Scene Title Petrichor
Synopsis A girl goes for a walk in the rain.
Date July 9, 2017

New York Safe Zone

The first and most important rule has always been to never go anywhere without him.

So, naturally, Sibyl does… in secret, and on days she knows she’d otherwise waste in the cool, dark safety of the attic, which has been more of a home to her than Saint Margaret’s ever was. It isn’t that she doesn’t enjoy sitting at the piano and practicing her scales, or curling into the downy softness of her goosefeather comforter to listen to the rhythm of the summer rain drumming against her window. She simply likes the feeling of it on her face more than she does watching it carve patterns in the glass.

Summer thunderstorms are her favourite. The air is warm and fragrant with the smell of wildflowers that grow in old parking lots converted to open seas of tall weeds and foxtails, surrounded by drooping chain-link fences. Like many of the children who reside in New York Safe Zone, her memories of how the city used to look are like a half-remembered dream. People used to drive cars; these days the streets are a river of moving bodies hurrying to get from one place to the other, interrupted by the occasional sputter and pop of a motorbike weaving its way through the crowd.

She knows the difference between new construction and old, and prefers the worn exteriors of Elmhurst’s tenement apartments built from brick and stone to the sleeker, more modern architecture that can be found down south in Yamagato Park. The one time her guardian took her there, she shied away from their reflections in the windows, which shone in the sunlight like some of the world’s largest mirrors and blinded passersby with sheer showmanship. Elmhurst, on the other hand, feels familiar and comfortable, lived-in the same way that used books and other’s people’s clothes do.

Aforementioned guardian is nowhere to be found as Sibyl makes her way down the slippery metal catwalk and gathers her wool cardigan around her body like some sort of flimsy jacket that does nothing to keep either her skin or her sheer cotton dress dry as the rain pelts down from a bruised purple sky. There’s a definitive spring to the girl’s step as she hops off the bottommost step and onto the cracked pavement below.

Nothing smells better than wet concrete. Sibyl stops to run her fingers through her already dripping hair and tilts her face up toward the sky.


She twirls at the sound of her name and clutches the two halves of her cardigan together into a tight fist in front of her chest, but immediately relaxes when she sees that it’s only Margot, their landlord, taking shelter from the rain under the canopy in front of the dilapidated building.

“Where’s your father?” Margot asks, squinting at Sibyl from behind her glasses, which are a quarter inch too thick for her to see very clearly. She snaps them from her face and uses her sleeve to clean the condensation.

“Away,” Sibyl answers in two syllables. That’s normal. She’s short with the much older woman, but her voice is not unkind. “Important business.”

Margot makes a clucking sound of disapproval and puts her glasses back on just in time to catch Sibyl disappearing around the corner. She waves her broom at the small, retreating figure and shouts, “Tell him to pay his fucking rent!

And maybe she will, if not in exactly those words.

She skirts along the edge of Williamsburg, resisting the temptation to stop and gather flowers in the parkland or revel in the building storm. In spite of its name, there’s nowhere in the Safe Zone that’s truly safe — except, perhaps, her attic — and the daylight has already begun to bleed away as the first stars appear in the sky.

The booming thunder sounds like a celebratory gong in Sibyl’s ears when she arrives at her destination: the Red Hook Market.

The market is like something out of a storybook, a looming castle of brick and glass, complete with a crenelated battlement. Beyond the tall wood gates, colorful canvas and vinyl tents shield folding tables and their contents from the rain. Baskets of fruit, folded clothes stacked four garments high, handmade scarves and jewelry on wooden pegs.

Voices too, though not for sale, are on eminent display In the courtyard. A potpourri of languages brush past the young girl’s ears; Spanish fading into Italian fading into French and then English. Dozens of Japanese-speaking workers from down at Yamagato park come up to survey the local fare. Old panel vans with their back doors open sell outdated electronics from heaps and bins. A man shouts about cellular phone chargers, walking by with them dangling from his arms like dead snakes.

But it isn't this open-air market under the rain Sibyl is seeking. It's what's past the large plywood signs that read “Downstairs Market: Open”, past gas-burning lanterns hung from iron hooks on old brick. Down old concrete slab steps and under vaulting arches of smooth plastered stone. It's the basement of the Red Hook Market where her imagination takes flight.

Because right by the entrance, the first kiosk tucked away into a book of arched brick is a bookseller. His wares are stacked up four feet high on a rolled out carpet. Other more precious volumes sit in tall shelves stacked against the walls, and dog-eared paperbacks are piled into milk crates and marked as “$1”. Cheap and tattered things missing pages, most with their covers torn off and unable to be judged by that metric alone.

“Anthony, has Iris come by for her orders yet?” Says a barrel-chested man with a gray beard and darker hair hidden under a newsboy cap.

A younger, red-haired man stacking up books answers with a shake of his head. “Haven't seen her all week. She'll be by though,” Anthony explains with some measure of certainty. Only then noticing the slim, blue-eyed girl looking over the stacks of books. He offers Sibyl a warm, welcoming smile and then looks up and over her head.

Behind Sibyl, a tall man in a dark suit jacket cuts a far broader silhouette than she. He steps around her, takes a knee and begins pawing through the books. His beard is cut shot and clean, trimmed nearly at the jawline, and dirty blonde hair is cut close to his scalp with enough of a swirl to suggest he might be curly-haired had he let it grow out.

“Am I in your way?” He asks her, accented in the way English people are. Not coarse and northern but the kind of smooth and measured British lilt from a proper period film with dowagers and flowing dresses.

“No.” It’s a neat little lie, clean and tidy, and presented in the most unassuming way. Sibyl has an accent of her own that’s impossible to place; she doesn’t belong here, although it’s for reasons that are entirely different than this large stranger’s. She scrutinizes the top of his head. “Where are you from?” she wants to know, engaging the Englishman in conversation as she takes two casual but deliberate steps away from him. Her ankle boots, fashioned from some sort of soft brown leather and laces, leave wet tracks on the wooden floorboards.

She gravitates toward the bookseller’s history section, such as it is, and traces the tip of her index finger along the titles on the spines. In the corner of her eye, she watches him without appearing to. There are other methods available to her, but her guardian’s second most important rule is to never use her ability.

Her finger lands on a medium-sized paperback that’s newer than most of the books on the same shelf. She slides it out and turns it over in her hands. The cover reads: Wolves of Valhalla: The Rise and Fall of Kazimir Volken’s Vanguard.

The stranger continues to peruse his own section of the books, largely culinary topics mixed between recipe books and histories of food. He picks up a ratty paperback copy of Joan Alcock’s Food in the Ancient World and leafs through its pages. After a few cursory flips he withdraws a few crinkled dollars from a leather wallet. “This and,” he motions with his chin over to Sibyl. “The girl’s book as well.” Not that she'd shown any intention of buying it.

With his book in hand, the stranger makes his way back over to where Sibyl had wound herself. “Are you studying for a class?” Blue eyes assess the book she's holding, and in his other hand he's proffering out his open wallet to her. It's not so much as to offer its contents, as it is to show the laminate card inside.

Michael R. Lowell
SESA-NY Field Agent
SLC-E (Class-A Mental)


“Would you mind if I asked you a couple of questions?” Michael’s smile is gentle, welcoming and easily offered. His face has a boyish quality to it, though she can tell by the faint creases on his brow and at the corners of his mouth he's older than he looks.

Sibyl’s eyes flick up from the book’s back index and focus on the identity card. She’s old enough to recognize when someone’s interest in her goes beyond merely passing; fortunately, she’s also wise enough to keep too much fear from creeping into her expression as she looks between Michael’s photograph and the face in front of her.

She closes the book in her hands and tucks it away inside the battered satchel bag she wears across one narrow shoulder. It’s paid for, after all.

Class-A means his ability can’t affect her, she thinks. Not in ways that will physically hurt. It’s the qualifier tacked onto the end of it causing her to hesitate. “I don’t mind.” Another lie, just as polite and softly-spoken as the first. She hooks her finger under the satchel’s strap and adjusts its position in a nervous fidget. “Would you like to see my papers?”

At the volunteered information, Michael offers another easy smile. “That'd be a good start, if you have them on you. If not, it's ok. I don't expect everyone to bring their card to the store when they go out for a book.”

He offers a hand out. “Michael, though you already know that. It just seems more civil.” His wallet is folded closed with his other hand, tucked into a jacket pocket. No one else sees this as suspect, there's two women nearby looking at books together. A elderly man a few stacks down is examining a coverless copy of A Tale of Two Cities and turns excitedly to a young boy behind him.

Thunder rumbles softly outside, a warm brings brings the smell of rain and concrete indoors, coupled with the fresh scents of moss and invasive weed fliers growing up between the concrete steps. The hand waits, palm subtly raised.

Sibyl makes a sincere effort not to show too much relief when Michael doesn’t insist on looking at her card. She has one in her satchel, along with a small package wrapped in twine that contains other falsified paperwork for situations exactly like this one, but tonight would be the first time she’d have to risk taking them out alone without someone there to smooth over any gaps or inconsistencies.

The last of the late afternoon light has disappeared from the sky. When Sibyl looks past Michael, toward the stairs leading to the outside world, she sees only rain and the flickering glow of street lamps and neon signs illuminated in the cascading sheets of water.

She swallows and stares at the SESA agent’s outstretched hand. There’s a rule about this, too; direct skin-to-skin contact can be dangerous in ways Sibyl has been warned of, but lacks the experience to fully understand.

Being uncooperative poses its own sort of risk, however. She makes a decision she hopes is the right one and reaches out to shake Michael’s hand with her much smaller, colder one. “Emily,” she answers.

“That's a delightful coincidence,” Michael notes as he gives Sibyl’s hand a gentle shake. “My sister’s name is— ” She can tell something is wrong immediately. Not everywhere, not in the couple looking at books, not in the old man and his grandson, just in Michael. He tenses, words lost for a moment as he looks at Sibyl with soundless intensity. The way her protector, her ostensible father has looked at her before.

Emily,” Michael finally finishes his sentence, though there's a double meaning in the hitch of his voice after the name. He takes a beat too long to disengage his hand, blue eyes tracking her up and down. Then, with a smile and a resumed confidence he changes tack entirely. “I'm investigating some thefts from the Market, jewelry mostly. The sellers talked about a young Italian boy who can walk through walls, goes by the name Will.”

Michael’s smile isn't so easy. The creases at his brow are more pronounced. “He's about your age,” comes an awkward moment later. “Have you… ever seen him around here before, Emily?”

“No.” Sibyl doesn’t know anyone named Will. What she does know is that she’s seen this particular look before and hates it now just as much as the first time her guardian turned it on her. “You’re afraid of me,” sounds like it should be an accusation. Her voice even cracks when she says it, but her words lack anger’s telltale heat. Quiet sorrow makes her eyes go flat instead.

She steeles herself against the wellspring of emotion about to erupt in her chest and takes a single step backwards, bumping against the shelves with enough force to rattle them. Abandoned is her previous sense of pretense. “Good,” she murmurs so only Michael can hear. “You should be.”

Unlike her other statement, that’s exactly what it sounds like: a threat.

Michael’s back tenses, for just a moment a child gets the better of him. But then, he smooths over the fear, smooths over the uncertainty and slides his tongue over the front of his teeth. “I'm sorry to have rattled you,” Michael admits with a flush of nervousness fluttering across his features. He steps back, head dipped down in momentary recognition of the others around them.

“I appreciate your help, Emily.” Michael turns to look away, then, casts an askance look back at her for just a moment before turning fully away from the young woman. His departure is as abrupt as his first approach, and his shadow cast by the overhead lights is long.

No one else notices the tension of the exchange, not the couple laughing and reading through a book of poetry together, not the old man buying a dog-eared copy of a Tale of Two Cities, not the bookseller, no one.

Sibyl squeezes her eyes shut and releases the ragged breath that she’d been holding hostage in her lungs. She can’t remember where don’t get emotional ranks on her list of rules and it doesn’t matter — she couldn’t contain her tears even if she tried.

And she does. Try. Reaching up to her face, she uses her cardigan’s damp sleeve to wipe at her face before she gathers the courage to leave the bookseller’s. Hurried footfalls carry her at a brisk trot up the market stairs, out into the wet summer night. She’s thankful for both the darkness and the rain, which conceal the fact that she’s still crying if someone happens to glance at her for a second too long.

All she can think about is how much trouble she’s going to be in if this makes its way back home with her.

Ultimately, it isn't a long-term concern. Three blocks from the Red Hook Market, where the functional street lights are sparse along stretches of derelict asphalt cracked and growing with stands of grass, Sibyl’s worry catches up to her early.

He's a sight faster than she expected, long arms lunging out from the dark and gloved hands grabbing at her hair. Fingers wind in fair locks, tug at the scalp even as an arm winds around her throat placing bicep and forearm at the sides of her neck like a vice.

Sibyl is lifted off the ground by the figure as he emerges from the dark, hauled back into the shadows and the familiar scent of whiskey and cigarettes. “Shh,” is whispered against the side of her face and the vice around her neck loosens considerably. Avi Epstein is nothing if not prone to outburst, and right now he stands in the stark shadow of a tenement stoop with a teenage girl in a near chokehold. It doesn't look good.


A beat later, Sibyl hears footsteps over the sound of her heartbeat. Michael steps into her field of view a moment later from around the corner of a building. Avi’s back presses hard against the locked door behind him, breathing arrests, and Michael stops mere feet from the steps leading up to the darkened stoop.

Sibyl’s sudden absence prompts Michael to reach into his jacket, draw a service pistol. He grips it in both hands, head slowly canting to the side. The rain starts to fall harder now, another peal of thunder rumbles above, but it sounds distant yet.

The girl’s legs jolt out from under her like an animal caught in a snare when Avi jerks her off her feet and into — the current situation considered — a protective embrace. Two swings into the struggle, her senses are assaulted by the smell she’s come to associate with her guardian and the low, sticky growl of his voice in her ear.

Although her body doesn’t go completely lax, the remaining tension in her hands as she clutches at his wrists with white-knuckled fingers doesn’t indicate a lack of trust.

Sibyl is afraid. When Michael comes into view, she shrinks closer against the man with his arm hooked around her throat. Her breath stalls in her throat and suddenly her every muscle is focused on holding as still as is humanly possible.

The distant glow of the nearest street lamp reflects off the water on the pavement and the pistol the SESA agent brandishes only a few meters away.

Leave, she thinks at him, even if that’s not how her ability works. Please leave.

For a moment, it looks like Michael might just do that. He lowers his pistol, rainwater dribbling off of his nose and chin, hair matted to his scalp. But then, he calls out into the dark. “Come out, Sibyl.” No more pretenses, no more masks, just Michael’s rigid determination showing clear in his voice. “If you come out it'll be safer, for you… for Mr. Epstein.”

Avi’s hands begin to tremble. Sibyl can feel it in her neck, in her scalp, in her hands around his wrists. Slowly, Avi bends his knees and crouches in the stoop. There's a noticeable hitch in his breathing as he bends his bad knee, then sets Sibyl down on her feet. He says nothing, just unwinds his arms from around her and in doing so relieved the girl of the small folding knife she keeps in her back right pocket.

“I just want to ask you a few questions. I'm not going to hurt you,” Michael calmly asserts, barrel of his gun angled down toward the now waterlogged street where clogged sewer drains overflow with refuse. “You're not in trouble… your family is worried about you.”

Michael spots Avi’s broad-shouldered frame a moment too late. A gunshot rings out as Michael fires at his attacker who leaps from the stoop like a Neanderthal man hunting a stag across a forest. The shot goes right of Avi, shatters a window two feet from Sibyl. Epstein and Michael collide in a tangle of limbs and a second gunshot, this one nearly parallel to the street as Avi wrestles with the gun.

Their fight is over nearly as fast as it began, when Avi unfolds that small knife on the side of his leg and plunges it into Michael’s right armpit, then up three times into the side of his neck. There's a gurgling cry from the man, blood and rain filling his mouth. Avi takes the gun, hurls it aside and begins feverishly fishing through Michael’s pockets.

He looks back at Sibyl in the stoop as his shaky hands unfold the wallet. Then down to the identification badge inside. The block print SESA on his card sends a chill down Avi’s spine. “Fuck!” He hisses, then throws the wallet into the street. “Fuck!” He'd just killed a federal agent.

From her perch on the stoop, Sibyl sits with her arms wrapped around her knees, gargoyle-like in her stillness and the laser focus of her stare on the body bleeding out into the street. Avi can’t see it from where he’s kneeling, but she’s quaking too — and not because she’s cold and soaked through.

Michael’s blood, indistinguishable from the rainwater, burbles down the drain. She’s seen plenty of people die during the fast and furious carnage of the Second American Civil War, but never at the hands of someone she cares about.

To say that her feelings are conflicted would be an understatement.

“They’re coming,” she manages to croak out, and there’s only one way Sibyl could know. She’s broken so many rules today. What’s one more? “A woman on the second floor just called the police. The nearest car is— ”

Far away. Dispatch sounds small and tinny over the radio. Two officers occupy the front seats of the vehicle, a lukewarm thermos of coffee shared between them. Someone confirms an address.

The distant wail of the car’s solitary siren snaps Sibyl out of her ability-induced stupor, and she clambers off the tenement stoop, the soles of her boots slipping and squeaking as she goes. “Avi!” is whispered, not shouted, but loses none of its urgency in spite of its volume. Sibyl joins her guardian in the street and places both her hands on his arm. “Avi. We have to go.”

Fuck!” Avi shouts as he staggers around, dropping the knife beside the body. There's no time to hide it, hide any DNA he may have left behind. Lips pressed together in a thin line, Avi storms back toward Sibyl and takes a knee in front of her.

Both hands come to rest on either side of her face, and she can see in his one good eye a look of guilt, fear, and shame. “You're gonna be ok,” he tries to calm her. Withdrawing his hands from her face, he pulls a match book from his pocket and a pen. The cap is taken off with his teeth and Av scrawls an address on the back.

“You can't go back to the apartment. Ever.” Avi is emphatic about this, pressing the matchbook into one of her small hands. “Just like we practiced, ok? Fallback drill. But you're gonna go to this address,” Avi looks to the sounds of approaching sirens. “You're gonna go right now, use your ability, watch your back and watch your corners.

He's breathing faster now, removing his wallet from his jacket, unfolding to to reveal his Non-Evolved ID card, keeping it firmly held in one hand. “Her name is Gillian. You wait for her. She'll protect you.” Which implies, in some way, that he can't anymore.

“Tell her nothing. Use the cover stories. Like we practiced.” Avi leans in and presses a kiss to Sibyl’s forehead. “Go,” he whispers, standing up from the stoop and turning to move toward Michael’s body, hands raising in preparation for his confrontation with the military police.

She wants to stay. More than anything she wants to stay, half a step behind him and half-sheltered by his body like a second shadow, because that’s the way it’s always been.

But Sibyl is nothing if not obedient, clandestine nighttime jaunts to the Red Hook Market aside. She looks down at the address on the matchbook, the ink already starting to streak and run, then up again at Avi’s back. There is something horribly familiar about this scenario that she can’t place, but if she listens, really listens, she hears a voice that is both her own and not own hissing terrible things in her ear.

Another peal of thunder provides her the distraction she needs to shake it off. “You’ll be there,” she tells Avi. “Promise.” It has to be a command, not a request; she knows there’s no time for him to answer.

The next time he glances over his shoulder, she’ll already be gone.

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