Ice To Meet You


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Scene Title Ice to Meet You
Synopsis Agent Byrne goes to Raytech Industries in search of one Jaclyn Childs.
Date May 3, 2021

Raytech Industries Campus

The safezone is awash with wildfire smoke this evening, keeping Agent Zachariah Byrne on edge. It’s been weeks at this point, but the steady march of the Ohio River wildfire makes the scent more potent by the day. He can’t help but to be reminded of the wildfire as experienced from Providence now several months ago.

He makes his walk from the new agency vehicle (rather, the new new agency vehicle, also a reminder of Providence) as short as possible, reaching the entrance to the Raytech Industries Campus at something more dignified than a sprint. In the building’s reception area, he is greeted by a robot offering guests bottles of water (today seems dedicated to reminders of Providence) which he politely declines.

His brisk walk didn’t allow him much time to take in the view of the building’s concrete wetlands aesthetic. Inside he does take a moment to orient himself. He’s familiar with brutalist architecture, having been in more than a handful of government buildings built in the 1950s. In contrast, this campus’s plantlife looks essential to the design rather than a handful of lowly, forgotten plastic-rubber composites relegated to the corners. He removes his paper dust mask, folding it to store in an inner pocket. Hand already nearby, he slides his agency credentials from that pocket as he approaches the reception desk.

And there’s… no one there.

The desk is laden with a number of colorful, deformed-looking vinyl figures from the popular River Styx television show, two cacti of modest size, and one of those fluid-filled dipping birds currently just jamming out on the edge of the desk. The chair behind the reception desk is still spinning, indicating that whoever was seated in it made a hasty retreat but moments ago.

It isn’t until two paws find their way up onto the desk that Agent Byrne realizes who was in the chair. A large, fluffy, orange cat with piercing yellow eyes. Somehow the cat looks disappointed at Byrne’s presence but still hops up to sit square in the middle of the desk, head tilted to the side as if to…

…receive him?

Byrne scrutinizes the chaos of the desktop before looking around for signs of occupancy. The sudden appearance of the cat gives him pause. “A cat receptionist in this economy?” he says, quietly, “Did they run out of robots?” He gives a jerk of his head back toward the water Spot as though that might help the cat answer his question.

The cat pads forward across the desk, jutting his head forward while purring in demand of attention. A triangular tag around his neck reads “Richelieu”, like the evil cardinal from The Three Musketeers.

Don’t!” A woman shrieks from the direction of the lobby bathroom. As if trying to warn a toddler of the dangers of putting their hand on a hot stove, Sera Lang comes galloping over from the bathroom. “It’s completely a trap! Mr. Richelieu looks innocent but he is absolutely a dastard.”

In spite of this, Sera scoops the large cat up in both arms and he just sort of hangs there with a well I guess I live like this now look of resignation on his face. Sera, casting a wide-eyed look down to the clock on her desk, is momentarily silent before her attention snaps back up to Byrne.

Welcome to Raytech Industries,” Sera says, standing behind the reception desk with an ear-to-ear smile and an armful of cat. “Do you have an appointment?”

Byrne does not react to the sudden sound of a woman shrieking by reaching for his service weapon, but only barely. He closes his eyes and chuckles silently for a moment while Sera rescues him from the machinations of Tim Curry.

“No appointment,” he says apologetically. He raises his identification as he continues. “I’m Agent Zachariah Byrne with SESA. I’ve been led to understand that this is a frequent after-school destination of one Ms. Jac Childs. She wouldn’t be here now, would she?”

Oh,” Sera says with a half-concealed grimace, letting Richlieu down. The cat trundles off somewhere under the desk, unseen. “Ah, hopefully she’s not in any—” trouble doesn’t quite make it past Sera’s lips, but it doesn’t really need to. Byrne fills in the blanks.

“Is this in regards to an official SESA investigation?” Sera asks, which comes as a suddenly insightful inquiry. She sits down at her desk in the same moment, waving her hand over her keyboard to wake her computer. “As Ms. Childs is a minor I have to ask certain questions before I can disclose any information.” Sera says with a smile.

“Not in any trouble, I hope,” Byrne offers. “And this isn’t in relation to a SESA investigation.” It technically is, but certainly not in any official capacity. The DEO is handling the investigation, anyway. “This is in regard to her dismissal from the Agency’s training program.”

“I’ve only recently joined the Agency,” he explains, folding and stowing his ID case for the time being. “Transferred from Washinton KC, where I taught classes for new agents for various agencies, among my other responsibilities. Secret Service mostly. With my new position in SESA I’ve begun to take on a roll in the training programs here in the Safe Zone and came across Ms. Childs’ records in the process.”

“You're with the Secret Service?” Jac’s voice comes from right behind Sera. It's slightly muffled as if voiced around a mouthful of food. Blue eyes lit up with curiosity — and a sliver of suspicion — ping between Sera and Byrne as she steps around the desk. “Hi,” she says, supplementing for further questions and introductions. It's accompanied by a wave of a half-eaten microwave burrito and followed by a question-stalling bite of cheesy, beany paste.

Sera squints and looks to the side, watching Jac stroll up with a microwaved burrito. Her lips purse to the side, brows furrow, and she throws her arms up and jerks her shoulders in a perfect ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and then heads back to her desk, picking up the dunking bird as she goes.

Somehow, in Sera’s mind, this isn’t her problem anymore. The ringing phone, however, is. “Raytech Enterprises!” She chirps, and her voice fades into the background.

Was with Secret Service,” Byrne answers. He takes a moment to retrieve his ID again and presents it for Jac’s inspection. “For a little over a decade. SESA now, just moved from Washington KC earlier this year.” He doesn’t extend a hand for a handshake, carefully considering the burrito.

He looks to Sera, who seems to have abandoned her investigation. “Would it be alright if I asked you a few questions relating to your experience with SESA’s agent training program?”

Was piques Jac’s interest just as much, and her typical curiosity only compounds when Byrne produces his badge. Sure, she's familiar enough with what they look like, but that doesn't stop her from scuttling around Sera and the desk to take a really close look. The little bit of space she leaves between herself and the pocket folio is just enough to be occupied by the burrito as she tears off a bite. “Did you ever Vulcan death-pinch anyone?” she asks before swallowing, looking up.

She starts to follow up, with another bite or question, probably both, but pauses when Agent Byrne’s eyes flick to Sera. Jac’s follow, in side eye fashion, then flick back to Byrne when he speaks up again. “Okay,” she offers slowly. Her eyebrows raise, and her shoulders follow in a lesser measure.

Volcanic, maybe, though I can neither confirm nor deny that I have given anybody the ol’ microwave burrito treatment,” he says, putting away his ID again. No need to dig into his combination attempted execution for treason and ability manifestation this early in the dialogue.

“I’m told you tracked down Adam Monroe on your own, is that true?” He knows it is, having read her albeit heavily redacted file, but he’s not here to confirm that. While Voss wants Byrne to keep an eye on Jac, he’s more curious to confirm what his gut already tells him: that she has the instincts and inclination to be a good investigator.

Microwave burrito treatment,” Jac wonders. Her eyes squint slightly, but Byrne shifts subjects quickly enough that she puts potential questions on that aside. It's probably better to stay focused than chase after rabbits.

Her shoulders start to raise, then shift to gesture away from the desk. And Sera. “I can neither confirm nor deny that I found Adam Monroe,” she says, using the agent’s own phrase with as much seriousness as the question requires. It's in her file, that she'd not only found but also spent a year in Adam’s presence, but it isn't common knowledge everywhere. In a wandering pace, the teen leads the way from the desk toward some chairs near the main entrance.

“I was looking for answers.” Jac doesn't sit when she reaches a chair, but angles a side eye up at Byrne. “I didn't actually know I'd find Adam.”

There’s a hint of a smirk at Jac’s evasion. He follows her wander, picks a chair two away from the closest to her, providing a buffer between them. He unbuttons his jacket and settles in unceremoniously, pulls a small notepad from his jacket but holds it aside, unopened.

“What was that like?” he asks, apparently veering off topic from the training program. “The search that led you there, not the unexpected result.” He thumbs the notepad open halfway absentmindedly and lets it close again.

“It was a lot of dead ends.” Jac scratches at a seam in the upholstery with a finger, almost without realizing her own nervous habit. “I couldn't find any leads on… on newer old projects. Like notes and reports that should exist just didn't?” In her mind, in her experience now, it makes sense how things can just be disappeared. But the lilt to her words tones her observations with uncertainty. Maybe she's unsure that Byrne understands how these things work.

The teen settles into the chair she'd chosen, folds her legs in criss-cross manner on the cushion. “When I couldn't find reports, I started asking people. There was a guy, Mister Zhao, I guessed that he knew something. I met him one other time, when Joe Winters and I went looking for clues about someone we knew, Eimi, and… Mister Zhao…” Jac frowns slightly, angling her eyes up to where Byrne is sitting. “He knew a lot then. Not about where Eimi was. But he… he knew… things.”

Byrne nods when Jac laments lack of access to information. “I’ve run up against plenty of redaction in my days in the marshals and secret service,” he says. Plenty of redaction in SESA’s file on Jac. “Plenty of willful destruction of evidence and documentation too, which is always a roadblock.”

“Mr Zhao was an information broker of some kind,” he asks, “Or just very well connected?” Knowing somebody who knows somebody is useful. Byrne has had more than a handful of investigations stall because some bullshitter wanted to be helpful, or to only say whatever the government agent wanted to hear.

“Well connected.” Jac answers slowly, but with a certainty to her reply. She's sure Zhao had to get his information from somewhere. “Pretty sure. He knew who we were. And that… we were slice.” Obviously that isnt information they would've given out to just anyone. Even thinking about it now makes the teen wonder all over again where the stranger learned things.

“I decided, if he knew me then he'd probably know some other things.” Jac looks down and folds her hands in her lap. “Or that he knew who I could ask. I was right. He tried to warn me about going, but… but I had to take the chance.”

“Sometimes you just need to know,” he says. There’s a weight to it, something he still hasn’t found yet riding at the back of his thoughts. He doesn’t dig deeper into Jac’s family business, he knows what happens from there. It’s why she’s not on Governor’s Island now, and why he’s in Franklin Heights.

“Tell me about the food shortages,” he says as though just to confirm a crazy rumor. “I heard that case took a weird corner at high speed.”

The teen’s head tilts at the sudden change in topic, like a puppy trying to understand a strange new sound. “The food shortages.” Echoing adds layers to her curiosity, but also stamps on a knowledge that's earned only with experience. She definitely knows about the food shortages.

“There were rats that could… it was sort of like teleporting, using electricity.” Jac frowns a little as she says it. “I think they were getting around in the tunnels using the power conduits.”

Brows still knitted, she looks up at Byrne as though trying to track what exactly he's wanting to know. “Some of the agents took me and Lance Gherkin to Fort Irwin, on a lead. It looked like a dead end but there was a lab that was walled over. I found things… abandoned experiments and notes, a maze for rats I guess. I handed over all the files I found.” The last is added after a small pause, like maybe it's the important part.

“That must have been a thrill,” Byrne guesses, spinning the spiral-bound notepad between his fingers. “It’s not every day you find a bricked up mad science laboratory full of evidence. Is that what made you decide to take the placement in the training program?”

Investigations rarely end in a find so fantastical. Most are boring, gruelling even, but that’s the day-to-day reality of an investigator. Even in those mundane cases, there’s immense satisfaction to be found in solving a mystery. A thrill-seeker would probably find the daily routine too boring.

Jac’s reaction is to first shake her head slowly. Finding things was just what she does. Or did. It’s something she used to be good at. “I didn’t even know about it then. Or that… they even would consider me.” Her explanation comes with a small shrug, both shoulders lifting just a bit as she looks at her hands. “Investigating and searching for answers and stuff is… I like doing it. I like solving riddles and putting puzzles together. Learning…”

Shrugging again, the teen angles a look up at Byrne, a sort of side eye glance that borders on cautious habit. “I know they were taking a big chance with me and if I could go back…” There are some things she’d do differently, like keeping SESA in the loop before just disappearing and reporting on what she’d found. “But I can’t. And I’m sorry I failed.”

Byrne has read Jac’s file in preparation for this ambush interview, minus the blacked out text that has him exceedingly curious. He knows when she was accepted to the program, but asking the question got him the answer he was looking for. He allows the silence to sit for a few moments as he gauges Jac’s sincerity.

He takes a short breath as he shifts his posture, slipping the notepad, unopened, back into a jacket pocket. From the opposite side he draws out his ID case again. “I’ve taken the liberty of speaking to your mother,” he says with steady eye contact. “Her conditions for your readmission to the training program are that I take your health into consideration, and that the choice be yours.”

“That being said,” he continues, opening the bifold to reveal Jac’s SESA Agent Trainee, “This is yours if you want it back.” It still has all of the scuffs in all the same places.

While she might meet the agent’s gaze, Jac does it without turning her face toward him. Her attention comes from a still sidelong look, contrite and expecting…

Anything except what Byrne says next.

It doesn't draw her to face him at first. Her eyes dart away as her old badge is produced. It isn't the sort of thing she'd expect to be a trick or a candid camera prank, it's too serious, but disbelief is a weird thing. “But…”

Jac’s eyes flick back to Byrne, then to the bifold, and back up again. Questions, all of the wondering and musings that she's known for dreaming, that she can drop and scatter like so many tiddlywinks, are reined in. Instead, she takes a breath, holds it for a second or three, then lets it out slowly. “I don't understand.”

Byrne closes the ID case in his hand, but doesn’t retract the offer. “As I understand it,” he says, “At the time of your dismissal there was a lot of internal upheaval. You were a bit of a hot potato, having gone to meet the man responsible for the late Secretary Zimmerman’s death. Nobody was quite comfortable with keeping you too close. Despite you having been free of any criminal activity.”

He sighs, and settles back into his chair, keeping Jac’s ID in the hand draped over the back of the chair between them. “Under new management would be a gross oversimplification of a nuanced topic, but suffice to say that with the new administration having settled in and gotten the machine running again, they feel you can return to the program.”

He shrugs with his empty hand before adding, “Of course you wouldn’t be able to escape a bit more oversight than other trainee agents. Your reports would run across my desk before going anywhere else.”

Jac’s brows knit a little as Byrne outlines the reasons behind her expulsion from the training program. They are reasons she wasn't made privy to, except for her involvement with Adam. And even in that she didn't know anything about his plans, except for her very specific part in them.

Her eyes go to the agent’s ID case. “So they… they…” Jac folds her lips over her teeth and takes a small breath. “I can come back.” Like do-overs? Blue eyes lift to Byrne again, unsure and cautiously hopeful. “They said so? And my mom said it's okay? When? When… when can I?”

“You could return following verbal confirmation of your desire to do so,” Byrne says with a small smile, certain to address Gillian Childs’ stipulations to the letter. Considerations for Jac’s health were a driving force behind this assignment, technically, so that requirement is already covered.

Jac squeezes her hands, interlaced fingers clench, palms press together. The remaining bites of her microwave burrito, forgotten as the conversation took a turn into the uncomfortable, has since grown cold and congealed in the way of overly processed bean and cheese mash. It dimples a little under the pressure, but she doesn't notice. Her attention is still on Byrne, as if looking away might cause the offer to be taken away. Or maybe if she stares hard enough it will make things more real somehow.

The teen pulls in a deep breath and lets it out slowly, twice, before she manages a very small nod. “I want to.” Her voice matches the motion of her head moving.

“Good to hear!” Byrne says, giving Jac’s ID case a quick bob to draw her attention to it in order to hand it over. His smile is genial, honest. “I understand you have other schooling responsibilities currently, but I’ll give you a short list for upcoming classes at Brooklyn College that will serve as a solid foundation for the credits you’ll need to accrue. There are more options for classes than you’d think and some of them are better, or taught better, than others.”

There’s no last-second pull-away of the credentials, no ominous buts. He does remove a business card from a pocket as the thought suddenly strikes him, adding it to the offering.

Possibly to her credit, Jac doesn't look sideways when taking the ID, and business card. Even though she does show something like hesitation in her movements. Like the importance of the moment isn't lost on her and past experiences are cautionary tales. Once in her possession though, the girl wastes no time in opening the case and placing fingers on the badge inside. She might have even, for half an instant, lowered her guard enough to forget Byrne was there straight up until he mentions school.

Her shoulders wilt a little bit. For a beat she's a very typical kid in every way who would argue with every breath and fiber she possesses that school is a four-letter-word. But the second passes and blue eyes lift to Byrne.

Jac’s brows raise slightly. “I graduate this year.” It's important to note, and so she points it out politely. “High school I mean. Should… should I start at Brooklyn… now? I mean…” Obviously she's insatiably curious and loves learning about anything and everything. That's maybe one of the strongest highlights in her file, probably second to how many questions she can ask in a single breath. “I mean I need to catch up, right?”

"You're no further behind than any other high school student who intends to join the program," Byrne laughs. "But you're not staying from scratch. You'll need to complete the courses you dropped but otherwise your work up to departure stays on your record."

"As far as your schooling schedule," he continues unhurried, "That's up to you and your mother. At least until you turn eighteen, which I assume is only a couple of months from now. If you feel you can take evening classes while wrapping up your senior year that's commendable but not necessary. No need to burn out."

He stands, buttoning his jacket. "As for your field time, I'll work with you to accommodate your schedule," he says. "If you dedicate yourself to this I'll do everything I can to help you become the best agent you can be." There's a moment of appraisal, ending in a short nod.

Not starting from scratch, just redoing coursework. That's a relief that shows in a subtle straightening of the teen’s posture.

“Okay,” Jac begins, standing when Byrne does. The but that hangs on the end of that single word gets filled with a quietly huffed breath and a shrug. It'll be okay. She’s just going to have to work harder and be smarter than ever. “I just… I don't want to fail again. I want… I will prove this is what I’m meant to do.”

“Good to hear,” Agent Byrne says as he extends his hand to shake. “I look forward to working with you, Agent-in-Training Childs.”

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