Invisible Rider


elliot_icon.gif seren_icon.gif

Scene Title Invisible Rider
Synopsis Strangers spark up a conversation on the bus after talking to people no one else can see.
Date August 2, 2020

Red Hook, Yamagato Bus

The bus takes on one last rider seconds before it closes and begins to pull away from the stop in front of Red Hook Market, the driver of the electric Yamgato-funded vehicle duty-bound to keep to his routes running timely. It's with an upward arc of his chin to acknowledge the flashed city pass that the person at the front of the bus feels they're free to begin making their way back on the half-filled bus, head dipped and their arms laden with fresh goods only the market— especially on the farmers' market Sundays— has to offer.

Seren Evans keeps their hair trimmed short, so maybe the weather bothers them less and helps them better bear the knit black beanie with a Raytech Industries logo on the side of it. The rest of them is dressed appropriately for the warmer weather, a black tee worn underneath a billowing faded tank of blended pastel pinks and blues and their overlapping purple, jeans, and flip flops. In the middle of adjusting the plastic bag hanging from their arm while they contemplate taking a seat, they linger in the middle of the bus and turn their head to listen to something.

"Wait— really?" they ask into the air, no earbuds visible on them to indicate they might be one of those who carry on conversations over Bluetooth without a care for those nearby. Something a little different is going on here. Seren frowns thoughtfully. "Is there any reason you waited until now to bring this up?"

Elliot is just settling into a seat when the latecomer boards. He pulls a tattered paperback from the backpack between his feet and riffles through the pages, leaning against the bus window. On this side of the bus he’ll have enough sunlight to read comfortably, but not so much that he’ll feel the need to remove his black jacket. His clothing seems chosen for the express purpose of being overlooked, a feat which would be accomplished were he not wearing eye-searingly blue shoes.

He glances up from his book as the last passenger stops nearby and speaks. His eyes flicker across the scene, note the absence of a person who could have started the only conversation on the bus. The lack of a hands-free communication device. The comfortable disregard for what any onlookers might think about the behavior. “Huh,” he says quietly. So that’s what I look like.

"Baird." Seren scolds, staring fiercely at something right in front of them. They even bow their head to give the slant of their brow a little extra angle to it.

Their stare intensifies, and the air in front of them simmers.

Okay, maybe not simmers. But it definitely warps, and abruptly the blackened head of a dragonlike creature appears hovering right before their bent face, directly in their line of sight. Golden eyes peer up into their silver ones, framed by a crest of gold into orange. Long whiskers shifting white and teal twitch as the creature balks silently, the black newtish neck of his appearing gradually so he's no longer just a floating head.

Abruptly, as though he feels the eyes on him, his head snaps back to look directly at Elliot, the hornline protrusions on his head perking up in interest.

"Hey." Seren lifts their free hand to snap their fingers by the creature's turned head to reclaim his attention. "Over here. I'm talking to you, you scoundrel." The creature whips his head back around, crest flattening down around his head in a lack of amusement. At this point, his previously invisible form continues to slowly reveal itself.

This thing is giant. The more of the creature revealed, the longer he appears to be. His long torso is held apart from Seren, webbed feet braced against their hips while the rest of him is curled … presumably entirely around their waist and back, though just how long he is remains to be seen.

"Yes, you," Seren scolds the creature— Baird— sternly, to which he lets out an otherworldly echo of a grumble. "You could have mentioned that before we left the market."

Baird's response is to lean his head further and further back in a long-suffering manner, eyes rolling back into his head. When he tips past a certain point, Seren stumbles a foot out in front of them to adjust the brace of their weight on the ground.

Whatever the hell is happening here, if it's a hallucination, it's a multi-party event. A woman sitting closer to the front of the bus has looked up from her phone, looking in the direction of the spectacle with a blank expression and a slacked jaw.

Elliot is too confused to be alarmed. Nobody can genetically engineer giant bioluminescent salamanders, right? When the creature looks at him, his smile moves from perplexed to amused and mildly astonished. His eyes are locked with the creature’s, but lose focus for a second. “Right?” he says, seemingly to no one.

After a quick glance at other passengers to determine the solidity of the situation, he leans back into the corner of his seat and the bus wall. “I mean,” he says, “If nobody else is going to say it, what the sweet fuck? This is amazing!”

After a brief pause before, “What kind of dog is that?”

Those are the magic words to make the bus driver look up from his route, eyes fixed on the wide mirror looking back across the rest of the bus.

Seren, in the meanwhile, is wearing a sheepish expression upon realizing what a fuss they're actually making, and Baird— still wrapped around their waist and leaning back, lolls his head to the side with his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth.

Like a puppy.

"He's not a dog today," Seren answers in a grumble. "He's a lazy—"

"Hey, you can't bring— pets on here," the bus driver calls back. Duty compels him, even if he has no idea how to classify what he's seeing, and the road calls his attention. He begins to pull the bus over.

Within a blink, Seren and Baird both freeze. The former looks down at the latter, who slithers his way from around their waist in a gravity-defying dive toward the vaguely blue-grey floor and disappears down into it like it were a pool of water that barely ripples for his passing. After the Olympian dive, the strange, easily six-foot-long creature is just gone.

"No dog back here!" Seren calls up front. "Promise!" They step into the middle of the aisle to show themself off. The bus driver, looking back again, narrows his eyes and then with a shake of his head cuts the wheel to head back onto the road. He's got a schedule to keep.

Smiling, Seren waits until the wheels are moving again before letting their bright demeanor slack, stepping another step closer toward Elliot and looking down at the floor. "Now if I'm right…" they murmur to themself intently.

Just before Elliot's toes, the tired water coloring of the floor begins to ripple. "Gotcha." Adjusting the bags along their arm, they crouch quickly enough to intercept the ripple and boop the re-emerging creature on his nose. He recoils back and simply peers up at Elliot with those curious golden eyes, form beneath the surface of the floor obscured by murk.

Standing, Seren directs the floor in a hush, "Just stay there til it's our stop," and then looks finally to Elliot with apology written on their expression. "Sorry about him. I had a feeling he'd see your shoes and come back up right around here."

"His name's Baird," they segue cheerfully, as if everything since Elliot's irecoilsquestion and now hadn't happened. "He's not always like this. He's usually a more… manageable size than he is today. I let him come on errands with me because he agreed he'd stay camouflaged while we were out, but clearly that didn't work out."

A sigh from Baird's emerged nose ripples the floor like it were water. It's also clearly not his fault, Seren.

"He's a chimera," they finally explain, as if this explains everything else about him, too.

Elliot tracks the disappearance and reappearance of the creature, trying to grapple with what he sees. “That makes sense,” he begins, “These shoes are incredible.”

He looks up to Seren as he says, "Forgive my ignorance, but isn't the identifying feature of a chimera that it has multiple heads? And that it is a fake, not-real, mythological creature?"

The shoes are incredible, if the encroaching nose of Baird to sniff at them is any indication.

Seren has no comment, though, taken by surprise at Elliot's question. They spend a moment awkwardly shifting the seat of the bags on their arms while they get their thoughts together. Cautiously, they allow, "For— the first point, chimera's also loosely used to describe amalgamations of animals, which is the closest vague-yet-precise term I can use to describe what he is today…"

Baird tilts his head back, rippling the surface of the floor impossibly like it were water, and he peers at Seren upside down. "As for the second point, fake is a bit of a strong word to use, but otherwise, you've got me there…" Closing one eye, Seren looks back up at Elliot. With a slight cant of their head, they wonder, "Does it help to know he's usually some type of gryphon rather than a… catfish-dragon-mander?" And it might, if the criteria were that they provide an explanation that doesn't involve another unreal creature.

"I say usually, but he's got a new form pretty regularly…" Seren admits, shrugging their shoulders. They're wholly unbothered by these transformations, it'd seem. "I've got a few other friends like Baird, but they almost always have the same features. Baird and me have been together for forever, and he changes to whatever he feels like, whenever he feels like."

Balefully, Baird snorts again. "Okay," his summoner admits. "And sometimes on command, but I rarely ask!" They balk down at the creature swimming in the floor between their feet as if this were the most natural thing in the world.

“I didn’t mean to disparage the reality of the newt-snoot,” Elliot says with an apologetic smile. He closes his tattered brown paperback around the finger of one hand to mark his place. “Just trying to understand how I’m seeing what I’m seeing, while being very bad at asking poignant questions. Though of course, you don’t owe me an explanation, I’m just some bus-rando.”

Elliot Bus Rando,” he adds by way of introduction.

Seren grins when they look back up. "Seren, summoner of fantastic beasts and imagery. Also some bus-rando." They turn a look over their shoulder to check which stop is being flashed next on the ticker near the front of the bus, then turn back again to shift their feet to put a more polite distance between the two and give them wallspace of their own to lean against if necessary.

"I don't mind the questions, honest," they relate earnestly. "I tend to clam up when talking about the specifics of my ability, and I shouldn't. It's me, so I should get more comfortable. Practice. Just like when I transitioned pronouns." Glancing back Elliot's way, they add gamely, "Which are they/them, if the bus-rando is curious now."

With a smile more sheepish than before, Seren admits, "Not everybody's always super-thrilled to meet Baird, though. The unexpected can be hard to handle. Especially if it's the size of a giant water-puppy."

Baird's swum around to Seren's side, nosing their shoe expectantly. "Hey, man, I'm not the one who let us forget to pick up bread," they aside down to him dourly.

Elliot acknowledges their pronouns with a simple gesture toward himself. “He/him,” he says. He acknowledges what they can do with an admission of his own. “My partner’s daughter Ames is currently asking her to ask me to ask you if I can take a picture of Baird to show her what he looks like, but everyone involved in this weird game of telephone will understand if you’re not comfortable with that.”

“And Baird,” he shrugs with his hands and looks down to the eyes protruding from the floor, “No bread, no sandwich. What were you thinking?”

Elliot's looking down allows Seren to express their surprise and do a bit of wide-eyed staring of their own without it being overly rude. How was he…? Clairvoyance? But some kind of messaging was involved? Maybe some kind of astral projection? But…

Who knew, and either way, Seren's whole mood brightens to meet someone else Expressive. "No, yeah, sure!" they enthuse regarding the photo. No, they're not uncomfortable, absolutely a photo is in the cards. Their head whips around to the creature using the floor as a pool, and they crouch to snake their arm free of their grocery grab from the market.

"Man, you're not even that pretty today, bud," they lament as they reach apparently through the floor to hoist Baird up a little further into the realm of the three-dimensional again. A grumbled yawp of a mouthsnap later, a message only understood by his summoner passing from him to them, and Seren sits back on the ground cross-legged. "You're right, you're pretty everyday. My bad."

Baird beams, head thrown back in pride, leaving Seren to chuckle and spin him around so they can continue to hold him by his torso. One webbed foot is as much that makes it above the floor's surface, orange and blue while the rest of his black torso and head sport only those accents of orange-gold coloring. His amber eyes are doglike as he peers up at Elliot, and for effect, his tongue lolls from his mouth again.

"Y'big ham," Seren teases the creature fondly, then looks back up too with a grin while they hug him. "Okay. For Ames!" they beam.

“Everyone is very grateful,” Elliot says with a wide smile. He sets his paperback on the bench beside him, tucking the corner beneath his leg to pin it in place. He slides a cellphone from the pocket of his jeans and taps through the interface before zooming in from across the bus at this new marvel. “And…” he taps, “Gotcha.”

He spins the phone around and holds it at arm’s length toward Seren and Baird for their inspection and approval.

Ruffling the top of Baird's head, Seren beams even more broadly. "And just like that, a kid's day was made. If we had to miss out on Amish stuff from Providence, at least it was for a good cause." Baird plops back down to hide in plain sight in the floor as soon as he's let go, and Seren nods brightly at the photo.

"That reminds me, I've got a card for this special photographer… he did an exhibition recently in the Safe Zone and he wanted to do some photos of Baird. The guy has this really cool ability where his photos move over time." Wrapping the plastic bags back around their hands, they rock back to their feet. They squint one eye as they recall, "Rrrrroyce, I think the name is."

“That sounds amazing,” Elliot says as he swipes through his phone and sends the photo on its way. “Is that a manipulation of the development chemicals, or an illusion anchored to the print medium tied to his perception of the picture?”

He seems invested in the topic as he slides the phone into the left breast pocket of his jacket, but suddenly lurches with a short, high-pitched laugh, gripping the phone before it falls all the way in. Like he’s seen something adorable but doesn’t want to embarrass someone. He pops the phone back out, sighing out another laugh as he swipes through the screen security again. “Sorry, it was–,” he says, “It should be–”

His phone chimes and he catches a notification he was waiting for, tapping the screen to zoom in on a video message. As he turns the screen back toward Seren and Baird they hear a groan of tiny panic from the device. The video is of a girl with short, curly strawberry blonde hair and hazel eyes wearing a green shirt. She’s leaning forward with her hands pressed against her cheeks, looking away from the frame. She stops her anxious sigh and takes her hands away from her face to shake them out as she quickly says, “Oh my god I love him.” It’s followed by a quick laugh from the voice of the woman recording the video. A laugh on key with the first Elliot let out.

"I think it's something to do with the development? He said only a few photos of the total ones developed work, and it sounds like they have to be manually processed rather than digital, so—"

At first, Seren thinks that the laugh may be at them, at their enthusiasm in pondering someone else's ability entirely. But then Elliot apologizes, and they lift their brow curiously while he works through the words. By the time that he's swiped the phone open, they've gathered that whatever it is that he's preparing is something meant to be seen, so they sidle a step closer to properly peer at it. Baird's head perks up from the floor so he can at least listen, if not see it really for himself.

The faint laugh from his summoner will have to suffice for the both of them, along with the softening of their expression. "Baird, you have a fan," Seren acknowledges, and the crests on the creature's head arc up visibly. The bus has stopped again, and someone disembarking from the back of it pauses, one hand on the railing of the step down from the bus's rear seating to peer at Baird in confusion. Seren looks up with a quick smile that seems to disarm him, and with a bewildered shake of his head, the man continues on and steps from the bus.

All kinds of shit in this new New York, these days.

"Ames is adorable," Seren confirms as they look back to Elliot. "Thanks for making my day, too."

Elliot casts a glance over the departing passenger, one eyebrow raised just enough to say You’re free to leave. He looks back to Seren. “Happy to help,” He smiles, “Wright and Ames send their sincerest thanks.” He slides the phone fully into his jacket pocket before unpinning the book from beneath his leg to rest it in his lap.

“Sorry,” he says with mild embarrassment, “I interrupted you, that was rude of me. You were saying that you believed it was a manual process?” He wears a light, easy smile of genuine interest.

It takes a moment for Seren to go back to the earlier topic, the backtracking visible as they maneuver through it. "Oh!" they exclaim, then soften their voice again to a more bus-appropriate decibel. "Yeah, I remember him saying something about digital was no good for it, so it has to be something to do with the development process with the photos. I thought it was just the coolest thing— I'd never heard of an ability like that."

"The other artist at that gallery, he was Expressive too— able to paint precognitive scenery. It was… really cool, actually, to see them put themselves out there like that."

Seren's eyes light up before they look back to Elliot. "Speaking of all that, I don't suppose you've heard of that, um, event that's going on next month?" Something hesitant almost trips them up, but they carry on regardless. "That thing… Eve Mas is doing?"

They still can't believe she's alive after what happened in Detroit, but that's another topic entirely.

Elliot nods as they speak. "It's good to finally see it," he says, "Especially from an Expressive who could 'pass' for non-Expressive." The quotations on pass are audible. He seems uncomfortable saying it.

"As for Eve, when I ran into her in April—” he pauses, shaking his head, “Ran into her, she was waiting for me in the middle of a state park. Which was alarming, but that’s Eve.” A shrug. What are you gonna do? “She assured me she wasn't responsible for Detroit.

“I don't know how I feel about the event. Seems like an easy opportunity for things to go wrong. Especially with people still looking for her. The chance someone won’t attempt an arrest is very low. But apparently she’s the fucking Cheshire Cat now, so who knows if they’d even be able to. If you are planning on attending I recommend you be careful. Know your exits and what-not.”

Oh. He knows Eve directly.


Seren blinks their way past that, trying to act just as cool as he is about the topic. Casual. Cool as a cucumber. Definitely… definitely not at all getting lost in the memory of Eve's horrific death.

The sudden silver gleam ringing their feet irises is attempted to be dismissed with a shake of their head, but they can't bypass the moment entirely. Some kind of acknowledgement has to happen, so they try to make it on their terms. "So I was— there— in Detroit, actually. On that day?" The blurt is done quickly, and then they glance back to Elliot. A second "There." is added for emphasis on their closeness to the events.

"I was told even back then it wasn't her fault. That she wasn't herself and that something else was wearing her skin like a meatsuit. So— I'd believe her. It wasn't her that did it, but the— entity that had been possessing her." Seren never in their wildest dreams thought they'd come to really talk about this again, much less with a stranger on the bus, but here they both were. "I'm really glad she's not dead. I felt awful for a long time after everything. It was still her face— it was still her who we saw… you know…"

They shake their head again, this time forcing a smile. "You're friends with her? You must be even more glad she came out okay."

Elliot winces. “I honestly can’t imagine how awful that must have been,” he shakes his head, “My condolences. I’m glad you made it out. And I am glad Eve isn’t dead anymore. Again.”

“That thing is what she found me to talk to me about. Before that I can’t remember the last time I saw her. We worked the Ferry together. Pollepel Island, as it was breathing its last. A few times in passing during the war. Never close, but our girl knows how to make the news. Weirdly my most vivid memory of her is of her trying to show me a painting while I was catatonic. Classic Eve, useless with social cues.”

“I’ve been pretty out of touch lately. Took a few years off to work on myself,” he dismisses that as insincere with a smirk, but quickly shrugs that off to be serious again. “Since Detroit I’ve been realising I may not have the luxury of sitting any more of this out. Somebody’s gotta do the grunt work so Expressive kids can attend Eve’s raves.” Commiseration peppered with deflection.

But why does the deflection have to sound so interesting? Baird expresses this most, nosing closer to Elliot's blue-clad feet with interest, peering up with those amber eyes.

Seren's more cautious than that. They've heard others say similar things, and decided they're perfectly okay with filling that latter role— of being out and proud, able to do so thanks to the sacrifices of those who fought during the war. Sticking to their lane was just… safer. Their skillset and their ability wasn't made for fighting entities and people who wanted to overthrow world orders.

"You're not the first person I've heard talk like that, lately," Seren admits anyway. "Don't suppose you're friends with Richard Ray, too?" But they shake their head, dismissing the probe off as joking.

"It's— wild to me, still, how the war is just everywhere out here. I'm from Canada, from north in Nova Scotia, so it happened, and it had such an impact on the world in guiding the topic of how Expressives get treated, but…" With a grimace, they suppose, "I don't know what I'm trying to say. I guess, just that I'm sorry things are still in such a way you'd need to— get back into it again."

“Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure,” he says. “Though Ray is a little out of my price range, socially speaking. And don’t get me wrong, I think that as a society we’ve been making great strides in Expressive rights and acceptance. I don’t think we’re still at war. But somebody’s got to make sure that rich people don’t start another Ark. And shit certainly isn’t getting any less weird out here, so there’s plenty for me to do. And unemployment’s getting to me, holy shit.”

“Also, my partner’s wife is from Nova Scotia. Apparently there was a lot of back-and-forth between there and Massachusetts in her family over the years. I’ve never been but I hear it’s lovely. What brought you to the Southern Wastelands?”

Seren lets out a short laugh they clearly don't mean to, blanching at Elliot's blasé description of his home country. His home.

"Work," they admit, still with that surprise about his humor. Or was he serious? It was so ounchily delivered, maybe it was a bit of both. "I went to school for architecture, and after getting your base degree, you need practical experience— and I wanted to get in somewhere down here where I felt like the stuff I was designing would have impact. That in some way, I was able to help rebuild. It was a nice idea, but I had a hard time getting a job."

Wryly, they lean into, "Lucky for me, there was this nice start-up called Raytech with branches in Detroit and the Safe Zone who gave me a second look." Spoiler: Raytech definitely can't be considered a start-up anymore.

"They're interested in different standards than most other companies, when they're hiring." A grin pulls back the corner of their mouth. "And lucky for me, I got on immediately well with my now-boss when I first interviewed with her." They belatedly lift their hand to the beanie snug around their head, tapping the embossed Raytech lettering as apparent proof of their hiring. "Finishing my degree out and becoming a fully-fledged architect might not be in the cards anymore, but my heart was always in designing, and making a difference. And if I do that, and present good numbers for investors in the ideas me and my coworkers come up with, I'm pretty sure Raytech would be content to let me do that until they run out of business."

Looking back, their brow lifts. "And this is belated, but, holy shit, really? Talk about a small world. I miss home, but it's an adventure being out here. I wonder if it's the same for her." His partner's wife.

“She’s talked about taking a family trip there,” Elliot says, “More to educate Ames in her history than for her own homesickness. She doesn’t have a large family, and her parents are leery about travelling to the Zone. At least if she and Wright travel there with Ames she’ll be in the company of a commando and a field medic. Which, honestly, is just good for Ames in general; she’s a human battering ram. They don’t measure her height in a door frame like most families, just write the date on any full-body impact silhouette she’s left in the sheetrock.” He laughs this off as unserious. “They probably wouldn’t go until she’s a little older though, that could be a rough road trip for a kid.”

“I’m surprised,” he pivots, “That you couldn’t get your architecting hours in at Raytech. The Zone still has a lot of empty– lots.” He pauses the laugh at himself. “Lots of empty plots of land. And with Raytech’s reputation of being unconventional, I’m surprised they’re not throwing in futurist eco-arcologies wherever Yamagato isn’t.”

“The above-ground kind of arcology,” he clarifies, “Not the Cambridge kind. You’re doing prototype design? Or graphic design? I feel like your ability would lend itself well to advertisement, which, I’m not saying you should be a road-side billboard mascot twirling an arrow in the direction of Raytech, that would be awful.”

Seren finds the corner of their mouth still pulling back in what's feeling like it might be a perpetual grin. Ames the Headstrong is quite the image. When the topic turns back around, they're still smiling anyway. "Yeah, I mean, I'm getting hours but it's definitely not— I'm working on ways to get my hours in, designing buildings, but Raytech has a focus in wild tech, not exactly wild buildings, so it's been a challenge."

"Without saying too much, the most I can tell you is look forward to an announcement regarding some architectural enhancement pieces I helped spearhead. I've not been sitting on my hands, by any means." Their smile fades as they think for a moment. "And as far as other eco-architectural projects … they just finished that giant greenhouse space up in Jackson Heights on the partner project with Yamagato, so that's something."

With a lift of their head, they answer, "Theoretically I'm working on architecture projects, but in light of the infrequency of those, I'm definitely helping work on prototypes here and there. And I only get a little pushback on innovative designs."

The bus begins to roll again after having come to a stop, and abruptly Seren realizes the scenery outside is a little too familiar. Their brow arches up just before their head snaps to the front of the bus, the ticker displaying a stop past their own.


Pulling on the stop cable hanging by the window, Seren shouts up front, "Sorry! Wait! That was my stop!" Momentary panic momentarily dealt with, they look back to Elliot. "Was nice to meet you, Elliot. You and Ames and—" Right? "your partner have a good evening."

Elliot listens intently as Seren catalogs their activities, and seems ready to comment on them when they suddenly realise their location. He just smiles widely, and holds a hand up in farewell. “Thank you, this has certainly been my favorite co-bus-rando conversation to date,” he says, “Take care of yourself, and be safe at the festival!” He throws in a semi-serious raise of the eyebrows.

He casts a look to the floor and directs the seriousness to Baird with a pointed finger. “I’m looking at you, Baird,” he says, “Buddy system.”

A proud hum floats up from Baird as he lifts his head above the surface of the floor, making his way along to the door with Seren when the bus stops for them again. With a splash, the large amalgamation of water creatures becomes three-dimensional again, hauling himself out in a scramble that still takes a touch too long for the driver's sake, who peers back in suspicion of Seren's lingering form.

"'Bye!" Seren calls out as they follow after Baird onto the sidewalk, beginning to walk after casting a wave behind them. Before the bus pulls away, Baird ends up snaking his way up Seren's side again, curled around them much like a backpack, and leaving his head set atop their shoulder so he can peer ahead too while they head off together.

Buddy system style.

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