elliot2_icon.gif richard5_icon.gif wf_squeaks_icon4.gif

Scene Title Headlong
Synopsis Elliot and Richard leave a meeting of terrible truths to find an unexpected listener that, if they're being honest, surprises neither of them.
Date July 5, 2021

Flickering candle and lantern light spills weakly from the doorway of the shell of the old power substation. It hardly reaches more than a foot from the threshold and does almost nothing to cut through the steady drizzle. At best it makes deeper shadows out of the wreckage and ruins than the night can do alone.

It’s quiet. Except for the whispery hiss of falling rain, and the distant sound of the convoyers doing the things that are necessary to recovery, regrouping, and preparing for journeying once it’s light again. And nothing moves that shouldn’t be moving.

Nothing except for Squeaks. She found herself a hole beneath one of the substation’s broken windows. It doesn’t really shelter from the rain, but she’s snugged comfortably beside a bank of anodized utility boxes , inside the well of an old, balding tire that probably came from some kind of large utility truck. At a glance, the teenager is well hidden, easily part of the landscape itself.

Her breathing is deep and measured in the way of someone trying to keep calm, eyes wide and staring up at the inner wall of the tire. Never mind that her own thoughts and emotions are boiling and tumbling with confusion and worry — who’s bright idea was it, anyway, to listen in on a secret meeting of people from Another Place? Squeaks has really done it this time and she feels sick for it. Two eternities pass while she wallows and compares everything she’d heard to everything she’d already lived through.

In actual time it’s been maybe a minute, or slightly longer, since the voices stopped. Long enough that they’ve probably all left the building, which means she should get back to the convoy like nothing had happened. Squeaks shifts and adjusts, shoes wet from the rain scuff and skrrt quietly against the tire wall as she moves to crawl out onto the open ground.

“It takes a lot of work,” Elliot says from the darkness of the doorway, “but once you get the hang of other people’s emotions you can actually intuit a lot about what’s going on, even without a sensory stream.” He steps up and out, walking slowly with his hands in the pockets of his black hoodie. His voice is soft; understanding, not condemning.

“When somebody else in the network starts feeling similar things at the same time, it’s always possible that they’re just taking on the emotions you’re feeling without realizing it,” he explains. “But it doesn’t usually stick without the stimulus. Then you can narrow it down when little spikes of worry pop up as other people leave the building you’re standing in.” His hand is offered down to help Squeaks extricate herself from the tire.

In the doorway, Richard leans against its frame; arms folded over his chest, his expression not angry or judging either, simply tired. A faint smile twitches at his lips as he sees who it is that Elliot’d discovered, and then he closes his eyes and brings one hand up to rub between them.

“Of course,” he murmurs under his breath, wearily amused, “It’d be Jac.”

To her credit, Squeaks doesn't startle when one and then two voices come out of the building. Not visibly anyway. Inwardly, there's a ripple from her, over the network, a little unpleasant thrill from something unexpected. Usually she's better at avoiding being caught. But also usually she didn't just hear about the far future and flares and things with names she doesn't understand… She shakes her head to rattle those thoughts back into some other place until she can ask about them later.

The motion covers the hesitation she has about accepting help out of her hiding place. And it masks the vague guilt at being found until and the lengthy thoughts she has about lying.

After standing, and brushing hands down her jacket and jeans to dislodge some of the damp and dirt, Squeaks finally looks up at the two. Her mouth opens to correct Richard first — she's Squeaks — but then huffs a breath in a manner eerily similar to the version of her that he knows. "So." A squinted look gets directed at the pair of them, strangers with secrets, and they both could probably hear the thoughts and wonderings that chase around in her mind. She could drop an excuse that would be hard to refute, or…

"This is a dangerous journey, I get to know why it's important to you."

Squeaks chooses to defend her choices.

"She goes by Squeaks," Elliot informs Richard. Her knot of complex emotions is easy enough to keep separate from his own. He came here knowing they were all going to die, so the new information isn't overwhelming yet. He steps back once she's up and defending her choice, giving her space to maneuver so she doesn't feel boxed in.

He doesn't ask 'how do you feel m now that you know,' as he knows exactly what she's feeling. It's stripped of her thoughts, just pure emotion, but it's strong in his mind. As a gesture of good faith, he reopens the links between them that he'd closed before the meeting. Just as he did after she'd spied on his conversation with Gracie yesterday. "Information compartmentalization is important for missions like this," he says. "If everybody knew the details of why we're here and what our goals are, maintaining operational security would be significantly more difficult." Not to mention what knowledge of the impending Second Apocalypse would do to convoy morale.

“Squeaks,” Richard says, in a familiar manner that suggests he’s had that same exchange a dozen times before even if he hasn’t. Not with this Squeaks, anyway.

“You’re from the wasteland. You should understand operational security,” he points out, shaking his head, “And… frankly, telling everyone wouldn’t help a damn thing. This is all a hail mary pass as it is. I’m not mad you were spying, though. It’s…”

He chuckles a little, “Honestly, kind of what you’ve always done.”

Suspicion clouds over everything else Squeaks had been feeling, like a fine sand churned up in a stormy sea, and she outright stares at Richard. At the same time, in the smallest of movements and with all the hope that the darkness keeps it hidden, she slinks closer to Elliot. She isn't seeking safety, except she is.

"We don't talk about that place," she points out in a quieter voice. "And I didn't say everyone. There's people who really shouldn't know." She knows about keeping secrets and the need to know. She made her choice and decided now she needs to know. Especially, "Since you all aren't from here and you all went in there and all the hushed voices and looks." It all makes perfect sense. Her head tilts and she turns a look up at Elliot to see if he agrees.

Elliot winces when Richard directly addresses Squeaks's native timeline. He's managed to avoid doing so since piecing it together over the past couple weeks. The Bad Place was clearly bad enough that referencing it always brings the girl pain. He assumes Richard hasn't spent the time with her to know that and, as Squeaks made her stance on it clear, he doesn't speak for her. He doesn't flinch away from her when she nears him for security, happy to be a barricade if necessary.

He looks down to see her nonverbal request for support on the rest of it, however. He smiles reassuringly. "The damage is done," he tells Richard. "Ultimately, operational decisions fall to you, but I'll vouch for Squeaks. She has a talent that shouldn't be squandered here, and I think it will be worth our time to nurture that talent. Having a second skilled infiltrator with a keen mind in our corner isn't something we should pass up."

“That’s fair enough. It wasn’t a good place for anyone,” says Richard, smile faint before it fades and he gives his head a tight shake. “I don’t need anyone else to vouch for her. Liz did, by bringing her along in the first place, and that’s enough for me.”

He looks at the girl for a moment, one eyebrow raising a little. “Did you have any questions about what you heard, Squeaks?”

“I have lots of talents,” Squeaks affirms without boasting. It's all a matter of fact. She tilts a side eye at Richard, squinting a little bit. It's almost like she's trying to puzzle him out without outright asking anything. Sort of the opposite in how she met Elliot, since she's the one who was caught. And there are a lot of things she'd like to ask, but too many are off topic and she hasn't had enough time to sort over the ones that are relevant. So she starts with…

“How long?”

“From what we just heard,” Elliot says quietly, somberly, “it begins in November. We came here looking to stop it, and with this new information, maybe we can.” Because apparently they didn’t, but the paradigm is shifting. He’s sad for Squeaks and she'll feel that; she’s too young to have to face the end of the world all over again.

“The first major flare doesn’t hit until next year, though, from what it sounds like,” Richard observes with a slight shake of his head, “Since they don’t close the doors until then. In general, though…”

He grimaces, “Time is short in general.”

Squeaks starts counting on her fingers when Elliot says November. She had heard that too, but months and dates haven't held as much substance for her as weather and daylight. She's not exactly even sure what month it is, except for it's a summer month, and November is somewhere around winter. When Richard says time is short, she stops counting to nod.

“What's actually in Alaska?” It still feels so far away, even though they're traveling at a pretty good pace. Squeaks makes a squinted look up at Elliot, then directs that same one to Richard. “And why there? Are you sure it's Alaska? That's not where Liz and the travelers we came here with went.” They went the other direction, into the storms, and… well she assumes Liz made it alive since Richard said he'd talked to her. “How do the suits work? That's how your group got here, right? That Glory lady said knife? Kinetic…neutrino… but they're rods?”

“There’s a research station in Alaska that was destroyed in our world,” Elliot explains. “We’re told there are schematics of some kind there which we need in order to save the world but…” But as she heard, it apparently didn’t do the trick.

Our suits didn’t get us here, they just helped us survive the journey,” Richard gives his head a tight shake, “We had to use a machine to get here, it’s not as– safe as Mateo’s method of opening a portal. We…”

He glances to Elliot, then back to Squeaks before admitting the blunt truth most of the Travellers have tried not to talk about, “We don’t have a good exit plan. We have some equipment to send information back but we don’t know how we’re getting ourselves back. If we even are. This may have been a one-way trip.”

“Mateo made it?” The question is off topic and out before Squeaks can stop it. She had wondered who made it out of the flooded world, if anyone had even made it through the storms. “Maybe…” she thinks out loud, “maybe he could open a portal in his… in your home world and link it here. That's how we left.”

Her lips fold in over her teeth and she huffs a small breath out. There's still so many things to ask, but she's not really sure where to go next — so much she wants to know is just because she's shamelessly curious. So as she wonders, her eyes go from Elliot to Richard back to Elliot and then Richard again.

Squeaks finally shrugs, after about three seconds of waffling. “I’m not going to tell anyone what I heard.” She's firm on that, no one will find anything out from her. “It's too important. But I'm also not going to just ride along and watch the whole way either. I didn't to get here or when the Sentinels came. I have friends where you're from.”

Elliot appreciates Squeaks's determination. He already made his case for her inclusion, and as such leaves the rest up to Richard. The other man can probably also speak with more authority on Mateo's apparent unavailability.

“Unfortunately,” Richard grimaces, “To my knowledge, his ability’s burnt out– and even if it wasn’t, he’s not very good at aiming. Heh– funny enough, your ability can actually help stabilize those portals, Squeaks– if we didn’t have another you on the other side, I’m not sure if we would have been able to connect to the Looking Glass in the ark and bring everyone through. It’s all about resonance and vibrations. So you might actually be able to help if we figure out some kind of kludge to open a portal…”

”I don’t expect anyone to just ride along and watch. Nobody just did that today,” he says with a shake of his head, “But since you know, now, we can bring you in on more things as needed.”

“Oh that's…” Regret changes to sharp interest. “Resonance and vibrations?” Squeaks had never thought of her sounds like that before. Not that she even knows what the Looking Glass is — and that's a whole set of questions she will have to get to another day — but it makes her wonder. “Did you know I can do sounds underwater and… and see it?” Her eyes get big and her hands spread as if to show the vastness of the ocean.

It takes her a full minute, she's practically silent in that stretch too. The clicks and squeaks she makes fall just outside of hearing range for most people. But it takes her that minute to circle back to what she heard.

Squeaks’ excitement falters slightly, and while her hands drop to her sides, her shoulders rise with a shrug. “Good.” She tilts her head to look up at Elliot, then fixes Richard with a side eye. “I'm not sorry I spied.”

Elliot considers the use of harmonic stabilization quietly. Richard had told him previously about the combination of abilities required to make a portal home, the insurmountable one being access to Mateo's ability as established. He hadn't realized that Squeaks's ability could bridge the gap for the harmonic component, or that a different her had done so before. He'd been assuming it was all Elisabeth.

He glances down at Squeaks as he feels her eyes on him and smiles. He's well aware that she's not feeling sorry about it, and she'll know he's not sorry either. "I'd say I'd put a bell on you," he jokes, "but that would make it harder to train you in the rest of the infiltration and espionage stuff."

“Sonar. That’s what they call it when they use it in a ship,” Richard says, a grin curving to his lips at Squeaks’ excitement regarding her own ability, “And yeah, that’s what sound is, after all. Vibrations in the air. Everything vibrates at a certain resonance at some level, it’s how you can tell the differences between universes too– it all comes down to vibration. Hell, when it comes right down to it, even temperature is just vibration. And now I’ve said the word ‘vibration’ too many times in a row and it stopped making sense to me. Gah.”

He rubs a hand over his face, and then gestures, “I’m not angry you did. You might be happier if you hadn’t, though. None of this is exactly fun information to know, Squeaks.”

“Just because it isn't fun doesn't mean I shouldn't get to know something.” Squeaks’ eyebrows push upward as she looks from Elliot to Richard. Knowing even the not good things is how she's stayed alive and gotten out of bad places. And sometimes it's been really very exhausting, but…

“You only said it four times.” Squeaks holds up four fingers for emphasis. “Not even in a row, just four times. And if that's what gets you confused then you definitely most absolutely for reals need me going with.” Not that they ever really had a say, because Squeaks will do what she does.

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