Eastern Hemlock


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Scene Title Eastern Hemlock
Synopsis Another tree is located and this time SESA brings in SCOUT Detective Kaylee Thatcher to speak to the victim.
Date December 15, 2019

“I know you were planning on taking Detective Thatcher to the Jackson Heights tree today, but— we have a change of plans. Gerken found another one. I’ll send you the address. He’ll meet you at the scene.”

Corbin hadn’t sounded happy at all as he relayed this piece of information, changing everything for the day in a fell swoop.

“See if you can find out her identity if nothing else.” That was the main goal. Find out who their fourth victim was. They could send in her DNA for testing, compare it against missing persons, but… the telepathic resource they had went through the trouble of getting would be a quicker asset. “Gerken already has the warrant,” he adds. “You’re in charge of the scene, Varlane.”

The address shows up on the phone a moment later.

Brooklyn Visitation Academy — Bay Ridge.

This used to be a Monastery.

Surrounded by a sturdy stone wall, the square was still lush and green, well cared for. Now it was a private high school, but classes were finished for the school year, Christmas break creeping ever closer, which was probably a good thing due to the sudden influx of people on the grounds. The Satellite images had been long and arduous to go through, and Lance probably had not thought he would find anything, but there it was. Sometime between the March 15th satellite images of 2019 and the April 15th images, a green circle had appeared where there had not been one before.

An Eastern Hemlock, the first lab tech had told him. It bled when they crushed a needle. Just like the others.

Led back by the lab techs, the two women are presented with a large, green, pine-like tree. Seventy feet tall. Twenty-five at the pine base. The tree was huge.

How had the private school missed this?

And even before she gets close enough, Kaylee can hear the buzzing of thoughts where thoughts should never be.

Nicole’s first instinct is that someone knows something here. Unless the school has been closed for some time, or the tree appeared overnight, there’s no way it was noted. Maybe it means they’re getting closer to finding a responsible party. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Exhaling a heavy sigh, the electrokinetic unbuttons her blazer and rests her hands on her hips as she takes in the sight of the tree. Their latest victim. “Please tell me you’re able to get something from this,” she murmurs to the blonde at her shoulder.

The tree was absolutely breathtaking. Kaylee’s head was tipped back to look up through the branch, eyes unfocused as she listened to the humming in her head. In fact, she doesn’t breath again, until Nicole speaks up next to her. Blinking a few times, she looks at Nicole.

“It’s like you thought,” Kaylee finally says, once she can form thoughts again. Having a tree humming at her mentally was weird. It was like the hums from the SESA agent’s minds. The hum has her stepping closer to the tree, head turned slightly, like she could hear it.

Kaylee reaches out for the rough bark, hoping a connection will strengthen the mental voice of whoever was trapped there.

There was at first a bit of excitement bubbling up in Lance when he found the tree, and when he was able to deliver the warrant— it’s like he’s a real agent. That was swiftly muffled when he reminded himself what these trees were… and how these poor people were suffering.

“I wonder if there’s any meaning to the trees chosen,” he mumbles to himself as he goes over some papers on a clipboard, then looks up anxiously as Kaylee moves closer to the tre— the victim.

A nerdy woman nearby speaks up at the young Agent’s curious side comment, pushing the rims of her glasses up onto the roof of her nose. “Eastern Hemlocks are actually endangered and rarely grow to be this big in the New England area. This is almost like the ideal for the species. Not that I’m a tree expert. We’d have to contact Doctor Marten again to see if he has any more thoughts,” the dark-haired young woman says quietly, half to herself even if she were answering the question. She’s the same lab tech whom Lance had seen at the first site, and at some others since then. She was the one who decided to stop cutting down the American Elm.

A few nuns stand nearby, the ones that Lance had to hand the warrant over to in the first place. Some wear the full outfit, while one of the younger ones still has her brown hair visible, they talk quietly amongst themselves for the time being. The oldest one, the abbess, Mary Christine, has that class stern appearance, with her arms folded over her chest. She had not sounded pleased when she took the warrant, but the sisters had complied.

As soon as Kaylee’s hand touches the bark, she feels the whispered incoherency strengthen, the thoughts coming into focus, but for a moment she feels the strange sensation of being unable to move, unable to see, unable to hear, unable to feel anything at all, but somehow still being aware of her own body.

She’s not the one who was unable to sense things as she should—

That was the tree. The terrified, lonely tree, wrapped in thoughts and worries and emotions, with no way to express them and no way to escape what she’s terrified of. It is a she, she can feel that right away. There’s little in the way of words with her thoughts, but there are pictures, as if the only way she could stay even the slightest bit sane was by getting lost in her memories, memories of things she did every single day— brush her teeth, brush her hair, put on her makeup in front of a mirror…

She’s imagining this, imagining moving, breathing, tasting the minty toothpaste burning in her mouth as she applies the mascara on lashes that frame pale-colored eyes. Her hair seems to shift between styles and colors, as if she’s not sure which one it should, blonde then brown, then blonde with dark roots, even with a blue streak once in the blonde hair.


She’s young, probably not even in her twenties, and it’s almost as if she senses Kaylee, who suddenly can see herself there in the mirror reflected back at her. “Who’re you?” the young woman asks, putting the mascara down, but not turning away.

Nicole turns her attention to the tech answering Lance’s question. She’s quiet, considering what she’s hearing, all the while looking at the tree as Kaylee makes her approach. “That’s really good, uh…” Frowning, she snaps her fingers and turns her attention to the woman in the glasses, pointing to decrease the notion that she might be addressing anyone else. “Sorry, I’m shi—”

Right. There are nuns around. “Terrible with names. Remind me of yours?” Nicole squints a little, trying to read her name badge from where she’s standing.

“Chantal Horner, Agent Varlane!” The young tech answers, not seeming to be bothered by her name having been forgotten.

“Horner. Great,” Nicole responds with a short nod. “Thanks.” Abruptly, she veers away from that conversation after clapping a hand on Lance’s shoulder as if to say you’ve got this. “I’m going to go talk to the sisters,” she informs him as she meanders her way toward the small knot of nuns, pulling a notepad out of her blazer pocket, a small pen is tugged free from the spiral binding.

“You’re the, ah… Abbess, right? Forgive me,” Nicole begins, “I’m not sure how to address you. Is it Reverend Mother or Mother Superior or…?” She smiles politely. “I just want to make sure I’m giving you the proper respect. We appreciate you cooperating with our investigation.”

Everyone will know the telepath has made contact by the soft gasp of surprise. “Oh my God,” is whispered out loud. (Sorry sisters) How could this be real? Kaylee pushes her hand harder against the bark to feel the bite of the bark against her palm, ensuring that… yes it was real.

Blue eyes shut as she reaches for that mind and falls into it. In fact, when she is finally noticed by the woman, she might find a slightly horrified look. Who would do something like this?

«My name is Kaylee Thatcher. I’m an NYPD Detective.» Is offered up, like an offering of hope. Kaylee’s voice echoes around them, her lips unmoving. Even though she identifies herself as a cop, her clothing is more mundane. He blonde curls a mess, looking a bit more like a biker, then what she claims. Even her t-shirt says ‘Monster Inside’ like an Intel logo. «A colleague of mine found you and called me in to talk to you.» The telepath fades at the edges, as she loosens her hold on the victim's mind. There is a reason for that.

Even though Kaylee appears to be lost in the mind of another, Lance knows this look too well, she offers a hand out to him. «Lance.» His name echoes in the woman’s mind and in the real world. «Come talk to her.» Her.

While she waits for him to join her, Kaylee watches the woman. Her internal and external voice continue until he does, «We’re going to try and fix this, but we need some information.»

“Thanks,” Lance flashes a quick smile over to Horner at her observation, “I more meant symbolically, I mean, if we think about this like a serial killer there might be some kind of… I don’t know, pattern to the trees, and the victims?” He’s been reading books again, it seems.

Then his voice echoes in his mind, and he blinks upwards. Carefully he steps over, reaching out to take the telepath’s hand. “Yeah? How can I— “


”Um. Hi, yeah, I’m Lance Gerken, I’m with SESA. We’re here to, I mean— “ A glance back to ‘Kaylee’ in the mindscape, then back to the woman, “— find out who did this to you and try and… fix it. Can you tell us your name, miss?”

The Nuns stop talking to each other as soon as Nicole steps over. Silence greets her for a long moment, before the older woman inclines her head in a hint of a greeting. “Mother Superior,” she responds in a raspy voice, not unlike an ancient smoker. Not that she likely smokes now, but probably she did at one point. No one was born a nun, after all. “The school is finished for the year and very few students live on the campus. We shall cooperate fully with anything the investigation needs.” She makes a small gesture with her hand, a fidget, as if she might wish to be clutching a rosary and running her fingers over the beads.

The other sisters bow their heads, to assent to that, but one particularly does not look down for long, glancing over at the tree with curiosity.

The tree that now housed some guests.

The details of the mindscape shift fluidly from one aspect to another, as if the mind can’t quite hold onto the memories. The mirror’s frame changes for a moment before changing back, her hairstyle shifts from short to long. The only thing that seems to remain constant would be her face. The make up and other small details alter from one second to the next, but the eyes, nose shape, mouth— the base features remain constant.

At the appearance of Lance, there’s a sudden coloring to her cheeks and her clothes shift, neckline plunging. It would appear she finds him attractive. Which Kaylee at least can tell without those visual cues. “Wow. Aren’t you a little young to be an Agent,” she laughs with nervousness, toying with the ends of her blonde hair that a moment later slips from her fingers because her hair went into a sudden updo.

Then her eyes move back to Kaylee, processing what she had said a little first. “Oh. Yes. I’m Desirae. How did you get in here? I’ve been so lonely! Maybe you can figure out how to open the door..”

The mindscape has the form of an ever-shifting bedroom. And one big, heavy, wooden door with a tree engraved upon it. While details of the room itself shift, comforter changing, furniture moving, the door never does.

Nicole nods her head and glances to the nuns in turn. “We appreciate that a great deal, Mother Superior.” Pointing toward the tree over her shoulder with the end of her pen, she keeps her attention politely focused on the Abbess. “Can you start by telling me when you had that tree installed on campus?”

She makes a point of not glancing to the younger and more curious of the nuns. She may choose to separate her from the group and question her if the others prove too tight-lipped, but for now, they seem to want to be accommodating.

The neckline doesn’t stay low long, Kaylee’s maternal instinct snags ahold of the mental landscape… «Yeah.. Let's stay focused here.» …and with a thought Desirae’s shirt returns to its prior state. «And we’re here, because I’m a telepath.» She offers the girl a reassuring smile. «Like Agent Gerken said, we’re here to figure out who did this to you and help get you home.»

The door catches the telepath’s attention moments before the girl mentions it. Well…. That’s interesting. While hands stay clasped in the real world, there in the girl’s mind, Kaylee lets go of Lance’s hand so she can go look at the door. Hands reach out almost immediately to touch the door and run fingers along the wood grain, feeling the texture of it and finding its weaknesses.

Without taking her attention off the door, Kaylee asks the girl out of curiosity, «What’s the last thing you remember, Desirae, before you ended up in here?»

There’s a noticable flush from Lance as he recognizes that flirtatiousness and has, frankly, no idea how to handle it! He clears his throat a little despite not needing to in the mindscape, flashing her a smile, “Well, junior agent,” he admits, “And yes, can you… tell us the last thing you remember? Maybe we can help you get out. We’re here to help.”

He hopes they can. Maybe whoever did this can reverse it.

A glance to the door, and then back to her, eyebrows raised a little in hopefulness that she might remember something important.

The Mother Superior glances toward the tree, frowning a little. “I do not spend much time in the garden, but I do remember the report. I believe it was after the Spring Break when our students came back from a week off. One of the Sisters reported it. We have strict rules against using abilities in the school, but no one came forward about it so we had no one to punish. The students are the age when some of them might manifest without knowing. We do have a few who tested positive.”

They hadn’t denied students who tested positive, at least. “We also have one Sister who is registered as unmanifested.” All the sisters glanced around at each other for a moment, before one too many eyes ended up resting on the young one who still had her hair visible in the habit. She ducks her head somewhat but doesn’t speak up. “It was harmless. We had no reason to report it beyond the grounds.”

It could have been considered vandalism, possibly? But it didn’t damage the wall or any of the walkways. It didn’t even hang over the pond that rippled quietly in the wind, with small hints of frost on the edges. It mostly seemed to have been dropped down in a spot that had been relatively empty.

The shirt snaps back to a more modest hem and the Desirae doesn’t even seem to notice, still smiling a little over at Lance. Kaylee’s editing seems to have stabilized her appearance, hair settling into soft curls that reach down to her shoulders, a soft blonde color. She looks, perhaps, the same age as Lance. “The last thing I remember?” she repeats the question softly.

While she doesn’t change, she looks off into the distance for a moment and motion can be seen behind her. In the mirror. The surface of the mirror seems to be playing through memories, like a silent film. It’s shaky and skips and doesn’t have any sound, but it’s as if she were trying to recall it. For a moment it’s the view of a classroom, students sitting in a lecture hall, some taking notes, some not paying attention. In the front of the hall, an older gentleman stands, very tall, in an outdated suit, giving a lecture with pictures of cells blown up on a projection behind him. “I was in my night class— we were going to have an exam in the next class.”

The image sputters and shifts as people move to get up, the lecture over. It cuts, fast forwards, and then shows the view of a dark pathway, one of the buildings she passes by being the Library at Brooklyn College. “I was walking back to where my roommate was going to pick me up…” A flicker, the mirror seems to focus on the books in her hands for a moment, illuminated by the soft lighting in the night air.

Darkness. For a moment they both can feel something over their mouths. A sharp smell. The memory doesn’t affect them, but…

”I don’t remember getting to the car…”

“I’m expressive myself,” Nicole tells the nuns, making sure she makes eye contact with the younger one before she moves on. “A manifestation can be a very confusing time for someone. It’s good to know you’re being supportive of your peers and your students.” And if they aren’t, maybe they’ll be shamed a bit now and consider it in the future.

Moving on, Nicole glances down at her notebook for a moment while she scribbles notes and speaks at the same time. “Do any of your students of faculty have any affiliations with Brooklyn College? Do you have students taking courses there or maybe a professor who adjuncts there? Anything like that?”

The shared memories disrupt Kaylee’s examination of the door, turning away from the carved surface to watch the mirror. The smell… “This wasn’t an accident,” the telepath says flatly and turns back to the door. “Someone is purposely trapping people in trees.”

Kaylee’s fingers continue to feel over the door, fingertips run along the frame with an unfocused gaze. Whatever she finds, after a few moments brows furrow. “This isn’t made by anyone,” she says more for Lance’s sake. Eyes focus on the girl, “This is of your own making. Sometimes, when something is traumatic enough, our brains block the memory to protect us.”

Brushing fingers over the tree carving, Kaylee says softly, “My gut says this is that moment.” Fingers curl around the handle, but she stops short of turning the knob. As much as Kaylee really wanted to see what was behind that door, it wasn’t her choice… not even Lance’s decision. “Desirae, I need your permission to open this door.”

A hand lifts to keep her from answering yet, Kaylee’s expression is serious, “If I open this door, whatever happened will be there forever. I can blur the edges of it, but I can’t block it again. Not permanently.” A hand gently rests on the door, sympathetic. “You will have to live with that memory or trauma.”

This wasn’t slipping a command into someone's thoughts to save their life, she was asking this young woman permission to potentially scar her for life.

As the mirror begins to shift, Lance steps over to watch it, one hand reaching to reassuringly rest on the young woman’s shoulder as he watches those memories flit by. Knowing that they don’t end well, his stomach tightening in knots in anticipation. It’s like watching a horror movie but you know it’s real footage.

”That’s the college library,” he says quietly, “It… maybe there’re some cameras in the area covering the outside? Do we have a postcognitive anywhere we can pull in to check the path outside, if not?”

He looks back at Kaylee, then winces as she reaches for the door. Yeah, whatever’s back there can’t be good.

For a moment, the younger nun looks visibly relieved, but some of the others start to whisper quietly until the Reverend Mother shoots them a side-eyed glare. They quiet down after that. “Before the war, we were open to expressive children. One of the few schools that allowed them before the quarantining. We still have the same standards, we just require that any that have manifested not use them on campus and seek outside help in training in controlling what they possess.” She speaks with a firm voice, completely neutral before she answers the actual question.

“We have an early college credit program with the College, allowing students to take advanced classes for college credit in their senior year. I can get you a list of participants for this year.” She glances at one of the sisters, who nods her head and turns away to scurry off, likely to get any paperwork that’s necessary. “Some of our staff attended there, as well, though I do not think any continue their lessons there.”

”I really don’t remember getting to the car…” Desirae whispers again, as if confused why she doesn’t remember it, or what happened on the way to the car. It’s as if the room itself starts to dim as she tries to think about it, the lights flickering and lessening in strength. It flickers back when she blinks and looks directly at Kaylee again, drawn to pay attention to her.

”You’re so… bright,” she muses softly, before her cheeks color as she admits to this fascination. “You look like an angel.” She doesn’t continue that, before she glances back toward the door. The block. A block of her own design. For a moment her mindscape shudders, like a brief memory of fear. It feels like a large truck driving by an old building, shaking the walls ever so slightly. Her full lips quiver in fear before she looks back at Kaylee. “I… you can open it.”

Those words seem to be all that was really needed, though, as the wood suddenly splinters, the tree carving on the surface animating and coming to live, branches and roots and leaves reaching out to break it apart.

”S̷͙͋̇h̴͖̆ĕ̶̢͕ ̷̗̂̇ủ̵̖̊s̶̖͐̈ẹ̷̮̀̀d̷̻̕͜ ̵̩̖̎ţ̸̐o̵̤̓̈ ̷̝̉ĺ̶̤o̴̼̜̓̍v̶̮̜͌́e̸̢̎ ̵͖͍̈́̒t̷̮͌͝h̶̳̽í̷͙s̷͓̠̔̇ ̵͙̥̕p̵̮̈́̒l̷͍̑à̴ͅc̴̪̅̉e̷̛̫.̷̡̬͑̕”

The voice booms across the room, shaking everything. Distorted and otherworldly, like a monster within a movie might have sounded. Desirae immediately backs away, the lights flickering once more, strobing with flashes of yellow and white and red and blue. A choke escapes her mouth, and her skin begins to crack, little vines sprouting out from under her flesh.

There is amusement at being called an angel, but it only lasts a moment. Eyes widen in horror as the girl starts reliving the nightmare of becoming that tree, as the booming voice fills her senses. Kaylee’s brain screams at her to flee the sight, but instead the telepath lunges for her and grips her face between slender hands.

“Shh shh shh,” Kaylee shushes the poor girl, gentle, like she would with her kids. Tears pickle at the corners of the woman’s eyes. This poor girl. Ignoring the changes going on under her hands, she tries to help Desirae bring that memory under control. “It’s okay, he can’t get you anymore.” The girl was already a tree, after all. “Close your eyes and breath, you are okay, I’m here with you.” With an audible snap, wings sprout out of Kaylee’s back and a soft glow emerges around her head. In the girl's moment of panic, the telepath lets the girl see her as an angel; even if Kaylee didn’t feel like one and she'll probably have to threaten Lance to keep his damn mouth shut.

But, imagery was a powerful image for those with Faith.

He is here with you.” The Almighty was here with her.

”It’s going to be okay, Desirae.” is offered to the girl firmly, with choked words as Kaylee fights her own emotions. It’s a fight for the narrative, but the telepath was up for it, as she attempted to relegate the memory into the mirror again.

The telepath wanted to know more, needed too, but… the trauma was so bad. Kaylee could almost feel the sensation of the transformation under her own skin, it itches at her shoulder blades.

As much as she’d like to get her hackles up and lecture about freedom of a person to be who they are, the Catholic church is not the most receptive of organizations. And that’s just supposing for a moment that she was willing to compromise her professionalism or the cooperation the Reverend Mother is showing for their investigation so far. She isn’t.

“I appreciate it,” Agent Varlane says of the list of students the sisters will be providing. With a tight-lipped smile, she makes a note for herself, then lifts her gaze again. “Have you had any students that haven’t reported to their dormitories or for class lately? I don’t necessarily mean someone you’d consider reporting as a missing person.”

“Hey, hey…” Lance steps over to Desirae as she looks at the door in fear, one hand reaching out tentatively to her shoulder. A reassuring gesture, flashing her a matching smile, “It’ll be alright. It’s just a memory, and we’re here for you.”

Because a memory has never hurt anyone.

The door is opened. That voice booms out, and as the girl’s skin *cracks* and creepers start to slide out like an acorn hatching, his hand instinctively jerks back. His eyes widen a little, and he looks to— okay, Kaylee’s an angel now. That’s new.

Unsure what to do, and unnerved by the mindscape’s unsteadiness, he says nothing.

“We always have a few students who rebel or miss classes every year, but none that have not come back lately, no. All our girls were accounted for last night at light’s out and again this morning at breakfast,” the old Nun responds to the questions, patient, but still a little stern. That’s probably not something that goes away really. It’s a way of life.

A soft light pours off of Kaylee, casting a thin halo around her body. Shadows elongate against the walls, growing darker and darker against the changing light. Desiree raises her eyes to meet Kaylee’s, the light catching the blue with a flash of brightness. Relief floods her features as the pain and the cracking of flesh falters, as that nimbus coming off of the telepath seems to be healing the wounds, returning flesh and skin where vines had sprouted out.

Illuminated by the angel, the room continues to brighten, as the furniture and decorations slowly disappear, as if wiped away, leaving only light and shadow.

In the darkness, something seems to get bigger and closer. Something that looks like a long grotesque beak or upside down triangle. As it gets closer it looks to be made of wood bundled together into a long angular mask, meeting at the bottom end, and sprouting outward near the top. Two dark holes, deep and fathomless, sit on either side, giving it the impression of eyes. Horrible, black eyes that stare out uncaring.

It’s the visage of a monster made of bark and sticks and darkness. With a soft gasp escaping her lips, the girl focuses entirely on Kaylee and begins to whisper a soft prayer under her breath. The light overpowers everything.

And Lance and Kaylee find themselves released back into their bodies. But done.

The twinge of pain behind Kaylee’s eyes is the first clue that Kaylee wasn’t in the young woman’s mind. It’s followed by a surge of panic, as she grabs at the tree with both hands, looking up the trunk wildly. “No no no no…” Oftentimes when she’s expelled from someone’s mind it means one thing and one thing only…. death. Had she caused the girl to let go?

Oh God. Please no!

However, Kaylee still feels her there, under the surface of the bark. A sense of peace. “She’s sleeping,” she informs no one in particular. A hand runs over the trunk, like she’s brushing over hair. “Good,” she whispers under her breath. “Good,” she repeats again resting her head against the rough bark. “Hopefully, she’ll sleep until y’all figure this out. Poor thing.”

«May angels guard you in your sleep.» The thought is nothing more than a whisper, spoken like a mother to a sleeping child. “They’ll figure this out,” Kaylee murmurs.

When she finally pulls her head away from the tree, Kaylee looks at Lance and offers him a small smile. “You did well there, you’ll make a good agent, yet.” But as soon as she pushes away from the tree, her smile falls and sadness returns. “Do me a favor. Let me be there if you figure how to change her back?”

Nicole’s head bobs up and down, thoughtful as she writes down one more note. Whatever question she’s about to pose next is interrupted when she recognizes Kaylee and Lance have wrapped up their little portion of the investigation. For the time being, at least. Nicole offers a grateful smile then. “Thank you very much for all your help, Mother Superior. Sisters.”

Swiveling her head to the other technicians milling about, she calls out over the quiet din, “Horner!” She waits for her attention to be captured and for the young woman to make her way closer. “The Abbess is retrieving a list of names for me. I want you to collect it when it’s ready and have it brought over to me.” Nicole pats Horner on the shoulder as she starts to make her way toward the junior agent and the borrowed NYPD detective.

“I hope you got something with some meat on it,” Nicole murmurs softly, a look of concern exchanged between the two of them.

“Shit.” Lance stumbles a bit as he’s thrown back into his body, one hand coming up to rub against his head— grimacing a little at the headache that he’s received for his trouble. He’s not used to out-of-body experiences.

A worried look to Kaylee, and then a sigh of relief at her words, and he steps up to the tree as well - one hand coming up to rest against the tree. “We’ll do what we can, Desirae,” he says softly, “I promise.”

He offers the telepath a small smile at her words, then turns back to Nicole, “Ah— yeah. I think so. We have a general location and time and date of where she was picked up by the perp, at least, so maybe we can check cameras and such. It’s not an identity, but…”

He just used perp in a sentence.

Deep in the peace of being a tree, there’s no response to the hand on her bark, or the promise given, but perhaps there doesn’t need to be. Kaylee knows that the girl has put her faith in them, in her.

The Angel.

The Nuns seem to take that as a dismissal, as most of them move away and return to their stroll, even as the Mother Superior frowns and looks up at the tall tree, perhaps wondering what it all means and what they are supposed to do about it. “We’ll cordon off this part until further notice.” And that might be a long time.

Horner, the SESA lab tech, gives a small jump of surprise when she’s suddenly addressed — she had been taking samples around the tree base in base — before she comes over while listening and nods enthusiastically up until she’s slapped on the shoulder. It’s not that the touch is bad, it just seems to have taken her by surprise. Was Ms Varlane always this personable? She hadn’t really worked with her much before. Reaching up, she adjusts her glasses with gloved hands. “Of course, I’ll organize the files and get them to your desk as soon as possible. Once I— drop off these samples to the lab.” She lifts the small carrier bag to show it.

“See that you do. Thanks.” Nicole flashes a brief smile to the technician, then gathers her colleagues with little more than a look.

Walk with me, it says, as she makes her way for the exit. They have a lot to talk about. “Come on, you two.” Nicole’s gaze is stony ahead. She doesn’t need to see what Kaylee and Lance saw to be disturbed. To be angry. To need to do something about this. “God’s work isn’t done by God,” she utters as they cross the threshold together.

“It’s done by people.”

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