Table Setting


aoi_icon.gif kay4_icon.gif wenyi_icon.gif

Scene Title Table Setting
Synopsis Returning to work, Kay Damaris meets with Aoi Housen and Doctor Wenyi.
Date March 3, 2021

Yamagato Fellowship Center
Director Damaris’ Office

Yamagato Park

March 3, 2021
6:32 AM

The moon’s departure left the early morning blue and forlorn, until the sun’s arrival, kissing the dawn sky and inducing a flush, pink and purple where it now seems to edge into sapphire. Kay Damaris stands at the floor to ceiling windows that allow her to look out on her corner of this world. The neon has long since flickered off or been suppressed by the encroaching daylight.

“Good morning, Jiba,” the public relations director greets the AI like an old friend, braced in case she finds someone else replies in place. “Did you manage to collect Mr. Erizawa’s security records from November 8 until his date of termination?”

{Yes, Kay.} Jiba’s voice emanates through the office. {They are waiting for your review.}

“Excellent. Thank you.” The stable heels of her white and red wingtip brogue oxfords sound smartly on the hard floor as she makes her way to the coffeemaker. Some rituals are steadying, even if this one only involves a few button presses. The front of her blazer is smoothed over by hands with a fresh manicure — glossy black nails with red tips. Typical slacks have been swapped for a skirt today, and she hates every hideous moment of it. But if she hasn’t proven herself to the people who serve her by now, then it isn’t attire that’s the issue.

Maybe if she throws somebody out a window…

{Your 6:45 appointment—Aoi Housen—is here early. Shall I send her in?}

Shit. Kay glances at her watch. “Give me… two minutes.” Without waiting for her coffee to finish brewing — she can grab it later — she moves to her desk and places her hand on its surface. With a furrow of her brow, taps on the console, directing the system to send a copy of the files to the laptop in her apartment. Without keystrokes, she then instructs it to erase the record of the transfer.

“Send her in, please, Jiba. Thank you.”

The woman who enters Kay’s office a few moments later saunters in out of the redacted pages of history. Aoi Housen, FRONTLINE-OS, a member of Colonel Leon Heller’s personal black ops team leading up to the Civil War until she—and many of his other Expressive subordinates—disappeared without a trace. Aoi’s name came up in the Albany Trials as a person of interest, but never in a prosecutorial way. As far as history was concerned, she couldn’t be directly tied to any of the Petrelli or Mitchell administration’s crimes.

Aoi looks young for a woman of nearly forty. Youthful, delicate features hardened by a life of violence. Kay’s seen the type before. Her bleach-blonde hair is short and fried; split ends and unkempt. She carries her jacket over her shoulder, hooked on two fingers, and fixes Kay with a mild look that soon swivels around the rest of the office as she walks.

“Ms. Damaris.” Aoi says in a flat, disinterested tone as she reaches Kay’s desk, throwing her coat over the back of the chair there. “Awful early, yeah?”

Kay spreads her hands out to either side of her, palms up with a winning smile. “I allowed you to dictate the hour of this meeting, Major.” So if it’s awful early, then she’s no one but herself to blame. “Water? Coffee? Or would you prefer tea?” She smiles, letting the friendliness she’s known for — provided they aren’t in the midst of an unmitigated PR disaster or she’s concerned about being flayed alive by the new boss — shine through. “I’m afraid I don’t do it up as fancy as Kawahara-san, but if you ever feel like trying some of that sweet tea famous in my part of the country,” before the war, “I’m always happy to share that, too.”

Making her way back toward the elaborate brewer with purpose, but without hurry, she fills her mug and turns her head just enough to make it clear who she’s speaking to. “Do you have a preferred method of address, or does Major suit you just fine?” She pours some pumpkin spice creamer into her coffee and stirs it until the liquid is a creamier shade of brown before she takes a taste.

Her stomach churns.

“Housen is fine.” Aoi says, breezing past the topics of drinks and fancy Kawahara tendencies. “Spent enough time in military-adjacent fields to be used to just being addressed by my surname.”

Not her estranged husband’s surname. Kay had done her research on Aoi. A ROTC kid, tried to get into the air force but was denied entry due to red/green colorblindness. Married an air force lieutenant at 23, had a daughter at 24, nearly killed her husband in a manifestation of her electrokinesis at 25. He lived, but it left him unable to walk. That was 2009, a bad time for Expressives with violent manifestations. Aoi was swept up by DHS, branded Tier-3 and locked up in a holding facility in California. Her husband filed for divorce while she was in prison. After a year in confinement, Aoi was hand picked for “service release” by Colonel Leon Heller in early 2010, including a surgically-implanted bomb in the base of her skull. She seems to have gotten over that. The details between there and here are, regretfully, blurred by the fog of war.

“Kawahara seems to think pretty highly of you,” Aoi offers as she settles down into the chair she’d draped her coat over. “Way I hear it he’s cleaned house top-to-bottom of a lot of folks, only kept the best. He seems to be somebody who isn’t overly sentimental,” Aoi notes as she looks around the office, eyes lingering on some of the historic artifacts cased in glass, “so I trust his assessment.” Her eyes meet Kay’s. “Therefore, I trust you.”

“Well!” Kay begins her response with a cheery smile, returning to her desk with her coffee and a glass of water for Aoi, whether she asked for it or not, “I’m glad to have such votes of confidence!” She’s frankly surprised she wasn’t thrown out like a bag of trash as well, but she doesn’t confess that to her new subordinate.

Housen is no Barnes.

“Now, around here, I’m pretty casual with my PR team.” Her accent is still present, but lighter in the office than it is among friends. Southern Professional. “Some of them prefer to call me by my surname, and that’s fine with me, but I invite you to call me Kay if you’re comfortable with that.” With a tip of her head and a smile that’s faded into something more of a conspiratorial little smirk, she indicates the door. “No one outside of this office, below my rank of the executive branch, knows what you and I do here. As far as anyone’s concerned, you’re my right hand. The specialist I send out either to take stock of a situation that’s about to blow up in our faces so it doesn’t, or surveys the aftermath of something that has, so we can run damage control.”

The smile returns in full force, but the twinkle in her eye is something darker. “It’s close enough to the truth. And no one wants to know if it’s anything more than that.” That’s the beauty of the secrets of the Public Relations branch — anyone who suspects would rather not know and anyone who doesn’t know would never suspect. “If you’re the type that prefers reading rather than immersion, I can provide you with briefings on the current assignments in the office, so you’ll have an idea of the tenor. It’s important to me that you be able to look like you still belong in the office as much as the field. You aren’t just fists and a Tesla coil.”

Her coffee off to the side and untouched, Kay leans forward, her hands clasped together, forearms flat on the darkened glassy surface. “Above all else here, whatever you’ve heard, I’m your ally. From here out, you and I are a team. I expect you to come to me with your questions, your concerns, your objections. If you don’t continue to trust me, and if I can’t trust you in return, this doesn’t work.”

Brows that match the dark color at the roots of her otherwise blonde hair lift in inquiry. “How are you feeling so far?”

“Stuffy, but it’s wearing off.” Aoi notes with a wry smile. “I was expecting more of Kawahara’s stiff-spine, not so much southern comfort. So that’s a bit of a relief. The team thing… yeah, that all makes sense. It’s what Kawahara told me to expect in the role.”

Hooking one arm around the back of her chair, Aoi slouches just a little in a relaxed posture. “I’m not a complete fucking goon, but I will note, I’m mostly fists and a Tesla coil. It’s just the other stuff is old and rusty, I haven’t been in a corporate environment before…” She raises one hand to let electricity dance between her fingertips, “You know, that.

“Far as the actual operations stuff goes, I’m used to in-person briefings from the Mugai-Ryu but I can be flexible.” Aoi notes, watching Kay with a discerning eye, then asks, “How was your relationship with my predecessor?”

“I have a very different approach to leadership, it's true.” It's always the ones who can put on the cheeriest voices and sunniest dispositions that are worth watching out for, isn't it? “I've maintained total separation with my operatives before. Never goes near as well as it does with the ones I can grab a coffee with.”

To forestall any remark on that, Kay lifts a hand. “I'm not saying we need to be best friends.” A knife twists in her guts. “Just that in my experience, being aloof and enigmatic doesn't do much for one's feelings of security when it comes time to rely on someone else.”

Which brings them to Aoi's true question. The smile fades and she nods once to herself. Trust starts somewhere. “Your immediate predecessor and I were cordial. Still.” One hand gestures to the chair across the desk that Aoi occupies now. “There's a reason you sit there…”

And Ling Chao does not.

In the name of appearing to support the restructuring of the Security department, and Eizen's removal from the company, Kay had to accept losses of her own. Parting with the SecOp she handpicked left a sour taste in her mouth, but Sun would land on her feet.

“Before, I had the same operative for a few years. We had a strong working relationship. If there was any going off book, I trusted there was a good reason why. On the same token, I could say to jump out a window and there wouldn't be a moment of hesitation.” Director Damaris smiles again. “I know that's a high bar to clear. We didn't start there. But I do everything in my power to make sure that the people I send into the field come back to me.”

Kay leans back in her chair again, pitch made. “Now, you tell me something. What are you hoping to get from all of this?” That's a terribly standard interview question in a terribly nonstandard situation.

“A paycheck.” Aoi says plain and simple. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m a professional and I do my work, but at the end of the day I’m a member of the Mugai Ryu on loan to Yamagato Industries because of the failure of the previous security chief.”

Aoi leans forward, resting her forearms over her knees. “Mr. Kawahara is extremely concerned for the company and its internal security, and my shadowing you is—let’s be real—twofold. Obviously I’m here to help you work while Kawahara reorganizes corporate security, but you know he put me here to keep an eye on you too. We’re not children, you and I get what this is.”

One corner of Kay’s mouth turns up at the motivation. “I can respect that.” Her brows lift next and her head tilts in a sideways nod at Aoi’s further candor. “I can respect that, too.” For a moment, she nearly reaches for her coffee, but the movement stops short.

“You have any questions about why I’m doing what I’m doing, you ask.” Kay shakes her head. “I was loyal to Kimiko Nakamura. I was given this position after the departure of my predecessor because of my loyalty to this company. That hasn’t changed.”

It has, and she’s not stupid enough to say.

“This position pays for my daughter’s trust fund. It’ll pay for her education, when she decides what she wants to do and where. It’ll buy her a better life and better opportunities than I ever had. So if you want to know what I get from all of this? It’s that. I’m too smart to fuck that up. Not when I know what Kawahara will do if I do.” Kay draws in a deep breath, her shoulders relaxing. “I’m an open book, Housen. That’s why this works in both our favor.”

The major gets a paycheck, Kaydence keeps her head. Everyone goes on with their lives.

Aoi’s brows furrow for a moment. Her jaw muscles tense. She was going to say something. She doesn’t. Kay sees it for what it is, a vulnerability. Something Aoi Housen cares about. Her personnel file comes to mind.

Marital Status: Christopher Jarvis (husband; divorced)
Children: May Jarvis (daughter; estranged)

“Admirable.” Aoi says without a hint of sarcasm. “And I don’t get paid to ask questions, I get paid to look for answers and solve problems. So when there’s one or the other, I suppose you’ll know where to find me.”

Aoi raises a brow, that earlier moment of vulnerability repressed. “Was there anything else for this morning?”

That landed as intended, it seems. Kay is internally satisfied. She has firsthand knowledge of how effective the mother-to-mother connection can be. If it has to be exploited, the way hers was in order to protect her daughter, then so be it.

“No. I have nothing further for you. You have my direct line. I encourage you to use it whenever you need.” Kay rose from her seat, flashing the bright smile that shows in her bio on the company website. “I hope we’ll find this a mutually beneficial arrangement. Take care now.”

Aoi quirks one brow, glances at the clock, and then smiles.

“Succinct,” she says, sliding out of the chair and rising to stand. “I like that.


“You know all these years, and I have never set foot on this floor.”

Cora Wenyi has the gentle, conversational tone of an aunt visiting from out of state. “Ms. Nakamura certainly had a flair for the theatrical, though, setting up our company’s wetworks division inside of a non-profit.” The kind of aunt who will judge your curtains, correct your cooking, and make you feel unwelcome in your own home.

“Sher certainly did,” Kay agrees, attempting not to sound absent about it. This is a touchy subject for her they’re about to approach, understandably. The fact that they’re discuss what she really does for the company openly doesn’t put her any more at ease.

As she follows Kay from the door to the office across the floor, Cora looks at the historic artifacts on display behind glass, then to Kay. “How is your implant? Experiencing any sub-cranial itching?”

“No.” Once they reach the desk, Kay removes her hat and leans against the edge of her work surface. “It feels awkward, but it hasn’t hurt, felt warm, or… anything else like that. No sign of infection that I’ve been able to notice. But I’m not the doctor.”

“No,” Wenyi says with a gentle smile, “I suppose you are not.”

Doctor Wenyi takes a seat across from Kay’s desk, crossing one leg over the other and folding her hands in her lap. “So long as you stay on your medication the risk of viral meningitis or other infection should be extremely minimal. Good port cleanliness is also important.” She can’t help but be something of a mother about this all.

“That said, there is another issue.” Wenyi admits, reaching inside her coat pocket as she does. The small flashlight-sized device Wenyi pulls from her pocket looks distinctly medical in nature; pale plastic with a red stripe, a replaceable metal cartridge on the back end. “This is a PharmaJet, an intramuscular needleless injection system. Not our design, but I wanted to make sure you got it.”

Wenyi offers the PharmaJet out in one hand. “We’re going to be switching you off of nevrazene to nervex. Praxis had cracked the anti-rejection drug better than we ever had, and their nervex is a superior product. Now that we have their designs, I thought we should move you to something that will give you a better quality of life. You should notice a marked decrease in thirst and joint pain than you experienced with nevrazene. Same weekly injections, just… hopefully more comfortable.”

The anti-rejection situation has certainly been a difficult thing to reconcile as a part of Kay’s new normal. She looks down at the proffered medication. “Have we– Forgive me, I’m not attempting to cast any aspersions on our exceptional research team, but I’ve been away for some time, and I just need you to make sure I’m up to speed on this one. Have we tested this thoroughly to ensure we’ve… I don’t know, synthesized it correctly? Reverse engineered?”

Kay sighs, looking as properly apologetic as she can manage. “I don’t mean any disrespect. I just wanna make sure I’m not getting one last fuck you from Praxia. Pardon my French.”

Wenyi laughs, but it’s that grandmotherly oh, honey kind of laugh Kay remembers from foggy childhood memories. There’s almost something southern about it.

“I assure you, Yamagato Industries has some of the best chemical engineers in the world. Some of whom recently worked at Praxis Heavy Industries. Not everyone under their employ was there for the…” she waves her hand in the air, “extracurricular activities. Good scientists and engineers are important. The science is sound, the medicine is safe. It’s what we’ll be offering to consumer markets this year.”

“I’m sorry,” Kay reiterates. “I know…” She takes a deep breath. She needs to get to her center. Needs to get back on top of this and bury her vulnerability. “Thank you for allaying my concerns. This has been a difficult transition for me. I appreciate the little extra assurance.”

And, she has to admit, “An easier injection will also be appreciated.” One arm crosses loosely around her torso and the other rests on the glass top of her desk, a casual posture as they continue to speak. “Now. What else do I need to know about this cranial modification of mine?”

“Well, it’s fully functional, according to our exams.” Wenyi explains, relaxing more into the seat. “Though it will be of limited functionality for you, given its intended design. But, the port can accept a specific proprietary hardwired connection. It won’t allow you to plug into say, a desktop PC, but with an adapter I suppose you could. Though I wouldn’t recommend it, the human brain is not designed to handle that kind of data flow without it being intentionally tailored to the connection.”

Or if Kay was a technopath. Wenyi doesn’t think to posit that impossibility.

“It is directly interfaced to your temporal lobe, allowing a specialized computer system to alter your perception of the world around you. Without knowing how the software functions we were only able to test what parts of your brain it is wired to, and it appears to not interface with your optic nerves at all. So we believe it is intended to function while you are in a sleeping state.” Wenyi explains with a slow motion of one hand through the air, fingers tracing imaginary patterns of synapses and wires.

“By and large the implant is harmless, however,” Wenyi explains. “It is not capable of wireless communication, so you are not at any immediate security risk. However you could still suffer significant harm from a technopath that does not require wireless signals to interface with the device. I recommend you be very careful of who you allow to directly touch the device. Beyond that… there isn’t much else that can be done, but technopathy is a relatively rare ability, all things considered.”

Kay takes it all in with a slow nod of her head, features carefully schooled into neutrality as the possibilities, capabilities, and limitations are laid out. She’s rounding the desk so that her back is to Wenyi when the notion of making use of her implant with an adapter, while awake, is dismissed.

“Understood,” she responds coolly. “Could I receive a 3D mock-up of the proprietary connector? I don’t need it to connect to anything else, but I’d feel more comfortable knowing what it looks like.” The implication Kay leaves on the desk between them as she settles into her chair is that it would allow her to know what to look out for if she were to find herself in a potentially bad situation again.

The reality of what she wants is far different, naturally. But that’s a river she’ll cross later, with people she trusts more.

“Of course,” Wenyi says with a mild smile. “I can have my assistant send it up to you once we’re done here. Mr. Kawahara did want me to impress on you that your physical well-being is of the utmost importance to Yamagato Industries, and that if you need to take a few days off to… adjust, he would understand.”

A few days. How generous.

“That said, you don’t strike me as the type to take a vacation.” Wenyi admits, then dithers and looks down to her lap, and back up to Kay.

“But you’ve never had to make… adjustments like these yet. Which, brings me to my other topic. Your implant is one that we could, in theory, expand upon. Yamagato Industries has been breaking significant ground in cerebral cybertechnology over the last few years, and the placement of your implant could allow us to prototype and further test cognitive enhancing technology, from swap-and-share declarative memory chips, to multi-threaded cognition boosting.” Wenyi says with practiced ease. “It could be a mutually-beneficial arrangement, should you be interested.”

It takes just about every ounce of restraint left in Kay this afternoon not to mutter a few fuckin’ days under her breath. “I do like to keep my mind busy,” is what she responds with, offering a shrug to go along with it. A smile of her own conveys a what’cha gonna do? sort of attitude.

Drawing in a deep breath, she is forced to admit, “No, I haven’t. Can’t imagine a lot of people have.” Monica immediately springs to mind, but that was so much different, wasn’t it? Monica had it worse. There’s no question. “But I may need you to walk all of that back and explain it to me like I’m in high school science, Doctor. I understand an overview at a high level of what cognitive enhancement should entail. But the rest… Swap-and-share memory? You mean like—”

Kay hesitates, trying to think of the right words to use. “Putting my memories on the equivalent of a flash drive and plugging them into a computer like it was security camera footage?” Her brow furrows, pinching over her nose as she tries to puzzle out the second application. “Multi-threaded cognition… Multi-threading like a computer? So, what? I’d process input faster? Speed up my reflexes?” She lets out a quiet breath of laughter. “Am I anywhere close?”

“Somewhat,” Wenyi says to all of Kay’s close approximations. “Swap-and-share memory can go externally, recording your memories into digestible data provided there is the right receiving software and hardware. But also internally. Like Ms. Dawson, who could watch a life-long sushi chef and learn how to handle his knife in an instant or—” she smiles a little, “like the Matrix, with the kung-fu download.”

Uncrossing her legs, Wenyi rests one of her elbows on the arm of the chair and relaxes some. “As for multi-threading, think of it like being able to hold two active thoughts in your head at once. Read a book and recite a poem simultaneously. Listen to a lecture while practicing a new language. Think of it like having two brains. Now, we can’t cram all that hardware in your head at present, but we are making strides on how much can be done and how much of a person can be wholly replaced. But, such technologies are still in their infancy.”

“There may be other options available to you as well, all of which Yamagato Industries would be very interested to beta-test with you, much as Ms. Dawson tested our first-generation prosthetics.” Wenyi notes. She doesn’t go into any more detail. Kay remembers how much blood those contracts were written in.

How much of her blood has she given to Yamagato already? Isn’t she owed something in return by now? Unbidden, the left corner of her mouth curves up in the ghost of a wry smile. It’s heavily that Kay leans back into her seat, letting that information wash over her and absorb into her skin, her mind. It never occurred to her even for a moment that she’d be capable of something like Monica’s ability.

Would they take this position away from her if they tested it and found it successful? Remove her from mission control? Put her in the field? “I want to be clear on this, Doctor, I have no intention of being replaced.” The seriousness delivered, her tone sweetens, though her demeanor doesn’t soften to the extent all that saccharine implies. “I’m rather charmed by my own personhood,” the corners of her eyes crinkle with the beginnings of crows feet, “so I’d like to hold onto that as much as I possibly can. What’s been done to me so far…”

It’s like stepping into a cold rainshower. The first droplets aren’t so bad as she starts to speak the words, but then it seeps into her, chilling to her core. And it doesn’t stop coming. Her gaze falls for a moment while she’s paused. The pretenses of humor and mirth decay in very quick order. One deep breath helps her find the steadiness again to bring her brown eyes up once more. “It took every moment of violation I’ve ever endured in my life and it—”

Kay’s lips press together. She doesn’t break eye contact with Wenyi. Let her feel uncomfortable. This should feel uncomfortable. “They don’t even rate anymore. The things that were done to me— I can’t even have this thing removed because of the risk of brain damage.

Shaking her head firmly, her lip curls into a sneer. “I won’t give up what I’ve got left of me and dress it up to play pretend and call it something that makes me more than human.” Rising from her desk is done so suddenly enough that it sends her chair gliding off behind her diagonally. It collides with the glass behind her with a dull thunk!, but with no real risk of damage to either object.

“I will reclaim my agency on my own terms, not so I can be your fucking beta test.” The Director’s hands are folded behind her back so they can’t be seen shaking. “Have I made myself clear, Dr. Wenyi?” Her head tilts to one side, like a predacious bird eyeing up its next meal.

"Or do you have questions?"

Wenyi is neither impressed nor awkward, she follows Kay’s gaze as she walks around, then looks over to the chair and back up to Kay. “Only one,” Wenyi says as she shifts her weight in her seat, leaning from one side to the other. “Did you have these emotional outbursts before you had your implant, or do you think these may be a side effect of the implant causing cognitive or hormonal issues?”

Detective Damaris sat across a table from a lot of different types of people. Perpetrators of assault, murderers, terrorists, sadists, and serial killers among them. Never before does she remember wanting so badly to wrap her hands around a person’s throat and shake the life out of them as she does right now.

The hints of danger ebb away from her countenance slowly, even while that fire is still being fed fuel in her chest. Kay takes a deep breath, relaxes her posture on the exhale, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, unclasping her hands to cross her arms under her chest instead, deceptively casual in her stance. She dips her chin, brown gaze lowered to the floor. The very picture of the humbled. “Point well taken,” she responds without bite or excessive sugar. “The incident was traumatic for me, Cora. I’ll do well to remember who my friends are.”

Doctor Wenyi smiles and stands, smoothing down the front of her skirt as she does. “Don’t mistake professional concern for friendship,” she instructs with a glance down at Kay’s desk, then back up to her. “But in the same vein don’t be a stranger. Your implant requires regular maintenance and attention to maintain your good health and, unfortunately, there’s few other options in the Safe Zone. But if you need recommendations for a private practice I can make a few.”

Wenyi offers a thin smile, then lifts her brows. “But, unfortunately, I have a call I need to take shortly. I’m glad you’re setting in well, Ms. Damaris.”

Kay swallows down the bitter sentiment that leads her to want to say it’s an American expression, and further draw the distinction that in no way is this a budding friendship. “Yes ma’am,” she responds to the instruction not to be a stranger instead.

With a gesture toward the door, Kay makes her way around her desk, meaning to offer to walk her guest to the exterior office where her assistant sits to screen her visitors. “I’ll give your proposal serious thought. As of this time, I have no plans to go elsewhere for maintenance of my implant.” There’s only the barest hint of hesitation where it comes to taking ownership of the modification made to her without her consent. Like so many other emotions, she shoves it down.

Doctor Wenyi leaves it at that and inclines her head in a short nod with a thin smile and shows herself out. It’s only once she’s gone that Kay’s muscles can unclench. A silence falls over her office, save for the white noise whirr of the HVAC system and the soft hum of electronics.

Jiba says nothing. He gives her this silence.

It may be the last she gets for a while.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License