Illusion Of Safety


byrne_icon.gif kendall_icon.gif

Scene Title The Illusion of Safety
Synopsis After Kendall volunteered to try and stage a training session with his ability, Byrne takes him to a training area to see how viable it is.
Date May 29, 2021

Joint NYPD/SESA Training Complex

On the eastern outskirts of Phoenix Heights just inside the barbed wire separating the Safe Zone from the ruins of Queens is a set of previously abandoned warehouses shared by the NYPD and SESA for training purposes. Surrounded by fences and a locked gate to keep civilians out, the buildings surround a wide open area cleared of debris, although there are several junked cars and other training paraphernalia present that show signs of being moved about to create different situations. Inside the buildings are sets of walls on rollers designed to customize the interiors for the same purpose, along with some beat up pieces of furniture, many of which seem to have been repaired multiple times.

It’s been about three weeks since Kendall first made his suggestion of using his ability to try and create a ‘virtual’ training simulator, but now they finally had a chance to go out and do so. Between work responsibilities and the fact that the training complex is shared with the NYPD, permission needed to be secured along with enough time to do so.

Accompanying Byrne, Kendall watches the scenery as if expecting trouble, looking a little tense. Rather than the chatty, ebullient trainee he appears in the office, he’s quiet and subdued on the trip out. Due to the ash that is still prevalent everywhere, he’s wearing a respirator, which is now a common sight for most people going outside these days. Perhaps for vanity’s sake, however, Kendall’s clothes don’t seem to have so much as a speck on them.

The recent months of smoke and ash have left Byrne with a greater appreciation of a charcoal gray wardrobe. He’s not in a suit today, no sense ruining one in an industrial environment. Instead he’s dressed in dark jeans and polo shirt under a light track jacket.

His boots scuff sand on the cracked and beaten pavement as he surveys their working conditions. “Not bad,” he says through his mask while pocketing the keys to the SUV and the gate lock. “What can you do? Give me the basics. Other than boredom-inspired alterations to your coworker’s stations.”

"Those were just little things. I can definitely handle a lot more than that." Kendall digs into his pocket and pulls out a small bag, taking out a fake ID. "Just props, I wouldn't use these for real." he adds hastily, since he basically just admitted to breaking the law to a cop.

When Byrne looks at it, he'll see a middle aged man wearing a suit with the name Jerry Rickers, registered SLC-N. When Byrne looks up again, Kendall has been replaced with that person. "I've had to hide, sometimes. Full disguise." Even the voice and accent are different, sounding like he was from the Midwest somewhere. Then he waves his hand in front of him, and like wiping condensation off a mirror the illusion disappears, revealing Kendall again.

"Bigger ones, too. I can't say I can do the entire building," he casts his gaze over the warehouses with a slight frown, "but maybe a good portion. The more complex, or the more people present, the harder it is."

Fake ID aside, Byrne immediately sees the utility. “That must come in handy,” he says. “As long as you’re not using any AKA’s in an official capacity without registering them with your superiors.”

He stands in the doorway, half in the light and half in shadow. “How do your illusions interact with light?” he asks. “Fully opaque regardless of lighting?” Entering the room, he takes account of the various repaired props scattered around the floor, mulling over a test scenario.

"Yessir." Kendall had a feeling it would end up like that, so better to let someone know first. "All right, so… as far as I can tell, my ability hijacks a person's sensory inputs, and also seems to work based on whether someone believes it. The more real it is, the harder it is for someone to mentally break it. As a result, my illusions cast shadows, reflect light, and can be 'lit up'." Kendall follows him in, looking around curiously.

"And also since it works on a person's belief, I've found that they can actually change how my illusions are perceived. Sometimes I don't even know what I make." He shrugs lightly at that. "A personal request, though… I will not make an illusion of a specific person aside from myself. That is not something I would be comfortable doing. An exception would be if it is an illusion of someone with me, for diversionary purposes, and like I said, it'll be that person deciding what that illusion does."

"Noted," Byrne says, accepting Kendall's conditions without further questions. He's glad to rule out illusionary imposter pranks in the workplace, which would be more annoying than usual.

He points across the space to a door frame. "Okay, let's try something," he says. "Cover a few parameters at once. Put a duplicate of me in that doorway and have it draw and fire a gun at the far wall. Can you handle that?" He points at the wall beside him, in view of but not in line with the path of an illusionary bullet.

"All right." Kendall looks over at Byrne, then towards the doorway, and an exact duplicate of the other man down to the clothes appears out of thin air, facing away from them. Kendall glances back to Byrne, and the duplicate draws his gun and fires it towards the wall, complete with the slight recoil. Not only is the illusion visual, but the loud report of the weapon along with the impact of the bullet 'striking' the wall can also be heard. Additionally, the wall also now has a bullet hole. To anyone watching without prior knowledge, it would be indistinguishable from if a real person had done so.

After that was accomplished, not-Byrne takes a step back and holds the gun at ease but stays in place in case real-Byrne wants something else. "That good?" Kendall frowns faintly.

“That’s fantastic,” Byrne says, crossing the space to inspect the illusion up close. He nods in consideration of the level of detail. He’d worried there wouldn’t be an auditory component, which would present a real logistical obstacle to a live exercise. Now to complicate matters.

“Give me a tac team of four,” he says. “From the entrance into this room, exchange fire with an armed fugitive. Breach and clear, smoke grenades, the whole shebang.” He leaves the set dressing to Kendall, stepping to the wall and leaning back against it.

If Byrne was worried about how real Kendall's illusions were, he'd even be able to smell the faint scent of gunpowder once he got close enough, distinct from the regular smoke that's been a part of life these last few weeks. When he's complimentary of the illusion, Kendall tries to suppress a relieved smile, much like a student who passed a test.

As further instructions are given, Kendall nods. "Right." Since Byrne didn't say anything about his duplicate being involved, the duplicate fades away. Using the placement of what's already there, the room suddenly blinks into existence, fully furnished. Additionally, Kendall and Byrne himself vanish from sight, something Kendall didn't mention. It wouldn't take much effort for Byrne to break that particular part of Kendall's illusion if he prefers remaining visible, however.

Just as requested, five people appear in the area, four of them wearing tactical gear complete with helmets. Faceless mooks he can handle just fine, though if they bear more resemblance to NPCs from video games, well, he's still new to this. The fifth, the fugitive Byrne requested, is equally featureless, wearing one of those fake politician masks, wearing all black including a light trenchcoat. A little cliché, perhaps, but this isn't a real scenario. The fugitive has a gun out already, facing the door but crouching behind a counter.

Kendall isn't familiar with some of the terms Byrne uses, but since Byrne does, the four figures in tactical gear draw their guns, standing on either side of the 'door'. One of them lobs in a smoke grenade, which starts spewing out a smokescreen.

Immediately the fugitive opens fire, and as soon as the room fills with enough smoke, three of the four figures dart into the room, using available furniture for cover as they return fire, with the fourth staying outside the room.

Byrne walks quietly through the illusion to see the effect of interacting with the smokescreen. He doesn’t notice his own invisibility at first, stopping only for a quick doubletake at himself. He notes some small irregularities in the appearance of the tactical team, intending later to bring Kendall through the NYPD for some visual familiarity, but doesn’t critique anything.

As a gunfight ensues, he calls out into the room. “Have the perp go out in a blaze of glory and make it visible,” he directs Kendall. “Laser-tag or paintball visible. Something to easily count out a downed participant in a live drill.”

"Right." The perpetrator, as requested, suddenly bursts out of cover, guns blazing, and even though Byrne didn't request it, one of the 'good guys' goes down with a leg injury. The perpetrator in turn gets shot by the other two in the chest, causing him to collapse to the ground. The chest, as well as the injured leg, light up red, a slightly glowing shade that would be impossible to confuse for actual blood. Kendall read about that in a book once!

"That good? I can also make someone 'feel' like they got shot, but, uh… a lot milder. Like getting hit by a paintball instead."

Byrne nods thoughtfully, wondering if it would be useful to designate team hit colors to illustrate any glaring examples of friendly fire. He holds out one arm, the back of his open hand toward the remaining response team member illusions. “Hit me,” he says. He wouldn’t approve anything he wouldn’t be willing to experience himself.

Kendall nods, and the remaining team member fires at Byrne's hand. It looks like it went straight through it, complete with blood spray, but the feeling is more akin to getting slapped by a small object, and his hand turns red. There is a light stinging sensation after the fact to make sure he notices but nothing more painful than that. "Just enough so you notice it hit you." Kendall adds after a moment. "It's up to whoever gets hit to respond appropriately."

Byrne can’t help but flinch at the impact, though he contains a yelp of surprise. “You can clear all this out,” he says with a wave of his not-bloody hand toward the illusions at large.

“What’s the most damage you’re able to inflict with this ability?” he asks, rubbing the welt on the back of his hand. “If other people can affect the content of the illusion, do we need to worry about somebody getting injured because somebody’s in a bad mood? If somebody throws a molotov cocktail, do we need to worry about real flammable objects suddenly combusting?”

"Absolutely nothing. I can make it look like it's on fire, but all I can do are sensations. As soon as you forget your hand was 'shot', it'll be like it never happened. My illusions are just that, illusions. It's literally all in your head." Kendall nods at Byrne's hand, and the welt disappears from sight. "If anything catches on fire for real, well, that's all on them, and I hope for everyone's sakes they're not having a bad day."

“That’s an important consideration,” Byrne says with a raised eyebrow. “If a trainee can torment themself with their own, uncontrollable mental state it could be pretty traumatic. Probably best for now if we keep the damage sensations and effects decidedly unrealistic. Pinball sound effects.” He certainly isn’t a creative.

“How does motion and speed effect what you can do?” he asks, nodding through the open doorway toward the parked vehicle. “If we went for a spin could you produce a following vehicle to show somebody how to shake a tail?”

"Oh that's a good point." Kendall nods thoughtfully. "Yeah, pinball sounds should be fine." At the suggestion of bringing a car along for the ride, as it were, he nods. "Yeah, should be no problem. A bit more effort if we do it through public streets because a lot more people would see it, but should be doable."

Another moment of thought and Kendall tilts his head pensively. "You know, that isn't a bad idea if someone's riding your ass, just illusion up another car that looks exactly like yours between you and them, and they'll be a dick to the illusion, not you." Grin. Because everyone hates tailgaters.

"Now we're thinking," Byrne replies with a laugh. "You would be amazed how often people tailgate a motorcade just to see who's in the car. Though if you're going to spoof an obstacle between yourself and somebody riding your bumper, might as well make it an enormous sign explaining that you're on the phone with the police."

"Or just toss out a cart full of oranges," he adds. "Always a classic."

He meanders further into the building, looking through rooms for an idea of the types of training scenarios that could improved with photorealistic illusions. "Any strange ability interactions that should be considered?" he asks as he peers up into a stairwell. "Could people who don't experience the mind's eye fail to experience the illusions at all?" He takes to the stairs without waiting for a response.

“I’d prefer not to cause an accident.” Kendall remarks dryly. “Having a cart of oranges suddenly come out of nowhere would create problems. As for interference, well… it depends on what you mean by that. I once made someone who lost their vision see again, if not perfectly since I probably got the angle of things wrong and all that. They, uh, got mad at me, so I stopped.” Kendall shrugs, abashed, and follows him up the stairs.

“But my ability uses the sensory inputs, not necessarily their imagination, it’s mainly if they interpret it differently that it can change. It’s actually the people who have less imagination that are affected more, since they trust more in what they see. Telepaths, though, or people trained against mental abilities, probably wouldn’t be affected as easily. I prefer making things as real as possible so people don’t immediately disbelieve it. I probably could make a giant Godzilla come stomping up out of the bay, but after the initial shock, I doubt I’d be able to keep it up for long.” After that relatively long speech, accompanied by the occasional shrug, Kendall falls silent. He isn’t sure about everything he’s telling Byrne, because it’s not exactly the easiest ability to explain.

“That was a joke,” Byrne says. “Agency policy is fairly clear about illusory vehicular manslaughter.” He pauses for a moment to examine the landing of the second floor, but continues upward.

“I realise I’m asking for a lot of specifics on an ability I know little about,” he assures Kendall, “so don’t worry if you can’t apply it to one of my random scenarios. You’re a trainee, so I can’t officially assign you to training detail. You may not even want to do that, which I will accept.” He rounds yet another set of stairs, not winded in the slightest as he comes to the door for the roof.

“If you do want to put your ability to use in new agent training,” he continues, pushing the door open and stepping into the smoke haze and sunlight, “you’ll need training in the covered topics first. Hands on, not illusions. I could train you, but honestly there are instructors I trust in the city to handle some of the basics. I can just show you the finer details gained of experience.”

Byrne walks to the edge of the building, peering down at the lot where he parked the SUV, then estimates the dimensions of the mostly-uninterrupted rooftop. “What do you think?”

"I'll keep that in mind." Kendall's tone is dry in response to Byrne's joke. "Good to hear they planned for all contingencies, even fake ones." Kendall is only a little bit out of breath once they reach the top, but he hasn't exactly been working out.

“That was also a joke,” Byrne says offhandedly. He’ll need to work on his inflection.

"Whatever is needed." he responds after a moment. "I want to do all I can to make sure the stuff leading up to the war never happens again, and that one day being 'special' will be no different from someone being a musical prodigy. And that no one needs to be afraid of people with powers." Perhaps a little too idealistic, but he has full confidence in his belief of what the world needs to be.

When Byrne mentions training, Kendall looks resigned. "Yeah. Not too enthusiastic about learning how to shoot other people with real guns, but I know it's necessary." He peeks over the edge of the building when Byrne asks his opinion, and he blinks uncertainly. "We're not going to jump off, are we?" he asks, completely misinterpreting the question. People only jump off buildings in movies and video games!

“There are roles in the Agency that don’t require the use of firearms,” Byrne suggests. “Good jobs that need good people to do them.” He turns from peering over the edge of the roof to size up the trainee.

“With what you can do here?” he clarifies, gesturing around them and their activity more than the locale, “there are a lot of practical applications for other positions. Technical, forensics, teaching.” He shrugs with the last, obviously he’s biased in that regard.

“Everybody should obviously have firearms safety training,” he says, turning to walk the perimeter of the rooftop. “And I’m not suggesting you wouldn’t make a good field agent, but you have options available to you.”

Kendall is silent when Byrne lists out his options, then shakes his head. "I'm not sure I'd be good for any of that, to be honest. I never graduated high school due to, ah… extenuating circumstances that involved getting shot in the chest. Or, well, more like 'not really', but long story short, I couldn't go back to school afterwards." Byrne can probably intuit what 'shot in the chest but not really' entails, though there's a bit more to the story than that.

"Uh, that is, I'm working on correcting that, but I don't think I'd be good at anything like that. I prefer personally going out and helping people, and if I have to learn how to shoot a gun for it, so be it."

"I'm told that getting shot is horrible," Byrne replies, not sure at all what 'not really shot' means. "I've somehow managed to avoid it all this time, so I can't really weigh in on it other than to give my condolences."

He peers over the edge one last time and motions with a nod as he begins to walk back toward the stairwell. "It's certainly never too late to continue your education," he says. "Aside from what the Agency already requires as part of the trainee program. But while you may not be ready to pick a specialization, I can not currently imagine an ability better suited to crime scene investigation than yours. You could walk through a crime scene, collect clues, and reenact the crime in 3D color and motion without disturbing any evidence."

"It interfaces with forensic detective work, so grabbing some general orientation credits in that field would do you well," he continues. "Obviously I don't want to make your decisions for you, but should you so choose there are many specialist classes I could point you toward that the Agency would cover as part of training." He brings them to a stop at the roof entrance.

"Oh. I never thought of that." Kendall narrows his eyes as he considers it. "I don't see why not. I know for a fact that I'm not bothered by gruesome scenes." Judging by his expression, he's not talking about horror movies, either. "Though I get the feeling that forensics is highly sensationalized in TV shows." When Byrne starts moving onward, Kendall follows after, looking around.

"I suppose people are working on fixing the fact that I've been legally dead for about 11 years now." Kendall adds. "Makes it hard to do a lot of things." Must have something to do with what he said earlier. "Then again, I'm sure there's a few with the same problem." Being brought back to life is apparently more common than it has any right to be.

"To be honest, I've always had the feeling that my power isn't that useful, all things considered. In the end, it's not real, and people can go through some kind of mental training to avoid being affected by it entirely. So anything I can do that would put it to good use in practical applications is fine by me. So I think I might take you up on that."

Kendall pauses for a moment, darting his gaze over to Byrne and back around the area a few times. "I might’ve come up with another, more dangerous idea for using it." he adds diffidently. "Robyn made me promise to ask people at SESA first."

“I’ve never come across an ability that didn’t have a use,” Byrne says, “Though learning how to incorporate it into a job isn’t always feasible. My ability doesn’t help with my work very often, though it did keep me from being executed for treason, which was nice.” Keeping coffee at the perfect temperature until it’s gone isn’t a skill he can turn a buck with.

“I’m eager to hear this potentially dangerous ability use idea,” he says with a chuckle as he begins to take the stairs back down into the building. “Curious why Agent Roux would suggest that you do that first, seeing she herself is a people at SESA.”

"Well I think she's off on her mysterious mission now, this was right before she left. So I'm guessing she wants me to have someone who's actually here be backup." Kendall shrugs over at Byrne. "Makes sense. But anyway, given how I'm able to make illusions and people can make it what they want, I can create the same kind of nostalgia people look for when taking Refrain. It's safer for them, too. But I imagine if I offer that for free, the ones selling it wouldn't be too happy."

Kendall looks over the edge of the building consideringly before following him back down. "If I deliberately put myself out there as bait, maybe we can do a sting operation!" Clearly he's seen too many cop shows. "And who knows, maybe I can also in the future do that as a side job. I could apply for a commercial license too."

Agent Byrne slows as Kendall lays out his ideas, stopping for only a moment before continuing both on foot and in word. “Addiction is a terrible burden,” he says softly, footsteps not filling the stairwell with their former determination. “Be careful before you associate yourself with the ability to supply someone else with a need their brain chemically compels them to pursue.”

“I feel like it could only possibly hurt both you and the victim of a drug that the circumstances of their life compelled them to take,” he laments quietly. He stops at the second floor landing, turning to Kendall to assure the younger man that this isn’t a rebuke. “We’re here to help the people of this nation. Nobody is served by the enforcement of laws for law enforcement’s sake.”

"I wouldn't know, myself." Kendall replies cautiously, furrowing his brow as he follows slowly behind Byrne, thinking it over. Well, not personally, anyway. There was that one thing, but… nevermind. "I can't help much with chemical needs, but if it's just the nostalgia they're doing it for, maybe I can uh… help wean them off it. Make it more a psychological need than biochemical, and then set them up with a good therapist to take care of the rest. I happen to know one." That's up to Everleigh, of course.

"I mean. If I could replace a Refrain addiction I'd be all for it. I guess I'm just…. trying to utilize what I've got as much as I can." He gestures towards the warehouse as a reminder for why they're there to begin with. "I'm willing to try anything that can help people, even though it's not as useful as something that can literally affect the world around us. Smoke and mirrors are mostly tools of deceit." Sigh.

“I appreciate that,” Byrne says, holding up a hand in apology. “All good alternative treatments usually are best used in conjunction with active therapy, so I’m not saying you shouldn’t attempt that. Maybe just not in a SESA sting-operation capacity, where somebody’s liable to start shooting if the sampled wares doesn’t cut the mustard.”

“I admire your desire to help people,” he continues, rounding the last bend in the stairwell, “truly. I consider that a requisite of any good public servant.” He pauses to look around the space again appraisingly.

"Well. I'm all for not getting shot." Kendall nods fervently as emphasis to his words. "Though I wasn't planning on letting them see where I actually was, that's just stupid. The point is to do it with the least amount of risk to everyone involved. I like living."

Descending the stairs after Byrne, he shoves his hands in his pockets. "Not sure why more people don't. Too many people don't care about anything unless it impacts their own way of living." A bit idealistic of him to think the world could be better.

"I'm sure everyone has their reasons," Byrne supposes. Not everyone has the means to get into the betterment of humanity gig. "I'll settle for knowing my coworkers do at the very least."

Standing in a large, open area adjacent to the room they entered through, Byrne gestures across the space. "Ok, one more test," he says. "How many of your garden variety candy dispenser super bouncy balls can you drop simultaneously across this entire space?"

"How many… bouncy balls?" Oh. Kendall was expecting something more combat related. Then again…. "Hm." En masse, brightly colored bouncy balls each the size of an orange show up, suspended in the air throughout the room. With a squinting frown, Kendall regards them all. "I have no idea." And with that, they all drop… and chaos ensues, as one might expect.

It's exceedingly difficult to keep track of them individually, although if one were to try, individual balls disappear in one spot, or appear in another. Staring fixedly at the scene, Kendall leans against the wall as he concentrates.

Byrne’s attention is split between the chaotic glitches of the illusion and the amount of effort it takes Kendall to sustain it. “It really is quite something,” he says, “But that is enough, you can dismiss it. That was what I was looking for.”

“Not to see you fail,” he clarifies. “I was looking for the Ask Too Big.” Every ability has limitations.

With a relieved sigh, the balls disappear, and Kendall rubs his forehead. "Yeah, that was definitely close to my limit. As it was, I don't think it worked as well as I wanted it to." Kendall noticed the glitches too, after all.

"It's easier for me to make a few complex illusions than many smaller ones. And like I mentioned, the more people affected, the harder it is for me. Also, if you're asking about limitations, they don't show up on camera, and I have to know someone's there to use my illusions on them. So unless I know someone's watching, say, a security camera, I couldn't illusion myself past that." Kendall rubs his temple again and grimaces. "Just a headache."

“Knowing what you can’t do is just as important as knowing what you can,” Byrne says, gesturing them toward the exit. “That’s enough for today, I’m going to noodle over some exercise ideas and I’ll get back to you.”

Outside he looks around the broken pavement speckled with wild grass and shrubs. “But while we’re out here, want to learn how to drive a company vehicle over rough terrain at unsafe velocities?”

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