Dangerous Game, Part II


brynn_icon.gif emily_icon.gif joaquin_icon.gif lance_icon.gif nathalie2_icon.gif silvia_icon.gif squeaks4_icon.gif

Scene Title Dangerous Game, Part II
Synopsis A bid for a normal night is detoured by an unexpected visitor.
Date January 1, 2020

For Emily Epstein, most of the creature comforts to be found in the background noise of the holiday season has changed dramatically, if not been erased entirely, following the Second American Civil War. On Thanksgiving morning, no more Macy’s Day Parade. On Christmas Day, no more Disney Christmas Parade. No more New Year's Rose Day Parade. Reflecting on it, maybe it's silly they're all parades, all things that were just on the television that she never really interacted with herself. But those were constants that help made things seem normal even when they weren't.

And man, could she use a dose of things being normal.

The closest thing she's got is this stupid bamboo thing the store by her house was selling. It's Japanese. It's not even American. But it's a "New Year's tradition", so maybe it bled over because other people like her were also stuck looking for new traditions, a new normal to guide themselves by.

She snaps a picture of it while it sits on the cashier's conveyor belt, and shoots it over in the grouptext with all of the LHK and their growing circle of affiliates.

Going to swing by the Lanthorn, bring this thing over. Anything else going on for New Year's?
Maybe we do dinner?

Emily looks back down to the phone repeatedly while she checks out, waiting for replies. The plastic bags are woven around her hand while she heads out to the bus stop. She shivers in the cold while she continues to check her phone, but doesn't otherwise fuss at it. It'd be good to see everyone for a while.

Bring back a sense of normal the world otherwise seemed to be lacking these last few days.

The Lanthorn

January 1, 2020

8:15 pm

The small bamboo arrangement, the kadomatsu, that Emily had brought sits on the counter, and the smell of a proper New Year's meal swims through the air while it cooks in the kitchen. For her, it's a new tradition, even if she was faced with insistence that the food being prepared had been things all along.

She sits on the couch, feet propped up on the table before it with her head leaning back while she breathes it in. "Listen, I know it's only been like a few weeks since I've seen you guys, but it feels like it's been a fucking eternity," Emily sighs, eyes closed while she melts into the couch. The holidays had been rough this year. "I dunno how I'm going to go back to work in the morning."

Nathalie really isn't in the mood for festivities, but Emily promised normal so she's here, curled up on the couch next to her sister. She lets out a sigh of her own and runs a hand over her face. "Do interns get sick time? Mental health days?" That's a joke. Does anyone in this town take care of their mental health? Haha. "Want me to call in a fake bomb threat to Fort Jay? Secret day off?"

That's probably a joke, too.

Perched in the corner, Silvia’s made herself a little den. Pillows are arranged just so, allowing her to prop herself up in a perfect position for the sketching she’s doing. What she’s drawing is anyone’s guess, but she’s got quite a few pencils and pens and a big fat eraser scattered next to her. She’s not absorbed fully in what she’s doing, her attention still on the rest of the room.

“Tell them you’re researching something important and it’s time sensitive,” Silvia suggests, joining in on the plan to play hookey. “Or have a family emergency.”

Well, it's not a turkey, but the chicken smells pretty awesome, Brynn signs as she comes back in from the kitchen. She's not the best cook (that has to be Joe due to the sheer volume of food the boy puts away), but she can manage roasting a couple of fowl with carrots and onions and boiling some potatoes, for certain.

She pauses in the doorway, glancing over the lounging activities. The room's decor is in the middle of being shifted by the chromakinetic — the fireplace is still on the wall but the Christmas tree that was there for most of December has been replaced by a sunshiney winter lake scene with deer grazing near the foreground. The place is familiar to those who grew up in Canada — a small lake near their 'home.' I'm glad we're doing this. The petite brunette offers a small smile at Nathalie. And that you came.

It had all been Emily's idea, but it was a good one, to Brynn's mind. The relatively mild, if chilly in the 40s, temperatures during the day have at least made it possible to be out and around. They're not snowed in, so having people over is a good plan!

In recent days, Lance has been more reclusive than usual; working a lot, spending a lot of time out, and being less social than he used to be. He’s still all smiles and laughs when he’s with the Lighthouse, but he’s clearly distracted a great deal with something.

He pads down from the second floor in sweats, bringing one hand up in a vague wave across the room and flashing a smile, “Hey, do I smell dinner?” Of course food would stir him up and about. “Oh! Silvia, hey— “ He grins over more genuinely, “Didn’t know you were here.”

Emerging from the same direction as Brynn, Joaquin wipes his hands on a kitchen towel. Now that the group has an HQ practically, it’s not difficult to see or find them. And in this case, help them with a celebratory normal dinner. “Should be ready soon,” he adds with mild note and a glance to a watch. “Or, we’ll know it’s ready when Joe tries to sneak away with it.”

Emily laughs at the various suggestions to get out of work tomorrow, sitting up properly so she can smile without it straining as much. "Family emergency might be too much of a scandal," she jokes. "Better go with the bomb threat."

Brynn and Joaquin coming from the kitchen gets a smile, too, and Emily remembers to lift her hands to sign while she speaks, even if her motions aren't as energetic as they normally are. "I can't wait. Thank you guys for letting me come crash. I feel a little bad I didn't at least bring something edible with me." At least, she thinks that little kadomatsu isn't edible. When Lance comes bounding down the stairs, her head lolls back on the couch back again as she peers up and over the back of it at him. "Hey, did you decide if you're heading in early tomorrow for that thing we—?"

Emily stops on hearing an excitably fast string of knocks at the door, her head turning. She arches an eyebrow at the noise. "Was Hailey coming over, too?" she asks a bit hopefully. It'd been a long time.

The words are barely out of her mouth before another flurry of insistent knocks are patterned out on the door.

Silvia affords a glance upward at the sound of her name and gives a small wave in Lance’s direction. The side of her hand is silvery from where her hand had been pressing against the pencil lines of her sketch. ”Hey yourself.” She looks at her pile of art supplies and scoots them out of the way, offering an empty seat in the mound of pillows. Her gaze is pulled away as she hears Joaquin comment about Joe.

“Come on, we all know Joe’s not the sneaky one, he’d be talking about how delicious it is two seconds in.”

"Bomb threat it is, everyone gets the day off," Nathalie says, lifting her glass that is— for the moment— free of booze. She definitely would like it to be more booze-heavy, but she's worried that drinking will just make her bring up all the things she's trying to ignore right now.
No comment on the drama of Emily's family.

Instead, she looks over at Brynn with a warm smile. "I'm glad you guys… wanted me to come." She pushes up from the couch, moving to look closer at the art of their adolescent home. It really was a beautiful place. Cold, but then… it's cold in New York, too, and not quite so nice to look at. Luckily, Lance's entrance distracts her from and sort of wistful nostalgia of an easier time. She's too young to be feeling that way.

Some of her is, anyway.

"Lance, sweats? I hear rumors that you wear suits these days, but so far, zero evidence." Her smile turns crooked at the tease, because she really doesn't mind what any of them wear. Although, her own wardrobe has been forcefully upgraded over the years by the surprising number of Wolfhounds who are also ex-models.

She walks over to give Joaquin a low-five in greeting. "Chimo," she starts… and then there's knocking, so she nudges him with a shoulder. "Abre la puerta," she says, much like an older sister to a younger brother, "Ándale."

Doodlebug's bump against Brynn's leg coincides with a red light blinking both in here and in the front foyer that people can see, alerting the deaf resident that someone's at the front door too. Pausing momentarily to look over the group, she too wonders if Hailey decided to pop in after all, but their sister has a key. Oh well. Opening the door is a good way to answer the thought immediately! So she finishes traversing the foyer to do that.

The knocking continues, a rapid, excited series of four or five taps of knuckles on door with a pause barely half as long as what most people would consider a polite amount of time to wait. It’s insistent, persistent, and…

A pair of blue eyes beneath a mop of red hair meet Brynn’s face when she opens the door. “Oh! You’re home.” It sounds eager, maybe even a little bit pressed for time, although Brynn can’t hear her tone. Her hands move with just as much energy, a beat later as if recalling that the older girl can’t exactly hear her, and in usual Squeaks fashion. Some of the words are likely made up.

“I wasn’t sure anyone was.” Because the lights on didn’t give it away. “Is everyone here? I found another boat.” Unlike her usual, Squeaks doesn’t usher herself inside but waits at the door. It seems explaining herself is more important than making herself at home. “Is that food? Do you have supper cooking?”

Shock. That's what Squeaks gets. Brynn is frozen in shock and then the Tiny Captain finds herself hauled into the tightest hug she's ever gotten, a strangled sound coming from the dark-haired girl. She so rarely actually makes noises, the tone of it sends Doodlebug whining.

“Okay, one, that’s a stupid fucking thing to say, you’re always welcome here,” Lance observes, arms folding over his chest and both eyebrows leaping upwards as he mock-glares at Nathalie, “You’re one of us and you always will be, and you know that, so don’t make me show you that I can kick some Wolfhound ass.”

“Two, I am not at work right now, so I am not wearing my— “ The knocking has him trail off, glancing to the door, “Maybe…?” A hint of hopefulness. He hasn’t seen his sister in awhile either, and he has news for her.

When the door’s opened, he can’t see who it is past Brynn — but that sound that emerges from the deaf girl has him moving to the door in alarm, “Whoa, whoa, wha— SQUEAKS?”!

Then he, too, is joining the massive hug.

"That's exactly why I said it," Joaquin remarks to Silvia's comment about Joe, pulling a crooked, knowing grin. He's just low-fived back Nathalie when that knocking gets his attention along with everyone else's. Nodding to Nat's direction, he's turned and headed for the front door as well when he's beaten to the punch by Brynn.

In truth, Joaquin doesn't know Squeaks quite as well as the others. So the girl's re-appearance, unaccompanied by someone authoritative like a SESA agent (despite there being two of such agency Right There) confuses him. "Um… h-hey," he can only offer in greeting. Then he looks back over his shoulder at the others, gesturing in indication of the new arrival. Look what the Fates dragged in?

Silvia shoots Joaquin a sly smile at his comment about Joe, but her attention is pulled fully away by sounds at the door. She can't quite see much from her position on the floor, all she can see is Lance's back. The shout of a name gives her context and she sets her sketches aside so she can untangle herself from the pillows and get to her feet.

She's a little more in Joaquin's boat, she doesn't know Squeaks super well, at least not well enough to go charging in for a group hug. What she does know is that Squeaks was missing and now she's not. She stays near her mound of pillows, offering a small wave if Squeaks happens to look in her direction.

And Nat was just about to invite Lance to turn this party into a sparring match and everything. But Squeaks' reappearance takes priority over it pretty quickly. She hangs back with Joaquin, letting the others have their moment before she gives Squeaks a smile and wave. She's thankful for the other's rambunctiousness, as she has no idea what to do when a missing person just shows up at the door.


That's a little worrisome. She had assumed Gillian and Lene would be with her when she came back. But she does her best to keep the worry off her face.

The sound of the voice outside, someone talking to Brynn brings Emily to arch an eyebrow to herself. Her head turns, but she can’t see who it is at first. But then that boat comment passes and her gaze sharpens instantly, coming to her feet in a sluggish state of shock. “You…”

Her eyes flicker as she takes in the dogpiling from afar, not throwing any more arms into the mix. She’d technically gotten a good hug in months ago, her siblings definitely should get first dibs.

Or maybe she’s still just in shock.

“How?” Emily manages to ask, blinking repeatedly. “Squeaks, how did you get here?” Did they let her go? Did she escape? Where was Gillian and Lene? A thousand and one questions, each wanting a turn, but there’s a lot of noise and she’s only so many of them she can ask at once.

“I found another boat,” Squeaks manages to get out while she’s being hugged and clung to. She doesn’t try to fight it, but squeezes her siblings back with distracted enthusiasm. “You said we might need another one so I found one. It’s kind of a long story.” And not that important just yet.

She wiggles free of Brynn and Lance so she can get inside. “Something really big is coming,” she explains as she walks from the door and further into the house. Her hands move, though probably not in a way that Brynn can properly see them. Hopefully one of the others is covering that better than she is. “Huge big. That’s the only thing Eve said was right. And there’s a problem. The hackers.”

Pausing there, Squeaks looks up at Emily and Nathalie, then turns so she can include everyone in that gaze. She’s never been so serious about something before. “I think the hackers are going to try to help the monster get out of the television.”

Brynn pulls back from the hug, unaware of the whole boat comment. But she wipes at the tears that were slipping out. Her brows pull together in a frown as she does catch some — something about a problem and whatever that sign was (hackers), she's totally lost. And then something something television. She looks to Lance for translation.

“Wait, whoa, hold on— “ The door’s closed once she’s inside, and Lance turns back towards her, hands moving to translate his words as he looks at her with a furrowed brow, “What are you talking about? Which hackers? Are you alright? What happened, Emily said that you were kidnapped by that chinese guy? That you were in Praxia?”


Nathalie lifts her eyebrows when Squeaks attempts to get her news out. The more the girl gets out, the paler Nat gets. A number of puzzle pieces start to click into place. A monster. Things Eve warned them about. Praxia. Hackers. "The Praxis hack," she says, looking over at Emily for some acknowledgement. She knows Nat was paying attention to it, dreading it, until her secrets were pushed closer to the light of day. "They were looking for information on it." Perhaps it's a guess made out of panic, but it feels right to her. The pieces fit. "It was speaking through transmissions at first. Radios. TVs. Maybe part of it is still stuck there." She starts to pace as she talks, her thumbnail ending up between her teeth for a few laps. "It and Adam aren't friends. The hackers— or whoever they're working for— might think he keeps his secrets somewhere they can find them."

Nat knows, somewhere deep down, that Adam only keeps his deepest secrets in one place. His own mind. But maybe not everyone knows that. Maybe they hope he got sloppy. "Emily," she says, stepping over to reach for her sister. She's the only one here who has heard the same warnings she has. To know why she's afraid of monsters.

Emily's expression falls the longer everyone talks. She turns to look back to Silvia, then across to Joaquin. "Okay," she intones, working on rapidly compartmentalizing. No normal tonight after all, apparently. They were being thrown straight into weird. Squeaks found a way to get here, clearly. They'd arrested Zhao, so she hadn't somehow convinced him to bring her back. So what the fuck?

When Nathalie stops in her pace, Emily reaches for her hand to take a hold of it comfortingly. The freshly-colored patch of skin on the inside of her forearm twists, catching her eye before she looks back to Squeaks.

"Squeaks, I'm pretty sure the thing from the TV is already here. When all that shit happened out West that brought Liz and Magnes home, something got out, and it's been hunting people it finds important, and stealing their powers from them." Okay, that's a gross oversimplification, but she's almost certain bringing the Conduits up by name would cause more confusion than help. But she furrows her brow, looking to Nathalie. "You think the Praxis hacker was looking for information on it? To get things out about it?"

Emily turns back to Squeaks abruptly, her tone hardening. "I need you to answer everything you wouldn't before. Tell us why you're there. You were looking for answers, but something else is keeping you there, and if it's not a good reason, then SESA needs to know where you and your mom and Lene are so they can arrange for you to come home." She lifts her hand to gesture around the common area space. "Nobody's listening except us. So spill it."

“… what?” Silvia looks utterly out of her element when Squeaks starts talking. For a moment, she wonders if she’s lost her grasp of the English language and looks around in confusion, especially when Emily suddenly seems to understand what’s going on. Code words? She looks distinctly uncomfortable, not just because she doesn’t understand, but because there are people upset and she doesn’t know how to help.

She shrinks back a bit into her corner, hoping that something, anything makes this make sense.

While the flurry of activity and chatter goes on, Joaquin somewhere slips back once pace after another in retreat. Unassuming silence is his greatest ability, and one he utilizes well. The conversation clears his head and hair by a country mile, so the battle plans he leaves to the others. For once, it's his signing that 'says' anything at all. I go. Watching chicken.

Squeaks huffs at the questions and the insistence that she answers them. She's getting there. “Okay okay.” Sighing, she circles back to the beginning. The very beginning.

“There wasn't any information about Gemini or Umbra. Not in books or at SESA or Raytech. So I went looking for Zhao because he knew who I was before even meeting.” So it made sense that she would go ask him all of the burning questions surrounding her past. “He said he knew someone who could tell me but I had to leave with him and I couldn't tell anyone. It isn't safe for people to know because of the enemies. Even me coming here is maybe a risk but I had to. Just like I had to go there so I'd know about me.” She looks around at all her friends to see if they understand so far, but the pause isn't long enough for interjection. She plows on.

“Zhao took me to the Praxis Ziggurat. That's where… that's where I started to actually get answers.” Her chin lifts slightly. Emily's seen the defiance before, when they met in the dream. “My real parents are Claudia Zimmerman and Adam Monroe. And I was created to… to help stop the golden eyed monster from the television. That's why I have to stay for a while longer.”

If this were a Looney Tune, Brynn would literally have bugging-out, dinner-plate-sized eyes. Her brothers' long practice of unconsciously translating is both useful and horrible in this instance. Squeaks can't be saying she's…. going after the freaky thing in the video tape, can she?? She actually takes a step back toward the kitchen in instinctive rejection of that idea.

"I have to get out of here," Nathalie says to Emily in a rushed whisper. The panic is barely contained, but she's doing her best. She just learned that that monster is after her. And she knows it isn't locked up anywhere. She would feel better if it were stuck in a TV. She pulls away from Emily, her head shaking as she crosses to grab her jacket. "Em— I'll call you later." When she heads for the door, she turns back to look at the others. "I'll be back, just— another day."

It's the best she can give them for now. She would know how to explain later. Maybe once she understood it herself. But for now, she sweeps out of the door and out into the cold without another word.

All she wanted was one normal night. Just one.

There’s not much Silvia can do there. Not one bit of the conversation makes sense, and it’s going so fast that she couldn’t keep up even if she wanted to. Quietly, she kneels back down to gather up her art supplies, piece by piece, eyes only occasionally looking over at the situation. Once gathered, she stands up, but doesn’t move immediately.

Emily watches Nathalie go with a pained expression, not wanting to let her sister head out alone and agitated, but ultimately she doesn't move from her spot. Now's the chance for answers she'd been aching for for 7 months. Her brow knits and her now-empty hand flexes by her side before curling closed while she tries to shift her thoughts back on track.

The gold-eyed monster from the TV sounds so very much like the gold-eyed Sibyl that tore the Conduit from Eileen. Emily frowns at that, and frowns even deeper at the news Squeaks had been created to fight it.

She doesn't believe it. It all sounds so very convenient to her. Almost like a wanted criminal plucked a formerly homeless child from the streets and took her to a place where she was separated from everyone, everything she knew so she could be more easily manipulated into believing she was special. And who knows, maybe she was.

Special fodder for the cannon.

Keeping her tongue held on those thoughts is hard. Emily settles for: "If you go back, they're going to get you killed."

As one by one people begin to leave, Squeaks holds back in her information sharing to watch them. She doesn't try to stop them, but she's observant of body language and expression and even what isn't said out loud. A breath is exhaled when Nathalie passes her, but whatever thoughts or questions might come from it are set aside. If she has time later…

“They're not.” The argument rounds on Emily. The young girl’s eyes stare up at her friend in bold defiance of the claim. “They are doing everything they can to keep me safe.” Except they may not have planned for her to try out her new gifts by traveling across the country. “I'm going back so I can keep training. You can tell that you saw me, but…”

She shrugs.

A turn of her head brings Silvia, then Lance and Brynn into focus. “Umbra is a vaccine. I'm… the golden eye monster has a power, but Umbra keeps me from being affected. Gemini is adding abilities. That's how I got here and how I’ll get back to the Ziggurat.”

Absolutely none of that sounds good! You let them do stuff to you?? Squeaks, what're you thinking? Don't you think Aunt Gilly is worried to death about you? She went looking! And now she's been gone weeks trying to find you. Why would you believe anyone out there??

Silvia’s not moving yet, Squeak’s gaze being the only thing that kept her from a quick retreat of the room in the direction of the kitchen and its sanctuary of chicken. She tries to parse out phrasing, certainly unsure if the words mean what she thinks they mean. There’s a wave of confusion, and she frowns before she speaks up.

“We just want you safe.”

Joaquin may have been on his way back into the kitchen, but the flurry of back and forth have a train wreck quality to it that, as Bystander #1, he can't help but linger on the threshold and overhear. As Nathalie rushes out, he straightens with an urge to pursue. But belatedly, perhaps after the second go around, Joaquin turns back to the bulk of the group and stares at them all, more pointedly at Squeaks.

The questions blurt out before Joaquin can stop himself too, as pieces of what Eve had mentioned months ago and events leading up to the present fall together. "Wait, your parents are … Adam Monroe and Claudia Zimmerman? As in, Nazi-supreme version Magneto, and the Deveaux Society-slash-Secretary of SESA lady?" His tone pitches tighter, the more incredulous it sounds. "And then you went with a Chinese mob boss to Praxia, and they experimented on you, and told you take some vaccine to help you fight a golden eyed monster from a television. And you used some new superpowers to come all the way across the country to tell this to us before running off again?"

"Está loco como una cabra," he swears, "What the fuck?"

“What he said,” Lance backs up Joaquin’s started swearing, pointing at his lighthouse-sibling indicatively, “What the fuck? Look, I know they experimented on you as a baby, Squeaks, but that’s no reason to throw yourself in with— I mean, Christ, that’s reason not to. Monroe’s a bad guy! You should see his fucking rap sheet, I mean, he’s on the top most wanted list— he was a Nazi! Like, a literal Nazi!”

“And— wait, Gemini?” An uncertain look to Emily. Wasn’t there something bad about that?

Yeah, definitely something bad. Emily doesn't return Lance's worry, her expression steeling. "Squeaks," she says as she turns back to the smaller girl, so filled with confidence as she is. "We care about you. You know that. But everything you're saying— it goes from one insane extreme to the next. Gemini kills people. The thing from the television is dangerous. Adam Monroe is just as dangerous. You…"

She falters for a moment, her shoulders sloping down with resignation. "You're choosing this. Over us, over everybody and everything else." Emily looks uneasy, recalling in silence what Zhao had told her before she puts it aside with a shake of her head. "I'm with Lance— I don't get this at all. Fuck what those assholes bred you for." There's a small pause before she frowns even deeper. "You and Gillian and Lene should come home."

“I got experimented on when I was a little kid.” Squeaks points out that fact slowly and very clearly, enunciating each word to be sure she’s understood. “Gemini and Umbra. Maybe others, no one knows. And instead of asking questions you’re all just jumping to conclusions like I’m wrong and I’m going to die? Do you all think I’m stupid, that… that… that I’d just… I’d just let people do things to me? After… after everything we already know that they did to me and after… None of you grew up with it! Being stabbed and tested, locked up and called a monster and none of the grown-ups caring!”

At her sides, her hands ball into fists. Tears that refuse to be blinked away prick at eyes shifting from blue to gold and back again. She takes a deep breath, longing, wishing that she could show them, show her friends and the first of the only real family she’s known, what she’s seen. Their insistence that she’s somehow wrong in this is maddening. That she chose something else, someone else, over any of them.

Maybe coming back was wrong and impossible now.

Her shoulders rise and fall with a breath that’s meant to be calming. It’s followed by a second, shuddering breath, but she uses it instead of releasing it for a third try.

“I wanted to warn you. I don’t think… I’m pretty sure it isn’t Adam you need to worry about.” The pained expression that follows shows she’s sure they’re not going to believe her, but she takes that third breath and presses on anyway. “It’s not him that’s trying to get rid of everyone without powers. It’s not him that’s trying to destroy everything. He’s trying to stop it like he did before. There’s others… I think the Hackers are trying to help the gold eyes. Scylla called me…”

The words trail off as determination to state her case loses steam. What’s the point if they won’t try to understand the easier parts? Squeaks turns away to brush roughly at her face. It was a mistake coming here.

Moving swiftly, Brynn drops to eye level with Squeaks, holding both of her small shoulders so she has their little sister's full attention. (It's not a far drop — Brynn barely clears 5 feet herself.) Her hands fly. Adam worked for the same people who did all those things to you. Do you think I don't know what it's like to be alone and want parents to care? I was in the foster system all my life, Mouse. Her gray eyes are worried and a bit tearful.

No one wanted a deaf baby, and then someone figured out I had abilities. They were shooting at us all, trying to kill us. We were unwanted kids too. But we love you. And we are scared for you. We are scared that as smart as you are, he is lying to you to get you to do things and help him. And that he's going to hurt you. Especially if he's messing around and changing your ability — that's some messed up stuff. Brynn pauses. I love you. You are my baby sister. I will help you whatever way you need. But understand that I'm scared for you?

“Did you think we all grew up with happy lives? Do not think that just because you had needles doesn’t mean the rest of us didn’t have fists or words thrown at us.” Silvia’s gaze goes from Brynn for a moment, then back to Squeaks. “We certainly understand what it’s like, probably better than anyone else. We’ve all experienced more than our share of troubles before we were even adults. But we’re here right now. We can’t just make what happened and who we were forced to be go away, but we get to choose what we want to do and who we want to be from here on out.”

Her pace moves from where she was retreating to back into the room a bit more. “I don’t know what half of what you said means, but others here seem to understand some of what I’m saying, so I will go on the assumption that things are bad. But whatever they said to you, you don’t have to do what they say. You don’t have to go where they tell you. You are a person, not a purpose. Not an object or a toy people get to push around where they please. Don’t let them take away who you are. You have a family here. People who care. If something’s bad, we’ll figure it out. We’ve all gotten this far, haven’t we?”

Silvia still doesn’t entirely know what’s going on, but staying quiet in the midst of it isn’t something she’s comfortable with. She hugs the sketchpad to her chest a bit.

“We grew up as soldiers,” says Lance, pulling up short and frowning back at the youngest of them, “Most of us here— we didn’t have a choice either. I killed someone when I was ten, Squeaks. So yeah, maybe there weren’t needles, but most of us were raised to be weapons — so yeah, we fucking understand that. We’re— “

He grimaces, glancing to Brynn as she hand-talks, then looks back, voice softening, “We’re just worried. We don’t trust this guy, and we— know how hard it is wanting a parent that loves you and wants you. We’re not saying you’re wrong, we’re saying we don’t have any reason to believe him. Why should we? The file on this guy is— so long.”

Emily shifts her weight hard as she looks across the room. "Yeah," she echoes, "The girl with the golden eyes is an issue, but so is the immortal nazi dude." But perhaps that point has been hammered home enough.

"Why are you sure the Praxis hackers aren't just against Adam, against Praxis because of all the bad shit they've done? I'm not pulling it out of thin air about Gemini potentially killing you— it was part of the stuff they released in the hacks, Squeaks." Her voice strains as she goes on, "There was some girl named Lanna, and they did everything they could to keep her from knowing how bad it was and could go— shut down anyone who tried to talk to her about issues with her health because of whatever the fuck they did to her. Headaches, worse, whatever." Her mouth pulls back into a frown as her hands come together before her.

"But you tell us, then," Emily concedes unhappily. "The Praxis hacker called you? What'd they say?"

Whether or not he fully understands the significance of the terms being dropped around, Joaquin can feel the flush of color from his face. Because, unlike the others describing their individual horror stories and home lives or lack thereof, he can remember his all too well, but in a completely other light. His gaze drops to a lower angle, hands falling lax at his sides. For all that the others group around Squeaks leveling their reassurances and worries, he remains silent on the matter. Until, he utters a bitter sounding turn, "Yeah well, don't worry about it then, Jac. At least your family's still alive. They'll take care of it."

Joaquin turns away abruptly, hiding his grimace and fighting off the tightening of his throat. He stalks away to the kitchen then without looking back.

“You should be scared. All of you, everyone should be scared.” She's no longer yelling, but there's still force behind Squeaks’ words. Her eyes lift away from Brynn to give Joaquin a parting look then go to Lance, Emily, and Silvia. “Whatever is coming is scary, more scary than a man who did things he didn't want to do in trying to make things better. Or because he had to. Did you know he was with the Company? Do any of you know how many of them had to do things because otherwise they and their whole families would be murdered?”

She pauses just long enough for a breath. When she continues, there's still hurt in her tone, but the anger is mostly gone. “Yes. Scylla called me. She's watching phones and… probably a lot more.”

Definitely a lot more, but her access to technology in Praxia is fairly limited. Her knowledge of how far the hacker can reach is a guesstimate at best.

Squeaks rubs a hand across her eyes and seems to steel herself for more argument. “She offered me a way home, except it sounds… like it's too good to be true. Like all of you worry about with Adam, only he's never promised me anything.” She pulls in a breath, giving herself a second before going on. “Scylla wanted me to get into the labs and steal something for them. She wants me to do this alone, and smuggle it out alone, and set up a meeting point and then she and her friends will get me and my mom and my sister out of Praxia.” And eventually home, although the more she's thought about that conversation the more she's doubted it.

You should be scared. Well, that can't be any plainer. Brynn frowns slightly and she backs up to give Squeaks room. She isn't following some of this. Her focus was on what might have been done to Squeaks. So someone called her — the name is one she doesn't catch, but with Emily's additional context she picks up on the idea of hackers. And stealing something. Helplessly, she looks toward Lance — she isn't catching enough information to have any response on this.

Silvia lets out a slow breath. She can’t follow along because she doesn’t know. What she does know is it sounds like Squeaks is dead set on her course of action. “Pretty sure she’s already made her mind up about all of this,” she says, her tone mild. Hugging her sketchpad to her chest, she shakes her head and turns back towards her room.

“Good luck,” she says as she moves to finish her retreat this time.

“What…” Lance folds both arms across his chest, rocking back on his heels a bit, “What do they want you to steal? That’s— also shady, but… I don’t know.” He grimaces, “You’re in a bad position, Squeaks, and I don’t— I just don’t want you to get chewed up and spit out because someone wants to use you. Whoever it is.”

“I…” He glances to the others, then back, “We’re not— against you here, little sister. We’re just worried. You know we have your back whatever, we just…”

Have more sense than you do about this would be a particularly callous thing to say, and that's the only reason Emily refrains from calling it how it is. The youngest of them was going to run away, likely, if she felt any more under attack.

The thin blonde swallows hard to keep the words down, watching Joaquin go with a flicker of difficulty in her expression. It takes her a second to look back to Squeaks. "Okay," Emily breathes out in a sigh, "Realizing that there's two potential bad guys in this situation is a step in the right direction. Exposing Praxis for what they are is a good thing, sure, but if Scylla wants to steal something from them, that's like 60/40 to it probably being bad news."

She lifts her shoulders in a shrug. That's just how she sees it. Why else would you want to steal something from a lab?

"Here's the other thing — you can obviously get home by yourself now. Why not just leave?" Yes, you've said that multiple times now, Emily, but this time is different, because, "If you leave, it takes away her leverage, right?" Her? Their? Whatever.

Tears spill over anew when Silvia leaves next, and Squeaks turns a hurt look to the three that remain. Are they going to abandon her too? It wouldn't surprise her. They're dead set on what they've always been told. That this trip turned into a controlled argument isn't what she'd expected, and that feels like a knife slowly sinking into her stomach. She blinks and looks away.

“I don't know how to say it so you understand,” she states quietly. Maybe by keeping her voice hushed, she'll mask the ache that's trying to overwhelm. “This isn't… Yeah, he's done bad things. A lot of people have. How come you can hero worship Magnes or Ben Ryans, but…”

The sentence goes unfinished, stopped behind a clenched jaw. She never wanted to fight.

She covers her face with her hands and lets out a shaking breath. “Because being here could put all of you in danger.” Squeaks’ voice is small, would be small even if it weren't hidden behind her hands. “Because there I'm… it's like a fortress. And I wish I could have you all there with me. I wish… I wish you could just give it a chance that I'm not all wrong. That I'm not stupid and making mistakes.”

Brynn can't follow anything that's said once Squeaks hides herself like that, but she knows the younger girl's body language. The stubbornness that will make her run very soon here. And instead of saying anything else, she wraps both arms around Squeaks and just hugs her. Just offers the only comfort and support she can give right now — she doesn't have the words to say what she needs to say because there are too many and they'll come out wrong in this situation. She slants an entreating look to her brother — they've seen enough battered kids determined that they know what they're doing and standing in their way just makes them run. Hell, they all do it too. Help? Because if they don't do something, they'll lose their little sister.

“We’re used to being in danger.” Lance steps over as well, reaching out a hand to slide over Squeaks’ shoulder as Brynn hugs her, grimacing, “I’m not afraid of a— fucking giant gold eyeball in a television set. “And he’s just done— way, way worse things, I mean, yeah, none of the Ferry were angels, but Monroe…”

A sigh, “Look, we’re not saying you’re stupid. We’re just worried. We love you. We trust you, too, we just know how much people suck sometimes, so we’re worried.”

Letting the other two handle the hugs, Emily pulls her arms to herself, crossing them tightly. Besides not knowing what else to add, she’s uncertain what to do in general. The whole being here could put you in danger angle is neither new to her at this point, nor a slant on a relationship she particularly cares for. “There’s something about that fucking pyramid. Isn’t there?” is as far as she gets with voicing any thoughts, or with agreeing with Squeaks about its being a fortress. “Something fucking weird about it.”

The hugs aren't returned, but the teen doesn't shrug herself out of them either. She shakes her head at their words, although she wouldn't be able to explain why if she was asked. It's complicated, filled with feelings she has no experience with and can't decipher. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. Reunions are supposed to be good and happy.

She sniffles hard behind her hands, then takes in a shaky breath. Her hands come away from her face and she looks up at Emily. “I don't…” She pauses, allowing herself to wonder at something she never thought to ask. “I can't teleport into or out of it, but I can inside.” And outside, obviously, or she wouldn't be here. “There's a lot of protections, like robots and drones and… I don't know, people?”

Could it be people making teleporting dangerous? Squeaks stares up at Emily, the same deep thinking look she'd used when trying to understand the latest ink-lady puzzle.

Of course, this is bigger than the ink-lady.

Tugging Brynn and Lance with her, Squeaks moves the hugging to incorporate Emily too. “I really, really, very honestly, truly believe that Adam is going to do everything he can to keep me from getting hurt.” She knows she's not going to change their minds or erase their worries, but maybe that will ease them some. She can hope.

“I just… I really wanted you to know.” The youngest girl looks up, first at Lance and Brynn then at Emily. “Because there's something coming or it's already here and that's even worse. And because we can't let the gold eyes win.”

Is there anything we can do? Will you be able to come home again? Brynn can see that they're not going to convince their little sister. So now she just wants to make sure all paths home are open to her.

“So how,” asks Lance, brow furrowed as he looks down to her, “Can we help, Squeaks? You can’t just drop that on us and expect us to sit on our thumbs here…”

At first Emily looks less than pleased to be looped in on this hug pile, but then she wraps an arm around Squeaks' back, holding onto her firmly. Not as tight as she had when they'd met in a dream, but close. She's silent for a moment, remembering what had haunted her dreams the night before.

"Squeaks…" A beat passes. What can she even say about what she was made to witness? "I had a dream about it. If the posters I saw today are any indication, a ton of people had a dream about it. We saw what it wants." Emily pauses briefly, long enough to fight off the urge to slink away. This wasn't something she wanted to talk about, with anyone. She knew what she'd said in the moment, but the step back waking up had provided filled her with fear more than anything. "It felt… unstoppable. But if we're gonna not let it win, then it's going to take… I don't know— every fucking Evolved in the world and thensome to come together against it."

Not just Adam Monroe. She wants to add that, but only barely bites it back. The desire to is plain, even so.

“Just… trust me?” It isn't just about keeping her family safe from whatever is coming, but making sure they're ready for when it does come. Squeaks clings to the group, holding tightly instead of being the first to wiggle free. “I know… I know you're worried and you don't… Adam’s done a lot of bad things.” She doesn't voice what she's asking them to do, to stand with her when the time comes even if it means supporting the man they hate, but it's plain in her tone. “Please?”

Her head lifts, and her blue eyes seek Emily's when the older girl reveals… “A dream. Kaylee had it too, but not Richard.” And not her either. The teen untangles herself from the others but doesn't escape to more space. “It's… Kaylee says it was the entity. That the entity is trying to manipulate things.”

The group hug has left Brynn pretty much in the dark about this last part of the conversation. She will catch up on whatever is being said later on, but she does catch when Squeaks pulls away. Aunt Kaylee is smart, and she has a lot of experience with bad stuff. If that's what she thinks, I would believe her. That thing in the TV? She shudders. That is not a good thing.

“Okay.” Lance’s hands come up to translate again for Brynn, though he’s looking somewhat stricken still as he looks back at the youngest of them, “Look, just— if things go wrong, if something bad happens, you can always come back here. Okay? We won’t even say I told you so. Or if you need help. Take care of mom, and give her a hug from me, and tell Lene the radio station is being taken care of and— “

He stops himself, drawing in a breath, “Right. Just. All that.”

Emily doesn't voice a promise— she's occupied wondering just when Squeaks went to see Kaylee. She lets out a sigh, rubbing the side of her thumb along the bridge of her nose. "Yeah," she agrees wearily. "Yeah, maybe it was."

But what can any of them do about it? They didn't even know what its actual goal was, aside from what they were made to witness… which was death. An endless cycle of death.

And resurrection.

"Squeaks, let's just… figure this out one step at a time. We can't solve all the world's problems or undo— whatever and all that— with a snap of a finger. Let's just worry about dinner for now."

"Are you staying?"

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