It's Dangerous to Go Alone


lance_icon.gif nicole3_icon.gif

Scene Title It's Dangerous to Go Alone
Synopsis When Nicole wants to sneak into the Exclusion Zone, she turns to someone who wrote the book on it.
Date August 1, 2020

Safe Zone

The late afternoon sunshine feels warm on Lance Gerken’s skin as he steps out — reluctantly — from the shade provided by the enormous tree that houses the essence of his friend and fellow junior agent Emily Epstein. Wrapping up these visits is always bittersweet, but maybe that sun which sustains Emily in her current form is cheering them on. Reminding them that things won’t always be this way. The sun always rises anew.

A blue Buick sits at the curb outside the cleared away structure, and as Lance starts to make his approach to the sidewalk, the passenger side window rolls down.

He knows this car.

“Get in, Gerken.”

He knows that voice.

“Agent Miller?”

Lance had tensed up when the window started rolling down; instinct and training tell him that a car that seems to be waiting for him is rarely a good thing, but he relaxed when he heard that voice. He’s bemused by the encounter, though, since he doesn’t often see her out of the office.

The messenger bag slung over his shoulder is shifted a bit and he walks over. He’s dressed casually for the afternoon, in a light grey t-shirt and a pair of jeans, some scuffed sneakers finishing up the look. He didn’t work today, after all.

He walks along over to the car, reaching out to open the door, “What’s up? Is everything alright?”

“Fantastic.” Nicole responds far too easily for someone who definitely did the walk of shame out of the office yesterday after apparently trying to knock Noah Bennet’s block off. He won’t be seeing her at the office for a while now, if the amount of blood on Noah’s shirt was any indication. If the look on Voss’ face when he called her into his office was any indication. If the box tucked under her arm when she left was any indication.

“I’m on vacation. Put your seatbelt on.”


The look on Lance’s questioning face asks ‘is vacation a euphemism for fired’ but at least he doesn’t actually say it out loud. His bag’s shrugged off his shoulder and dropped in his lap, and he pulls the seatbelt across his chest to click into place..

“So, ah… where are we going?”

Nicole puts her car in gear, flipping her blinker on before she pulls away from the curb. Once she has the lane, she holds the button on her door down to roll up the window on Lance’s side. “For a drive,” she responds noncommittally.

There’s nothing hurried about the way Nicole drives. No excessive speed, no sharp turns. This may as well be a Sunday drive (on a Saturday).

“You and your friends.” The silence is broken after they’ve gotten onto the parkway. Nicole doesn’t bother to look away from the road as she addresses him. “You mapped your way through the tunnels under the city, right?”

Lance is starting to think this is some sort of spy thing. That’s the way they talk in those movies, right?

The question has him eying her with growing curiosity, admitting after a moment, “Not all of it, but we’ve mapped out some of it. Some of it’s not safe, even with the rats gone, and some of it’s - you know - inhabited. There’re homeless communities and gangs down there, you know.”

A slight chuckle, “Hell, we found a tank down there once.”

For once, Secret Agent Lance is not far off the mark.

“A tank,” Nicole repeats blandly. That’s unexpected. “Well.”

A quiet snort of laughter breaks some of the tension that’d been hanging between them. “You kids ever manage to find your way to Manhattan?”

Manhattan?” Lance sounds disbelieving as he looks to Nicole, eyebrows both leaping up towards his hair, “There aren’t any tunnels under the river, at least not ones that are human sized. You couldn’t go that way unless you had some kind of really weird morphing power, but— “

“I’m not worried about who you tell or don’t tell,” Samson notes with a slow tilt of his head to the side. “The rats don’t come to Manhattan, no way to get here.” He looks at Brynn, brows furrowed for a moment as he studies her, then Lance again. “Head north until you hit West 155th, then go all the way to the wall and follow it north. You’ll…” the old man wheezes noisily, then starts coughing into a closed fist. It only takes him a moment to get it under control, and take a drag off of his cigarette immediately after. When he’s caught his breath, he looks back to Lance. “Sherman Creek. The wall sank into the coast, there’s cracks big enough to sneak in through. You’ll have to find your own way across the river. No bridges unless you go all the way north to the Henry Hudson…”

“— I do know how to get into Manhattan. I mean, without going through a checkpoint. Why do you want to go there? There’s cannibals and botswarf there.”

“That’s an urban legend,” Nicole counters quickly. The cannibals, she means. There’s absolutely still the looming threat of old Hunters that haven’t rusted to disuse yet. But she… reckons she doesn’t have much to fear them them these days.

“I know about the cracks in the walls.” Nicole purses her lips. “I was hoping for something a little less…” One hand lifts off the steering wheel and waves dismissively. Less obvious is probably the implication she means to leave with that. “Do you still have those maps?”

“It’s one thing to know there’s cracks in the walls, it’s another to know where the ones that are actually big enough to get through - and that don’t dump you into a crater - are,” is Lance’s pointed observation, gesturing to her, “We have.”

Once, at least.

“There’s no way to get around the river. There’s no way under it, not anymore, not unless you can breathe underwater and want to try risking the Lincoln, but chances are it’s blocked up by rubble. If you want to get across quietly, you’ll need to hire a smuggler to get you across.”

Government agents shouldn’t talk like this, Lance.

But the more he does talk like that, the more Nicole starts to relax. “Don’t suppose you happen to have one of those on speed dial? All mine went legit.” Or at least gave up their covers. “Anyone you’d actually trust?”

“Trust? No.”

Lance grimaces, “The only one I trusted got herself killed after exposing a human trafficker working in SESA - who’s still fucking working there, by the way - so that’s out. Um. I’m sure we can probably find someone unlikely to fuck us over, though.”

One hand scratches under his chin, “Unless you know someone else with a boat.”

“Let me make one thing perfectly fucking clear here, Gerken.” The world rolls by past the windows at a leisurely pace while Nicole finally turns her head sharply to fix the young man with a steady gaze. She is frightening when she wants to be. Even without the eerie glow of her eyes that came from the ability she no longer seems to possess.

“There is no we in this. There is no us.” Her attention turns back to the windshield and the road beyond. “This,” her right hand gestures to him, then to her, then back and forth twice more in quick succession, “conversation? Isn’t fucking happening.”

It’s almost like she and Avi Epstein used to work closely together during the war or something. Yikes.

“Whoa, whoa…” Lance’s hands come up in a surrender-esque gesture, though his eyes widen a little, “…wait, you’re not planning on going to Manhattan all alone, are you? Look, even if the cannibals aren’t real - and personally I’m not so sure about that - it’s a dangerous place to go, nobody goes there alone. Not the scavvers, not the government, not even Wolfhound. Even we didn’t go there alone and we went everywhere like idiots.”

“I’m not.” Going alone, she means. Maybe that’s even the truth. Nicole did a lot on her own in the lead-up to the raid in Rochester, didn’t she? But she was never meant to go it alone. Maybe there’s a difference there.

But the ambiguity means she could be saying she isn’t going to Manhattan at all. It isn’t a stretch to imagine her hiding behind vagueries and double-speak if confronted. She’s a politician by trade, after all.

An audible exhale signifies frustration. Whatever it is Nicole was looking for, she isn’t finding it here, apparently. “How’s your friend?” she asks, slipping back into some of that tension that had wound its way through her earlier.

“She’s a tree,” Lance replies flatly.

“You’re going to need one of us to show you the way in anyway, you know,” he points out, apparently not believing that she’s not going to Manhattan, or— “Or to show in someone else, if that’s your plan. Unless you want to comb the entire coastline looking for a good way in.”

“At least take Joe or something, he’s invulnerable.”

Not—” The comment chips away at some of the façade Nicole has put up. She sighs quietly, plainly also perturbed by the state of Emily Epstein. That never should have happened. Not to her, and not to any of the other victims. That it happened to one of their own… These things aren’t supposed to happen.

“Let’s suppose for a moment that I, or someone else I’m aware of, is travelling to the Exclusion Zone.” Which I’m not, is tacit. “I wouldn’t be sending one of you kids along. It’s too dangerous, and I don’t just mean physically.” Which might lead Lance to wonder what Nicole might consider worse than the threat of physical harm.

The fact that her seatbelt fits comfortably across her lap might answer that question for him.

At those words, Lance’s expression turns hard. “We haven’t been kids since the first one of us died,” he says cuttingly, “And especially not since the first one of us killed. Which was me. By the way.” The last comes out haltingly, because it’s not something he likes to admit. Or remember.”

“We were all trained to survive in exactly the sort of state the Exclusion Zone’s in right now, Nicole. Survive, thrive, and deal with the enemy.”

Nicole has the grace to hold her tongue until he finishes. She has the respect for him. “I never got to be a kid either,” she says in a low voice, flipping on her blinker and pulling into an indented space along the side of the parkway, a parking spot infringing on the green.

Shifting into park, Nicole turns in her seat. “I fought that war so people like you, and your friends, could have a chance at reclaiming some of that time lost. So you could live lives as close to normal as people like us are ever gonna get.”

Shaking her head, the sternness drains from her expression, but not the serious affect. “That means not dragging you along to chase down my personal ghosts.” There’s something about her tone that says that’s not the final note, and that he shouldn’t interrupt before she finishes. Even while she presses her lips together and seems to size him up for a moment. She knows better than most of their colleagues, she believes, how resilient Lance actually is.

She was there when he finally found his father, after all.

“I just want those maps, Lance.” The engine rumbles idly, white noise in the silence between them. “If you want to help me, you’ll help me find a safe way inside. If this goes wrong, it could cost me everything. I won’t have this tie back to you.” That means none of the Lighthouse Kids either. “Someone has to keep fighting the good fight. Survive, thrive, and deal with the enemy.”

As the car stops, Lance shifts to turn to face her as well; shifting to make room for his shoulder and arm, fingers anxiously drumming over his knee. He looks back at her for a long moment, and then he asks quietly, “What about somebody that can’t be tied back to me?”

“What about an adult with the same level of training, and a useful ability, that absolutely cannot be traced back to me without people who wouldn’t be willing to talk about it?”

He’s bargaining. She’s in trouble, and he wants to help.

Nicole narrows her eyes and looks as though she wants to shoot down the suggestion immediately. It’s like he can see the way she upgrades that situation to argue him down, then to what the fuck can I lose? through the minute changes in her expression, the angles of her brow and the crinkle of crows feet at the corners of her eyes.

“Rhys Bluthner exists.” And the implication is that she absolutely expects he’d be willing to talk about it. But it’s all the reminder she gives before she sighs her resignation with a roll of her eyes. “Who is it?”

Lance looks back at her challengingly, and as she starts to surrender to his repeated attempts at making her get help there’s just the hint of a smile. Not more than that. He knows this is a serious situation.

Then he snorts, “Even Rhys couldn’t connect her to me. Because he’d be chasing a connection to a different Lance.” One shoulder comes up in a shrug, “She goes by Deanna Cash.”

Nicole shakes her head immediately. “No.” That, it seems, is a name she recognizes. “Absolutely not.” Because that name can almost certainly be traced back to her eldest daughter, Nicole is certain. “No.”

Deflating some, Nicole hangs her head a moment. “She’s not a bad suggestion, Lance. But that’s exactly what I’m talking about. They shouldn’t have to keep this up either.” She means the travelers from the future.

Finally, she holds up a hand, relenting. “I will bring someone with me. I will have backup. Just… Trust me.” Lifting her head, she cracks a small grin. “I jumped out of a jet. While pregnant. I’ve got this.

“Oh, come on, she spends half her time standing around being a statue, she needs to get out more anyway,” is Lance’s protest, one hand lifting up before dropping back down to his knee with a slap against the denim. Then he sighs, his shoulders dropping.

“Fine. Fine. But if you end up dead, and you didn’t take any backup from the Lighthouse with you, I’m going to walk around for my entire life feeling guilty about it.”

“Look, if I get myself killed doing this, I solemnly swear you are allowed to have ‘I told that bitch so’ carved on my headstone,” Nicole keeps her hand held up as she says that, being as how she’s swearing an oath and all. “But you aren’t allowed to feel guilty about the choices I make.” Even if she knows all too well how it doesn’t work that way.

“I know I’m not offering you anything in exchange for this, but I promise if this pans out, it will have been worth it. I just need you to trust me.” Now, that hand stretches out across the physical divide between them, offered to him. “You’ll get me those maps?”

Lance regards her for a long moment. “You’re going into the most dangerous place on the east coast, without your ability, and I’m enabling you to do it,” he states with a roll of his eyes, “Yes, I’m allowed to feel guilty about this. How long do you think you’re going to be gone?”

He reaches out, reluctantly almost, to clasp the offered hand, “Because if you go over that time, I am absolutely going to go look for you.”

“I don’t know.” Nicole admits apologetically, though she still gives Lance’s hand a firm shake that conveys a certain degree of confidence. “I’m giving information to Lucille Ryans. If I don’t come back, she’ll have everything needed to start looking.”

Her posture relaxes finally as she withdraws her hand and leans back in her own seat. “I appreciate this, Lance. I’m going to play it smart, I just have to play it close to the vest. So, keep your nose clean and your head down, okay?”

“Just… try not to get killed out there,” says Lance seriously, leaning back in the car’s seat as she withdraws, head bouncing off the head-rest as it falls back, “There are some really bad people out that way. And God knows what else. We only ever skirted the edges, and that was only because we had to…”

“If I get killed,” Nicole reasons, “then I’ll never find out what happened to my babies.” So if nothing else, he should believe in her resolve to avenge her own pain, if not her sense of self-preservation.

Shifting the vehicle back into drive, Nicole flicks on the blinker, then pulls back onto the parkway. “Where can I take you? Back home?”

“Yeah, the Lanthorn,” Lance allows, “If you’re willing to drive me out there anyway.”

He glances back to her, and says quietly, “Brynn was on that plane too, you know. If you do get any answers… let us know?”

“I know,” Nicole flashes a tired smile in Lance’s direction. “That’s why I asked how your friend was doing.” She sighs then, turning off the parkway at the next intersection, moving them in the direction he needs to go. “If I find anything worth knowing, I’ll tell you when it’s safe to share. That’s the best you’ll get from me, so you can take it or leave it.”

“Oh. That’s who you meant?” Lance looks a bit sheepish, glancing out the window, “She’s more family than friend, she’s basically my sister. We all grew up together…”

Fingers drum over his messenger bag, and he notes, “Just try not to define safe based on some idea that I’m a kid, Agent Miller.”

Sister then,” Nicole corrects herself, a placating hand held up. That same placation applies when she addresses the next issue. “I won’t. If I don’t say anything, it’s not because I think you’re a kid. You just need to trust me. I’ve been around this block a few times.”

“So have we.” Lance waves the hand off, “Alright, alright. I said I’d get it written up for you, all the directions, some names of some smugglers who might be trustworthy.”

“You’re a peach, Gerken.”

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