Keep Talking


joseph_icon.gif khalid_icon.gif mona_icon.gif

Scene Title Keep Talking
Synopsis Two prisoners make an unusual connection.
Date September 25, 2009

New Jersey: 7411 Tranquility Lane

Time crunches down into measurements of breathing and heart beats, after a while. The burlap sack is rough against Mona's face and it takes away the ability to count the hours by the angle of the sun coming grimy through the window, although it's gotten warmer. Could be noon, or earlier. Her wrists tangled up on metal handcuffs, angling her arms back and around the wooden frame of the chair, caught there and unrelenting. Her ankles and shins are secured to the legs of the furniture, and there she's been left. A bedroom suitable for a young woman over a decade younger than she is, hidden from view for now.

It's been some time since she's had company, and the IV drip of drug into her system makes sure she has even less than that. But there's an undercurrent of something, the snatches of thoughts that echo vague.

One seems to be reaching out for something, as insignificant as a moth beating its wings against a window to try and get to the source of light. Perhaps even for her, perhaps not. The words sound as if they were being transmitted over the oldest of radios, all stops and starts, and a roundabout echo giving them a fuzzy edge at the edge of what counts as hearing for a telepath.

With the inability to make sense of the passage of time comes something more: the inability to coherently interpret much of anything else. For Mona, far more than the overlay of acute, physical pain, the silence is something deafening— a blanket of velvet, ringing emptiness. It's been decades since choruses of human, babbling voices had moved inside the depths of her brain to stay; now in their total absence, it's as if she's entombed in a breathless womb. Blind in every direction, every sense.

The telepath had been wrapped deep in sleep, the pained tingling caused by the awkward bend of her arms ignored as best as it can be. As they seep in, even as indistinct as they are, the words bring her senses round; her eyelids open up to an identical enclosure of blackness.

Oh. Right.

With what faculties she can, she reaches feebly towards that undercurrent, seeking to snare, grope up all traces of whatever her mind had happened to touch. «….Someone's there.» She's too numb to phrase it as a question, even, and she isn't even sure if the thought had winged past its drug-induced divide— or, if she's only thinking to herself, alone as ever. It's resigned enough, in any case.

The metaphorical moth hesitates, but in a sense, it's permitted entry. For a moment, its own silence contributes to Mona's surround deafness, for long enough that maybe she really was simply thinking to herself, wishful ideas that her power isn't as dead as it seems. But then, eventually, sharper focus and those vague echoes constrict into—

«Yes. Someone's there.»

Male, but how much more expression can be communicated in thought that is so easily done in voice? There's uncertainty, anyway, as if the receiver on the other end is having the same doubts the telepath did.

Mona's powers aren't alive enough to penetrate any further, lapping up surface thoughts flaking off from the whole like a bird mindlessly pecking up crumbs, something that had once come easily as breathing. What she's been explicitly given is what she gets. She clings to it nonetheless. «You're not one of them. Where are you?» 'Where' is a more important question like 'who' to her just now, her primary concern that of testing out the hazy limits of her ability. The the owner of other voice might be equally handicapped hadn't registered, or else she's refusing to let it.

Doubt is still there, but for what it can be, her own voice is composed enough to be firm without trying. What will waver in and out of focus is the overall volume, if anything: exhaust is nothing new to them both.

«I could ask the same of you.»

It wouldn't be the first time Joseph tripped over Humanis First lies, led up and down the garden and back again. But maybe there's something to be said about a mysterious, tenuous voice in his head from the efforts of prayer. That or he's going insane. And then it wouldn't much matter.

He can't see either, and his voice mutters quiet, too much so for the guard outside, for anyone but himself to hear with the burlap over his head, which does a little bit to mask the scent of human rot that has drenched his particular room. The words are looped back in thought - damned if he knows how this works - in their weak transmission. «First room up from the staircase.» There's a beat, time for him to ask the same. Instead, he asks—

«What's your name?»

«Mona. Mona Rao.» There's a moment of stretching silence from her end, not really of hesitation, but so that she can collect herself. The IV drip is one thing, but it also adds to faint discomfort on another level; the agitation of trying not to sink all her limbs back against the chair, back beneath the tide of heavy, welcome sleep. Questioning her own sanity isn't much of a priority, at least, and her own voice filters in sharper in what could be an ironic release of breath.

«You're within two hundred feet of me, then, even though I'm not sure where I am. Who're you?» If it's Humanis First! playing some kind of trick (and in that case she'd have to congratulate their resourcefulness), they'd already know that. If not— this is genuinely interesting.

There's hesitation, but ultimately— introducing himself to a voice in his head can't put him into any worse of a position than he is now. «Joseph Sumter. There's another, here. Felix Ivanov. I don't know where he is, just that he came here with me.» In the silence of his empty room, he shifts against his seat, suddenly restless against the bonds and the chafe of burlap. «How— ?»

«How are we doing this?»

«Telepathy. Me, I mean.» As Mona shifts her own leg against its bounds, her shin clonks up against an unknown but very solid slab of furniture. Pain lances sharp through bone, carries an audible, flinching wince into the psychic tone of her voice. «They drugged me, so it— I can't do much with it. I'm surprised I'm even talking to you.» And please, you keep talking too. Though that thought she deliberately keeps to herself, her breathing grows just a little ragged, and there's a snort. This suppressed-captivity thing sucks.

«Any suggestions on, I dunno. Getting out?»

Mona won't be able to hear it, the small breath of a bitter chuckle in reply. Eventually, there are words. «They took you to replace her. I think. The girl they had. She was meant to die with us, but she got free — she ran for it. This was before we came here. They found her in pieces. Stepped on a mine, or something.» It could be a wish to regret, that Joseph talk more, but this story is imparted to her with a feverish kind of urgency.

«There's no trying. No way out. They know what they're doing, you know? Hope's the worst.» There's a pause, almost embarrassed, before he states; «I'm sorry. I've been away a long time. Ivanov, even longer. They crippled him.»

What kind of reply does one make to that? Mona has none, not at first, letting a second of terseness tick by. «So they are planning to kill us, first and foremost. No more probes for information. No ransom.» That's interspersed with a syllable of a mirrored, clipped chuckle, one as humorless as can possibly be. Her eyes flicker about in the blind hollowness of burlap, the air she exhales just another breath atop itchy staleness. «They do know they're doing, it's clear… but keep on going. When'll it happen, do you know? Where, how— ?» It's pressing now, urgency unpurposefully turning it into a command.

"And why… you two?" That's unwittingly spoken aloud in addition to being transferred as a thought, voice crusted with bloody phlegm and hoarse from disuse in her ears.

«I'm sorry.» It's spoken again. No one likes to be told they're going to die, and it's been a knowledge drilled into Joseph since the 6th. «It's— I don't know when. I know it's going to be public, as far as what Ivanov and I can tell. So there's a chance they'll be stopped.» It's a reassurance, but it doesn't seem to be an effort made to reassure. A logical idea. «Or they'll mess up, and someone will come to us before then. But there's not much we can do.»

Not without winding up worse than they began or are destined to end. Joseph shifts where he's bound so similarly to Mona, bows his head to let fabric fall past his face rather than against it. «We're Evolved.» Bitter, bitter, and she would be able to infer that much. But it's the simple answer. «I'm a pastor. My church speaks out to people like us. Ivanov's a federal agent— they wanted information from him. They didn't kick me around for anything like that.»

Static pause, before his words again fill in that psychic space between their minds; «What about you? Why'd they bring you in? I'm really sorry they did. If she hadn't run, if we hadn't helped her— »

Guilty words abruptly finish there, silence in Mona's mind. There's a shimmer of a repeat apology, but Joseph tries to keep those thoughts down, to let her 'speak'.

«If it's not one, it's another. You couldn't have known, relax.» Again, what's she supposed to say? And if Mona was in a position to scrape at her eyes that would be neat, because they're sorely itching for it right now. She lets out a cursing groan, scuffling the fingertips from her hands into their nearby wooden posts, then lapsing still again. «They caught me following— what's his name? Donka, Donkey something around a time or two. It makes sense now. It's not like they knew I knew anything…» Thus, the only value she could possibly have to them is: ta-da.

Just outside Mona's debilitated psychic radius but not outside her range of hearing, it becomes possible to detect a large stir of life if only they could see it. A short glint of the whites of eyes, the methodic, undisguised tread of booted human feet. In the time they've been there, the easy and careless lilt of the third person's breathing might just be recognizable. Whether she had called it down upon herself by her half-disgusted struggles or whether it would have happened nonetheless, neither prisoner is free to stop the whud, whud, -whud- down the hallway and round the corner towards the rooms where both are separately trussed.

In that environment of still, silent blackness, Joseph will hear the footsteps grow in noise to a heartstopping apex, then bypass his entrance entirely.

«Danko,» is offered. If it's possible to be 'quiet' in tone, in this mode of communication, it's what Joseph almost achieves. «His name's Emile Danko. Then there's Bill Dean. A woman named Harlow. Don't trust them, don't trust any of them. Even if they try to— to bargain with you, or something, it's a game to them.»

And his thoughts still at that sound of foot steps passing his door, knowing guilty relief. Hard to tell if they're— headed out, or to Ivanov, or to Mona. He's silent, for a moment, as if to make sure he truly was passed by. Hands flex in their hand cuffs, back twists a little against the chair's rigid frame.

Then— «Speak of the devils. You might have company,» he feels moved to gently warn.

Not that Mona really needs the warning. There comes a sack-muffled 'fuck' as the footsteps, predictably enough, plod directly into her room and plant themselves there. "Hey there, lady." It's a casual and completely nonchalant greeting. Male, tenor, altogether different than Joseph's quiet voice projection in both volume and inflection.

As the burlap is ripped up and off her face by an unseen hand, the agent's breathing suddenly becomes sharper in a rush of fresh air and dirty sunlight, handcuffs and chains clanging against each other as they're unclasped and left to hang. Several beats tick by; it's one of Khalid's lifted brows that meets the telepath's tousled-haired, grubby, wrathfully murderous appearance. Her glowering silence is only met with an equally steady, appraising look and then an easy shrug. "Hope you're not too busy to give me a hand with something. You're not? Aaawesome. This'll totally just take a minute, I promise."

…That guilty relief came just a little too soon, because the very next stop on Kidnappee Express is Joseph's room. Instead of a single set of measured footsteps, now it's the wranged jostling of somebody being bodily dragged, dangling chains and ropes and all, down the dank corridor. Muffled cries of indignation can't quite escape the black-gloved hand clamped over Mona's jaw, and her feet kick—

-Bam-. The doorway had already been open, but Khalid roughly elbows it into the wall on his way in, its heavy framework creaking in bounced, forced reverberation. "S'up, pastorman."

Definitely too soon, and guilty relief is quick to turn into subtle, cold dread. Joseph shrinks back into his chair, and there are a few things for Mona to notice when she's bodily dragged along with the Humanis First operative. The room once belonged to a young girl, and has since become a den of aged sheets, dust, mysterious stains of water damage on the carpet and making rings in the ceiling. But more oppressively, there's a smell— one that can't possibly come from anything alive, dead matter and rot that doesn't come from anything in particular, but has continued to linger.

The pastor is bound in a way familiar to Mona - she's had the same treatment for the past week too, burlap sack and all. He wears what was once his Sunday best, minus a tie and jacket. The pale blue button down is rumpled, sweat stained, marked with spots of red here and there, and his navy slacks are in the same state. His shoes used to be polished black, and are now marked and scuffed.

"What do you want?" is hopelessly, sadly muffled, Tennessee drawl and all. Normally, he's stopped asking. But for Mona's sake, Joseph bites the bait.

The burlap sack is torn violently loose from Joseph's head, too, allowing suffocating darkness to drop away. They do say ignorance is bliss for a reason. A hooked punch from Khalid's fist cracks Mona's cheekbone, buckling her knees and hammering her face-first into the crook of his forearm. But she hadn't been knocked all the way into unconsciousness; her eyes settle blankly upwards onto Joseph's face even from her new, sagging, propped-up position like a spineless doll, a mountainous welt swelling on her exposed cheek. The Arab doesn't even look at her, the wiry arm that's cinched around her neck, sealing off her windpipe. Over her increasingly clawlike struggles to breathe, he lets his full attention rest on the pastor — his own gaze cool, his forehead creased quizzically.

"I think you know what it is we want," he answers with a stable but long-suffering glance, carelessly moving his hand out of the path of the liquid rivulet, mixed blood and saliva, trickling from Mona's mouth. Because clearly it's all Joseph's fault the situation had played out like this. Clearly.

"I heard you've been all over Bill about 'doing the right thing.' Self-righteous little guy, aren't you. Well — maybe you'll pick the right thing to do right now. It's all up to you."

Joseph flinches, visibly, as Mona is struck, his sympathy directed in a gaze down towards her, mingled as it is with his helplessness. He looks pale, tired, drawn. Deeper circles beneath his eyes could well be bruises, but aren't, only sleepless murkiness. Reluctantly, he drags his black-eyed gaze up to Khalid's face, dullness setting in as he shifts in his chair.

"Don't worry, I know you people aren't capable," is perhaps too glib to address these ones when the man in question has a stranglehold around the neck of a bound woman— but if there's one thing Joseph has learned, it's that any illusion of control is, in fact, illusion.

He draws in a breath through his nose, visibly trying to keep it together. He glances at her, jaw clenching, and he gives a slight head twitch, to get lank hair out of his eyes. "I'm not real interested in playin' games."

"…You think I'm playing? This isn't a game, man, for me or for you." To emphasize his point, Khalid stretches his other hand towards a sheath looped from his waist, drawing free the heavyset but sleek body of a Deba. Kitchen knife. Hardly something a Marine would usually carry; there's something to be said for the fact that this one even has a sheath. His grip encircling Mona's throat loosens, and she immediately relaxes in a heaving gasp for air, but he doesn't let her go. The woman's ankles, the only part of her still tied, wriggle ineffectually.

"See, when you don't lend a -hand- of your own free will, this is what happens." Without warning, just as the punch had come, he grips one of the telepath's wrists and turns it palm-upwards, holding it there. Drug-stupored, still reeling, she doesn't do much to resist even when he carefully steadies the thick, triangular blade just above the fold of her elbow. Three, two—

Human bone is harder than it's occasionally given credit for. The wooden-handled knife's cut sinks downwards in one swift, smooth bite, true, thanks to the force Khalid had put into it, but its blade lodges midway through. Knots of marrow bubble up from clean-cut bone alongside slopping blood, but the blade itself quivers — stuck, half a limb severed, half its work done. Leaving it momentarily, Khalid turns his focus back at Joseph, shrugs; the cell's walls seem too tiny to hold Mona's throaty shrieks. "Yeah, you were saying?

The air is driven out of Joseph's lungs as if he'd been physically attacked. His own groan is low, quiet, beneath the piercing cries from the telepath in front of him, bleeding free onto the faded carpet. With more vehemence than he has since he was first captured, the pastor yanks at his cuffs with a violent rattle, as if maybe they'd break here and now, out of pure necessity. "Son of a bitch," he curses, breathlessly, and only when the chair tips dangerously does he halt his effort.

«I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry…»

"Just stop. Please, stop. Tell me what you want. Just don't hurt her."

But there is no response forthcoming from Mona, either to Khalid or Joseph, possibly because now she is in the deadest of faints. An acknowledging smirk, the barest shadow of one, shows darkly on Khalid's face. "Don't be an ass, you know what we want. Names, places, info on whoever's leading your ring of mutants. Any would be a good start; I'm a reasonable guy!"

A reasonable guy who wants his knife back, that is. Easier said than done, but it's embedded at a point where it's less effort to finish than to try wrenching it back the other direction. With a grunt, he shoves it down the rest of the way and as it pops free at last, arcing down through empty air, Mona's arm simply -plops- onto the ground trailing tentacles of maroon-drenched pulp.

"And no, she's not gonna die now," he adds like an afterthought, giving Mona a downwards, rather inattentive glance. "We got big plans for her, just like we got plans for you. Nothing goes to waste, you see."

Which apparently also includes the severed limb. Bending to scoop up the haggard thing, Mona herself still caught in his supportive embrace, Khalid waves the arm — waves it quite merrily, deadlocked curling fingers jolting up and down centimeters from Joseph's face. Hi therrrre. "If you don't give me a satisfactory answer when I come back in an hour, I'll cut off every one of her goddamned digits — and Ivanov's, and yours, too."

Joseph shuts his eyes tight as Khalid waves the severed arm in a herkyjerky macabre wave, one he can't look at for too long. It hadn't been so long ago he'd spent an evening and a day or maybe more than that in the presence of a bucket of little girl parts, including an arm, and the memory rings sharp in his mind. No blue tinted substance abuse to wash it away with happier times.

When he opens his eyes, they're stung again with tears. "I understand," he states, in a tight voice, not meeting Khalid's own gaze as if chastened in some way, as opposed to so angry he can't see straight.

"That's my man." Kneeling so he can shove the burlap sack back over Joseph's head, Khalid also wipes his drenched knife on the abdomen of Joseph's button-down, one side after another. The blade still glints in a reddish veneer— it'll take more than a single wipe to get all that off— but now the bulk of it is in two long, hot, horizontal smears on the pale-blue fabric. Transferring Mona's one-armed torso over his shoulder like a sack of so much grain, the telepath's hair lolling in greasy strings, he takes his leave as indifferently as he had arrived.

Dashes of heavy, dropping blood follow him out, much like visible footprints left by a mischievous invisible ghost. Back to a world of four-walled solitude for Joseph, the only door rasping shut. Only one difference: now the good pastor has a new, metallic odor to enjoy in tandem with the stale flesh-rot already there.

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