Slow Match Burning


f_april_icon.gif veronica3_icon.gif

Scene Title Slow Match Burning
Synopsis April and Veronica commiserate over coffee, mostly on how history seems doomed to repeat itself.
Date June 22, 2010

The Nite Owl

The Nite Owl is a survivor from ages past - one of those ancient diners with huge plate glass windows, checkerboard linoleum floor, and a neon owl over the entrance that blinks at those entering. Inside, there's an L-shaped main counter, complete with vintage soda fountain and worn steel stools. All of the cooking is done on the ranges ranked against the rear wall. The outer wall is lined with booths upholstered in cracked scarlet vinyl, tables trimmed with polished chrome. Despite its age, it's been lovingly maintained. The air is redolent with the scent of fresh coffee, vanilla, and frying food.

It's officially summer, in both date and temperature. Veronica has the day off — as much as a Company agent ever has a day off. But her mind is always on her work these days — not on her caseload necessarily, but on the secrets that the Company keeps and how they need to keep them from the Institute's hands. On the idea that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. On how agencies like the Institute and Pinehearst and even the Company are like a hydra, where if you cut off one head, three more grow in their place, more dangerous and with sharper teeth than the first.

It might be because all of this weighs heavy on her shoulders that she called the hotel where April Silver works, inviting the former agent out for coffee. It might just be that she feels some sort of camaraderie for the other woman, and sees similarities that frighten her in the other. And Veronica has always been the kind to face up to what frightens her: afraid of heights as a child, she took up rock climbing and skydiving. But then, she also might have a touch of a death wish.

The current agent sits, dressed for the heat in a sleeveless green blouse and black bermuda shorts, a cup of coffee already in front of her. The Nite Owl is mostly empty at mid-morning, the breakfast rush already two hours past, lunch rush an hour and a half away.

Wearing black slacks and an olive-green shirt, if April had a jacket to go with it she'd qualify as dressed-up, or at least dressed for work. It hasn't been that long since she came off shift, and changing for a coffee meeting just didn't seem worth it. A bell jangles as she pushes it open, sidestepping the Please Seat Yourself placard and quickly picking Veronica out of the diner's few late patrons. "Veronica," April greets as she comes up to the table, sliding into the opposite seat. The waitress promptly fills her cup and deposits a menu, to which the time-traveler nods gratefully. "It's been a little while. How have you been?"

"April," Veronica says warmly, bringing her eyes up from her coffee to smile at the other brunette. "The polite answer is 'fine,' I think, or else I'll sound like an old woman grousing about her bunions and her sciatica, right?" She gives a little shrug. "How about you? Business picking up now that it's not polar bear weather? I seem to see some tourists around. Not sure I'd pick this city as my vacation spot, but there's no accounting for taste … or brains."

Pulling her own mug of coffee over, April mixes creamer in and then takes a sip. "I would rather hear the real answer than the polite one," she points out dryly. "I know it's a little thing, but — if I wanted masks, I'd have stayed, you know?" She chuckles softly, shaking her head a little. "Not that there weren't a hundred and three reasons I quit, and that the least." Her mug clinks against the lacquered tabletop. "Business is picking up," April allows. "The layoffs haven't been too severe, anyway, and it looks like my position's safe from the chopping block for now."

"Yeah. The masks get a little old after a while," Veronica agrees. She gives a shrug, then glances around the diner. The clatter of dishes being washed and the sizzle of the stove help cover softly spoken words, and the few other patrons are far enough off that it's safe to talk, unless any of them have Liz Harrison's ability. "Glad to hear your job is safe. Mine certainly isn't, but it's not like I would miss it," she admits. "To be honest, I'm only there because the alternative is worse. You know anything about the Institute?"

April cants her head as Veronica glances about, then nods slowly as Veronica continues — more in confirmation of something to herself than as a reply. Her spoken answer, in fact, is the exact opposite. "I don't," she says, before taking a sip of coffee. "I take it they have a thing or two in common with Pinehearst?"

"Sounds like it. Except they have the blessing of the US Government," Veronica says with a shake of her head. "Company is red-headed stepchild right now. Not that we don't deserve that status, but basically they're phasing us out as redundant. The Institute seems to be run by mad scientists playing God from what I can tell. They're the new detention center for Evolved, since we don't have holding facilities, and … well, other facilities didn't work out." She gives a wry smile to April, who would only know too well which facility she means. "From what we can tell, detention means holding in coffins using negation gas of some sort, and then there's the fact that I think they caused the event on the tenth."

She sighs and leans back, picking up the cup to take a sip of coffee. "There's a few of us — we're only staying because we're trying to keep them from getting what the Company has… it'd be like handing matches to a pyromaniac."

The woman at the opposite side of the table closes her eyes, leaning back into her chair; the bottom of her cup hits the tabletop with a slightly too-loud thunk. "Of course," she says softly. "It never ends, does it? Once isn't enough, no." Looking down at the mug in her hands, April lifts it, swirling the dark liquid around inside. She's quiet for a while, musing over what Veronica's said; finally, she raises the cup to her lips and takes a deep swig. "I would ask if I could help," the older woman observes, "but that's exactly what I'm trying to stay out of." There's a briefer pause, before April's eyes narrow. "You know a… someone named Richard? Short dark hair, probably taller than me, um… some sort of security business?"

"I don't expect you to help… just saying it to someone who understands actually does help," Veronica says with a weary smile and shake of her head. "I can't tell my fiance most of it — some but not all, or he'd probably kidnap me and make me go live on a remote island to get me away from it all." Her eyebrows rise at the question, and she gives a slight incline of her head. "Not sure about the security business, but I know a Richard who would be good at such a business, if it's the same guy."

April nods slowly, understanding. "No. I never could tell James, either." She sits back with a sigh, mentally sidestepping all the issues associated with that name. "Does the Richard you know have any association with — either group?" she asks. One hand peels away from the mug to tap two fingers against the side of her neck: against the parallel blue lines of her Mark. "People don't usually ask me questions about this." With what Veronica's said about the Institute… the conversation they had now seems much more ominous.

"He's not Company nor Institute, if that's what you mean, no. More… against them. I worked with him in Argentina and Antarctica, so he's done some government work, and he did his willingly, as I take it, unlike some of the others. He's got a pretty good bead on a lot of things going on — he usually knows more than I do, to be honest. He was the first person who alerted me to Institute at all — they kind of came out of nowhere, but he saw it coming," Veronica says quietly, a hand going to her neck to rub the newer mark on her own skin.

She nods again, sipping at the nearly empty cup of coffee. "I see. Thanks." Draining the mug, April sets it down. "Watch yourself, Veronica," she says quietly. "You're already doing better than I did, but — keep your ear to the ground. Don't wind up like we did; even if… the facility… doesn't exist any more…" She closes her eyes. "I guess all we did was buy a year."

"He's a good guy, for what it's worth. I trust him," Veronica says. "If it's the same guy, he'll wear sunglasses all the time. Even indoors or cloudy days." There are a lot of Richards in the world, after all. The warning makes her brows knit together, and she gives a slight nod. "I saw myself in some cell of some sort … on the day of those visions. Right now, all the paths in front of me seem like they might lead me there, no matter what I do. So I might as well try to do some good along the way, right?"

"He did have sunglasses," April allows, nodding briefly. Sliding out of her chair, she takes a step around the table and sets a hand on Veronica's shoulder, squeezing briefly. "We do what we can," she agrees. "You take care. Here —" The woman pauses to fish a scrap of paper — marked with the hotel's logo — and a stubby pencil from her pockets. "This is my cell. Better for messages than the hotel switchboard."

"You take care, too. Thanks for listening… next time you can tell me about your job woes, I promise," Veronica says, curious as to what the conversation between Cardinal and April was about. "I got the bill. Have a good day, and call me if you need anything. And I'm not just saying that," she adds with a grin. "You're one of the few people who would know when I'm wearing the mask, after all."

April chuckles softly. "Compared to where I could be — compared to seven years out west — this job doesn't have woes. I wouldn't call it heaven, but purgatory isn't a half-bad place to be, I think." Not given the alternatives, and they're still fresh enough in mind that April counts her blessings often. "I'll see you around, Sawyer."

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