Into The Dead Zone, Interlude I


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Scene Title Into the Dead Zone, Interlude I
Synopsis During Wolfhound's stay in the Ruins of Chicago, Avi Epstein and Richard Ray discuss family.
Date April 16, 2018

The cold night air feels right for this place. It's somber, unforgiving with the bite it carries off of the water. Chicago shouldn't be dark at night, and there's no reason either Richard Ray or Avi Epstein should be able to see the stars. Yet, here they are. Here it all is.

Or was, anyway.

A jagged and dark Chicago skyline looks eerily like the ruins of Manhattan at this late hour. There's lights in the far distance, but not many. Some smaller lights of fires burning in the upper levels of bombed out buildings eviscerated by conventional weapons. Lake Michigan looks like a platter of dark glass strewn with loose diamonds, reflecting only the starlight above.

From Buckingham Fountain, the decimation seems utter and complete, as if the world had simply ended right here. The iconic fountain is dry now, hasn't worked in half a decade. Epstein saw fit to cross the dry fountain bed and climb one of the rocky tiers to sit with a thermos of coffee in hand, watching distant satellites blink against the dark.

Avi waves, just in case Hana is watching.

Ruins of Chicago


April 16

8:47 pm

“One of the nuns once told me that they were angels,” Richard’s voice lifts over the night’s peace and silence as he approaches, a stick of half-eaten jerky in his hand and his chin tipping back to let him view the stars as well, “Watching us from above, and telling our dead parents all our deeds, good and bad.”

He brings the stick up, tearing a piece off with his teeth and a mighty snap, chewing for a moment before swallowing it, “Sometimes I’m glad the place was nuked. Saves me the trouble of resisting that ‘go back and burn it down’ urge.”

At his own dark humor, he chuckles, stepping along to the fountain’s edge and lifting a foot onto it, pushing himself up to balance on it deftly, “Hope I’m not bothering, Epstein. Was hoping I could have a word— not, not mission stuff. Didn’t need to drag the kids into it. Personal.” The humor gone, his tone serious now.

In spite of himself, Avi manages a mirthful laugh at Richard’s comment about the church. But then he brings up the cap of his thermos and takes a sip, then sets it down between himself and Richard. “It's Irish coffee,” he notes, and what the actual mixture is isn't certain but the whiskey can be smelled from a distance.

“And it's no problem. Sure, you can have my record collection when I keel over.” Avi flashes a smile, looking out to the black horizon where starry sky meets muted stars reflected in the still lake.

“You tryin’ to kill me? Word gets out that I inherited a record collection, Robyn-fucking-Quinn will creep in my window in the middle of the night and shank me for it,” Richard snickers as he hops down into the dry fountain-bed and crosses it towards the older man, some change still lingering in the basin clattering under his feet.

Whatever the topic of conversation might be, it seems to require a swig of that Irish coffee. He bends down to pick up the thermos before stepping over to drop down and sit on the stone within arm’s reach of Avi.

A sip’s taken, his eyes closed as coffee and whiskey spill down his throat to warm his guts and spirit both. His body tilts in a lean to set the thermos back down between them, and then he leans back, his own head tilting to gaze up at the diamond-flecked skies above.

After several long beats of silence between them, he speaks.

“I know you’n Kershner worked together. You were both Royals, after all,” he begins quietly, not looking away from those heavens and all the stars looking back at them, “Did you know much about her life outside of work, though, Epstein? Like— her family, all of that…?”

An odd subject to broach, all these years later.

Avi gives Richard a pointed look when Sarisa’s name comes up, one brow slowly raised and an I Swear to God look on his face that might presage a backhand, except it all bleeds away slow enough. “We were… sort of like family. Lancaster, Kershner, Raith, n’me. We didn't intend t’get to know one-another well enough, but when you're out in the field, figuring you'll die in the Stan… things come up.”

Looking down to his hands folded in his lap, Avi exhales a slow sigh. “I know you two worked together, didn't figure it went further than that though. I'm figuring she's dead now, if she's hasn't resurfaced after all this time…” it doesn't really answer Richard’s question though.

“Which leads me t’ask, why’re you bringing up the dead?” That, however, is Avi answering Richard’s question.

At that pointed look, Richard holds up a hand palm open as if to say I’m going somewhere with this, dropping back then to rest on his thigh. After a moment he admits, “Yeah, I figured the same. That she’s dead, I mean, although these days— heh— who can say what that even means anymore.”
A slow breath is drawn in, and then exhaled. He looks out over the ruins, over the city as he explains in quiet tones, “I figured the same - just us working together, didn’t go more than that. I’ve been doing some digging, though, into my own background. I grew up in an orphanage, you know that, right?”

He glances to the older man sidelong for a moment, then looks back to the dark mirror of the lake, “Hana helped me fill in some of the holes there, not too long ago. My mother - my biological mother - was named Michelle LeRoux.”

“She was Kershner’s cousin.”

He breathes out a faint chuckle at the irony of it all, “I wonder if she knew we were related. It could explain some things.”

Avi leans away from Richard, brows raised. Slowly he leans back, giving one more side-eye before exhaling a deep and thoughtful sigh. “I know she was from Australia, originally. Her folks split up or something, dad got a job offer in the states working for DARPA and they immigrated in…” Avi furrows his brows, “sometime in the 80s, I think? She went to Annapolis, got married along the way.” Avi looks out to the water. “Her husband died in 91 in Saudi Arabia. Military, killed in action. They had a kid together, Frederick… I know he died, pretty young too. I didn’t pry about the cause.”

Taking in a breath, Avi folds his hands in his lap. “She took some time off, and came right off of mourning her husband to join the CIA, eventually transitioning up to the Royals. This was before I joined them. I met Sarisa a few times in Virginia though…” Epstein’s brows furrow, one hand coming up to his brow. “We knew some of the same people. We spent— too much time together, you know…” Avi waves one hand around, then looks away. “We made some shit choices, my wife found out about it, I…”

Epstein pours himself some of the Irish coffee and downs it in one swallow. “Anyway, we… we knew each other, but neither of us ever really let the other in. We had our issues, shit only people who’d lived the lives we lived understood. I didn’t see her again until after September 11th, which is when I joined the Royals. Me, Raith, Lancaster, and Kershner just running around the sandbox.”

“Sarisa was a difficult person to get to know. I didn’t even know she was evolved until… fuck, honestly not all that long ago, really. Closer to now than when we met. I don’t know if anyone else in her family is or not.” Avi sets the empty thermos cup down beside he and Richard. “I didn’t know much else about her. She… you know how spies are.”

“Yeah…” Richard’s chin bobs in understanding, “I know how spies are… and, I can tell you that Michelle was evolved. I was. So chances are there’re more in the family that are— or were— even if we’re just going by probabilities.”

No judgement offered about the affair, about Epstein’s wife. That’s his business, and God knows they’ve both done worse than that in their time.

There’s silence for a bit, and then he reaches for that cup. “Thanks,” he offers quietly for what little information there was, “I’m just— trying to figure out where I’m from. Who I’m blood to. You know? I never really had the chance, before— even my sisters, my brother, they’re adopted, and that was by mutual agreement, not parentage.”

That much elicits a snort from Avi and an unbecoming noise in the back of his throat. “Fuck all of that,” is his casual instruction. “Family isn’t about shit in your veins, not even by a long shot. Genetics might permanently fuck you up, but it doesn’t make you reliant on someone or indebted to who they were or what they did.”

“My father, Colonel Epstein,” Avi recites coldly, “was a piece of fucking shit. Violent, angry, beat the shit out of my brother and I growing up. Took all his shit from his parents out on us. I don’t think of him as my actual father…” For a moment, Epstein grows quiet. “My brother killed him with a shotgun in his sleep. He’s probably still in prison. If he’s alive.”

Snorting, Epstein scrubs one hand at the back of his neck. “Roy Raith raised me, made me a worthwhile human fucking being.” He looks over at Richard. “Jensen’s dad,” for clarification. “He was one of the finest men I’ve ever met, and when he died I mourned him like anyone would their real father. I married his daughter, his son was my best fucking friend. That was family, t’me.”

Brows pinched together, Epstein looks back at Richard. “Whoever shot you out from between their legs just gave you genetic predispositions and maybe a good head of hair,” but Avi seems to think the jury is still out on that one. “Make the rest of it what you will, but don’t let ghosts run your life.”

Richard doesn’t interrupt the other man’s sudden rant about family, instead nursing that Irish coffee as he listens, giving Avi the whole of his attention. The thermos cup is finally set down at the end, and he breathes out a chuckle at those last words.

“I’m rather fond of the hair myself,” he replies tongue-in-cheek, raking a hand back through the mess of his hair, “And… maybe you’re right.”

He looks down at the cup, repeating quietly, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I should just be happy with what I’ve got. Kaylee, Val… even Warren, they don’t care that we aren’t blood. That’s family. And my kids… well, obviously. Doesn’t mean I’m not still curious— God knows my life has more questions than answers— but… thanks, Epstein. I appreciate the information. And the advice.”

Then he leans back a bit on the stone ledge, tilting his head back to look up at the sky for a few long moments of silence.

A satellite tracks its way across the sky, softly flickering in its path. “If this is still bothering you when we get back…” Epstein says quietly, “Let me know if I can lend a hand.” In the end, whether it's a satellite transmitting a broadcast, or an angel snitching up to heaven doesn't matter.

It's all the way up there, and they're all the way down here.

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