Bittersweet Symphony


nova2_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title Bittersweet Symphony
Synopsis Two survivors of discuss life after possible alien abduction and other matters.
Date September 4, 2020

Sheepshead Bay

Stepping into this little cafe a few blocks from Brooklyn College, one might think they’ve stepped back into the 1990s. It has that “Friends” style coffeehouse vibe of big mismatched armchairs and sofas and everyone sips out of mismatched mugs that have been curated and donated over the years.

While it’s not an official open-mic or amateur night, and there’s no stage or sound system set up, one corner’s been taken up by a few young people, most looking to be in their late to early teens. At the center, sitting cross legged on a purple chair with a guitar on her lap, Nova plays and sings softly along. The song is “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” fingers picking out the melody. She too looks like she might belong in the nineties, with a knit cap covering most of her dark hair and blue-and-green flannel shirt that looks like she might have stolen it from the set of My So Called Life.

Despite her awful posture, there’s something about the way she plays, beyond the difficult fingerstyle technique, that suggests a strong background and training in music.

There is one spectator in the group who appears rather out of place, age-wise: the short Taiwanese woman who had just wandered over to idle along the edge of it, a gaily painted mug clasped loosely in her small hands. While her look and fashion are youthful, she most certainly doesn't look young enough to be in her teens, like those all about her. She doesn't seem terribly put off by having to hobnob with this younger crowd, however. The detachment of her demeanor speaks of a perfect contentment with just doing her own thing, directed by her own personal focus and little else.

At present this points towards one place, and that's the pleasant little performance taking place in the corner.

…In particular, the guitar player. Yi-Min pauses noticeably when she recognizes Nova, but makes no move to interrupt the mellow notes being plucked out. Instead, she continues to observe from her place in the background, letting her thoughts stray away from her a little down the pleasant pathway provided by the melody.

This cozy, slightly anachronistic atmosphere around them is a far cry from the last one where they’d met each other.

When the song comes to a close, Yi-Min offers a shade of a subtle yet bright smile to the young performer, her hands being too occupied to actually clap. "Bravissimo," she submits on top of that, the sibilance of the word rolling oddly off her decidedly un-Italian accent.

The group around Nova gives a soft pattering of applause, and even a few others in the shop besides Yi-Min join in. No doubt the impromptu music sessions happen often enough that the regulars don’t mind; anyone who does probably took their coffee to go.

Nova smiles and dips her head in a diminutive version of a bow, strumming the first few chords of the next song in her repertoire before her eyes find Yi-Min. Her brows lift, and she passes the guitar to a young man the next chair over. “Thanks,” she tells him — apparently the instrument belongs to him.

Unfolding herself, she rises, picking up her own mug from a nearby table, then makes her way out of the cluster of chairs, sofa, and table to where Yi-Min watches. “Hey! Yi-Min, right? How are you?” she asks, and nods to a pair of chairs in a distant corner. “You wanna sit where it’s not 1993?” That’s a little unfair; the song she was just playing was recorded in 1997, and the melody coming from the shaggy-haired man now strumming the guitar is 1995’s Wonderwall.

Yi-Min glances towards that distant corner too, and the look of it meets with her approval. She arrives there first, settling herself comfortably into the further of the two chairs and waiting for Nova to do similar before picking up the thread of the conversation again. Just before she does, she takes a small contemplative sip from her mug, perching it neatly atop the curled fingertips of her other hand.

"I am actually doing quite well, all things considered." This isn't just a polite answer, but in fact an honest one. Aside from recently being kidnapped and having her ability ripped out of her insides without her consent, life hasn't been treating Dr. Yeh too badly, and it shows in her appearance.

The glaring difference is that there is color there now, present throughout her clothing and the calm vibrancy of her mood, a world of difference to the stark whites and grays they had freshly endured.

The question is returned with slightly more visible concern, one brow of hers raised at Nova. "And you?"

Nova settles into the chair and again pulls her feet up to sit pretzel-style. Her polite and curious smile blooms into something wider and more sincere when Yi-Min says she’s doing well, the word actually giving lending some ethos to her words along with her mood, so different than when Nova had first encountered her at the crash site.

The question vollied back to her makes the younger woman tip her head, thinking about her answer before she replies. “Fair, I guess,” she says, after a moment, with a lift of one shoulder. “I can’t really complain. I wasn’t hurt bad and I was unmanifested so my ability wasn’t a part of me.” Her brows draw together and she shrugs again. “Not really. I just feel a little…”

Her blue gaze moves to the window, staring out at the street beyond as if the answer might be written on the sidewalk in chalk. She shakes her head slightly, then looks back at Yi-Min, smile apologetic. “I don’t know if there’s a word for it. Like something is supposed to be there that isn’t, but I don’t know what it is. Like when you know you’ve forgotten something but you can’t figure out what it is.”

"A sense of normalcy?" Yi-Min presents dryly, tipping her mug again, but there is some empathy in her gaze as she watches Nova's turn towards the window. "No, I know what you mean. It is only fitting that you should feel this way. Our abilities were taken from us, and at this point, we are not even sure what else may have been. It is hard to feel a sense of peace, given this."

There is a sound from the older woman shallowly resembling a sigh, but its slow, measured inflection suggests it comes from out of a place of thought, not despondency. She turns the tiniest sparkle of a smile up at Nova after that, her dark eyes warm but still meditative. "But luckily I wasn't hurt badly either, in part thanks to you and your quick work. I am not afraid to admit that I may have lost myself somewhat — there, in the midst of that crash. Those of you able to keep your heads throughout were the true heroes of the hour."

The wry comment from Yi-Min makes Nova’s grin flash and she nods. Normalcy is definitely missing. She takes a sip of her coffee, cradling it in both hands, before resting it on one knee, fingers lightly around the handle to keep it from tipping.

“Oh,” she says, with a wave of her other hand. “I just acted, you know? Sort of went into auto pilot in a way, so I’m not sure how much of it was me keeping my head or just… happy helper syndrome or something. My mom calls it that — when you avoid dealing with your own shit by helping others with theirs.” Her smile broadens into that wide grin. “It works wonders, really. It’s the best form of denial because you look like you’re super functioning. Eventually it’ll probably backfire. If you hear of someone going postal that fits my description, you’ll know what happened.”

She tips her head, blue eyes studying Yi-Min’s dark. “I forget, if you mentioned. What was your ability? If it’s not rude to ask. Are you having a hard time without it? You seem really good.”

The line of Yi-Min's smile widens a little, subsiding into something even more placid. "It is a good thing," she remarks, swirling the contents of her mug with care inside her hand. "Please do not take me as some kind of pompous old lady for saying this, as I swear I am not. But. In Confucian teaching, having the ability to withstand bad situations without showing any visible reaction is one sign of a cultured, educated person."

Apparently satisfied with the contents of her drink the next time she looks down into it, she raises the mug for a matter-of-fact sip, her gaze rejoining Nova’s. "And so, you are surely to be commended for showing this wisdom at such a young age. As for my ability, no, I did not mention it before. I had the ability to create toxins from myself. Poisons, such as those found in nature."

The negative implication from that is one that Yi-Min lets sink in with some pause, and she purses her lips inwards briefly, though she still does not seem actually troubled about it. "It was a curse and blessing in my life both. I am not torn up to be rid of it."

Nova’s laugh is a merry thing and she shakes her head adamantly. “You do not seem pompous in the least. And not old at all. I will take all the compliments I can get, even if I don’t know how cultured I come off. Unless you mean dressing up as cartoon characters counts, because that’s some of what I do in my free time when not playing old songs on the guitar in a coffee shop. But cultured and educated sounds lovely.”

She sips from her own mug, growing a little more solemn at Yi-Min’s explanation of her ability, the connotations that come with such a power. “Then I am both sorry and happy for you,” she says a little wryly. “But mostly happy you’re not unhappy about losing it.”

Her mug returns to that precarious balance on her knee. “I’m not sure how I feel, since I was unmanifested. Like I lost something that wasn’t there to begin with. But it doesn’t feel that way. I feel like something’s gone. I just don’t… I don’t know what it is.”

Nova smirks again. “I mean, besides normalcy. Except that’s actually what’s also been slid into the spot, somehow, at the same time.”

Yi-Min takes a solid moment to digest the phrasing of this wry sentiment, and when she is done, she appears quite pleased with it. "Well spoken," she says with a light laugh. "Do not be sorry for me, though. There are others on whom those feelings are much better spent. As for being cultured, well. Such nonsense. Dressing up as a cartoon character is the pinnacle of culture if ever I have heard it." Her face is straight when she says this, though her eyes definitely twinkle.

"But you are certainly a young lady of good education, if your musical abilities are any sign." For emphasis, she raises a brow and sends a small glance towards the corner of musicians Nova had abandoned in favor of coming to talk with her. "Try not to dwell on what is gone. You are young yet, and have many gifts. If fate decrees that we get that particular one back in our futures, then so shall it be. If not? Que será."

There is an especially weighty pause from Yi-Min on the tail of this, as though she is pondering something truly momentous. But instead, the next curious lilt of a question Nova hears is— "What cartoon characters? Mickey Mouse?"

“I suddenly feel like I’m in a Jane Austen novel or something. A very accomplished young lady,” Nova says, putting on a pretty decent British accent, “though I have to admit, my needlecraft is for shit.”

The last question makes her laugh again. “No. Cosplay… Disney princesses, sometimes an anime or video game character, that sort of thing. Like this.”

She pulls a cell phone out and flips through the photos with a few swipes of her fingertip. She holds the phone out to Yi-Min to show her a photo of herself dressed up as the Tangled version of Rapunzel, then swipes the photo to the next where she’s dressed as Joy from Inside Out. “The acme of culture, as you say.”

Nova takes another sip of her coffee. “What do you do? Like, I guess for a living, and also for hobbies. I feel like this has been very me me me. So Gen Z of me.”

Hearing the exhibit of the accent makes Yi-Min laugh right back. Intrigue slowly fills her gaze as she uncrosses her legs, leaning forward to catch a slightly better view of the photos that Nova is displaying on her phone.


Is the much prompter conclusion Yi-Min arrives at even though she does not know who these characters are, a lack of recognition that is easy to perceive. Nonetheless, her expression positively glows with soft delight on the provided focus of the pictures. "I admit I do not understand very well why one would dress in a costume unless it was a holiday, but, I love this. You look simply adorable." she reiterates with another spirited laugh, only settling back against her armchair more fully when the conversation is redirected back towards her.

Then, she continues more introspectively. "I am a director of research at Raytech. Biotechnology. It is not half as cute or entertaining as these things that you do, unfortunately, but I think it is something that will bring some good into the world. As for hobbies: well. These currently consist of gardening, long walks through the Providence countryside, and following every single possible farfetched lead I hear of so as to try and determine who might be responsible for our abductions." When she smiles again, it's a wry, small upturn of a line.

Nova grins, sliding the phone in a pocket. “Mostly just because it’s fun and why not have that fun more than once a year? Mostly I do it for cons — conventions — but now and then just for fun and impromptu photo shoots. I had an Insta but deleted it in a fit of rage at some point. People on the internet are stupid.”

She reaches for her coffee again, taking another sip as she listens to Yi-Min’s description of her job and hobbies. Her nose wrinkles at the word abductions.

“What is it about that word — I mean, technically a kidnapping is an abduction, and it’s a better word than kidnapping when it’s about grown ass people, but…” Nova trails off and shivers. “It’s way creepier. Abduction sounds much more mysterious and, like, you don’t hear about alien kidnappings but you do hear about alien abductions. Not,” she’s quick to add, “that I think it was aliens.”

Her gaze turns to the window. “I’m 98.9 percent sure it wasn’t aliens.”

She looks back again. “Any leads so far? Raytech’s the dude with the robots, right?”

Insta. Right, Instagram. It takes a puzzled second for Yi-Min to step over that combination of generation and language gap, combined with Nova's quick speech, but she gets there. "I can't find any fault with that logic," she decides with a curt nod as she cups her mug between her hands for a drink from it. "Why not, indeed? You find your fun where you can. So. Why not look cute doing so?"

Yi-Min's gaze doesn't trail Nova's away from their shared space this time, but it does take on a note of dryness as she continues to stare over the ceramic brim of her mug. "Sadly, for all the leads we currently have, it may as well be an alien abduction as much as anything else. Most of it is still just — one large mystery. Motives, identity…" It's probably not what Nova wants to hear, but it's even less what she wants to say.

A shift to amusement appears in her expression as she processes the last question, a short distraction from falling further down that rabbit hole of reflection. "Raytech is actually the name of the company, which. Does have robots, yes."

“Next you’re going to tell me there’s not some girl named Bess Buy,” Nova quips at the correction. Her lips tip upward and she takes another sip of coffee, but then she grows more solemn again.

“Motive is the biggest thing. I mean, some of the people, I can see why they might have had their abilities taken — either for someone else’s use, like they were saying, or maybe some hate group just wanting to take away people’s power. But why us? It’s a drop in a bucket,” Nova murmurs, pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms around them. “And some people weren’t even dangerous. Like that Brynn girl, she just can color things, and I’m not even manifested. And that weird lady, Gabby, she said she’s not even expressive. It’s just so…”

She gestures for a word, before settling on “random. Except also not random. If that makes sense. So many of you know each other.”

"Yes, that is one of the biggest mysteries, is it not? It would be easy to focus on a connection between those who knew each other beforehand. But… then you have seemingly random youngsters, like yourself, and like Brynn." Yi-Min can only shake her head at this familiar, hopeless mental road she has already traversed several times over since the crash.

"I did not have a chance to talk to this Gabriella, as I did some of the others. Does she really deny being an Expressive? That cannot be. We all had our abilities harvested from us, every single one. She must be in denial. Or at least unmanifested, as you are." Doubt glimmers in Yi-Min's eyes through her next sip.

Nova shakes her head at the last question. “She kept to herself in the hospital. Denial, I think, yeah. She was saying some pretty racist shit on the beach. You were still kinda outta it at that point and pretty far away, I think. She at least learned to shut her mouth about it, when she realized she was outnumbered,” Nova murmurs, brows drawing together.

“Maybe she never was tested somehow, or had a false negative when she was. I’ve been pretty lucky and sheltered not to run into too many people so upfront with that sort of hateful rhetoric.” She lifts her brows as she studies Yi-Min. “How many of the others did you already know?”

"Let me guess. Did she blame Expressives for what happened to us?" Yi-Min asks quietly. Nova is correct: she had been too far away, in both physical and more metaphysical terms, to have heard what had been said in that quarter of the scene. It isn't hard to surmise, though, based on the accusation of 'hateful rhetoric.'

As for the question of whom she had known among the survivors, Yi-Min ticks off the identities on the fingers of one hand as she recounts them. Zachery, Nicole, Jac, Asi, Kaylee. "Five," she determines, curling her hand back around her mug. "I think some among the group may have known a greater number, but that is my count.” A still-doubtful shake of her head, and then, "I suppose that the Expressive community of the Safe Zone is a fairly small one, so it ultimately may not be too surprising, but still."

“Ding ding ding,” Nova says with a smirk. “You win a life supply of angst and paranoia for that correct answer!” She rests her chin on top of her knees as she watches Yi-Min count off the number of people within the group she already knew.

“Smaller now,” is a little bitter coming from the otherwise sunny young woman. “I’m new to the Safe Zone, coming here for the college, so I guess that’s why I didn’t know many people. Still. I don’t get why me, compared to some of you. Raytech, SESA, Scout people make some sense. Brynn and me, a lot less.”

Nova frowns, teeth catching her lower lip for a moment, before she sighs, the force of that exhalation revealing her exasperation. “Sorry, but I think alien abduction is the only thing that makes sense.”

It’s said very somberly. Nova’s expression is grave and serious…

…for a few seconds, before it cracks, and she grins again.

Life supply?

"Ai. If you are just in college, you are much too young yet for such bitterness. Take it from me." Yi-Min is unable to hold back her small, newly amused smile, empathetic though it is. In response to the joke about the alien abduction and Nova cracking that grin, her own smile only grows a trace sadder.

"There are some questions which I don't think any of us truly want the answers to. This may turn out to be one of them," she murmurs as she lowers the weight of her mug all the way to her lap this time. "You have a whole life ahead of you. Concentrate on your— what was it you called it? Your cosplay. Your music, and your cartoons."

Saying that sentence seems to cause a certain thought to flicker to light inside Yi-Min's head, and when she next speaks, it’s back to her previous mild thoughtfulness. "You remind me a lot of another young woman I met recently, actually. You have the same sort of Disney energy."

Glancing over at where the group of friends are now singing along to “Avalanche,” another song older than they are, Nova smiles, though it’s a touch sad. It’s a sad song, of course, and a little fitting with what Yi-Min is saying.

“I’m not eighteen. I’m a transfer student,” she says with a grin, as if those two years are a lifetime in experience and maturity. “And I don’t know that there’s an age limit on bitterness when something like this happens. I mean, I’m not planning to be bitter and angsty for my entire life. But I think maybe just a little,” she holds up her forefinger and thumb an inch apart, “is allowed. An espresso cup of coffee. Wait, no. A demitasse.

But she’s being compared to someone, and that’s always fun. “Do I?” she says, batting her lashes a little playfully. “Tell me more.”

"Well. You know what. That is acceptable." One whole demitasse of angst. Some brightness enters into Yi-Min's tone again — just a little. Mostly, she still just looks placidly reflective. "I do not mean to lecture or anything like this. It is just easy to let this type of thing consume you, you know?"

Almost involuntarily, Yi-Min can't help but smile a bit wider at Nova's antics. "So, there is a girl I run into every so often. About the same age as you, I think. Imagine if… imagine if you had a ray of sunshine, only that ray of sunshine was a real person. She is just as happy and determined and helpful and lovely. Oh, and she made me watch that movie with one of your cartoons just a few weeks ago." Yi-Min's pointer finger tip-taps the lip of her mug as the name re-dawns on her. "Inside Out."

After another second, she adds as nonchalantly as though the thought had come out of literally nowhere, lifting her mug for another sip as she does: "In that movie, I thought Disgust was particularly cute. Good sense of fashion."

“So… like Joy,” Nova sums up, with a grin. “I’ve been called a ray of sunshine myself, but it definitely wasn’t really a compliment from the guy who called me it. Something like ‘get your fucking ray of sunshine ass out of here until I’ve had my coffee, bitch’ was the gist of it.”

Her eyes roll at the memory. “Salem’s an asshole. He has good fashion sense too, though. Maybe it’s something that comes with being negative. More room for sartorial awesomeness.” She gestures to her outfit. “I think I missed the day they handed out that quality. You didn’t though.”

"Exactly like Joy. Ugh, what a terrible man. There is never a need to be so rude." Yi-Min looks quite prim for all of the next moment. By this point, her mug is running close to empty, and she reaches the dregs of it when she takes her next drink.

That primness transmutes into entertainment at the observation about negativity being tied to style, and she accepts the compliment with a fine shine of laughter over her expression. "Nonsense, you did not miss anything. These things you are wearing look cute as well as comfortable. What more 'awesomeness' does anyone need?"

Peak of fashion be damned. It checks all two of her boxes.

Also: "If you do not know many people here yet, I would be glad to introduce you sometime. I’m fairly sure you two would get along like peas in a pod."

“I can always use more friends,” Nova replies with a smile. “So far I just know some people in the dorms and my classes, and the people from our special club of what-the-fuck. “ She lifts her mug before realizing she’s already drained the last drops.

The timing is good. The young man who had taken up the guitar playing is rising, along with the rest of the cluster of college students, the guitar in its case and the case strap slung over his shoulder. He casts a searching gaze for Nova to see where she is, and she gives him a quick nod to indicate she’s ready to go, too.

“I should get going. I think we have each other’s numbers from our little share-around at the hospital. If not, just go to the dorms at Brooklyn and yell for me — I’m pretty sure I’m the only Nova,” she says, as she hops up and throws a quick hug around Yi-Min’s shoulders. “It was so good to see you!”

"Take care of yourself," Yi-Min delivers as she returns the hug, letting her open hand rest on the girl's back as she does; she has grown accustomed to surprise hugs largely due to said friend from special club what-the-fuck number one. Her eyes fill with fond calm as she watches Nova bounce off, and it's a small while before she makes any sign of moving from her armchair to do the same.

Sometimes, fortune liked to drop surprising little things. Little sunny spots of interaction like this, born from the storm that had brought them together: a balancing of the sweet with the bitter, in bittersweet.

And when it comes down to it, that's a fact of life that suits her just fine.

No matter where the lines of reality crossed.

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