Meeting of the Minds


eileen_icon.gif ruth_icon.gif

Scene Title Meeting of the Minds
Synopsis Ruth and Eileen come face to face for the first time.
Date November 11, 2009

Staten Island — Coast

The coast of Staten Island is as much of a presence as its inland, with rivers that invade right into its heart as well as cutting off the circulation of transport from the rest of New York City. The coastal regions reflect a lot of this borough's rural nature, with rough shores and plantlife, broken brick, and general abandonment. The harbors are left to the devices of those that freely come and go, a conspicuous lack of official presence - a number of them notably overrun by the developing crime syndicate, but there are still quite a few, particularly on the coasts nearest to Brooklyn and Manhattan, that are accessible to the lawful public.

It rained this morning, a steady cold drizzle that soaked — pretty much everything. Ruth's hair, bound back in a tail though it is, has the look of something that was soaked and allowed to dry on its own without the attention of a hairbrush. Her clothes, however — black long-sleeved shirt and black pants — don't give the same impression.

Now a little bit after noon, it's stopped raining, the clouds started to break up enough to give glimpses of pale blue sky here and there. Not much of it, but noticeable given that everything else in the area is colored in the orangey browns of water-soaked leaves, the muddy browns of damp bark, and the dull grays of drenched stone and sand. Except for the ocean, which is just plain gray; and the rusting hulks of dead boats down the beach, which aren't much else.

Ruth is seated at the base of a skeletal oak tree, on a square of thin blanket that does a little to insulate her from the damp soil; it's much the same color as said earth, otherwise unremarkable. Legs folded, eyes closed, she is kept company by a dog one could only describe as a mutt — rangy body, tawny coat, black-daubed muzzle, sharply triangular ears. He's stretched out at her side, chin resting against one of the woman's knees until a sound catches his attention and those pointy ears swivel towards it.

The young woman who steps into view is a typical example of a Staten Island resident, her small frame bundled in a thick woolen coat worn open and dark hair covered by a black scarf knotted under her chin. The leather of her shoulder holster stands out against the oversized sweater she wears under it, though the pistol itself is conspicuously absent from her side and sits in the seat of her right hand, gloved fingers hooked around its matte grip.

Ruth might recognize her face from the Vanguard dossiers. If she does, then it makes the fact that Eileen Ruskin isn't leveling the weapon with the other woman's chest even more remarkable than it already is. Gray eyes tinged with green flick once between the soldier and the dog, nervous tension manifesting in her neck and shoulders as an invisible stiffness impossible to detect beneath her clothes without putting hands on her — and she's still too far away for that.

It's Ruth's job to know these things — the faces, among other things, that she may happen across in her scouting. But for the moment, her eyes remain closed; it's the dog who lifts his head a little higher, pricks his ears a little more forward, voices a short, sharp warning bark. It doesn't take any particular talent to interpret that: don't you come any closer.

It's the sound that gets Ruth's attention, brings her eyes fluttering open; she's quick to focus on Eileen, even if her first words are for the dog; soft assurance in an opaque language that causes his head to swivel around. His ears remain angled towards Eileen, and it isn't long before he returns to warily watching her.

Dark eyes lift to the younger woman, the approaching woman, the familiar face; but if the face is familiar, it seems to evoke no concern. She doesn't move. "Good day."

It was a cat before. This time, it's a dog. In all her travels, Eileen has only met a handful of animal telepaths — Lucrezia Bennati included — and it's with a mild but perplexed expression that she returns Ruth's gaze and holds it steady. Just as Lucrezia's sphere of influence is limited to creatures with multiple legs, prickly feelers and brittle wings that buzz and snap, Eileen can only reach out and brush the minds of birds. To meet someone whose realm extends beyond one type of living thing is as unsettling as it is inscrutable.

"Yes," she says, unmoving from her position by the piece of driftwood the grackle had perched upon the first time their minds met. The dog bothers her more than the cat did, and she's in a human body this time. It doesn't need to tell her twice. "I know you."

"And I know of you," the seated woman replies equably. Now she moves, drawing herself upwards, fingers deftly grabbing the edge of the blanket in the process; the dog yields to its motion with the muted disgruntlement of one who's been disturbed similarly many times before, taking a few steps away and stretching out his forelegs with a wide yawn.

Ruth watches him stretch, folding the blanket into a small, thick square. She seems not to be looking at Eileen, or perhaps only watching her from the edge of her vision; the dog, being a dog, is consistently direct in his consideration. "I can send him away, if you prefer."

The pistol is placed back in its holster with some trepidation, but still Eileen does not come any closer. Ruth is alone; there are birds in trees for a half mile that will all readily attest to this and a red-tailed hawk weaving lazy circles high overhead, both eyes turned to the shore. The incident with the tabby tom aside, it's difficult to sneak up on Eileen outdoors unless she's amenable to being snuck up on. "He can stay," she says of the dog. "I just don't like him."

She moves parallel to the water's edge, intent on working the excess energy from her legs without closing any of the distance between herself and the other woman, and not just because there's a muzzle full of incisive teeth at her command. "How do you do that?"

Alone, save for whatever other creatures are in the vicinity — and not even the hawk's eyes count them all. But then, whatever the hawk misses is unlikely to be useful to Ruth in a direct confrontation. She looks down at the dog for a moment, then speaks a single word; he eyes her in return, then flops down on the wet leaf-layer and plants his muzzle on his forelegs. The impression of a chastised child is both inadvertant and inaccurate.

Ruth lifts her gaze to watch Eileen walk down the shoreline. "You might as well ask how I breathe," she replies, inferring the context of the avian telepath's question. "Although doctors could give you a technical answer in that case. In this — I do, and they do, and why we meet in the middle is nothing but mystery."

"You're not from here." Eileen doesn't pose it as a question, though it isn't exactly an accusation either. Her tone is clipped, terse, and a byproduct of general anxiety rather than any ire directed purposefully at Ruth. Her boots crunch across stone, flick a tangle of fetid seaweed from her left toe and come to rest where the crag meets the sand, tall stalks of dead grass sticking out from between the rocks and tipped with beads of moisture. Nearby, a gull with a chip missing from its tapered beak pauses in its preening, plumage ruffled, and turns to regard the dog as if noticing it for the first time with one beady yellow eye.

There are others like it perched on the rotted hulls of wayward ships bent and broken on the rocks, their hulls eaten away by rust. What remains is covered in a sickly amalgamation of dead lichen, barnacles, and bird droppings crusted over with sand and dirt. The air smells like salt. "What are you doing on Staten Island?"

She isn't from here; it's as obvious a statement as could be, and Ruth does Eileen the courtesy of not misinterpreting it as a question. She watches the younger woman walk with a quiescent stillness to her demeanor — not predatory in the slightest, but patient, reflective. The patience with which one might wait, breadcrumbs scattered about, for a bird to overcome its fear and swoop in to forage. "Listening," Ruth replies simply. "Observing." She glances down at the dog. "And, it seems, looking for you."

"Looking for me," Eileen repeats. If Ruth is hoping for foraging, then she's likely to be disappointed; her gaze sharpens, pale eyes even paler when illuminated by the light, and she pauses to scrutinize her face from behind dark lashes hooded against the glare of the sun. There's no amount of breadcrumbs capable of tempting her today, not as she begins to formulate a clearer picture of who Ruth might be. "Well," she says. "You've succeeded in that. What's next?"

If she's hoping for anything, her expression fails to give it away. Only a small, lopsided smile; a shake of her head that sends a shiver through the tail of bound-back black hair. "No next is needed," Ruth replies. "Curiosity is its own end, and I have my answer." A twitch of her fingers brings the dog to his feet, the Native American woman half-turning away from her companion. Half, because she stops before completing the motion, Eileen caught at the very periphery of her view. "Or perhaps —" A beat of silence that could be construed as hesitation. "The bird, the grackle. What became of it?"

Not a question that Eileen anticipated Ruth might ask. There's a moment of stilted silence on her end, cracked by a flicker of something like amusement crinkling at the corners of her eyes and pursed mouth. She thins out her lips, perhaps to keep from smiling — not that she smiles very much these days. "It's been tended to," she assures Ruth. "Fishing for minnows again in no time, I'm sure."

A twitch of Ruth's lips belatedly mirrors Eileen — response to her answer, not mimicry of the younger woman's amusement. "Good." The dog presses his head against her free hand, and she ruffles his fur absently in response to the prompting. "I'm glad to hear it." Which seems to mark the end of Ruth's few questions; she completes her turn, and steps away.

Eileen lets Ruth go, her own curiosity slaked, attention divided between woman and dog. She doesn't move to pursue, either; whatever tacit agreement allowing them to interact in the here and now ends at the tree-line where spindly shadows draw fingers through the sand and welcome trespassers into the wood with gnarled arms. The gull tucks its head under wing and gives a brisk shake of its tail feathers when Eileen liberates it from her control.

The next time they meet, it probably won't be under such capricious or fanciful circumstances. She carries her pistol in its holster for many reasons, only one of which is Ruth's people — the ones in staunchly pressed uniform, not fur, scales or feathers.

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