benji_icon.gif vincent_icon.gif

Scene Title Clearance
Synopsis Benji brings in news to Vincent Lazzaro of what's waiting for them out west.
Date April 28, 2018

Fort Jay?

The Department of Homeland Security seal, made of dark wood and dark metal, looks like an oversized shield where it hangs on the wall. Protective, defensive, enduring. These kind of emblems have usually seemed more like a brand, to Benji, stamped on the flanks of vehicles, on signage, on letters and executive orders and death warrants. Coming into this office, now, feels like a perspective shift.

A rare one.

In all the brown and grey, her wardrobe palette is almost exclusively black, save for a small, silver saint pendant that hangs from her neck on a thin, glimmering chain. She is an unlikely figure, with the hems of her coat dust-stained and her boots tracking in churned earth, all slightly windswept edges in a world where everyone wears clothes that have been dry cleaned and ironed into executive lines and order. Unlikely in that respect, anyway. In every other respect — who she is, who Vincent is — her being here slips more into the 'impossible' category.

But it's like people like to say. In this world, anything is possible.

Vincent was on the phone when she showed up, and she is a patient enough presence on the other side of the desk, if given to fidget. A fresh notepad and a silver pen have been stolen and claimed, and she idly sketches across paper with blue lines in it, angled in such a way that Vincent can't immediately tell at a glance what she's doing.

Outside, it's raining. Storm-diffused light filters in through broad windows, and the silver run of water distorts all detail out of the city skyline that they overlook. Occasionally, lightning flashes.

The phone is a landline, the horn hooked to Vincent’s ear by his shoulder, the cord stretched long by the way he’d stood up out of his chair upon processing who, exactly, has strolled into his office and taken up a seat opposite his desk.

“It’s fine, Jane,” he’s saying, glare fixed on Benji black as iron, heat just shy of a molten glow. “Everything’s fine.”

His suit is a grey homage to government order in three movements — jacket, vest and trousers all neatly pressed over the crisp white of cuffs and collar, a patterned tie noosed snug at his throat. The silver salted in his beard is shaved down stately as the rest of it, glasses sharp, an old scar chipped in shallow over the jut of one ear.

“I’ll have to call you back.”

Clap, he racks the phone down onto the hook.

“You have lost,” his diction is clear and concise in time with the frame of his freed thumb and forefinger, squared perfect to Benji and her artwork, “your fucking mind.” It is imperative to him that she understand that fact, in this moment. “Stand up.”

Pen on paper halts, and fixes in place, while Benji's attention brought back up from her artwork is as sharp as the clack of the phone back into its cradle. Guardedness frosts over when Vincent takes a tone so immediately, and she doesn't stand up, resistance strung taut through the pause that plays out between them. As if she is deciding how much of this moment to take personally.

Then, a subtle thawing, the beginnings of a smile edging into her expression.

She resumes her drawing, the skrch-skrch of her (Vincent's) pen small and sharp, like maybe she's shading something in an amateurish, haphazard kind of way. "I would prefer to stay sitting," she says, head tipped, like maybe he was making a suggestion instead of giving an order, "while we have a conversation. I thought you'd appreciate the civility."

Excuse me?”

I would prefer to stay sitting? I thought you’d appreciate the civility?

There’s a beat of unfiltered can’t even in the screw of Vincent’s brows, his raised left hand opened out, demanding of an unspoken how dare you. The right passes reflexively behind his back, finds only the ridge of his pager next to his gun, and comes back into view empty again. No cuffs. When was the last time he had cuffs?

He rounds the desk at a brisk clip, crossing the office behind Benji to push the office door closed.

On the way back, he crosses over the earth she’s tracked into his nice office, and there’s another ludicrous appeal in the vein of what the hell is wrong with you in his gesture towards that.

“I’d prefer not to have to search you on my muddy floor, but here we are.

Vincent crosses the room, and Benji is finished enough with her scribbles to watch him go by, twisting in her seat and posture tensing like someone who is prepared to act, even if she is not prepared to obey. The motions he goes through — the instincts he follows — are interesting and not, in hindsight, unpredictable, and she glances down at the boot prints marking up the plush carpet.

Mm. That was rude. Arm hooked onto the back of the chair and pen set between her teeth, she has enough self-respect to look ever so guilty about— perhaps more than just the mud.

It will become clear in a moment.

"That won't be necessary," she says, switching items in her hands — pen for notepad, pen set back down on the desk, notepad then extended for him to take, although the taking is not necessary. He will look, and it will be a picture, a fine-lined depiction of a butterfly, black ink and — inexplicably — jewel tones between the veins.

On the page, both wings fold together, idly resting on lined paper, fanning out again.

"Searching me, I mean," she adds, while Vincent remembers: his office in Fort Jay doesn't even have windows, let alone a view of New York City.

Exasperation S curved back for another round, Vincent reaches automatically for the proffered notebook, more familiar a gesture than he perhaps ought to extend to a soon-to-be detained trespasser.

He doesn’t have to take it out of her hands; as soon as his thumb finds purchase on the edge, he looks down and sees — what he sees.

The change in his posture is immediate, bristle and flash quenched into obsidian reserve, all the heat gone out of him. He studies the butterfly for a long moment, and the smattering of rain against the windows after that, eyes flicking dark across the cityscape. Last of all, he looks to Benji, and the tension in his face is entirely different — subdued in a wary look, stiff in the scruff of his neck.

He releases his side of the notebook.

“Good to see you,” he says, in such a way that it sounds very much like it’s been a while. And also, this is awkward.

“Did you lose my number?”


In the name of prop continuity, Benji takes the notepad back and places it on the desk. The butterfly takes off, permitted to flutter and drift about the room, and her hand rests on the back of the chair, now with a musical settling of fingers from which dark, painted fingernails extend that weren't like that before.


Jasmine levers herself to stand up from the chair, her all black wardrobe graduated from shabby to chic in a long sleeved dress that matches the occasion of official appointment a little better, black hose, shiny black heels that come to a point. The St Jude pendant at her neck is a constant. The only footprints she leaves behind now are the subtle indentation such shoes make in the carpeting as she moves towards the windows.

"But some things are better seen."

A hair toss follows, black hair now longer, more luxurious than before. Or maybe it was always that way. The transformation does not parse as such to Vincent's mind, even if he is intellectually aware of a before and after. But before he was seeing one thing, and after, he is seeing another, both of which existed together.

Such is the logic of dreams. Not unfamiliar, but like he didn't say: it's been a while. "And I get so nervous over the telephone," she adds, demure.

“Ok. So you just decided.” To do it this way.


Vincent’s unhappiness clings to him — denser, darker, less combustible. His relief is an ongoing process, realization working slowly to vent off the pressure pent up behind his ribs. She’s not really in his office. None of this is really happening. He turns at the corner of his desk to watch her swan away for the window, arms akimbo, substantially shorter than she is in her heels.

One might be forgiven for thinking that this is the sort of thing that constitutes a nightmare in Vincent Lazzaro’s world. Benji knows better.

The hand he lifts to scuff over his mouth fans out to encompass the space he has ear to ear and everything in between, resignation flat in the line of his eyes over his fingers.

“You do realize that most of what’s in here requires security clearance, now.”

She has his attention. But don’t think he didn’t notice that was his notebook she was doodling in.

Jasmine touches the window glass with a nail, the subtle click only just audible by virtue of nothing being real. The butterfly weaves a ponderous circle around Vincent, not too close to irritate, but probably a little friendlier than he would prefer. She glances back at this last thing, honest confusion reflected back at him. Not that she doesn't know what security clearance is, or that he might know things that have it.

But confusion as to how it applies to her.

Call it a cultural clash.

She doesn't protest, anyway, just bundles up some hurt feelings to pick apart later, and returns her attention to the window, the stormy city beyond. Thunder rumbles, and the storm beyond seems to thicken. Watery run-off warps the window from the outside, and the shroud of dense cloud obscures the city skyline, making ghosts of broken buildings.

"Have you been out west lately?"

For a flatfoot in a suit, Lazzaro does an admirable job of tolerating the butterfly drifting in whimsical dotted-line orbit around his post at the desk. They’re old friends.


There’s an undercurrent of guilt pressed down beneath his determination not to yield to her confusion on the subject of national security — a plea for critical thought haggard under the hood of his brow. Please don’t. He gets enough of this shit from the one daughter he actually shares genes with. Nevermind the rest of them.

He looks away while feelings are bundled, left hand at his belt, glasses stripped off and tucked away.

He’s still fishing behind his lapel when he drags his heels over to her at the window, and the dire skyline looming on the far side of it. The phone rattles o its hook and the door on its hinges, delayed after thunder’s bass roll through the floor. Somehow, in the thick of whatever fresh dystopian horror this is developing into, he’s come up with a pack of cigarettes.

“I haven’t,” he says. “Not since last year.”

And officially speaking, not for a while before that.

"It hasn't changed, really. There's just so much of it."

It seems Vincent is spared any jagged edges of feelings debris in his approach, Jasmine focusing instead on what she came here for in the first place. Her eyes close, a summoning going on beneath the surface, in the springs and levers and cogs of the dream. "Highways full of abandoned cars, nose to tail. Towns empty, like the Rapture came and went. It's like the idea of America was picked up and shaken and dropped to shatter.

"Instead of picking up the pieces to put them back together," like New York, she means, "someone's building something new."

As she speaks, the storm does not ebb, but does change. The stretch of grey and brown of a storm-filled desert rises in place of water and steel. The glimmering flashes of lightning veining through the clouds now break, slamming up from the desert landscape into the sky. Structures can just be made out, massive and made of steel, giant skeletal mushroom-like constructions that Jasmine probably could not invent by herself.

"Nevada," she supplies, and it sounds like a guess. Her eyes are open. "Maybe further west."

Lighter flipped open and flint scratched, Vincent cups the flame to the tip of his cigarette and puffs up an ember, an air of I’ve seen it in a starched flick of his sleeve and a glance aside. Not quite defensive. Christ. They’ve all done their best. Recovery is a work in progress, the distraction of a thousand other pressing problems chewed in stiff at the back of his jaw. She has her eyes closed, anyway.

“You should think about writing a book.”

He’s not prone to flattery, and too nettled to blow anything but literal smoke besides, backhanded appreciation the best he can make of a poignant reminder in the moment.

On the far side of his reflection, lightning shatters the earth, bolts pounding down in surreal succession — sometimes two or three times into the same glassy heap of slag. The structures are best glimpsed in the lulls between strikes, one lit from below by the merrily burning corpse of a coyote.

Vincent absorbs the scene in silence, taking on the weight of it without wonder or relish. Like scraping a dead cat off the street in front of his house.

He’s here. It’s the thing to do.

“We can track the lightning.”

The compliment, for what it is, is surprising enough to prompt a smile from her — subtle, and wry at the corners, shortlived when contending against extreme anxiety about the subject at hand. Words are a kind of telepathy, which is what she is doing, both as a means of gently bringing out memories that do not belong to her as well as ensuring that Vincent's own grey matter will be receptive to it. That it might stir up ill-feelings is just one of those risks she has to take when attempting to deliver intelligence to Vincent Lazzaro or Hana Gitelman.

She nods at that.

"And there are sightings of hunter robots," she says. The butterfly lands on the glass in front of them, and Jasmine's eyes track upwards to it. "Prowling. I was wondering if there was any way to account for where they came from. How long they've been out there. How long it's been since those assets were destroyed." That she assumes they've been destroyed is a matter of assumption, of benefit of the doubt. She may regret what she was unable to change, but not the things she has had a hand in.

She turns her back on the scene, although it continues to play out. Jasmine doesn't need her avatar to be facing something to remain aware of it. Leaning against the glass, arms folding. "You should put some green in here," she says, as she regards the office. "Something for your desk."

Through sheets of rain, a shape is forming. It seems like it's rendered in negative, flickering. A compound on the horizon, and a road that seems to split the desert landscape, leading straight to it. Lights, just visible, seem like they're affixed to towers; until they move, clouds rolling around them. They are not revealed any further, because there is nothing Jasmine has left of them to reveal.

“Serial numbers should give us an idea of when and where they were manufactured, where they were slated for destruction and whether or not they were ever officially documented to begin with.”

The fact that Vincent doesn’t seem surprised to hear of hunter hangers on speaks for itself — this isn’t the only place they’ve turned up, in recent months. Answers without answers, suspicion laid aside enough to sidestep protocol in this very limited capacity. He can’t stop her from reading between the lines.

As ought to be expected, there’s nothing furtive in witheld detail. He’d have flown them all into a volcano himself if he’d had the time.

“An intact unit would provide the most comprehensive analysis, but critical components are also individually numbered.”

He stops there to watch, studying the increasingly unnatural vista laid out before him as he might a painting he doesn’t care for. One that he expects he’ll be quizzed on, later — his eyes boot black on the verge of unfeeling, his head turned just enough to spare the butterfly a stream of smoke.

“I don’t need any green.”

"Some English ivy," Jasmine says anyway, hands tracing the air as if to articulate through interpretive gesture the idea of leafy tendrils falling ever so out of a ceramic pot. "But I guess you'd need sunlight."

Never mind, then.

The look she angles back to him is bordering on sympathetic, now taking the time to read his responses in more depth on account of having decided not to be too offended about recent unkind and thoughtless remarks about security clearance. And one intact unit, and failing that, some critical components, is doable.

And will be done. There are lines Vincent is welcome to read between as well.

"There's a whole neighbourhood in the Safe Zone that's completely overgrown, you know. It, um, borders Prospect Park, which decided to spend the war mounting its own invasion on the city. They haven't been able to connect Park Slope to the main power grid due to how much damage it took, but people live out there anyway, among the wilderness. Just because."

It's probably what she would pick, if she could.

“Don’t send me a fucking plant.” Warning. Vincent lifts his eyes from Nevada, Maybe Further West to stab a pointed look up at her next to him instead.

This is how she’s repaid for her sympathy.

He turns away from the storm and walks back to his desk, tabbing ash onto the floor as he goes. There, his notebook lies askew, and he squares it out in front of himself to thumb through the pages. All blank.

The fact of the matter is that there isn’t much in him to read, at the surface. Even here, he has iron storm shutters closed over dread she might be able to sense anyway. It’s a dread that’s common to nightmares, crushing weight, binding tight around his heart — the powerlessness of being unable to take immediate action against some looming behemoth stirring the cloud cover behind him. Lightning strobes shadows sharp around the office.

He turns again, this time to take a seat against the edge of the desk, elbow to wrist, smoke coiling.

“You thinking of coming home to roost, Ryans?”

Flop. He tosses the notebook back aside. He could make it happen.

The subtle smile that meets sharp look at least reassures Vincent that she will not be sending him a fucking plant, having already had her fun. Remaining at her post at the window, Jasmine watches him go, absorbed enough in barely sensed feelings of dread and the composure that keeps it shuttered that when he turns the conversation back on her, it comes as a surprise.

Lifts a shoulder, lets it drop again. "Some day," she says, because no would be a ridiculous thing to say, even by her standards. It's with a touch of self-aware affect when she adds, "It's complicated."

Another butterfly crawls across the blanket notepad once it lands. Yet another darts past Vincent's ear, loops out of sight. A third joins the first one on the window, backlit as black as a moth.

“Mmm.” Mmm stifled behind the heel of his hand a roll at his wrist — deterring overly friendly butterflies from his periphery with the orange glow of his cigarette.

What’s happening outside is complicated. There are machines and sculptures and anomalous weather conditions. Dark skies, dark buildings, dark shapes stirring in the rain.

“It’s not aliens, is it?”

It’s probably not.

“I don’t think I could handle it being aliens.”

Jasmine's head tips to the side, a tolerant kind of gesture. No, dad, it's not aliens. A fifth butterfly, this one crawling out from between locks of black hair by her shoulder, fluttering brightly as it finds purchase. She brings up her hand to help it free, but it lingers on her knuckles, electric blue veined in black.

"It's not alien, either. It reminded me of home."

She blows on the butterfly to encourage it to take flight, which it does, weaving off reluctantly.

There's no use in counting out the butterflies now. It's not a swarm, per se, just an incremental increase of winged invaders making their idle paths around the office, as if claiming it as their own, or on Jasmine's behalf. While haphazardly tripping into Vincent's space, none of them land on him.

“Oh, ok,” says Vincent. Reassured, thank you. “Even better.”

Wasteland desolation so dire a bunch of kids time traveled to intercede. Good. Fine.

He can see just fine out the window from where he is, propped against his desk with his ankles crossed while too many butterflies in his office divide and multiply into an even more unacceptable number of butterflies. There’s that dread, again, buffeted on all sides by soft wings.

Silence coils up out of his side of the room like smoke from the cigarette he has slanted forgotten through his fingers. Humor has bled away, gun barrel warmth left behind in a glance her way.

“We’ll find them.” A butterfly loops over his shoulder; he closes his eyes. “Whatever this is.”

The correct amount of butterflies explore and investigate his office through cooling iron promises and nihilistic certainty. Where Jasmine leaves behind dread, she can take away a little relief, nodding once to his words as he closes his eyes against the contours of office, the flitting shapes of little winged insects, her own shadow stark against the glowing grey storm outside.

He won't be able to open them. The office was never here. She was never here. The ground beneath his feet, solid, is gone. The burning cigarette between his fingers and the smell of smoke is gone. The sound of rain is not gone, but slowly dispersing, fading, lulling him into the void of seep.

"Thank you for your time, Mr Secretary," she says. "I'll be in touch."

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