Bonding Agent


boyce_icon.gif goodman2_icon.gif roland_icon.gif veronica3_icon.gif

Scene Title Bonding Agent
Synopsis Agents of the Institute perform a critical strike against the Mazdak terrorist organization after weeks of planning and preparation in their search for Amid Halebi.
Date December 23, 2010

Jersey City, New Jersey

"Stop! Federal agent!"

A woman's voice carries down the steam-filled brick alleyway, wet and melted snow splashing beneath her dark shoes as she gives chase to the darkly dressed figure that is but a blurry silhouette disappearing through the billowing white clouds issuing forth from the sewer grates. Olivia Rolands' pace is a frantic one, her handgun gripped tightly in both hands, held down at her side, DHS badge on a lariat swinging left and right around her neck.

As she emerges through the steam it peels away from her like a thin layer of gauze, white on her all black suit and winter jacket. Her shoes slide in the slush underfoot, gun comes up to aim at the man she can now see running in full sprint from her, his puffy jacket unzippered and flagging behind him as he runs. "Federal agent!" Olivia screams again, "Stop or I will shoot!"

The escaping man skids to a stop, both fingerless gloved hands lifting up at the side of his head. Frantically breathing, Olivia's shoulders rise and fall rapidly as she stares down the iron-sights of her sidearm, creeping forward out of the steam. "Turn around, slowly and lay face down on the ground!"

As she barks out that order, Agent Roland removes one hand from her gun, reaching down for the walkie clipped to her belt as her quarray slowly begins to make that demanded turn. "Sawyer, Boyce, this is Roland. I've got Celik, we're behind the distillery." When the heavily dressed man finally has himself turned all the way around, however, all that Agent Roland can see beneath the hood of his jacket is a writing mass of cutworms, centipedes, cockroaches and spiders all scurrying around together in some vague mass of human form. Blue eyes grow wide and Roland's voice hitches in the back of her throat, gun wavering as hands begin to tremble.

"Oh God."

Two Weeks Earlier

Arkham Old & Used Books


December 7th, 2010

The soft chime of a brass bell signals the opening of a barred glass door, stenciled with the name Arkham Old & Used Books in faded serifs. The hardwood floor gives soft report on the entrance of agent Veronica Sawyer, her slim silhouette making passage inside to view the disorganized piles and heaps of old books stacked in cardboard boxes, piled high on shelves and laid haphazardly on the steps of wheeled ladders. It looks more like the residence of a hoarder than a store.

Behind agent Sawyer, Sterling Boyce enters next, the door held open for him as he too is afforded the same view of a bookstore left abandoned and in disarray. Whether it always looks this messy, or that is simply a byproduct of a hasty search for something isn't immediately clear.

"What's that smell?" is the first question asked by the last agent in through the door, Olivia Roland, her blonde hair tied back in a short ponytail, the collar of her black wool jacket upturned to the back of her neck. It's distinctive, whatever it is, a pungent chemical odor with acidic sting that tingles the sinuses and waters the eyes.

Roland lifts a gloved hand to her mouth and nose, stepping aside from Boyce and Sawyer as she moves towards the front register, blue eyes scanning the unoccupied stool where the bookstore's owner would presumably be. She doesn't have the common courtesy to call out for anyone before starting to circle around the counter, looking for the source of the chemical stink.

Beyond the three aisles and high shelves, the back door to the bookstore's stock room is left ajar to the dark and less window-accessable areas beyond. Outside, traffic whizzes by the storefront, a busy afternoon proceeding unabated.

Veronica tugs the green scarf away from her face, hand sliding into her pocket to pull out her ID as her dark eyes scan the bookstore, making sure there are no surprises among the aisles — or trying to.

"Donno," she says, tipping her head toward the ajar door, calls in her husky voice, "Hello? Anyone here?" No reason to frighten them away with the announcement of federal agents just yet, after all. She's content to let whoever's in the back believe they are simply customers today — at least until they see the three agents.

Those dark eyes angle up to Boyce, arching a brow at him in a silent reminder to behave that may or may not be warranted.

Choppy nearly stilted steps bring Sterling Boyce into the bookstore traipsing behind the two female agents. A stern, nearly scowled expression crosses his features as the smell enters his nose, drawing a disgusted wrinkle within it. "He won't be attracting any customers that way," he muses gruffly. "Nothing like carcinogen" he's making an assumption "chemicals to inspire shopping."

A heavy dark woollen military-style coat lines his figure accompanied with an army green scarf. His hands are concealed by a pair of tight black leather gloves intended to conceal his own fingerprints should he touch anything. His eyes water behind the dark sunglasses that shade his gaze even indoors.

Veronica's expression directed towards him brings forward a smug smirk as he strolls along the shelves of books, wandering just a little from the other agents. He peeks at the titles and arches an eyebrow while reaching out to run his pointer finger at the title with feigned amusement.

Reaching inside of her jacket, Agent Roland retrieves an engraved Zippo lighter from the front pocket, keeping it curled in one gloved hand as she checks around behind the register. Magazines, books and newspapers are pawed through, the register is examined but not touched, at least until she has the foresight to reach up and pull at the scroll of receipts coiled around near the top of the register.

Quietly reading down the list, Roland shakes her head slowly from side to side before looking up to try and spot where Boyce has gone. The multifaceted agent has found a selection of books just as jarringly arranged as his own mind, rhyme and reason on the shelves is apparent at least in classificationsof fiction and non-fiction, but alphabetical arrangement seems to be a luxury that Hasid Jafal has not afforded to his collection.

"November 6th," Roland says loud enough for her voice to project down to where Veronica is, "that's the last register receipt, twelve dollars and sixty-three cents." She lets the scroll of paper fall from her hand, beginning to step around the other side of the counter now.

Boyce has already started to make sense of this disorganized mess. The books in the boxes are organized aphabetically, the ones ont he shelves aren't. The easiest answer is that he was reorganizing everything, or trying to, at some point.

While Boyce is analyzing the collection of books, Veronica has crept over to that open door where the chemical smell is becoming more profound. Nudging the door open the rest of the way, Veronica's eyes adjust to the dark of the room, metal shelves stacked with cardboard boxes and two doors. One at the end of the narrow corridor is open and one closer is closed. There's no sounds of movement anyhere, only an unusual buzzing noise — like electricity — coming from the closed door to Veronica's right.

"Wonder if he was skipping town, then," Veronica says from where she stands in the doorway, pulling up her scarf around her nose and mouth so that the noxious smell doesn't irritate too much. Her brows dip as she peers through the dark room, sweeping it with eyes before pulling out her firearm — it's a bit much on an information-only call, but she's been surprised often enough that she's not going to take chances.

Her brows knit together as she hones in on the locale of the sound. Tipping her head back out toward the bookstore, she jerks her head for the other two to join her. "Smell's coming from in here, and there's something electrical making noise. You got an electronics expert in that head of yours, Boyce?"

"Really keen organization technique," Boyce scoffs sarcastically, the darkness in his features only deepening the perma-scowl on his face while his fingers crawl along the shelves of books only to guide him back towards Veronica and the doorway. He reaches to his own holster, grasping his firearm and drawing closer to her— to where the smell is.

There's an emphatic roll of his eyes at the question, "You do not want Grayer Merck on this mission." Two hands clasp the gun, but even his own mention of Grayer activates butterflies in his stomach through those neuro-pathways associated with anxiety. "Useless ninny," he hisses as his gun levels towards the door.

The closed door is unlocked, opening inwards to the small room beyond. Blue tiles cover the floor and a nearly matching paint decorates the walls where it hasn't been browned by water stains. It's a bathroom, comprised of little more than a toilet, sink and trash can. However from the ceiling a long fluorescent light rack has been ripped from the brackets holding it up, dangling by wires at a crooked angle, the fluorescent bulbs buzzing and humming noisily, occasionally making a hollow and glassy clinking noise.

The bathroom, perhaps fortunately, isn't the source of the chemical smell, pungent as it is. Which leaves the open door at the end of the small and cramped stock room to be where the unusual odor is coming from. Coming up behind the two agents, Olivia steps into the doorway of the stock room, taking up the rear and flicking open her lighter, resting a gloved thumb down on the flint wheel in much the same way that Boyce has readied his firearm.

Agent Roland is a fan of more unconventional weapons.

Sawyer checks behind the door. If there was a shower, she'd check in there, too, but it seems that sometimes a bathroom is just a bathroom. "That's unusual," she says quietly with her eyes to the light fixture. "Nothing in here."

She moves away from the bathroom toward the open door, eyes sweeping the dark room and its shadows carefully before she reaches that door, nose of her firearm following the path of her eyes as she looks inside.

Holding the gun crisply with edged skill, Boyce's eyes scan each of the surfaces in turn, keeping the weapon poised should he require to fire it. He raises his chin to look above at the light, it's glassy clink grates on his senses. Disorderly. The entire room is disorderly.

While Veronica explores the bathroom, Sterling slides further into the room, allowing his gun to lead the way. He takes a deep cleansing breath, fighting against those little telltale signs. There is no second-guessing, no room for indecisiveness, and certainly no time to let some fool escape from his brain. So as he releases the breath, he tries to release some of those tensions as well. His jaw is allowed to clench while his knuckles whiten against the weapon.

The toilet roll framework is broken off of the bathroom wall, scattered down on the floor behind the door where Veronica looked. The lid is also shifted, the plastic bolts that hold it in place to the ceramic seat are bent and the top lid of the toiler sets skew. It looks like there was an — admittedly brief — struggle in the bathroom.

Forsaking cramming a second person into a small room, Roland takes up a position behind Boyce as the multifaceted agent stalks towards the open door at the back of the storage room. The chemical stink becomes more intense the closer he gets, and with a nudge to open the door the rest of the way, the smell wafts in with the motion of the door.

Roland wrenches her face into a puckered expression, covering her mouth and nose with her free hand again, turning her face away from the smell and shutting her watering eyes. The smell stings Boyce's, making them tear up and sting. Dim light filters in through drawn blinds in the back room, another stock room filled with cardboard boxes on metal shelves. Further in, a pair of ceiling lights shine down beneath metal lamp shades onto a large metal wash tub laying on the concrete floor.

There's a table beside it littered with plastic wrap, a plastic bucket filled with ball bearings, a jar of glass marbles, and a cardboard box of nails. On one corner of the table is a recycling bin filled with emptied containers of Vaseline all stacked haphazardly. Several large plastic bottles of Isopropyl rubbing alcohol are scattered on the floor, candle wax covers the workbench's surface and some of the jars and containers, sacks of flour are spilled on the floor beside metal tins of cooking oil, wire pipe cleaners and packets of jello.

It tickles something in Boyce's mind — Jack Wright's mind — something is familiar about this recipe and this smell.

"Seems Halebi isn't the only one we should be worried about making bombs," Veronica mutters, turning to look at Roland. "Careful with the lighter, I don't know how flammable these fumes might be, hmm?" She nods to the assorted mess.

"I'd guess he wouldn't leave all this here on purpose for very long, or the door open to the store where anyone could walk in. Our informant's either been dealt with," she nods toward the door to suggest the evidence they'd just seen, "or he's coming back. We'll want to get a clean-up crew on this, but if we're hoping he's coming back, that will scare him away. Any thoughts?" She pauses. "I kinda doubt he's coming back. Maybe Halebi found out Jafal was our rat."

When he nudges the door open, Boyce's eyes burn as he nears the scent. They puff with objection reddened and watery amid the offender. He blinks hard to combat the moisture accumulating along the bottoms of his eyelids, but he resists the urge to rub them, such a thing would melt his defences. Not to say they aren't already somewhat melted.

The pungent smell further anchors Jack within Boyce's mind. Where before he had that odd feeling of slipping into Sterling's subconscious, the power of memory keeps him forward, ahead of the others. His eyes narrow when he shuffles further into the room, the scene has that distinct familiarity about it while his gun is relaxed some— it may be a sloppy move, but to properly inspect the empty bottles, and wax, it needs to be lowered.

He squats down on the floor to peer at the metal tins of cooking oil, his hand reaching out for the pipe cleaner and the packet of jello while his memory attempts to recall…

A sharp nod is cast over his shoulder at Roland, "Put out the light." Around the gruff attitude in his voice, the order comes out like a dog bark, particularly when he adds, "I think it's C4. Damned commies."

Roland's thumb immediately eases off of the flint wheel and her index finger slowly clips the top of that lighter closed. Olivia isn't sure if the fumes from whatever explosive concoction was being made here are flammable, but she isn't intending on finding out today. Fascinated by the workstation, Olivia pockets her lighter, walking past a locked garage door that must lead out back of the bookstore, probably for deliveries. She passes by a tall freezer on her way to the metal wash basin, crouching down beside it and running a gloved finger along the edge.

"This is just the bonding agent," she admits in a hushed tone of voice, rubbing the greasy solution around on her fingers. "It's old, maybe a few weeks…" looking left and right, Olivia stands up straight and walks towards the shelves beyond the workbench, pushing empty boxes aside. "See if you can find anything labeled cyclotrimethylene trinitramine, that's the primary explosive agent…"

Boyce and Veronica have something else catch their attention, however, than what Roland is curious about. Beneath that stand-up freezer she walked by, there's a black rubber mat thrown out over the floor that the wheeled freezer is seated atop of. It isn't perfectly flat on the floor, however, and where one corner is folded up, both agent Sawyer and agent Boyce can see a narrow seam in the linoleum covered floor, like from a concealed hatch of some kind.

"I must have missed that day in bomb school," Veronica says wryly to her more knowledgeable colleagues; at least she knew enough to recognize the various ingredients of this particular kind of explosive.

When she sees the rubber mat sits askew she tips her head and moves toward it, crouching down to run her hand along the seam before looking up, seeing that Boyce is already onto it as well. "Interesting," she says flatly, then pulls at the mat to reveal whatever's beneath.

"With the bonding agent, there's destined to be— " Boyce presses on his thighs to return to a standing position. His hand smoothes the fabric of his wool cloak as he twists to watch Roland's movement. His gaze turns downward towards the stand-up freezer. Those near-march stiff steps bring him beside Veronica, but rather than focusing on the mat like her, he brings his attention to the freezer.

A heavy groan from the back of his throat has him pushing the large heavy freezer. It moves slightly underneath his effort, but not as much as intended. With an irritated uggh sound in the back of his throat, he backs up and presses his shoulder into the large heavy appliance. It inches further. "Damned Boyce body," he grunts as he presses his shoulder into the freezer again. FINALLY. It's off the matt.

He crouches down to the floor, next to Veronica, who has already removed the matt, and peeks at the seam in the lino. With a smirk laced with years of experience beyond those of Sterling Boyce, he cants his chin to face her, "Ready to follow the fluffy C4 bunny into the hole, Sawyer." He stifles a chuckle that sounds more like a scoff at his cheesy pun while he carefully he runs his fingers along said seam and tugs along the latch.

Nervously watching the workbench, Agent Roland reaches for her lighter again, more out of need for its comforting proximity in her gloved hand than anything. When the hatch door finally creaks open, Boyce reveals a folding ladder that descends down into a small basement lined with shelves, a folding cot, empty cans of food and bottled water — a shelter of some kind.

The burly, round-middled Arabic man in a full beard coming clawing up out of the hole, wide-eyed and frenzied was perhaps not the rabbit that Boyce was looking for. A yammering prattles out in Farsi, too fast for Boyce to pick up exactly what is being said, but the big bold words seems to be, in no particular order:

1) Don't shoot.
2) Thank you.

Bald-headed, frantic, and clearly terrified the man scrambling up those creaking wooden stairs matches the description of Hasid Jafal, and from the looks of things down in the basement, he'd been locked down there for some time. When Jafal comes exploding up out of the basement towards Boyce, who is over-extended trying to lift the hatch door up, Roland insinuates herself between the two, locking an arm around one of Jafals and swings him to the ground with a crash of his shoulder, leaving him half hanging down the stairs, one arm twisted behind his back and her knee planted firmly against his spine between his shoulders.

Veronica scrambles backward to grab her gun and taser from where she'd set them aside to pull at the mat, backing up as Roland pulls the man off the ladder and into a restrained position. She slips the firearm back into her holster and pulls out the ID from her pocket, flashing it without really worrying if he can read it or not.

"Department of Homeland Security," she tells the man. "Do you speak English?" she asks, moving closer to him while Roland pins him, bending to frisk pockets and pull out anything useful like weapons or identification. "You're Jafal, yes?"

Wide-eyed as he's essentially bulldozed by Jafal, Boyce falls over underneath the pressure. His collapse imminently has him flailing backwards for some semblance of balance. This was most certainly not the bunny he was looking for nor the one he'd been expecting. In the flail backwards, his eyes clamp shut bracing for impact, but when his head finally hits the concrete, Jack Wright is no longer in Boyce's conscious mind.

Boyce's body contorts and tenses underneath the pressure of the fall. "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck," he moans upon impact as two hands are firmly pressed to his head.

"I speak English, I speak English!" Jafal blurts out as he lays on his stomach, face pressed against the tile and Roland's knee his back. "Please do not be killing me, I— " Something finally clicks in Jafal's addled head, and through the pain of Roland's arm lock twinging his wrist and shooting lancing pain up to his elbow, he manages to realize something that was said — and also something that the three people in this room are, in no particular order:

1) Federal agents.
2) White.

"You— " a breathy laugh followed by a yowl of pain slips from Jafal's lips, pressed to the floor as they are. "You are not Mazdak, this— I am pleased! Can you please to be not breaking my wrist, I— I was over excited. Overjoyed to see faces, or— perhaps a little scared as well. Mix of both, fifty-fifty." He grimaces, bearded cheek rubbing over the floor.

"It smells terrible down here please— let me up." At Jafal's whining plea, Roland upturns blue eyes to Veronica, her hair disheveled, loose blonde locks hanging in front of those pale eyes. Then, briefly, she looks down to Boyce, then back to Veronica with a what the fuck expression.

"Shit. Boyce, you okay?" Veronica says, peering down at the man, then to Roland still holding on to Jafal; she gestures for the latter to let the tackled man get up.

"We're DHS," she repeats to Jafal. "Did someone in Mazdak do this to you? We're here to find out what you can tell us about Halebi, and we're a bit worried about your seeming disappearance." She juts a chin down the hatch. "I'm guessing that explains the disappearance. How long you been down there? Who locked you in?"
Boyce flips a coin. It comes up tails.

Boyce rubs his face hard with both hands as he begins to curl himself off the floor in a pseudo-sit up which actually has him cringing. Using muscles isn't something this version of Boyce is used to, or has any appreciation for. After sitting up, his chin drops and he glances down at his wool jacket with pursed lips, flared nostrils, and squinty eyes, all of which register as pure disdain for his attire.

His hand moves to the back of his head while his second hand presses against the ground. A more charming smile spreads across his face as he carefully leans forward to his feet. "I am sincerely most sorry you heard that outburst ladies."

He whistles a high pitched whistle as he finally reaches his feet and tugs on the bottom of his coat. "Do not fear, lovely Ronnie~" he nearly sings. "I shall be perfectly alright in a matter of quiet moments~"

His head turns to face Jafal now while his lips frown slightly. "I do not have intention of breaking your wrist, sir. That would not be gentlemanly thing to do. And while I'm sure both of these ladies enjoy— " his eyes narrow while he searches for the most appropriate phrase, "— a rough time— " his eyebrows escalate considerably "— I don't believe either of them intends to break your wrist at this juncture." He pauses. "And if you were in such a… predicament with them, I suggest a safe word. I normally choose the word 'moist' as it rolls off the tongue in a nearly— " He cuts himself off and shoots everyone a charming smile.

Agent Roland sharply releases Jafal and leans off of him, offering a warning look down before flicking another look up to Boyce with wide eyes and abject silent as a reaction. Jafal has on qualms about calling Boyce on his weirdness, however. "Your man, did— is he special?" Not the kind of special that can move things with his mind, but the kind that wear helmets and diapers.

Agent Roland raises her brows and tries to hide a smile of amusement, clearing her throat as she rises up to stand from her crouch, watching the hatch door that Jafal had sprung out of. Teasing doesn't last very long though, and soon the federal informant is crawling up to his knees, wringing his twisted wrist in his free hand. "Amid did this to me," Jafal bellows with a snort and a roll of his eyes. "I have been trapped down there— trapped for— for I do not know how long. My radio battery died on the first of December, I— I was down there since the seventh of November. It is a shelter, food— water…" Lucky for Jafal, or these agents may have found a starved and dehydrated corpse.

"He came here, had orders to kill me. He said that Celik found out I was feeding information to your people. Told me that he was not going to kill me, and he shoved me— " Jafal jerks his head towards the trap door, "down there! He left me down there, screaming for help." It's only then that Jafal sees the workbench and finally realizes what the horrible smell is.

"He could have— should have killed me. Celik is not a good man, he is going to kill many people. I wanted to warn, but then— everything. Thank you— thank you for getting me out of there. If you hadn't come I— I would be a very unhappy ghost."

Ronnie? Veronica's eyes narrow as they bear down on Boyce, then widen at his insinuations about liking it rough and the need for safe words. She clears her throat to try to block out anything he says, turning back to Jafal.

When he's done talking, Veronica lifts a finger to Boyce. "You. Watch your mouth," she directs, then turns to Jafal once more. "You're welcome, Mr. Jafal, we're very glad to have helped you. And we're very thankful for your continued cooperation. Who is Celik?" she asks, pulling out her smart phone and already typing the name into it to see what comes up. "He got a first name? Does Halebi take orders from him? What has this Celik got planned?" She nods to the workbench. "Is that yours or has he been using this place while you were down below?" There are more questions, but it's already a bombardment, and Veronica makes herself stop, to give the man a chance to answer.

At the wide-eyed expression, Agent Roland earns a very broad grin an a faint bow of his head. It's always a pleasure to meet a fine looking woman. "Do not fret, Ronnie, I shall not offend any further, I am here as nothing more than your chivalrous escort amid the chaos of the— " Boyce's eyes peer about the lab and his lips fall into a frown, "— did Grayer set this up?"

"Does this Celik man know how to conduct himself properly?" The smile continues and his head bows towards the former hostage. "Come now, these fine women and myself would be pleased to stop him from bringing greater distress to more ladies." Not that Charles is useful for anything. Except speaking in flowery language. And flirting.

It's a wonder that Jafal had heard anything that Veronica was saying, for all of Boyce's foppish demeanor. Staring slack-jawed and wondering if he's still a bit delirious, his brows screw up and lips part as if to ask the obvious question, but Roland answers him before it's asked, while pinching gloved fingers at the bridge of her nose.

"He's always like this," she murmurs, turning away and letting blue eyes scan around the work bench again. Jafal exhales a breathy sigh, shoulders slacking, and shakes his head frustratedly. When his dark eyes return to Veronica, he seems a bit shaken by Boyce's strange demeanor. That and probably having been locked in a basement for a month. "C-Celik, his— Osman Celik, he is a Turkish member of Mazdak. Very violent, very— strange. He is Amid's contact, I had learned that his brother ran a distillery in New Jersey, Mazdak works out of it. Before I could get information out— Amid, he comes and locks me up. Tells me it is for my own good…"

Jafal shakes his head, slowly, then furrows his brows in pleading expression. "Celik— he is like all Mazdak, you know— " there's a wave of one of Jafal's hands. "Special." This time he means the variety that don't wear helmets and drool bibs. "Amid is probably with him, probably there. I can give you the address, I can— I can tell you where it is."

The youngest of the three agents types in names into that smart phone — using a variety of spellings, including that of one particular mustached actor of the '80s known for running around in short shorts and Hawaiians shirts, but among the entries is the correct spelling of Celik. When the results come back, Vee scans the results for anything resembling a variation of Osmon.

"What's Celik's ability?" Sawyer asks Jafal, looking up from the phone and pointedly ignoring Boyce and his repeated iterations of ladies. She'll show him who's a lady soon enough if he keeps it up. And if he calls her Ronnie again, a name she hasn't gone by since the age of ten.

"He's planning something violent? Against who? And yes, we'd like that address. You are very helpful," Veronica tells Jafal, smiling up at him to encourage his helpful demeanor — and hoping to offset the strange behavior of Boyce.

"I— I do not know," is Jafal's stammering response, followed by an apologetic hunch of his shoulders forward, brows raised. "All people in Mazdak are very secretive with their gifts, very personal. Everyone is afraid of Celik, he is…" Jafal shakes his head slowly, "I hear he is very intense, very powerful man. All Mazdak plan violence against this country, they hate America, hate the Registry, hate this country and its President. Celik, he works for someone else, Mazdak back overseas…"

Still rubbing at his wrist, Jafal offers a worried look up to Roland, then back to Veronica. "I do not know what they are planning, but…" he looks to the workbench, "whatever it is, Amid needed to make explosives, and… here." There's a narrowing of Jafal's eyes, "I do not know why he would do that, here, instead of wherever his workshop is. I don't…"

Dark eyes track from side to side, as if trying to puzzle something out. Unfortunately, all Jafal discerns is how to frown sympathetically. "I do not know why he would do this, spare me, make this bombs…" While Jafal is talking, Veronica's query pulls up information from the CIA international database, a listing for Celik, Osman. A blurry photograph of a bearded Turkish man with pale complexion, dark brows and cold gray eyes looks several years out of date, according to his listed age as 56. The picture looks to be of a man nearly twenty years younger.

Glancing over the dossier on her smartphone, Veronica discovers that Jafal's relation that he is a bad man aren't simplifications of things. Celik is connected to a violent string of bombings and attacks throughout the middle east following the 2007 revelation of the Evolved to the world. According to the file, however, Celik was once a CIA contact in Turkey working as an informant against Iraq. He went off-grid in 2003 after the American invasion of the country and hadn't been heard of until the rise of Mazdak. He is suspected to be a high ranking affiliate of the organization, last known whereabouts were Lybia in 2008.

Veronica passes the cell phone over to Roland so she can read the same, and nods to Jafal. "Thank you," she breathes out, and it's sincere; Mazdaq and its dangers to the country are a legitimate threat. One that she can in good conscience strive to stop. "What I'd suggest, then, Mr. Jafal, is that you allow us to bring you away from here — perhaps get a good meal and a safe place to stay where you will be safe while we continue our investigation."

Her dark eyes dart to her colleagues. That could mean using the locale as a trap for Celik or Amid to return to. "If your life is in danger," she continues, turning back to Jafal while reaching for the phone once Roland's finished looking at it (apparently she's not going to pass it to Boyce, perhaps for fear he'd start critiquing the man's hair-do and hygiene), "we'd rather not leave you here. If Halebi spared you your life, let's not make it for nothing."

Smart move Veronica! Boyce leans forward and peers at Jafal carefully. "You have been most helpful, Sir. Be guaranteed that all will turn out as it requires." The smile grows considerably as he backs up now. "We will most certainly thwart his power and conquer all in the end." He extends a single hand dramatically to emphasize his point. Or to show his best Vanna White impression. It's hard to say which.

"And so Sir, listen to dear Ronnie and come with us. Livi and Ronnie would be most pleased to escort you into custody for your own protection, I'm sure." With a frown he rolls his leather gloves from his hands and stuffs them into the jacket's pockets— those are Jack's gloves. Ew.

"I— I am very much appreciative of your assistance, yes. I— do believe that a man was not meant to live on canned food alone, it was a terrible idea." Jafal offers a grimace with promises of indigestion as he dips his head in a thankful nod to Veronica and Boyce. "If Celik thinks that I am dead, than he might not think that the distillery is found out. You have an opportunity, one to catch him, make things right." Jafal's head shakes, slowly.

"I do not love ths country in the same way you might, but it is my home. Celik, Amid, these people— they are lost. They have lost their sense of home, of honor, or self. They are desperate for someone to blame for the state of the world, and they blame America. All they are going to do is start a war…"

Jafal's expression sags into a frown. "They were good men, once. Amid especially. But they have lost themselves… I— I apologize for them, for what they have become." As touching as Jafal's sentiments may be, Olivia Roland seems more focused on Boyce. The invocation of the forbidden Livi has her brows screwed up into a furrow, jaw clenched and nostrils flared.

"We need to tell HQ about Celik," Roland grates, brows furrowed, "Goodman is going to want to jump on that, before anything else happens."

The brunette nods to Jafal. "I understand, and we thank you again. You don't need to apologize for them. We all know people who have lost their way." Veronica's words ring true — do her colleagues know that she counts herself among those lost, at times?

She turns to nod at Roland, pushing buttons on her cell to do just that, ringing Goodman's office directly — if he picks up. "What's the address of the distillery?" she asks Jafal as she waits for someone to pick up.

If the women's frowns are off-putting to Boyce it isn't obvious, in fact, even at Roland's disgust, he carries on, "There is no need to apologize on their behalf, Sir. You see, these lost people are not you. My nanny told me to always take responsibility for my actions while letting my father's be my father's."

"There is some semblance of home for all here, isn't there." His grin brightens a little as he reaches into his pocket and extracts his own cellphone. It's very disorienting coming into the conscious mind…

As Roland starts heading for the door out of the back room, Jafal bobs his head repeatedly in a series of nods, then clasps his hands together and offers a smile to Veronica and Boyce both. "The distillery, yes, it is located in Jersey City… what they used to call the irradiated zone, yes? It was bought for a song when the area was said to be safe for habitation again…"

Eager to get out of the building he's been trapped in for nearly a month's time, Jafal relays the details about what he knows of the distillery as he walks, his hands clasping together in thankful motion of praise as he walks with Agent Sawyer and Agent Boyce.

Fiddlehead Distillery

Jersey City, New Jersey

December 23, 2010

The distillery is a five floor building, located on the river three blocks from the old Goldman Sachs building.

Rising up five stories from the tightly packed industrial parkland of waterfront Jersey City, the brick-faced Fiddlehead Distillery is a crumbling building much in disrepair. No legitimate business has been run out of its old mill walls in near five years, and what Mazdak has chosen to utilize the building for is even less than legitimate.

Celik has six men with him, likely all armed. They'll be watching the building around the clock.

The snap of a magazine being clipped into a handgun comes with the slide being drawn back and a round chambered. "This is Agent Goodman, ground floor is secure." Blood is dappled on the brown leather shoes Agent Goodman wears, a pool of it soaking into his soles. Dismembered men lay around the ground floor, arms and legs ripped from their bodies, looking as though they were attacked by a wild animal, some of them look cooked and turned inside out, their clothing wrapped around a tangled morass of exposed organs. Goodman handled the ground floor himself.

There will likely be one sharpshooter on the roof, keeping an eye on the harbor and the road coming in as well.

Dropping to his knees, a balaclava-masked member of Mazdak collapses to the ground, clutching at his throat before keeling over onto his side, blood pulsing out of where a knife punctured his windpipe. Standing behind him, a slim young woman in black fatigues and a tactical vest reading DHS across the back pockets another slim knife into a sheath at her side, one gloved hand raking thorugh a streak of red in otherwise dark hair, making sure that her earbud is tucked in place. "This is Agent Dunlap, roof is secure." Her eyes flick over to the road, telescopic vision zooming in on a black-clothed DHS security team waiting for the signal to storm the building once the all-clear is sounded.

Celik will probably be somewhere in the building, possibly around back near the loading docks, he leaves the building to run itself most of the time. You should make sure someone watches the back.

"Stop! Federal agent!"

Don't underestimate him, though. Celik— everyone is afraid of him.

A woman's voice carries down the steam-filled brick alleyway, wet and melted snow splashing beneath her dark shoes as she gives chase to the darkly dressed figure that is but a blurry silhouette disappearing through the billowing white clouds issuing forth from the sewer grates. Olivia Rolands' pace is a frantic one, her handgun gripped tightly in both hands, held down at her side, DHS badge on a lariat swinging left and right around her neck.

As she emerges through the steam it peels away from her like a thin layer of gauze, white on her all black suit and winter jacket. Her shoes slide in the slush underfoot, gun comes up to aim at the man she can now see running in full sprint from her, his puffy jacket unzippered and flagging behind him as he runs. "Federal agent!" Olivia screams again, "Stop or I will shoot!"

The escaping man skids to a stop, both fingerless gloved hands lifting up at the side of his head. Frantically breathing, Olivia's shoulders rise and fall rapidly as she stares down the iron-sights of her sidearm, creeping forward out of the steam. "Turn around, slowly and lay face down on the ground!"

As she barks out that order, Agent Roland removes one hand from her gun, reaching down for the walkie clipped to her belt as her quarray slowly begins to make that demanded turn. "Sawyer, Boyce, this is Roland. I've got Celik, we're behind the distillery." When the heavily dressed man finally has himself turned all the way around, however, all that Agent Roland can see beneath the hood of his jacket is a writing mass of cutworms, centipedes, cockroaches and spiders all scurrying around together in some vague mass of human form. Blue eyes grow wide and Roland's voice hitches in the back of her throat, gun wavering as hands begin to tremble.

«Oh God.»

Olivia Roland's voice crackle-pops over the comms of Agent Sawyer and Agent Boyce where they are coming from the opposite end of the alleyway surrounding the distillery. The steam filling the air, generated by one of the Evolved members of Mazdak has created a veil of stunted visibility, impeding their progress once the fighting started.

«No! No stop! Oh God stop! No! No please no!»

Roland's voice cracks over the comms, her screams also audible from the pair of agents as they hustle down the alleyway, melting snow splashing slushily beneath their feet. Rounding a corner past a large stack of old metal shipping containers, Olivia's screams are growing more pronounced, more clear.

"Oh God get them off! Oh God please! Please stop! No! No please stop— //STOP!"

Through the fog, Veronica and Sterling can see two silhouettes, one rolling around on the ground frantically, screaming — clearly Roland. The other is standing statue-still on the far end of the alleyway, barely visible through the mist as the pair of agents make their approach.

When the two silhouettes come into view, Veronica slows to a near-stop; her firearm brought up and aiming at what she thinks must be Celik, a glance down at the writhing form and back. She takes another step forward, putting herself between the two figures and Boyce — if Celik's power is targeted, it's better she be in the forefront.

"Stop, or I'll shoot!" Veronica's husky voice shouts across the distance between them, echoing Roland's words from a few moments before. With her gun trained on the statue-still form she can't make out, she jerks her hair over her shoulder as she hisses to Boyce, "Gas. Now." His throwing arm is probably stronger than hers — depending on who's behind the helm at this moment, anyway.

Long confident strides drive Boyce forward in a spring at the screams over the radio. There's no time to wait, no time to think, just time to react. His gun is already drawn, the barrel of the weapon held out in front of him, while his eyes squint against the misty air. The open wool coat sways against any remote breeze opposite the agent's movement towards the distillery.

He reaches along his belt. Fortunately the agents came well equipped. In what looks like a tear gas canister that only contains negation gas, the male agent grasps the can and twists as he throws as hard as he can, which, thanks to the current personality in command, is pretty hard and far, thrown almost like a baseball pitch, hard and fast.

When the canister sails through the air, pin pulled, the lever ont he side flips off once its out of Boyce's hand and not a moment later does the canister begin hissing violently, spewing a cloud of mustard colored gas out before it clatters to the ground, spitting loudly and spinning in a wild circle. The gas, in conjunction with the mist hanging in the air clouds the alleyway further, the thick and voluminous yellow filling the narrow alley.

Roland rolls onto her side, pawing at her face, sweeping her palms over her skin. "Get them off! Get them off!" The screams rise and fall as she seems to be trying to pull something off of her skin, legs kicking and brushing against each other. Close as they are in the mist, Veronica and Sterling can see that there's nothing on Olivia at all, she's pawing at her face harmlessly, tears streaked down her cheeks in horror, eyes wide and face flushed red.

It's hard to tell if the gas hit Celik, and the thicker negation gas has obscured him entirely. A moment later, a gunshot rings out, blind fire popping in small arms down the alleyway, missing the three agents entirely, but there is minimal things to take cover behind. Even if he's deprived of his ability, Celik still has a gun.

«Agent Sawyer, this is Goodman, come in. What's going on back there?»

The mist and steam created earlier in the raid is slowly thinning, but it does little to help the cloying cover it provides at present, mixed with the natural fog of the unseasonably warm air that surrounded the distillery. Mazdak likely had an atmokinetic in their midsts, the effects of weather manipulation can be long lasting, even after the manipulator stops.

In the fog, footsteps trek softly, scuffing in purposeful strides. "Your gas will not work on me," an accented voice calls out from the thick yellow cloud. "You cannot hurt me. Mazdak — God's liberators — are above you."

A retaliatory peppering of gunshots is heard as Veronica shoots through the cloud of yellow mist and white fog at Celik, ducking to avoid his fire as she zigzags her way to duck behind one of the shipping containers, but avoids the hovering cloud of yellow, watchful of the way it moves in the open air. "You're okay, there's nothing on you," she calls to the blonde, turning back toward Boyce and nodding him toward Roland. "Grab her, get her to cover; I don't want negated," she points out. "Guessing he has telepathy or illusions or something; might not work on me."

She taps her headset. "«Misty as shit out here, Celik took down Roland with what looks like a hallucination of some sort, thinking we're looking at telepathy or illusions ability of some kind.»"

The unsettling nature of the Roland's posture is enough to at least grate on Boyce's nerves, or Jack's nerves as it may stand. His fast paced even staccato'd strides carry him to Roland, closing the rest of the distance between them, and bending down low to grasp the woman, but he doesn't get that far. The distinct sound of sirens fills his ears. Nuclear sirens. Sharp. Loud. Annoying. The nuclear war with Cuba had always been imminent. It was coming. All of the agents knew it was coming. Approximately fifty years in the making it was coming.

Boyce collapses to the ground, alongside Roland, assuming the duck and cover position. His legs tuck into his chest while within his peripheral vision the first of the nuclear attacks transpires. His hands protect the back of his neck, too aware of the impending doom.

To Veronica none of this will make sense. But to Sterling Boyce, or more specifically, Jack Wright, the Cold War just got hot.

In Boyce's mind, the city is shaking, light on the horizon accompanies the blossoming of a dozens of stories tall mushroom cloud that parts the sky open, flushes the snow away and sends a shockwave of thermal wind blowing across the buildings. It's vivid, impossibly so, but swallowed up by the terror of nuclear war, Boyce watches as the world is torn away around him, brickwork explodes, atomic fire consumes both himself and Veronica, the flash causes her skin to smolder, the blast wave blows her flesh off of her bones like parchment paper tossed to the wind.

Somehow Boyce is still impossibly aware of his own demise, of his own skin cooking and the blast wave disintegrating him into flakes of black ash and blackened bones, his shadow burned into the concrete wall he was crouching beside. His screams are harrowing, vivid, real. The tears that roll down his cheeks aren't fake, and they are the only part of this experience that Veronica can feel. She can see the lucid terror in Boyce's eyes, hear him howl, but— for nothing.

This reminds her of a case— her last case with the Company.

Gunshots call out through the yellow smoke again, and Roland is stills creaming for help. Over Veronica's radio, Goodman's voice calls out. «Sawyer, do you need backup? We're waiting on your call.»

She thought she heard something, briefly, while Goodman was talking in her ear. Boyce might have noticed it, were his world not the horrors of war, but instead it falls on Veronica to hear the sound of approaching footsteps down the side of the alley theyd' already come from. Slow, deliberate, someone is sneaking up on them.

«Hold on», she breathes — bringing more back up might just bring more people to fall in terrified piles around her — the more people she has to worry about, even if they are Institute agents, the more distracted she is from what she needs to do.

She darts out suddenly from the container she crouches by, zig zagging toward the building, hoping to get her gun on whoever it is sneaking up on them before the stealthy opponent can do the same to her. She tosses a glance over her shoulder at Boyce and Roland, hoping that whatever hallucination fades sooner than later, before taking a step toward the alley, firearm raised as she looks for her target. 5r

The sheer amount of terror invading Boyce's mind or Jack's mind has its effect. In his state of peaked adrenaline, Boyce's mind has absolutely no anchoring. Nothing keeps Jack in place, particularly with the fear washing over him. And then, all at once, the image is gone. The fear is gone. Boyce clambers to his feet, but only until his gaze moves to Roland. He reaches out to her, and, quite wimpily begins to drag her along the pavement towards cover, "Don't worry Roland, when we're back at the Institute I'll show you where I keep the good drugs and you'll feel waaaay better like Alice in Wonderland. Can you believe the kind of shi—" This incarnation hasn't the raw masculine force of Jack Wright, but he's not entirely useless, no matter what the alters may say. In his dragging, he hears the approaching footsteps.

"Veronica, look out— " he's not a fighter by nature, and he hasn't any actual weapon skills, but theoretically firing is just that, right? Firing a gun at a target. Besides Jack makes it look so easy. Grayer holds out Boyce's gun with no skill as he provides apt 'back-up for Sawyer.

When Veronica's gun levels on the figure that was trying to out-flank her, she's staring face to face with none other than Celik, the man she thought that Roland had been following this entire time. He looks frozen by the presence of her gun, his sunken cheeks drawing back into an expression of fright as eyes widen and lips part, hands raise and he starts to backpedal. But on Boyce's arrival and his shot, gone wide over Celik's shoulder, followed by three more that blow out a nearby window and demolish a poor and defenseless trash can, Celik takes the opportunity to make a move.

His brows furrow, a vein throbs on his forehead and his eyes swirl milky white as he projects Veronica Sawyer's worst fears into her mind…

…except that it just doesn't happen like that.

Celik recoils from his own ability, his jaw opening in a squeaking scream that has stolen his voice, tears welling up in his eyes and arms shielding his face. He lets out a cry of terror and falls backwards onto the ground, weeping when his mind is opened to the horrors of his own worst nightmares. All Veronica Sawyer feels is a subtle pressure in her sinuses and a throb of what might be the onset of a headache that rapidly passes.

Behind the agents, Rland sucks in a shuddering breath, gasping as if in shock, realizing that the hordes of insects that were swarming all over her in fact were hallucinations. She scrambles up onto her feet, looks around just in time to see a hooded figure with a gun leveled up, and throws herself behind the dumpster as the 9mm handgun reports off.

Boyce can see the hooded gunman stepping out of the negation gas, trying to shoot covering fire at Roland, wholly unaware of Boyce and Veronica being sane (relatively speaking for Boyce) and unaffected by Celik's ability. With the mist diminishing, his cover is rapidly fading as well.

Her taser swiftly slid from its holster once more, Agent Sawyer pulses her finger to ensure that Celik is down and out, not taking any chances, but knowing they need him alive if they can, if they're going to be able to find Halebi, then turning to shoot with the firearm at the figure in the mist.

Realizing Boyce is obviously unable to hit the broad side of a barn, she jerks her head toward Celik. "Get him cuffed," Veronica whispers tersely. "And get behind something." She'll cover him.

"Take it easy Roland— it was a real Kobayashi Maru. And remember, the good drugs!" Boyce pointedly waves as he run/hops to where Celik and Veronica are. He reaches to his belt for the handcuffs only to get them tangled between each other; he doesn't understand utility belts, particularly ones maintained by his alter. Technology he gets. Hands on skills? Not so much.

The cuffs are clamped on the target and Boyce, much like he had dragged Roland, tugs on the cuffs to prompt Celik into motion. "C'mon you… scruffy looking nerf-herder."

As Boyce is dragging a panicking and electrocuted Celik away from his own hysterical screaming, Veronica can spot the gunman making a break for the opposite end of the alleyway. His booted feet slam down on the pavement as he disappears out of sight around a corner and into the narrow passage that winds between the distillery and other industrial parks. There's only so far he can run, with the DHS perimeter in place, but depending on what this man's real ability is, once the gas wears off he might be able to find his own way out.

Roland starts to get up, preparing to break after the man again in chase, but her head swims and nausea sets in from her hyperventillating and panicking earlier. Instead, her knees buckle and she collapses to the side against the shipping container she was crouched beside. "Ss— Someone…" She has just enough frame of mind to pick up her walkie and depress the side button, slurring out a warning into it. "Someone's running— headed southwest towards— towards the parking lot for the Pennsylvania Rubber Factory."

Roland closes her eyes, swallows loudly, and tries to resist vomiting.

«Following a gunman, he's heading down the alley behind the distillery. Boyce has Celik. Send someone in to help Roland» Veronica murmurs into her radio set as she takes off. Her feet pound the pavement in pursuit of the man around the corner, as she reloads her weapon on the run, firing if and when she gets a clear shot.

It's been a long time since Veronica has been in foot-pursuit of someone, even longer since she felt a surge of adrenaline behind it. It harkens back to her days with the Company, days bagging and tagging, days fighting for dominance over the Institute in those twilight months. It's disorienting to hear Roger Goodman's voice in her earpiece. «Affirmative, we're sending DHS in to tighten the perimeter.»

She killed him. She lured him out into the open, and Veronica Sawyer was the death of him, right as Goodman was revealing the truth about what the Company did to her, did to her family. With each thundering footfall running down this alley, Veronica is reminded of just how much she's sacrificed to be where she is now.

Her father, her family, her loves, her identity.

Only when Veronica feels the kick of her gun and hears the report does she snap out of that train of thought, watching a hooded man cartwheel forward after being clipped in the shoulder by a frangible plastic round. Tripped up by the gunshot and with a face full of asphalt, the Mazdak member Veronica had been chasing rolls over onto his back as she approaches blood running down his face where he'd struck the pavement and broken his nose, peeled skin off of his lips.

It's young Arabic boy — not a man — no older than fourteen and staring up wide-eyed at Veronica. There's fear in his eyes, his hands trembling as he moves them away from where his gun was lost in the tumbling fall. Veronica Sawyer has sacrificed everything in her life to get right here, and for what?

No internal monologue has that answer.

«Don't shoot!» Veronica shouts into the radio. «It's a kid.» Her brown eyes are wide as she stares into his face, her own contorting with anger at this world that makes terrorists out of children. She raises her hands to the kid in a sort of gesture of surrender though she holds a gun in one and a taser in the other.

"Don't run," she murmurs to him. "You don't have to get any more hurt, all right? I'm sorry I hurt you."

Her firearm is slid slowly into her holster as she keeps the taser ready, moving in slow, deliberate and unstartling movements to the gun he dropped in order to retrieve it, never letting her eyes leave his, finger ready on the trigger of the taser. Questions bubble at the back of her mind, wondering what has happened in his life to bring him here, like her — if his need to fight is in search for revenge, like hers once was; his childhood clearly stolen from him, earlier than her own.

Perhaps in some semblance of mercy, the boy doesn't leap for his gun. Too hurt, too scared, too pitiful to do anything else. With Celik down and the cell scattered to the winds or captured, the boy stares up at Veronica in mixture of horror and confusion, throat working up and down in a dry swallow.

«Affirmative,» Goodman's voice hauntingly echoes in their earpieces, «I'll give DHS the order to come in and clean up. Good job out there, Agents.» Even as Goodman is praising her, praising the team for their efforts, the boy laying prone on the ground has such palpable fear in his eyes that it is unsurprising that he is frozen in such dread.

Staring down the iron sights of her sidearm at a teenage boy, Veronica is left with the platitudes of a job well done, but still no sign of Amid Halebi — the Engineer — and the real threat behind what is going on. What she has obtained, however, aside from the professional success of a mission completed, is a whole new slew of doubts and worries.

Further down the alleyway, Celik has gone into convulsions, laying on his back with his eyes rolled in his head, shaking from a seisure. By the time he blacks out, darkly dressed Homeland Security counter-terrorism task force members are hustling down the alley towards where Boyce has secured Celik and where Roland is struggling to get a hole of herself.

She affords Boyce a look, one of guilt and jealousy — how did he recover so fast is painted in her expression.

Swallowing hard, Veronica moves in to handcuff the boy, murmuring assurances rather than threats — perhaps to make herself feel better. She knows he must have an ability, but hopes that kindness and respect will keep him from lashing out and using it on her, or perhaps — and what might be, in Veronica's mind, worse — himself, thanks to her unpredictable ability.

«Kid or Celik might know where Halebi is. Roland's gonna need a trip to the shrink.» Boyce — well, Veronica knows the shrinks can't do much for him or he wouldn't be the way he is. Clearly.

Roland is tosses a lopsided grin as Boyce shrugs at her. "Alright— so I promised you the good pot when we get back. It's kind of like reaching Nirvana. I have this secret," his voice lowers considerably "stash. Somewhere. Seeeeekrit." He nods sagely as Celik is forgotten by the pothead. "Then, once we're all good and high we can balance equations and like talk philosophy." He emits a high-pitched whistle from his mouth as he shrugs Jack's coat from his shoulders.

"It'll be nerdvana my friend. Oooooooh!!! We can totally smoke up and then watch all of the trek movies in a row. That always makes ME feel better." And thusly it should make everyone feel better.

Slouched up against a corrugated metal shipping container, Roland's lazy stare levels on Boyce with brows furrowed, lips parted in slack-jawed confusion, and a look of disbelief plastered across her face. She chuffs out a breath of laughter and covers her face with one hand as the counter-terrorism agents march past, checking alleyways and knocking in doors, performing a thourough sweep of the area. Boyce finds three of these helmeted and flack-jacketed men crouching down nearby, "Are you alright, sir?" Another pair grabbing Celik's unconscious form and dragging him off.

Further down the alley, Veronica can hear the booted feet of the calvary coming, rushing in with assault rifles drawn, barking orders for the young boy to get down on the ground. One of them is holstering his gun, withdrawing a pneumatic syringe from a clip on his belt. The boy is hoisted up onto his feet, blood still dribbling down his face from the scrapes to his nose and mouth. Two DHS operatives wrench his head back and a third presses the syringe up to his neck, a hiss injecting him with the ability negating neuro-toxin.

He's bound with zip ties at the wrist, his wide brown eyes staring at Veronica the entire time until he's dragged away. Only a subtle flash of violet light against the brick walls and garbage filling the alley alerts Veronica to the presence of another person, a familiar person, checking up on her.

Roger Goodman walks up beside Sawyer, watching the boy being dragged away by the black-clad members of DHS. "Was it the right choice?" Goodman asks, turning dark eyes askance to Veronica. It's a rhetorical question, of course, and it's debatable as to whether he's talking about what is happening to the boy, or the choice Veronica made that day with Goodman's life hanging in the balance.

He doesn't expect an answer, nor does he wait for one. With Roger, Veronica has come to expect the rhetorical. The question was for her to hear, and for her to answer in time.

Or never.

Whichever comes first.

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