Late-Nite Riddles


emily3_icon.gif richard_icon.gif

Scene Title Late-Nite Riddles
Synopsis In a panic after she wakes from a dream, Emily phones someone she trusts to have answers, even if they're unpleasant.
Date August 10, 2019

Laudani-Epstein Townhome, Sheepshead Bay, NYC Safe Zone

It’s four o’clock in the morning, and the phone is ringing. When it buzzes away into peaceable silence, the screen darkening, the reprieve is brief, practically inconsequential.

Because it’s ringing again almost immediately after.

On the other end of the line, metaphorical as it is, Emily Epstein is pacing, phone smashed against the side of her face with her hand halfway threaded back through her hair, sitting on top of her head. The lamp on her desk is lit, multiple sheets of paper scribbled with notes before she’d thrown the pen aside because she needed to talk this through with someone.

And Gillian’s phone wasn’t even ringing. It was going straight to voicemail.

“Come on, Richard,” she mutters into the receiver while it chirps, still ringing. Literally a string of words she’d never envisioned herself saying in that tone of voice. “Pick up the fucking phone.”

It’s four o’clock in the morning. Fortunately, Richard Ray has always been nocturnal by nature.

After several rings, the phone’s picked up and the voice on the other end - quite awake, and sharply aware - answers. “If you’re in danger or under coercion, cough twice,” is Richard’s way of answering the phone at this particular hour, it seems.

Maybe he assumes the only people calling at four in the morning are being held hostage.

Or that the only way Emily would call him is due to being held hostage.

"What?" Bewildered, Emily almost peels the phone away from her ear to stare at it, but she closes herself off to the need and shuts her eyes. "Jesus, no, just—"

Her other hand comes away from her scalp, balled into a fist to steady herself. "Listen." she implores. "Gillian isn't picking up, I don't even know where the fuck she is at this point, I don't know if she'll even get my message in time, and I can't just— sit with this."

The way her tone shifts, it's almost easy to imagine the pointed look that would be cast his direction, one instead received by the drowsy kitten sitting on the end of her bed. "Listen, I know you're the secret counter-Illuminati chess king, I figured it out months ago. So please, don't hang up and just—"

Emily would ask for him to listen, but she realizes she's said that already. She needs to get around to the point, the thing that's tripping her up.

"I found Squeaks," she cuts herself off by saying. "Sort of. I— I made contact with her through a dream and…" A beat passes, then another before she lets out a frustrated tone, trying to make a split second decision as to what was more important to declare first. "She said…" is as far as she gets before she shakes her head. Her voice is clearer, more determined as she picks back up the thread she keeps dropping. "She told me she's in a giant pyramid and there's other people. A city-pyramid. Do you know of any place like that?"

At the reassurance that she’s not being coerced into calling him, Richard’s breath whispers against the phone’s speaker in a brief exhalation. That’s his immediate worry taken care of, at least.

There’s the sound of a body falling into a chair, wood creaking. “I didn’t exactly make it difficult to find out,” he admits, “And I’m listening, Jesus, just talk.”

The revelation that she’s spoken with the missing girl, where she is, is met with silence until she’s finished. Then he grunts, the phone shifting. She can almost see him rubbing his face with his hand in that way that he has.

“Praxis,” he says quietly, “She’s in California.”

Even though that should be a relief to have a solid location, a clear answer — Emily’s stomach sinks. Her floating hand falls back down by her side. She doesn’t even have a quip for how bad a job he was doing at founding a secret society if everybody knew who he secretly-actually was.

“God damn it,” she murmurs. Kettle chirps on the bed, paws stretched out before him. Emily paces away, looking out the window without really seeing the world beyond at all.

“Richard,” is said in a way that implies she’s not sure what to do. “Adam Monroe told her he’s her father.”

Should anything be done?

Her voice is quieter, the frenzy in it lessened, weighted in place thanks to the missing information he’d provided. “She was saying … that those experiments that got leaked on the Praxis site— there were two— Gemini and Umbra— someone had done them to her. She went looking for answers, about that, and she ended up being fucking kidnapped and taken.” Emily finally breathes, only to let out an uneasy note in it. “She tried to defend him, saying he wasn’t like what anyone else was saying— that what he’s done, he’s done it so he can save the world.”

It’s effort to keep her voice down, but flare bleeds into it anyway. “It’s the same bullshit line they fucking fed Devon when he had him.”

She breathes again, her shoulders slumping down and forward. It feels like a nightmare, and she wishes it had been, honestly. But she couldn’t have made this up if she tried.

That revelation brings silence for a long moment, followed by another sigh. “That… tracks,” Richard admits quietly into the phone, “Around then they were doing a lot of experiments on him, even— well. I know a few other of his children. We already knew that her biological mother was a surrogate.”

He grunts, “Might even be another one of Claudia’s— no. No, not blonde. No way of knowing without the Archive, and even then it’s probably been redacted.”

“He’s… honestly, I believe him,” he admits, “He’s being a fucking idiot, but I believe him. We might all even be able to work together if he wasn’t being such a goddamned diva about this whole thing. He’s afraid, so he’s trying to seem fucking mysterious instead. That’s one of the pages in my playbook, that goddamn…”

Breaking off, “How did she find him? Where did she find those answers?”

It’s Emily’s turn to go quiet, not even certain what to address in that. Richard believes him? Her eyes roam the dark aimlessly, trying to reconcile mutterings down into bite-sized facts she can worry about later. To that end, she breaks away from the window and heads back to her desk, flipping over one of her pieces of scratch paper to begin writing again. “She…” the teen manages before she sighs. “She went through someone named Zhao. If I had to put money on it, it’s that fucking Ghost Triads guy Joe brought up when we were putting together the Amber Alert canvassing. He said something about an old asian guy who ‘knew too much’.”

Head shaking, she continues to pen and talk at the same time. “Zhao took her, made her swear to not reach out to anyone because it was ‘dangerous’ to.” Her voice drops, faint. “And she fucking listened.”

She swallows hard, tapping the tip of her pen against the desk. “I’m guessing she learned out in California. She said Adam was looking into why she was used for Umbra, that he was angry about it. It…” Her expression twists, and it’s with apology she says, “I fucked up. I woke up too soon. There really wasn’t much else she was able to tell me.”

“She sassed me and said I wasn’t there, so I couldn’t tell her shit, like that she was in danger where she was. But my skin’s crawling thinking about where she is, about who she’s with.”

Emily draws in a breath. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Zhao? Christ, that figures… some cockroaches never stay dead,” Richard makes a sound in the back of his throat, “Been a long time since I’ve seen that bald bastard. And no— there wouldn’t be. Monroe’d know that we’d have ways to reach out to her, that it’s an inevitability. He wouldn’t tell her anything too sensitive that she might pass back to us.”

“Umbra… that tracks too,” he muses, “We don’t have any records of what it was, but since all my records of Monroe-related experiments around that time period involve his limbs getting removed and poked with sticks, I imagine he’s not thrilled, no.”

Then he chuckles, not ungently, “There’s not anything you can do. If you can explain how you made contact, report it to SESA. Regardless, tell Gillian when you get in touch with her. Let people know she’s…. Safe-ish, at least. The other possibilities on the table were worse, really. Monroe likely won’t hurt her, although she might get hurt due to her proximity to him.”

“He’s a monster, but he has a soft spot for family.”

The words do little to bring her any measure of comfort, even knowing things could be so much worse than they are. Emily sits in silence, her eyes closed, her elbows coming to rest on her knees while her stomach turns. She might stay like that for some time, but the kitten leaps on top of the desk, one paw slipping on paper. “Kettle,” she scolds fiercely while she lifts her head, shooing him away with a wave of her hand. Even then, it still takes a moment for her to get her thoughts together.

She slumps back in her seat, hand hanging off the side of her neck while she looks up at the ceiling. “Yeah, but what if telling SESA fucks with that? You said he’s scared. Who’s to say the government coming knocking wouldn’t spook the skin off of him?”

And that was only if Gillian didn’t get there first, she reflects. Emily’s brow furrows. What if he wanted to hold on to her and moved her before Gillian got there if SESA acted fast enough on the information?

“… The fuck would a guy like Adam Monroe be scared of, anyway, apart from negation?” she wonders aloud.

“It’s not the government that he’s afraid of,” confirms Richard with a heavy sigh, one hand rubbing over his face on the other side of the phone, the rasp of five o’clock shadow against callused skin briefly audible, “It’s the Dragon. He didn’t do very well against it the last time, and the time before that he’d rather not repeat either, I suspect…”

He clears his throat, “And, frankly, if she’s there willingly there’s jack-shit-all that the government can do — he’s with his biological daughter who’s there willingly.”

"The fuck they can't," Emily declares hotly, regardless of how right she is or isn't. "She's a goddamned minor and a registered missing person besides. On what fucking paperwork does he have the right—?"

"The bigger issue," she says to herself to attempt to rein herself back in, "would be if he hurts her or moves her before Gillian can close in on them. I mean— I feel like this should be her call; how much should be immediately told to SESA. She's just…" Her fingers massage awkwardly at the side of her neck while she gropes for what to say. Emily ends up sighing at herself in frustration. "Asleep right now or something, probably. You know, like a reasonable person. She's definitely not— not already run afoul of Adam Monroe's people or anything. Right?"

"Right." Emily answers herself, too afraid of what Richard might potentially say otherwise to immediately allow him the space to answer.

Her gaze flits up at an invisible, underlined topic in something else he had said. "Richard, tell me dragons aren't real."

There’s silence for a few moments, perhaps deciding which question to answer first before Richard speaks again. “Praxia’s essentially its own country,” he says in tones that suggest he’s not happy about that, “Literally there’s no legal way to get her back, especially if she’s unwilling to leave and is there willingly, Emily.”

“Gillian can— take care of herself,” he admits, though reluctantly, “Get in touch with her in the morning if you can, though, let her know what you found out. She probably shouldn’t go marching into the middle of Praxia, she’s way too tempting a target— I’d really rather she break her ‘not kidnapped in 7 years’ record by making it eight, maybe nine or ten before she gets kidnapped again. Maybe even ‘ever again’, that’d be nice.”

He doesn’t answer, about dragons. Not yet.

It's an answer she'd laugh at, if she could muster up a sense of humor. Given they're already talking about one kidnapping victim, though, she just can't find the will for it. Nor an immediate answer at all, it seems. Instead, Emily leans even further back in her seat, eyes closing in an attempt to keep it together. Yelling about the situation wouldn't do anything at all, especially not at this time of night.

"I'll try her again," she says, trying and failing to keep stress from her voice. "Text her and leave her a voicemail if nothing else. Hope she gets those. All I can do. Right?"

She grimaces at that. It's something she knew from the start, and yet she'd picked up the phone anyway. "Sorry— for the panic call. Just… I didn't know who else… might know."

"And you figured it out right away," Emily points out evenly. "So." She feels justified about it all, anyway, and that's a distraction that serves well against all the answers she's received being unhappy ones. It's better to know, she feels. At least with this one thing.

“You don’t need to apologize,” is Richard’s statement, and it’s a firm one, “You needed to talk to someone who might have answers, and you called me. That was the right thing to do. Even if they weren’t the answers you were hoping for.”

A rueful note creeps into his voice, “That’s how most answers tend to be, unfortunately, but we never stop hoping the answers might be better.”

For a moment, Emily thinks she might have more to say there, but old tendencies kick in. It manifests as sitting upright, head swinging forward again, chin tucking in while she glances to the side. Her eyes narrow, the temptation to speak pulling at her as much as the desire to withdraw.

“Thanks,” is as much as she’s able to muster, commiseration in her tone. There’s layers to it, ones she tries to not acknowledge by grinding the heel of her palm against the top of her thigh before she shakes her head.

“Have a good night,” she mutters quickly. “Congratulations on your wedding again.”

Then the line goes dead. There was at least that much before it went.

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