Some Say The End Is Near


benji_icon.gif carol_icon.gif vincent_icon.gif

Scene Title Some Say the End is Near
Synopsis A Conversation about Eltingville's future, along with a personal favour to ask.
Date November 11, 2011

A Penthouse Suite

Through gilded foyers and pseudo-marble tile floor and red carpets, Benji moves through the hotel lobby like she has only legitimate reasons for being here, but perhaps it not entirely convinced of them. Wearing heavy blacks and a scarf of blue hand-knitted with care, it would take more than a glance to imagine the way she came: over a river, in secret, before dawn, anxious and somehow both under and overslept. Tousled black hair is damp from intermittent rainfall. Someone should probably check that she's getting in three square meals, sharp boned and spindly beneath the bulk of wool.

She is confronted by four elevators in a row, and within one, a broad array of buttons. She shakes her head to herself, and selects one of the upper echelons, tapping with a little urgency the close door button.

There are simpler ways to do this. To hold meetings. Experience tells her that it always depends on the content of those meetings. Extracting promises that can be forgotten upon waking, wilfully or otherwise, have rarely ending well.

She winds up in front of the door she was given, hovers indecisively, putting knocking. Very gently.

The location is an inconvenience, to be sure.

For Benji.

The man who answers the door has a beer in his hand when he leans against the frame, bottleneck frosted white under the hook of his thumb. He's clean, and warm, and rested. 'Convenienced,' one might say.

"Good morning."

Misgiving has had plenty of time to marinate black behind his eyes between message and arrival, lukewarm in the hallway light. The suite behind him is tamped dark, castoff glow from an enormous flatscreen glancing harsh off the edges of modern furnishings — all glass and steel. Two CNN anchors discuss the latest bad news at a murmur respectful of neighbors who may not know they have neighbors.

He doesn't step back to allow her entry until he's confirmed at a glance that she's alone, leaving her to close the door after herself.

Even in the gloomy flicker of news to commercial, his turned back is out of place for the setting: a knit sweater that's seen one rough wash too many, one shoulder rolled stiff against the weather.

"Coffee?" he offers. "Beer?"

The TV snuffs dark once he's hefted the remote, leaving the city sprawl alone to bathe the room in its sulfur glow.

"A hot shower?"

Benji enters in, cautious as a cat through a door left on incidentally open after a tepid to cool welcome. Her eyes go to the television, which — to her — is an unusual enough curiousity that her attention lingers, catching on the news ticker before advertisements, inane and chaotic, flood the screen, and then blink into oblivion. To Vincent, then, and her smile is mild. "No. But I'll have what you're having," she agrees, to the beer, moving further into the room and then hesitating when movement catches in the corner of her eye.

The woman at the door of the bedroom is dressed, a fresh dye job to her hair rendering it a pale, muted gold. In her 50s and made of old American money and easy refinement, her diminutive stature nevertheless calls for manners. "And so early? Are we celebrating?" Her smile is easy, but her eyes dart to Vincent, a silent confirmation that everything is alright before she retreats. This isn't a surprise, or else she would never have opened the door.

A sort of stupid social anxiety captures Benji, but she manages; "I'm glad to see you're looking well, Mrs Praeger."

Carol accepts compliment with a graceful kind of tolerance, and doesn't move from the door. She has had time to trust exactly one person, even of those who rescued her.

"Probably not."

Vincent is ready to field Carol's glance before it's sent, that same middling warmth reassuring across the den in its lethargy. The distinction between suspicion and worry is the distinction between imposition and duress; there's no posture to his path through the suite, past easy assurance.

Not only has he invited Benji in, but he's given her his back.

There's a cat pawing the door for a favor. That's all.

He leads the way to the kitchen, where he switches on a dim bulb over the sink on his way to twisting two fresh bottles out of the fridge. No windows in here.

He pops one of the caps with an opener turned up out of his pocket, only to pause before the second. Waiting a beat to see if Carol pads in after them, he makes use of the time working to read Benji's mind through her face.

And immediately ruins any progress he might have made with a mild:

"Have you had anything to eat?"

"Before I left," Benji promises, following, fairly certain that Vincent would permit her to drink anyway. She takes the offering but doesn't partake yet, and it's clear that worry is eating her alive beneath the thin veneer of manners, the aloofness. And yet not rushing into the reason she's here, perhaps due to Carol's proximity, perhaps because these things need to be approached with caution.

Carol moves into the room proper, apparently to collect a folded newspaper. Picks it up, sees the semi-offer through into the kitchen, and shakes her head. "I'll have a coffee," she says. "When you're all done, here." She opens the paper, reading the headlines, seems to take a breath to steel herself against its content.

"I haven't been reading the news," Benji says, looking back to Vincent, now taking a sip of beer. "There was — will be, nothing like that, where I came from. Just the radio. We made our own. News, I mean."

"You don't look like you've had anything to eat."

Like at all, in the past week, he means, the unclaimed third morning beer nudged back into the refrigerator with an even glance aside. Low energy, as mother henning goes. Low effort, equal parts prompt and warning. People have eyes.

Carol Praeger has eyes. There's room for her to lend credence to his case, in the step he takes away from Benji to prep the coffee maker.

Lazzaro's looked better, himself, for all that the evidence hasn't gained much physical ground in the yoke of his shoulders or the jut of his ears. Certainly he's looked busier and more important than he looks now, rinsing the glass of the pot in a stolen penthouse at whatever clandestine AM hour in jeans and a sweater. The rush of the sink spares him having to answer immediately to shades of dystopia.

"Did you come here hoping for a digest?"

Carol does look up, newspaper in her hands equal parts prop as it is a source of interest. Cultivated remove flickers a little — her recovery from her days as a comatose asset of the Institute had been slow, and she still looks a little raw-boned in comparison to older pictures. "We have food, such as it is." That's said a little like it's an in-joke, an ongoing problem of not having a proper kitchen to herself to properly provide for them both, and in this case, Benji too. "Take some, when you leave, unless you care to stay for—"

And she checks her watch. "Brunch?"

'Brunch' earns a smile from Benji, more amused than shy, and all muted. "I wouldn't want to overstay my welcome."

There's a joke in there, too. "Mr Lazzaro," polite, and devoid of irony, "do you recall, mm. The last time you spoke to Delia Ryans?"

"Chinese." Vincent is methodical about the process of filling the pot, pouring it in, tearing open a packet of grounds, and so on. "We ordered take out."

In the grounds go, with a stiff shake.

"In 2011," he explains, "primitive man could phone a restaurant and have them prepare food to be eaten elsewhere."


A light under the switch glows baleful red.

Beer wrapped slow back under his wrist, Vincent watches the machine drip while he remembers. There is a point, probably, where giving Benji his shoulder takes on an implication beyond confidence, or trust. It's more private, facing the other way.

It also puts him at a better angle to study Carol while she studies Benji. Out of the picture.

"She'd made a deal with the devil."

"Haven't we all?" Benji tips the beer bottle, loose wristed gesture. "Once or twice."

Carol allows them a guise of privacy, without yet leaving the room. There's a comfortable chair near the broad windows, away from the kitchen, and she takes her station to read while she waits for coffee. Accumulates questions, some interesting questions at that, to pose to Vincent later. For now, she reads world events, as if peering through a window at what's going on outside of their uniquely broken country.

Leaning, Benji considers Vincent and his shoulder, arms folded around herself, beer clutched in one hand. "She's my family," she says, finally, voice always barely beyond the shade of a whisper, regardless of Carol's presence. "She was never meant to be where she is now. In the Eltingville Blocks. I want to fix that. I want to ask you to help me."

The boot black of Vincent's eyes is inscrutable when he finally rolls back around against the countertop, appraisal at a distance greater than the kitchen span should afford him.

"Not all of us."

Benji had seen to that, his one serious attempt intercepted. Doused with a dream.

To whose benefit, he's wont to wonder in a hazy lift at his brows, beer bottle loose in his fingers. He tips the base to the largest of the windows, which is, in fact, a door. It leads out to a simple balcony, guarded by a sculpted concrete barrier.

"You want to," he echoes, and leans away from brewing coffee. His coat is draped long over the back of a chair; he retrieves it at a half-hearted drag, a touch of a flourish in his fingertips under the collar. Sure, he'll entertain the idea of another benevolent kidnapping out of government territory. "Let's step outside."

Benji follows, bracing herself for the drop in temperature without particularly minding it. Wild animals are that way, accepting discomfort as a fact of life, and besides, a cold wind always wakes you up. She approaches the railing to lean her forearms against it, easily distracted by the view. Not as alien as televisions, but still novel.

"She's been living there long enough to care about the people within it," she says, once she hears the sliding door close up to retain the warmth inside, "and they're all beginning to care about one another. That's one of the differences, you know? No one cared until it was much too late. Now they care enough that they'll fight for something, for themselves and for their friends."

Which is a good thing, probably, even if her mood is sedate, borderline afraid. "I don't know what happens next," she says, after a brief internal struggle about what to say.

Vincent plants his beer a ways down the rail, freeing his hands to flip a lighter out of his pocket. He already has a cigarette in his mouth — bare knuckles curled up to buffer a tongue of flame at the end.

Ferryboat living is exhausting enough on its own for him to have surrendered the previously meticulous gradient of his stubble into something more mundane. Now he’s just a guy who steals beer and doesn’t shave, lighting up on the thirtieth or fortieth floor of a hotel that doesn’t know he’s here. No hair for the wind to rifle through.

Collar turned up high at the back of his neck, he listens in silence that’s as hard to read as the rest of him, a glance shared wary in aside at the last.

“So things have already changed.”

And she wants to make at least one more sneaky edit. He funnels smoke through his fingers, cigarette tipped down and aside.

“Isn’t this what you wanted?”

Or is a disenfranchised youth from the apocalypse future playing prophet not going entirely to plan? He is not making fun of her. Probably. At least, that isn’t all that he’s doing, sincere interest beneath shade. Are they already completely fucked in some other unforeseen direction?

"Of course."

She doesn't sound like she's lying, when she says that, but neither does the obvious anxiety dispel. "This is where it diverges, our futures, splintering off from one another forever. And if Delia gets hurt in the cross-fire, or worse, before I can ensure she's safe—" Her voice catches, and she starts again. "I think it's for her, that I went at all, that I agreed. I didn't tell her that, before I left — she didn't want me to go, you know, and she would have argued with me even more if I had. But I wanted her to have a better future than the one she was given.

"So, Mr Lazzaro." Now she looks sidelong, past her shoulder, clear eyed and wind bitten. "I want you to help me get out her out of Eltingville. It's going to tear itself apart, if the world is going to be a better place. She doesn't need to be a part of that. Don't you think so?"

"You need Eltingville to tear itself apart, but not with someone you love on the inside."

Paring it down throws the heart of the problem into stark relief — Vincent's eyes fail to catch the same city light that warms his collar and pricks out flecks of silver at his jaw.

The cold snaps sparks off the end of his cigarette, held idle at his hip, the rest of him still as a coiled kingsnake in the cold. Not especially venomous. Not especially excited to be participating in this conversation, either.

"You understand why that might concern me."

Further clarification without a question mark in sight.

News footage of children dying while they fled for freedom is a better thing than children living and eventually dying in captivity, silent and unmourned. This is one of those difficult things to reconcile, morally sinuous, coiling around her heart, and impossible to put into words. It's not all her, she knows, it's not even all them, her friends, but it's hard not to take responsibility like a shard of glass beneath skin. Her eyes hood, blunt nails set against glass bottle.

Her eyes dart to his cigarette, like maybe she would prefer that prop herself, but doesn't ask. Drinks some beer. "This time next year," she says, after a moment, "Eltingville Blocks have expanded to contain most of the New York Evo population. The rest of us are government pet projects. Following the wild success of Evo relocation, these kinds of villages spring up all across America. Some become labour camps, some are prisons, some are worse. Within their walls, people die in anonymity. Telepaths. Precogs. Anyone dangerous. Children are taken to be raised in institution. Our humanity is stolen from us.

"Eltingville has to fail. It has to fail spectacularly, and publicly, and from within. And I'm not the kind of person who can sacrifice my mother for the greater good," Benji concedes, manners translucent enough to show wry, sharper edges. "Or risk it. You caught me."

Well there that is, out in the open. Vincent closes his eyes, buffering himself against the surrealism of his own ready belief. It makes sense.

For the most part.

"Logan isn't the father, is he?"

Because that would explain a thing or two itself; there's a warding cynicism to the next look he gives her, like maybe if he is, he, Mr. Lazzaro, doesn't need to know. Either way, he's abruptly done with his cigarette, the ember snuffed with a smear and a sizzle on his way to reaching back for his beer instead.

"If we don't eliminate the driving force behind the public support for these types of programs, they're going to keep coming."

There is time enough to look vaguely aghast at that question, genuine bristle and soft, disbelieving sound at the back of her throat before she opts to give Vincent the benefit of the doubt that he doesn't genuinely think so. Hopefully. Jesus.

She does not fill in the other elements of her parentage, anyway, expression shuttering.

"If there was a time to steer public opinion," she says, concentrating on talking shop, a little relieved to be out from the shadow of the personal for the moment, "it's now. What would you propose?"

"Avoiding the violent overthrow of government authority."

You know, for starters.

Vincent flicks the butt of his cigarette over the rail with a pointed trip of middle finger to thumb.

"It's all just fear," he says. "And powerful people making the most of it."

But he will vapor into the breach and dig out the present version of Benji's mother from the future, because Benji asked nicely, and he might — by some measure he isn't remotely sure about — owe her. A crook at the corner of his mouth works itself in late after her indignation. This isn't an argument.

It's unhappiness, listless in his bones, bled dull into the tilt of his brows.

According to Benji, the world hasn't really even gone to shit yet.

"I'll need to organize a contingency for Carol."

There's another conversation to be had, here. The one about what happens next. Benji is inscrutable in the face of his preferences, no love for king and country to be found here, and an opinion of a government already in the midst of violent overthrow by its own officials— but this isn't an argument, and she senses his ascquience like a change in atmosphere. One that's easier to breathe in.

"Alright," she agrees. Glad, too, she doesn't have to press the issue of what he might owe her. It feels like a losing strategy. "Of course. And thank you."

Unsure which of those goes first, all three sentiments sort of trail on after the other, and she straightens out of her lean against the railing. "I know of some discreet safehouses she might find comfortable. Secure. If you like." Carol Praeger is still an asset, but it appears that Benji views Vincent as the most viable caretaker.

"You're welcome," says Vincent, and also: "Sure."

Put together a list of discreet safehouses for him to ignore.

He drains his beer. Then he's back to sizing her up across the balcony, his thoughts blackly indecipherable, in whatever constant state of a waking nightmare this is. It's not really that bad. Liberating, to unplug from society and flush everything you've ever worked for down the toilet.

He'll grow into it. Hopefully.

"Anything else I need to know?"

Not quite confident in her ability to drain her beer in the spirit of a deal sealed, she tolerates sizing up in her own thoughtful silence, half emptied vessel fidgeted with, one slightly ragged thumbnail edged under label. She shakes her head.

"But I'll be in touch," she says. "Remember to get some rest."

Or else getting in touch might be more difficult. Or perhaps she's just concerned for his mental wellbeing as he is for her eating habits. Speaking of which, Carol has abandoned her newspaper and tucked some leftover Chinese into a paper bag, left on the table, her subsequent retreat indicated only by the slightly parted bedroom door she's disappeared behind.

Benji hesitates over it, trades beer for it with a soft crumple of paper, and leaves without a backwards glance.

Vincent watches her go in more of the same silence, peaceful after the fashion of a tar pit, or a sucking bog. He waits until she's all the way out the door to trail back into the suite, biting back on the urge to follow by not thinking about it. Trust. Trust is important.

He sweeps a few crumbs off the counter into the garbage; he pours himself a mug of coffee. He checks his watch, and stands idle in the kitchen.

Four minutes later, he's caught up enough to trail invisible over her shoulder — a thundercloud that follows her down the block a ways before it vanishes entirely. Goodnight, Benji.

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