Just Rewards


francois_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Just Rewards
Synopsis Teo shows Francois the fruits of 2009, who learns that the more things change, the more things stay the same when invited to help save the world, and more importantly, who with.
Date November 19, 2009

Suresh Center: Ground Floor

The lobby of the Suresh Center is an open, very well-lit space; the exterior walls are more window than wall. There's a raised half-level on the right side of the irregularly-shaped room as one walks in, carpeted in pine-green, decked with oak furniture and small table lamps; a comfortable-looking space, with actual living plants at the top of the stairs and scattered here and there elsewise. Continuing to the left brings one to the receptionist's desk, a small vending area located just beyond that.

Passing the receptionist brings a visitor to the core of the building. Here are the Kastin and Chapman auditoria, named for donors who provided the money that built them; rooms designed to seat many people for lectures and presentations, equipped with large projector screens, pervasive sound systems, and video recorders. Four conference rooms fill out the central section, reduced in scale but no less comprehensively outfitted. The wings which branch off to either side contain rows of classrooms: smaller, more private and personal, some with installed technology and some with nothing more elaborate than a whiteboard.

The classrooms, conference rooms, and auditoria are all available for public use; anyone who wants to reserve one may do so for a nominal fee, be it to teach a class, hold a meeting, or present a seminar. There are no restrictions on subject, nor even the credentials of the instructor or lecturer, though the Center waives all liability for courses taught by a third party (which is all of them). These courses and seminars are all by definition open to the public. Donations may be requested, or small fees charged, particularly for courses with a materials cost.

I'm a friend of Abigail's. Welcome to 2009. Want to get out of here?

— was how it went. Teo brought a car, in case wrapping his thighs around another man's hips was simply Not Done in the days that Francois Allegre was raised in, with or without distinguishing awkwardness like Teodoro's other nickname. You know the one. Nicker, trot. It had taken Teo the better part of an hour, Google's search results glowing up from his lap and his mouth hanging insipidly slightly open, to come up with something that represented the era, not the 21st century, but the world post-Bomb, Evolved exposed, economy staggered, the Verazzano-Narrows bridge rubbled and Kazimir Volken immortalized and magnified in the act of his destruction. It was hard to come up with something nice. Something good, in all this, if not for the children running in the Garden's garden barefoot or tea boiled with the late Mage's set, the disenfranchised refugees clinging to the patina of joy residual to their meager existences.

In the end, Teo takes him to the Chandra Suresh Memorial Center. Classes are in session, full-swing, including the miniscule children's group for pre-adolescent manifestations and its diverse array of instructors and a lecturer speaking on the militarization of the Evolved around the world, and the equivalent of a weight-training gym class for telekinetics. Exposure to those classrooms and facilities are fairly fleeting, however, when one partakes in the visitors' tour at eleven-thirty AM.

There is a lunch break in the cafeteria, which is characterized by furniture uniform only in its cleanliness, welcomingly bright colors offset by the reassuring glint of industrial steel. The croissant is flakey and dry, but merely supplementary, compared to the number of spreadsheet, molecular diagrams and newsreels they were privvy to, information by the square tonnage conveyed in organized bullet points, framed borders, and the guide— pretty redhead with a tidy waist— coincidentally multilingual. Oui, c'est hereditaire, mais le gene, un gene, appert retrograde. She talks like a hummingbird even as she picks at melon slices with a dainty fork. It'll be astonishing if there are any questions left in the ending panel at all. The single father with his desperate grip on the kindergardeners' brochure is obviously flirting with her.

"Brought you something," Teo says, pushing a glossy white box across the table-top. It's only slightly squashed, letters and a cartoon pastry set curlicued on the surface. For the nth time, he reminds himself not to stare. "Hope you like lemon meringue."

Francois wouldn't admit to clinging to Abigail's sleeve— or anyone's sleeve— for the time he's been around. During his instances of not clinging to sleeves, she managed to give him clothing, shoes, food and shelter. Accepting these things weren't damaging to pride, incidentally - it isn't the first time, the second, or even the third time Francois has accepted some form of charity, and it won't be the last time, either. This time, too, like many other times, it was truly necessary.

It's just. He usually has one reliable thing with which to pay back. The jacket is one designed to guard against the weather, a practical long-sleeved sweater beneath that untucked over jeans, and comfortable shoes that are durable enough to withstand trekking around the Garden. He has his chin rested on two linked hands, elbows on the table and mind wandering as much as his eyes roam the cafeteria with as much interest in it as he has for everything this building is.

He hasn't said much to Teo, about this place, save for murmured questions, ah's and nods in response. Soon, Francois will wake up. Not, like, that he isn't paying attention, but wake up in a sense that he will open his eyes to Louisiana sunlight and the last few gulps of humid summer air.

It's been a few days, though. Starting from his reverie, Francois looks across at Teo and then down at the offering. An easy smile spreads across his face, elbows off the table and hands coming down to pull it closer, merci as he opens the lid to inspect the dessert inside. He hasn't commented on the staring, either, but it's the other thing and not that that he decides to put a voice to. "This place is impossible. In a good sense."

Teo thinks that is an unexpected word from this man. Impossible, that is; not good, because he's met Abigail who is and continues to be an almost absurd, almost parodied paragon of things righteous, bedrocked in decency and well-intended, but impossible's peculiarly flattering, for a cafeteria with fluorescent lights, crappy carbohydrate regimens, and auditoriums that evoke chilling memories of restless daydreams, pins and needles, bad grades.

Or maybe Teodoro just hesitates to acknowledge any sort of success in framing 2009 in more than misery. But hey. Hey. Why not? Die a couple times, find yourself temporally displaced, traumatically reborn, privileged to a bubblegum-pink caretaker and a spot of cake. Couldn't be wrong to pencil this in as a good day. The corner of Teo's mouth lifts and it's like there should be the sound of cracking clay with it. "I think you're supposed to be, too. In the good sense. Have you met him yet?" A glance flicked sidelong, not quite furtive at the redhead and her orbiting suitors. "Other-you?"

There'd been a lot to fill Francois in, about the state of the world, and other-him didn't get passed over. To which Abigail had gotten some silence before he'd continued to help with the dishes as she'd continued on speaking over his head. This time, he has cake, and its stabbed with a plastic fork in liue of watching soapy water drip down porcelain. Still, he does respond, verbally and everything in his accent-brushed voice. "Ah, non. I don't think so." He allows doubt to lace through his voice, because it's better, more honest than awkward politeness. "I met— the gift bearer only very briefly." And Francois likes himself enough not to strangle himself and hit girls in the process.

So. "It sounds strange to me. It was not the same as when I had the gift. As with Abby." Francois allows his gaze to wonder towards the omnilingual redhead and her smiles to the parent, fork hovering over his cake before decisively stabbing it again. Back to Teo. "Have you? Met it."

"I have," Teo answers, and his smile grows marginally less brittle in the answering. He watches the teeth of the Frenchman's fork claw apart icing and syrupy yellow drizzle. It looks like childhood. Wouldn't be surprised if it tastes like childhood too. "It's like Fate herself took notice that Flint Deckard didn't really have a reality principled Ego to mediate between his angry adolescent fire-making compulsions and his Superego, so it sent an abstract entity through the most unexpected channels of space, time, and true love and ambushed him to protect him from himself.

"As much as anything can, anyway." He's met It, apparently, but perhaps the more surprising thing is the Sicilian's relationship with its current host, and possibly also the fact that he doesn't— apparently— know that Deckard did something else that warrants strangulation lately. He wags his cardboard cup of crappy Espresso, a fidget both pensive and restless. "It says it's memory, but you don't seem to have lost much— if any of yours. All that time, those places. France, South America, Louisiana."

He's been mysterious~ a long time. People get bored as quickly as he gets restless and so there aren't a lot of people in history or otherwise who ever knew the times and trials of Francois Allegre, except those who made it their business to. That his life is laid open in personal journals and mapped out for this band of people to mark is weird. The smile he trades across the table at Teo is less easy than the one that lit up at the presentation of cake, but not insincere.

"Much of Europe, also. Russia, Poland, Belgium. Italy, a longer time ago." You know, despite the fascists, but no one was really convinced about that, after a while, especially not the Italians. "I remember as much as a man can remember. It's life, too, n'est-ce pas? I still have that as well. Abigail says she did not get along with it."

The it word doesn't seem particularly conscious or malicious, simply lacking in anything better. What he does seem minutely troubled by is Abby not liking his representational personality overlaying healing and memory, rattling about in Deckard's body. "I am not sure why she came back for me." He's already asked Eileen, and Hiro— well. He hasn't seen him since.

Fascist Italy is not something that this Italian is particularly well-educated about: his cultural conceits, enamorment with the notion of home, and sea, the dirty films and sweating market squares all but deliberately exclude from his self-reflection. Teo hears Italy and thinks of sea, dirty films, and sweating market squares instead of fascism.

"Oui." A beat's hesitation, before he gives in: "C'est la vie."

He hears of Russia and thinks of the plane ride coming up. The nuclear warheads after that, Fedor's dark news before, the persistent niggle of Fate and karmic progression that seems to have followed him since childhood, even when he took a telekinetic blade to his brain and back-flipped a decade through time. It's an uncomfortable crowd of croissant-time thoughts.

"Some people think we're in a war," he says, feeling abrupt but no more awkward than the subject itself presents itself as. Tiny beaded bubbles pop in the froth rimming his coffee. Life is crazy lately, or he'd hesitate to talk about this here but there's a plane ticket with his legal name on it, no radio chatter. "Not just your ability versus Volken's, but. Ignorance, bigotry, against their kind, the Evolved. They say there are lots of ways to fight it. Teaching here, donating goods to the Salvation's Light Church, telling your kids not to discriminate. Paying your taxes.

"An hour out of your week as you go about your day-to-day life. You could do that." There's a circuitous motion of his forefinger, pointing over his shoulder at the lunch ladies tied up in apron strings and hairnets. Some of them are even smiling. "It would be a good deal. Just rewards. Have you been thinking about it?"

He eats as Teo talks, attentive even as he does so, teeth scraping cream and denser frosting from the fork at polite intervals, poking spokes back into it and sitting back in his chair. It tastes as bad for him as it is, and his bites are bird-like nibbles rather than childish exuberance, which isn't to say he doesn't enjoy it, or isn't making crumbs. Curiousity is plagued by puzzlement at those last words, before Francois lifts his gaze to take in the space around them—

Oh. Another smile, unstoppable and wry. "Well, I have little else but time. But in times of war, if they are not wrong, I am not sure if it would be better spent here. I am not even convinced I'm part of this war. Or this place." He gestures to it in the same way as Teo, except he uses the fork in his hand. "I am…

"Ah," is an apologetic sound, one Teo might know. The kind you make when English becomes a wall rather than a bridge. "I do not know, if there is a word for— people are not Evolved?"

"Non-Evolved," Teo answers, careful not to come off unnecessarily wry in the saying so. Yes, it's a little obvious or bald-faced, but— "Normals, mundanes. Human beings, sometimes. As opposed to the alternatives, I guess. I won't bore you with the most graphic crudeness New York City's underserved high school demographic can provide." His smile is fainter, eyes crescent-shaped and crows' feet splayed out briefly at their corners. The gesture about the culinary assembly line had been sort of an accident.

"So was I, when I started out. On the side of the mutants. Or equality, depending on how you look at it. Helping out, until Volken happened. Then suddenly pistols were for a little more than self-defense." There were probably more stepping stones along that particular story than those mentioned, but it doesn't feel much less sudden than the way he describes it. One day he's a teacher at Washington Irving; the next, half the student body is dead or have limbs missing, are traumatized for life.

"Who would you go back to, in '94?"

Non-Evolved. Mild disapproval writes itself across otherwise impassive features, and gone as quick as lightning as Francois brings a hand to up to itch a jaw shadowed in stubble. Names are names are— he's a non-, now. The difference between starting out and finishing as such, is, well. This. There is sympathy, kind of, in his expression when the words 'until Volken happened'. Until the invasion, until the tanks in the streets, until the war. It's always sudden, like the frog in the pot is suddenly cooked.

"Who?" he echoes, surprise in his voice and the lift of his eyebrows. "There is no one I miss. When I was killed," because that's mostly how he sees it, even if he never truly died, "I was already moving on. I miss the summer, I suppose, already."

The lid of the glossy white box is closed, smoothing its edges, the dregs of cake left over inside to be tossed away. "Perhaps that sounds callous. But it is not something I have to concern myself with, non?" That seems a genuine question. They aren't shoving him back through time, right? They being the only people in the world who know of his existence, this small collection of superheroes.

The buxom redhead is having difficulty herding her cats enough to head to the auditorium for the final QA. Something about a booking clash, according to the aide who hastens up to her shoulder with apologies; her smile turns brittle, like someone had poured glaze over it— or that it was already glazed and only now asked to sustain pressure and heat. A lecturer from Germany with analogies to draw to Nazi politics, no doubt. Aggravating.

Teo swivels his eyes away and takes up the box discarded out of the Frenchman's hands. Stacks it onto his plate, seating all items in rough balance on the corrugated plastic of his tray. "I don't think so. Not unless you want to. I mean," there's hedging, the blond golden retriever bumping shoulders with the coarse-hackled wolf where they coexist inside his skull. "I figure you can't hide under a rock f'rever. You'll— Vous— " The lapse into French is intentional. The lapse into French is choreographed. Both. Either.

Teodoro's brow knots in frustration, less at himself than the lack of clarity that comes with his intent; not even he is sure what he means to do here, whether it is to be understood or to conceal his true motivations. Pale eyes tick up at Francois' face, sidle away on a spider-legged skitter. He lifts the tray up and stands, keeps his voice conversational, lower than their companions can hear. "«You'll have to tell someone. You'll have to do— something. Start over, keep fighting.»"

he rock is nice, though, and warm, and a good place to finally curl up and rest and age and do all those human things he hasn't been doing. It's too early to say if Francois will start cramping from it. He watches Teo stand up before following, hands fixing his jacket around him, smoothing the collar of wrinkles and cake crumbs. "«Start over, keep fighting.»" Another echo, as if it show Teo how unlike these two concepts are to each other, his smile sudden. He continues in French, at a slower pace than rapid-fire for the Sicilian's sake.

"«I do not want to go back, no. I'm glad to see the new millennium, and glad you showed me this place and how things became more different in a decade and some than they did for the rest of my existence. Who should I tell, Teo?»"

He glances towards where the group is congregating for the final leg of the tour, although remains standing opposite the cafeteria table with its fake wood and child-proof edges. "«The last time I fought someone else's war that was also my own was in my home country, and even then, I had my gift. After that, I followed Volken to the ends of the earth, and continued following him even when I knew I could do little but help as many people as he harmed. You propose I should continue this?"»

He doesn't seem critical, allowing for a pause before he asks, in English, "How?"

Tray rattles against the squared maw of the trash can, shedding its contents to the inscrutable processes of eventual landfills or recycling, Teo dunnos. Probably recycling, though. That kind of treehugging liberal garbage seems to go hand-in-hand with holding hands with mutant-kind. He adds the tray to the stack above, turns to find the lunch-time crowd dwindled to odd clumps and snatches, their tour group filtering out and Francois unmindful of being left behind.

Graceful about that the way he was about effectively having died, Teo imagines. Life being its series of departures, it leaves one occasionally to stall at the prospect of rejoining, particularly when the circumstances of one's involvement in so much crazy paramilitary shit left little margin for deliberate choice other than the fundamental requirement that one go on. Also, the keen awareness that there are more immedate problems and prospects than the QA panel, or Nazi analogies—

Already, he's smiling rueful as a humored mutt that the Frenchman's doing his French real slow and easy. He walks back up to the other man the same way, putting his hands into his pockets and rounding his shoulders down around a slouch that's more braggadocio than neurotic humility.

"We're going after intel on Volken's nukes," he answers. "CIA, ex-Vanguard, independent oracles, ex-KGB, some other clandestine organizations— God knows who else. Hitting up old contacts and locations, I guess. Some— investigative process. It seems like a… reasonable proportion of the people being pulled into this thing aren't getting asked— " Eileen collapsing through rain, the drops and her hands sparking open in white relief on the pavement; Raith sending him home. Ghost snickers something unkind in his mind's ear. Teo curls the corner of his mouth downward. "But I thought it'd be nice to ask."

Francois fidgets by pushing his chair back into place, but listening intently all the same, with a different kind of interest than he'd listened to the redheaded woman. He feels a little silly that he knows surprise at Teo's last words, because it makes a lot of sense, suddenly. This outing, and the conversation, and the fact he exists still. And Eileen's delicate words, too, when he'd asked her if he was here out of a kindness or a function.

Business or pleasure? "Merci," is a wry response, as his hands find his pockets, listening to the last sounds of their tour group abandoning them. The Nazi thing is vaguely interesting, though, in a morbid curiousity kind of way. But Volken outshines it.

"I think I laid down my arms when I was told I wasn't allowed to do as you're asking me now. Not unless I desired to live. That was almost forty years ago, for me. I would not do it again. And so oui. Yes." He's good at stoic, and so Teo won't mundanely really be aware of the anxious note his heartbeat has taken, somewhat inexplicably, but it has much to do with his answer, and what happened forty-fifty years ago.

You're allowed to be relieved even if you aren't necessarily surprised. It's nice that Teo isn't surprised: means that cynicism hasn't caked over and petrified his soul. Oh, good. This is better. He loves Catherine Chesterfield and Abigail Beauchamp to death, and thinks the world of himself of course, don't get him wrong, but it is better to have someone along who knows more.

Even if Francois does seem to be susceptible to the same tar-pits and cobwebs of fatalistic ~destiny~ as the rest of them. What little differences one can induce in the inertia of things to come, one will try.

Francois' anxiety goes overlooked, mostly by accident. Teo's pushing a furtive glance over his shoulder, straightening his jacket in his hands, palming his cellphone as he goes, annnnd essentially getting distracted from the sympathetic details of Francois' emotional response by the deal with the Devil to be made to facilitate this process. "You'll need paperwork, I think. More importantly, you'll need to be registered as an ally on the radar of people who can make sure you won't get shot by friendlies. Do you know about— "

It occurs to him between this syllable and the next that Hana would be hitting him over the head with furniture about now.

"— the Company?"

Emotional responses aren't for other people, anyway. Blank journal pages, perhaps, which is ironic considering where they ended up. A lot of Teo's words go marching by unheard as he tries to pick through the tangled mess of his own motives, wishes, and wants, and other such irrelevancies that had always defined his war, but pays attention to that last one because it was intoned in a way that suggests a capital C and a certain kind of gravitas.

Francois waits for a moment, to see if the company will be named. His fingers are linked together in front of him, hands joined casually, arms slack. "Non," he finally responds, not shyly, and offers the younger man a smile, a hand out to brush palm to shoulder in a comradely urge so that they could stop standing in the middle of the cafeteria. "Tell me what must happen and we'll see. I have worked on my own for a long time."

Younger man falls into step with older. And it's nice to know for once, without room for doubt, that no matter how he adds up his lifetimes or weights particularly heavy ones with suffering here or unbelievable crisis there, Teo is the younger one, here. "I wouldn't trust them with anything I didn't have to.

"They're international, harbor a lot of secrets, many of them illegal for reasons as benign as invasion of privacy and awful as abduction. Prone to intrigues," he adds, after a momentary pause to allow a woman and her mop to past, a twist to his voice. It isn't a joke, but he knows: how awful all this must sound. "Experiments and research, all of it centered around the Evolved— the genetic condition, the science, the politics. But it's that secrecy they're useful for. They don't share with the law as often as they do, and they don't ask for as much information or… standards as generic or rigorous as the military would. But they have influence over and within both.

"Most of their agents are legally recognized as Department of Homeland Security agents." Teodoro rounds the blunt corner of a table, measures an oblique glance at the older man, considering. "I think I'm in danger of assuming that you're no stranger to sharing space and supplies with the necessary evils."

Francois never stops walking, and as ever, he's silent as Teo talks. There is, however, a stiffness to his spine and when they do think to meet eyes in a companionable glance, the Frenchman does very little to veil the overt distaste he has for the description Teo's attributing to this particular clandestine organisation. Or rather, the organisation itself. At that question, he looks away and down, chin tucking in as he regards his feet pacing blindly over the stretch of slick, freshly mopped floor.

"Oui. You are not wrong. The Allied soldiers and the Resistance fighters could be described as such, more often than they were not. I have also shared plenty of space and time with the unnecessary evils. Do you know of Dachau, Germany?"

A genuinely inquiring glance, before he adds, "I do. I knew it and its facility for perhaps nine months, before the Americans granted me and many others our liberty. Volken was interested, also, in experiments and research, often centred around what we did not call the 'Evolved' back then. They were not very secret. They did not have to be."

If he's refusing, going back on his easy and impulsive agreement, it's very subtle.

By 'subtle,' the listener takes to mean, so vague he's in paranoid distraught and grasping wildly about the basic framework of Francois' objection for the true extent of its meaning. Two distinct urges war in Teo then. The first, to smile, nod, bring him out back and bean him in the brick in the midst of showing and warning him that earlier models of automobiles still do not have escape buttons from the insides of the back trunks. The second, to squirm laterally through some delicate wording, ply Francois with—

"If I could be sure of another way, I'd tell you. Please, uomo." A hand bumps into Francois' arm, requesting he stop, the curl of faintly scabbed fingers too loose to have ever anticipated a grab or real force. A gaggle of mid-sized children scampers by toward their donut-shaped reward for a series of presentations well-done. Teo's glance askance follows them a yard down the polished floor before snapping up to hold Francois' gaze again. "The world needs you. It's trite when it isn't true but it is. Abby needs you, and so do I: there's only the three of us going, and our experience with the Vanguard is at best, very fucking limited. We can't not go; we can't not try. And I can't— not do everything I can to make sure Cat and Abigail are going to be safe when we do. I'll owe you that much."

The children pass harmlessly by, their professor with them. Laughter hiccups out as the hinges swivel and clap. No one pays mind to the unaccountably grim-faced Europeans in their little huddle.

"Non. That is what you owe Abigail, and her companion. And yourself. What I am owed is information about this thing I've agreed to." Less angry, more haughty in vague affront, which possibly can be predicted for someone who's existed for the better part of a century and doesn't look very far past 30 despite it all. Even so, Francois allows a mild twist of a smile on his face, rocking back a step although he doesn't resume their meandering pace, not since Teo had halted them.

His gaze flicks on over towards where the sun is still breaking high through cloud, enough to spill in through pristine windows. "And perhaps, your thoughts on what becomes of evils when they stop being necessary, but I imagine we will have time for that. «It would have been too much to ask to sleep and wake up in a dream. I had only hoped that some things would have changed.»

"«But it is as I said. Impossible.» What are we doing now?" The question is asked brightly, head tilted.

It was — an affront Teo had realized he might accidentally deliver, in broaching the possibility that Francois was backing out, but better a little honest desperation, he thinks, than a blunt trauma blow over the back of a dude's head and summary abduction. Or anything like that. His grin's small, sheepishly asymmetrical, unmistakably relieved again. "If you're in, I have your back. 'S what I meant. As for information— I typed some of it up, and I think there's probably going to be a Special Agent or two you'll need to meet.

"Do you like movies?" There's a quizzical eyebrow popping out of joint on Teo's forehead. He isn't quite as bad at following other-people's unwonted swerves and leaps of conversation anymore, so the query asked with the saucy songbird crick of Francois' neck doesn't leave him flailing entirely helpless, even if, you know, Teodoro Laudani could have been perfectly happy espousing principle and great calling for hours on end. Fine, ruin his groove. "There are a few popular ones out.

"The alternative would be discussing Grigori Zhukovsky, I think, but there's timing on that sort of thing. And factors. Serious business. Not— necessary, yet," Teodoro finally finishes, clanking agreeable to a deferral for a later time. There are a few hours left for escapism yet. Teo folds into a long stride toward the plateglass doors, fluffy-skeined clouds and the translucent fingernail curve of a daytime moon.

Francois moves at his heels, hands back into his pockets, quiet for a few seconds before he admits; "I do not know that name, Grigori Zhukovsky, but I did try to find those that Volken made allies of. Perhaps they will not all be dead and retired. I will share all I know - that was…" His smile turns rueful, chin tucking in to regard his feet as they go before his head lifts again. "That had been what I had hoped I could do, if I could not face him myself. So oui. I am 'in'."

He trades a smile, one that is slightly removed from busy thoughts and cake exchanges, though one would not think the former as he adds, "The last film I saw was The Nightmare Before Christmas. I regret missing Jurassic Park."

"I guess the height of Internet piracy was before your time, too." Teo's shadow blinks out into the broad square of sunlight, and the two emerge out of the Suresh Center's facade. Francois was right: this place is impossible. They look like dreadfully misappropriated and cheaply painted toys bumbling through the lawn that seems like a giant model upon which the shabbier fabrication of the actual construct, all minimalist lines and friendly colors. Despite being somewhat less than the most polished of hosts, however, Teo is too polite to press Francois with more of the names that Raith and Holden had given him, taking the older man's propensity for animatronic dinosaurs in stride. "I think it's as much a side-effect of human nature as of the economic crisis. This may call for the Internet, more'n an exorbitantly-priced cinematographic experience."

A beat.

"I'm poor," Teo explains, automatically lifting his hand to pull the hood over the scraggled roof of his head. They have that in 2009, too. Paranoia and poverty.

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