adam_icon.gif adrienne2_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Also Featuring:

sabine_icon.gif val_icon.gif

Scene Title Mendacious
Synopsis adj. not telling the truth; lying.
Date January 28, 2020

Miller Residence
Providence, New Jersey Pine Barrens
January 28th
7:12 am

The end of January is a cold, unforgiving time of year. In the New Jersey Pine Barrens there is only a scant layer of snow covering the ground, but the air has a bitterness to it that slips like a knife between layers of clothing, remorseless and unrelenting. That bitter cold creates rings of frost along the edges of each window pane inside of Zachery Miller’s remote home in the settlement of Providence, securely tucked away within walls of pine boughs.

There’s a chill in the air of Zachery’s that no amount of fire on the wood stove will help get out. The walls are cold, the floor too. The basement is, surprisingly, the warmest place in the entire home, and for Zachery that may be an ironically cold comfort. At least for today he is without a restraint tethering him to a single point in space with the constant press of a cold metal cuff at his ankle. Today, appearances must be maintained. Today, they’re all upstairs.

Looking out over the top of a cracked ceramic mug steaming with coffee, Adrienne Allen is tense. She has been all morning, and for good enough reasons. Her fingers partly hide the sun-bleached logo on the mug of a yellow smiley face and pink text that was once read Don’t Worry, Be Happy across it. There’s a lot to worry about.

Today is the dawn of the final day.

“I just want you both to know I appreciate this,” is how Adrienne breaks a long moment of silence, staring out one of the frost-ringed windows to the snow-dappled yard. “Even if this goes poorly and it gets us all killed, this is the closest I’ve been to free in years.” Adrienne looks at Zachery and Yi-Min Yeh’s muted reflections in the window, then turns to face then while taking a sip of her coffee. “How long until the courier arrives?”

When Adrienne's eyes find him, Zachery has - for once - looked worse. He's standing toward the middle of the room, leaning with one hand against an upright piano and running the palm of his other hand over a shaved jawline.

With the swelling of his foot having gone down enough for him to wear shoes for the first time in a month, he's been able to get properly dressed and he looks almost respectable in the peacoat he's chosen to put on to fend off the chilly air, with a grey scarf just tucked into the collar. Should things go awry, at least he'll leave a vaguely presentable corpse.

The look he offers Adrienne is not one of kindness, and his answer comes with a modicum of weariness on his voice. "A few minutes." He shifts his weight to straighten up and pulls away from the piano, hands finding each other as they fold behind his back. Though there are many things to say on the subject of freedom, he lets his attention drift to Yi-Min instead, mouth miraculously staying shut.

Of the three of them gathered together in that spot, only Yi-Min appears to be in a state that betrays neither tenseness nor weariness. To a glance, she is nothing more or less than her normal serene self, seated as she is on one of the wingbacks near the piano with her hands draped delicately over the top of her crossed legs.

All the same, there is something that imbues the glitter of expectation on her gaze with a far stranger intensity, as though a casual glimpse into a black pool containing far too much calm. None of this changes when Adrienne makes her statement. Yi-Min meets the eyes of the French woman's clouded reflection with only silence at first.

Like Zachery, her response doesn't hold outright kindness either, but it's at least said softly enough to not disavow the notion entirely. "This was not done for you," is what she has to say of the matter. Nothing but the truth, there. "Still, I am glad that it could come about."

Genuinely: small, happy accidents like these were all too rare in Yi-Min's work.

Especially in light of the minefield of uncertainties that still lay ahead of them all.

Starting with this risky maneuver.

Right on time, there is a sudden eruption of a heat-mirage ripple and shimmering dispersions of rainbow-hued light, like sunlight through a prism. An instant later a young woman in an oversized wool sweater made of of rainbow colors with a head of cotton-candy pink hair manifests in the middle of Zachery’s apartment near the front door. Adrienne sucks in a sharp breath when Valerie Swift manifests instead of Wenzhuo Zhao, who she expected based on previous conversations.

Val is a stranger to Zachery, but Yi-Min knows her as originating from the second of three pods of clones that Lanhua Chen belongs to. Val flashes a cheerful smile, in spite of being a harbinger of the end times, and scuffs a few steps forward on worn-out sneakers. “I’m here to collect the package?” She says, unsure of herself. Regardless, sleeve-shrouded hands extend out in the universal gesture for gimmie.

Zachery takes a heavy step back, intent observation of the teleportation effects cut short when a stranger appears in his living room. A stranger with a vaguely familiar face, though the how of that doesn't quite click. Which brings about a visible confusion that beats his response to her arrival into an amelodic rhythm, even if his words remain spoken sharply enough to cut — "I'm afraid there's been a… complication." He announces, before immediately tacking on, "Excuse me, who are you?"

He angles a flat look at Adrienne, then Yi-Min again, expectant and gesturing vaguely toward their new visitor in his own universal gesture for who the fuck is this.

Yi-Min's last interaction with the overly-colorful intruder who crops up right in front of them is not one that she remembers well, but it is enough. Ignoring the startled reactions from both her companions, she neither rises from her seat nor even uncrosses her legs when she sees Val's approach.

Expression unchanging and stonily calm, the Taiwanese woman appears to be unmoved by the gesture of Val outstretching her arms towards them. "We have what you seek, but we shall only be delivering it into the hands of Adam himself. Its contents are… too important to risk otherwise." The tone that she uses is very mild. Just verging on apologetic, without quite making it all the way there.

"We're sorry. I'm sure you understand."

“N-no?” Val flicks a confused look between Yi-Min, Zachery, and Adrienne. When her attention circles back to Yi-Min she shakes her head, lips parted in the attempt to speak but not really being certain what to say. Zachery’s question of identity loses priority in the face of a hard pass. “You can’t— I mean— um,” her brows knit together, uncertainty is plainly visible on her features.

“She said no,” Adrienne reinforces. “You can tell him that we’re not handing the package off to a courier. Our lives depend on whether it reaches him or not. He comes here, or he gets nothing.

Val sucks in a sharp breath, looking down at the floor, then again just helplessly looks between Zachery, Yi-Min, and Adrienne. Her mouth hangs open, slowly closes, and like a puppy told it has to stay outside, Val hunches her shoulders forward and then just vanishes in a whirl of heat-mirage distortion and scintillating bands of iridescent light.

Adrienne slides her tongue across the inside of her cheek and looks to Zachery, then Yi-Min, one brow raised. “Now what?”

Some wayward thought pulls at a corner of Zachery's mouth, crow's feet deepening. As if what's lead to this moment - and the sheer amount to which everything in his life has gotten out of hand is somehow funny. Comforting.

His head dips, a hand coming up to tug his scarf away from his face a little before slipping idly into a pocket. "Now we find out what happens when you say no to the man everyone tells you to fear, I suppose."

Zachery had been fairly close with that summary. The spirit of it is right enough, even if the details are wrong: their shared gambit has been set into motion, and it is too late to take it back.

Yi-Min breathes in, the fingers of one hand curling on her armrest with an insightful, nearly imperceptible slowness as she stares through the space where Val had dematerialized. Her mouth is still set into a faint line, conveying a mood of knowing apprehension that nevertheless doesn't rule out the possibility of humor, even if their situation makes it less likely.

"Well. Not quite. Whatever happens, in the end… we shall not be saying no to him."

Adrienne only now exhales a breath she’d been holding since Val’s arrival. Her shoulders slack and, at least for the time being, the tension drains out of her. “We don’t know when we should expect a response…” she explains, offering a quick look over to Zachery. “We should be prepared for anything.”

Adrienne has been stressed today more so than ever, and with a visible effort to steady her trembling hands she decides to do something else about it. “I am going to step out for a smoke,” she explains, retrieving a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and knocking a single cigarette out.

“Someone scream if there is trouble,” Adrienne adds on her way to the door.

Two Hours Later

Anticipation is more often than not worse than the actual incident. Getting a shot at the doctor’s office, delivering bad news, receiving an unwanted phone call. Or, in this case, staving off genocide.

A pack of cigarettes sits on the kitchen counter in Zachery’s house, halfway depleted. Adrienne stands just outside on the front porch, cigarette in hand, watching the dirt path that winds up to the house and the forest beyond. She’s bundled up against the cold, brows knitted together and one arm wrapped around her waist. Ever since she came back in from her first cigarette she’s been distant, keeping to herself and her own space. It’s been two hours and there’s been no sign of Monroe, no calls,


The front door opens with a creak of weight on dry hinges as it's elbowed open just enough for Zachery to slip outside. When he rounds it, he lands a little too hard on his left foot, easily betraying some of the trouble his right is still giving him.

Still, when he settles his back against the outside wall, it looks like the nothing of the last two hours might be treating him much more favourably. There is no worry on his face, no tension as he takes some of the chill down into his lungs with a deep inhale.

A mug of steaming hot coffee is offered in Adrienne's direction. The last time he did this, it was still accompanied by a tray. This time, by the somewhat dry crack of a joke cast into the open air rather than directly at her. "Be honest. You're going to miss me."

He sounds less than confident about this.

If the anticipation of waiting for hours without further sign has translated into any worry on Yi-Min's part, she also hides it well. What there has been is a degree of extra, elusive purposefulness to the way she's gone back to conducting business as usual. It is an air of keen alertness more than anything else, prevented from becoming true tension by the fact of their readiness.

Whatever would be now, would be.

With their preparations finished, there has been little enough for Yi-Min to do during this interlude. She had already enjoyed her tea earlier this morning, as well. Before the question of seconds—

Her gloved hand catches the door that Zachery drops behind himself before it can properly close, and a minute later, Yi-Min has joined the other two outside. Instead of leaning against the wall of the house in the way that he does, she stands a little apart from it beside Adrienne’s quiet figure, allowing her shaded gaze to settle off into the dark distance of the treeline. Her arms cross loosely, over her chest.

I can’t imagine what I am going to do without this world-ending excitement in my life."

Adrienne’s side-long look to Zachery slips past the coffee and to Yi-Min, then back to the offered cup. There’s a tense crease of her brows, a moment of uncertainty and hesitation that she hasn’t exhibited in the past, followed by a tentative test of her hand outward toward the cup but not quite touching it. She smiles, a flash of one at least that maybe was a grimace, then withdraws her hand. “Maybe I have had enough for one day, no?” She asks with a look up from the cup to Zachery.

Something is amiss, though, and it isn’t just her lack of desire for something warm in the cold. To Yi-Min the exchange has one specific context, that Adrienne is either nervous or her stomach is perhaps upset from the diet of nicotine and caffeine she’s been ritualistically ingesting for days. But Zachery possesses a sixth sense Yi-Min doesn’t, and when Adrienne simply doesn’t register on it, there are a number of silent alarms that fire behind his eyes. At this proximity Zachery should feel any number of physical conditions of the Frenchwoman, but instead she is as much a void to him as a footstool is. She doesn’t even rank with birds. He has only ever encountered this incongruence once before, at Garza’s penthouse in Rochester, when he noticed the absence within Khalid Sadaka.

That’s when Zachery senses the third presence on the front porch, some three feet away from where Adrienne is actually standing. The biology and injuries he detects on a glance are consistent with the unseen figure from Garza’s penthouse during that Shedda Dinu meeting. The figure who was intangible behind Khalid’s chair.

Adrienne smiles, more confidently, and her void and the unseen figure overlap. She takes the cup in hand, shaking her head. “I suppose one more cup won’t kill me.”

Zachery is not given enough time to process this sudden paradigm shift; the interpositioning of something that is both familiar and alien at once. Out of his periphery he feels a sudden rush of air and catches sight of what Yi-Min is looking dead-on at. The arrival of that young, pink-haired woman in the rainbow sweater accompanied by a tall and slim blonde man in a navy blue suit. Adrienne’s attention is immediately drawn to the figure as she breathlessly exhales, “Adam.

Adam Monroe looks like he just walked out of a board meeting, not crawled up from the depths of some terroristic cellar the world imagines him inhabiting. His attention is, mercifully, not fixed on Zachery but rather Yi-Min Yeh, and it is an expression of abject disapproval that he fixes on her. Val, the teleporter, takes a step back so as to not stand side-by-side with Adam.

Had Zachery not been warned in advance about something today being amiss (and please just let it be this), his puzzled gaze might have lingered on Adrienne's face a little longer. He might not have parted with that coffee, or turned away from this impostor ally as easily as he does when the new arrivals appear.

Or cracked a smile.

A smile that pulls at one corner of his mouth several seconds before it reaches the other, as if it were fighting the rest of him before winning the battle. Once it does, though, he pushes himself away from the wall to straighten up - and the expression blossoms into one of pleasant surprise, matching the carelessness with which he turns his eye on Adam and Val in turn and says, "There you are. Wonderful!"

That should be all he says. But instead, he adds with a thoughtful cant of his head and an idle fixing of the grey scarf draped around his neck, "I don't know why I thought you'd be taller."

It’s true that Yi-Min does not possess the gift of reading vital signs in the environment that Zachery does. Thus, her only indication that something is off is the puzzlement written in his glance as it rests on Adrienne, just for a split second.

That flicker of a look isn't enough to form even the bones of a guess, much less a satisfactory conclusion. Under normal circumstances, Yi-Min would barely have paid attention to it.

But like Zachery, she is operating under the forewarning that something about this encounter will be amiss, and thus nothing can be afforded the luxury of going below notice. Adam's clear disapproval for her, when it materializes along with the rest of him, is met only by her own characteristic impassivity. She does not move.

"Could you give us some space, please?" Yi-Min is looking straight back at Adam when she asks this, plainly and politely, but the request is openly directed at the distraction of Val.

Space to talk privately, of course.

Val looks from Yi-Min to Adam, who regards the pink-haired young woman over his shoulder. “I’ll ping you,” he says as an aside to her, and Val offers one worried look to Zachery and Yi-Min before nodding once and vanishing in a swirling haze of rainbow-hued light. When Val departs, Adam fixes a look past Yi-Min and Zachery to Adrienne. It is a long and silent look, one that ends as he blinks a look back to Yi-Min.

“Where is my bio-weapon?” Adam asks rather directly. The question elicits tension at Adrienne’s jawline, followed by a quick dart of brown eyes over to Zachery and then back to Adam. The long-lived blonde takes a few more steps up the property, coming to rest at the foot of the stairs to the porch, cocking one brow and angling his head to the side.

"Awfully demanding, isn't he?" Zachery asks of Yi-Min, and moves to stand next to her in a few purposeful steps that do not yet betray his limp. His eye glued to Adam's face and with no lessening of his smile, he continues to say, crisply, "I see we're dispensing with the formalities and pleasantries both. That's quite alright. I'm getting used to it, in fact! Leaning into the whole disposable lackey shtick, if you will."

The last sentence has barely left him before he adds, leaning just ever so slightly to the side, "Doctor Yeh, I think you should probably take this one, yeah?"

The deep, amused moment of tacit agreement Yi-Min lets linger in the air in response to Zachery's gibes is perhaps an indicator of the strangeness of the pair's dynamic, which continues to demonstrate itself in the tiniest of ways even now. But otherwise, the look in her eyes as she directs it at Adam is poised. Hard as flint and light as a curling breeze, both.

This is a role she had always assumed she would be taking on anyhow, and Adam's unnervingly tangible presence before them now does not appear to have diminished the essence of her resolve in any way.

"We have it," Yi-Min affirms shortly, though the words are still half-veiled— hidden, yet not softened— behind the composure of courtesy. That at least assuages that immediate doubt, though she is also seemingly displaying no further initial intent to be helpful. "First, however, your disposable lackeys have a question or two for you. If it is not too much to ask."

“If you were disposable, Doctor Yeh, I wouldn’t have brought you back from the brink of death, now would I?” Adam says without a hint of amusement in his voice, creases visible at the corners of his eyes and a furrow up the middle of his brow. “You’re making a lot of assumptions right now.” His blue eyes track Yi-Min and Zachery, then slowly square on Doctor Allen who straightens her back and squares her shoulders when his attention falls on her.

Exhaling a sigh through his nose, Adam dips his head down and massages his forefingers and thumb across the bridge of his nose. “Ask,” he insists.

It's a new bit of information that seems to have Zachery's mood lifted even further, and his eyebrows with it. His gaze slips ever so briefly off to Yi-Min's side in thought, but never fully lands on her.

By the time his eye is back on Adam again, he stands a little taller, back straight, fingers curling calmly inwards at his sides, words confident and clear when he asks, "Your bio-weapon for what? Or — whom?"

"Not at all. It proves that you needed me at that point in time, for a task that I have now successfully completed." The understated gleam of Yi-Min's gaze, hawklike and placid, nonetheless offers up no trace of accusation concerning this point— a lack emphasized by the fine, careless shrug of a shoulder that she performs a moment later. "In any case, my disposability is not the topic that I am concerned with today. This is not about me."

Zachery's question, posed with perhaps a surprising amount of confidence, is clearly the one that she considers to be important. And so she, too, waits for what shape Adam's answer will take.

Adam appreciates neither piece of input, judging from the deepening crease between his brows and the prominence of the vein in his right temple. It’s Adrienne that he looks to first, though, because she’s the only one who didn’t put in her two cents. He clenches his jaw, flexing it, then blinks a steady look back to Zachery. “People,” Adam answers through his teeth. At first it seems like this is the only answer he’s going to give.

“You haven’t successfully completed anything,” Adam says with a sharp look to Yi-Min, “until I have what I asked you to make in my hand.” Or, more safely, a cooler or some other sort of sealed container. But he isn’t bothering with the semantics of the issue at the moment.

“The virus is for them,” Adam says with a motion out toward the woods, as if he meant the trees. But it’s clear he doesn’t. “For the Parliamentary body in the UK authorizing another death camp for our kind,” he lowers his hand, tension evident at the crow’s feet visible at his eyes. “For the Humanis First operatives who blew up the greatest technological achievement our kind ever built. For the enclaves of their ilk just waiting for the bloody South to rise again or whatever nonsense they’re spilling.”

Adam looks at Adrienne again, and the Frenchwoman cradles her coffee protectively in both hands like it were a crucifix and he a vampire. Adam blinks a look back to Zachery. “It’s a weapon,” Adam explains flatly, “surgical and precise. It targets exactly who it’s intended to and no one else. Now hand it over.”

"Ooh," Zachery pipes up, still smiling brightly and with what appears to be actual enjoyment, before continuing to rattle words off with the speed and practice of a con man weighed down by his own snake oil — "The implied honesty's sort of making me lean toward 'yes, go right ahead', genuinely, but I'm not the only one you assigned to this little project, unfortunately, am I."

As if this decision would truly ever be up to him to begin with.

He half-turns to look at Adrienne, taking a second to look her over. "Doctor Allen?" He asks as his smile widens a hair's breadth, perfectly amiably, before shooting a much more pointed look to Yi-Min but without a change in tone, "Doctor Yeh?"

In contrast to the tension taking root inside Adam's expression, Yi-Min's voice is benign. That of an unswayable mother, dealing with an intractable child. "Months ago, before I undertook this responsibility," she reminds him gently, "You promised me answers when the time was correct. Do you not remember this? For my audacity, I accept all blame, but I deem this time to be here and now." As far as she is concerned, any later would already be too late.

"On my word, you shall have what you wish for once all has come to light, and no more is hidden. This is the result of my decision alone. Not hers," Here Yi-Min casts a slight but still pronounced side-glance over the space that Adrienne occupies, clutching her mug practically superstitiously. "And… not his."

Another glance for Zachery, this one somewhat more deliberate and muted, though the effect is subtle. Then her dark eyes travel back towards Adam, edged in the steel of a mellow silence.

"You are an immortal, one who has lived for centuries. I ask you to weather the patience of but a few minutes more, and tell me. What part of all of this, of any of this, is love?"

Adam’s jaw works from side to side, muscles flex and he finishes closing the conversational distance to Yi-Min. He regards Zachery and Adrienne in his periphery with a sharp look, before turning his attention back on the former Vanguard doctor in front of him. “If you expect there to be a bigger story here, there isn’t. Have you looked me up, before all of this? Did Saurkraut ever tell you fun bedtime stories about ze war,” he says, adopting a put-on German accent. “I’m the sociopathic murderer with a penchant for biological weapons.”

Spreading his hands, Adam’s brows rise as if to say here I am. Adrienne’s grip around her coffee cup tenses, brows furrowed and nostrils flared. It looks for all her sleight frame like she wants to leap off the porch and smash his head in with the mug. But she restrains herself, wordlessly and tensely. Adam notices her stillness, but doesn’t seem to think much of it.

“Ask Ben Ryans why the Company put me in a dark hole for a long time, ask the recently resurrected Eileen Ruskin who gave Kazimir the idea for his little virus.” Adam’s voice has a knife’s edge of tension in it. He may be centuries old, he may be on the cusp of getting what he wants, and yet he still lacks patience. “They’ll all say the same thing,” he says as he holds his hand out toward Yi-Min. “The world is sick, and I think you have the cure.”

Pale blue eyes lock with Yi-Min, and Adam is done talking.

If Zachery was labouring under the delusion that he had any say here, he's certainly calm about it. Yi-Min's question has him lift his eyebrows, and Ben Ryans' name narrows both real and fake eye.

Still, he stays quiet, jaw set. Attention staying on Adam, he reaches quietly - mentally - for more, but other. Like one might casually open a book waiting for others to hurry up, except the book is a murderer.

Adam may be done, but Yi-Min is not.

"Yes, I know all of this. And yet, you rattle it off as though any of it disqualifies you from having an ulterior motive." The Nazi caricature impression does not seem to be impressing the ex-Vanguard operative in the least. She does not drop her gimlet stare.

"At some point, I would even have believed this to be so. Easily. But there is far too much here that does not 'click.'" The fragment of American slang sounds oddly casual and unnatural coming from her tongue, but she continues on heedless. "No, perhaps what you say is true enough. There is no 'bigger' story, only a well-hidden one. One that hides in bizarre words like faith and hope. One that hides in the swordplay taught to a little girl. In all the efforts you have undertaken, towards a cause that is not this."

None of this is framed in the scathing manner of an attack. It isn’t even a defense, lifted in response to Adam's even more obvious disapproval. She just seems incredibly distant; imploring even, in a way that is staid and soft.

"I do not expect you to speak directly of it, so do not. Only give me trust. My wish has never been to put a knife in your back." Yi-Min puts no more force behind this than she would behind a murmur, but a sincerity is nonetheless woven into the strands of the plea, simple and strong and straightforward.

That emphasis had been purposeful.

Zachery caught the imperceptible shift in Adam’s brow when Yi-Min said swordplay taught to a little girl. Muscles contracted, heart-rate accelerated. There is fear pulsing like a jackhammer beneath his skin, even though on the surface that subtle brow twitch could be construed as anger or frustration. What comes next feels like an attempt to drive that perception home.

Adam clenches his right hand into a fist, his eyes glow a vibrant gold, and in that same moment it feels like a thousand knives perforate Yi-Min’s skull. All pain, no injury. The agony is relentless, bone-deep pain that doctors have to put high on a numerical scale. It is a twist of the knife in her marrow, a hot metal sliver beneath her fingernails, a slow peeling of the outer layers of her eyes with a knife. It is death by a thousand cuts with none of the release that allows for it to end.

“The weapon.” Adam says flatly, closing his fist tighter and tightening the proverbial screws. “Now.”

Zachery visibly snaps back to attention with the change in eye colour — shown through a hardening of his stare, a breath drawn a little too hastily, shoulders squaring. A readying to get moving. Though telltale signs of fear never enter his expression, amusement has faded in favour of something more important.

Leaving gleaned information to process later, he moves backwards and towards the door. A second step lands more awkwardly than the first, due to the damage inflicted on him a little under a month ago now. Damage inflicted by Yi-Min.

Regardless, for the next step - proverbial more than literal - he looks to her.

So this is how Yi-Min's outreach of candor is to be rewarded.

Zachery watches his one-time tormentor stumble a step backwards, her lips slightly parted from the inhalation she is unable to draw, pain rending the inner folds of her former serenity like a long blade slitting through cloth.

But before all had been said and done, she had been prepared for the eventuality of something like this. Her eyes flash sideways, only once, and she manages to meet Zachery's gaze from the midst of gripping and coming to grips with that internal deluge. There is a flare of acceptance and of meaning deep inside them, running on a parallel track to the pain. "Let him. Have that which he wants to see—"

Despite Yi-Min's agony, it's a crystal-clear, deliberately expressed sign. To Zachery, as well as to Adrienne. To any third party hiding in the proverbial bushes.

Give him the flawed copy.

Adrienne covers her mouth and takes a step back, either unwilling or unable to do as Yi-Min requests because of her sudden and visceral reaction to the agony the other woman is experiencing. Adam only advances on Yi-Min, his hand still clenched into a fist. It is in this moment that his fingers curl tighter, his brow creases, and the placidity of a man willing to negotiate. Whatever he read into Yi-Min’s previous statement of fact it was tantamount to a threat.

“It can get worse,” Adam states in a clipped bark, like an attack dog barely restrained by a chain-link fence. His fingers begin to curl tighter, to emphasize the point, and the pain Yi-Min experiences blossoms in blind-spots in her vision and numbness spreading down her extremities. “Give me the fucking weapon!

"Christ," follows a comparatively low energy comment shortly after, from Zachery, who wastes no time in making his way over to the door and opening it. He steps inside just long enough to grab something and to elbow his way back out - reemerging into the light of day holding an aluminum carrying case.

It swings gently from its handle thanks to a somewhat stiff gait as he moves past Adrienne and stops right up by Yi-Min's side, where he offers the case up just ahead of her — and directly into Adam's line of sight.

"Go on, then." He says curtly, in the least charitable way these words could be spoken, voice steady but breath held at its apex as he stares into the other man's face.

There is little Yi-Min can do as Adam’s vice-grip on her tightens, but also little she apparently wishes to do beyond capitulate to the higher situation with a passiveness that feels aloofly, distantly disconnected— a singular thread of acceptance wound through the kaleidoscope of a hundred pieces of pain. As her suffering increases in scope, it throttles out the reservoir of breath available to her, and alongside that whatever inclination she might have had to better ensure compliance with his demand.

She nearly doesn't register Zachery returning through the side-smear of her vision, but when she does make out the metallic blot that could probably be a case of aluminum with some concentration of imagination, both her eyelids go fully closed.

Go on, then, Adam.

The pain ceases the moment Adam unclenches his fist and snatches the case out of Zachery’s hand. He takes a quick two steps back down off the porch in the same motion, heels digging into the dirt in his backpedal. Blue eyes flick accusingly back and forth between Zachery and Yi-Min, then square on Adrienne who takes a step further away from Adam. He doesn’t open the case, doesn’t so much as give it a ginger shake. “You’re free to go,” is Adam’s way of saying fired to Yi-Min and presumably Zachery-by-proxy.

“What about me?” Adrienne has the temerity to ask, angling a brief look to Zachery before squaring her attention on Adam, who is momentarily distracted fishing a small square remote control out from his pocket.

“You…” Adam looks up to Adrienne, not entirely certain how to answer as first. “You’re— Doctor Cong still needs you. You’re also going to verify this.” He says with a shake of the case, followed by a flick of blue-eyed anger at Yi-Min, then Zachery. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson, Doctor Yeh. I don’t expect to see you around Praxia again, for your own sake.” Adam clicks the single button on the remote, eliciting the arrival of that same pink-haired young woman as before, a few feet from his side.

Adrienne hesitates, lingering with her back by the wall of the cabin, looking to Zachery and Yi-Min, then to Adam and Val. For a moment it feels as though she’d fight this call, as though she’d argue for her freedom. But as she closes her eyes and uses one hand to scrub tears of anger and frustration away from her face, she begins the hopeless march down the porch stairs toward Adam, struggling to keep from visibly crying.

“If this,” Adam says with a brandishing of the case toward Zachery and Yi-Min, “isn’t what I asked for — what you agreed to do — then this,” he says with a motion to Yi-Min, “is the least of what you have to bloody worry about.”

Zachery has a lot of things to say about that.

But instead, he opines in the cheerful tone that's usually reserved for business meetings more commonplace than this one, "It's been a pleasure." He is still looking at Adam when he says this - chin up and hands restless at his sides - but within the pause that happens afterward he lets his gaze drift over to the departing Adrienne. Then, it darts to Yi-Min.

Free to go. If this is supposed to be the end of this chapter of his life, the tension in his jaw and brow don't communicate that he's feeling particularly relieved about it.

Even as all the pain melts away and she is able to restabilize, quietly and steadily pulling herself back together again, Yi-Min chooses to keep her eyes resting shut for a moment longer. Perhaps to let her vision recover more easily, though the real reason seems more deep-seated.

When she opens them again, there is no visible antipathy at all for what Adam had just done. Over the next few beats, she watches Adrienne's parting figure without a word or a change in expression, her goodbye composed only of a detached, meaning-laden silence.

There is just one last thing Yi-Min has to say, and it is said with an air of seemingly biddable finality, unmistakably clear despite the extreme softness of it.

"Good luck to you, Adam."

If Adam felt anything regarding luck, it doesn’t show beyond contempt in his eyes. He waits for Adrienne to reach his side, then looks back to Yi-Min and Zachery. “Let’s go,” is the last thing he says, directed at Val, before the trio disappears in a haze of rainbow-hued light. Which, for the barest of moments elicits a look of surprise from Doctor Miller.

But only just.


Ziggurat Helipad
Praxia, California Safe Zone

It’s noon in California.

The sun stands high overhead as Adam, Val, and Adrienne manifest in place from the teleportation. A squad of nine black-armored security officers stand in a semicircle around the helipad with guns trained on their point of arrival. When they see Adam accompanied by Val and Doctor Allen they lower their rifles and relax. Apart from the security officers, Sabine Hazel approaches Adam, who hands the case off to her.

“Get this down to Stefan,” Adam snaps at her, and Sabine takes the case with a quick look between Val and Adrienne.

“What about the doctor?” Sabine asks with a nod in her direction.

“Escort her down to Cong’s lab, she can check in on Clendaniel and then she’s to work with Stefan on verifying the weapon.” Adam rubs a hand at the back of his neck, looking exhausted. While the others are talking, Val offers a look up to Adrienne and creases her brows, as if trying to understand something. Adrienne just smiles at her, and Val brushes off whatever had her momentarily confused. But Adrienne’s smile fades the moment Val looks away.

“You heard him,” Sabine says to Adrienne, “with me.” Adrienne nods, following in lock-step with Sabine like an obedient dog who has been hit too many times to risk stepping out of line. Adam, too tired to focus on the minutiae around him, fails to realize what has happened in the exchange. As Val rests a hand on Adam’s arm, she tugs his sleeve and wordlessly implores he get rest. She knows he’d never agree.

Sabine moves to the rooftop elevator off of the helipad, entering through an analog security checkpoint verified by external cameras. She enters the freight lift and Adrienne follows her inside. As the doors slide shut and she is permitted access to the Praxis Ziggurat, she takes one step back out of Sabine’s line of sight.

So Sabine doesn’t see her smiling.


Somewhere in New Jersey

Branches snap in a gray and leafless forest. Scattered pine trees break up the fields of gray with deciduous foliage in rich swaths of green. Coming to rest against a tree, a lone hiker pulls a bottle of water out of her backpack and unscrews the cap, taking a gulping drink of water, then looks back to the forest behind her, to the barely visible steeple of Providence’s church far in the distance.

Stowing the bottle of water away, she pulls an old page from a road atlas out of her back pocket, red marker indicating the New Jersey Pine Barrens in a large circle. Another circle is marked around New York City. There’s miles of abandoned city and scattered settlements between Providence and the Safe Zone. She turns her attention down to a name scrawled in the margins of the map:

Gillian Childs.

Folding up the map, the blonde hiker pulls the last cigarette out of her pack, considers it for a moment and then throws it to the forest floor. She decides it’s time for a change.

It’s time for a fresh start.


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