joe_icon.gif squeaks_icon.gif

Scene Title Curiosity
Synopsis Joe and Squeaks traverse the ruins of Queens in search of Eimi, and are found by something else entirely.
Date April 15, 2018

Third time's the charm. That's how the saying goes, but that's not always how it ends up.

This is the third time that Joe and Squeaks have gone out searching for their missing friend, the third time they've braved some of the worst places that New York has to offer. Once it was Staten Island, and unless Eimi had been snatched up by human traffickers — a likely possibility — they found no trace of her ever having been there.

The second time it was the Bronx, and hours spent combing the coast and asking around with the vagrants and scavengers turned up nothing. Nothing except attention, however. Two young people traveling beyond the boundaries of the Safe Zone draws attention from all manner of unwanted eyes. And each time they went out, Squeaks and Joe could feel those eyes on them, both with and without sufficient evidence.

But the third time is the worst of them all, a journey out the east checkpoint of the Safe Zone and into the most heavily hit area of New York they can hope to access. If Eimi isn't here, there may be no finding her.

Ruins of Queens, NY

6:47 pm

Golden rays of sunlight cut long and dark shadows out from the eviscerated buildings slouching toward the street. A five-story parking garage is partly collapsed into a crater now overgrown with the shoots of skinny saplings. Broken asphalt grows with tall grass, and dandelions pepper the mix of green and gray with constellations of yellow.

For the last nine hours Joe and Squeaks have followed the southern coast of what was once Queens, cutting inland to the ruined tenement buildings and businesses demolished by carpet bombing that tore through New York at the height of the war. Fire-blackened cars along the roadside, stripped of wheels and paint, now have families of birds nesting in their otherwise empty chassis. If the birds know anything of Eimi, they aren't saying much.

Joe steps up onto a pile of bricks, well climbs up a pile of bricks to get a better look around the both of them. His mood has been getting steadily more down with every fruitless hour of searching, and every fruitless day of searching. He's worried about his friend, and it shows. He pauses at the top of the pile of bricks and looks around, trying to spot any signs of people passing recently, any signs of habitation, or places someone might go and hole up while waiting for rescue. Not that Eimi would need to wait, unless she'd burned her powers out with that 4 person rescue she pulled.

He sighs and clambers back down, still favoring his stomach a little bit, and the stitches there. A tiny seam in the normal impenetrable wall of his skin. He doesn't call out to Squeaks, he just looks her way to see if she's spotted anything, or come alert for any reason. Well more alert. She's twitchy at the best of times. He gets his feet back on the ground and looks around the ruined hellscape of Queens, mind trying to imagine what it must have looked like when everything was going down. "Wish I could have been here." He murmurs softly, sadness showing on the kid's normally happy, or at least enthusiastic face.

Not a stranger to long hours of searching without finding, Squeaks’ determination has remained mostly constant all day. If Eimi is out there somewhere, they'll find her. That's been her motto for much of the day. She's cut an uneven path throughout the search, climbing over and under and going through as obstacles allow. Since Joe and his siblings came back injured, there's a chance Eimi could be too. So she's looking in all the places she herself would hide if she needed to be hiding.

The waning sun and Joe’s growing disappointment has made her worry. She hasn't missed the declining mood. When he looks her way, Squeaks has hopped from one tumbled cement column to another pile of rubble to scan the landscape in a direction they haven't explored yet.

The girl continues along the ridge of destruction, jumping and climbing as needed and still looking where they haven't been and aren't headed toward. Until her path takes her back to Joe’s side. Then Squeaks jumps down and touches her fingers to his arm. Encouragement to keep looking.

A flock of birds scatter from the fifth floor of a nearby building, bursting out of a glassless window trimmed with crawling ivy. The birds are silhouette against the sky, move like a school of fish, and disappear behind another adjacent roof. In the window where they’d exited, a black cat has hopped up onto the window sill and has started cleaning its side. The ruins are serene, unoccupied, and feel as though nature has more of a claim to them now than people ever did. Some graffiti mars collapsed buildings and tumbledown walls, some of it depicting a white-painted Chinese style dragon with the characters 鬼龙 stenciled below.

These ruins ramble all the way across what was once Queens, then spill out east across the remainder of Long Island. There’s no other way out here by land except through the Safe Zone, which explains the idle stillness here. It’s different than Staten Island, different than the Bronx. It’s not only abandoned, but it’s empty feeling. It’s as though the world ended here, and no one was left to reclaim it.

In the distance, Squeaks can see the upward-pointing wing of an enormous plane. Between some smashed residential buildings there’s a broken fuselage of a commercial airliner, streaked with rust and flecked with lichen.

Joe looks over when he feels those fingers touch his arm. There's a small but honest smile from Joe for Squeak's encouragement. He recognizes it for what it is. And he appreciates it. "I'm trying not to lose hope." He admits to her. "Trying. Not being the most successful. But I'm trying. There is a LOT of New York to search. Not sure how we'd ever find just one person in all this. Even more so when there were people everywhere." Joe's cheeks puff out for a few moments, then relax as he takes in a deep breath and pushes onwards, making sure not to outpace Squeaks as they search.

"A cat. Huh. Wonder how it's survived all the way out here with nothing to eat but giant mutant rats that could probably eat it back." Joe walks over to the symbol on the wall, lifting a hand up to run his fingers over the lines of the stenciled characters. "I have no idea what these mean. Dragon maybe?" Given the dragon that's painted right next to it. "I dunno. So much out here left to crumble into dust." He lets his hand slide down the wall and away from the pictures, picking his way through the rubble, walking along, keeping close to Squeaks as he does so. He turns and starts down an alley, having to climb over a car to get into it, as well as heaps of refuse and fallen brickwork from the buildings above. When he emerges on the other side he looks up and calls, softly to Squeaks. "See anything?"

“Dragon?” The word is given to the strange symbols on the wall but, like Joe, Squeaks doesn’t know what they really mean. She stares at the lines and the serpentine dragons, then shrugs finally. Her attention moves on from the graffitied walls as she starts to move when Joe does. “Cats eat lots of things. Like birds, snakes, old food. Lots of ways to survive. Maybe it’s up there, because Underneath is the rats.” It’s all guessing. She’s probably seen a cat or two in the tunnels below the city.

Up onto the hood of the burned out car, Squeaks pauses to let Joe jump down first. She continues to search the other directions, and not the way they’re traveling, and even climbs onto the roof of the car for an even better view. She starts to climb off her perch, but stops short of jumping into the alley when her eyes catch on the unusual shape of an airplane wing. “I see something.” Some steps toward hit give her a vantage point enough to see a bit of fuselage next.

“Look at this.” Excitement enters her tone, but not the same as if she’d seen Eimi. This excitement is more wonder and curiosity. The huge airliners are things Squeaks has only seen in the air, never up close. She points to the body of the plane as it comes more into view. “Come on,” she’s already picking her way toward the structure, and looking back to see if Joe follows. “Let’s check it out. If I was hiding, that’s maybe somewhere I would hide. Like the subway car but bigger.”

Through the ruined lot that was once a brick tenement building, Joe and Squeaks cross through a thicket of new growth. Shoots of immature saplings, tall brush and leafy vegetation just turned with the springtime weather. The crashed airliner was once a 747, now split into three distinct pieces. The tail is some thousand feet away, wedged between two buildings that had their upper floors shorn off. The mid-fuselage is right where the two young people are approaching. The wing on the far side is torn free, little more than rusted metal scraps strewn about the ground. The near wing is broken at the fuselage and angles down like a ramp, streaked with rust and overgrown with crawling vegetation. The nose of the plane is another thousand feet to their left, tipped on its side and tangled up in the wreckage of cars it careened through.

The wrecked plane has no one left in it. The ruins bordering the Safe Zone were cleared of human remains back in 2014. All that remains here now are the tattered remnants of a nascent shanty town that never took off. The fuselage has been spray painted with various pieces of faded graffiti, the most unsettling of which is a red, white, and blue PURE EARTH that looks several years old.

There's a few more cats here, too. They dart and scramble out from underfoot, retreating into small nooks and crannies in the collapsed tenement buildings.

Joe stands there for a moment, staring at the downed plane in confusion. "Huh…" He mutters as he exits the alley more fully, but he's alert, his head swinging around slowly. "Careful. This is the kind of place I'd expect someone to hang out at…" His hand slips underneath his hoodie, sliding his pistol free of it's holster, and instead settling it's weight in the belly pocket of his hoodie instead of in it's shoulder holster. "Not that I need to tell you but… keep alert." Joe comments to Squeaks, nodding to her as he moves forwards, his pace slow, and his attention shifting, head on a swivel just like Brian taught him.

"Pure Earth…" Joe says with a growl to his voice, and he even spits on the graffiti. "Doubt there's going to be anything of value… lets just check inside, see if she's hiding in there and move on. I doubt she is, it's too obvious a place to hide, so more than just us would have looked here. Unless people assumed what I'm assuming now." Joe's shoulders roll in a half hearted shrug as he moves towards the body of the plain, wanting to peek inside of it for the Eimi. “It’s amazing the kind of wreckage that is laying around the city.” He remarks as he runs a hand against the rusted shell of the airplane.

The movement of the cats draws a little attention. Squeaks's head tilts one way then turns the other at the sounds, but she doesn't comment on it. Nothing is actively coming toward them, so it's probably nothing interesting. Or dangerous.

Advising her to be careful gets a grin out of Squeaks. She's pretty familiar with being in places that aren't very safe. Maybe not this far out for a long time, in the above world. But definitely in the Underneath. She picks her way right up to the body of the plane and taps her fingers against the rusting shell. "I never saw one of these up close before." She looks over her shoulder to Joe, the follows his gaze to the graffiti when he spits on the spray paint. She follows as Joe, but not before taking her turn to spit on the name.

A couple of jogging steps has the girl catching up. But fascination with exploring draws her ahead again. It's only by a few steps. Squeaks' eyes pick over the old airliner in search of a way into it. "Maybe," she agrees. There's no for sure evidence that Eimi is inside or not. The only thing to do is look. "There's lots of neat things sometimes." Like the airplane.

The interior of the fuselage may have at one time been someone’s attempt at a camp. There's blankets nailed up over many of the windows, backpacks and empty cans scattered about the floor. Photographs of landscapes, unfamiliar people, and a house by a beach are taped to the wall. Two old sleeping bags are laid out between the plane’s aisles, no one in them anymore. A partly-deflated soccer ball is wedged beneath a nearby seat.

Two small sneakers stand out to Joe and Squeaks, nearly set side by side near the second sleeping bag. They're weathered and have clearly sat here for years. They probably belonged to someone no older than seven or eight years old. In the cave-like fuselage, in the dim light, a single black cat slinks out from beneath one of the seats with yellow eyes staring at Joe and Squeaks. It starts to purr, then approaches.

"Sometimes… I hate this city." Joe murmurs as he catches sight of the makeshift home that was built out of the inside of the plane. Who would have just left stuff laying around? Sleeping bags, pictures, shoes? He steps into the fuselage, but doesn't intrude any further than a few steps. "Eimi?" He calls out, just loud enough that he hopes to be heard inside the plane but not out. Not wanting his voice to carry too far. There are plenty of scavengers in New York. "I doubt she's in here. She'd have disturbed some of this, and this has been here for years." He sighs a little, looking around. "No one would have left all this stuff by choice."

Joe is not a religious person, but this quiet graveyard deserves a moment's silence in respect, and so he give sit, tiupping his head, though he doesn't close his eyes, he stands a moment, hands at his sides. Plus he can't think of anything meaningful to say. When the cat starts to approach Joe eyes it curiously. Most cats won't just approach like that. "Uhhh that's… odd." He remarks to Squeaks. "Wild cat, approaching people… Maybe he's used to people? He might belong to someone."

It’s all a trove of questions and curiosities. Squeaks’ fingers dance over the pictures, and even pull the beach house picture off the wall for a closer look. “Maybe.” She turns the photograph over to look at the back, then flips it around again to the picture side. It’s stuck back on the wall and a look is given over to Joe when he goes all quiet. She doesn’t have the same respects to offer, an abandoned campsite is usually seen as fair game. But she doesn’t stop him, or ask questions.

Going onto hands and knees. She crawls over the sleeping bags, back toward Joe and for a better look at those sneakers. “Someone probably had to leave fast,” she says. That seems a likely explanation for why shoes would be left behind. Shoes are too useful to just abandon like this. One of the pair is picked up when the cat appears and starts coming toward them.

“Maybe he lived with the people that were here before?” Squeaks sits back on her heels, small shoe still in her hands and eyes on the cat. She looks up at Joe, then back to the cat, watching it come closer. Eventually, she slowly lifts a hand, a finger stuck out for the cat to sniff.

“You're a long way from home, children.” The voice comes from behind Joe and Squeaks, from where they'd entered the fuselage. Standing in that wrecked opening at the end of the plane, silhouette by the bright daylight, is the slim silhouette of a bald man of slight build dressed in ink black clothes that look far nicer than someone in ruins would wear. A suit jacket, buttoned shirt, slacks and dress shoes. All black.


As their eyes adjust to the light around him, they see that he is older than them — considerably older — and of an Asian ethnicity that isn't clearly identifiable, much as his accent is.

The cat in question moves past Joe and Squeaks and comes to thread around the ankles of the bald old man, purring noisily as it does.

Joe doesn't stop Squeaks either. They've led different lives, and he's not gonna judge her for scavenging from the campsite. He's not going to do it, but he won't stop her. "They had to leave fast, or they were taken. Maybe they got rescued?" He asks softly. "See if you can find a name on anything? Maybe we can take it back with us and see if they made it to the safe zone. Or… something." He doesn't sound very hopeful of that, but there's at least an attempt to be. "I don't think so… these things have been laying around here a long time. Not just like a few weeks or months. Like… years. I guess he could have been and has just survived on his own. But that only lends weight to the idea that they didn't leave here by their own will."

"Not that far actually." Joe replies back with a hopeful smile as he turns to regard the man that's spoken. "I'm Joe. Nice to meet yah. The cat was saying hi." Joe pauses a moment or two, a curious look on his face. "We're looking for a friend of ours. Seen anyone new come through here recently? Might have been hurt?" He's careful not to give any hints away on gender or anything like that. He's trying to be optimistic, but he's not entirely trusting the well dressed man in the middle of the ruins of Queens.

“Maybe the backpacks — ” Squeaks begins, she saw them somewhere in the makeshift campsite, but stops as a new voice cuts into their conversation. She follows the cat’s movements to the fancy-dressed stranger standing in the way out. The shoe is returned to its mate with very slow movements, blue eyes fixed on the stranger. There’s obvious distrust for the stranger in his fancy black suit and suddenly appearing in front of them. She readily lets Joe lead the way in speaking - he’s good at it.

She stays kneeling and scoots closer to Joe, safety in numbers, while sending a look down the body of the plane. Maybe there’s another way out that way. This isn’t the whole plane, after all. The backpacks, in that quick look, are spied not far away. But the presence of someone in a suit keeps her from going for them. Squeaks leans a little to the side, to look around Joe and at the stranger again.

The old man smiles at Joe’s comment, taking a knee to pick up the black cat and cradle it in his arms. The cat immediately slouches like dead weight in his arms, chin coming out to rest near the crook of his elbow, tail limp and posture at ease. One old and weathered hand gently scratches behind one of the cat’s ears, and the old man raises a thin brow in query.

“A friend?” Stepping in further, though with a slow and ponderous gait, he manages a downward curl of his mouth into a helpless frown. “I don’t see many people out here, this far from home.” He clarifies that point again, as though the distance truly were greater. “This isn’t where the lost go to be found, though, it’s where the found go to be lost.” Dark eyes peer past Joe to Squeaks, then back again. Past Squeaks, the other side of the fuselage is wide open, save for the tattered remnants of tarps that once covered it. They’re not cornered, not by a stretch.

“What is your friend’s name? Perhaps I’ve seen them?” The old man crouches, setting down the cat on one of the old and threadbare seats, and it purrs and moves in a slow circle, kneading the upholstery and fabric. “Our kind should always help one-another when in need.”

Joe talking. There's a revelation. Yeah not really. Joe's mouth typically runs non stop. So he's more than comfortable doing the talking for both him and Squeaks. He does reach a hand over and give her hand a light squeeze when she scoots close to him, offering her an attempt at a reassuring smile. Joe really wishes Squeaks knew Lighthouse Cant right now, he'd let her know to look for another exit after spotting her glance. So he does something else and lightly nudges her in that direction with his leg. He's trying to keep the motion secret from the man but… that might not be possible.

"Yes, a friend. They may have gotten lost in this part of the city. Just looking for them. And really… not that far from home." He replies back with a small smile. He tucks his hands into the belly pocket of his hoodie where the weight of his gun rests, and one finger slowly switches the safety off, using the thick cloth as a cover for the sound. His hands rest in the belly pocket, pushing down against it a little to distend it and cover up the shape of the gun. "Eimi." Not really a gender specific name either. "I believe in helping everyone that's in need, not just one's kind, whether it be race or religion. I like helping people." Joe notices the lack of name introduction after offering his own, and he arches a brow at it, but doesn't push on the subject. "If you haven’t seen our friend we'll continue on our way looking. It was nice meeting you though."

It’s hard to say if Squeaks got the message or not. She’s not exactly willing to leave Joe behind, but she does give a hard look to the opening some ways down the plane. It’s not a very long look, but she makes sure of it being there before her head swivels around again to the strange man in the fancy suit. That look is even more intense, two parts suspicious and one part feral. If she had sharp things with her, she’d be getting ready to stick them into his soft spots.

Since she doesn’t, she starts to give Joe’s hoodie a tug in the backward direction, the way they’d need to go to get to the other opening. But the stranger’s words make her not tug too much. Our kind? “Who are you,” she asks, eyes narrowing like she might know if he’s lying or not. “What’s ‘our kind’?” These are important questions, since there’s an offer of help from Stranger Danger.

The stranger regards Joe with a mild smile, one brow raised in questioning amusement at the young man’s assertion. But then, his attention shifts to Squeaks. “Special people, people with powers. Gifts.” Dark eyes flick up and down Squeaks, then settle on Joe. “I hear a lot of things out here, I see many missing people…”

What at first sounds like bizarre bluster and cryptic half-truths soon turns into something more concrete, however. “I know of your friend, Eimi. The teleporter.” Those dark, old eyes settle on Joe this time. “She is a talented young woman, one who appears to have a knack for getting herself in more trouble than she can handle.” Brows raised, the old man smiles. “Unfortunately, I do not know where she is now. I believe she and many others went underground, to a place… forgotten.”

Carefully taking a step forward, the old man folds his hands behind his back. “As for who I am? My name is Zhao, and I am not your enemy.”

"Uhhh are you talking about the basement where we went? Cuz that place was definitely underground, and forgotten. And it had bodies, and the Fear Monger. Who I'm pretty sure killed the people that those bodies used to be. And stuff and oh.. you said Eimi. So either you're a telepath and took that name out of my head, or you're serious. And even if you are a telepath there'd be no way to ferret that out." Joe's features pull into a scrunching frown. "I hate telepathy. A person's mind should be their own space dangit." Joe glances over his shoulder to Squeaks at her question. It is an important question indeed. And one Joe didn't ask. It's one he dodged. Purposefully. Dangit Squeaks.

"Well, it's definitely interesting to meet you Zhao. Hopefully nice, but definitely interesting." Joe flashes the man a quick grin before letting his eyes wander around the man a little bit. "So… Eimi isn't around here then?" He asks, his features struggling not to fall. "And whatcha doin all the way out here Zhao? Seems a long ways out for… well for someone your age." He's not trying to be rude, he's trying to show concern for the older man. “Your suit is clean so I’m assuming you actually live nearby somehow. And have the means to clean your suit. That or you knew we’d be here. Which seems just as unlikely. But heck, this world is full of probably and unlikely things coming true on a daily basis.”

There’s really no way for her to know if the old man is lying. Just like there wasn’t any way for her to know what questions to ask. Joe’s look gets a small shrug. Squeaks is sorry, for sure, but good apologies will have to wait until later. The answers and looks from Zhao get a small twist of her mouth. Like she’d been offered something gross, or at least untrustworthy. She gives Joe’s hoodie another slight tug as she takes a little step backward.

“How do you know Eimi?” The question is posed as the girl skitters backward another couple of steps. Squeaks’ reaction to Zhao moving forward is to keep that space in the middle. Joe’s hoodie is given another tug to get him to move, too, but she doesn’t pull hard. She also doesn’t try to hold it in case he needs to move, and just lets the material slip from her hand as she moves. “What’s this forgotten place? And how do we know you’re not our enemy?” Like she’s just going to take his word for it.

Zhao’s expression shifts from patient to puzzled as he listens to Joe prattle on. There's a crook of one corner of his mouth, and he spreads his hands as if to answer Joe’s myriad inquiries with a single gesture. But its meaning is as opaque as his smile.

“I don't know her, per-se,” Zhao explains with a look to Squeaks. “But I know of her. And Joseph,” his eyes flick to Joe, then back to Squeaks. “You as well, Jacelyn.” At that name laid bare, Zhao tilts his chin up subtly, that brow still raised as if in some sort of challenge.

“As for how you can know whether I am your enemy or not…” Zhao spreads his hands again, then folds them behind his back once more. “I suppose belief is subjective. But I hold no ill-will to either of you. We are all children of the eclipse.”

Joe prattles. It's what he does. Other people do ninja stuff, or do random coloring of people and stuff. Joe? Joe prattles. He talks people to death. It's his second super power. Honest word. "Oh, you don't know her, but you know her? Oh know of her. So how do you know of her? And Joseph is an easy guess but that so is not. Jacelyn?" He asks Zhao, a brow raising, that look then turned on Squeaks. "Squeakers is that actually your name?" He asks. He doesn't shift backwards with the more skittish teen. But there's less for him to be afraid of. Either Zhao can mess with his brain in which case he's screwed anyway, or he's physical and thus much less of a threat. At least in Joe's head.

He looks from Squeaks, back to Zhao, then back to Squeaks before his gaze comes back around to Zhao again. "Eh. What happens will happen." Joe shrugs his shoulders slowly. "I've survived a lot. If my fate is to be taken down by a seemingly friendly person in the middle of the ruins of Queens then so be it." Joe puffs out his cheeks some, then lets them deflate with a sigh. "Sooo whatcha doin out here Zhao? I wasn't trying to be rude before. More concerned than suspicious. I mean sure a little suspicious. But more concerned. Can't blame someone for being suspicious these days. Especially out in the middle of the ruins like this. And in a clean suit. I mean… it's pretty suspicious. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. My brother says it's gonna get me killed one of these days."

Jac.” The correction comes quietly and right on the heels of her given name, and Squeaks doesn’t even flinch. Flinching never did any good when she was called Jacelyn. “No one ever calls me Jacelyn.” That’s a bold lie to meet Zhao’s challenge, but she tells it anyway. It keeps her separate from the bad days that she believes are several years dead. Joes question gets a small nod. And she tries to face Zhao’s stare with one to match, but his knowledge has unnerved her.

Falling back on safer habits, she lets Joe continue to ask questions. She wants to know how the stranger knows all these things, but she’s afraid of the answer. And Joe’s questions are safer. So while the older teen is rattling off his questions and conversation, the younger one picks her way slowly backward. All the while, Zhao earns himself unrelenting eyeballing backed by scared suspicion.

Zhao inclines his head down in a nod that never quite stops. He looks at the ground for a moment, smiling, and then looks back up to Joe and then shifts his attention over to Squeaks. “My apologies,” has an earnest quality to it. “I hear things,” he implies with a raise of his old shoulders, “sometimes they’re accurate, sometimes… less so.” His dark eyes square on Joe, then. “I’m here, in Queens, seeing what it is you’re doing. Now, I have my answer.”

That smile of Zhao’s grows just a bit more. “You shouldn’t be out here past dark, though. There are people who would gladly apprehend two young people like you, and…” he lets whatever fate would befall them taper off. “From one friend to another,” Zhao raises one thin brow. “It would be a waste of your talent to be snuffed out so early in your life. They wouldn’t dare come after anyone when I am around, but… I am not always around.”

“I mean, I guess that’s an answer. But it only spurs another question, which is why you’d be concerned with the doings of two kids wandering around Queens. Other than to be nice, but people nowadays aren’t usually just nice to be nice. They’re nice with a purpose. I mean I’m usually nice to be nice. I don’t expect anything back from other people when I do things for them. I just like to help people. Is that the case here Mister Zhao? Or are you being nice with a purpose?” Joe’s not stupid, he just tries to see the best in people. His head turns to glance back at Squeaks, making sure she’s not gone too far, also checking on her fear level. If she’s too frightened he’ll leave with her, but he also doesn’t want to abandon the potential knowledge of things that are going on.

“So… how much are you around? Squeaks is pretty alert I’d think she’d have spotted you if you were following us around. And yeah we try not to be out after dark, but it’s starting to get a little later so we’ll probably have to camp out. Unless you’ve got a faster way back to the safe zone?” Joe’s head tips to the side a little bit. “I’m not too worried about thugs at night though. Unless they’ve got negation gas I really don’t see them taking me and Squeaks. Which they could have negation gas. Cuz like… Hailey got attacked with negation gas and what not. But I think those were Pure Earthers. Do the thugs out here have negation gas?” Finally getting around to the pertinent question.

For her part, Squeaks doesn’t abandon Joe to the stranger danger. She ducks into a row of seats to wait and watch. Those are good questions, important questions, and the answers are just as important. But those seats are a barrier. She peeks at the two from between the backs of the seats, eyes narrowed but brave enough to stay and listen.

Brave enough even to speak up with her own observations. “You know a lot of. And you talk like a fortune cookie. What else do you know about us? How come you wanted to know what we’re doing?” Just Squeaks’ eyes and fingers are visible above the back of one seat.

Once again Zhao smiles at Joe’s long-winded words, and seems to speak less the more Joe talks. His smile cuts just a little bigger when he looks over to Squeaks, one brow raised at her more succinct inquiry, which he pointedly answers first. “I know enough to be dangerous, but am old enough to choose my battles wisely.” Then, with a measure of reservation he adds. “We all have our secrets.”

When Zhao finally chooses to address Joe, it is with a knowing tilt of his head to the side and a smile. “You answered your own question. No one does anything without reason. Nothing in this world is random, nothing is left up to chance. Even the wind and the rain,” Zhao motions up with two fingers, even though the sky is mostly clear today, “come from something. The sun heats the earth, air pressure changes,” his hand moves in a slow circle, “nature has purpose. I am no different.”

As Zhao lowers his hand the cat that had been enjoying its seat perks up and bounds off of the chair and darts out of the fuselage between Zhao’s ankles. “We are kin,” he says plainly. “The three of us. Bound together by a thread that united us in war, and divides us in peace.” He looks down to the ground at that, brows furrowed. “At the end of the day, you should both remember, that it is we who will always understand one-another the clearest.” Zhao motions to his chest with one hand. “As we have lived our lives as Children of the Eclipse. None other could understand.”

The smile Zhao offers next is smaller, more humble. “The way you came through to get here is clear. I am sorry, but your friend is not in Long Island.” Looking to the side, Zhao considers that, and then looks back to Joe and Squeaks. “If I find her, I will send her to you safely.”

Joe glances over at Squeaks at her comment, and question, a soft snort of surprised amusement when she makes the fortune cookie comment. "Squeakers." He admonishes softly, though his amusement is pretty clear. His head turns though, back to regard Zhao as he speaks of being children of the eclipse. "So… all of us?" He asks, once more looking over his shoulder to spot the Squeaks. "Squeakers you're Evolved?" He sounds slightly confused, but curious.

His attention swings back to Zhao and the young man tilts his head forwards a little bit. "Even doing something to be nice is a reason. You're making a conscious decision to help someone else without thought for reward. You're still doing it for a reason. Because you're a good person. So I guess you're right. No one does anything without reason." Joe lifts a hand up, and holds it out to Zhao, stepping forwards to come within handshake range.
"It was interesting, and yes pleasant to meet you Zhao of too much knowledge and the dodging of questions. You should be careful out here though. There are some bad folks running around trying to take our kind captive. My adoptive sister was negated and shot out here. I mean not here, in the bronx but still. Take care of yourself yeah?"

“Yeah you do,” is a quiet response to Zhao’s level of knowledge. Squeaks’ brows pinch together a little bit when the old man’s eyes turn her way, but she doesn’t sink behind the seat to hide. When she’s admonished, her gaze shifts over to Joe in an expression that simple begs ‘Wasn’t me!

The question of if she’s evolved requires a more verbal answer, though the girl isn’t too willing to abandon the perceived safety of the seats. “I never did stuff before. Not like… anyone who is evolved. I’m just me, nothing special.” Squeaks follows the statement up with a shrug, even though it’s probably partly hidden by the seats. She doesn’t even know how to find out.

She ducks behind the seatback when Joe steps toward the stranger. But a second later, one half of her face appears on the side. Squeaks is still watching, probably getting ready to …do something if a bad thing happens to Joe. Zhao might end up with a half-feral kid biting and kicking if that handshake goes wrong.

Zhao regards Squeaks with a slow tilt of his head, stepping forward to meet Joe, taking a firm grip of his hand with the weathered grip of a much older man. He nods, resolutely and with understanding, then steps back from the teenagers and holds aside the canvas flap that covers the fuselage’s nearest opening. “That, my dear, is where you are mistaken. You, Joseph, you are not ordinary people. The world — this cruel world — has beaten you into believing that you are not special, that what you are isn’t… outstanding.” Zhao’s dark eyes lower to the ground for a moment, looking as though he is listening to something much further away.

“We are all so much more than what this cruel world tells us.” Zhao looks up to the teenagers, lifting his chin and regarding them with a parental attentiveness. “We are the future, and that makes them scared, because change is frightening…”

“…and the weak fear change.”

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