Branching Out


avi_icon.gif julie_icon.gif devon_icon.gif

Scene Title Branching Out
Synopsis Emily Epstein's family track down the young woman suspected to be responsible for turning her into a tree.
Date October 01, 2020

The first clues of what happened after Ali Underwood left the Safe Zone took days to put together. She did not leave through any of the usual checkpoints. She abandoned her phone and credit cards. She had borrowed a campus greenhouse van and taken a bunch of plants, including fruit bearing trees, and left town. She stripped the van of it’s plates and traded it for a beat down old truck that wasn’t even licensed at a farm outside the Safe Zone. Any further transactions she made on the drive west had been in trade, the fruit and the trees that she had taken from the greenhouse.

They followed the trail as best they could, but they had lost it many times.

She hadn’t stayed anywhere longer than a night. After a while, she abandoned the truck.

She hadn’t even made it out of the state of New York.

But that was when they lost track of her. Someone must have picked her up, someone must have fallen for her sweet smile and pretty looks and helped her out, because there was no sign of her for a while.

Until she showed up on facial recognition outside of Washington K.C. She was spotted near a car that was again flagged heading south on Route-13 earlier today.

SESA in KC had flagged her, contacted Corbin Ayers in NY-SZ and he in turn contacted Avi Epstein. Wolfhound had a small job— a personal job. And someone who was going to be coming along to help.

North of Osceola, Missouri
Missouri Route 13, South Bound

October 01, 2020
8:42 pm

Double lanes on both sides, these highways are in very good condition compared to some of the more war-torn areas, and construction on either side shows they intend to expand them, but they’re not particularly busy at the moment. It seems some people around here don’t understand not to use their brights, either, because every so often they get greeted by too bright of headlights— and sometimes they notice someone who hadn’t even had them on until it got so dark.

The radio from KC has started to go out, the radio signals hitting their horizon range and no longer reaching the rented car’s antennae. A Billy Joel song cuts in and out, telling them how they may be wrong but they may be right and they may be crazy, but it starts getting worse and worse the further south they go.

“Can you please shut that fucking song off?” Avi Epstein asks from the cramped back seat of their Civis. He sits forward, shoulders hunched and knees bend awkwardly to fit him in a space too small for a man his height. “Please?

A pair of blue eyes regard Avi in the rear view mirror, long fingers with bright pink nails twist the volume knob up. “What?” Julie Fournier-Raith mock-shouts over the stuttering radio signal and the electric whirr of the car’s engine. “I can’t hear you!

Julie cracks a smile and brings her hand back to the steering wheel, easing onto the gas more. She blinks a look to the side, red-shadowed eyes settling on the person in the passenger seat. “He gets cranky on long rides, doesn’t he?”

Turning slightly in his seat, Devon Clendaniel draws his attention off the world zipping past his window to refocus on the present. He blinks at the vaguely different change in scenery through the windshield, slants a glance for the radio and its inability to hold its station, then looks over his shoulder to the sardined Avi. He barely suppresses the smirking grin, both over the older man’s contortionist tricks and Julie’s ribbing. It's like any kind of trip with siblings.

“This is nothing,” he replies, as if Avi weren't sitting two feet away. Dev faces forward again, fusses with the radio knob to find something a little less static and a little more music. “One time he let me drive and I didn't stop for lunch. You'd think someone had made a pot of decaf the way he pissed about it.”

The radio switches to another station that’s clearer, another song fading out as Julie continues to drive and Devon finishes his story. A new song starts to play, coming in with a new rhythmic, very, very eighties pop sound.

I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Watch you weave then breathe your story lines

Hey.” Avi barks from the back, leaning forward with a hand on both Julie and Devon’s seats. “Need I remind you both who paid for this rental car? Because neither of you children were old enough to— ”

Julie cranks up the volume on the radio, then without looking back plants her palm square in the middle of Avi’s face and pushes him back into his seat.

And I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Keep track of the visions in my eyes

So how long have you and Emily been dating, anyway??” Julie shout-asks over the roar of the radio. Somewhere in the back of the car, Avi is grousing, but it’s mostly just white noise at this point. “I remember she was seeing somebody! Then she moved out!

Julie angles a side-eye over at Devon, looking him up and down with an inspecting stare.

Something catches in Devon’s through and triggers a cough when Avi is palmed into his place in the back seat. And he covers it with the inside of his elbow. He's not at all laughing quietly at Julie’s control over the situation, not him. He knows better.

While, she's deceiving me
It cuts my security
Has she got control of me?
I turn to her and say

Julie’s question brings a small, crooked grin that slips just after forming and becomes a shrug. Dev turns to look at Julie before answering. “About a year.” Hes not sure on the exact date, however, “We sort of made it official a couple of months after I got back from a big operation last year!” A quick slant of his eyes darts a glance to Avi, maybe anticipating more ire from the man who's both his boss and girlfriend’s father.

The radio continues to yell out the song, showing just how good the speakers of the car really were. They can feel the rumbling of the bass in their bones as Devon endures his interrogation. The lights of cars continue to whiz by them, completely unaware of anything going on in the vehicle. A sign on the road advertises a Cheese store up ahead, very clean bathrooms, cheese samples, snacks and drinks.

Don't switch the blade on the guy in shades, oh no
Don't masquerade with the guy in shades, oh no
I can't believe it
'Cause you've got it made with the guy in shades, oh no

Ooh, ooh! Mom can we stop and get some cheese!?” Avi shouts from the back of the car with a helpless toss of his hands up into the air. Julie catches a look at him in the rear-view mirror, then angles her attention over to Devon, one brow raised. She looks him up and down again, then nods slowly as if there was something more meaningful to his answer that not even Devon realized.

Julie taps the right directional on and slowly moves into the exit lane. She shrugs, turning off for the exit marked with signage for rest stops, gas, and as the sign up the road had advertised, Cheese. She’d been driving long enough, anyway. It was Devon’s turn, next, and maybe eventually Avi would get a chance to get out of the back.

Not that she would tell him.

I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Forget my name while you collect your claim

The cheese factory wasn’t nearly as big as the sign made it sound, a glorified convenience store with rows and rows of refrigerated cheese in little sample containers with toothpicks they could pick out cheese squares with and taste test. They could buy beef sticks, jerky, candy, sodas, all the norms, but they only had a short time till closing when they pulled up.

And that’s when they got a phone call. The SESA branch down in Springfield had set up roadblocks at most of the major exits, but the car hadn’t passed by any of them yet. There are no active accident reports, but there might have been a side road she could have had the driver pull off on.

South of Osceola, Missouri
Missouri Route 13, South Bound

9:21 pm

The headlights of the Civis highlight a sight they probably hadn’t expected to see off the side of the road. Avi had spotted it from the back seat. It had been far enough off the road that the driver would have had to look away too much to see it.

A car.

Upside down.

In a tree.

A blue 1993 Ford Festiva. The same one that Ali had been spotted getting into. It’s the first time on their trail they’ve found a few trees, one whose branches reach through the metal windows and broken windshield, tearing through the tire and the axel. Most people might not have even noticed it, though the full foliage of the tree, complete with ripe, fat lumpy fruits that hang from the branches.

From the way the grass at the shoulder is pressed down, the car pulled off the road drove a little into the grass, and then—

Got pulled up into the tree as it burst out of the ground, roots digging into the shoulder, but not damaging the asphalt.

The civis rolls to a stop. Electric engine idling silently. The passenger side door opens first, and Julie steps out and looks from headlights and up, lips slowly parted. It takes her a minute to speak.

“Now, how the fuck do you think something like that happens?” Julie says with a slow shake of her head.

“Usually when you crash into a Whomping Willow,” Devon answers as he exits from the driver’s seat. “Or you piss off the wrong aggrokinetic.” It's more of a guess, and given as he takes a few steps from the still running Civis for a closer look in the gloom.

Gravel crunches beneath his shoes as he walks along the shoulder. “It’s…” A toe gently taps a root, while his eyes follow it to the trunk and up. Dev turns to look at Julie and Avi. “This couldn't've just grown this way. The road would've been cracked and buckled from the roots.”

The others don’t really see it, but Julie can feel it. There’s someone present that isn’t visible. Behind the tree, against the thick trunk. A presence that radiates expressive energy. Once she would have been able to borrow that ability, share it with her sister over a distance, but now she could only read it, feel what it was— it felt unlike any ability she had ever felt. A mutated ability, a broken ability. An ability that should have been something else, but had been mangled into another form, spoiled to do something it probably shouldn’t have been able to. It could have been something beautiful, something healing and helpful.

Instead it was horrific. It was spoiled.

It almost hurt to look at closely.

And she was right there. Not even fifty feet away. Hidden from view and almost blocked from her senses by a few feet of not-really-wood.

Julie tenses, putting her back to the presence and facing Avi as he gets out of the car. “What the fuck do we do now!?” Is what she says, but her expression conveys none of the vitriol that her voice does. It is a purposeful juxtaposition that is met by a bear of silence and a side-eye in the direction of the tree.

Avi only half gets what Julie’s trying to convey. He steps around her, one hand at the small of his back as he twists while walking, a pop from his lower back met with a soft grunt. “Maybe we stop using our outside voices, for one…” Avi grumbles, slowly approaching the tree with one eye squinted.

“You think that was the driver?” Avi asks, chin tilted up so he can take in the full height of the tree. At the same time he fishes his pocket flashlight out of his jacket, clicking it on to scan the upper branches.

That thought hadn’t dawned on Julie. When she turns to face the tree she does a poor job of not looking directly at where she feels the presence of that ability. Though rather than try to continue and drill subtlety into Avi’s head, she instead looks at Devon with a pointed concern, then back to that spot.

The back and forth between Avi and Julie is given a long side eye, but Devon chooses not to engage this time. Mom and Dad are fighting again and someone has to be the adult and figure out what's up with this tree in the middle of nowhere. However he has doubts about his level of experience for that job class too.

So, he lets Avi go exploring branches. Julie’s look is returned, although he's not very sure about what she's trying to get at. He wanders from the roots at the shoulder of the road to stand beside Julie, and tracks her line of sight to the tree.

“Something over there?” Devon keeps his attention on the tree, but his voice pitches quietly, directed at the woman. “Did you… Do you see something?” He doesn't know much about Julie, if she's got an ability that's drawing her to the tree. Maybe they should get a closer look also. “Let's go over, maybe it'll be more clear?”

As Avi examines the tree, he notices something with the additional light from his flashlight— there’s blood running down the side of the trunk. Much more than could account for even a single driver, really. There’s a limb that’s broken and cut, a bleeding wound that’s spilling out a thick liquid that’s definitely not sap. Now that he sees it, he can almost smell it. The others might notice, if the light lingers long enough. The passenger door hangs open, the seat almost pulled out, a shoe dangling from a tear in the metal siding. Not a cute strappy shoe with a heel or anything, but still with colorful laces, but still not really meant for hiking in the woods or anything of the like. Something for a college campus, or a comfortable city street.

The trunk hung open, spilling out a toolbox onto the ground, and a donut— the tire variety, not the kind of someone would like to have for breakfast. Avi makes a quick inventory and may notice that not all the tools are accounted for, but that could be because the car may not have carried a full set in the first place. But it seemed suspicious that they lacked a tire iron.

No road flares, either, but that could be more expected.

There’s no movement from behind the wide trunk, where Julie can still sense that presence. It’s still there. The sound of crickets and night bugs and the cars continuing down the road overpower any other sounds. None of the cars stop, though some do slow down, the inevitable curiosity that everyone has, wondering what’s got someone stopped on the side of the road, but also not wanting to inconvenience themselves to actually stop and find out.

Shhhut up,” Julie hisses at Devon, grabbing him by the sleeve to hold him in place. “It’s hiding. Whatever it is.” She looks over to Avi, who lumbers in that direction like archival footage of Sasquatch through an old forest. Julie about kills Avi with a look, jaw clenched and eyes wide. Her fingers wind so tightly into Devon’s sleeve he can feel her nails in his bicep.

Ollie ollie oxenfree!” Avi bellows at the top of his lungs, cupping his hands around his mouth as he walks around near where the car is suspended up in the tree overhead. He reaches behind himself, lifting up the back of his light jacket, revealing a .45 caliber handgun tucked into the back of his pants. He wraps his fingers around the grip, and Julie’s face flushes red with anger.

“Any tree huggers out here?” Avi calls in a sing-song voice into the woods. “Or did you leaf already?”

Devon makes a face. It's the exact face, actually, that he'd make when it was Kettle digging claws into some part of arm or hand or leg unexpectedly — only it's Julie causing the pained look of what is your issue. It's interrupted, or it's redirected perhaps, when Avi begins bellowing like a lunatic.

“We really can't take him anywhere,” he deadpans once the singing begins.

He tugs at his arm, then gives Julie a look of mild annoyance. It's hard to say which of the two it's meant for, especially after he makes a sound and gives up trying to pry lady claws from his arm.

“Julie.” Dev waves a finger to draw her attention off Avi for two minutes and onto him. “Ignore Buddy Holly, focus on… whatever. The tree. What's hiding over there?”

The presence moves.

At first it’s just a shadow, cast in the edge of the tree, but then she comes into the light, with darks and lights of contrasts. They’ve all seen her picture. A sweet smiling girl with long dark blonde hair, a pretty face, medium height and build, friendly looking, pale eyes. Her hair hangs in her face, matted dark with blood, one of her arms hangs at her side, and she drags her leg. Her clothes are torn. She’s missing a shoe. It’s hard to tell where she’s actually injured and if the blood is from her or from the tree but— Ali doesn’t look to be in the best of shape.


Only one of her hands are visible. She looks at them for a moment. Her head tilts to the side. “I was going to play up the ‘oh no, my car drove off the road and I’m hurt’… but I know you.” She looks at Avi. Then at Devon. Yes. She’s seen them. She was friends with Emily for almost a whole year after all, even if she’d never actually met the girl’s family or her boyfriend. They weren’t at that stage of their friendship, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t seen pictures, or shared conversations about family and boys.

And she might have still attempted it—

If Avi hadn’t started singing like that. There’s something a little— crazy about the way she smiles. “Did you come all this way for little ol’ me?”

“Yeah.” Avi says before quickly shooting Ali in the leg.

The gunshot’s report causes Julie to startle, hands trembling and snapping to cover her mouth and hold in a scream. But Avi trains his aim up, cocks the hammer back.

“For what it’s worth I was aiming for your s—” is about as far as Avi gets before Julie punches him square in the face and knocks him over onto his side. The young blonde shakes her hand, hissing as she flexes fingers open and closed. Avi wasn’t expecting the hit and was knocked flat on his ass, gun a few feet away from him with hammer still precariously cocked back.

One second, Devon is trying to grab Julie’s attention and figure out what the hell is going on, then next he’s half ducking at the sudden, unexpected sound of gunfire. Somewhere in between the two separate events he’d turned to give Ali a scrupulous look — he doesn’t recognize her, there’s a note of disbelief in the injured presentation. That smile is chilling.

He regroups just in time to see Julie sucker punch Avi. It’s just enough to spur him into action. He sprints the short distance to the freed gun, to take possession of it and release the hammer before anyone else decides to use it.

“The fuck’re you doing?!” Devon’s voice cracks under the strain of the moment. He tucks the gun into the waist of his jeans, before turning on Avi. “You can’t just…” He’d say the older man couldn’t just go shooting people, but he’d have possibly done the same thing, if he hadn’t been beaten to the proverbial punch — even if it might’ve landed him a literal one. Just the same, he angles to put himself between Ali and Avi, hopefully giving Julie a chance to check the psycho woman over. “Did you even listen before you pulled the trigger? You… get your ass back to the car and think about what you did wrong!”

The bullet tears through flesh and bone and strikes the ground behind Ali and she drops down to the ground with a thud. The thud is actually a fire axe falling to hit the roots— she had been holding it out of sight half behind her but dropped it as the bullet tore through muscle and bone. As the other two react to him, she reaches out and touches the root of the tree, tears in her eyes as she rests on her knees.

There’s a sound coming from her, that at first might sound like cries—

Until they have a moment to listen.

She’s laughing.

She’s laughing.

Those tears in her eyes suddenly had a new meaning. She has that smile on her face that might remind Avi of the craziest people he’s seen in his many years of hunting down crazy people. And then some. She was a prize, all right. Every picture they’d seen, she had looked so normal, so sweet, so happy, so perfect.

She had been lying. She had been acting. She had been a wolf hiding behind the mask of a sheep. A venus flytrap, pretending to be a daisy.

“She shot me too… But you made a big mistake…” there was something in her voice that was very— sing-song.

Her hand moves to the root of the tree. A branch drops down immediately, blocking her from sight once again, the car rolls out of the branches with a tear of metal and breaking of glass, rolling towards them. And there’s screaming, suddenly. Guttural, horrific screaming. Inhuman, even.

It’s the tree.

And Julie might then realize that this young woman’s ability was never just transformation. It had been manipulation.

Epstein!” Julie shouts as she scrambles back away from the tree, away from the car now rolling across the forest floor, flinging broken pine boughs and dirt with each mid-air turn. Julie’s shoes scuff and scrape over moss-covered rocks as she scrambles up the embankment toward the road, getting only halfway up before relenting.

Avi doesn’t have time to do much else other than lay flat, covering the back of his head with hands laced together, hoping the rolling car has enough terrain to bounce off of or crash into rather than land directly on top of him.

Devon’s head whips around to Ali as she starts going off again. He takes a breath, fully intending to turn his irritation from Avi to Ali, right up until the tree moves and sends the car careening toward them.

Sensibility abandons him.

While Julie and Avi both take reasonable, mostly smart measures in the face of oncoming danger, he takes the third option and runs toward it. He isn't just running — not like in a long distance race where pacing is required — he's sprinting. The car looks nothing like the robots that are a literal bane to his existence, but he's had practice at this very maneuver.

Feet hit the ground hard, with every step propelling Devon nearer and nearer. One hand reaches out as if to accept the baton in a relay. But he's going for the car, to grab onto it. To maybe even tap into his ability and throw the vehicle off course.

The plan goes well. As soon as Devon’s hand touches the car, he can feel his ability synchronize with the 1993 Ford Festiva and its light metal chassis. That frame, technically, wasn’t even that much anymore, with parts of it ripped away by the tree growing up around it. Short a tire, part of the windshield, part of the passenger door, a good portion of the trunk— the weight had been siphoned off quite a bit already. The car itself was compact enough that he could hold it, control it. His ability had it in its pull.

The tree, though, was screaming. The whomping willow of the movie hadn’t moved with this realism. The roots writhe in the ground, ripping up the dirt and gravel of the shoulder, the branches thrash. And those screams. They seem to be coming from multiple areas of the tree. The trunk, the branches, Leaves start to rain down around them. Leaves and led sticky droplets of blood and wood and splinters.

There’s cars on the road that have stopped. Some keep driving even faster, but those won’t continue much more, as the ones who stop start to block the road. A few already have cellphones coming out.

“Son of a bitch!” Avi hollars as he pushes up from the dirt, spitting soil out of his mouth. He looks up to the car Devon has, hanging suspended in the air like a balloon with his synchronization, and then looks to the tree. He scrambles on the ground, picking up a decent-sized rock in one hand. That’s when he feels Julie’s hand on his arm.

“Easy, Tarzan.” Julie says with a stern blue-eyed stare up at him. Avi’s jaw tenses but his arm relaxes. He opens his mouth to ask her what she’s going to do, and Julie negotiates her way around Avi and over to Devon. Her eyes track up from him to the car’s undercarriage, then to the tree.

Ali,” Julie calls out firmly. “The car’s leaking gas. Probably was while it was in the branches, too. You can smell it in the air, right?” She has to project her voice and speak up louder than she normally does to be heard over the traffic and the tree noise. “All it’ll take is one spark, and you… and that tree… go up.”

Julie’s jaw sets and she withdraws a cheap plastic lighter from her back pocket. “In my medical experience, most people who burn alive don’t die from their injuries right away. It takes weeks.” She rolls her thumb over the flint wheel, creating sparks.

Come out.” Is Julie’s coldly delivered threat. “Now.”

The car crashing into the ground should be the punctuation to Julie’s demands. It still could be. But it also marks Devon’s growing need for a drink. Or maybe one of the brownies from Cat’s Cradle. Or just an aspirin. He turns a warning look to Julie, but stamps down on the urge to send her to the car too. It's Avi who's given a cold and quiet, “Don’t make me repeat myself.” Maybe he needs three aspirins.

As for Ali, he's done with her games. He steps around the car, crosses the swath of torn up earth and brush to approach the tree and its controller.

“You have two options.” He speaks loudly now, with an authority he wasn't officially given but claimed out of necessity. “Come out willingly, turn my girlfriend back to her proper self and fix all this fucking bullshit you pulled turning people into trees, and we will work for a lighter sentence.” Because he's sure there's no way any of them are going to just let Ali get off without repercussions. “Or.”

Devon steps sideways, so he can see around the branch obscuring the woman. “Keep on with the psycho bitch act,” he continues, a cold, angry edge in his tone and expression, “and you will understand every second of every minute of torture that you have inflicted on each one of those people. I will personally see to it that the only time you experience daylight or fresh air again will be when you're turning your victims back.”

Mid-horrific scream, the tree suddenly stops. There’s almost a silence in the air. Even the bugs had stopped making their usual noises, for the moment, the cars on the highway have stopped moving. It’s quiet for a moment that stretches on. Ali isn’t on her feet, nor does she move closer to them, but she also stopped moving away— crawling really. It had been difficult when she couldn’t let go of the roots, and could not stand because of the shot leg. She probably wasn’t going to get very far. “A failure til the end, Cliff,” she murmurs, looking over at the tree from where she moves to sit.

The leg continues to bleed, but it looks as if the bullet tore straight through. “Couldn’t even smash one of them for me.”

Her disappointed expression belies the pain she should be in. “Why would I undo it?” she asks, with a grin of sorts that continues to make her look manic. Not sane. Like someone who definitely needs to not see the light of day ever again. “Dealing with people— that’s the biggest cause of pain.”

“You want to test that theory?” Julie says sharply, thumb on the flint of her lighter.

“Trust me,” Avi says with a grunt of effort, dropping the rock he was holding. “You won’t have to deal with anyone in prison. I’m sure they’ll have a nice solitary cell for you in a little fucking garden somewhere.”

With the tree going still, Devon slowly approaches Ali. “If you don’t turn every single victim back,” he begins, enunciation honing each word into a fine edge. “Then I will make very certain that you will relive the same pain and torment you have inflicted on each and every one of those people whose lives you’ve cut through with your selfishness. You see…”

Taking a knee, once he’s close to the psycho bitch, he pushes his sleeves back. “I have connections,” he explains, tone turning around completely to conversational. The underlying threat he presents hasn’t disappeared though, there’s calculation in the way that he isn’t looking at Ali as he speaks, but at that wound through her leg. “And those connections have a pretty far reach. And.”

Devon carefully presses a hand to each side of the wound, giving far more care than his tone likely implies. He might as well be explaining the process of dissecting a frog. “We have some mighty imaginations. Collectively. My friends over there, too.” He nods toward the other two, then finally looks up to meet Ali’s gaze.

“Avi, bring the car around.” Casual, like he’s done this a million times. “Julie, I’m going to need the tire iron and jumper cables. We need to cauterize this before she bleeds out.”

As Devon’s hands touch her leg, he will feel that, at least, it doesn’t seem like her artery was severed. Ali probably won’t bleed out quickly at the very least. It might still happen without at least a tourniquet, but it won’t happen in minutes. Perhaps thankfully, considering they wanted her to undo what she had done before. She watches him for a moment, that wild eyed look fading a little, becoming more— human suddenly. Almost helpless.

The mask was back on.

“I didn’t want to hurt them. They were supposed to be happier— supposed to live longer. Emily will be able to live hundreds of years as a tree, you do know that, right? If I turn her back, she won’t.” She says it like she was doing her such a huge favor, not that she knows for sure the people turned with her ability will actually live as long as a tree would supposedly live— it’s not like she could scientifically test that theory out.

There’s that softness in her voice, that hint that she’s just a sweet, innocent girl all of a sudden again. “I can change them back. I’ve tested it with animals— but it takes time. If you want Emily back you’ll leave Cliff here as a tree for a little while. Trust me. He deserved it.”

“There’s a hospital about a half hour’s drive the other way,” Avi says as he tenderly touches his face, offering an askance look over to Julie, noticing the unusually tense expression she has. “Hey,” he tries to get her attention, but when she looks up at him there’s something about the expression she wears that gives Avi a minute of pause.

Julie steps over to Devon as she tucks the lighter back in her pocket. “How about you let the medical professional take care of this, instead of trying to treat her like a flat tire?” She asks flatly. It’s a statement, not a question. Julie fixes Devon with a purposeful look before turning her focus back to Avi. Now he understands.

“C’mon,” Avi suddenly agrees, “I think we’ve scared her into compliance. If we need to go Abu Gharib to fix the leg wound we will but…” he trails off. “Let’s see what Doc Suckerpunch can do.”

Julie, in turn, closes some of the distance to Ali, but not all of it. She waits for Devon to allow her over.

Devon swallows the anger that simmers as Ali’s facade returns. His hands draw back from the wound in her leg, Julie and Avi’s voices wash around him, eventually allowing their words to stall his arguments and attempts at reasoning with the psychopath.

A look slants to Julie when she gets closer, but Devon lifts from his kneeling position and takes a few steps back. After a beat, he takes several more, walking toward Avi with an untrusting look always at Ali.

While Devon didn’t fit the profile, Julie— did.

A little too closely, really. Even more than Emily had, in some cases, if Ali knew about her past and her lost sister, but the injured woman doesn’t even twitch as she gets within reach. There’s no viper strike of attack. She notices the hesitation on Devon’s face though, and chuckling softly under her breath. That hints towards the psycho-bitch once again, without quite dropping into it completely. “You look a little bit like her,” she murmurs quietly.

Who she means is hopefully Emily.

“Don’t worry, Devon,” yes, she knew his name, probably from Emily. Amazing that she remembered it so well, though. “If I could turn everybody who got too close into a tree, we’d probably not be worried about global warming anymore.” It’s kind of a joke, said with some pain lacing a voice that’s also now sounding tired.

“Lignification,” Julie says flatly when she finishes closing the distance to Ali. “That’s what we classified your ability as…” Though Julie doesn’t give any real indication of what she’s talking about as she guides Ali to sit down on a rock by the roadside, but to keep her injured leg extended. “I studied someone with your ability, once. They were from Bosnia, immigrated to the US in the mid nineties, managed to stay off the radar because no one knew what they could do.”

As she talks, Julie gently presses a hand to the pulsing wound, lips pressing together in a thin line before she shoots a sharp look at Avi, who is closing the ranks with Devon, then back down again. The gunshot may not have hit an artery, but it’s significant and severe. Julie reaches up and scratches her brow for a moment. As if to stop the bleeding, Julie presses both of her hands over the gunshot wound without much regard to the stabbing discomfort it causes.

“He slipped up when he accidentally turned his son and wife into plants,” Julie explains in a hushed voice. “He tried to commit suicide, but didn’t succeed. That’s when we found him, took him in for observation.” The stabbing pain is replaced by something else, a lingering sensation of something moving inside of Ali’s skin, like snakes and worms burrowing through flesh and bone. Like her muscles had come alive and were trying to escape her body.

“In the end,” Julie continues her story, “he did succeed at killing himself.” She looks up to Ali with a dead-eyed stare. “He became accustomed to his negation routine, knocked out the doctor who was delivering his next dose, and turned himself into a tree. We had no way of turning him back,” she explains. “So we left him in the arcology garden by a park bench.”

Motion and movement coming toward him draws Devon’s focus briefly off Julie and Ali. He stares at Avi, a cold sort of calculation hardening his expression, the sort sometimes seen in soldiers who've witnessed their comrades suffer and promised recompense tenfold. His jaw clenches, lips pressed into a thin line, the short hike from Julie and the psychopath halting.

As the blonde woman talks about her ability, Ali actually seems to listen, wincing as she’s moved and touched, but interested in the words that she’s told even then, until she’s sat on the rock and feels— something. “If he turned himself into a tree, he didn’t actually die,” she corrects, quietly, softly, but it’s weaker than it had been when she’d been manic, earlier, as if the movement had taken something out of her. Or—

Or the way the bleeding under Julie’s hands slows might have something to do with that. There had been some additional side effects, she had transferred some of her pain and shock to the tree— and that was no longer happening. She was beginning to shake a little, the cold setting in as the blood drained from her face more. “Not then, at least. Later. But not then. Who knows— might even still be there, somewhere. Underground. Waiting.” She laughs a little, then shakes her head. Everyone knew what happened to “the arcology”.

“Probably not, though.” With that, she exhales a small sigh. “Lignification. Not bad… Dr. Marten might have liked that.”

“I don’t care.” Julie says flatly, lifting her hand away from the wound. There’s blood on her palms, but the bleeding from both the entrance and exit wound has stopped. The wound is puffy now, sore and aggravated but it feels like it’s healing.

“You’re going to experience the effects of negation for about twelve hours,” Julie says like a doctor describing the side-effects of medication, “I won’t be able to treat you again even if I wanted to. But unless you want me to put my thumb in that and twist it back open, you’re going to give me the one thing in this world I care about.” She rests her hand on Ali’s knee, squeezing it firmly. “You’re going to give me back my fucking cousin.”

At a distance, Avi claps a hand on Devon’s shoulder, squinting at Julie and trying to figure out what’s going on when there’s no tourniquet or bandages, but the bleeding looks to have stopped. He tamps down whatever questions he had, then looks to the cars stopped on the side of the road. “I’m gonna go tend the zoo,” Avi explains, leaning away from Devon. “If that crazy bitch so much as flinches, knock her the fuck out.”

Devon shifts a look, following Avi’s, to the gaggle of cars and onlookers. “Yeah,” he agrees quietly. Before he turns to make his way back to Julie, he reaches to his back and the handgun tucked into his waistband. It's drawn then turned back over to Avi. “Don't shoot anyone else,” is meant to be humorous, and maybe between soldiers it is. He meets the older man’s gaze briefly, then turns to close some of the distance to Julie.

The threat seems to be taken seriously enough, because Ali stays silent as they talk around her, watching Julie more than the other two for the moment. Avi may have been the one who shot her, Devon may have been the one who has the order to knock her out, but she seems more— concerned about the little blonde girl than either of them. And not because she suckerpunched the shooter, either.

It doesn’t take too much to get her loaded in the car, as she can’t put much weight on the injured leg. She’s no longer bleeding, she’s out of danger for the moment, but they have a long drive to get back to the airport, and a plane ride left.

But Ali Underwood, main suspect of crimes of an expressive nature, has been found, alive.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License