should be brave and enjoy a free gown and tickets. Weird, huh?”

She begins toward the west, though, grinning at his suggestion. She wanted to come, after all, but she’s trying to be an understanding hostess of this little excursion, in case the jungle of poison ivy hiding god knows what seems more daunting than the East River.

“Should have brought a Ouija board, but I thought that might be a little too middle-school sleepover for you. That and I don’t have one,” Nova muses as they begin to make their way along the edge of the island. “That, and I think I might be too cowardly to do that, even if logically I know it’s bullshit.”

She casts a grin over at him, then puts the flashlight under her chin. “What was the scariest thing to you as a kid?”

"Ha! You too, huh?" Isaac grins as he walks. There's a moment's worth of thoughtful silence as he considers. "A lot of us were there, weren't we? Makes me wonder if anyone else got their tickets on the house." He smirks in silent amusement when Nova shifts to talk of Ouija boards.

Her question, though, draws a thoughtful frown. "The dark," he says after a moment, his voice quiet and surprisingly serious.

He grins and looks over at her. "Seems a silly thing, I know, but… whenever it was dark — really dark — it always felt like there was something else there with me." Isaac's gaze shifts back to the path ahead, focusing on picking his footsteps. "I used to watch all manner of horror movies, to try and figure out what it was — after all, the thing about horror movies is that the big scary thing always ends up being beaten, right? Some of the monsters were pretty scary — Poltergeist scared the shit out of me — but in the end… in the end, the dark was always scarier," he finishes.

"Probably just some… naescent stirring of my ability or something," he adds, giving a faintly sardonic grin… then his grin broadens. "Your turn," he says, putting his flashlight under his chin and giving an evil grin. "What was the scariest thing to you as a kid?"

Her look up at him tells her she doesn’t find his answer at all silly or funny. Nova turns the flashlight back to ground in front of her. It’s quiet out here with only the sound of water lapping at the shore to accompany the crunch of their feet on rocky shoreline; now and then the hoot of an owl or poor-will lament of a nightjar.

“Dark I get. It’s the literal unknown. And you think you see things in the dark, but you’re not sure, so you have this anxiety of whether it is or it isn’t. You can defeat the monster you can see, but you can’t defeat something you can’t, right?” she muses. Ahead is the actual dock, with a dilapidated gantry crane over it, left behind to rust and rot. Nova swings the beam of her flashlight on it, tipping her head in confusion as she studies the metal . “It’s so weird they just let all of this… fall to ruin. Letting the animals have it is nice, though.”

Turning back to the path toward the doctor’s house, she considers his question. “Being insignificant,” she murmurs softly. “I mean probably not as a tiny kid. But later. And now.”

Her mouth tips up in a feeble attempt at a wry smile. “When I was a kid it was, you know. The closet door being open a little, something like that. Monsters Inc. didn’t really help abate that fear — because I figured that was just one city, and that in my city, it was probably still the mean monsters, not the funny ones.”

Isaac raises an eyebrow at her analysis, grinning faintly; she's nailed Young Isaac pretty well. He listens in silence as she tells of her own fears, focusing on where to place his feet as they wander along. It's only after she's done speaking that he speaks again.

"This place kinda reminds me of Park Slope," he says aloud. "Did you know I used to live there? People just kinda… forgot about a lot of things when the war happened, and then there was no one left to pick up the pieces by the time it had all ended, and so the weeds and the trees took over."

"Granted, in Park Slope, said weeds and trees might've had some help," he says, with a momentary hint of sardonic amusement, "but the end result was the same."

"I liked it. It was… quiet. Also rent free, and a good place to lay low. And me, being the cocky little shit and Lord of the Night I was, gave absolutely zero shits about the possibility of wolves or predators. And it was private, while also affording short commute times. What's not to love?"

"I still visit my place there, now and again. It's got some memories, and it's reasonably safe to trample around during the daylight hours if you don't go off too far into the weeds. But… I couldn't really live there the same way after this. And then one night I fell off a building and went blind — long story, that — which was kinda the straw that broke the camel's back, and now I'm crashing with a coworker."

"But it was… a great place to think about things like that. Maybe not monsters, so much — though I suppose there were those, too, after a fashion, if you count wolves and escaped zoo animals — but significance."

"It's a long and storied tradition, after all — people going out into the wilderness to think Big Thoughts. But the point I'm chasing with all of this is — significance is relative, don't you think?" he asks, looking over to her with a grin. "Compared to this? We're all insignificant. Get a view of the world from space and we don't even show up. But neither does the President of the United of States. Or the White House, for that matter, or the Taj Mahal. And the people whose names are on everybody's lips don't always seem to be happy, either… though of course you know that."

"So. Let's say you had a monkey's paw, right here, right now. What would you wish for?" He raises the flashlight up to his face again, giving a devilish grin. "What would you wish for, Nova?"

“Lord of the Night,” echoes Nova with a smirk, shaking her head, but she quiets and listens, eyes downward to make sure she doesn’t step on rubble and roll her ankle, or worse. Her bravado at saying she doesn’t care about damaging the ‘meat suits’ is a little dampened now that they’re actually here — pain still hurts, after all.

She chews on her lower lip a moment, then looks back up at him, laughing at the grin. “Oh, I read that story. Or maybe I saw the Simpson’s on it. But I know it’s not smart to wish on those things, Isaac Faust-ner.” She grins, but quiets for a moment, collecting her thoughts.

“When I say significant, I don’t mean famous, I guess. I just want to do something that matters. Makes a ripple in the pond that affects more than just me, you know? Whether people know it was me or not — I don’t care about that part,” she murmurs. “Fame isn’t as important as…what. Legacy maybe. Leaving an impression on the world.”

She glances up at him. “It must have been scary being blind. I have moments, since January, where my vision blots out a bit, but it luckily doesn’t last very long. I hate it though. Probably more than the mobility issues. Less than the hallucinations.” She smirks, then nods ahead when her flashlight beam finds a building not far in the distance. “That didn’t really answer your question, but I don’t honestly know. I wonder if maybe she does, wherever she is, or if I don’t know, because she doesn’t.”

Her nose wrinkles. “And now I’m referring to myself in the third person. But it isn’t really myself, is it? So it’s not that weird. No weirder than the rest of it, anyway. What about you? What would you wish for?”

"Legacy," Isaac echoes quietly. He's silent as Nova finishes her points, and for a moment after. "Being blind was terrifying," he admits. "Your entire world shrinks down to the limits of your outstretched arms; everything beyond is suddenly the infinite. It wasn't the dark I was used to; it was the old one, come close again." From those childhood days. "But maybe not as fearful, because I knew I couldn't just… turn the lights on make it go away, if that makes any sense? It was just… something I had to deal with. And maybe it would go away… and maybe it wouldn't. All I could do was wait and see." He frowns as he sees the structure looming in the darkness ahead; seems they're making good time on their little trek.

Nova's talk of herself in third person draws a flicker of a faint grin, but that fades momentarily when she asks her question… because it only takes a moment's thought for Isaac to find his answer. "Ever see Blade Runner?" he asks quietly, stopping to look at Nova seriously for a moment. "More life."

For a moment — just a moment — he hesitates, looks like he's debating following that train of thought… but then he grins and starts walking again. "But hey, here's a question for you. Isn't it you? You look like a Nova, you talk like a Nova — I'm assuming so, anyway. So… for all that you're driving around a new meatsuit," he says, poking her lightly in the shoulder, "Aren't you still you?" The humor in his voice fades as he goes on, though, replaced by a more contemplative tone. "Does a prosthetic limb make a person any less themselves? I don't think so. So is it really that big a difference if we're talking about a prosthetic body?" he asks seriously.

Nova shakes her head at the question about Blade Runner, but his answer makes her smile. There’s something sad in it, though, her brows drawing together even as her lips pull upward. She looks like she too might say something in reply, but then he’s on to the next theoretical question.

“I mean, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Except with inflation, it should be a lot higher than that,” she says softly. “I don’t know. I think…”

She stops, suddenly, crouching down to tie her shoe, setting the flashlight on the ground where it illuminates a wide swath of gritty seashore. She reties her shoe, that wasn’t untied to begin with, but served maybe as an excuse to rest. “I think my memories aren’t right,” she says, one hand reaching up to wipe her eyes, though she tries to cover this with the angle of her head and the fall of her hair.

It takes Nova a moment to rise, and she needs to use her own knee as leverage to push herself up to standing. Her lashes are still damp. “Il… I have doubts that I really existed. They tried to fill in all the details, whoever did this, but they can’t fill in everything. And even recent things…” Her lower lip trembles and she presses her lips together, before letting out a growl of frustration. “I’ve never been so angry before. Maybe that’s because I never really lived.”

A wayward tear slips down her cheek and she brushes it away with irritation. “I’m sorry. This is the antithesis of fun and rebellious.”

She might've gotten away with it, in the lonely darkness of this long abandoned island, if that little bit of wayward tear hadn't let her down; that's enough to clue Isaac in.

"Hey," he says quietly, stepping forward and laying a hand on her shoulder. "Don't be sorry," he says, looking seriously at her. "You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for," he says gently, his gaze resting on her. "You don't… you don't have to be happy and dauntless and cool all the time, you know?"

He hesitates for a moment, then gives a single dry chuckle. "Let's find a place to sit. Snacks and a six-pack are starting to sound pretty good to me, right about now."

For a moment, Nova looks like she might argue with the sitting — they’re here to explore after all — but then she nods, looking around for a spot to sit. Along the side of the island, there’s only a few feet between the water’s edge and the thick foliage of the interior of the island. But a fallen log jutting out from the forest onto the narrow perimeter will serve as a bench, and she moves to take a seat there, pulling off her backpack and setting it between them.

“Happy and dauntless and cool?” she says teasingly. “I probably come off as the first but I’m not sure I’m either of the other two, but especially not all three at once.”

She pulls out the six pack and then widens the bag so he can peer in — aside from the s’more components, there are some granola bars and a bag of beef jerky.

“I remember my parents coming to visit me in the hospital. But later when I asked the nurse about them, he didn’t know anything about it, even though he was the one on duty, you know?” she explains, pulling one beer out of its plastic ring and handing it to Isaac. “When I really thought about it, I remember distinctly my mom took off her sweater and hung it on the back of the chair, but when they left she didn’t have it on. But it wasn’t left in the room either.”

Nova laughs, shaking her head slightly. “I know that sounds crazy. I’d chalk it up to all the weirdness caused by the stroke but it’s not the only thing that’s wonky.”

"Well, you do a good job giving the impression," Faulkner says dryly in response to her teasing, nabbing a granola bar and taking the offered can of beer as he sits beside her.

Nova's mention of her parents is met by a raised eyebrow, but he opts not to press on that in favor of seeing what more she has to say. "What else, then?" he asks, opening his can of beer and taking a sip.

Extricating a beer for herself, Nova opens it, and takes a quick sip to keep it from bubbling over. “So before the plane crash, I’d only been in New York for like a week, right? I have kinda hazy memories of that week, but they included my parents helping me move into the dorms for the summer session. Anyway, I realized I don’t have memories of anyone I know seeing me with them. Not an RA or my shitty former roommate, or, well, anyone that I could verify them with, you know?”

Her nose wrinkles and she shakes her head. “It’s not a smoking gun, but… it made me question other memories. Social media stuff with the high school friends, stuff like that. It looks like it all checks out, but it doesn’t. The school I went to? I looked it up, and it looks like it exists — there’s a website and all that. I even called for a copy of my transcripts and someone answered, but if you look at an online map? It’s not there. It’s a strip mall, with like, a Tim Horton’s and a West 49. And I called one of the shops and they answered and verified their address.”

She looks up from her beer at Isaac and her brows draw together. “I don’t know if there’s ever been a real me. And the other mes I see in the mirror, maybe they made a bunch of this,” she plucks at her sweatshirt to indicate her own body, “model.”

Another tear slides down her cheek, and she looks out toward the wasteland to the west. “Sorry to lay this on you. I know like ten people who might care. Not counting anyone I knew before July.”

Isaac is silent, his gaze resting on Nova as she speaks, and then as tears start to slip down her cheek again; after a moment, he unwinds his scarf and hands it to her. "I don't have a handkerchief, I'm afraid, but here. For your tears," he says, his voice gentle.

Isaac hesitates for a moment, his dark eyes intent as he studies her. "I don't know about any other yous out there. I don't know what to do with your past, either, other than dig into it… or not, if you'd rather; that's your call," he says. "What I do know is this: you exist. Right here, and right now, on this spooky little island. You exist just as much I do, past or no past."

"And I know this, too," he says, still in that serious, intent voice. "You've got some time ahead of you — again, just like I do. I don't know how much — hell, we could both run out of time tonight — but neither one of us is dead yet." Abruptly, he grins. "So it seems to me the best thing you could do is make up for lost time. Live in the moment, and live it up; do some things that you know are real." Isaac raises his hands, as if to indicate the island they're on. "Like we're doing now."

Laughing softly, then sniffling, Nova accepts the scarf. “Good form without knowing,” she murmurs. “See? Also I don’t know anyone who really carries handkerchiefs anymore. My possibly-completely-fabricated grandfather does, though.” She dabs the scarf against her face, but doesn’t wipe her nose with it, because, well, gross. He probably wants this thing back.

“And yeah. The living. I guess that’s part of this excursion, but you put it more eloquently than I did,” she says, then lifts her beer can toward his. “L’chaim,” she toasts. “Artificial as it may be.”

She smirks a little and shakes her head. “That was cynical. See, I’m not happy, dauntless, or cool tonight, but I appreciate you putting up with me anyway,” she says, offering him back his scarf. “You’re a good person, Peter Parkour.”

Isaac is definitely appreciative that she hadn't blown her nose on the scarf. "L'chaim," he repeats, raising his own beer can to tap against hers. When she calls him a good person, he gives her a dryly amused look, but he's not going to argue it — he just takes back the scarf. He's just glad she doesn't need it anymore.

Isaac takes a bite of his granola bar, washes it down with a swig of beer. "So. Once we've finished this off, we can explore some more, start working our way towards that doctor's house, if you're ready. But since we're taking a break anyway… might as well talk some more." He peers at Nova, his expression momentarily serious. "That past of yours might be an important clue… but that is something for later. For now… there's a lot I don't know about you." He gives a slow grin. "And you seem interesting. I'm interested in finding out."

Nova reaches into the bag, not taking out a granola bar, but one of the chocolate bars for the s’mores — a plain Hershey, from which she breaks off one of the little rectangles to bring up to her mouth.

“My probably-fake life is pretty not really interesting, but I’m an open book,” she says with a smirk, sipping from her can of beer again, then wrinkling her nose as the sweetness of the milk chocolate makes the hoppiness of the beer taste all the more sour.

“Chocolate and beer do not pair well together. Or at least, not this chocolate with this beer,” she decides, then looks back up at him. “You said you live with a coworker. What do you do? I only remember a couple of people’s jobs — Isa and Yi-Min are scientists, I know. I was maybe thinking of something in that realm, but now I’m not sure.”

"Ha. I'm not a scientist," Isaac says, lips twisting into an expression that's somewhere between a self-deprecating smirk and genuine amusement. "Not even close, I'm afraid. I'm a courier; a glorified mailman. The pay's not all that great, but… it's a job. It has the added benefit of being a job that lets me move all over the place. See lots of things." He trails off for a moment, then shakes his head.

"Your turn. Tell me about your parents. The ones in your possibly-fake memories." The words are delivered with a smile to hopefully rob them of any sting they might otherwise have carried.

Nova nods at the revelation. “That makes sense. I can’t really picture you in an office for very long. You’d be literally climbing the walls,” she quips.

The question on her maybe-fake parents draws a laugh rather than any new tears. “They’re pretty great memories,” she says, glancing down to break off another piece of chocolate and bringing it to her mouth. “Like, you couldn’t really ask for better parents. They’re in Toronto. He’s super goofy and funny and she’s the more logical one who keeps us organized and functioning properly. I’m probably a good split between the two of them but most people would probably say I’m more a daddy’s girl.”

One shoulder lifts. “It feels real. Everything before the crash seems like a normal life. Just nothing after, I guess.” She offers him a small smile. “What about you? Did you have an Uncle Ben and Aunt May?” she teases.

Isaac grins at her comment about climbing the walls, because… well. Yes. He could, in fact, climb walls, and did; it had been a standard part of his daily workout, as it happens. His grin softens a bit as Nova describes her parents, listening to that brief description.

He's just raising his can of beer to his mouth when she asks her question; the way the can of beer pauses halfway to his mouth makes his reaction obvious. "An Uncle Ben, as it happens. No Aunt May, though," he says, his voice quiet. "My parents died when I was young."

He's silent for a moment. "My uncle… heh. Sometimes I wonder if he even was my uncle, honestly, but… it's all I've got to hang onto," Isaac shrugs. "He seemed busy most of the time with his work. There were tutors and minders and. People. But…" Isaac chuckles, cutting off that line of thought. "So not much of an Uncle Ben either, I guess. As is traditional for the role," he says sardonically, raising his can to take a gulp of his beer.

He grimaces, swallowing it, then looks back to Nova. "So. Toronto, huh?" Isaac asks. "Between that and the fact that you seem to have gone to school at Tim Horton's High," he says, waggling his eyebrows and grinning at her, "I deduce that you spent some time in Canada." Or at least remember doing so. "Did you live there all your life? Or did you live anywhere else?"

“I’m sorry,” Nova says softly; her hands are full so she simply leans against him for a moment, instead of reaching out to touch his arm or shoulder like she might otherwise. “So more Batman, maybe. Tutors? Fancy pants.”

She breaks off another piece of chocolate to let melt in her mouth. “My memories are… when I really try to think about them, they are pretty generic, you know? And really hazy the further back I go — well, that isn’t so abnormal, I guess.”

Frowning, Nova tips her head to one side, her eyes studying the sky like it might hold the answers. “I have, like, a knowledge that I visited grandparents in Europe when I was younger, but when I actually try to grasp the memory, it slips away. Like I can’t remember a single specific meal or a pair of shoes or … well, just any details. It’s like an impressionist painting. And really, that’s how anything before July is.”

She holds out the chocolate bar to him. “You from Gotham City, or somewhere else?” she asks, lips curving back into her usual smile.

As Nova leans into him, Isaac hesitates… but then he leans into her a bit as well, sighing and closing his eyes for a moment.

Just a moment.

Then her comment about Batman; Isaac opens his eyes and chuckles. "Batman's my other favorite superhero. Just him and his wits and his gadgets, up against all the monsters of the Gotham night." He considers for a moment. "Admittedly, I probably wouldn't pick a clown for my archnemesis, but that's just me."

He grins when she asks about Gotham. "Raised in New York, actually. I missed the worst of things — I got shuffled out to Montana for awhile, and wasn't that a shock! Going from New York to… almost literally Nowheresville. I lived out there for awhile… then I came back." He takes a drink of his beer, finishing the can, then reaches for the chocolate bar… but he doesn't break off a piece right away.

"Things were so… different when I came back, though," he says quietly. "That's part of why I took this job. The courier thing. I was trying to find… I dunno. Something familiar. Something I recognized…"

He breaks off a chunk of the chocolate bar and stuffs it in his face before he can get maudlin, passing the remainder back to Nova. A part of him wants to get up and move on, but… the rest of him thinks staying here for awhile longer is a much better idea.

"So. What about after July?" Isaac asks, glancing over to her. "Have you found anything in particular that you like? Skateboarding, chocolate… anything else?"

She listens, chuckling at the joke about the clown and shaking her head with an exaggeratedly horror-stricken face. “Clowns are the worst. I did do a Harley Quinn cosplay, but it’s pretty much required and expected,” she says. “Or maybe I did? I have photos of it, anyway.”

That makes her frown for a moment, but she shrugs it off, taking another sip of the beer. “So yeah. Cosplay, and I play music. Cello, piano, guitar. Obviously I don’t have a piano in my dorm room, but I did bring the cello and guitar. Sometimes I play at a cafe near college — the guitar, not the cello. It’s not fun to lug a cello around the city, and less people want to listen to one than a guitar, I think.”

Nova looks up at the sky. “Not quite big sky country, but you can definitely see more of it than you can across the water. Still too much light pollution, though.” Without buildings in the way, the sky is more open, but hardly the bright expanse of stars Isaac would have seen in Montana. “Are you glad you came back to New York?” she asks, turning back to him.

"Pictures, huh?" Isaac asks, raising an eyebrow. He wonders, briefly, if those are real, or another part of the accessory kit that had apparently come with Nova's expansion pack past… though it probably doesn't matter. They're clues, regardless.

Nova's musical talents draw a grin, though. "Guitar, piano, and cello? You're practically a band by yourself!" he laughs. "Probably right about cello being more of a niche thing… though to be honest, I'm not sure I've ever heard someone play one." He muses on that for a moment… then Nova asks her next question.

For a long moment, Isaac is silent. He looks up, considering the stars. "Big Sky Country… yeah," he says, more soberly. "That was one thing I liked. The stars. Living in the city, you get used to what you can see here, but out there — in the middle of nowhere — it's different. There were so many of them…" He falls silent again. "I don't know," he says at last. "Ever since I got back to New York, it's been… it's been so crazy," Isaac laughs. "Kidnappings, underground fight clubs… this whole meatsuit thing…"

Isaac glances over to Nova, a sly grin touching his lips. "Not that being in Montana would've saved me from that; they even got Daphne, and she was in Paris. But…" Isaac's expression grows more serious. "But I've met… a lot of people here. People I never would have known, if I'd stayed up there. So… yeah. I guess so," he says at last, grinning.

He takes another look around, then looks back to Nova. "You ready to explore some more?" he asks, giving his best roguish grin.

“You’ve heard them, but maybe not solo. Music scores, that kind of thing, even if you don’t listen to classical music,” Nova says, regarding the cello. “I’ll send you a video later, though I’m hardly in top form these days. Haven’t been in daily practice on it for a while, and, well. Fine motor skills are a little wanting right now.”

She peers up at the sky again, and nods. “There’s a song that has the line, ‘we’re all just following the light of long-dead stars,’ and I can’t decide if it’s a depressing thought or a beautiful one,” she muses softly. “It’s a lovely lyric, at any rate.” She offers a small smile, but nods at the suggestion to trudge forward again on the adventure.

The beer is emptied onto the ground, and well prepared, Nova pulls out a plastic bag to put their trash in, tucking it back in her backpack.

“Be careful of the poison ivy,” Nova suggests with a grin. “I may not care what happens to this meat suit in theory, but I also don’t feel like we need to embrace itchiness in our attempts to live like bon vivants, do you?”

"Both of the above, I think," Isaac says, crushing the can and sticking it in the offered bag along with his granola wrapper. "I never used to get poison ivy, but these days, who knows? I'll definitely keep an eye out."

He rises to his feet, taking a deep breath, then he smirks. "Because, as you say, we've got enough to deal with as it is without adding itching to our woes."

Isaac considers for a moment, regarding Nova by the diffuse light of their flashlights. The angle of their lights makes her seem like another shadow in the night, only the edges of her features illuminated; very striking, very chiaroscuro. "And maybe later, if you're up for it… we can figure out what to do about this past of yours. Because I really do think it's important," he says quietly, his voice serious.

Then he raises the flashlight a bit and grins. "But for now… onward."

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