Fall, Break, Pick Up, Start Over


squeaks4_icon.gif niki_icon.gif

Scene Title Fall, Break, Pick Up, Start Over
Synopsis Niki attempts to form a bond with her half-sister, Jacelyn.
Date December 1, 2019


Exploring the world of Praxia has become far less commonplace. Not because everything that can be discovered has been, but because there isn’t enough time in the day to do all of the things.

And because all of the things Squeaks has to do are exhausting.

The teenager has made it out of her apartment — or she just hasn’t made it back yet. Training and therapies keep her coming and going so it’s possible that she’s between tasks. Whichever direction she’s headed, though, it’s definitely detoured in favor of stealing a few minutes for herself.

Those captured minutes are being spent with her eyes watching the sunlight flicker and dance off the waves in the bay. Squeaks, with knees drawn to her chest and her chin on them, makes an even smaller form than her usual, while she sits on the window casement in one of many quieter alcoves that are hidden within the upper executive floors. Not many people often come this way during working hours, usually just those who work on the floors near the top of the Ziggurat.

Here, she’s alone to watch the world with quiet, earnest interest. Wonder keeps her gaze bright, filled with a curiosity that not even the tiredness of practice and tests can abolish.

Well, nearly alone.

Niki Zimmerman makes her meandering way through the Ziggurat. Though her pace is languid, she’s on a mission. In this case, that mission is to locate Jacelyn Childs. She takes a moment to appreciate the light on the water. If it weren’t for the grim reality of what happened to the Bay, she might be more willing to enjoy it. But maybe the splendor of nature is just a sign that life goes on, in spite of what humanity does to end it.

“Hey, kid,” the blonde greets in a gentle voice, coming to stop several paces away from where Squeaks sits. She’s not oblivious to the fact that this is the sort of place a person goes when they’re looking not to be bothered.

Footsteps aren't uncommon enough to need obvious acknowledgement. Squeaks keeps to herself, pretending to ignore the approach of shoes on hard floors in case it's someone she shouldn't bother. It's a good skill to have, to learn to measure the cadence of footfalls, to pretend like you're invisible and therefore incapable of overhearing.

So caught up in the act of hiding in plain sight, it doesn't occur to her that those shoes might belong to someone looking for her. Even when Niki stops nearby.

Not until the woman speaks.

Her head lifts and carries a cautious look over to Niki. The unsureness doesn't last more than a second or two, replaced with youthful wonderment as soon as she recognizes the face turned toward her. Squeaks’ eyebrows lift toward her hairline with surprise, but she offers a quiet, “Hi.”

“You mind if I join you?” Niki’s smile is kind as she approaches the last few steps between them and comes to crouch by where Jaclyn sits. “Adam says you’re dealing with some big things. He thought maybe I could help.”

A stray strand of blonde hair is tucked behind her ear. “If you want it, anyway. I know you’ve got your mom here and your sister…” Niki frowns faintly, wondering how to approach the topic of their connection to one another. “So maybe you don’t need me, and that’s okay. But… I thought you should know I am here if you need someone else to talk to.”

There's plenty of space in the window casing, but Squeaks pulls her legs in closer to make room anyway. She watches Niki without judgement, just the simple, natural curiosity she always carries.

She's quiet for a moment after Niki has spoken, chewing on the inside of her cheek. “Actually I probably need all the help I can find.” Her eyebrows knit slightly with distant worry, but she shrugs like it doesn't matter very much. “My mom and Lene can only do so much, and… and I really don't want them to worry more than they already are.”

With space offered at the window, Niki shifts from her crouch to sit near Squeaks instead. She listens to her speak and nods her head along to acknowledge. “I understand that.” She smiles reassuringly and rests her hands together in her lap.

“I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Niki Zimmerman. I’m on the council of the New York Safe Zone Cooperative.” They’ve seen each other at meetings and, of course, the data retrieval operation for SESA. “The two of us have something in common that I didn’t know about before I came here. We both share the same biological father.”

“I remember. You were less afraid of the water in that old lab than Rhys was.” Squeaks almost grins at the memory, Agent Bluthner was not at all happy about finding the lower level flooded with knee-deep water. And the meetings, she attended some — one she even spoke at. But the grin and amusement don't get a chance to fully form.

She watches Niki with a new intensity. Her eyebrows pinch together and her head tips slightly toward a shoulder.

They have the same biological father.

“You mean Adam.” It's definitely a statement. “I didn't know before I got here either.” It's unlikely there's anything uncomfortable or awkward about either revelation. Squeaks doesn't squirm or fidget, but the wheels could very well be churning up some hard questions. For the moment, those are kept to herself, instead waiting for Niki to confirm the topic.

Niki smiles at that first comment, responding easily with, “Agent Bluthner has nicer shoes than I do.” Which is definitely the truth.

To Squeaks’ succinct statement, Niki gives a nod. “That’s right. I don’t remember him, but he… was my dad. I was very little when he went away.” It sounds so much prettier and neater than the notion that her memories were redacted. There’s so much she forgot about the life that came after Adam was torn away from her, too.

She doesn’t dwell on it.

“He brought me here to help you.” While not entirely true, it’s what Niki’s been tasked with now. “You’re my little sister, I guess. Families stick together and help each other.”

“He should have worn boots instead of loafers.” It's just good common sense when you know you're going into an abandoned anything. Squeaks abandons the agent’s potential lack of common sense when Niki confirms her suspicions.

Her head tips a little further toward her shoulder, expression growing more thoughtful. “He's good once you get to know him. He's gotten blamed for a lot of bad things though. And maybe he's done some of them.” But not all, and she isn't holding past transgressions against Adam.

“My mom is Gillian, she's on the council too. She adopted me last year. But.” Squeaks mouth twists for a moment and she holds up a finger. Here's where it gets complicated. “This one person, Cindy, gave birth to me. She was a surrogate.”

Niki nods along to Jac’s explanation. “Your mother and I are friends,” she confirms with a smile. “It’s good to finally meet you properly, Jac.” Her expression shifts then to something closer to sympathy than to pity. “There’s a lot going on here. A lot of expectation on your shoulders.”

The older of the half-sisters lifts her brows and invites, “Do you want to talk about it? How can I help you feel prepared and safe here?” That’s her job.

“Yeah.” It is a lot. Jac feels the weight of the responsibility given to her frequently, especially at night when she should be sleeping. But she's never complained or tried to put the burden onto anyone else. Which is why the offer is met with a slight twist of her mouth and a shrug.

“If someone is bothering me,” she begins after a short moment, “can I tell them that my sister will kick their butt if they don't stop?” The teen’s eyebrows raise slightly, but the lightness of her tone implies that's never been a problem yet.

But she moves on, a little bit more seriously. “It's just a lot. What if I'm really not strong enough. Or if I fail. What if…” Jac sighs and shakes her head. “What if I let my mom and da — Adam down because I make a mistake?”

Niki laughs quietly. It’s a low sound, a bit raspy or husky. “Yeah,” she confirms. “You can tell them that your sister will have words with them. Emphasize words in whatever way you think will land best.” Her big sister used to protect her from the bullies of the world, too.

The blonde’s head lifts to look out the window a moment, staring at her reflection in the glass. Her brow furrows a moment, but she turns back to Jac, just as pleasant as she was only a moment ago. “We all make mistakes, Jacelyn. The only thing you can do is try your best.” Which is a great platitude for a spelling test or a job interview. It doesn’t seem to pack enough punch for averting the end of the world. All the same, it seems that Niki means it.

“I know.” But what if my best isn't enough? Jac tips her head backward, looks up at the ceiling. “I just worry. It doesn't help anything but…” What can anyone do about it? She exhales a measured breath and looks at Niki. Somehow, in spite of things, the girl manages to grin.

“Would you tell me about you? Besides just you're on the council and now you're here.” And also the searching of abandoned labs, which was also mentioned before. Jac rests her elbows on her knees, cradles her chin in her hands.

“When we fall, when we break, we pick up the pieces and we start over again.” Niki shakes her head. “It’s all we can do.” How many times has she swept up the piece of her broken life and tried to move on, each time with less and less than she had the time before?

The request for more information about Niki should have been expected, but it still catches her off guard. “I’m not sure there’s much to say about me.” But she smiles, tucking a strand of her hair behind one ear, trying to keep her tone light as she begins the highest level overview she can of her life.

“Well… I was adopted, just like you. Though, my adopted parents weren’t all that great.” She doesn’t know how similar that is to her half-sister’s own story. “I, ah… I used to be married a long time ago. I married very young and had a son.” There’s no son with her now. Niki doesn’t explain why. “I used to live in Las Vegas before the war.” Before the whole world went to hell.

When we fall or break, we pick up the pieces and start over again. That's easily an ideology that Jac is familiar with. Persevering no matter how many roadblocks, because those are only temporary.

The girl leans forward just a bit when Niki begins talking about herself. Her interest and curiosity isn't feigned, but she keeps her questions reined in to start with. What she's told, pieced together with what little bit she already knew, paints the muddiest preschool watercolor. It's not without beauty and mystery, but it's unidentifiable to all but the artist.

Jac purses her lips, then twists them toward one side. “Okay, but what's your favorite ice cream? And color?” These are some important questions. “Do you like books and cats?”

Niki smiles. The attention is unexpected, but it reminds her of times she would spend with her child, where Micah would ask for stories about what her life was like before he came along. Who was she before she met his dad? What was she like at his age? Those have always been harder questions to answer, but now she feels like she understands a bit better why.

“I like rocky road. I don’t really have a favorite color, but people tell me red is my color, so I probably wear that the most.” It’s the last question that draws a chuckle out of her. “I like books and cats. I was never much of a reader — I’m not very booksmart — but I got into it more when I couldn’t watch a whole lot of TV. I actually really like old black and white sitcoms.”

“I never really got to watch tv.” Jac shrugs as she says it, tone conversational in her offering something about herself in exchange for all of Niki’s answers. “Except when I had to stay in a hospital in Kansas last year and then I got to watch as much as I wanted. Usually I read books and newspapers and everything. Adventure stories are still my favorites. Then science and history.”

The girl folds her legs, so she's sitting criss-cross. A quick look shoots over her shoulder, however Niki is the only one around besides herself. “We have two cats at our home in the Safe Zone. Chandra, he's old and pretends to be a grouch most of the time. He's really Gillian’s cat. And then there's Smudge. She's always into everything. She's mine, but I don't think she'll remember me next time she sees me.”

Niki leans in a little, like the two are sharing a secret. “Cats remember. They have long memories.” It almost feels like she should offer up a wink as punctuation, but she doesn’t. Leaning back again, she also takes a look around to confirm it’s still just the two of them, and it is.

There’s an element of the surreal here, Niki realizes. For all that she’s tasked with helping Jacelyn prepare to avert the end of the world, there’s a part of her that doesn’t believe that it will come to that. A part of her that believes she’ll be able to find another solution and send the girl home with her family.

“You’ve been here a while, huh?”

“Since summer.” Jac looks up at Niki, shoulders bounce with a quick shrug. “I like it here. I can do all kinds of things and… I have everything I need. Adam and Joy are really great. But I miss home sometimes. I really miss my cat and my friends.”

The girl goes quiet for a moment, introspective. Her arms loop around her knees and her eyes scan the floor. “They're convinced Adam is bad, that he's going to cause the world to end or something.” She obviously disagrees. “I don't know if they'll be my friends still, when I go home again.”

“They’re right to worry about that,” Niki responds easily. “Adam… He’s complicated. And he’s not what you’d call a good guy, Jac.” There’s no sugar coating any of that. Whatever image of him the girl’s built up in her head, it’s not one that should remain untarnished. Everyone has their flaws, and it’s good to take note of them. To realize no one is infallible.

“I don’t know what he’s really planning here. It could turn out to be something bad.” She expects that he could be listening in to their conversation, but Niki also expects that he’ll appreciate her candor. “Keep your eyes open. Don’t be quick to assume that just because someone tells you they’re aiming to do good means that they really are.” That is just good life advice in general.

“He's told me about the things he's done,” Jac returns. She knows she probably hasn't heard half of it, or even the worst. But she believes, probably as a child does, that what she has been told is enough to give details to the picture others had started painting. It's enough that she can decide how much she accepts as true or noble. “I learned a really long time ago, way before being brought here or getting to the Safe Zone… even before the war, that people don't always mean what they say or do.”

It's all meant to be an assurance, yet there's a deeper connotation beneath the layers of those few words. Maybe the apple didn't fall too far from the tree.

Whatever it is, implied between the lines of her comments, interpreted by her experiences and observations, Jac isn't a fool. She extends a small grin, bordering on shy and intending to bridge whatever new gaps might have formed. Regardless of the vastly differing opinions, she's still hoping for friendship.

Niki nods her head solemnly, sympathy in her gaze. She understands having to learn some very hard lessons very young. It’s not something she wishes on anyone else. “We just don’t want to see you get hurt. You need to trust your instincts, okay? If something feels wrong, say no.

She wishes someone would have told her that a long time ago.

“I should probably get going. I’m supposed to meet up with Miss Hazel in a few minutes and she doesn’t like it when I’m late.” Niki pushes up to her feet and offers a smile down to Jac. “It’s nice to finally meet you. Tell your mother I said hello, okay? I’ll make a point of running into her soon.”

Jac nods and grins in an understanding way, lips closed and eyes squinty. Nothing like the young teen that Niki had first seen standing before the council and members of the community, boldly holding her suspicion and distrust for the whole world to see. She hasn't lost that confidence, but her emotions are much better masked. She's a survivor now both from the street and within whatever conspiracy and intrigue binds the foundation stones of the Ziggurat together.

Unfolding her legs and letting her feet find the floor is a sign that the girl is probably considering leaving too. Although maybe not immediately. “I'll tell her. And you can tell Sabine that I made you late.” Hopefully then it won't cause problems for Niki. “She knows I ask a lot of questions.” Jac extends a more natural smile and a small shrug. “I'm glad we met too, can we hang out more? When you aren't busy?”

“Sure thing.” Niki smiles genuinely, though she can’t quite hide the hint of bittersweet quality from her eyes. It’s not readily apparent to Jac or even herself why that may be, though. “I’ll see you around.” She lifts one hand and wiggles her fingers in a wave before stepping back and starting off again.

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