Her Blood



Scene Title Her Blood
Synopsis Nine lives run out eventually.
Date June 24, 2019

How do you catch a ghost?

Like smoke, they are by nature ephemeral things. Slipping through tightly clenched fingers. The Ruins of Queens are full of ghosts, from the demolished facades of old video rental stores sun-bleached and dust-coated, to the bomb-eviscerated tenement buildings where shredded blankets, fragments of plastic from children’s toys, and burned photographs lay scattered wide. Perhaps it's no surprise that it's here that someone goes hunting ghosts. Hunting a haunting.

In the late afternoon sun, faded graffiti of a coiled dragon on concrete sparks a memory of specific times and places, markings where the ghost that Jac Child's is hunting resides. It's as if the symbol is a totem, marking where this wayward spirit passes. It's as if the proliferation of stray cats in these places know he's nearby, and are drawn to the presence of a spirit.

A ghost shadow.

Ruins of Queens

June 24th


For Squeaks, these ruins are no different than any other place she lived before Gillian entered her life. For her, broken concrete and the detritus of people’s lost lives is the background noise of her childhood. But the cats don't seem to have a care about this either way, and they approach her with ears perked forward, purring and attentive at each sonic click that comes from her.

The cats are welcome company in the vastly empty place. Squeaks was a stray once, and remembers that life like it was yesterday. She'd share food if she had some that cats might eat. Instead, she offers fingers for sniffing and scritches when any get close but otherwise lets the cats do their cat things. She's not really here for them.

However the last time, the only time, she saw who she is looking for there was a cat. That's the other reason she doesn't chase them away.

Her wandering doesn't fully stop, even with the appearance of her traveling party. Her pace remains slow, eyes and head on a nearly constant swivel as she explores. Squeaks climbs onto the rusted carcass of an old taxi, likely a casualty of the war, and pauses there with her eyes on the graffiti dragon catty-corner from her vantage point. She pulls in a deep breath and calls out with her squeaks and clicks all over again, taking study of the terrain for things she can't see yet.

The sounds get all the cats’ attention. Ears perked in Squeaks’ direction, tails straight of fluffed. That look persists until the clicks stop entirely, then the cats go about following her through the ruins or disappearing off into the underbrush and beneath old derelict vehicles. Some pause to groom themselves, but usually keep an ear turned toward Squeaks.

As she comes down off the taxi, an hour into haunting this ruin, Squeaks sees the darkly-dressed silhouette of a man step out from a sidestreet a thousand feet up the road. His head is shaved, chin lifted up and scowl plastered across his lips. His black-on-black suit is impeccable, clean. The chain of a pocket watch hangs from one pocket.


The appearance of anything other than a cat, or the occasional other stray creature is almost startling. For a whole second, Squeaks’ breath catches when the vaguely familiar silhouette comes into view, and her steps hitch, almost stopping. For an instant she almost retreats, just like she would have a year ago, to hide from a stranger. But she doesn't.

Apprehension keeps her pace slow, just in case she needs to run away, find an escape route. As the face becomes more clear, recognizable, she relaxes. Just a little. A shiver of thrill runs up her spine. She found him!

His scowl keeps her excitement at bay, though. Mad grown-ups are best treated with the same caution you'd give a grouchy bear. Squeaks casts a look over her shoulder, even though she's sure there's nothing but cats and ruins. It just helps to assure there's no one following. “Hi,” she calls quietly, as her head swivels back around to find the other ruins haunter.

“Go home,” is Zhao’s cold greeting. “There is nothing for you here that the cats have not already claimed.” The wind joins Zhao’s comment, sending a swirling cloud of grit through the air, stinging Squeaks’ cheeks as it whips across the empty street. Zhao remains still, hands at his side and posture both stiff and straight, watching Squeaks with an attentive stare.

The cats seem unimpressed by Zhao’s rebuke of Squeaks’ presence and continue to purr loudly and thread in and out of her ankles. Some lounge lazily on the ruined street with flicking tails and narrowed eyes, yet still others are little more than glowing pairs of eyes in the shadow of ruined cars on the side of the road.

“I will,” is practically a promise. Squeaks has no plans of actually staying in the ruins longer than necessary. It's dangerous. She squints against the grit and wind, but refuses to retreat or hide her face from it. If she looks away, she might have to go looking for Zhao all over again. She might not be able to find him a third time. Her steps are still cautious, avoiding stepping on cats and being tripped by them. She's still glad for their presence too. It makes it a little easier to approach the old man with his grumpy expression.

This isn't like the first time they'd met at all. He'd seemed nice then. Patient.

“There might be. Not things but answers.” Surely the cats have found and taken everything edible, and the scavengers picked the rest clean. But the teen isn't looking for food, or even tiny treasures. “I'm trying to find answers. And I think you know about people. About… Children of the Eclipse.”

Zhao’s dark eyes narrow slowly. As he makes that subtle motion, all of the cats stop moving at once as though they were part of a feline stage play. Each and every cat slowly turns its attention to Squeaks and those that were laying down or grooming themselves come to stand up. It’s an eerie experience, seeing animals as untrainable as they performing things in such concert.

“Ask.” Is Zhao’s monosyllabic response. He does not move from where he first appeared to Squeaks, but the cats now follow her with attentive stares and ever-pivoting ears, listening and watching for things both on the street and beyond.

As her eyes flick to the movement and then dart to find the other cats all turning to stare at her, Squeaks pauses. For the first time since the cats appeared, she reconsiders going further. They're just cats, but the sudden and simultaneous movements is unsettling. She shakes her head at the thought, at the cats, and lifts a look to Zhao.

Hopefully it's as determined as she is to find her answers, and not as uneasy as she feels.

“You called us Children if the Eclipse before.” She takes a step forward, and then another. “And you knew about our friend who does the teleporting.” Squeaks’ logic, why she would think the ghost in the ruins would know anything, because he knew what no one said, when she and Joe were looking for Eimi a year ago. She continues another three careful steps. “Do you know Cindy Morrison?”

Zhao tilts his head to the side and all the cats mirror his movement. He considers Squeaks again and watches her with thoughtful silence. The cats do as well. There's so much symmetry between Zhao and the animals’ movement that it could hardly be considered a coincidence.

“No,” is Zhao’s final and thorough assessment. “It is neither a name I have heard nor has been handed to me.” But in a way that clearly perplexes him, Squeaks has managed to gain Zhao’s curiosity. “Who is she, and who do you ask me of her?”

“That's what I'm trying to find out.” A fair answer deserves one in kind. Squeaks doesn't relax her guard, but takes the question as an invitation to get a little closer. Just enough that she's not feeling like she has to almost yell, not enough to be in danger, or a threat. Not that any would see her as such.

She glances at the cats to her left and then right, then angles a slightly squinty look at Zhao. “She worked for the Company, and was kept at Rikers. The prison. But also she was… she… for someone maybe, she did surrogacy and gave birth. To me.” Squeaks hesitates slightly, watching the old man in an attempt to gauge his reaction, guess his thoughts. “She isn't my mom, though, and I never met her,” she adds after a second and in a tone that implies there's a lot to the story and it's complicated.

Zhao’s expression remains difficult to read, but try as he might to hide his reaction he does have one. It's a tell of his eyes, a look down to a black cat as if conferring with it, then a look back up to Squeaks. “I may know someone who knows all the answers to the questions you seek,” is not the answer Squeaks expected Zhao to have. “But… unfortunately, seeing him would not be as simple as walking somewhere.”

Taking the first step forward since he emerged, Zhao offers a hand out to Squeaks. “I can take you to see him, but it will change you forever. You will not be able to go back to your old life, not right away, and perhaps not ever. But he is older and wiser than most, and if it is a sin of the Company, I assure you, he knows it's every shape and form.”

Zhao extends his hand across the divide of their personal space, an offer with consequences both profound and vague. “I cannot force you to make this choice. But if you do, know that nothing will ever be the same again.”

A shift of shoes, rubber scuffing against ruined asphalt when the man steps toward her, hints at the uneasiness her brave face masks. Squeaks squeezes her teeth together, ignoring learned habits out of an unexplainably deep desire to know more.

She considers the hand that's extended to her, follows it to stare at Zhao. So many questions are carried in that look.

“If I go, I can't go home again? Or see my family ever?” The asking is quiet as Squeaks seeks to form an understanding of the cost for answers. She can't leave her family forever, her real family, she only just found it. “Or… or anything else?” Leaving SESA and all her friends would be hard too. It's a really tough choice.

“No.” Zhao says flatly, “you would have a new family. New friends. A new life. Everything would change, and you would see the world with open eyes.” His hand remains extended. “What is here would be nothing but the past.”

The cats gathered around Squeaks watch her with wide, yellow eyes. There is a haunting silence, the way the wind dies down and everything becomes tomb-still, as if even nature bothered to pause and see how this question would be answered. As if the wind itself wondered to itself: How high of a price?

Zhao, ignorant of those details, remains transfixed on Squeaks.

Sinking down, Squeaks sits on her knees. She looks at the cats nearest, like they have a secret she hasn't considered yet. Another path to follow she hasn't found, that won't lead to a dead end or take everything from her. Leaving her family, everything, wasn't a price she ever thought would be wanted in exchange for answers.

There’s got to be another way.

Her eyes lift to Zhao, searching still, the mask she'd hidden behind to ask her questions broken. Fear fills those cracks, causes new ones to form.

“I just…” she begins in a small voice. If she leaves, she gives up everything she has. The idea makes her eyes sting and blur with tears. Squeaks scrubs at her eyes with the back of a hand. But if she stays, she might never know how she came to exist, or if the experiments will eventually make her sick, like so many others. It's a big decision. “Could I… could I meet him first? And then… and then decide if… if it's… if I should stay?” So she doesn't run into another dead end, with no way to go back. “Please?”

Zhao’s stare never wavers from Squeaks, not once. He and the cats are all still, just watching the young woman and in their way inspecting her. “No,” is not the answer she wanted, but it is the answer she gets. “But if you are questioning yourself, perhaps now is not the time to make that choice. The offer will stand, an open door, but one that will shut behind you once you enter it…” Finally, his intense stare breaks, “…should you ever choose to.”

As if a moment of tension has passed, the cats begin to move again, returning to their grooming and insistances for attention at Squeaks legs. “What will it be?” Zhao asks, and never has Squeaks had a heavier burden placed upon her shoulders.

A breath leaves her at the first answer, a short huff that’s neither emotionally relieved nor resigned. It isn’t the answer Squeaks wanted, nor can she honestly say she expected it. The sound is similar to air leaving an inflatable toy as pressure is increased.

For a long minute, she stares up at Zhao. His intense gaze may have moved on, but hers grows. Why should she believe that anything he says is absolute, that she'd never see home again? It can't be true, unless she makes it that way herself, and just finding answers doesn't change anything except knowledge.

She'd still be Jac Childs, Gillian’s daughter. It's forever no matter what.

Her hand brushes across her face again, with vague annoyance in the action. It doesn't remove the soul-deep fear that the cold, quiet whispers keep feeding. It could be true. But it helps her find some resolve.

“I have to tell my mom,” she states as she gets to her feet. Not ask, but tell. If she started asking, she’d never find anymore answers, never find understanding. Her friends and family would talk her out of it. “I have to let her know first, so she won’t worry.” So Gillian will know to expect her back. Some day. Nothing is going to change that. You don’t just stop being family because some old man says so. Squeaks’ eyes stray from Zhao’s expression to the hand he’d offered. Doubt and fear make her hesitate slightly, and there’s a renewed welling of tears in her eyes as she reaches for his hand.

“No,” Zhao says again, flatly. The cats are beginning to lose interest, meandering away from Squeaks. Some of them disappearing under cars, others into alleyways. “It is for safety that you would disappear from your past life forever, because of the damage you can do there. This is not a punishment, it is a shield. For you, for us, for the fate of the entire world.”

Zhao squares his shoulders, then looks down at the ground and away from Squeaks to the horizon. “Either leave with me now, or stay and think about your options. But if you tell anyone…” Zhao’s dark eyes settle back on Squeaks, “I will know.

“I won't tell anything,” the girl argues. “Except… except…” No reason really sounds good enough. She twists her head away, eyes following a lanky cat with a crooked tail as it returns to whatever haunt it owns. It was lonelier when she was alone, but also easier to decide things. Why does it have to be so hard to just find out what she'd like to know? Why does it have to cost anything?

Tears make tracks down her cheeks as she blinks at them. If she stays, she could continue to run into dead ends. There's no promise of answers in anything she's searched, only the empty half truths of people who play at secrets and conspiracies. There's no guarantee that Zhao isn't one of those either.

But he isn't treating her with smiles and fake sounding nice words either.

Lifting her head, Squeaks finds Zhao’s gaze on her. “I'm… I'm going.” There's a little less resolve as she says it, her voice a little shaky. “I'm going. I have to… I have to look. Just… just can I tell my mom I love her? Just one last time?”

“No,” seems to be Zhao’s solitary response to anything Squeaks has to say, and he extends his hand out to her one last time. In that moment, the cats look back with vibrant, attentive eyes.

“If she is a good mother, she already knows.”

“She’s the best mother.” Squeaks has no doubt that Gillian knows without being told. She’d still hoped to be able to say so anyway, and the continued no response grinds painfully against already conflicted feelings. Why is a really hard thing to understand, and she questions Zhao’s answer, asks him to reconsider, with a strained look, but not words.

Eventually she breaks her gaze from him and looks over her shoulder, tracing the route she’d followed until the turns make it impossible to see more. She knows the way without needing to see it. It’ll always be home, and she buries the promise to return. One day. Because Gillian’s her mom forever, and she’s determined to not let anything ever change that.

“The best mom ever.” In all of the worlds, probably, but definitely this one.

Squeaks reluctantly turns from the path that would take her home, focus straying to the cats, to the ground around Zhao’s feet. Finally to the hand that’s extended to her, her own still half raised. She swallows against the lump forming in her throat and takes a breath to loosen the tightness in her chest, then lifts her eyes to the old man’s as she places her hand in his.

Zhao narrows his eyes, squeezing Squeaks hand gently. He says nothing, but slowly the world around Squeaks begins to become little more than a smeared blur, like a painting caught in the rain. Only Zhao remains in focus, and it’s then that she is confronted by the true weight of her choice…

…as his eyes turn gold.

And they vanish.

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