Like Smoke on the Wind


aviators_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif

Scene Title Like Smoke on the Wind
Synopsis Two individuals on opposite sides of the fence meet halfway for an exchange.
Date June 14, 2010

Brooklyn: Green-Wood Cemetery

Beneath the bough of a towering blue spruce a lonely grave sits nestled in the shadows cast by the coniferous tree. A lonely headstone of weathered marble that has seen two world wars and the upheaval of modern society's revelation that the supernatural was, in fact, quite natural. On that headstone is inscribed a misleading name; misleading to those who know it under another context at any rate.

Eileen Amelia Spurling


Beside the headstone and under the dappled sunlight filtering irregularly through the branches, a tall and tired-looking man regards the grave marker with quiet scrutiny. Lost in his thoughts it's hard to tell that what Avi Epstein is offering is anything but mourning, the only tell behind the wandering stare hidden behind the mirrored lenses of his aviator sunglasses.

Hands tucked into the pockets of his navy blue slacks, Epstein stands in waiting by this grave marker, head bowed and brows furrowed. Just a few hundred yards away there's a mausoleum with a loose brick on its northeastern face used to relay messages back and forth in clandestine fashion with someone not on the United States Government's national security cabinet, a woman who wears the name on this grave marker as a mask, and who just yesterday received a simple message from that loose brick at the mausoleum.

We need to talk, I'll be mourning at high noon.

Avi Epstein may not have anyone to mourn here in this old grave covered with moss and lichen, but he does have plenty of reasons to be concerned, thousands of them in fact, and each one a very different window into a troubling future.

There are a few things wrong with this picture. Take, for instance, the fifty-five year old man grieving for a young woman who died more than three decades before he was even born. Fortunately, there's no one around to analyze such small but significant details except for the hunchbacked raven perched in the spruce's highest branches, sunlight glittering in its oily feathers. It's been standing guard over the marker for as long as Epstein has, and it's a low croak squeezed out of its beak that eventually announces he's no longer alone.

She's dressed down in simple clothes including a charcoal gray dress with black lace trim, light wool cardigan and tinted nylons that end in a pair of smart-looking shoes designed with both comfort and style in mind while her hair, dark as ever, is twisted into a knot at the back of her head and held in place by a combination of bobby pins and silver clasp with a white carnation pinned to it.

The only thing out of place is the embroidered handkerchief she's holding to her mouth as she approaches, heedless of the dew still clinging to the grass or the remains of the morning fog that's yet to burn off under the midday sun.

Twisted to look over his shoulder, Epstein's smirk is a bit of painted one, though the cat-call whistle that accompanies it may not be entirely so. "You know if anyone could make a funeral attractive it'd be you…" is said as if this were a casual greeting. Fully turning to regard Eileen, Avi pays no heed to the bird perched a story up in the branches. "Glad you actually came in person, ain't too fond of the whole bird-speak thing hissing in the back of my head…"

Taking a few steps across the damp grass, Avi meets up with Eileen's approach and brows furrowed when he considers the handkerchief she's holding. "Tell me you aren't sick…" he grumbles with a lean back and away from Eileen, one brow raised and a grimace spread across his face as if to imply don't get me sick too.

The handkerchief comes away stained with either lipstick or blood, but any attempt Avi might make to discern which are defeated by the slow curl of her fingers as she crushes it into her palm and leaves only slivers of white visible between her pale knuckles. Not only did she come in person — she came by herself.

The only shadow at her back is her own. "I'm not sick," she tells him, and her voice is so hoarse, so quiet that he can't tell whether she's saying it because it's true or because her asked her to, but she at least sounds sincere.

Which probably means that she's confident the man she's standing only a few paces away from is who he claims to be and not the one who sometimes wears his face and has twice tried to separate her from the cap of her skull. "What do you need?"

"I need to know what the fuck happened on Thursday," is the clear and sucinct answer. "Nobody inside the intelligence community seems to have a fuck of a clue on this, and everyone is running around like a goddamned chicken with their fucking head cut off trying to piece this shit together." There's something of an accusatory tone in his voice, if only in the idea that she might be holding out on him. "I know you're up to your snatch in Staten Island and all of the projections the NSA's analysts have come up with seem to show Staten Island as the center point for the outlier visions."

Rolling his tongue over his teeth, Avi turns his head to the side and spits on the grass like he pulled something unfortunate from between his teeth. Looking back at Eileen, the angle of his head is just enough to afford a fleeting glimpe at the ruined socket that was his right eye before he pushes his sunglasses back upt o hide it.

"Tell me you know something," Avi pleads with a shake of his head, "because there's a lot of scared people with a lot of guns looking for an explanation."

Not a lot of time elapses between Avi's request and Eileen's answer. She's had days to review what information she has available to her, but even if she hadn't — it isn't much. Her limited knowledge about the situation is as responsible for her brevity as her physical condition, and although she hasn't got much breath on hand, she has even less intelligence to give. "Three of our operatives went missing," she says. "Gillian Childs was one of them. The other is precognitive." He can make of that what he will. Eileen leaves speculation to those more qualified to do it. People like—

"Chesterfield has a few theories but nothing concrete. We know the neurotoxin from Madagascar was involved in at least one of the abductions, and that Childs was removed from the scene in a coffin like the ones my people recovered from we took that vaccine shipment the other month." One haggard exhale later, she's raising the handkerchief to her mouth again and murmuring hard against it. "Did you see anything?"

"No," sounds almost like a disappointed answer, "I was in DC for a security council meeting." Reaching up to rub a hand across his forehead, Avi shakes his head slowly and turns away from Eileen, exasperatedly sighing in response to the fact that he isn't likely to have more information coming out of this meeting than he did going in. "Whatever happened, it's got everyone in a panic. You probably heard Secretary Praeger on the radio telling everyone it's going to be okay…" which judging from the tone of Avi's voice implies that it surely isn't going to be okay.

"After the weather thing…" there's a crease of his brows, "after the weather thing there's a lot of scared people in Washington willing to sign whatever anti-evolved legislation comes down the pipe into being." His chin tilts up, head turns to regard Eileen again and dark brows crease together. "I take it that you don't have any actionable evidence that the Institute was actually responsible for anything?"

"If I did, do you honestly believe it would make a difference?" Eileen's voice might be muffled by the fabric of her handkerchief, but her words are terse enough that they're easy to understand. Her very pointed way of speaking helps. "FBI, CIA, DARPA. Fashionable swastikas, remember?"

If nothing else, it's a clear indication that she was listening the last time she sought him out. "You can provide your superiors will all the evidence you like, but if they're on board with whatever it is Broome's working on, you'll find yourself back in Afghanistan if you're lucky and a shallow grave if you're not."

And a shallow grave is probably not where she or Jensen want him to be. Afghanistan is preferable, if only just. "Play dumb, Avi. You can do more good where you are than you can drawing attention to yourself."

"It'd make me feel better," is Avi's sarcastic answer. "Look, your people need to disperse, like fucking smoke on the wind. I don't know what cocked-up ideas you're looking at right now, I don't know if you're thinking of trying to hammerdown on any of this because of what you might've seen, but you need to disperse. I don't care how much good you think you're doing, how many lives you're saving from tyrranny or whatever the fuck puts you to bed at night… but there is some serious shit coming down the pipe that throwing rocks isn't going to make go away."

"Compared to what's coming," Aviators adds, "throwing rocks is all you're going to be able to do." Reaching inside of his jacket, Avi produces a small manilla envelope and offers it out to Eileen. "It's not a lot, but it's something. It's a list of prisons, eight in total, across the United States that currently have Evolved detainees. Most of them are super-max penitentiaries out west, a couple of them are DHS holding facilities. None of them happen to be the Institute." Avi's brows furrow and his chin tilts up slowly. "I'm giving you this because I want you to realize exactly the lengths the government is willing to go to maintain control right now."

Motioning for Eileen to open the folder, Aviators waits until the flap has been pulled back and the documents withdrawn. The header, Project Einherjar, has something of a weighty term behind it. But even at a glance, Eileen can begin to see where this government agenda is headed. "They want to take Evolved prisoners out of lockup and put them in Frontline suits. Buy their freedom through public service as security personnel, cover up their identities, keep the public from realizing that felons are suddenly enforcing the law."

Eileen lowers her handkerchief to take the folder with that same hand, and this time there's no mistaking the blood transferred from the fabric to the paper when she opens it and surveys the contents from beneath her lashes. First Operation Apollo, now Operation Einherjar. If it isn't Vanguard drawing on old Norse mythology, it's one of the entities it went up against—

And lost. Maybe the Americans are entitled. Do naming conventions count as spoils of war? "My people aren't going to throw rocks when we can use them to build a fortress," she assures Avi. "Don't mistake us for PARIAH." Paper rustles. Wind frees several flyaway strands of brown-black hair from her bun and blows them across her face. Up in the tree, branches are rattling.

The sunshine won't last. There's more than a proverbial storm brewing on the horizon. "There's another organization pulling together. I don't have any details for you, but I get the feeling they're going to make Spalding look like a saint."

"Wonderful," is all Avi has to say at that, one hand rubbing across his mouth slowly. "Chop one down and another bag a nut-jobs come bouncing up right in their place. I don't mean to play your side of the fence for you, Ruskin, but this isn't the middle ages. There aren't any fortifications anymore, nothing but hiding and running. You can't hunker down, you can't shore yourselves up, because the moment the turtle pokes his head inside a shell, he gets a boot stomped down on him so hard his guts shoot out the sides. Don't be the turtle, be the hare. Run."

Looking up to the bough of the tree, Avi's lips downturn into a frown and his shoulders slack some. "Should've brought an umbrella…" he comments idly to the weather, then looks back down to Eileen with a worried expression. "If anyone sees me," is the sudden change of both tone and conversation, "saw me— in— " he waves a hand with wiggling fingers into the air, "you know, the future, give me a head's up?"

Eileen tucks the folder and its contents into her cardigan and holds the garment shut with the clasp of her fingers. The first droplets of rain appear on the marker as darker beads that glisten silver in the rapidly diminishing sunlight, and it isn't long before more are visible in her hair and clinging to the weave of her clothes. There's no other way for her protect the paperwork.

The stubborn set of her jaw and firm mouth let Avi know that the Englishwoman has no intention of running. What she says instead is, "Consider this your heads up: speak with Jensen."

That Avi rolls his eye is hidden by the sunglasses he wears, but the parting of his lips and theatrical sigh helps emphasize that point. He turns his back on Eileen, scrubbing one hand at the back of his head and raking fingers through the scruff of his hair. "If I told you in a really whiny voice that I don't wanna, would you just tell me what he saw?" There's a crooked smile that crosses Avi's lips as he turns to look over his shoulder to Eileen, then back to the headstone now darkening with the droplets of falling rain.

"I'll talk to him…" is dismissively mumbled, but curiosity often gets the better of this particular cat. "Take my advice, Eileen, get out of the States and don't look back. Find some nice white sand beach on some island somewhere and live the rest of your days out, because otherwise…" Avi's head shakes slowly, his words trailing off.

"See ya, kid." It's both a farewell, and the end of his sentence.

Eileen stays behind, rainwater glancing off the bare skin of her neck and pale face, lightly at first, but it's only a few minutes before the precipitation is coming down hard enough to fill her ears with the sound of it spattering against marble headstones and the sloping roofs of the mausoleums that line the cemetery's lanes.

Up in the safety of the tree, Bran isn't any happier than Eileen is on the ground and while there's nothing to physically stop her from following Avi's lead, she finds it impossible to tear herself away from the inscription. "Everything dies," she tells the raven. Behind her lip, she runs her tongue across pink-tinged teeth. "Birds, tortoises.


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