Tangled Skeins


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Scene Title Tangled Skeins
Synopsis Pulling on the loose threads of a missing child investigation may offer insight into some far larger others.
Date July 2, 2021

The Watchtower

There is a distinct sound to a woman's footsteps when she's On Serious Business. A clipped sort of fast movement. "No, Marthe – I want you to stay by the phone. Have someone come sit with you. But if they call or come back, I want you to be right there, okay? I'll handle this end. … Of course I'll keep you in the loop. As soon as I have anything, you'll know. … Yeah, the text just came through. Get me the ones of the grandmother as soon as you find it. I'll pull his from his record."

Even as she clicks off her cell phone, Elisabeth Harrison is entering the Watchtower's bullpen where her SCOUT team works under full sail, clicking something in her phone and sending it out. "Caderina, I just sent you and the squad two pictures. I want them added to the Amber Alert and in every single cop's hands five minutes ago."

The blonde admin offers a short nod, "Right away, ma'am," hurrying off to her workstation to complete her assigned task.

Knowing she has everyone's eyes, Elisabeth pauses. "I'm hoping that this is a 'simple' case of custodial interference, guys. But I'm not taking any chances. The pictures I just sent you are of Ames Burgess-Tracy. She is the daughter of a member of Wolfhound, and she was last seen in the company of her grandparents Gregory and Barbara Tracy. When the fire evac orders came down the pipe, they disappeared with her. Neither of her parents are able to get hold of anyone." Her jaw tightens. Blue eyes hard, she looks toward her squad, which is short-handed at this moment, but not for long considering the circumstances.

"And without freaking out every single officer out there… the grandfather has a record and he's done time as a result of the Albany Trials. Ames is registered Expressive unknown, and the fact that he at some point was in with Humanis First and that these grandparents are deliberately estranged from Wright Tracy and her spouse but showed up here in the midst of all this mess make me very uneasy. We need to find these folks as soon as possible." This is the last kind of assignment anyone wants to have.

Sitting on the corner of her desk, jacket on and phone in hand, Detective Colette Demsky seems ill at ease with what she’s reading. She thumbs through the notifications and photos without turning her face toward her phone screen, dividing her focus between it and Elisabeth.

“I just saw her a few weeks ago,” Colette says with a shake of her head. “She and Hugo—” She sighs sharply, switching from the notifications to text, quickly forwarding all of this to Tasha to keep her in the loop on what’s going on and why she’s undoubtedly going to be working late tonight.

Hailey stares at the child’s picture, half listening to the brief, a pinched expression of worry mixed with anger on her face. Once Liz pauses, she raises her hand, “Is there anyone I should be coordinating with to canvas the neighborhood where she was last seen? Or something that Chips, P.P., and I can do right away?”

Caderina looks up, still typing away at frankly impressive speed, taking it all in with a look of worry. After a brief glance to Colette and Hailey in turn, she returns her eyes back to her screen, pausing to make sure she didn’t somehow misalign her fingers on the keys or make any typos before she picks up her phone to start scrolling through the information again.

Erin’s brow is furrowed as she thumbs through the pictures, left to right and then right back to left. She is, of course, listening, but her heart is on her sleeve. She is troubled. Kid cases are the worst, 100% of the time. The conclusion is almost never good. Brown eyes turn upwards, slightly after everyone else’s, and she is biting her lip, worrying away the delicate skin there, made dry from the fires and even drier from the anxious habit. Consciously, she stops gnawing away after one last frayed skin is worked away from her mouth, and places her phone face-down on the table.

“How long has she been missing? Where and when were they last seen?”

"They have at least a two-day head start on us," Elisabeth replies with a frown. "They evacuated when the order went out. Yesterday they told her mother Marthe Burgess that they were sheltering in place at the place they evac'd to one more night but they wouldn't say where that was. And today they're not answering phones or texts."

Dragging a hand through her hair, Elisabeth looks at them. "Her other mom, Wright Tracy, is deployed right now and can't get home. I'm going to make a call to SESA as well and get a case file started there. We'll probably have a case officer assigned. Demsky and Gordon, you're the primaries on this case and it takes top priority. Demsky, take Gerken with you and start banging on doors. Check the resettlement camp - they didn't have a permanent address here yet, but they've been here since Christmas trying to ingratiate themselves so someone has to know them. Start flashing those pictures everywhere. Tap any sources you have and find out if, when, and where they left the Zone. Let's get her parents some answers, okay?" She pauses, a thought occurring to her, and then nods at them. "Gordon, you're with me. We're gonna go see a consultant who might be able to help. Everyone meet back here at 1500 for an update."

Winslow Crawford Academy For The Gifted

Director's Office

With a quick smile at the receptionist, who Liz has seen on the campus a number of times now, she nods her thanks as she and Erin enter Peyton's office. "Hey lady," she greets easily. Despite the seriousness of the situation, courtesy doesn't go amiss. "I'm sorry to barge in while you're working, but… it's urgent. We've got a missing kid situation and I'm hoping you can help."

The director is sitting at her desk, a pile of paperwork clearly pushed aside for what is either a visit form an important friend or about important business (at the request of an important friend), so public relations and other affairs can wait. She rises immediately when Liz enters, a polite smile given to Erin, but as soon as Liz says what the issue is, the smile slips away.

“Not one of yours?” Peyton says to Liz, worry in her dark eyes and her brow knitting with concern for any lost child. “One of ours?” is asked in quick succession – ours meaning the school’s, as all of the kids are hers in a way.

“Of course. Come in, sit down,” she adds, gesturing to a small sitting area to the side of the desk where parents can sit comfortably; a little play area to the side helps keep small children busy while adults talk, well stocked with quiet activities like books, an abacus, coloring books and crayons.

“Who?” is a simple question – it’s really all she needs.

Erin returns the polite smile, follows in and keeps quiet for now: like a good detective, observing and getting all of the facts. Her typical goofiness is noticeably muted, and she dimly thinks, maybe Devon wouldn’t have such a stick up his ass about my behavior if he could see this. It’s not her place to override her superior by blabbing out the details, and there is certainly quite a bit about Wright that she has never considered.

Grimacing faintly, Elisabeth's reply is worried but not frantic. "Ames Burgess-Tracy." The littlest firecracker. "Marthe allowed Wright's parents to babysit while Wright and Elliot are deployed, because she needed the help. With the fire evacuation order, they let Marthe know they were evacuating while she was working Elmhurst, but they were evasive. She was supposed to be returned today and now they're not answering texts or calls."

She moves to sit in the chairs Peyton gestures to, but just on the edge of it. "I'm hoping you might be able to at least take a look and see that she's safe, maybe give us something to go from – a face, a landmark, anything. They've got at least two days on us, Peyton… and considering everything going on with this Pure Earth bullshit, the fact that Wright's father was tangled in the Albany Trials does not sit well with me."

Peyton’s dark eyes narrow as Liz explains, and she takes a seat on the edge of one of the armchairs. “Pure Earth,” she murmurs. She’d been kidnapped herself before, solely because she was SLC-E, or “evo” as they called them back in those days.

“I’m on it,” she says, but gestures to the art supplies. “You might want to take notes – or recording it, I suppose, works too. When I’m in, I won’t be able to hear you until I come out of it, so tap me if you need me, but I’m going to listen and watch for as long as I can for any clues.”

Before she goes ‘dark,’ Peyton adds, “If there’s any silver lining, my guess is that they want to draw attention with it, and if you haven’t heard anything in two days, they’re still in their planning stages. Either that or she’s already on the way back ala ‘Ransom of Red Chief.’” She’s quite fond of Ames, but she’s also had a few reports from Ames’ teacher. Her smile is fond, though, before it slips back into that more solemn expression – this is a serious situation, and the little bit of levity stems from worry and nerves.

Peyton takes a breath, glancing at Liz to be sure she’s ready. Her pupils dilate, swallowing up the brown irises until her eyes appear jet black.

When Ames was little, it was made very clear to her that she was never to attempt to flush paper towels down the toilet. As her mothers had explained way back then, doing so could create a huge mess and cost a lot of money that they really didn't want to have to spend on calling a plumber. As such, she's honestly kind of impressed that the toilet in this forest cabin has been doing such a good job flushing them up to this point.

She smiles as the latest flush doesn't have the same rhythm of her previous attempts. It seems sluggish, which is a bad sign and pretty much what she's been shooting for all afternoon and evening when nobody else has been in here to go to the bathroom. There are a couple towels left on the roll, but it's better to have somebody else get in trouble when you know it's going to be a bad one. She sets the tube on the little wooden crate that also holds tissues and toilet paper, then creeps from the room on silent feet.

Erin frowns slightly, worrying at her lip again before noticing it is bleeding slightly and ceasing the endless gnawing. She wipes the dribble with the back of her hand and turns to Elizabeth.

“Alright, Lieu,” she says, crossing her arms and rocking the swivel chair gently to the left and right with her legs, “Pure Earth. That’s not great. What abilities does the kid have, if any? Not just expressive, literally anything useful. Tai chi. Being a general menace. Drawing on the walls. Anything she might draw on – no pun intended.” A sheepish grin and a beat before continuing. “If I know Elliot, which I don’t really, and Wright, who I know even less, that kid will have some kind of instinct to get out of danger. Pure Earth is nasty, but we know what we’re working with there. What I want to know is what the kid is working with. How old even is she? He? They? Zie? What edge will that kid have to give themselves or us?”

Elisabeth glances up from where she's set her phone to start recording what Peyton describes to slant a thoroughly amused grin at Erin. "She's six. And Ames is one unique little firecracker," the blonde chuckles. "God knows, if they did actually kidnap her, we might wake up tomorrow with the grandparents banging on the gates desperately trying to hand money to a Zone guard to take her back."

For all her amusement, though, there is still worry. Elisabeth seems to really like this kid – but from what Erin's seen of Liz's own brood, it's not surprising. "Hang on–" she adds as Peyton starts describing Ames's actions. And immediately tries and fails to wipe the smirk from her lips. "Oh my… and so it has already begun."

She glances at Erin again, pure admiration bringing a devilish glint to her blue eyes. "Ames is a walking, talking chaosbringer, if you listen to Wright. I asked her once how she kept up with the kid, she told me lots of duct tape. She's a complete escape artist – nothing holds the child."

Comprehension dawns from the concern on Erin’s face as she realizes, from Liz’s description, that Peyton is relaying their victim’s experiences. It’s not usual to hear of such merciless destruction from a kidnapee. She grins in spite of herself.

The interior Ames emerges out into is rustic, but lived-in. A wood cabin, built for warmth in winter months. The walls are adorned with scenic views in any picture or portrait frames put up rather than family photos, and not of any one place in particular. The dining table Ames can turn her head to the right and see from the main hallway had setting on it– had being the operative word as the centerpieces are all shoved to the side, a wide map spread across the table.

There are three men standing around the end of the table, all of differing ages. Or at least, they were talking, until Ames' presence coming out of the bathroom is noticed. It's the youngest of the men who pauses and looks at her, looking up at her through dark strands of hair over his face still downturned to the map, hand still placed on some position that Ames can't well see. Zachary Becker is a face well-known to anyone who had been watching the morning of the Itinerant Dawn's launch, the man who was at the helm of the massacre that took place there.

Peyton murmurs, “I see some people, but no one I know. I’ll be able to watch them now I’ve seen them through Ames’ eyes, though,” she says, then tips her head in the direction she knows Erin and Liz sit.

“I’m going to reach out my hands – one or both of you can take them if you’d like to see. I don’t start with that, because sometimes it’s very disorienting. You won’t be able to hear one another until you let go, though. Feel free to let go anytime.”

The one who looks up afterward is far less familiar, at least to those looking through the child's eyes. Older, leaner. His eyes settle on Ames, and it takes him a minute to speak— his demeanor decided rather than automatic. "Ames, pumpkin," her grandfather asks her calmly, and gestures to the front door with a turn of his nose. "Why don't you go see what the boys are up to outside?" He doesn't acknowledge the third man at the table who folds his arms impatiently.

“Hurry, though,” Peyton adds quickly, “because they’re telling her to go outside, so you can see them, but outside may give us clues as to where she is. I can change perspectives to one of them now that I’ve seen them once we get the outside clues.”

Elisabeth takes advantage of the invitation immediately, if only so we might have some faces to work from. Even if it's only a brief looks around, maybe something will help. She hasn't experienced Peyton's actual vision before, so her grip is tight to combat any disorientation. She says nothing, though, just wanting to glean as much as they can.

Erin takes a beat and takes Peyton’s other hand and, hesitantly, takes Liz’s too. For support, or comfort, or remembering who and where they are.

"Yeah, we're all burnin' daylight here," says the man who seems only slightly younger than the oldest at the table. He wears his short hair slicked back, and has a toothpick presently dangling from one corner of his mouth. He finally turns to regard Ames and gives her a wide smile.

It's one she intuits to be wildly insincere.

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Ames contains her current, growing anger at her grandfather, looking from him to the man with the sad hair who wears a scarf even though it's summer. From there she looks to the new figure, who doesn't know how to smile correctly when he's pretending to be happy. She shows him how it's done—how Elliot showed her—smiling with her whole face even though she isn't happy to see him. It's important to let adults think they're the cleverest.

"Okay," she says, wandering from the kitchen. 'The boys' also exist on the sidelines, she feels akin to them in this. They also dislike it when she follows them around, and she hasn't done that in a while. She stomps her feet into her sneakers and exits the house without tying them.

One last look behind her when she hears them start speaking again reveals it to be Zachary, noting, "As I was saying…" as he taps the map again. The rest of the planning is shut off with a slam of the door behind her. The outside world is wider and arguably louder, though, the sounds of Brood X noisily resonating through the evergreens and temperate trees alike. Clomping down the front steps of the cabin, there's an older blue Chevy truck in the gravel drive, no plates visible from the front. Ames' head turns left and right as she walks away from the house and finds two boys older and taller than she is, but not nearly of the age of the men in the house.

"Ugh, it's her," the darker-haired of the two notes. Even at this distance, Elisabeth riding in Ames' view recognizes the boy. "Told you we should have gone further into the trees."

"Then how would we hear when we're called, Rome?" the taller of the two asks, his hair styled similarly to Zachary's inside. He turns to Ames with an upward nod of his head. "Hey," he says in hello. "You got the knife from before? I was thinking about taking a walk, seeing what looks good for whittling." He looks past her for a moment, back toward the house. His expression seems tense, like he'd rather be in there.

The other boy shoves his hands into his jean pockets, sighing out, "Or we could go fishing," to reiterate that's really what he'd rather do. When the taller boy side-eyes him, he points out, "Look, Ev, it's gonna be weeks before we do anything again after that fire. Everybody's just… playing it cool, for the time being. Why can't we enjoy what time we've got?"

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Roman twitches when he feels something land on his bare arm, looking down at it. The cicada on the whole seems nonplussed. He sighs down at it and pulls his other arm free from his pocket so he can pinch the cicada by its wings and toss it away. "Fucking bugs," he mutters.

Elisabeth immediately sucks in a sharp breath, her hand tightening on Peyton's momentarily. She doesn't break the vision, though, since they can't talk yet.

Peyton’s brows knit as she looks for any hints as to the location – somewhere off grid, is her guess, and not likely she’ll find too many indicators as to where they are from Ames’ point of view as she talks to the two boys. She squeezes the hands of the two women holding them, a slight warning, before she changes her focus and perspective.

There’s a brief moment where everything is gray-black, like their eyes are closed, before it shifts again to Zachary, looking at the map. How many seconds she has left, she’s not sure.

Zach is tapping the paper generally rather than at any one point, fingers near points circled, some of them marked over additionally with x's. There's a color-coding in play, maybe, with how some of the circles are greens versus others that are blue. The name near his hand though is clear. Queens is bolded compared to other street and neighborhood names he doesn't pay much attention to. Then he's looking up to Eugene again, his hand turning over. "None of the old paths should be treated as safe anymore. We need to find out if–"

It isn’t long, however. The pain she feels belongs to her alone, and she winces, letting go of Erin’s and Elisabeth’s hands, returning them to the sights and sounds of the office. Outside the window, children’s laughter can be heard from the summer session. In front of them, Peyton looks pale, her face pinched due to the sudden onslaught of pain.

As Peyton releases them, Liz is already moving to help the other woman sit down. Her expression is grim. "You know… I fucking hate it that the voice in my head that is always right is Ivanov," she utters darkly. There is no such thing as paranoia when you're us.

"Gordon, did you recognize anyone? I know who the two kids are, and one of the men looks familiar but I can't place him." Blue eyes seek the other officer even as she pours Peyton some water, knowing the younger woman is hurting. She remembers that much about some of the abilities – they take a toll. "Here, Pey… drink slow."

“No, I didn’t. Did you?” Erin asks, brow knit in frustration, both hands sweaty - a sort of sisterhood of anxiety, of all three of them - in her lap. “The best guess that I can venture is somewhere upstate - or perhaps rural Pennsylvania. They can’t have gone much farther but Pennsylvania is large, and it wasn’t bougie looking enough to be Connecticut.” She closes her eyes and thinks again, wiping off the sweat onto the fabric of dark denim jeans.

“I saw something about Queens on the map. It was very…colorful? That’s about it. I’m sorry. That was disorienting as hell.”

“Fuck. Sorry, that was bad timing. I’ll go back in and see what I can find later but I’ll have to rest before I try again,” Peyton explains, fingers pressing against her eyelids for a long moment before she drops her hands.

When she looks back at them, her irises are back to the warm mahogany shade, and she smiles apologetically at Liz as she accepts the water. “Thanks.”

After a couple of sips, she adds, “I can also show my perspective to Ames, so if there’s a message you want to get to her, I can do that, but I’m not sure if she’d be calm enough not to reveal she’s being shown or told something. If we do, I recommend just audio, to let her know we’re looking out for her. I can watch for a good time to do that, when she’s alone and not likely to tip our hand.”

Nodding slightly, Elisabeth assures Peyton, "This gives us more than we had before. And confirms some things I was hoping were only my paranoia." Sighing heavily, she purses her lips. "We have to get back to the Watchtower. If you're feeling up to joining us, you're welcome – but the main thing I think is making sure Ames knows we're coming for her. She is not alone."

There is a fierceness to Liz's words; she will not give up on this. "Don't overextend yourself, just do what you can when you are able, and get me whatever else you come across. Right now, with some faces to work with, we can do some old-fashioned ground pounding and find some leads."

The Watchtower


As they come back together at the Watchtower, Elisabeth is carrying a map with her. Slanting a look around the assembled officers, she asks quietly, "Any news from the gates or the settlement camp?"

“Quiet,” Colette says, coming down a short flight of stairs from Captain Wilson’s office, carrying a thick binder in her arms. “Border guard said they haven’t seen anything coming or going, but I know for a fact there’s some of ‘em that’ll turn a blind eye for a couple hundred bucks.”

She carries over the binder to the desk where Elisabeth is laying out her map. “I do, however, have this.” She says, slapping the binder on the desk. A—as John Logan once called it—a binder full of corpses. “This is an old record from a human trafficking operation on Staten Island that we never broke up. It’s got John and Jane Does dating back four or five years,” she says, flipping through the laminated pages, some of which contain graphic crime scene photos.

Finally, Colette stops on a quilted page of laminated pockets containing mug shots and ID photos. “This is a collection of suspects from the time, human traffickers and smugglers operating out of Staten Island and surrounding areas.” She turns the folio around, sliding it out to the others. “I’ve added some other faces from prospective Wolfhound contracts, people we always wanted to go after but couldn’t find any details on.” She looks at everyone gathered. “Let me know if you recognize anyone from your recon.”

Erin picks up the binder full of corpses, thumbing through. They could be regular Joes, they could be politicians. She tries to keep focus as she makes quick work of it, knowing that were it not for years of practice, these faces would blur together into one daguerreotype of conglomerated suspicious folks, none of them truly in focus in the frame but all present somewhere. It’s no wonder photos from that time all look like they have ghosts in them, she thinks idly. But her brain is keeping the record, two parts running two different tasks as though to keep either from fatiguing, and before her eyes recognize the face, her mouth blurts out –

“That one. There.” One two-weeks-gone-clear-manicured finger pauses on the face of Zach, somehow so ordinary. But then, they all look ordinary after a while. “He looks different now, got a decade of wear and weather around the eyes and all, but I’d swear it was him.” For confirmation, she passes the macabre treasure trove to Elizabeth.

Blue eyes train back on Colette. “It’s a fool’s hope to ask if you have any audio clips or wiretaps or bugs of any voices, right? Might be an easier comparison. I’m more of an auditory learner.” Erin taps her temple playfully and winks.

She’d been about to report absolutely nothing but Hailey’s attention snaps right to the binder. As Erin flips through the pages, she moves, snakelike, winding around to the other woman’s side. The dogs on the other side of the room start breathing out high pitched, anxious whines. One rises up from his laying position to sitting and shifts from one paw to the other, muscles coiled and ready to launch into action.

Hailey’s expression is stone still, like a marble statue. Her eyes flick over the pictures but get caught on one. Freezing there.

“Hey, everybody. Sorry I’m late, the roads are kinda crazy and I think I saw like eight illegal fireworks stands on my way over,” is Lance’s casually friendly greeting as he comes along in wearing a white button-up, tie and gray slacks (it's too hot in summer to run around town in a full suit), not with a huge binder but a tablet instead carried in hand. There are a lot of familiar faces - familial almost in several cases - and he's accordingly relaxed in this environment.

"What do we got going on, we got a missing Slice kid, can someone bring me up to speed quickly? Just the tee-ell-dee-arr, I can catch up the details as we go. Hey, sis. Whatcha looking at?" He sets the tablet down on the table, a hand landing on Hailey's shoulder in a squeeze as he leans to see what she's looking at. He doesn't know what's going on per se but he absolutely knows when his sister's upset.

The dogs' reactions to her emotions are always a dead giveaway.

With the arrival of Lance Gerken, Lt. Harrison scans the room and determines she's got – for now – most of the people involved in the room. She nods to Colette in thanks for the Murder Book and sets down the map in her hands on one of the desks next to the one that has the Book.

"All right. To recap, Ames Burgess-Tracy is the six-year-old daughter of a Wolfhound operative. She was reported missing by her mother this morning, last known to be in the company of her other maternal grandparents, Greg and Barbara Tracy." Liz uses one of the laptops to slap images up on one of the smart boards they've acquired – Ames and one each of the grandparents in question.

She turns to look at the group. "Because Ames is a student up at Winslow Crawford, we were able to contact the director up there, Peyton Whitney. For those not aware, Ms. Whitney has a unique ability to see through the eyes of someone she has had contact with. So we know, right now, that Ames is physically safe and in a rural region, but that leaves us a lot of ground to cover. She's going to keep checking in on Ames."

As Erin points to someone in the book, there is a glint of feral pleasure that is quickly hidden. "Erin and I were able to share what Ms. Whitney saw – and I'm going to ask her to come and allow some of you to also take a look now and then, when she feels able to try again. One face in the group looked familiar to me and Erin just plucked it out of the book. Two others–" She pauses and slots a photo of four kids, highlighting Roman and Evran, who she points out by name, "–Roman Santos and Evran Foster."


Now her tone is grim. "They are associated with Pure Earth. I had hoped this was a simple case of custodial interference but based on Greg Tracy's sketchy past and the presence of those two, I think we have to move on the assumption that wherever this location is, it's going to get damn ugly when we go in after Ames. They were also in the middle of planning something –" she gestures to the map she had, where she marked what she saw as best she could, " – and it's likely we are working against a clock here with no idea how fast it's ticking."

Colette’s brows furrow as she reaches over and takes the binder from Erin. “No audio, unfortunately. What you picked up from Peyton’s probably the best intel we’ve ever had.” She pulls out the photo of Zach to press down on the table next to Elisabeth’s picture of the gang of youths. “This one,” Colette says tapping Zach’s picture, “is Humanis First. Before we knew who he was he used to hang around Staten Island, in the years before the Civil War. Got in close with Ruskin and her crew before she joined the Ferrymen. He worked with Khalid Sadaka and Montgomery Walsh, two leaders of Humanis First back in the day.”

Looking at the younger group, Colette shakes her head. “I don’t know his name, but he was probably these kids’ age back when he was working with Sadaka and Walsh. Odds are this is one of those circular recruitment things, now he’s the older one preying on kids.” She looks down at Roman’s photo, then Evran, then the girls. They’re so young. Her stomach turns.

“With Greg Tracy having been on trial at Albany…” Colette says, trailing off with a shake of her head. “This is really bad. Ames is Expressive and unmanifested. This’s gotta be targeted. It’s gotta—” She swallows tightly, looking across the table to Lance, then back down again. “There’s another angle to this.” She says, warily.

“When I was talking to Captain Winslow. When we pulled that binder out of Staten Island we attempted to use it against a sitting SESA agent named Sylvester Sandoval, because he appeared to be deeply connected to the trafficking operation. We were told Sandoval was an undercover officer and that we’d blown his cover.” Colette explains with a frown. “But last year Agent Sandoval disappeared without a trace, no contact at his office, nothing. Just gone. SESA’s had an open investigation on him for a while…”

Colette shifts her attention over to Elisabeth. “Which brings me to a case I pulled from back in 2018 when Jacelyn Childs escaped a failed abduction on Staten Island. Her mother, Gillian, reported the incident to SESA and we got a composite sketch done of the man who attempted to kidnap her.”

“Now, SESA doesn’t have a name to a face on this one,” Colette explains, laying the composite down beside the other photos, “but if we’re casting a wide net here we need to be thorough. Especially after the attacks that happened during the fire. Like Richard would say,” she says with a glance to Elisabeth, “there’s no coincidences.”

A jolt of horror and excitement practically causes Erin to twitch visibly as she lays eyes on the sketched out face, eyes somehow like the Mona Lisa’s as it makes contact with hers. There’s something so real and so surreal about moments like these – moments where you see the composite, moments where you recognize the gaps between the facial features and fill in the blanks yourself, moments where slight recognition dawns from your forehead all the way down. It’s different when it’s drawn, instead of a photo: the drawing leaves room for error, leaves room to believe any number of maybes and who-elses.

“This – ” She looks at Elisabeth and then at Colette. “Yeah. Yes. I mean, I can’t be sure because these stupid fucking composites are so unreliable and always make you feel like you’re being fucking watched, but yeah, I’m pretty sure this fucker was there. Are we going to have access to all of your files on these matters?”

Eye still on one of the photos, Hailey remains silent for a time before breaking away to give a grim look to her brother. “Pure Earth kidnapping, they have Ames,” she says quietly to him. “Her grandparents…” she doesn’t have to finish the rest.

Stepping to the side, she allows enough space for Lance to get into the mix. Nodding to the drawing, she speaks more to her brother than anyone else. “He wasn’t one of the ones that got me, but… Pure Earth is bigger than a fistful of scavs inside the ruins.” She points to the picture she was staring at, “This one is named Brady… he reported to someone they called Puddy-Tat but I never heard them use a real name.” She stops and rubs her scarred shoulder, as if the old ache of the bullet was still there. “It always makes me think of Tweety, y’know? I tawd I taw a Puddy-tat?”

As the situation’s laid out, Lance’s lips draw into a thin line; the cheery manner falling away like leaves in autumn. He gives his sister’s shoulder a firm squeeze, reassuring, as he murmurs, “Maybe we can finally nail these guys.”

He glances at the photograph that Elizabeth sets down, providing, “The other two pictured are Suzanne Osbourne and ‘Cady’ - surname unknown. Suzie’s in jail at the moment under hate crime charges, the others are all wanted in association with several ongoing arson investigations. The group calls themselves the ‘Children of the Ashes’ - or ‘The Ashen’. Most of their parents were Humanis First.”

Taking a step around to where Colette’s laying out the files, he looks at the composite sketch - expression tightening further, clearly finding some recognition there. “I have a name for that face,” he reports darkly to Colette’s claim that they don’t have one, “Arrowood. If one of these bastards is involved, the grandparents are in deep. This is the group that Sandoval was supposedly infiltrating.”

He finds it hard to keep the scorn from his voice in that last line, but he tries.

Blue eyes lock on the picture that Colette set on the desk. All color leaches from her face as Elisabeth is blindsided. For the first time in over ten years she cannot see, cannot breathe, and a kaleidoscope of sounds that she thought all but dealt with and relegated to bad dreams assaults her mind and drowns out reality. Time has no meaning.

Oh the shark babe has such teeth dear, and it shows them pearly whites~

"You haven't given us much in the way of answers to start with. Barely anything, in fact. So, talk — we're reasonable."

Just a jack a knife Just a jack knife has macheath dear and he keeps it way out of sight~

"Geez, quit fucking around, Doug. If you know what's good for you, slut? You'll start talking." The pinpoint tip of the cleaver-sized blade stretches out to tickle Elisabeth's chin, drawing a spot of blood with an accidental and none-too-careful poke. "Names. Locations, where you're hiding 'em. Hurry up."

There is a low, intense rumble that rolls away from her and shoves the desks and possibly even people sideways as Liz bends double and vomits on the floor of her squad room.

She will later be mortified. Right now, it's all she can do not to pass out as she fights to pull in any air at all. Pure Earth and this fight have been bringing up a lot of hard emotions for a lot of people, but few if any these days would have any clue why the Lieutenant would react like that to the image of Khalid Sadaka.

“Shit.” Colette mutters, flickering invisible for a moment and reappearing a few steps away from the table, then a few more, then out of sight. She circles back in the same flickering, missing frame imagery with a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle. Nodding to the others to keep going as she walks over to Elisabeth’s side.

“Take five,” Colette whispers, “I got this.” She gingerly bumps her elbow against Elisabeth, then crouches down out of sight and bends light to create a small dome of invisibility around her, blurring the floor to obscure cleaning and provide Elisabeth with a measure of dignity that her leavings are no longer visible on the floor.

Erin watches Elisabeth push the desk aside and, having had too many nights of drinking too much, turns away just in time to miss the action. But she knows too that too many cooks make a puke situation downright embarrassing, and in order to both temper her own sensitive stomach and give her Lieutenant an ounce of dignity, addresses Lance directly to keep the tempo going. If Liz wants to tell them what happened, if it’s relevant, she’ll tell them herselves; Erin is not one to push the matter, even if she does also intentionally not make a puke joke out of respect for her superior.

“These hate crimes and arson investigations - I can only assume these are related to the Pure Earth situation, too. How high up in the rankings were or are they, do we know? Do they have any command pull in their org? Or is it more likely that their crimes were test runs for what’s going on now?”

“Are they even organized like that or are they just random groups of zealots committing crimes under one flag?” Hailey’s eyes briefly lift to Liz and then back down to all of the pictures and pages of information that Collette has provided. Looking right at her brother, she pulls Sandoval’s picture out of the mix and looks at it long and hard. “Sylvester Sandoval? Sylvester, Puddy Tat?”

Frowning, she tosses it back into the pile. “So him disappearing means he went dark or he’s dead, right? If he was giving the orders, he’s probably dark… if he was getting them, probably dead?”

Lance is about to say something else when that thunderous roll of sound shoves him and the desk he was standing beside to one side, stumbling a step back before sweeping a hand up in Elisabeth's direction that cuts off any further sounds — destructive or conversational — from her direction. She can still hear them though.

He freezes a moment when he realizes what he's done, then clears his throat, "I- uh— nobody else can hear you right now, Lieutenant, signal me when you want me to drop the field." She can scream, or sonic blast, and nobody else will hear. He looks back away with a sympathetic grimace, looking to the pictures.

"Ah— like Hailey said, they're not really organized on a high level, they're more… cells that spring up here and there. The problem is if enough of those cells get together that can change… if all of these people are working together, this is a serious problem,"

He glances over at the photo of Sylvester with a grimace, but doesn't say anything. He's trying to be professional, and nothing he has to say bout Sylvester is professional at all.

Joe has the absolute best timing. He arrives in room just in time to cover his ears and stagger back a few steps as Liz’s power lashes out, and to watch as Liz's stomach empty onto the floor which sparks a moment of concern on the young man's features. He takes a moment to reorient himself before walking deeper into the room. His eyes wander then, taking in all the faces in the room. Mostly familiar faces. "I'm late. I'm sorry and uhhh I missed a lot apparently." His walk carries him towards the table, is it still upright with pictures in place? .

When he spots the picture that's been laid out of Eugene Joe’s eyes narrow slowly at the image, an emotion that is rarely seen on Joe's features settling into place. Hatred. His jaw tightens and his eyes lift right to Lance before flickering back down to that picture. "Lance and I have a full workup on this guy, his family and his organization. It's a couple years out of date at this point, but I gave it to the NYPD so it should all be on file, Detective. Somewhere." Joe's head tipping in Erin's direction. "I can make another copy of what we have as well and bring it in and see if any of it still helps. I also have a lot of supplementary notes from uhhhh scouting… their organization. As best as I could without engaging them directly.”

Of course Joe can’t entirely help being Joe, so Colette gets a little wave of hello despite the gravity of the situation. So does Hailey. Well all of his family. Which is pretty much everyone in the room, except for Erin. Yet.

A rush of crimson fills Elisabeth's face as she puts one shaking hand on the desk that slid several inches away from her. Colette flickers in and out, the sound field snaps into place – and she feels it because she knows what Lance's ability can do. She acquires a paper towel in one hand because invisible Colette shoves it in her hand and she looks both blushing in horrific embarrassment and white as a sheet at the same time. It's an interesting look.

It takes her a few moments to try to pull herself together and then she waves discreetly to Lance to drop the field, wiping her face with the paper towel. She's going to need to sit down in a minute, but … "I'm sorry, I… pretty much missed what you said." Blue eyes flicker from Colette, who gets a grateful look for the help, to the small mass of Lighthouse Kids standing in her squad room. She looks at Hailey, "Did you, uhm… did you just say a SESA agent is probably involved in this?" Her voice is shaky but there is an undercurrent to it, one she's trying very hard to hide. The blinding rage in her stomach has her ability running haywire a bit, though Colette will be the only one close enough to feel the sensation of buzzing against her skin. "Officer Winters, pretty sure you know everyone in the room," she adds, and then looks more sharply toward him. "You did what with their organization?"

Almost as an afterthought, Elisabeth gestures to the pictures on the table and asks quietly, "Could you please remove those two?" The last ones Colette tossed out there, Sadaka and Walsh. At least they know what caused that reaction.

“Sandoval.” Colette confirms to Elisabeth, sparing Joe a quick glance and a nod, but the seriousness of the situation pulls her away from the loose family reunion. “MIA, under investigation for involvement in human trafficking. If we’re getting tinfoily he was probably a mole. I know from my time with Wolfhound that the old-guard of Humanis First were organized under Georgia Mayes and the remnants of the US Military up until Wolfhound hit Fort Irwin a couple of years back.”

Colette looks back down at the table, at all the photos, all of the disparate threads coming together. “They had multiple people on the inside. Jason Pierce,” she glances to Elisabeth, “relation to Melissa Pierce,” then back down to the papers, “who was the Operations Director of Homeland Security after the Civil War. He had some kind of cranial explosive implant,” she says, tapping the side of her head, “and Mayes’ people threatened to detonate it if he veered off course for whatever it was they were planning. It’s all connected.”

Circling the table, Colette looks at the pictures again, using this movement to discreetly put the cleaning supplies on an adjacent desk. “Pure Earth is just an offshoot of the same stuff. The most well-known. But the attack on the Safe Zone with the military robots? Using the fire as a literal smokescreen to hide their advance? And Ames goes missing in the chaos? There’s no way that’s coincidence.”

“Good one,” Erin mumbles at Colette at the smokescreen turn of phrase.

Shaking her head, Colette crosses her arms over her chest and leans against the adjacent desk. “Sandoval was trafficking Expressives if his connection is to be believed. Using the Arrowood brothers as the hands. Sandoval and Pierce may have been in direct communication. All of that pointing back west to Fort Irwin and Mayes. The DoEA remnants were doing some kind of… of cybernetic experimentations there. They had military robots, they had an arsenal. Now a different cell operating with the same hardware crawls up the east coast? Hits the Safe Zone? I don’t know if this is an abduction so much as withdrawing a family member out of a combat zone.

Colette looks at Liz, shaking her head. “This… might be a lot bigger than one girl. This might be birds scattering from the trees before an Earthquake. But it doesn’t change the short-term: we need to find her.”

Erin gives a low whistle. “I think ‘birds’ is rather mean to the birds, don’t you? The proverbial ‘rats fleeing the sinking ship’ is much more appropriate for these … uh … worms.”

Beyond this, she merely looks at her CO, waiting for a response over asking unnecessary questions.

Hailey’s shoulders sag as Colette outlines the past and present problems, and the expression on her face sinks from neutral to extremely worried. “If we have a general location I can take Dayton and the dogs and go hunting through the woods,” she ventures, stepping back from the table playing host to the binder, photos, and composites.

“Unless there’s something more helpful in the city I can be doing that isn’t handing out traffic violations,” at which point she smiles a bit at Joe.

“Joe.” A brief, quick smile from Lance before he looks back across the table again, expression returning to seriousness as Colette goes on. His fingertips drum against the table a bit, “And– it was back when Staten Island wasn’t under lawful control, Lieutenant. You know how the Lighthouse used to operate.”

A glance over to Liz, another slight smile, “That was all before we had badges.”

“If you’re right, Cole,” he says seriously, “Then grabbing this girl may have been the biggest mistake they’ve ever made. It means that if we go in, though, we need to go in expecting serious resistance.”

Well, if there was any group for Liz to lose her lunch in front of it's almost definitely this group. Joe ignores the mess and focuses on the conversation, though when Liz asks that question his head lifts and then turns to look over at her, the spark of happy from seeing all the familiar faces a moment before is gone. "They tried to take two of our sisters." Joe's voice is… cold at that statement. Which is not a thing commonly associated with Joe Winters despite the last name he bears. His intent with scouting their organization is really quite clear just from the frosty tone of his voice. Joe doesn't care one little bit for people messing with his family. His jaw tightens as old anger resurfaces hard, teeth clenched hard. His attention shifts back to Colette as she lays out just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

His eyes widen as Colette paints the big picture, his anger at it all only growing. Hailey's suggestion gets a nod from him. "I could show you all their routes and hangouts that I mapped out. Doubt they're still using them but it's a place to start." He offers her a tight smile back, concern scrunching his features up. Concern for the girl that's been taken, and for what might be coming. "Agent Gerken." Joe can't help but tease his brother at least a little bit. They're there in official capacity after all. There's another small smile from him, though this one threatens to grow a bit bigger despite the gravity of the situation. He quells it though and brings his focus back in.

"Groups like this don't waste resources like this unless they're achieving objectives worth the sacrifice of those assets, and the exposure that it all could bring. They sacrificed a lot of assets, which means whatever they were going for was very very valuable. I don't think anything happened by accident or happenstance during that fire." Joe took Brian's lessons to heart, he just… doesn't always apply those hard earned lessons to his own life.

Colette's information about Georgia Fucking Mayes and cybernetic experiments makes Elisabeth blanch visibly, her mind rearranging their jigsaw puzzle and liking the mental image even less. She shares a look with Colette, wondering if she's wondered the same thing Liz now is – if there was local help involved in the kidnappings of several people.

And apparently Aunt Liz hadn't been aware that someone other than Jac had been attempted to be grabbed – albeit unlikely by the same people. Her jaw firms and there is a flash of pure unadulterated rage through blue eyes, just as quickly hidden as it appeared. "I see," is all she replies to Lance and Joe's tag-teamed explanation.

And so it always starts … not with a shout but with whispers in the dark.

She pauses as she considers all that's been said and then nods slowly, putting together some thoughts before she speaks. "Officer Gerken," Liz nods toward Hailey just to make sure her Pickles are clear which she's addressing, "you and Officer Winters take your animal team on those routes and start flashing some pictures. See if you can figure out an ingress or egress path. Agent Gerken," differentiating the siblings, "perhaps you can bring this intel back to SESA and start digging into Sandoval's background? Now that we have some names and faces, we need to start digging into people's finances and particularly into land ownership within… let's start with a 4-hour radius of here."

Elisabeth hesitates and then glances at Erin, "It didn't look rugged enough to me to be into the New England mountains – but there are fewer routes in and out of those and would be inconvenient if they had to scatter fast. Don't rule it out but I'd pay a little closer attention to Upstate and west/southwest of the Zone," she muses, almost questioningly to the detective, as if to see if Erin concurs with the landscape analysis. "Gordon will be digging through the same information here with Demsky."

Blue eyes skim the room. "If Ms. Whitney comes back with anything additional, you'll all get texts. Any other thoughts?"

Colette leans away from the desk, arms loose at her side. She only has a singular thought. “Let’s get these fuckers.”

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