How Things Work


emily_icon.gif etienne_icon.gif

Scene Title How Things Work
Synopsis Astor could call Emily any day, and she's still not comfortable with using her ability. It's something she'd have asked Eileen for advice on, which she can't, so instead she goes to the next closest person.
Date August 10, 2019

One thing Emily Epstein clings to is information, whether she wants to remember something or not. Sometimes human things happen that color over certain pieces of it, some of it is fogged by time, but for the most part, she sharply attenuates to the things she learns. And when that fails, she always can go to her phone for back-up. Her phone which, for example, remembers the number for one Etienne St. James better than she could, given she’d only ever dialed it once before.

For all the urgency left in the voicemail left on a line belonging to him, the where that she requests he meet her stands in contrast with it. In their brief conversation where he returned her call, she sounded no less anxious than in the voicemail, and requested to meet him in a public space.

A park.

To talk.

Elmhurst Park

August 10, 2019

3:45 pm

It’s a detail that doesn’t have impact often, but Emily’s accidental lateness lately to meetings she’s requested lead her to have arrived at the park twenty minutes early by design. She’s worried that he might not appear at all — or that he’d do a sweep, not see her, and leave, as a separate example — and decides it’s worth the long and awkward wait alone.

Because of course she’s alone.

She blinks long and hard and slow at the screen in her lap, flicking from one page to the next on her ebook. Her neck has craned down for so long — including the bus trip over — that it’s begun to ache from having her face crammed right into her phone. Emily lets out a thin sigh as she looks up from her spot, sitting on a bench under the shade of a tree while children engage in a watergun fight down the way on the playground equipment. She lets her gaze linger on them for just a moment and how they adeptly use the construction down there to both hide and make sneaky shots. A quiet tone escapes from her in acknowledgement of them, sounding like a note of humor, and then she continues to scan for any new persons walking about.

The heat isn’t unbearable today, but the sun rests down on anything in the open with a terrible tacky flakiness to it, and reduces everything under shade to feel as though they are wrapped — somehow — in a fleece blanket. The humidity was always the killer in these situations, a reality often unaccounted for even in this day. For want of a proper fan, Emily finds herself spinning her phone in the palm of her hand, thumb and forefinger pinched about halfway down the screen. She waits, and she watches for half-familiar faces to crop into view.

It isn't very often that he finds opportunity or good cause to walk the streets of New York City. Not even for nostalgic reasons. For starters, Gabriel Gray's primary associations are decaying in the abandoned, war-torn streets of Queens, or the irradiated Manhattan — although the shattered heart of Midtown is rife with memories.

More so than the Safe Zone itself. That being said, walking among the general populace, within governing borders of the United States, is in itself both risk and novelty.

The guise of Etienne Saint James is ill-suited to meeting young girls in the park in the middle of Brooklyn, but he is unwilling to burn another face for the sake of an Epstein of any kind. So Emily will see him arrive at a slow amble across the grass, sweating in old, worn leather and denim and boots, all of which do something to protect him against winds that cut across the waters but only stifles him in the stagnant, humid warmth of the city. His long hair has been bound back at the nape of his neck, and he doesn't appear to be carrying any weaponry — not even the hunting knife that he wears around Staten Island.

The less reason to be stopped or questioned, the better. A few feet from her, he stops without inviting himself to sit. Who knows, maybe she wishes to lure him to a secondary location. Either way, Etienne lets her set the agenda with an expectant silence.

When she sees him, Emily catches the screen against the inside of her palm, gaze flickering in a moment of doubt. Is it him, she wonders. Is he really that impractical to dress as always in this weather? Is it her mind playing tricks on her, or worse, some other person who had hold of his number and was coming to meet her now?

She decides he looks different enough than her memory prescribes, yet still the same, and is probably the same dangerous man she means to in fact meet. A quiet hm comes from her, her hand dipping into the bag at her side.

It comes away with a bottle of water in it, which she tosses his direction.

"You trying to catch a heat stroke or something?" Emily asks with an arch of her brow, eyes sharp as she looks him over. It's only a moment before she sighs, tempted to ask if Etienne wants to move somewhere indoors, with air conditioning — and she almost does, the sound of the question caught in her throat — but she swallows it back with another wordless tone of thought, gaze dropping. No, she tells herself, he'd likely have made the suggestion they move already. She's driving this.

So she drives. Takes in a breath to do just that. "There's something I need to ask, because— I'm struggling with it, and there's people counting on me. So this is bullshit of me to ask, and all, because you don't owe me anything, but…" When her head lifts again a moment later, her voice is quiet for all its conversational lilt. "You have an ability, don't you?" she asks with blithe ignorance. Her facade of that being an easy question falters in the hitch before she continues. "How's it work? When you use it, how do you make it work?"

There's another awkward pause, for all that the levelness of her voice counteracts it. "Because I'm still not sure how mine…" Emily breaks that thought off with a huff, correcting herself with a mutter, "I mean, I know, but I don't know."

You know?

Imagine this: you're among the most famous serial killers in the world, you were falsely accused for exploding New York City twice (on account of it being perfectly possible for you to do so, morally and practically), you operate out of New Jersey as a soldier for a remnant of a dimension-hopping terrorist organisation, dividing up your time as a bodyguard for a crime boss and pirate off the coast of Staten Island, and then you are summoned into the city by the daughter of someone you absolutely



and she opens by sassing your wardrobe.

Etienne takes a breath. Processes.

And listens.

Then says, "I don't owe you anything," agreeably, squinting down at her. His eyes are a more laser-light brand of blue than Byron's, more accusatory in that way, and more shocking in swarthy features. You have an ability, don't you? she asks, and he tips his head, a doggish kind of affect. After a puzzled silence, he prompts, "What do you know."

“I know I need to get my head wrapped around it, and time’s running out for that. Everybody I’ve talked to has had something different to say about the way theirs works, and little by little, I feel like it’s easier to know when I might touch it …” Emily explains, at a challenge to keep her voice low. She taps the face of her phone against her thigh with an idle shake of her head. “But not…”

You know.

As for the real question behind what she knows about it, she hesitates on a better answer. Her brow ticks into a furrow. She looks back up at him, sharpness in her own gaze. “I know that I don’t feel it’s ethical to just practice it on people. So I’m just doing what I can to… to figure it out in theory and internalize it rather than do practical practice with it.”

Emily’s jaw rotates before she adds with a touch of strain in her voice, “Eileen was afraid of it, so I’m thinking I’m pretty justified in that feeling.”

Etienne stays exactly as he is as she talks, unmoved. Quiet, after she's done.

He looks down at the water bottle she threw at him, its contents sloshing from one side to another. In the bright light of summer, the subtle white glow that emanates from his hand is barely visible, but the white frost that suddenly paints along the sides of the bottle is not, a flutter of icy air like a cloud running off of it with the slightest encouragement.

When he tosses it back to her to catch, it's frozen solid.

"What do you know," he says, repeating his question now, but with clarification, "about me."

The bottle lands heavier in her hand than she'd expected, the changed physical state of it noted but not fully grasped until she looks down at the weight of it, a flicker of bewilderment in her gaze. Emily was a child in the era his was a household name, but certain shines of it bled through to her even so. News about serial killers might've been muted or tuned away from in her household, but things like the Midtown explosion had permeated everything.

So it's odd that he lobs back a chunk of ice at her, being a man who was accused of causing a nuclear explosion. Just like it's odd his face is distinctly different than the one she dimly remembers from the news screens.

What does she know?

"Not as much as I should, I'm sure," she shares flatly, trying to downplay a sudden self-consciousness about that fact. For a moment, she considers elaborating, trying to box up tidily what falsehoods and half-truths and accusations she'd ever heard about Gabriel Gray. Instead, she opts to simplify it by saying, "Better to assume nothing, aside from what you've told me."

There's a brief pause as she glances back up to Etienne, rocking the chilled plastic bottle in her palm. "… You had good advice before," Emily explains, answering an unspoken question of why him over talking this through with someone who knows her better — knows her at all, even. "But, I'm not trying to shake you like an eight-ball and hope you've got the magic answer. So while I'd be really grateful if you did have any pointers, my problems aren't your problems and I'll figure this out on my own if I have to."

Hefting the frozen water, Emily ventures, "It seems like you've got insight that'd be valuable, though." Etienne certainly looked like he knew what he was doing.

From across the way, a high pitched shriek sounds out, turning his head — the children engaged in play are doing just that, one of them eliciting a second squeaking yelp as she dives behind over as a jet of water tracks her. It's a bafflingly innocent, joyful display, and Etienne pulls his focus back now that random human instinct has confirmed that no one was screaming in pain, in fear.

He sits down next to Emily. There is a tension that is likely not going to go away, back curved forward, muscular bulk strained against worn leather, veined with wear and tear from the seams. Elbows against his knees, he holds his hands so that his palms are facing one another a few inches apart, his fingers lax. One by one, each fingertip begins to emanate a bright point of white light, and as he concentrates, a thread of illumination connects between each one, like a complicated game of cat's cradle.

"Practice makes perfect," he says, quiet humour for some private joke. "You don't need me to tell you that."

Quietly reviewing the things she's already said, and not said, the natural question he asks, then, is, "What does it do?" as he lets those threads of light fade, and disappear.

Emily adjusts her bag beside her, scoots just slightly so there is an appropriate amount of space between them both. Her head turns for just a moment, seeing if anyone takes interest in the odd pair the two make together, and seems content with whatever she sees. It allows her to look back just in time to see that first bloom of light.

Her brow lifts as a second, then the rest after them all turn that white glow. She darts a glance up at him, the quiet confirmation that Etienne can in fact do many things regarded with quiet, but earnest interest. His advice, welcome as it is, brings her expression to fold in on itself.

He's right. Practice makes perfect.

The teen's shoulders shift uncertainly as she rolls the bottle end over end slowly between both hands, phone jammed delicately between her knees. The fading of the light and the question that comes with it makes her let out a silent sigh, head dipping.

After a long moment, she confides, "It has to do with my words," and tries to efficiently sum up what she was told and what she knows. That takes another thoughtful pause. "If I speak from a deep place, I can … be very convincing. But only if I believe it's the right thing." Her fingers tense around the bottle and she stops fidgeting with it. "I can't just call that up on command," Emily insists with a touch of frustration. "But then, spontaneously, I'll catch it happening just in everyday conversation. I'm getting better at that, the— the realizing, and shutting it down, but …"

On an exhale, she opines, "That's just half of it, right?" Right. "Because figuring out how to not use it isn't the same thing as getting a grip on how to use it." Her gaze sharpens, still fixed somewhere deep in the ice. "It's the sort of thing I'd ask Eileen for advice with, but…" The light in her eyes change, a pinch of tension gripping her posture. "I accidentally… the last time we spoke, and…" She relives the moment just before the fireworks show, her look opaque as she struggles with how she feels about it, or what it means.

"She realized what I'd done, and she just ran," Emily confesses, her voice small. She draws in a breath. With a touch more center to her, she flatly asides, "So."

"She doesn't like persuasives."

This explanation is not really angled to reassure so much as provide something like context, minimal though it is. Etienne adds, "I'm not a fan," with the odd cadence of his accent dipping back out again.

So here he is, to provide insights on the ethics of the thing? The corner of his mouth turns up a little, grim. "When would you use it?" He unfolds himself from his slouch forward, resting against the bench back and letting an arm hook over it. "Name a circumstance where you would feel entitled, where it would be necessary, to make someone believe something they don't because you believe it's right."

It doesn't sound like rhetoric. He expects an answer.

At least it's a question she's thought plenty about. If she was still working on coming back to the moment, that certainly does it. "Talk someone down from doing something stupid, if they stopped believing in themselves," Emily answers without hesitation. She turns in her seat to better look at Etienne, expression far more cautious than her voice. "Defuse a fight if it looked like it would come to blows. Encourage people to talk it out. People— do things they wouldn't when they're drunk, for example."

There's a beat, in which she looks infinitely more tired before she speaks again. "Try to convince someone to live a different truth if their life was only filled with hate. The world needs less people like Pure Earth."

The theme is the same throughout it all, though. Emily resists the urge to hide her gaze, instead waits for judgement on her logic.

"It's wrong."

Etienne dispatches this judgment without feeling, to the point that after the sting of the words themselves, it might seem as though there is no judgment. His counters come off the same way; "Sometimes people need to be stupid, have doubt. Fight." He steers a look off towards the boundaries of the park, by routine noting each moving figure that wanders into view. "And maybe the world has use for something like Pure Earth.

"We weren't meant to be. But we are." This is definitely what she called him for, probably.

Prepared as she’d like to think she is for such an observation, it still takes Emily’s breath away.

If those weren’t good situations for it, then when?

Her look loudly but wordlessly demands an answer for that, robbed of speech as she is at the moment. When he makes his last comment, though, she finds that more perplexing even still. “I don’t understand,” Emily has no hesitations about admitting. “What do you mean we weren’t meant to be?”

"I've had a lot of time to think about it," is borderline apologetic, from Etienne, as opposed to some kind of flex — some undercurrent of grim humour to his tone. "About how I believed that they were right to be afraid of us." And in case she takes that the wrong way, he supplies; "I liked that."

It's not political, in those terms. In her hands, the water bottle is very slow to thaw, watery run-off on its outside sweating in the summery air. "Your genetic predisposition didn't consider whether Emily Epstein had a good sense of right or wrong before giving her the ability to make that call by force," he says. "It's random and terrifying, but hey, maybe she does. Maybe you do. Maybe it'll always be as simple as stopping someone from driving their car off a bridge."

But probably not, is what his tone says.

"Someone points a gun at you or something you love, you talk them into putting it down. Someone gets in the way of something you want, you get them to move. You're only going to learn the strength of what you can do by forgetting about the moralistic justification behind it. That comes later. Until then, it'll only hold you back."

The good thing about receiving advice, Emily reflects, is you don't have to follow it. Sometimes the act of seeking guidance means you're guided away from certain paths once you're made aware of them. That's the beauty of being bright enough to think for yourself. Sometimes you end up choosing, wilfully, the opposite of what you're advised because you feel strongly it's the right thing to do.

And sometimes, other people make very convincing arguments that rock your beliefs— even without the use of an ability that compels that change to happen.

That's not how this works, though. Emily would like to argue.

Who's to say it doesn't? she challenges herself in silence. It echoes around her in the form of doubt. How is she to know, after all?

She means to respond, judging by her intake of breath, the intent that flares in her gaze before she looks away, her free hand curling in her lap. Astor had said what he said, she reminds herself. "The person who told me about my ability," she counters, "said it only works if I believe from a place of compassion— if I feel that it is the right thing to do." Everything that 'right' could possibly imply there.

Emily lifts her gaze back up to him, still not certain his advice doesn't have merits, despite that. But she's left with a question, one she's not sure their answers will align on.

"What good is an ability if you don't use it to help others?"

Etienne grins, now. It's not a familiar configuration for this face in particular, all Gabriel Gray behind it, though Emily could hardly know either man well enough to know that. It's genuine, though, in its own way, lines at his eyes deepening as if maybe there is something genuinely funny to be found in Emily's question. But he's not laughing.

Baby superheroes. They're just going to keep happening, no matter how many cities crumble.

"People believe they're right about wrong things all the time," he says. "The only objective certainty you can be sure about is the one that demands you look after yourself first."

He stands, then. Willing to entertain having wisdom to share, maybe assess what could easily be a threat rising in their periphery, but he's not here to argue. "I can't help you control it," he adds, knowing that probably his practical advice is more desirable than his philosophy. "Except to say you have to accept it, first. But the way I learn abilities means that I already know how they operate. Once you fall back into Eileen's good graces, you can ask her what kind of teacher I am."

Emily draws a face in the moment Etienne comes to his feet, finding that last lob of wisdom before he steps firmly back into practical advice also with to have merit. He's just full of nuggets of truth she's mad have become less obvious to her over time.

"Well," she says, mulling over the way Gabriel inherits abilities. "We can't all be so lucky." The observation lacks bite. She comes to her feet as well, offering back out the bottle of water with a glance in his direction. It really did seem like he'd need it more than her, after all.

The teen wonders, though. "How is she doing, anyway?" she asks delicately. "I worry about her, about things out there."

And she doesn't even know the half of it.

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