Exogenous, Part II


nolan_icon.gif richard3_icon.gif ruby_icon.gif squeaks_icon.gif

Scene Title Exogenous, Part II
Synopsis Seeking answers, Richard Ray and Squeaks venture into upstate New York to talk to the enigmatic Ruby.
Date June 2, 2019

Forested mountains ramble across the countryside of New York as far as the eye can see. Tall pines blanket the rolling mountains in an endless sea of dark green, broken up only by the remote presence of houses and small cluster-neighborhoods. Today, with the sun shining brightly and foliage in full bloom, it's hard to forget that summer is almost here.

It's been a two and a half hour drive from the Safe Zone across winding back roads cutting northwest through remote reaches of New York State. Even this close to Albany, it feels like there's no sign of real civilization. Protected parklands like these became overgrown after the war, consuming abandoned homes and highway gas stations, returning the reaches between cities into evergreen wilderness.

Oliverea Road winds through the mountains, a narrow two-lane road of cracked asphalt and deadfallen branches. The electric hum of a Yamagato Altum does little to disturb the peace and tranquility of the natural world outside. With the windows rolled down and the late spring breeze whipping through the glossy black car, there is a sense of adventure about the trip.

The crisp wind whips through Richard Ray and Jac Childs’ hair, carrying with it the sounds of birdsongs and the roar of tires on pavement. Just in the treeline, a group of three young deer mindfully watch the road, black eyes locked on the equally black car, ears perked up, bodies stiff. They do not dart into the road, for even the subtle hum of an electric car is a warning to them.

Humans only bring danger.

The Catskill Mountains

Shandaken, NY

June 2nd


The onboard GPS inside the car shows the destination as being just up the road a little ways. Stuffed between Richard and Jac is the newspaper article that led them here, an ad for a home for sale referenced discreetly by the personals section of the Safe Zone Siren, the same old Cold War style encoded messages that Ruby and Richard has been communicating through since they became acquainted last year.

Up ahead, the house in question comes into view. It's a modern thing, all right angles and pale natural shades of gray. It's walls are mostly glass, and it looks like it probably cost a fortune to construct out here in the mountains. But this, far from any main road, is where Simon Broome lived his life, and where Ruby has chosen to live here; a home high up in the mountains, amid the blue clear sky.

It’s a beautiful home, undeniably, but the only thing that Richard can think as he parks the car in front of the house and steps out of the driver’s seat is how exposed it is. How someone like Broome lived his life here unafraid of spies and assassins, he has no idea…

…but maybe that says a lot about Mr. Ray’s mindset these days.

“Well, this should be it,” he says over to Squeaks, motioning to the building with a wrapped box in his hand before heading for the door, “Let’s go see how she’s doing, shall we?”

As the house comes into view, Squeaks’ attention shifts from staring in appreciative wonder at all the nature to examining the structure. “Someone actually lives up here?” The history of the house isn't one she knows, and there's still a little bit of skepticism about it. Even though weirder things have happened.

Her seat belt comes off and her door opens once the car is stopped. Stepping out into the mountain air causes her to pause for a few seconds and pull in a deep breath. “It's way different from the city,” is a murmured observation.

It's clean, fresh even.

Her footfalls are quick and scuffly as she hustles to catch up. “She's nice, right?” Squeaks angles a strong side eye up at Richard. “Not fake nice, but for reals nice?”

This high up into the Catskills there's a serene silence in the air. The sound of the wind in the branches, of birdsong, of nature without the presence of industry. Solar panels gleam on the roof of the house as Richard and Squeaks walk up from the driveway to the house’s front door. Richard spots the subtle black dome of a security camera on approach, tucked discreetly under one of the square eaves. Simon may not have been entirely confident.

Through the glass front wall of the house a woman comes into view from another room. She walks with a patient and slow pace, a shawl of blues and greens wound over her shoulders, loose clothing the color of unprocessed linen worn beneath. Her leather sandals scuff on the floor as she approaches the door, and it opens for her with a hydraulic hiss.

Richard,” the woman says with a broad smile and warmth in her voice. Her eyes are piercing blue, the same blue as her shawl. Like a deep, clear ocean. “It's so good to see you again…” and those blue eyes flick down to Squeaks. “And you must be Ms. Child's,” she diplomatically says. “Come on in…” Ruby says, stepping aside to allow the pair into the house. “I've put on water for orange tea.”

“She is,” Richard reassures the teenager with a chuckle, “She is.”

As the door slides open, he sweeps his hands to either side in a broad gesture and smiles widely, “Ruby. A pleasure to see you, as always… I wish you lived closer to make it easier, but looking around here, I can’t entirely blame you. This is Sq— “ A clearing of his throat, “Jac.”

Stepping inside, he adds, “Kyle Renautus sends his best regards, and remembers you and Simon fondly.”

Nodding at Richard, Squeaks looks up at the door. A little eager, a little nervous. Her nose wrinkles a bit and she side eyes the man beside her again until the door opens.

Then she's eyeballing Ruby.

It's not exactly clear what she was expecting or not expecting, but the homeowner lady still gets a very solid look over. “Hi,” she offers, shyly, when her name is given. Squeaks hesitates then offers her hand to shake a second later, since that's what you do when meeting people.

“My real name is Jac,” the girl explains for the slight slip over her name. “Almost everyone calls me Squeaks though.”

“My real name’s Karin,” Ruby admits with a bright smile to Squeaks, “but people always called me Ruby. But, Squeaks?” Ruby says with a rise of her brows and a mildly exasperated laugh. “If that isn’t the cutest nickname I’ve ever heard. Richard, where did you find this charming young woman” Her smile is a delighted one as she watches the two step inside, quietly sidestepping Kyle’s mention as the front door comes to a hissing close.

“The Renautas children always were sweet as well,” Ruby belatedly admits after the door shuts, “and it’s good to hear they’re in good hands,” she says, implying that she doesn’t know about Kyla’s fate. But she moves past the topic briskly, walking ahead of Richard and Squeaks, escorting them into the spacious living room, with its low-backed leather sofa and chairs.

Privacy,” Ruby says to the air, and the glass wall of the living room slowly turns from transparent to opaque, making it look like night outside. It’s the same glass in Richard’s office in Raytech. She comes to settle down in one of the low-backed, boxy-looking leather armchairs, smiling pleasantly to Richard and Squeaks.

“So,” Ruby says, right around the same time Richard and Squeaks hear a clank and a shuffle from another room, indicating that Ruby doesn’t live here alone, “what can I help you two with?”

“It was more the other way around, really, she found me,” Richard admits in good humor, glancing fondly down at the girl as they walk along in, shrugging out of his bomber jacket and folding it nicely to rest on the back of the couch. “And be careful, she’ll drown you in questions and hypotheticals until Doomsday if you let her. Girl’s got a brain like a sponge and she’s not shy about pouring the water on it.”

At the clank, the shuffle, he slants a curious look at the next room before looking back to Ruby, “Mnm. Well, aside from a social visit, I think we were hoping you knew some things about some old projects from back in the day— I was also hoping you had the address of the house in Sweden I apparently own, since I understand you’ve been there.” The latter is wryly stated, one brow lifting over the edge of his shades as he sinks down onto the couch.

“I like Ruby, but Karin is a nice name too.” Squeaks adds her two cents as she follows the grown ups. And since questions were brought up, “Do people ask why you're called Ruby? That happens to me a lot. Or if I want to be called Squeaks or Jac. Both are right, because they're both me. How come people ask things like that?”

That last question is really just wondering out loud. She doesn't direct it at either Ruby or Richard.

Her head swivels as she sits down — it really hasn't stopped since she got into the house, trying to see everything and explore with eyes only — but sitting it's even more noticeable. Her eyes go wide when the windows go foggy looking and she breathes out a “Woah.” Primal.

Getting settled for talking involves looking up at the ceiling and then over to the door they entered through. The clank-shuffle has her twisting to stare in that direction. For a lot longer than just a casually curious look also. Little clicks and squeaks are made, outside of anyone else’s hearing range, but for Squeaks it presents a whole new perspective. Things can't stay hidden for very long with ultrasonic sonar happening.

“People’ve been calling my Ruby ever since I decided it was my new name when I was a pain in the ass twenty year old,” Ruby says with a wry smile. “Most people these days don't even know I had anything other. Simon and I never married, and he hated his father and refused to pass his family name on to our son…” she says quietly, “and I wasn't much to keen on my parents, either. So…” she shrugs, laughing amusedly to herself. “Names are what they are. Labels.”

Slouching to the side in her chair, Ruby calls into the kitchen. “Nolan, dear. Three for tea, and one for yourself if you'd like.” She smiles, waiting for a response. But it comes in the form of a tall and rail-thin man coming through the doorway with a serving tray rather than a verbal response.

Nolan looks no older than his early thirties, sandy blonde hair swept to one side and pale blue eyes. He circles around the back of the sofa and sets the serving tray down on the coffee table between the seats. Three cups have been set out, each with fresh tea leaves in the bottom of the glass along with the spiral cuts of orange zest. There's another small bowl with sugar cubes.

Nolan smiles softly as he stands up, offering a prolonged look to Richard, followed by a quick look to Squeaks and then Ruby. “Nolan is my grandson,” she explains, reaching up to put a hand on his arm. “Aside from that tea set my great grandmother brought over from Germany after World War I, he's the only time to my family I have left. Easily the most precious.”

Awkwardly, Nolan inclines his head and steals another quick look at Richard, then clears his throat. “I don't want to intrude,” he says with a step back and away from Ruby, looking visibly uncomfortable in the room.

Nonsense,” Ruby says, shaking her head. “This is Richard, Simon’s best—”

“Yes.” Nolan interjects. “I know.” He smiles, afterward, a bit forced. “I really should take care of some things elsewhere though…”

“It’s alright,” Richard holds up his hand to wave off Ruby’s objections, a rueful expression sweeping over him, “I’m used to people being… uncomfortable about him, and me, and— “ Fingers brush at the air, and he shrugs that one shoulder.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, anyhow, Nolan,” he allows with a tip of his head to the other man, “Thanks for the tea.”

The new stranger is followed closely, Squeaks’ eyes track his movement from the door to behind the sofa and then table. She even turns in her seat to keep watching him, and just once follows Nolan’s attention to Richard. That makes her frown a little, puzzled, and her focus slides back to Nolan.

“Hi,” is both a greeting and thank you. It's also the most the man gets aside from a pair of blue eyeballs watching him until he's gone from the room completely.

“Richard said I could maybe meet you,” Squeaks explains now that it's just the three of them again. “And that you might know about some things because you probably know a lot of things. But he didn't have answers and said you might.”

Nolan levels a look up to Ruby, then smiles in a required way and makes himself scarce back in the kitchen. There’s a visible look of disappointment in Ruby’s eyes, but she only lets it take hold for a moment. “Did he?” Ruby says of Squeaks’ story, giving Richard a mild but amused look as she leans forward to pick a single sugar cube and drop it into her teacup. “Well, I’d be glad to help… though I don’t particularly know how much assistance I might be.”

Ruby picks up the still steaming kettle by the beveled wood handle, pouring the hot water into her cup and releasing an aromatic blend of spice and citrus into the air around the cup. “I’m not really one of those great conspirators Richard knows,” to which she probably means the old Redbird Solutions folks, but it’s hard to say for sure, “though I did try and keep myself up to date on what he and my dear Simon were planning, when it was appropriate for me to.”

Ruby sets down the kettle and picks up her teacup, then slouches back in her armchair, one leg crossed over the other. “Please, help yourselves,” she probably just means about the tea.

“There aren’t a lot of people left from those days who might know what she’s looking for, unfortunately, and since I was planning to come by anyway…” Richard leans forward, lifting the kettle and pouring his own cup of tea carefully - giving Squeaks a questioning look, one brow lifting a little.

“I figured I might as well bring her along. Maybe you overheard something about one of the projects that she was involved in as a baby,” he adds, glancing back to Ruby, “Gemini and Umbra.”

“My mom — not my real mom — used to work for some people.” Squeaks watches the tea as she fills in some of the details. “But her uncle sort of fake adopted me. And then he let some other people do tests and try things. Like the Umbra one.” Her hands tuck under her knees, but her feet tap together at the toes.

“I heard a little bit about Gemini, but no one is really sure what Umbra might be.” That seems important enough to include.

Hesitantly, Squeaks looks up at Ruby, shoulders bouncing with the motion of a small shrug. “Also. My mom, the not real one, was a surrogate. I got made in a lab or something. From maybe a donor mom and donor dad?”

Ruby looks troubled by the direction the conversation takes. “I’ve heard of Gemini,” she says, looking down into the steaming surface of her tea. “That project troubled Simon, it was one that was being operated by a woman named Erica Kravid, out in the west-coast arm of the Institute. It was one of the projects that were given life outside of his say-so. This was before you— ” Ruby catches herself. “This was before Ezekiel,” an easy enough substitute name, “was brought back from the dead.”

“Gemini was a dead end,” Ruby explains. “It was a part of the inherited legacy from Pinehearst that the Institute took on. Parallel research to the Formula, but highly unstable. It resulted in the same… decay?” She doesn’t like the word, but it fits. “The same decay as things like the Advent virus. It was mothballed to focus on more long-term projects. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if Ms. Kravid kept it going for other reasons… though I can’t begin to imagine what those might be.”

Sighing softly, Ruby shakes her head. “Umbra isn’t something I’m familiar with. There was Eclipse,” she says with a narrowing of her eyes, “that was another project, one you started actually.” She says with a look to Richard, failing to differentiate he and his other self this time. “You hired a brilliant geneticist, Adrienne Allen, to look into the genetic history of people like my Simon. People like yourself. I never met Ms. Allen myself, but Simon and Luis both spoke highly of her. She wasn’t like some of the people in the Institute, she was… genuine. Kind.”

But when Ruby levels her pale eyes on Squeaks, it’s with a look of apology. “I have a feeling the Institute may not have had much to do with your circumstances, my dear. Who was your surrogate mother? Maybe she was in one of our other programs…” The way Ruby talks about the Institute, to this day, makes it sound like she still believes in their original purpose. The way she talks about programs like they were a public service. Perhaps it’s just because of her separation from the reality of the situation.

“Not so much a dead end, I’m afraid,” Richard says with a grimace, “I believe that Kravid managed to— well, not perfect, but at least get it partially working. Adam Monroe got his hands on the research and he’s been using it himself.”

His nose wrinkles slightly, “They arrested Doctor Allen not long ago, but maybe I can get in to talk to her and see if Eclipse came up with any real results.”

A lean back, and he takes a sip of the tea, looking over towards Squeaks even as he admits in regretful tones, “What I really wish we’d managed to save was Eden. Alia tried to rescue the files when the Ark fell, but she couldn’t do that and stop the nukes.”

Squeaks frees her hands and leans forward, but she doesn’t help herself to tea. Not while Ruby is talking. She rests her elbows on her knees and rests her chin in her hands, attentive and sponging up all the information. It brings about other questions. Like does decay mean she might die because of the project? Answers to those always are vague and not helpful. So her questions are held onto right now. There might be better ones later, after she’s had time to hear more and offer her own answers too.

“Cindy Morrison.” The girl sits up straighter as she answers. “She was… she did something for the Company?” Her gaze slides over to Richard, maybe confirming that part of it. “Her uncle, too. He was Stefan Morrison. He fake-adopted me, and was taking me to see… someone. At Pinehearst. There were shots.” She mimes giving herself a shot in the shoulder, so there’s no confusion.

Ruby looks down into her cup. The steam has finally faded, and she takes a sip while thinking of how to respond to all of that. As she looks up, there's a look of worry on her face, and that shifts toward the kitchen. “Nolan, could you bring me Simon’s journal?” Something clinks in the kitchen, a glass on tile.

“One moment,” is all Nolan responds, but his footsteps can be heard retreating further into the house. Ruby smiles, but for the first time it doesn't seem genuine.

Eden,” Ruby says quietly, “was never really…” She struggles with the thought. “Simon suffered that project, his vision of what it could have been, what he took from Pinehearst. Their vision was a stunt, a publicity trick. But Simon, he truly believed we could change everything with it. Undo all of the environmental damage the world had ever taken… but piece by piece the project slipped from him. The more he had to relinquish to the government the more militarized it became. Then…” Ruby sets her tea aside. “Then you came back the way you did, and…”

Nolan, like a lean shadow, comes out from another doorway carrying a dog-eared old journal in one hand. It's leather cover is warped and bowed, burned ever so slightly on one side. He comes up beside Ruby’s chair and hands it to her, and she offers him a soft smile and a gently reassuring touch of his hand. Nothing is said between them, and yet volumes are.

Nolan affords Richard and Squeaks one more look and wordlessly shows himself out. Only once he's gone does Ruby open the journal and starts flipping through it. “As for Cindy Morrison…” She thumbs past dozens of handwritten pages that look to be written in German. “I know the name is familiar. But Stefan more-so.”

Only after a few moments does she finally seem to find something. “Here it is, ah, I'll paraphrase. There's some personal thoughts in here Simon wouldn't want aired.” Adjusting the distance at which the book is held out, Ruby looks briefly up to Squeaks and then back down.

“Simon knew of your surrogate mother. He discovered her name in a list of material assets attached to the Pinehearst Company in 2009 after their collapse and the Institute’s inheritance of US-based facilities.” Ruby flips the page over. “He'd discovered that Pinehearst had been keeping her at Riker’s Island to keep her isolated, but Simon couldn't understand why. He had Cindy moved to the Octagon on Roosevelt Island and gave her a residence there and assigned her a counselor…”

Ruby flips the page again. “She was largely non communicative, appeared to have suffered severe psychological trauma during her isolation. She… wasn't well.” Ruby briefly looks up to Squeaks, then back down. “When the riots hit in November of 2010 the Octagon was the target of mob violence and Cindy’s apartment caught fire. But… she was never found.”

When Ruby stops reading and looks up to Squeaks, there's a tightness to her expression. “The Institute lost track of her and… she was never found.” Clearly heartbroken by reading this, Ruby closes the journal but keeps one thumb in it as a page marker. “Did… you still want me to look for Stefan?”

“I know,” Richard says quietly, regretfully, to Ruby’s words on the Garden of Eden project, “I hope— one day maybe I’ll be successful enough, have the resources to make that dream real. God knows the world needs it now.”

He looks down at his tea as she checks the journal, quiet for a moment, then finally takes a sip of it.

A frown creases his face as he looks up, brow knitting in a bit of consternation at what’s revealed. “Damn,” he breathes out, “And with Yamagato levelling the island, we can’t even get a postcog out there to check her old residence. Riker’s, maybe— did he record her cell number?”

He reaches over to Squeaks, a hand resting reassuringly on the teenager’s shoulder.

Something in the first part of Ruby’s explanation sparks curiosity. Squeaks files it away, but doesn’t stop the puzzled look that’s sent from one grown-up to the other. The clink and then Nolan’s voice from the other room interrupts her musings. Like before, she twists around in her seat. But this time it’s without using her ability. Just normal watching and listening.

When Nolan returns through a different doorway, she greets him with a full eyeballing of suspicion. Sure, the house is ginormous and probably had a thousand hallways and twenty different ways to enter a room.

The man is still treated to a look that’s completely and openly unsure about his presence.

Squeaks’ attention returns to Ruby when the older woman begins reading. She listens, thoughtful. The journal — whoever Simon is – supports what she’s already learned. But with more detail. “What’s the Octagon,” she wonders out loud.

The teen tilts her head and looks up at Richard, acknowledging the hand on her shoulder. “Maybe… maybe I could find things there,” she suggests to him, before looking at Ruby. “Yes.” Her answer is quieter than the suggestion. “And… and did Simon work with him? Or… or with Maury Parkman?”

“She was kept in cell 14,” Ruby answers with a look down to the journal, “solitary confinement.” That last piece comes with a heavy heart, and Ruby closes Simon’s journal and looks over to Squeaks. “The Octagon was a building on Roosevelt Island, owned and operated by the Institute, and was housing for its agents and guests…” It’s a sanitized description of the surveillance state nightmare the building truly was, but Ruby doesn’t dare get lose in those weeds with Squeaks.

“My Simon didn’t work with Arthur or his accomplices, no. Richard…” Ruby looks over at him, “warned us about Arthur and Maury long before he ever became a problem. But, in order not to disrupt the timeline and cause massive divergences from the history Richard knew, Simon was forced to let some things come to pass…” Ruby looks down to the battered cover of the journal, “lest the roadmap be lost.”

Emotions aside, Ruby opens the journal once more, reluctantly. “As for Stefan… Simon’s journal says that he was a geneticist specializing in in vitro fertilization and gene resequencing. In Richard’s time— ” she catches herself, “Ezekiel. In Ezekiel’s time… Stefan worked for the Institute, developing countermeasures for biological weapons being researched by the Department of Evolved Affairs. From what Simon wrote, it appears that Stefan was a genius in his field who was… guilty of amoral research practices on unwilling human subjects.”

Ruby shakes her head, closing her eyes. “Stefan was hired by the Company to work on Project Icarus in their Hartsdale facility and was one of a handful of people not killed when all of the research on Icarus was destroyed. But Simon didn’t know much more than that… other than that he was related to Cindy Morrison. It appeared that Stefan Ford was an alias the Company had built for him, and he was her uncle.”

Reluctantly, Ruby looks over to Squeaks. “That’s all it says about him, here. Simon reached out to him to perform work for the Institute, but Stefan repeatedly declined the offer. They were in negotiations right up until… the end.”

“Yeah,” Richard says quietly, eyes closed, “He would have had to be very careful… even if it killed him to be that careful. A scalpel, instead of an axe, that’s the only way to guide a timeline whose general flow you understand. I’ve done it before.”

Claudia Zimmerman is alive today because of it.

He grimaces slightly, head dropping forward and shaking, “Stefan Ford, Stefan Morrison… I’ll make a call to Wolfhound and see if they’ve heard either name. They’ve been hunting down a lot of people, they might have a file with a mention of the man.”

“Okay.” Squeaks' voice has gone small. But not out of fear. It's thoughtful, and maybe uncertain. That's a lot of information to digest, especially when it's smushed in with what all else she knows. Her eyebrows scrunch together a little bit. She almost starts to say something, but then Richard speaks up.

Wolfhound? That's where Berlin is. “Yes,” she agrees in that same tone. She tilts her head to look up at the man and nod. It's a good idea, and it gives her an idea too.

“What end?” Squeaks' question follows after a few seconds, as she lifts a more puzzled look to Ruby. “Stefan died… um… around when the war started. He wasn't a good person.”

“The end of the Institute,” Ruby says with a look down into her lap, then over to Squeaks. “You would've been very young when it happened. November 8th, 2011. All of the sins that organization had collected were finally cashed in, all at once. The arcology Richard had designed with the intention of protecting your kind from destruction, was… no more. I heard something happened in Alaska, but not even Simon knew what was really going on up on Mount Natazhat…”

Shaking her head, Ruby exhales a slow and steady sigh. “It's all in the past now. Simon lived to see the evil done in his name come to an end. He lived to see his dearest friend,” she briefly looks over at Richard, “confront his own demons. He lived to see a better future be born out of that… and at the end of the day, that is all Simon trust wanted. A better future for all of us.” Ruby has forgotten her tea entirely now. “If— ”

“Is that what he told father?” Nolan’s voice comes from the doorway to the kitchen. He's standing there, dour and put-upon, watching Ruby with furrowed brows. “Did he die up on that mountain believing that was what was happening?”

Nolan,” Ruby practically hisses, looking at him with visible vitriol. She needn't give him another reprimand, it's clear he's said more than he'd wanted and the look of angry embarrassment on his face is clear as he stinks deeper into the kitchen. Ruby looks at Richard, wordlessly pleasing: forgive him.

The connection makes sense to Richard now. Desmond Harper was Simon and Ruby son. If this is her grandson than it only means…

Nolan is Harper’s son.

“Nazahat was…” Richard trails off with a sigh, fingertips rubbing up the bridge of his nose and between his eyes, “…an act of… desperation? I’m not sure. I think sometimes there was more to it, that there was more… purpose there than any of us know. But maybe I’m just seeing patterns where there aren’t any.”

“Welcome to the new beginning, Richard.”

He takes a sip of tea, leaning back slightly as his gaze sweeps to the kitchen. “He thinks of me as him, doesn’t he,” he says, more than asks, “Nolan.”

Wondering continue to build, like LEGO bricks stacking in an order that doesn't make sense. But it's readable on Squeaks’ face. She has questions but hasn't found the words she needs for them yet. It pulls her eyebrows down a little, so she's almost frowning, but her mouth sets on the verge of speaking.

She swivels to stare at Nolan when he interrupts everything. Everything including her own thoughts. New ones come in, like where did he come from? Is he a ghost? Because he moves super quietly. Those don't get asked either.

The girl twists around and leans like it might give her a better view of what the strange man is doing in the kitchen. She even half leaves her seat, for just a second or three. When Squeaks sits again, she does it with a questioning look at Ruby. Why does Nolan keep coming in then leaving? And how come he's grouchy? A glance flickers over her shoulder to check the kitchen doorway, and when she returns her attention to the conversation it's with her eyes finally settling on the journal. What else is in there?

In that long silence, Ruby had taken a while to vocalize a response to Richard. “No,” she finally says. “No, he thinks of you as the man who led the attack that killed his father.” Either Benjamin Ryans or Huruma Dunsimi were responsible for Harper’s death at Natazhat, but no one has ever been clear on exactly how that all happened. “I don’t think he blames you, he blames the man you aren’t. But you’re… it’s a tangled mess of things.” All the while she’s apologizing for Nolan, whether it’s directly in her words or hidden in her tone.

“Whatever hidden meaning he had died with him,” Ruby says quietly, setting the journal aside on the table where her tea was abandoned. “He didn’t trust anyone, not fully. All his conspiracies and secrets were wound tightly up in a chest kept in his heart, and the only person who had the key died long ago from his perspective.” Having fallen into a bit of a depressive episode, Ruby tries to smile but it doesn’t really reach her eyes.

“I wish I had more to help you with,” Ruby apologizes, resting her hands in her lap. “You’ve come a long way, and I feel like it wasn’t enough.”

“It’s alright. It’s… a valid reason to be angry,” says Richard with a slight shake of his head, a briefly haunted look on his face, “We all did what we felt we had to, back then. Simon, Harper, Ezekiel, and myself not discluded from that.” He sets the tea down, leaning forward and reaching out to touch her folded hands as he offers her a faint smile.

“It’s alright. I’m sorry for… bringing up painful topics, ah,” he draws back, “And it’s always good just to visit you, although I’m sorry that me being here has caused tension. Just one more thing that you might be able to help with— Kyle mentioned that Ezekiel had a property overseas? He’d met you and Simon there, once, with his parents.”

“You helped lots.” Squeaks’ voice stays small, quiet, and she lifts her focus from the journal to look at Ruby. “Thank you for… for sharing.” She leans forward, but sets her elbows against her knees and her chin in her hands. There's plenty to think about, and Richard redirecting the conversation gives her some time to do that. While he's talking, she's half listening, and eyeballing the journal on the table. Maybe she could borrow it, if she asked politely.

Ruby makes a soft noise at the mention of that property. “Kyle? Ah, yes. It was a small villa in the hills north of Storsjo, where the Renautas Company is based out of. It might still be up there, but after so many years…” Ruby slowly shakes her head and looks from Richard to Squeaks and back again. “It doesn’t have a physical address, and I never knew anything like the coordinates. We’d take a helicopter from the Renautas building to the villa. It’s the only building in the Storsjo foothills, or it was back then. It looks a lot like this house.”

“I guess that I’ll be doing some flying about,” Richard allows in wry tones, “When I have the time. I’ve always wanted to visit Sweden, I suppose…” He looks then to Squeaks, brows raising questioningly as if to see if she has any other questions.

Squeaks doesn’t look up or answer immediately. Her mind is wandering, wondering where Storsjo is, and what’s Renautas. And a million other things probably. She’s kind of got that deeply thoughtful look. It’s only when the silence and the questioning look start to feel awkward, probably a good half minute give or take, that she finally looks at the two grown-ups.

She sits up straight again, and fidgets with her sleeves. Then she scrubs her hands against her thighs. “Um… I know… I know you said there’s personal thoughts. But… But could I borrow the journal?” The teen makes a strange face, one half scrunching and the whole thing unsure. She looks at Richard then Ruby. “I’d keep it real safe, and only us would know I have it. I swear no one else will read it, not even… not even Richard. Or my mom.” She hesitates slightly, then offers a pinky to the woman. She’s making a very serious promise, to be sure.

Ruby looks at Squeaks with furrowed brows, then down to the journal thoughtfully. “It wouldn’t be as much help to you as you hope, dear…” She slowly rises from her chair, apology evident in her eyes. “I’ve told you everything that can be of help, and I wish there was more than I could offer, but the rest of this journey of self-understanding will be walked somewhere else, with someone else…”

Walking over to Squeaks, Ruby rests a hand on her shoulder and gently gives it a squeeze. “But you’re a bright young woman,” and there she delivers a subtle side-eye to Richard with no further explanation, “and I have every hope,” her attention settles back on Squeaks, “that you’ll find the answers to the questions you’re asking…”

“Lest you find new questions entirely.”

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