Into The Dead Zone, Part IV


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Scene Title Into the Dead Zone, Part IV
Synopsis The journey into the PNW Dead Zone continues as Wolfhound and their allies reach their destination of Snoqualmie, Washington.
Date April 19, 2018

The roar of a waterfall drowns out the sounds of birds and other natural environments. Rising up from the Snoqualmie river are falls that cascade down in a rapid, white curtain. They’re iconic in ways most waterfalls aren’t, as is the remains of the brown-roofed Salish Lodge & Spa perched on the edge of the falls. Before the world was changed forever, this iconic vista was splashed from one side of television history to the next, with a body wrapped in plastic situated down river from those falls. Now, it’s just another scenic vista hanging on the fringes of a collapsed infrastructure.

Cool wind blows through the surrounding fir trees, and standing in the crumbling parking lot at the edge of the falls, Avi Epstein looks out at the rapids rushing past, hands tucked into the pockets of his battered black coat. No other cars are parked here at the edge of the falls, but on the other side of the river there’s plumes of smoke rising up from chimneys and the indication that there may well be life out here after all.

Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie, WA

April 19th

3:17 pm

Checking his watch, Epstein exhales a stressed sigh and looks across the falls to the distant signs of life and habitation on the other side of the river. “Sixteen minutes behind schedule…” Epstein informs the others, now scanning what he can see beyond the parking lot behind them, across Railroad Ave and into the woods. The mid-afternoon sun has peaked out from behind the clouds and colors everything with a warm, golden hue. A faint rainbow is visible in the mist of the falls, and everything feels tentative — as if the world itself is holding its breath.

Beside him, Nick stares out at the beautiful view — if one doesn’t look at the ruins of the lodge, it’s almost easy to forget the devastation of the world below this vantage point, the destruction and despair they’ve seen on their journey to this place.

The quiet and tranquility of the moment is at odds with the tension and anxiety they all feel, but especially that rolling off of Epstein as he checks the time. Nick brings a hand up to clap him on the shoulder.

“Relax, mate,” the Brit says. “The world doesn’t operate on synchronized time tables anymore, as much as you want it to. They could be waiting for a herd of deer to cross a road or sommat like that.” It’s another sign that Nick’s let down his guard a little with these fellow travelers, falling into the lazy speech patterns of his youth, despite all of his linguistic training to do otherwise.

“He’s right, Epstein,” Claire offers from the old man’s other side. “This isn’t out east where we’re still all under government time.” Her ever present sunglasses are perched on top of her head to keep her semi wild hair out of her face. Tilting her head back to look at them, she has to squint against the light, but she offers him a grin. In fact, much like Nick, Claire seems to have opened up a little more… less distant then she was at the start of the trip… seems to have done good for her, even if it isn’t all fun and game.

“They’ll get here… I’ll worry when it’s been an hour,” Claire gives a dismissive flip of her hand, her gaze moving watch the rush of water.

“I should’ve brought some radio equipment,” Richard mutters to himself as he glances at his watch. Of course, that would have run the risk of interception, and their enemy does seem to be fairly impressively decked-out as far as the most current technology goes. The sunglasses perched atop his head, flight jacket draped over his upper body doing a terrible job of hiding the armor he’s wearing beneath it — because he’s seen too many rendezvous turn into an ambush.

A look back up to Claire and Nick, and he quips, “You think maybe they ran into traffic?”

The noise Epstein makes is indicative of his discomfort in the face of reassurances. “The Ferry was always on time,” he grouses in the way an old man would about the good old days. He paces around the observation platform, kicking one toe at the crumbling asphalt and looking over the rocky ledge down to the rapids far below.

“S’fucking peaceful out here…” Avi admits in a hushed voice. Looking up and over to Claire after a moment. Then, down to his feet as his brows furrow. A ground fog has rolled on from the forest, creeping along at ankle level. It reaches the edge of the cliff and… stops.

Avi’s brows tense, Nick briefly catching his pensive look over the frames of his sunglasses. A moment later there's a heat-haze ripple as seven men and four women in mismatched gear carrying rifles and handguns appear out of thin air surrounding the parking lot. Their guns aren't raised, but they're all armed. Some even have old police-issue body armor on.

In the crowd, there's three unarmed people. One of them is a dark-skinned woman barely five feet tall with curly emerald green hair in a leather jacket marked with old studs. The mist is swirling around her ankles and the lower half of her body is dissipating down into it. Beside her is a rugged looking man with dark hair and a full beard, plaid scarf wound around his neck, and behind them both a brunette woman in a denim jacket with her hands tucked into her pockets.

Boo,” the woman with green hair chirps as she gives a wave to the ambushed Wolfhound. The taller man at her side gives her a side-eye stare and waves his hand to instruct her to cool it. Dark eyes square on the four visitors, and he raises one hand in a peaceable gesture.

“Glad you could follow instructions. An’ that you made it here safe,” he sounds British. “M’name is Cyrus, this is Sophie,” he motions to the woman at his side, “and that’s Candice.” A flick of one thumb over her shoulder at the woman in the denim jacket.

“Wireless’ people sure do travel in style,” Cyrus notes of the Katsch, giving the other armed members an order to stand down.

“Can’t compare everything to Ferry, Epstein,” says Nick with a shrug. “Or to pre 2012, for that matter. It’s a brave new world out here, and not always in a good way.” Their trip to this point has proven that to be true in a myriad of ways.

When he sees that tension in Avi’s furrowed brow, he quiets and turns to look back out, just in time to see the seemingly sudden arrival of the seven greeters. He tenses, too, but they are here to meet a group of people, so his hand doesn’t reach for the weapons he carries, despite the slight twitch of his fingers that hints he may want to.

They wouldn’t be very useful against people who can turn into and travel by mist, anyway. “Afternoon,” is his terse but polite greeting.

Nodding slowly in agreement to Avi, Claire says softly, “It is really peaceful… despite the looming threat of death.” It was like that at times in Madagascar too, but she doesn’t voice it. The quiet often came with intense periods of violence and death. “I don’t trust it,” she finally admits as she follows his gaze down to the mist.

Her whole body seems to go very still when people suddenly appear near them. Her first gut reaction is to go for the pistol at her back, but… training prevails, only curling her fingers into her palms. The arrival of new people, has the woman shutting down some. Distancing herself mentally. So unlike, Nick, Claire doesn’t say anything; however, she is not so impolite not to acknowledge each person in turn.

As that mist stops at the edge of the cliff in that unnatural manner, Richard drops back a step closer to the others, his hand falling down to the holster of the Banshee at his hip. “What’s…”

The words never get out before they’re surrounded, his muscles tensing - but they’re friendlies, it seems, so he relaxes, hand sliding off the butt of his weapon. A smirk twitches to his lips, and he offers dryly, “Good thing you didn’t give the old man over there a heart attack. Richard.” That’s all the name he offers, though at the comment about the vehicle he quips, “I voted for a Winnebago.”

“Sorry for the gun show,” Cyrus admits with a tilt of his head to the side. “Things have been a little tense around here lately and… as much as I trust Wireless, I've gotta make sure we do our due diligence.” He walks over to Epstein, looking the older man up and down before pulling out a rolled cigarette from where it's rested behind his ear, quietly lighting up.

“So,” Cyrus inhales slowly, then exhales a four of smoke from his nose. “We’re gonna sweep behind, make sure nobody followed you in. You're gonna follow Sophie in your big truck here,” he points to her with the cigarette, and she flashes a smile back, “and she’ll lead you down into the settlement.”

There's another rippling haze, and the armed men that were with Cyrus either turn invisible or… were never real to begin with. It isn't clear. “Candice says good things about you people. So,” he inclines his head toward her, then back to the others. “You're gonna have free roam t’see what our little community's all about.”

“But before that, you'll wanna’ meet April up at HQ.” Cyrus takes another drag off of his cigarette. “Somebody there’ll know your accommodations and stuff. You all got any questions ‘fore I send you out with Sophie?”

“Better safe than sorry,” says Nick in a sympathetic sort of way. He glances over at Candice, then at Sophie, nodding to each as their introductions are made, brows rising when the guards disappear into thin air. He smiles just a touch at that, impressed with the trick — whether it’s an illusion or an SLC-E version of an invisibility cloak, it’s a good one.

“Seems clear enough. Thanks for the hospitality,” Nick replies, when asked if there’s any questions. He glances to his fellow travelers, lifting a brow to see if any of them have questions for Cyrus.

With a glance at the others first, Claire slowly shakes her head. “None from me,” she offers quietly with a small smile, before turning towards the Katsh. Looking up at Richard, tiny woman flashes him a bit of a bright smile as she passes. “Shotgun….” she comments, pulling her sunglasses down again. There is one more glance back to the others before she makes her way back to the vehicle…

She is just ready to be at their destination.

Wait— Candice? Richard brings one hand up, lowering the aviator glasses down the bridge of his nose to look over at the woman as if to confirm her identity. “Willmer? That you?” The fading of the other armed figures has a smile tugging up at the corner of his lips, confirming the identity of the illusionist and he allows in warm tones, “Long time.”

There was a Royal there then, too.

“None here,” he replies to Cyrus, then, glancing to Avi to see if the older man has any questions, “Good to hear April’s still drawing breath, though. Here I was starting to get worried.”

“Sup Chuckles?” Candice asks with a raise of her brows at Richard, walking behind Cyrus and emerging on the other side as a copy of Richard. “You've gotten a little heavier here,” he slaps his stomach, “a little grayer here,” hands up through the hair, “but,” he reaches into his wallet and opens it and it's just overflowing with money, spilling out into the ground in comically improbably amounts.

Candice.” Cyrus snaps at her and she immediately returns to her usual appearance, sans wallet. Candice shrugs one shoulder and flips Cyrus off and then disappears from sight. “I apologize for her she's…” he doesn't say anything else, just sighs deeply and pinches his fingers at the bridge of his nose.

“April’s fucking invincible, darling,” Sophie comments after Cyrus clearly has had enough human interaction for one day. “Whole world might come crashing down and she'd just flick the dust off her shoulders and look slightly put off.”

As Cyrus starts to walk back and toward where he saw Candice last, Sophie is moving in to fill his spot. “So, couple of rules. You can carry,” a motion to Epstein, “your concealed guns all you want. But remember this is a fucking community so try not to go pointing them at anyone. Also,” she points up to the SAW mounted on the roof. “Keep an eye on that?”

Epstein looks Sophie up and down, then exhales a slow sigh and nods. “S’fine it doesn't look like we’re in a hill of shit anyway. You folks know your own security, and we’ll all be deferential and respect your laws.” That last bit is enunciated clearly and aimed at the others he’s traveled with.

“A’right then kids, mount up and follow the fog.” Sophie waves one hand in the air and her entire body breaks apart into voluminous waves of fog and mist, collapsing down to become a carpet of ankle deep fog that swirls and churns near the front of the Katsch.

Epstein starts to walk back to the vehicle, eyeing the Falls one last time.

“Oh, shit, she’s a ringer,” Nick says with a smirk when Candice suddenly becomes a second Richard Ray. He glances at Claire with a brow raised to share in the amusement.

His own tensions mostly rolled off of him, thanks to the friendly nature of Cyrus and Candice’s trick. When Epstein glances their way with the verbal directive aimed at him, he nods once.

“Aye, aye, Cap’n. And don’t look at me like I’m the one of the two of us more likely to wave a gun around without cause.” He’s joking. Mostly.

Gripping the car door handle, which it quite the reach for the small woman, Claire glances back at the others in an expectant way. This means she manages to catch a glimpse of dual…. Richards? Brows lift above her sunglasses in surprise, indeed glancing at Nick with returned amusement. “Damn… You are not lying,” the regenerator agrees with him.

Her head continues to shake as she opens the door and climbs into the passenger seat.

The illusionist’s antics earn a grin from Richard, though he does rake a hand back through his hair as if to hide any hints of grey that might be hinting there. “It’s alright,” he chuckles, waving Cyrus off, “Good to see old familiar faces again, honestly, even if it’s mine.”

He turns to head back to the Katsch as well, clambering in in the wake of that last comment regarding April. He hopes it’s true.

It wasn’t true for the other April.

It's a short hop from the falls to the inhabited parts of Snoqualmie proper — barely more than a mile, which for all Cyrus' words about tension and trust implies something about the regard 'Wireless' people' are actually held in. Their course takes the team through a roundabout and over a bridge to the far side of the river, then onto the broad, four-lane expanse of Snoqualmie Parkway. Initially, its two directions are separated by a tree-dotted meridian; two curves in, though, it opens up onto a long, straight stretch where the meridian has been graded level with the road; concreted over, this stretch forms an ugly, urbanized scar in the middle of otherwise verdant woodlands.

Several subdivisions can be glimpsed between the parkway's bounding trees; there are no signs of life immediately evident among them, no indications anyone lives in those houses. The atmosphere is quiet, hushed… even anticipatory, though perhaps only in the mind of the beholder. Just before where the parkway curves again — before where the meridian resumes — a simple tentlike structure stands out on the far side of the road, four poles and a vaulted roof spanning an expanse of cleared grass. The small plane under its shelter says everything needed about its purpose… and probably the revisions made to the nearby road, too.

Shortly past that makeshift hanger, their guide turns off on a narrow, unmarked street. It runs through a corridor defined by densely planted evergreens, directly beneath a set of high-voltage power lines as silent as the distant cities they no longer feed.

The drive ends at a parking lot, all curves and loops, the stripes that once marked its spaces badly flaked and frazzled with time; there are no cars here. Cultivated space surrounds the lot on all sides, former greenswards converted into what looks to be a giant community garden. Here and there, a sandy depression hints at the area's previous life as a golf course. At the apex of the lot is a low, sprawling building, white with decorative stonework along the base of its walls, proclaimed by a sign as The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge.

A knot of people stand off to one side of the entrance, at the edge of the garden. Whatever they might have been discussing before, the arriving vehicles hold their attention now — and have for some time, there being a distinct lack of other background noise save the occasional bird. The first to step forward, dressed in well-worn jeans and a pale green button-up shirt under buckskin jacket, is recognizable to all the guests as one April Silver.

As the truck pulls up, one woman looks up from where she waters a plant in the garden - a plant that, from the looks of it, is probably too far gone for any water to matter. Still she keeps a it even as she watches the truck, curiously humming a song to herself. Dressed in a navy blue coat and loose black jeans, long platinum blonde hair falls over her face as she stands up straight, water still streaming from the angled watering can.

She blinks, a look of uncertainty on her face as she begins to look around to the other gathered around her. "Look at that," she muses, turning the watering can so that the entire rest of it's contents falls out and to the ground like a miniature tidal waves dropped from the sky. "Didn't come in the whirlybird for once, braved the trails! That, that is something you don't see every day!" She smiles wide at that, tossing the can aside as she turns to look more directly at the new arrivals.

Not far off from the others, a man in a worn leather jacket with tousled, curly black hair straightens up to look toward the new arrivals. "Maybe they're afraid to fly," he notes to the woman gardening, his smile crooked. But she's right, it isn't something that happens very frequently. Walker pulls his hands out of his pockets, possibly to look more welcoming as the group gets closer. There's a glance toward April, obviously he plans to take his cues from her.

When he looks back toward the garden, it's only to watch the can get tossed and then to give his companion an amused smile. "Think they brought in any chocolate?" Or any other luxuries from beyond, really. He's not picky.

As they pull into the parking lot and all eyes fall on the Katsch, Nick chuckles, a low sound, shaking his head.

“This is so different from my normal jobs,” he asides. “Used to trying to be unobtrusive, you know? Blend in with the locals, try not to stand out. I feel like that dream where everyone’s staring at you during a test at school because you’re in your underwear or sommat.”

Cyrus said they had the right to carry, so he slides his gun back into the holster under his jacket, lowers the sunglasses he’d shoved up on top of his head and looks at the others. “Let’s go make some friends,” he says, before opening the door and stepping out.

There is a smile tugging at one corner of Claire’s mouth, listening to Nick. “I'm use to drawing a lot of attention to myself,” she comments lightly, studying the people on the other side of the windshield. A brow goes up as something… or someone catches her attention.

“What?” Not catching that last bit Nick says. Takes a moment, but it sinks in. “Right,” she sighs out, pulling the sunglasses down again, hiding behind the mirrored lenses. A quick check to make sure the bone knife is in its spot and fingers through hair real quick, before Claire pops open the door and hops down. It is a tall drop for her.

They’re in the midst of a Dead Zone, in unfamiliar territory controlled by a faction that they don’t have much experience with. Logic suggests that they should be wary, careful, and generally on guard. Richard Ray doesn’t appear to be any of the three as he hops out of the Katsch, both hands sliding to brace at the small of his back as he stretches, popping a few vertebrae. A grin easy upon the man’s lips as he looks across to those gathered.

“Where’s the bus station,” he calls out cheerfully in their direction, as casual as someone at home in their own environment, “I don’t think we’re allowed to meet without there being a bus station around here somewhere, Silver. This is a clear violation of the rules!”

April snorts at Ray's remarks. "You think that thing isn't the closest there's been to a bus out here in years?" she calls back, waving in the direction of their truck. "Station," she adds, tossing a hand up to indicate the building behind her. "Rules satisfied."

Obviously, she isn't standing on any ceremony, here.

More seriously, as she closes the distance between them: "It's good to see you, Richard." April claps hands on his shoulders, takes a moment to look him over. "Looks like business has been treating you well. Although if you try and export your corp out here, we're gonna have a talk." Mostly facetious, that.

Moving past Ray, she offers more restrained handshakes to the two Hounds. She may not have met one of them before, but it's pretty obvious who's who. "Avi. I see Hana's still running you all over the place. And you must be Claire." Green eyes linger on the younger woman for a moment before April turns to the last of the visitors.

"Which makes you Nick. Welcome to Snoqualmie." Her lips quirk sideways as she extends her hand. "I hope you left the alphabet at home."

“Yeah it’s packed right next to his dignity,” Avi answers for Nick, giving the junior — in Avi’s mind — agent a pat on the back as he passes by him up toward the gathering of Guardians. “These digs bring back memories, though I guess this is a sight less Nosferatu than Pollepel Island was…” Looking back to Claire and Richard, Avi tucks his hands into his pockets and there’s an audible chirp of a security alarm on the Katsch which he responds to with a grimace.

Anyway,” Avi looks across the parking lot, then up to the other Guardians just past April. “We heard you’ve got yourself some walking dead out this way, ruffling up the Yamagato folks, and…” with a sigh, Avi looks around at the silhouette of the town rambling beyond the club house. “We saw some pretty harrowing shit up in Cle Elum on a video they’d taken…”

Epstein continues apace, making the conversation a moving one but still affording April the lead of the tempo and direction. “Figured we’d do some information sharing, seeing as how the last time we were up in your neck of the woods we were on business.” The firestorm of activity at Ross Dam hardly went unnoticed, but it’s a long haul from Snoqualmie.

"Ooooh, the walking dead," the blonde haired woman stage whispers to the man next to her. She reaches up and taps him on the cheek twice, before turning back to face the others. "Harrowing, horroring, hollowing. All of it's kind of spooky, like Nosferatu, and they're not making it any better," she offers to Avi and the others as they pass by. She doesn't move along to follow, though. "I think I dropped all the water," she laments in a low voice, looking down at the ground.

A sharp breath exhales as someone steps out and up beside Nick, and it's- the same woman? With light brown hair this time, though, and a slight frown on her face as she looks back towards the blonde haired woman otherwise identical to her. "Sorry, don't- mind her too much," she offers to them with a weak smile, glancing up to April. "Harrowing's a good word for what happened," she remarks in a much more matter of fact voice than the other woman had.

A look to Nick, then to Claire, Richard, Avi. "Joss. Pleasure to meet you all."

Walker chuckles at the taps to his cheek and he reaches over to ruffle Blonde Joss' hair a little. "You dropped it in the garden, though," he says about the water, "so that's not so bad. Right?" He doesn't comment as to the walking dead, even though that is much less fun than chocolate.

Or, at least, a different kind of fun.

He looks back to the others, lifting a hand to wave as April goes through their roster. "Levi Walker," he says, but the topic at hand turns his expression more serious. "Messy business," he notes, probably meaning the attack on the Yamagato personnel rather than their mission to Ross Dam.

“Yeah, I find when I spell things, Epstein gets confused,” Nick quips back on the heels of Avi’s insult, but he steps forward to take the hand extended to him and smiles at April.

“Thanks for the hospitality. It’s good to meet people doing the work out here.” His glance includes all of the others, Joss and Levi, each nodded to as they introduce themselves.

At blond Joss, Nick lifts a curious brow, but chuckles a little at the second iteration of the woman. “She’s not wrong. It was probably a bit of all of that. You all come across them personally or is it all just legend and word of mouth?”

The regenerator nods her head slowly as April turns to her, returning the handshake. “I am,” is offered curtly, with a small touch of a smile. “Nice to meet you.”

Pushing her sunglasses up on her head, she studies the other two joining April; giving them a nod and a hesitant smile. She might be checking out Levi a little longer then Joss, but she is trying not to be obvious.

Avi’s comment about the island gets a blank look in return since she bailed on the group that rescued her from the Ark before they reached it.

Richard returns April’s greeting in turn, his own hands clapping to her shoulders as he admits, “It’s good to see you too— and what, you don’t even want to see the catalogue? I brought samples and everything.” Easy banter, a crooked smile to the man’s lips, seemingly genuine in his manner.

“Joss,” he greets then as the others approach, “Levi. Pleasure to meet you.. both?” Meet all three? Are they twins or is this a replicator? It’s hard to tell sometimes. “We were a little concerned about the Four Bloody Horsemen, go figure. Sort of thing that gets attention, even all the way over in New York.”

Dryly, he adds, “Especially when you’ve seen one of them crumble to ash and blow away in the wind in front of you.”

April filters back through the group as they collect. Samples earns Richard an amused look and smile, but no comment. Her gaze meets that of Joss, and the older woman nods briefly, agreeing with her statement. "Let's go on in," she says, tipping her head in the direction of the clubhouse. "We've definitely plenty to talk about."

"This is basically city hall these days," she says for the benefit of their guests, "but it's bigger than they need, so we use part of it too."

The interior design of the clubhouse is dominated by clean lines and open spaces, the walls wood-paneled to about five feet and painted warm cream above; the carpet is thin in commercial style, splotched in complementary blue and amber. The overall tone is warm and inviting, perhaps all the more so for the distinct signs of time and use worn into carpet, darkening rails, adding visual texture to painted walls.

"We'll put you in a room here, too, for — was it just tonight you're staying?" she asks, mostly of Epstein, while leading the way up carpeted stairs to what clearly was originally meant to be a small dining room. Floor-to-ceiling windows let warm afternoon light flood the space. The wooden tables have been pushed together to form one long rectangle, chairs upholstered in burnt-orange vinyl arranged around it. Empty glasses have been set at each space, with several pitchers of water distributed so as to be easy to everyone's hands.

"Sit yourselves wherever," April remarks, gesturing in the direction of the table.

“Yeah, twenty-four hours. I’d cut it shorter but I think I’d have a mutiny on my hands.” Avi notes with a crooked smile, regarding the club house over the frames of his sunglasses that he pointedly leaves on while inside. “There’s a lot going on back east. Personally, I’d want to stay and really get my arms around what’s going on out here, but that’s what we have Keelut for.” Avi ambles along, conversationally, hands in his pockets. “They’re our intelligence gathering team. Now that we know this place isn’t a dumpster fire— ” he glances quick back at April, “no offense just— it’s the Dead Zone— we’ll probably send them out to do recon on everything going on, and interface with your people.” Finally, Avi pulls up a chair and takes a seat, unashamedly taking a glass of water.

Not long after everyone starts to settle in, does Sophie emerge into the room, rising up from the floor in a twisting column of mist by the door. “Cy’s taking Candice out on a walk-and-look, I think he’s just afraid to be in a conference room.” Her brows quirk up at that and a smile spreads across her lips. “Sounds like me an’ you Keelut have a lot in common. I do hide and seek work for April and the G’s. It’s good, learn a lot about how awful the woods are doin’ that.” She cracks a smile and pulls up a chair, settling in with the others. “How’s the ol Apple these days? Still big?”

Avi glances over at Sophie, making an amused face as he sips his water. “No, more a… smashed apple these days?” He manages to only slightly laugh at his own joke. “It’s not bad, but it lacks the quiet you folks have out here. End of the world doomsday bandits aside,” he notes with a motion of his glass to April.

Joss catches that upwards, questioning inflection at the end of Richard's return introduction. She offers no comment one way another, turning her attention to Avi as she continues to follow along with them. "It's been pretty quiet out there, from where I sit. Quieter than it is here lately, at least," she offers as she makes her way over to a seat. "Boring. New York's not supposed to be boring."

She stops short of one of the seats as another woman walks past her, offering a small folder to her. Joss takes it, stepping towards a chair as the woman - yet another who shares her face, this time with dark brown hair - pats her on the back and walks off. As she settles into her chair, she offers Richard a smirk, as if to answer his unspoken question.

"We put out the dumpster fire a while back, at least until some assholes come back in and reignite it again." See: The assholes they're here to talk about today. "It's a bit… odd sometimes, but it's not too bad." She sets the folder down. "It's really quite homey once you get past the fact that it was almost the apocalypse out here."

Nick gets a nod, Richard gets a nod, Claire gets a nod, but also a crooked smile like he might have noticed her lingering a bit. He doesn't help clear up Richard's confusion as to Joss, just chuckles a little before he turns to follow April.

Levi looks over at Avi, something in his explanation getting a grin. "Only twenty-four hours? You came all the way to Vegas and you're only gonna have the buffet," he comments, clapping the Hound on the shoulder before he moves past him to grab a seat for himself. The next Joss gets a wave, for all the world like they might be triplets or something.

"What 'almost', Joss? The world as we knew it definitely ended. I'm just glad it wasn't zombies," he says with an exaggerated shudder.

“It’ll be nice to stop driving for more than a few minutes. I swear I can still feel the road moving beneath us, even though we’re standing still,” Nick says. Or were standing still, as he moves to follows April into the clubhouse. “You know, after the apocalypse, you think the things you’ll miss are good internet, television, running water… well-paved roads never crossed my mind.”

He glances at the third woman as she passes out folders, making an exaggerated, comical sort of confused face, pointing at her and then back to the one they just walked away from.

“I swear I’ve seen your face before,” he says, then grins to add, “I’m sure you’ve never heard that before.” He moves to one of the chair, setting the folder down but waiting for the others before sitting.

A flat look is leveled in Avi’s direction. “By mutiny, I think he means me,” Claire’s tone is just as flat, following the group. “Of course, you spend that much time as the only girl in a car full of guys and you’d mutiny, too, ” she jokes in turn. Or is she really? There is no comment on how short the stay is… it is obvious she isn’t happy with it. She didn’t want to leave it to their ‘intel’ team do all the work; Claire had too many questions and wanted to find out those answers herself.. However, it’s not her place to argue with her superior… especially, right now.

So with a reluctant sigh, she settles herself into a seat next to Nick, giving him an amused glance at his rather lame joke. “Really?!” She murmurs at him with a soft chuckle. “I think you have been on that road too long.”

It’s into one of those burnt-orange chairs that Richard drops himself, leaning back in a comfortable sprawl, one elbow resting over the back and a leg stretched out. “Nice digs,” he admits as he looks around, “You’re settled in better than we feared, but— y’know, we don’t get a lot of accurate news out of the Dead Zone for obvious reasons.”

He flashes a grin back to Joss at her ‘demonstration’ such as it is, and then he’s teasing Nick, “Hey, you should try getting off a boat after a long ride, now that’s an interesting sensation.”

Reaching out for a glass of water, he adds, “New York’s not as boring as it seems. A lot going on under the hood, as it were… although outside the Safe Zone, well.” The smile fades, “Took a walk around Manhattan recently. Enough to turn an Irishman sober.”

April rolls her eyes at Avi's dumpster fire statement as she settles into her own chair. She doesn't respond to that one. "The quiet's definitely something to be appreciated."

Claire is given a sympathetic look as April pours herself a glass of water, but it's Ray she addresses. "We've had a few years to dig in," she points out, "and we lucked into some good people running the town." She glances to Richard, nodding somberly. "Took a look at Portland once. Can't imagine Manhattan's any better." She pauses to take a drink, then offers him a wry smile, a moment of antidotal levity: "But boring, New York has never been. Second-best thing I ever did was leave."

Cradling the glass in her hands, April looks around the table, taking in the diversity of people collected here, settled in. "So. About those 'doomsday' bandits," she prompts.

“Yeah, so…” Avi scoots his chair in and leans forward on the table. “We spoke with a US Army sergeant out in Cle Elum, he showed us a video of the Yamagato convoy attack. It was… some hair-fucking-raising stuff.” Lacing his hands together, Avi’s expression drains of any sense of humor of levity. “I saw at least one figure armored in a suit of… I don’t know, some kind of advanced powered armor. It reminded me of Horizon, but it looked different. Had some optical hardware, lighter body build. Newer looking, not even like the advanced Institute prototypes.”

Looking up and down the table, Avi continues. “Locals at Cle Elum say that they’re the Four Horsemen or some bullshit like that. Hit and run, thefts, basic militia bullshit. They’re apparently based up out of Sedro-Woolley. Problem is, nobody knows too much about them. What drew us out here, was the fact that one of them appears to be ex — and I mean that in the deceased sense — Vanguard members Joshua Lang and Iago Ramirez. Awful fuckers, killed in Operation: Apollo seven or eight years ago now.”

As he leans back in his seat, Avi smooths one hand over the top of his head and rakes fingers through his hair. “We were sent out here to get a lay of the land and see how real that was, and from our stop in Cle Elum it sure as fuck looks real. What I want to know, and I imagine what everyone wants to know… is what you all know about it.”

Opening the folder that was handed to her moments before, Joss looks over it with annoyance painted across her face. "We know," she starts, scanning over the paper in front of her, "that it is normally much quieter out here," she admits. "Normally, they keep to themselves in Sedro." Her voice almost sounds like a teacher's, very matter of fact reiteration of information,

"This is really the first time we've had them this far south," she offers, before looking up at April, and then over to Walker. "Which really is just weird in and off itself." Her tone takes a much more judgemental turn as she continues, shaking her head. "Yamagato isn't the friendliest to people out here, but its hard to say what anyone there is thinking right now."

She leans back in her chair, crossing her legs as she folds her hands into her lap.

"Their colony, in Sedro-Woolley, it's pretty small. Maybe a thousand. The militia protects them and steers clear of us." Which was an arrangement that was really working, as far as Levi is concerned. "But the 'Four horsemen'— " he says with audible finger quotes— "are part of that militia. That's their big offering to residents, I think. The way we hear it, they don't have a lot of infrastructure up there. Yet."

Walker nods when Joss looks his way, "They tend to stay near the border. I couldn't tell you what motivated them to hit the Yamagato people, maybe they clashed over territory." He lifts his shoulders, because who knows.

As Nick listens, he too busies himself with pouring a glass of water and taking a sip.

“So who has access to that sort of tech and hardware that might have been able to equip them? Getting the armor might be what motivated them to hit up Yamagato now,” he says with a glance over to Walker. “And why would anyone able to pay for that sort of armor be hanging out here on the edge of the world?”

He smiles, lifting both hands. “No offense,” he says, since the Guardians live ‘out here’ too. He glances at April with a grin, “I hate New York, too.” He really isn’t there often enough to call it home these days — except for that whole ‘where the heart is’ thing.

Claire motions to Nick to pass over the pitcher, which she uses to pour her own glass of water, though she doesn’t take a sip, yet. The glass is slowly rotated between her palms as she listens to each person in turn.

The question asked, gets a glance. “And why not?” She asks simply. “No real government oversight. Easy prey, so to speak.” She lifts a shoulder, hands releasing the glass long enough for her to spread them a little. “Do you know, roughly, about when the Horsemen started cropping up in conversations?” This question is turned to the their hosts.

"Or — simpler still — they needed supplies," is April's contribution to the speculation of motive. "In that respect, Yamagato's thing is practically a buffet." Still, she nods over to Joss, agreeing with the comment of weird. She sips at her water, then smiles in response to Nick. "None taken. It's not for everyone."

April takes a moment to consider Claire's question. "Hm. Within the past year," she offers.

“Could be Praxis Heavy,” Avi notes with a drum of his hands on the table. “Corporate warfare? Might be a sponsored proxy army. I was on that side of the fence once, it isn’t pretty work. There… might be a paper trail we can start to investigate when we get back to New York. Hana’s good with that sorta’ thing.” Anxiously unable to remain still, Avi leans back in his chair with a creak of the back.

Staring down at the table, he isn’t satisfied with his answer. “Only way to know more would be to knock on their door, but…” he makes a noise in the back of his throat, “I dunno. It sounds like we’re going to need to dig into them one way or another. I’ve got a couple of guesses where the armor could’ve come from, though…”

“The Institute had a place up north, Ross Dam. We know they had a San Fran office too. It’s possible they had a research station in Seattle proper, maybe subterranean enough to be sheltered from the blast. Even if the workers didn’t make it out, maybe the hardware survived.” Avi continues to drum fingers on the table. “I suppose it could be Praxis-built too, based off of the old US designs.” He looks down the table to Nick. “You wanna field trip on a field trip?”

"Personally, I wouldn't recommend it. A flyover may be smarter. Drones, maybe?" Joss offers a bit of shrug. "It's a bad idea, really. But…" She smirks a bit, looking to Walker, and then to April. "What's life without a few bad ideas?" Her smirk slips into a wide smile. "Praxis. They're about as big of a pain in the ass as Yamagato, so that seems like something they'd do."

The woman offers a look over to April, even as one of her duplicates - the one that had handed the seated Joss her folder - steps back up to the table, quirking an eyebrow as she looks over at their guests. "If you want to go check it out, one of us can go with you," the recently arrived Joss offers. "If April wants. We try not to get into their business, but if they're going to start moving south…" She looks over to her leader, as if asking permission to continue that thought.

The seated Joss relaxes a bit, nodding slowly. "You read my mind," she offers to her doppelganger - there's no mental link between any of the Josses, but they are the same woman. They tend to think alike..

"I agree, if you want to poke at their settlement, best do it as quietly as you can, at least for a first pass. Get the lay of the land," Walker says with a nod to the Josses. The idea that it might be Praxis using these people for corporate whatever gets a deepset frown. "I don't like any of them out there, to be honest. But these guys with boots on the ground for Yamagato— they're just trying to earn a paycheck. If they're gonna do warfare, they can take it to a boardroom."

The mention of the dam gets his attention back over to the visitors, and he lifts his eyebrows. "Got luckier looting than I ever have, if that's the case," he says with a smirk. "April, how come we never come across some hidden treasure, huh?" But his attention swings back to Avi after a moment. "We can come along to the dam. Some of us, at least. Back up in case their militia is swarming the place."

Nick nods when the name Praxis comes up, apparently Avi confirming the thought behind his question. “Could make sense. Give them some cool toys and let them take out your opponent while sitting safe in ivory towers — not a bad plan, if it doesn’t blow up in their faces.”

When the words field trip are mentioned, he lifts his brows and nods, before taking a sip of his water. “I’m game.” The suggestions to do a flyover or take the Guardians as back-up are given a nod of acknowledgement and thanks, but he lets Epstein field those. He does think to add, “Your little glamour fairy would be a good asset. Keep our asses covered and/or make it look like we’ve got bigger guns’n we actually have.”

Richard - who’s been listening quietly for a bit - speaks up then, “Not to go back in the conversation at all— Praxis does make sense as an opponent here— but regarding these Horsemen. Do you know anything about the other two that we haven’t identified? Photos, names?” A sip of water, a brow crooking upwards slightly as he looks to the ‘locals’ questioningly.

A hint of humor as he adds, “I can promise it’s not us behind it.

"Oh, they definitely had facilities in Seattle," April contributes. "More hush-hush than the SF one." She rolls her water glass between her hands, looking at the glitter of light off its rim, expression pensive. "We knew the one that used to be Primatech. I started there," she adds with a humorless smile.

"I was trying to localize another when Midtown blew the second time." Green eyes flick to Ray. "And when we last met, come to think of it. But with how everything hit the fan after that…" She shakes her head, lets lack of conclusion speak for itself.

Taking a drink of water, April makes an expansive gesture in the direction of Joss and Walker. "You kids want to go play treasure hunters, be my guest," she says with a grin. "We should have someone along for the ride in any case," is at least a bit more serious, given with a look to Avi.

Her attention returns to Ray as he chimes in. "Not that's made its way around to me," she replies. "We've been pretty live-and-let-live with one another." Now she glances to Joss, giving a slight nod to the two at the table. "If they're looking to change that, well."

That silence speaks for itself, too.

Avi bobs his head into a nod, scrubbing one hand over his mouth as he contemplates the lay of things. “We got two Vanguard and one dead bigot pulling a Lazarus out here. I can't go back without at least doing some closer recon on that. But I ain't exactly a spring fucking chicken these days.”

Looking over to Claire, then Ray, Avi considers something. “I'm thinking we’ll drive most of the way out to Sedro. Walk in and get a feel for things. Last thing I want to do is dangle the Katsch in front of them, if they're into violently redistributing property.” But it's clear that there's too many unknowns, clear that Avi agrees with April’s sentiment. “If you wanna loan us a guide, I'd gladly make this a trust exercise.” There's a gently sarcastic smile after that.

“But for now, we can use your hospitality for a day if you'll have us.” Avi knows they will, but it's polite. “Things look both as dire and not as dire as the stories. It's a weird mix. Maybe when we have some downtime, April, you can share whatever recon you've got for outside of here? I don't know shit about what's happened out here, and that's a big old blind spot.” Then, considering Nick. “Actually… maybe you and Nick can get acquainted. Kid’s got a good head for Intel.”

And Avi won't be around forever. Eventually Nick is going to have to start picking up that same slack. Or that's how Avi sees it, at any rate.

Both Josses laugh at that, the seated one shaking her head afterwards. "Treasure hunters? I guess that's better than just being called thieves." She waves a finger at April, before looking up at her other self, and then to Walker. "What do you two think?"

The standing Joss shrugs. "It doesn't seem like the worst idea. As long as we're not getting them riled up, seeing what they have up might not be the worst idea." A small chuckle escapes her lips as she crosses her arms. "As long everything isn't already picked clean." A moment passes, and then she chuckles again. "Treasure hunters," she repeats amusedly.

The seated Joss rolls her eyes. "Yeah, we don't mind sending a ride along." After all, it was her suggestion. "Hopefully, they'll just leave us be. Are you prepared in case they don't?" Because, you know, getting shot is unpleasant.

Walker grins over at April, amused at her take on their request to tag along. But his attention swings back over to Joss at her question. "I think a trip like that could be worth its weight in gold," he says, that grin taking on a more shameless tint. "Or jewels. I'm not picky about my treasure."

He looks up to the standing Joss, nodding her way. "Even if it is picked clean, there'll be intel to find. As for them not playing nice anymore," he says to the Joss that's seated, "that's what the guns are for." Of course, all the Joss' know the Guardians have more up their collective sleeve than just guns. But the sentiment is the same.

“Kid,” Nick mutters to Claire with a shake of his head, perhaps forgetting that once upon a time he called anyone younger than him kid when he was still the shy side of 25. Still, he gives a nod to April, when Avi suggests the two of them do a bit of information sharing.

“Mostly it’s because I can blend in with the locals where they send me. I tend to look like everyone’s next-door neighbor or cousin,” he says wryly. “I’m the boring side of alphabet. Sad but true.” It’s not all 007 and Inspector Gadget stuff. Or at all, really.

He nods to Avi’s plans about driving partway to Sedro and hiking in. “Probably a good idea not to invite a carjacking.”

Too much to hope for. Richard’s chin dips in a nod to the response, and he leans back with a frown… taking another sip of his water and just listening for a few moments, though there’s clearly something bothering him.

Maybe it’s just the entire situation.

“I might have to keep my head down,” he admits quietly, “Iago might remember me.”

When Avi looks her way, he will find Claire watching him with interest at the mention of actually going to Sedro. She glances down at her clothing and hmms. “Change of clothing might be a good idea, too. Look less,” she motions at herself. This tends to be how she dresses lately. “This.” Of course, others in her group were too.

Though she has been listening rather seriously, when Nick mutters near her, Claire can’t help but smirk. It’s covered with a hand though the amusement still shows in her eyes when she slants a glance his way. She says softly, around that hand, “Hey, at least he trust you enough to take his place on it. Kid or not.” Brows tweak up a little in a knowing way. Her voice drops a even further, “Then again I think everyone here right now is a kid to him.”

April regards Avi with a faint smile as he talks his way through a sketch of a plan. "Sure," she agrees. "We can find you guys a stretch of floor to borrow, and— " She nods to Nick. "— I've got no problem talking to you." Alphabet agency and all.

That smile dims at Nick's remarks, the woman's attention seeming to phase out to somewhere else. It refocuses just a moment later, her smile resurfacing with a distinctly rueful tinge and more subdued tenor. "Hey. I moved out here for 'boring', remember?" She grins then, though the humor of the expression fails to quite reach her eyes. "Which is not an invitation."

Green eyes move to Ray, then to Claire, and April nods again. "If you want a more local look, we can swing that, too." She looks down the table to Avi, and to her fellow Guardians. "Though we 'rescued' enough supplies out of Seattle, before Yamagato moved in, that you're not too out of place."

Avi flashes April a smile. “Well, good hospitality ain't what I expected to find out here, but it's the only good surprise that's come out of the Dead Zone yet.” With another drum of his hands on the table, Avi pushes his chair out and rises to stand.

“We’ll get some clothes, settle in and figure out what's what, and then head out to Sedro the day after tomorrow once we’ve had a chance to acclimate and rest. Whichever ones of yours wanna’ accompany us are welcome and we’ll defer to your expertise with that.” Avi looks around the room, a smile spreading mostly to one side of his face in a too-large smirk.

“Here's one t’fry your brain pan, Richie,” Avi notes as an aside as the meeting seems to have come to a close.

“The fuck’s it mean if Iago doesn't remember you?”

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