Phantom Life


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Also Featuring:

francois_icon.gif kazimir5_icon.gif

Scene Title Phantom Life
Synopsis Avi Epstein is given a new lease on life.
Date April 7, 2019 — April 23,2019

The hospital has a Hound stalking through its halls. She's not in armor, nor is she armed, but she walks with the same gait she does when on a mission. It's what keeps her steady. She nods a greeting to nurses as she passes, a pretense of normalcy that's far more stiff and formal than she would like. But that's what she has. It isn't her most well crafted mask, but—

This is different.

Her father lies in a hospital bed. Her father. She knows somewhere in her more rational mind that no one is invincible. Everyone as a breaking point. But Avi always got back up. She's known that since she was a child. He always found a way to keep going. Her hand presses on the door to Avi's room to slide the door open softly, so as not to disturb him or anyone in the room.

«…emarked on the announcement earlier this week. Latimer Inc’s CEO Houston Latimer had this to say

A television is on in the room, though no one is awake to watch it. There’s a jacket over the back of a chair for guests, too big to be Emily’s and too nice to be Avi’s. Richard probably was — or is — in the hospital, somewhere. Just past the guest’s chair, the sight of Avi Epstein laid up in a hospital bed shouldn’t be as jarring as it is, except for the condition he’s in. Every visible part of him is either red with scratches and cuts or purple and yellow with bruises. His head is wrapped in gauze bandages, including a wrap that completely covers his already missing eye. He has a neck brace on, keeping his head tilted back just so against his pillows. The arm that she can see is covered in a cast, as is his already injured leg.

«”Itinerant Dawn is a dream given shape. It presents a golden opportunity for unity between SLC-Expressive and Non-Expressive staff working to make it a reality.”»

The soft beep of an EKG nearly follows the slow rise and fall of Avi’s chest. He’s asleep, if the one eye that’s visible is any indication. He looks so old, laying in a hospital bed, his gray hair unkempt and face so thin. What had happened to him was nothing short of an attack, but appears to have stopped just short of a murder. In spite of all of this, he’s alive, and Nathalie can already imagine his voice in the back of her mind: You should see the other guy.

«Latimer Inc refuses to comment on criticisms from the greater European Union for their company’s work with SLC-Expressive contract workers. EU member states have long criticized Italy's relaxes interpretations and enforcement of the EUSR, compounded by the contract with a pro SLC-Expressive company in the contract signed between Latimer and te Italian Space Agency just last year. This comes with increased tensions between the US and the UK over international registration policy.»

Her steps hitch up in the doorway. Before she's even properly in. And she's somewhat glad he isn't awake to see the look on her face when she sees him. In that first moment, she worries that she's too late. It's only after she reminds herself to breathe and to actually come inside that she hears the beeping of his heart rate and processes the casts and bandages.

Nathalie shuts the door behind her and comes over to his bedside. She can feel the state he's in before she gets there, but she still reaches over to put her hand on his arm. Gently. "I don't know if you can hear me," she says in a whisper, "but would it be okay if I called you Dad sometimes? Not at work or anything, but just sometimes?" Her hand reaches up, fixing his hair so it looks closer to normal. She's not used to him seeming frail. Or old. Right now it seems like a strong wind might be enough to push him over the edge.

"We just got each other. I'm not ready for this." She gestures to him, down the length of the hospital bed. She straightens and tries to take him in more analytically, less emotionally. "I hope you don't mind this. I usually like to give people a choice, but I'm making an exception." Blue eyes settle back on his face as she tries to sort out the worst wounds from the rest. The more life threatening from what can wait. It's a odd triage, but with everything that's wrong, she has to work out a focus point.

Her hand rests over his as she begins, knitting back together broken pieces of a man she always thought of as unbreakable.

Something haunts the periphery of Nathalie’s senses as soon as her hand rests down on Avi’s. A memory, discongruent with her emotional state, save for one thing: fear.

On seeing Francois make his way in, Kazimir's blue eyes narrow just a touch, but it's his presence and Cardinal's that the darkly dressed man was counting on. Breathing in deeply, he exhales a calming sigh, and while the surface of his mind eases, that phantom presence beneath rages against a mental prison. Huruma can feel a turbulent conflict of emotions; outrage, confusion, indignation, frustration, all simmering like a stewpot of negativity just under the surface. Aviators notices the shift in his demeanor, and rolls his one good eye behind his sunglasses, shaking his head as he does.

"This is briefing for Operation: Apollo's Shield." Kazimir's voice roughly states as he turns his back to the room, looking up to the screens for confirmation as he presses a button on the SatCom to synchronize the devices, and the large LCD screens now display a global map, showing the Prince Edward Islands with a targeting reticle on Marion Island.

"After careful inspection of documentation discovered here on the island," Kazimir begins, turning back to the crowd, "as well as intelligence gleaned from Vanguard prisoners acquired from Argentina, Russia and Madagascar, we have managed to reconstruct a blueprint of the intentions for the Vanguard's use of the Nuclear weapon Munin."

"Contrary to intelligence gathered prior to this operation, the warhead "Munin" that was stored at the nuclear munitions facility in Stepnogorsk, Russia was not a 20 kiloton ICBM." A click of the SatCom changes one of the screens behind Kazimir to a sectional display of an intercontinental ballistic missile. "The files secured about the weapon which was codenamed Munin by the Vanguard was correct, according to Stepnogorsk's records. However, the facility has been storing a cache of nuclear weapons outside of what their records officially claimed. The weapon codenamed Munin was not 20 kilotons…"

Clicking the SatCom again, another screen displays an almost stereotypical-looking "bomb", with a round and fat body and tail fins, like the kind in the movie Dr.Strangelove. "This, is Munin. It was designed under the Russian Nuclear Armament Protocol, designated Project 700. It was one of two nuclear bombs created in the 1950s. The first of which was entitled Tsar Bomba and was detonated in northern Russia in 1961." Coincidental, that date.

Clicking the SatCom one more time, there is a map of a scythe-shaped island off of the northern coast of Russia, a red targeting reticle designates it Novaya Zemlya. "This bomb, and Munin, are 100-megaton thermonuclear weapons. When Tsar Bomba was detonated, it's fireball was five miles across." With a click of the button, Kazimir displays the image of a glowing orange sphere of fire, like a sun, burning in an orange-hued sky. "The blast radius from the explosion was thirty-two kilometers across. Windows in buildings as far away as Sweden were rattled by the blast."

Nathalie fights back from the memory and finds herself confronted with Avi Epstein’s solitary open eye. He makes a noise, little more than a grunt, and tries to move his hand but can’t. For all that she thought he was unbreakable, he is so very broken right now. It’s a miracle, in fact, that he is even alive at all.

The memory still echoes in her mind as she refocuses on Avi. Small movements and attempts to speak are enough to anchor her in the now. The fear is clear in her gaze as she looks back at him— that isn't helped by being herself again.

"Don't try to talk yet," she says, her fingers tightening around his, "I haven't gotten there. I'm sorry I can't make this all go away right now. It's gonna take some time. Or else they'll have to set up a bed for me too." It's meant to be a joke, but her voice shakes too much to make it work. And it's a little too true. So she stops talking and closes her eyes, working so he can talk again. Mending the concussion. As if she plans on working top to bottom.

It’s a wise choice, considering Avi’s state. Past and present. He’s a mess.

From top to bottom.

April 8th


“He’s signed the necessary consent forms.”

In the hall outside of Avi Epstein’s hospital room, one Elmhurst’s busiest nurses is a dull pink-clad silhouette against the sterile, white walls. Julie Fournier-Raith is one of the most active nurses in Elmhust, and today she’s standing in staunch defiance of a doctor. “I put the release forms on your desk, he’s consented to Expressive medical aid and he’s relieved the hospital of any liability resulting from his participating in the procedure.”

The doctor, a tall and lean man with more gray than black in his hair looks put off by Julie’s assertiveness. “If he’s receiving Expressive treatment, then we cannot in good conscience offer him medical treatment. We don’t know anything about the aid he’s being given, and if our medication interacts poorly with— ”

“I’ll tell him you said to pack up,” Julie interjects, her expression flat and measures.

Julie,” the doctor says in a patronizing tone, “I didn’t s— ”

“No, you didn’t.” Julie interjects again, angrily walking away from the doctor, whose own fiery stare burns metaphorical holes in her back as she storms off.

April 8th


Sitting on the edge of his bed, hospital gown loose over his shoulders, Avi Epstein looks like a man who was thrown into a blender. Bruises mottle his skin, his face has turned several shades of purple, though much of the bruising is superficial now, in so much as his cranium is concerned. There’s a glowing tablet set on the bed beside him, stylus laid across it, some digital documents related to his Wolfhound work rather than his medical condition awaiting his signature. His cell phone on the stand beside the bed tells a story all its own.

Attorney General Pak
7 Missed Calls

“You took a stupid risk,” Avi says to the woman slouched in the guest chair. “The more people who find out that you can…” he trails off, she knows this song and dance. They’ve danced it before. “I’ve survived worse,” is his way of minimizing how bad the situation was. “I would’ve bounced back, eventually. You… you didn’t have t’do this.” He looks away from Nathalie, staring at the floor. No matter what the situation, he will always be himself.

Nathalie looks over at him, letting out a long sigh. It's only partly for his comment, partly because she's tired. "I know you would have," she says, although she doesn't know that, not this time, but she's willing to give him that all the same, "but I made a decision in the moment." That moment when she was looking at him closer to death than she's seen him, mere days after finding out he's her father. Emotion-fueled choices aren't completely foreign for her, especially the kind that cause trouble.

"So it's a risk I'm already taking. I can't take it back," she says with a helpless spread of her hands. "And I wouldn't even if I could." She gestures to the tablet and the phone, "Who would do all this work?"

Avi laughs, ruefully, and brandishes one hand at the tablet as though trying to shoo away a pesky animal. “Yeah, lucky me. I get a free head injury and have to do two people’s worth of fucking paperwork.” He looks up to Nathalie, delivering a sarcastic, “Thanks,” to her. But in that same moment his expression softens, that rough exterior crumbles away just a little. In that moment, Avi looks down to his lap, over to the tablet, and then back up to Nathalie. This time, he means it.


The Bunker

Rochester, NY

April 12th



Avi’s voice echoes through the largely empty halls of the Bunker, accompanied by the squeak-scuff of his wheelchair. Hauling himself out of his office, Avi jostles his leg against the doorway, eliciting a fountain of profanity that follows him down the corridor toward the common area. “Francis, where the fuck are you!?” Avi shouts, urgently, his cell phone cradled in his lap. He’s having a hell of a time self-propelling his chair, given that one of his hands is still in a cast.

“Francis you shit, I swear to god if you already left!” Avi pushes too much with one hand than the other and collides with the wall, knee-first. “Motherfucker!

Francis is not the one who answers. Nathalie pops out from around a corner, an eyebrow raised. "Why are you screaming at Francis?" she asks, a hand moving to her hip like she might follow up with how all this shouting isn't good for him. But she doesn't. Instead, she comes over to turn his wheelchair away from the wall. And then she takes position behind it to start him off toward their array of transports. She's not sure if he would be leaving by car or plane, but she assumes he'll tell her when she starts going in the wrong direction. "Want me to run? I'm pretty sure I won't slam you into another wall."

Of course, she doesn't run, but at least she picks a quick pace. She also doesn't seem to care if he would rather maneuver himself. It's not likely that she'll say she's still worried, but then, she doesn't really have to.

“I can— fucking—” Avi fusses, struggling with his good hand to try and swat Nathalie’s away, “wheel myself around myself!” But she doesn’t care, and moreover he can’t. It makes his protests just a little hollow, and more than a little ineffectual. “I’m yelling for Francis because I need him to ship that broken tablet Huruma and Rue found in Israel out to Raytech.” Avi’s lips flatten into a thin line, and he looks over his shoulder to Nathalie.

“I talked to Hana.” Avi says, awkwardly. “Or— some sort of fucking technopath virtual assistant of hers, or something. It’s fucking impossible to say but it’s got her fucking tone. Demsky said something in passing about something like that once, but of course she’s not fucking here to ask.” Working himself up into a froth, Avi slaps a hand on the arm of the wheelchair. “I need that tablet analyzed, because apparently— fuck— I don’t know. It’s something.”

"I'm faster," Nathalie says, as far as him getting himself around. "We'll catch Francis. Richard will dig into it. We'll figure it out," she adds, her tone calm in comparison. She pulls out her phone, just in case they are too late to catch Francis, to tap out a quick text to him herself.

Hey if you havent gotten too far? Come back and talk to avi.

If you have gotten too far, he needs the tablet to go to raytech.

Her phone goes back in her pocket and her attention tunes back into Avi as he goes on. "Okay, so she's set up something to communicate in her place. Did we piss her off or something? I mean, I know I did, but everybody else?" She tips her head a little, though, and lifts an eyebrow. "So call Colette. She didn't disappear, she's just in the Safe Zone. I'm sure NYPD lets her have a phone." That part is a tease, just a gentle one. Dipping her toe in the water.

Avi makes a face, turns around enough in his chair to make sure Nathalie can see it. Then he hits send on something he’d composed on his phone. To Nathalie.


Same face.

“I don’t feel like talking to Demsky right now, or either of the Gitelmans, or— fucking anyone.” Avi shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “Our cell phone service is fucked since Wireless stopped being our preferred carrier,” he says in a joking tone. “Getting anyone in the Safe Zone’s a lot harder now, because we’d been using the same hardware. I don’t even know if she has the same phone.” It sounds more like she hasn’t returned Avi’s calls. He has such a sterling personality it’s unclear why.

“I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with Hana,” Epstein admits frustratedly. “I don’t know if she’s being fucking stubborn because the mighty Hana Gitelman actually got caught in a fucking trap, or if— I don’t know. I don’t fucking,” Avi slams one of his hands on the arm of the wheelchair, “know!

It takes a second for Avi to realize he’d struck his hand that’s still in a cast, a second more for the pain to hit. All he does after that is curl up on himself, making a keening sound at the back of his throat.

When the text comes through on Nat's phone, the alert comes in the form of a distinctive, droid-ish Uh-Oh. It's the one time their forward progress pauses.

"That's my alert for everyone."

But when she glances at the face, there's a chuckle before she gets them moving again. "Okay. I'll talk to Colette when I go down there next and ask her about Hana's virtual assistant." When he ramps up again and bangs his hurt arm, Nathalie sighs behind him. "Avi. You have got to calm down. We're doing what we can, right? If Hana's in trouble, we'll find out and go get her. If she just needs space from us, then we just have to let her have that. We're on some downtime, you should be using it to recover."

She doesn't really mean physically, since she's helping out with that, but the other part of recovery from being attacked. The part he seems to be avoiding.

He has decades of experience with that.

The Bunker

//Rochester, NY:/

April 16th


“So, we’re up on this ridge…”

The lights are low in the mixed kitchen/dining space in the bunker. The distant aroma of pan-fried noodles and beef still lingers in the air, though the food was devoured more than an hour ago. “Sun’s in our eyes, so we’re both squinting like we’re trying to find a congressman’s prick with a magnifying glass…” Sitting sideways to the table in his wheelchair, Avi motions with a can of beer in one hand over to Nathalie, sitting diagonal from him.

“Anyway,” Avi looks down at the rim of his can, ignoring the mountain of paperwork he’ll eventually need to do tonight. “So Sarisa sets up her tripod, and she's looking downrange, I'm next to her with my rangefinder, calling out distances.” Avi pauses to take a sip of his beer, his eyes — both of them, now — distantly focused on the place in his memory. “We get this engineer who’d been laying IED’s square in our sights, three quarters of a mile out. But Sarisa, she could fucking make the shot. She could make any fucking shot.”

Avi snorts, swishing his nearly empty can around. “And up our asses comes Jensen, arms windmilling, rooster-tail of dirt behind him, bullets popping over his head. He's being chased by a fucking Taliban in a Jeep!” Avi slams the can down and barks out a laugh. “Our Jeep!

"Colorful," Nathalie cuts in, just to comment on his choice of metaphor, an eyebrow lifted, but there's indulgence in her tone. Her beer isn't nearly as empty as his, but she's drinking while he talks like she might be trying to catch up. She can't help a smile at the mention of her mother, like any positive story about her might be the best thing she's ever heard.

But she also echoes his laugh at the end of the story, her head shaking gently. "And obviously, you never let him live it down," she says, her smile bright in a way that's hardly been seen before. She tilts her head, because Avi already knows all the embarrassing Wolfhound stories. But, when something comes to mind, she straightens up. "Once, Luce took me to a bar that was supposed to be famous for their absinthe. So we're drinking, and I walk away from the bar for two seconds to answer a call and when I come back, Lucille is slapping a guy across the face so hard he drops to the floor. And someone comes and tries to hold her back, so they end up on the floor. And by the time I get to her, the whole place is fighting. I asked her why she slapped him and she said it was an ex of hers. Only, it wasn't an ex, it was the bartender," she says, finishing off her beer before she adds, "We're not allowed in that bar anymore."

Avi snorts out a laugh at the story, slowly shaking his head as he looks into the rim of his can. “That fucking kid,” he says with a smile that belies his true feelings. “D’you know what kind of scraggly little stray cat that girl was when we first met?” The noise he makes is somewhere between a bark and a laugh, stifled by the aluminum of the beer can as he takes another sip. “She literally ran head-fucking-long into a Wolfhound op at Creech Army base, this would’ve been a bit before you joined up. Fucking kid was covered head to goddamn toe in somebody else’s blood the first time we met.” He shakes his head, then sets down his can and reaches up to peel at the clap holding the bandage around his head and eye.

With some effort, Avi unclips the bandage and starts to unwind it, as if discussing that story somehow inspired him to. Or maybe he’s just grown tired of having it wound around so snugly. He doesn’t continue his story, if he wasn’t somehow done with just that one remark. Instead, Avi focuses on removing the bandages and the gauze pad over his missing eye. From the angle he’s standing at, Nathalie can see his profile, the way his brows furrow, the way his mouth works open and closed as if to say something.

Then, with a slow turn of his head, Avi angles his astonished expression at Nathalie. Both eyes wide.

“I…” Avi’s voice cracks, “I can see you.” With both eyes.

"Better than being covered in her own blood, I guess," Nathalie says with a crooked smile. That's how Lucille would see it, anyway, even if not being covered in blood at all would be ideal.

She sits back when he starts to take off his bandage, not sure if he's going to be happy about what she's done or not. Her turn with Lucille's scar taught her a lot about people not reacting the way you think they will. But at least he knows where it came from.

Lifting a shoulder, Nat can't help but smile a little, even though it fades away a moment later. "I should have done it a long time ago. I should have done it all a long time ago." She didn't; she needed this reminder that Avi was as human as anyone else.

“No argument here,” Avi says with feigned bitterness. He looks down to his hands, then back up to Nathalie with a slow blink. “It's weird,” he says quietly, “I never noticed you have brown eyes too, until… just now.” There's something unusually sentimental about that statement, about everything, as he looks from Nathalie back to his hands.

“Sometimes you have your mother’s eyes,” Avi says quietly. “Blue. Deadly.” He smiles, faintly. “I hope you know she'd try to pretend she wasn't proud of you in order to push you to accomplish even more, but would secretly be so fucking proud of you.” He finally looks back up to Nathalie. “Just her way.”

Nathalie smiles crookedly at those first words. It lingers when he looks back up at her, although softer at his observation. She can't help but categorize similarities herself, or see him in a better light than she might normally. The sentimentality goes both ways, even if she doesn't say so.

She has to look away when he mentions Sarisa, just to hide the way her eyes start to glisten more than they should. She's had people she wanted to make proud before, but never bone deep before. And the idea that she might succeed never hit quite as hard.

"I saw her, you know," she says, blinking to keep herself together, "in another world. One where she… came back for me. Where she loved me and I wanted nothing more than to be just like her." She looks back over to him, pushing her hair back from her face. "I wish I had been able to know her. Even just a little." Instead, she died before Nathalie even knew to mourn her.

Making a sound in the back of his throat, Avi nods once. “I saw some shit too,” is about all he has to say on that topic. As he looks back to Nathalie, there’s a softness in his expression, one reserved for private moments like these when only one person will remember the kindness, and no one else will believe them. “Honestly, kid… I wish I’d been able to know her too. But she wasn’t the type,” he admits with a shake of his head. “We worked together for years, but I still don’t think I ever really… knew her. Not the real her. I don’t know if anyone did.” He looks away, back down to his hands that he flexes open and closed.

He wonders if someone will say the same thing about him one day.

The Bunker

Rochester, NY

April 23rd


Nathalie sits on the floor of the common room at the Bunker, a towel stretched out in front of her holding pieces of a gun. Her gun, field stripped for cleaning. It's part work and part meditative for her and seems to be replacing actual rest. Avi might be healed, but Nat seems to be lingering in his shadow all the same as if to make sure she didn't miss anything. She didn't, not with the time she's put into this particular patient, but still. There she is. At least she's doing something vaguely work related— it's always good to know your weapon. Someday she'll convince Richard to let her disassemble and reassemble the Banshee, but until then, a pistol will have to do.

Next to her there's a copy of Francois' book, By The Victors, with her spot marked by a dog-earred page. She has to have something to make her look busy when Avi's work takes him on the move.

At least she's been a fairly silent shadow.

Tiny.” Is a greeting, of sorts, said by the tall silhouette of Avi Epstein in her doorway. He feels like a different man since the healing she’s performed. The injuries caused by Pure Earth weren’t the only ones she was able to restore, it was years of wear and tear, injuries from wars that started and ended before she was even born. He walks without a limp now, without needing a brace on his leg. He sees with both eyes again, moves lighter on his feet, quieter, stronger. He’s still a man of sixty, but he’s in the best shape of his life… and in that there is some cause for concern.

“I’m gonna’ be driving down t’the Safe Zone, finish up work on the Bastion with Mini-Harkness,” Avi says with a jerk of his thumb over his shoulder, indicating where Francis might be. “When I get back you, me, and Captain Baguette should have a little sit-down about all this mystic bullshit, maybe.” There’s confidence in Avi’s voice again, self-assuredness that hasn’t been there since before Pollepel. Since before Sylar. Since before Madagascar. It was injury that kept Avi Epstein sidelined for most of the war, injury that likely kept him from being a casualty. Now, the tether is gone.

Nat looks up at the nickname, or maybe the voice, and lifts an eyebrow as he speaks. "I think he likes Commodore Baguette now," she says, her words half teasing and half indulgence. "He does know the mystic bullshit exists, if that helps." She sits back a little, expression shifting to something more pensive. "Are we going to have to tell the rest of the team?" Francois is one thing, everyone else is something a little more terrifying. While her secret has fallen on more and more ears, there is still an instinct to keep it close where she can.

But. The question at least recognizes that she's not always the most logical when it comes to this particular matter.

"I guess that can be part of the sit-down," she says, fingers spin the trigger piece of the gun she's working on, a nervous gesture that she's not usually inclined toward. More so lately.

“People are gonna’ ask questions,” Avi says with a motion to his face, “and honestly, with the number of people who know now… it’s only a matter of time before folks find out. At that point, it just makes us look like assholes for keeping it a secret for so long.” Though there is uncertainty in his voice, because this isn’t about some asset or a contact. This is about Nathalie. This is about his…

Avi’s phone buzzes in his pocket.

Making a noise in the back of his throat, he fishes the phone out and checks the screen, then furrows his brows and flattens his mouth into a thin, frustrated line. “Hold that thought,” Avi says wearily. “I’ve gotta… take care of something.” He looks back up to Nathalie, apologetically.

We found out what happened.
The telepath got fucked up from it.
She had to be hospitalized.
Devon died.
He's alive because some asian doctor named Cong experimented on him and somehow brought him back.
Under orders from Adam Monroe.
What do we do now?

“It’s your sister.”

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