bowie_icon.gif cesar_icon.gif tamas_icon.gif veronica_icon.gif

Scene Title (Non)Sensible
Synopsis A SESA agent takes his theories to the internet and gets an unexpected response, along with a peanut gallery.
Date April 2, 2018

Fort Jay

Mid-afternoon finds Cesar at his desk in Fort Jay, staring not at the hardcopy butcher paper covered board of notes regarding the food thefts that have happened in the past couple of months of the Safe Zone, but at a bright computer screen. One window opened is the SESA registry, a series of profiles - names, class, status - and in the other, a website opened to a forum with posts and theories about the Evolved. The thread he’s on regarding phasing and the physics of molecular manipulation is a contrast of dense theory and formulas to internet meme shitposts. Either way, Cesar Diaz is not getting it for the sake of what he needs.

His latest response, posted under a handle CzDDiaz to the topic thread: How much food can a phaser phase if a phaser could phase food?

He leans back in his chair, hands hooking behind his head, and looks ceilingwards with a heavy exhale.

"I guess the ceiling is as good a place to look as— what is this? Reddit?" Bowie comes into his view as he moves to set a coffee mug down on Diaz's desk. He leans on the desk himself, looking over the information on the screen. "Phaser would make sense. Could get in and out without as much as a whisper. Me, I still like the terrakinetic theory. It has more flash." He turns to look back at Cesar, his expression more sympathetic. "It looks like you're digging through the haystack, brother." For a needle they're not even sure exists. Which is super fun. "Are you making any progress?"

Veronica happens to walk by as Lin does — she’s not following the scent of coffee, it’s just a coincidence. She leans on the other corner of the cubicle to peer at the screen, lifting a brow. “Thinking outside the box, I guess," she says with a smirk, but she too looks sympathetic.

“This feels like one of those riddles that has an obvious answer that never occurs to you — then when you hear the answer, you feel like an idiot for not guessing it,” she muses. Her tone makes it sound like that’s one of the worst fates a person can suffer. Hermione Granger is her spirit animal. “On the bright side, A+ word play.”

There are any number of people on the forum, most of them paying no attention whatsoever to this particular thread. It is one conversation of a multitude, all of them innocuous, unimportant, irrelevant — except that infinitesimally few of that multitude receive concentrated attention from a SESA-affiliated IP address. Somewhere both a long ways away and hardly any distance at all, someone else has been intermittently observing that ongoing internet crawl, filling in an underlying shape from bits and pieces over the course of days and weeks.

T.Amas spends the barest of moments considering the latest post on the thread, then queues in a reply: 'As much as he could'. Which makes that the very least useful of queries.

With a twist of his head, Cesar manages to crack a couple of neck bones back into position and give Bowie an eyeful of ‘don’t start’ even though, true to what’s on the screen, a subreddit is all he has to show for investigative efforts. He sits back up properly though, now that there’s company. “The haystack is full of needles,” grumbles Cesar, “but they’re all the wrong size.” He turns and nods agreeably to Veronica’s point, and gives her a warmer smile for the compliment. “May have spent all my brainpower today coming up with that one instead of figuring out the logistics.” As if any of this thievery had logic to it.

"We don't even know what size we're looking for." Even if, technically, Diaz is the only one of them really looking by now. It's a team effort. He looks up at Veronica, his smile warmer, too. "I can't say I feel too great about getting outsmarted by rats." Or whoever is behind this. He laughs at Diaz's confession, though, and turns his attention to the screen. And then he slides Cesar's chair out of the way a little. "I can't tell if this one is insulting you or baiting you," he notes to the newest reply.

And he writes his own, even if it is under Cesar's handle.

So what's a more useful query? he replies, the question an honest one. Which is the most dangerous kind to drop in an open forum, but he's doing it anyway.

“Oh, look, a live one,” says Vee, as if they’re fishing — which, in a way, they are. She watches Bowie type for a moment, before lifting a shoulder.

“Trust me, I’ve missed a lot of cues in my time as an agent. The problem with evolved investigations is that you really never know what’s important. There are abilities we haven’t come across to even know they exist so we don’t know what we’re looking at, sometimes. I feel like an idiot more often than not in this line of work,” she says with a small but sincere smile. “Not my favorite feeling, so what that says about me, well, only the psych eval will tell you.”

She glances back at the screen to see if a response is forthcoming, picking up a paperclip to fiddle with as they wait.

The reply from the agents' internet correspondent is nearly immediate — and verbose, for being so quick off the mark. It doesn't leave Veronica long to fiddle with her paperclip at all.

First: why is it a bad question? Because SLC-E abilities are highly idiosyncratic. Even if there is a 'food phaser', no one else can provide a sound model for their limits. Consider a dozen phasers, a hundred, and you might begin to develop guidelines — but good luck with that.

Second: what's more useful? That depends on what you actually need to answer. Do you expect me to know?

Cesar makes a sound of protest as he’s pushed off the keyboard and monitor, but he’s at first loathe to try and get back to it. The man shoots Agent Lin a rueful look, but grows more interested as Veronica points out that there’s a response, a wiggle at the hook, at all. “Wait, really,” he says, legs unfolding to roll his chair back closer. Cesar leans in, reading what’s on the monitor. When he reads the reply, he huffs. “They’ve got a point. I’ve been scouring our database for possible match ups of abilities, their listed characteristics with what we know about the case to see if any of it makes sense, or at least narrow down the field a little. Because right now, we either got too many ponies, or not a race at all.” To continue with haystacks and associated animals.

The agent moves closer, taking back control of the keys to respond:

There’d be too many possibilities, too many variables to test. Moreso, SLC-Es tend to lie or brag about what they can do. But nobody would consider lying or bragging about being able to phase just food. Not a super cool superpower.
More, why would anybody want to show off that power? Like showing off an ability to, say, talk to rats.

"I keep trying to tell you, the ability isn't the answer. The locked room mystery, that's where you find the answer." Bowie lets Cesar have his turn at the keys, though, looking over at Veronica. Maybe for back up. "Right? There's no end to that haystack. He needs a different angle."

And then, back to Cesar. "Have you found the girl yet? Gerken's sister?" he asks with a nod to the screen. "I don't know that I buy the boys being involved, but it could be they have the same suspicion the Director does and are trying to find out if there is evidence that points to her. Which… well, how could there be if she's some kind of animal telepath, right? It doesn't exactly leave fingerprints. Did you talk to Childs?" Maybe Bowie will actually let Cesar answer one of these questions.

Vee’s brows lift as she notes the speediness of the response — she herself types fast, but that seems extremely fast, even if the person was waiting and ready. She leans a little closer to look at the user handle and picks up her phone to do her own searching as the men discuss the case.

Once she clicks the send button on her search, she glances up again to see what Cesar is typing. Whatever she might have replied to Bowie’s query is lost as she scoffs audibly, and it’s not at all in an amused way. “Most SLC-Es had to hide and lie about having abilities at all in very recent history, lest they be rounded up into ghettos, or worse, coffins,” she says, “so you might slow your damn roll, there, Cesarín.”

She pushes off from the desk to walk away, glancing down at the screen of her phone as she does so.

You think they're showing off?

Hard to say, given unadorned text, whether that reply is sincerely curious or simply derisive.

Veronica's search, "T.amas" -AMAS, returns mostly hits concerning Sanskrit philosophy. Mixed in with them are Hebrew names and a handful of user profiles scattered across a diverse array of internet communities — profiles which may or may not have any bearing on the one of original interest.

As she clicks through to the second page, surveying the search results, she finds something halfway down that isn't a proper result at all. A block of extra space has been inserted between two result entries, and that space serves to offset a single line of non-hyperlinked text:

Were you looking for something in particular?

Bowie’s note about the ability not being the key but the locked room reveals, by Cesar’s scrub of a hand on his chin, that Agent Diaz is still stumped on that angle too. “I’ve got Baumann handling that part. She’s already talked to Gerken and Winters before Choi’s memo went out, but the sister’s supposedly not registered or living in the zone,” he replies as well. “And I took Gerken’s sister’s friend, Ms. Mas, over to the Benchmark that night of the rats and tuba incident.” His hand lowers to drum on the desk beside his keyboard. “Childs, I’ve got a meeting setup with her at the market. What you had on the board about her feeling out other presences, going to see what else she might be able to tell us.” But the lowered tone in suggests that Cesar remains uncertain about what that interview will reveal.

The scolding tone from Veronica gets to him, and Cesar is silent a moment as he turns to regard his words typed onto the forum. Well too late to take that back now. “It’s happened several times, yeah… What I meant was to search for a motive alongside the use of an ability,” he says to her back, sounding chastened, “and that what we’ve got on the database so far doesn’t necessarily bring up any matches because, who’s going to just up and say ‘yeah I did it, because I can do this, watch me’.” He pushes up from his chair to stand, gaze flicking between Vee and Bowie, the latter getting to see the helpless slump of Cesar’s shoulders.

He looks back to the screen, eyeing the text from T.amas’ response. Reaching over, he types back: If they weren’t just showing off, then the intent to bring harm to so many people by destroying supplies is a cruel action to take. Food is not a luxury to be squandered. It might be a bit more revealing of the case he refers to than the anonymous nature of the internet should offer, but Cesar is at this point willing to try for the sake of answers. He sends the message off, then takes a step after Veronica. “Hey, Sawyer, really I didn’t mean…” He starts but the ‘to offend’ slips off the end as he swallows down what sounds like an excuse rather than an apology. Which he then does. “I’m sorry.”

When Veronica does the job of reminding them about how things have been for the Evolved, Bowie looks properly chastised. He doesn't say anything, though, until she turns to walk away. Then he smacks Cesar on the arm. "What's wrong with you?" he asks in a low tone. Slump be damned! Veronica can probably hear it, if she isn't totally distracted by her phone.

"Like any other crime, Diaz, motive and opportunity will point the way. Opportunity is difficult to pin down, given the breadth and width of abilities. Motive, though, that's still up in the air." Bowie taps a finger on Cesar's desk, letting him keep the keyboard for now. "Make a list of possibilities. See who we have around here who fits. It's a lot of guesswork. And legwork. But, we do what we have to, right?"

Veronica’s brows furrow together as she looks at the returns of her search, head tipping curiously when the curious appears. A small curve of her mouth suggests she’s found something interesting, but she’s not quite ready to share.

“It’s fine,” she says in a distracted manner to the apology from Cesar; she does halt in her walkaway, leaning on some other agent’s cubicle to key something new into her phone. “I know I said a lot of dumb ass things about the evolved before I realized I was one of them.”

Just wondering who’s out there. Knowing who the source is helps to determine how helpful the information is, right? Friend or foe, troll or…technopath. It’s quite a long string of words to type into the search engine’s bar — any browser results will be useless, but she’s not looking for those.

On the other end of digital conversation, T.Amas finds itself waiting longer for a reply this time. But not so long, in the end, that it concludes no reply is forthcoming. Eventually, a new post goes up, and once again, the stranger's response is prompt.

There are many other things that could be stolen for sake of 'showing off'.
Most of them are more readily associated with the word 'steal'.

At what might as well be the same time, Veronica's second 'search' returns its 'results' — of which only one has any import. The one that is not technically a result.

I wonder, too, is perhaps something of an odd admission in this context.
Not a foe.
Beyond that is what you make of it.

“Is it though,” Cesar mutters of Veronica’s distracted reply after he’s flinched a half second later than what would be an actual reaction if Bowie had struck him hard enough to hurt. It reminds him, though, that there’s a conversation happening over the computer and he shouldn’t abandon it too quickly. “That’s why I’m going back down there. After the talk with Childs, hopefully. I’m worried though, Bowie. The next job might be real soon. And the zone isn’t going to stand for a third theft.” The man’s worry revealed, he turns back to the screen.

“Whoever this guy is, he makes a good point,” he remarks about the latest response after refreshing. There’s a short glance still in Veronica’s direction, perhaps to check that she hasn’t gotten too far away before he can offer a proper apology beyond what was already given.

Cesar’s reply comes quicker than the last. Showing off was the wrong turn of phrase, considering motives… He doesn’t click send just yet, but looks up and over at Bowie. “Man, I don’t even know. Baumann had suggested we set up an ambush at one of the two depots to try and see if the culprit would return to the scene. But that’s inviting trouble with Choi and the Council,” muses the man as he drums his fingers atop the keyboard. “What do you think he means? Readily associated with the word ‘steal’. Maybe the motive is actual necessity.”

"I'm worried, too. If the shortage gets worse, the MPs are going to have their hands full. Us, too, probably. Can we contact upstate? Maybe they can spare something before KC can start the wheels moving." If there are wheels to move. Who knows. "Have you got people watching the stores?" He's not in charge, after all, but he can still toss ideas around the bullpen.

Bowie looks at the reply from their new online buddy and he nods to Cesar. "It is a good point. I don't think this is about stealing, either. Or showing off. I think it's about weakening. If you want to stop an army, you hit the supplies. If you want to stop a community, is the tactic any different?" His conspiracy, it is running. But a moment later, he gives Cesar a sideways look— the only warning that a razzing is incoming. "How do you know it's a guy at all?"

The senior agent among them hasn’t gone very far, typing on her device with the speed of a practiced teenager. “It’s a technopath, FYI. And for the record, the two best I know are women.”

Pardon my friend’s queries. Means well, still learning. Not evolved. She doesn’t type out the ‘obviously’ that seems to want to follow. Any insight into food thefts in the NYC SZ? Is more direct than she might otherwise ask of an unknown entity, but she’s feeling curious.

Her eyes move back to Cesar and Bowie, lifting a brow. “Still seems weird. Even if you’re planning to weaken, food’s a valuable resource someone could profit from. Seems shortsighted to just steal it to abandon it,” is all she has to say on that matter.

After Veronica's messages, the screen of her phone abruptly changes, a messaging interface summarily inserting itself above the browser app she had been using. Her digital conversationalist being helpful, no doubt.

Nothing to forgive, is the first line to populate the message window.
Only redirecting effort in more sensible direction. Where 'sensible' is inevitably viewed in the eye of the beholder… but most beholders would agree that tongue-twisters are not useful investigative queries.

There's a momentary pause, discernible even to human senses on the far side of a screen. Veronica's second question, it seems, takes a bit more consideration than the first.

Not actually our concern, could be read as anything from plain and simple detachment to the self-consciousness of someone revealed to be goofing off at work. That it exists only as a line of unelaborated text provides no insight in that regard.

Cesar's computer, and the thread of his conversation, remain quiescent, the agent having submitted nothing to which T.Amas might reply.

"The depots already have eyes on them, as much as can be spared. And we're alert for any other possible avenues if the thieves strike again." God willing, they don't. He nods with the notion to contact upstate, scratching that down on his notepad beside the keyboard.

Cesar shoots a look back at Bowie that wants to be defensive but doesn't quite get there when the other agent questions Cesar's assumption of gender. Because that's a good point. And further backed up by Veronica's statement of their currently communicating with a technopath. "Huh," utters the agent as he turns back to the computer screen briefly, his unsent response waiting. "Are they someone you know?" he asks Veronica. He's learning. Neutral pronouns. "You're talking to them right now, aren't you."

He deletes his reply, and replaces with, simply: What do you mean by that?

The reply sent off, he sits back in his chair, gives Bowie a sidelong glance and looks over in Veronica's direction.

Bowie grins at Cesar and gives him a pat on the shoulder when he learns. But his attention moves to Veronica. Because she brings up a good point. "What's the other option? This was… maybe an accident?" They are known to happen, particularly when abilities get involved. In any case, it puts a kink in his conspiracy theory. "Like… maybe they didn't even know where the food ended up."

When Cesar leans back, Bowie looks back to him, then follows his gaze to Veronica. Then back. Narrow-eyed suspicion greets Cesar this time.

Sensible is asking a lot. Veronica’s lips pull into a half-smirk as she glances over at Cesar; her fingers move quickly across the screen of her smartphone.

I wouldn’t expect it to be, but you’re the one responding to forum threads. Not your concern means you’re not in NYSZ, I guess? Maybe not local or in a better place like YP? It’s small talk, rather than really pursuing any sort of insight into the case.

“Not that I know of. Handle’s not one I know, but that means little,” she says with a shrug. To Bowie’s question, she lifts a shoulder. “Could be. Maybe they meant to relocate it and things went sideways. Maybe they moved it and meant to come back for it but didn’t make it. There’s a lot of ifs and maybes, unfortunately.”

In absence of anything predispositional, comes the prompt reply on the forum, ask anyone what a burglar steals. Money, jewelry, electronics. Ask what kind of theft makes a statement. Bank vaults, lofty towers, corporate strongholds. Glamour, daring, tweaking the nose of power.

Almost the very opposite of stealing food from a nonprofit.

In contrast, there's a momentary pause before a reply appears on Veronica's phone. Slight, but discernible. It passes some time, is all T.Amas states.

Missing the half-smirk from Veronica’s direction because he’s focused on interpreting the words on the screen, Cesar is likely to resemble the implication. The man does have the passionate responses and reactions of a proud Cuban. The follies, too. “When do you suppose they’ll stop trying, then? Accident number three?” He shakes his head slowly at Bowie, wiping a hand down his face and remarking, “And for the food to wind up directly underneath both depots, I don’t think that’s any accident.” It does not, however, help any other working theory. Veronica’s comment makes his eyes turn to her. “Maybe. I mean, that would be the last place to look for food supplies, if—”

The agent sits up in his chair and eyes the screen a little longer, the message from T.Amas seems to spark an idea that tumbles out from him, first in the form of rapid typing: Maybe that is precisely what they want to do. Thx for the chat.

“OK hear me out,” Cesar says to the pair, indicative of a crazy idea storm coming. “So this whole time, I was looking for a single ability to have done this right? But what if it’s more than one? A combination of abilities. There’s a terrekinetic, a phaser, and a rat telepath. Thick as thieves. Food thieves. They come up with the idea to steal the food at the depots, maybe the terrekinetic’s the inside man. Or the phaser. Anyway, they get the info when to hit the depots when the food’s about to get distributed, when the stores are at their fullest, and that’s when they decide to strike. The terrekinetic can open up the hole in the ground, but the phaser keeps the food from being smashed up when they get it down into the sewers. Because there, the rat telepath can make sure nobody’s going to come looking for the food down there - who would, because it’s a sewer?”

Once he gains some traction to the story, the man continues, “But somewhere along the line, maybe the terrekinetic and phaser turned on the rat telepath and he wants to get back at them, so the rats destroy the food and nobody wins.” He glances between the other two agents, brows arching to see if either of them might buy the line.

Bowie might have something to say in the realm of brainstorming, because Veronica's point is a good one. But then Cesar explains his theory. And it gets a slow blink from Bowie.

"Diaz," he says, a hand coming up to run down his face as the man goes on. He's hearing him out, but his eyes slide over to Veronica. Are you hearing this? is asked in the disbelief on his face. But then he looks back to Cesar again. "I think you need more sleep. Lots more." His lips curl up into a crooked smile as he pats Cesar on the shoulder. His attention turns to Veronica again before long. "I hear a rumor than the vending machine downstairs finally got restocked. You wanna go see if we're in time for the good candy?"

Are you in need of pastimes? I’d imagine there’s more interesting nooks of the internet. Anyway, nice talking to you. Perhaps we’ll look you up for consultation if we find ourselves in need of technopaths in a case not involving rats and food. Veronica can’t help but smirk again as she types, before a brow arches at the complicated story that Cesar weaves.

“That’s a lot of what ifs, Diaz,” Veronica says with an amused smile that’s maybe just a little patronizing. “Not sure you need a terrakinetic and a phaser. If I were a rat empath, I don’t think destroying the food is how I’d get back. You could just have the rats attacking the other guy or guys when they came back for the food, scare the away, and then you’d have the food, the rats, and no friends.”

She sighs, as if she can’t believe the sentences that just came out of her mouth. “This fucking job. Yeah, I could use some Sun Chips.”

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