Focus On The Facts


asi4_icon.gif faulkner_icon.gif

Scene Title Focus On The Facts
Synopsis There's few to go off of, but if there's anywhere to start…
Date August 2, 2020

Hey. This is Isaac Faulkner. From the plane crash.

I'm trying to reach out to people who seem like they might be pursuing investigations into what happened to us; you're high on my list. I was hoping to ask if you'd had any luck, and to offer any support I could.

I'd be happy to meet up and discuss. Or just discuss, if you'd rather.

Hope to hear from you. Thanks.

Brenda's Bar and Griddle

11:04 am

Around one of the smaller lounge tables not explicitly set up for dine-in service, three simple cloth-bound chairs sit in partial states of being occupied. In the largest, Asi Tetsuyama sits, cross-legged and with her arm along the extended back showcasing bared arms and a black, high-necked blouse. On one of the other two, a motorcycle helmet takes up the seat. And on the third, a pillow from Asi's seat occupies the cushion.

Yes, she's seated alone. No, she doesn't want company. Not unless you're the person she's here to see.

Each time the door opens, her dark gaze flits up to check who it is that's entered. She looks down each time, continuing to scroll idly down the phone that's seated on her thigh, not really taking anything in particular in for all that she sees on it.

The bell rings, and Isaac Faulkner steps in, his eyes sweeping across the room uncertainly; the sense of hesitation he carries with him is palpable. It's a stark contrast from the way he'd been during the plane crash; a stark contrast, even, from the way he'd been before the plane crash.

He's wearing black pants and a dull grey hoodie, hood raised. If the hoodie he's wearing isn't the same one he'd been wearing during the crash, it's a dead ringer for it… and as soon as his hand is off the door handle, it slips into the front pocket, joining his other one there. He looks around for a moment longer… and then he spots Asi. He musters an attempt at a smile and strides over. "Ms. Tetsuyama. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me," he says. The bags under his eyes are visible at close range, even with the shadows the hood casts over his face. "Mind if I sit down?"

Acquiescence comes with a tip of her chin in the direction of the chair with the pillow, and reaffirmed as she pulls away the throw to toss it back onto her own seat. "Order something, if you like. They've got coffee and alcohol both here." She gestures to the standing menu sitting on the table between them with little more than a flick of her eyes.

"We didn't get as much of a chance to talk before as I would have liked," Asi explains, leaving her head tilted as she studies Isaac— the way he bears himself, the way he dresses. "What is it you do, Mr. Faulkner?" She respects the distance he's opted to use in addressing her, returning it in kind. "How do you think you can help?"

"Thanks," he says, easing himself down into the seat. "And… Isaac's fine. Mr. Faulkner sounds middle-aged," he says, mustering a tired-looking smile.

He orders a coffee. At her question about what he does, he nods, folding his hands and laying them on the table; some measure of his uncertainty seems to leave him. "I'm a courier. More specifically, I work for Pigeon Courier Services; message and package delivery within the Safe Zone from 6 am to 10 pm."

There is a pause, and for a moment that uncertainty returns to him. "Shaw — Shahid Wesley-Khan — was the one who got me my job there. With him out, there's been… plenty of work to keep busy." His work has been one thing he's been able to throw himself into to distract himself.

Then he's all business again. "As to what I bring to the table…" he begins, raising a hand and beginning to tick off points. "First, I'm another set of hands, should they be needed. Secondly, I've got decent physical conditioning — I did free-running, and I was good at it. Thirdly… my job grants me a certain familiarity with the Safe Zone, as well as a good cover if you need a location in the Safe Zone checked out."

He trails off, then shrugs. "And I've got motivation, of course."

When the waitress they flag down takes Isaac's order, Asi lifts her voice to politely interject an order for her as well. A maple latte, since they have it.

Then she turns back to Isaac to hear his pitch, her expression unchanging as she hears him out. And then after. Finally, her eyes half-lid and she lets out a tone of acknowledgement.

"I can't lie— I'd have love to have heard you had family or acquaintances with connections, if you yourself didn't… but it's not like those of us with them are getting anywhere ourselves, are we?" Asi's gaze flits back to him properly, lips quirking to a frown on one side. "I'm what's regarded loosely as a technology specialist. I deal with robotics, drones, programming— computers, obviously. Should you lose an arm or a leg, I'm also handy in prosthetics."

Was that a joke? Nothing in her expression or tone shifts to indicate it was.

"I have a solid contact still from my time with the Mugai-Ryu. The most he's been able to confirm is that, from what he can see, the incident that happened to us was isolated. There aren't other kidnapping cases across other cities, other countries that SESA and DHS and the rest are failing to communicate with us." However much of a cold comfort that is, knowing they specifically were the sole targets.

She shakes her head before delivering just as evenly, "I wish there were a physical problem we could throw ourselves at. Unfortunately, short of a— shot in the dark trip to the Middle East, I've got nothing."

She doesn't dignify that with a yet, presently.

"Well. I do have a rich uncle who—" he hesitates for a fraction of a second; abandoned me is harsh, and not useful in this particular context besides "—died in the war, most likely," he finishes. He grimaces a bit; that might actually sound worse.

But what Asi had said is interesting. "Just us?" he frowns, trying to parse this. He is silent for a moment, considering. "But why? If it was just us in all the world that this happened to… there has to be some kind of unifying factor. There's no way anything about this was random. Especially given the way they picked us up."

He looks over to Asi. "Right?"

"There has to be," Asi agrees. "And if it wasn't for political reasons, it could just be because we ticked certain boxes on a list of… needs needing met."

In the space of that sentence, she looks more tired. The answers she wishes she had weigh on her. Her shoulders settle before she looks back to Isaac, admitting, "I don't know." But that doesn't satisfy her either. She pauses long enough for the waitress to deliver the drinks they both ordered, only nodding when she accepts hers, and she leaves it on the saucer, balancing it on her knee. With it still perched there, she points out, "You're one of the pieces that don't fit in the narrative I wanted to believe. You, the kids, and the woman from Paris. You, in particular— you said no one should have known about your ability?"

"I don't exactly keep it top secret, but I don't usually advertise it, either, and I wasn't registered," Faulkner says, shrugging and taking a sip of his coffee. "But that doesn't seem to stop people, he says, shrugging exasperatedly. "This is the second time I've been kidnapped. This year. The first time was…" He grimaces, taking a slightly larger sip of his coffee as he thinks.

"There was a story, awhile back, about some rich assholes running an Evo fightclub? Including a Republican presidential hopeful and some kind of European pharmaceuticals magnate? That was me. They tranqed me, shot me full of meth roofies, and pitched me into a sandbox to go fight some pyrokinetic. SESA raided the place."

Faulkner shakes his head and exhales, agitated; he takes a larger drink of his coffee to drown that. He snorts. "One of my work buddies and I were playing a game of 'who had the shittier weekend'. He got shanghai'd into playing getaway driver for some kind of get-rich-quick scheme, apparently the kind you don't get an option to back out of." He shakes his head. "Guess I won that one."

Then he frowns, turning back to the business at hand. "If it were just me, I could believe that had something to do with it. But it wasn't. Also, the girl they had me fighting was conspicuously absent, which speaks against that — or at least, that alone — as a cause."

Asi doesn't have the tools to build a frame of reference back for when in particular that ring was busted up. It's all somewhere in the vagueness of this year that also feels like it might as well be last year or ten years ago for how much has happened since then. She simply shifts a sympathetic glance to Isaac for the trials he went through, breezes right past the curious but seemingly unimportant anecdote regarding his coworker…

and Amanvir Binepal will never be the wiser how dangerously close an Oni came just then to knowing he'd not entirely kept the secret he was sworn to.

"i remember that story. There were a frightening number of assets involved in the collaboration required to create those rings. It was every Evolved's nightmare come to life. It's… looking back, it's hard to believe at this point that was still only this year." Asi shakes her head once. "Fuck 2020," she mutters with viciously clear enunciation, sealing that toast with a sip off the top of her drink. Then she sets it aside properly on the small rounded table between them, pulling out her phone.

"You said you work with Shahid? Did you know— his wife and he opened up this very restaurant a few months ago?" It's idle chatter while she begins putting pen to paper, so to speak. Makes sure she doesn't forget what she's learned here. "And you both work at…"

Her eyelids flutter after she writes the name down from memory. She'd stored the sound, but seeing it printed is something else. For just a moment, her eyes narrow. Whatever it is, she calmly dims the screen and looks back up to Isaac slowly.

"I would say perhaps you were easier to corner than she was," Asi segues back calmly. "But breaking into Yamagato Park, breaking into Wolfhound's Bastion, those are no small feats. Though I suppose that's an angle I'd not considered to this previously — that it could be the work of some well-connected mundane supremacists seeking to rid the playing field of powerful Evolved who might fight against them."

She smirches her tongue off the back of her cheek, glancing down shortly before back up again. "There's another thing, though," Asi admits in a quieter voice still. Her words barely carry to Isaac. "And that's the problem of the geography."

"Geographically speaking, there was… no way we could have been kidnapped and then shipped back on a plane across Canada in the amount of time any of us were missing." Her voice stays soft, but even as she points this out, but it's clear from the haunted look that enters her gaze that the reality of this bothers her. "Even if our abilities were stripped via Gemini process, even if this happened after we were teleported to a site in Canada they performed this from… being generous, that's barely enough time for that to have been completed and for us to be shoved on that plane."

And that didn't even begin to touch the bizarre inconsistency of Nicole's pregnancy.

Isaac raises an eyebrow. "I didn't, actually; I'll have to come here more often. Isa was the one who introduced me to Shaw. One of the first people I met coming back here, actually…"

Isaac trails off, eyes going distant. "I really thought Shaw was going to die there," he says quietly. He remains silent for a moment… but as Asi advances her theory, his attention returns to the here and now. He frowns… then, after a moment, shakes his head. "Yes, but there's also a chromakinetic in the mix," Isaac says. "And Doctor Miller," he says, grimacing. "Powerful is a bit of a stretch."

And then, as Asi says, there's the geography problem. That's a wrinkle that Isaac hadn't actually stopped to articulate; he'd known that there'd been a degree of geographic separation involved, but he hadn't actually stopped to consider travel time. Now that Asi's brought it up, though, he thinks about it, and his expression grows more troubled. "I can think of ways to get around that… but there's no evidence to support any of them, just yet," he exhales, frustrated. "Do you have a theory?"

"The chromakinetic girl could fashion herself living camouflage, a skill that could be invaluable in the field. Miller's ability allows you to 'read bodies like they're books'? Imagine what could be done with that information in the hands of a skilled assassin. Or for that matter, a torture artist." Her affect is deadpan the entire time, pointed as the message might be.

Every ability, every last one, could be powerful in the appropriate hands. Mostly, with the appropriate sacrifice of morals.

"I don't have a theory as to why they'd teleport us out, but not back, save for burnout of the teleporter. If they were flying us east, it makes most sense they meant to replace us back where we were before— and this is assuming the wreck was not a purposeful act. A red herring vehicle to release us back into the wild deliberately." Her brow twinges, her voice finally lifting to a more conversational level as she reaches for her drink again.

"My worst theory? Is that we're not ourselves."

She doesn't follow that immediately, simply drinking long from the mug like it's the alcohol she wishes it were.

"Maybe," he admits. "But while you could use those abilities in those ways… wouldn't there be simpler ways to go about it? That they picked the targets they did speaks pretty clearly as to their ability to be selective. So why go for a chromakinetic, and not for someone with outright invisibility?" he asks, raising a hand, palm up.

Her theories about the space and time problem are met with a thoughtful expression and the occasional nod; when she's finished, he remains silent a moment longer. "Well, that's a dark one," Isaac finally says, taking a deep drink of his own coffee… but he doesn't look surprised. "I admit, I was toying with the Invasion of the Body Snatchers idea when you brought it up… though I'm not entirely sold on it. Even though it doesn't sound all that much crazier than what we actually know happened to us."

He takes a sip of coffee, considering. "Not sure I buy the wreck being a red herring, either. There's a good chance they could have gotten away with it scot-free, if it hadn't been for that. Though that does beg the question…"

Now he fixes Asi with an intent expression. "What did cause that plane to go down? Because if it wasn't a red herring… something had to have happened."

"Unless records prove otherwise, I imagine the pilot was the most innocent party involved. Some kind of betrayal." Asi sounds dismissive about that, looking back up to Isaac. "My understanding was flying low enough that weather likely shouldn't have been an issue, and it wasn't like it was storming when we came to." Her mug settles between her hands, and she rests her elbows on her knees, thinking.

"Forget— theories. Focus on that. Facts. It wasn't raining when we crashed. The pilot was flying the plane low, and it was traveling eastbound. When we woke up, we were without our abilities, and we're emitting so much electromagnetic radiation MRIs can't get a proper read on us. I have signs of scar tissue on my brain I most certainly did not have previously…"

Now she slows, because this is the most important part for her: "Nicole Miller woke up without the children she was weeks from due to deliver, and doctors found no evidence of them previously. If we're all to assume all of us underwent the same whatever-the-fuck—" Here, her proximity to certain types of swearing proves to have rubbed off on her. "Then we're not ourselves. We're … copies."

Asi sombers, but doesn't break her look to Isaac. "Copies with copied memories, possibly, from our actual, kidnapped selves before we were released into the wild. And whatever method they used to create us, whatever materials— they acquired them from us sometime January or before."

After a pause, she suggests to him with the flatness and sharpness of a blade, "This stays between us."

Isaac sits in silence for several moments, eyes narrowed in concentration, his gaze focused somewhere off to the side; Asi's suggestion is heard, but the majority of his attention is focused on the ramifications of her… theory.

Finally, he lets out a long, slow breath. "I… can see why you wouldn't want that idea spreading," he says slowly, his voice low. "Christ." His gaze slips off into the distance again. America had had to fight a war to get Evo rights; god knows what they'd try to do if they found out about clones running around.

He takes a drink of his coffee, and from the depth of the draw he takes, it looks like he's wishing his was alcohol, too. "I want to say that you can't possibly be right — and if we're being frank, I'm still not entirely sold on it. But… as incredible as it seems, it does fit the available facts." Faulkner doesn't sound entirely happy about that admission. "I'd ask where that leaves the originals — Christ, I hate even saying that — but then we'd be back into theorycrafting again, and as you've pointed out, we don't exactly have enough of a base for that."

"However," he raises a finger. "I disagree on your assessment of the pilot," he says. "This is, admittedly, going off of very limited information, since they were quite thoroughly dead even when I first saw them… but my gut impression is that they were definitely not innocent," Faulkner says. A tiny, grim little smile touches his lips as he meets Asi's gaze. "The shoes. They were the only son of a bitch I saw wearing shoes the entire time; that drew my attention. So I took a good look. It was hard to see, what with all the metal and the blood, but the way they were dressed? It was a uniform, Asi. Like… like a prison guard, except all black, and no trace of any kind of insignia or badge."

He holds her gaze for a moment… then grimaces. "I'd planned to rifle their pockets, but… I thought the living were more important than the dead. And by the time everyone was clear, it was too late." He looks down. "Was that the right call, I wonder?" he murmurs, staring at his coffee as if hoping to see an answer in it.

Somehow, she'd missed this in the shock of everything else that had been going on. And Asi's brow lifts at his recollection.

"The calls we made that night ended up with Shahid making it out alive. With everyone getting out safe from the flames. To have expected us to do much more than that…"

There's something like comfort in her observation, even if it's one step shy of properly making it there. She might do a better job of it if she weren't taking down notes onto her phone, ensuring that detail he had noted about the pilot isn't lost to her. "So, innocent may be out. Betrayed may still be in."

She lets out a faint laugh before glancing back and up and remarking, "I feel like we need to rent a whiteboard somewhere for these ideas."

Isaac remains silent a moment longer… then he nods slowly. "You're right, of course," he says… then he musters a lop-sided grin. "And staring at the road not taken doesn't do us much good, anyway."

Her mention of a whiteboard provides an excellent excuse for him to shift gears, to tear his gaze away from could've and should've and didn't; Faulkner nods slowly. "That might not be a bad idea, honestly. A digital whiteboard, maybe? Members only, for those of us in the crash?" he ventures, peering at Asi curiously. This is her area of expertise, but since they're discussing it, he might as well offer his perspective. He shrugs. "Might help to keep us all on the same page. We're all in this together, after all."

Asi lets out a laugh of surprise, finding it a simple, but maybe elegant solution for theorycrafting. Sometimes fresh perspective was all that was needed. "Yes," she concedes, letting out a slow breath. "Yeah, that might be a good idea. I'll see about ordering a few keys for those who want to be involved. Something that will pair to you, help keep it more secure." She swaps phone for mug in her lap, downing what remains of her drink before asiding to Isaac, "You know… sensitive topics and all."

She slowly comes to her feet, thinking it through and sliding away her phone after setting the remnants of her drink aside. "I'll spend some time putting something together— keep digging, and maybe we get the support group together soon." It's clear she has disdain for that terminology, but…

Well, what else were they going to call it at this point?

Isaac nods; sensitive topics indeed. He doesn't look any more pleased about the 'support group' terminology than she does, but there really isn't much else they could call it. "Well, I'll wish you luck with that; if there's anything I can do to assist you, please let me know." He doesn't really want to get up, but he does it anyway, extending a hand towards Asi for a parting handshake. "I'll look forward to hearing from you."

Asi looks down to the offered hand with the ghost of a smile, accepting it with a nod. "Write, of course, if anything weird happens before then?" She trusts he'll know just the right level of it. She leaves a five on the table before grabbing her helmet, using it to signal her farewell.

"I'll be in touch."

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