The Short Answer Section



Scene Title The Short Answer Section
Synopsis As the world turns on Pinehearst's conspirators, Avi Epstein finds himself alone in the dark.
Date May 5, 2017

The world is a cesspool.

That's the way Avi Epstein sees it. It doesn't matter who is in charge of it, because at the end of the day whoever is on top is still kind of a festering pile of shit. His home emphasizes that detachment from the consequences of people's actions, in the absence of anything that would imply personal connections. No photographs of family, no keepsakes from a daughter he never visits, no memorabilia from a son that he buried or a wife that left him.

Avi Epstein’s home may as well be a hotel room, from its partial hardwood floors, Berber carpet, IKEA furniture in the shape of the color beige. Everything is a shade of tan, white, or black. There is no real color, no real statement, no real life. It's a photograph of what someone who has no feelings thinks a home looks like.

It's a memorial to a lost soul.

1203 West Lake Road

Belle Haven Virginia

May 5, 2017

8:45 pm

“No, look, I have to testify in front of a Grand fucking Jury tomorrow. I absolutely cannot be seen with your stupid ass, nor can I bail you out of this shit!” Avi’s shouting can already be heard as his keys tumble in the lock of his unlit two-story house, one large enough that he could've had a family here, if there was ever enough left of his heart for one.

“No, you fucking idiot, you don't think they're going to have me on adynomine?” Phone tucked under his chin, keys in one hand, and briefcase in the other, Epstein’s entrance to his home disturbs the otherwise placid exterior with his own high-strung energy.

He swings the door shut loudly, hurls his keys onto a marble countertop, and just drops his briefcase as he walks through the kitchen, switching his phone to one hand. “Look, Sandoval, this is where you and me part ways. It's every man for himself, Lord of the Flies time now.”

Stopping at the refrigerator, which is as depressing on the inside as his home is, Avi swings the door open and retrieves a beer from beside a bottle of mustard and a jar of relish — the only non-alcoholic contents. “Well that sucks for you, buddy, but we’re all fucked right now.” He punctuates the sentence by hanging up the phone and exhaling a ragged sigh.

The darkness surrounds him now, alone with his alcohol and a loaded gun.

And a silhouette.

It’s small, non-threatening; if Epstein’s apartment wasn’t so sparsely furnished, it would be easy for him to dismiss the shape as a simply a shadow cast by a slimmer piece of furniture or artwork with clean, feminine lines. But given that his apartment is sparsely furnished with no extraneous furniture or art to speak of, the shape is instead impossible for him to miss.

He notices it as he’s placing the phone back on its hook, by virtue of the the refrigerator’s interior light, which washes his kitchen in a pallid glow and struggles to illuminate anything more than a few feet from where he’s already standing.

It reveals the curve of a shoulder attached to a long, slender neck. His guest’s cheekbones are high, their jawline narrow and ending in a sharp point. He estimates they stand half an inch over five feet and weighs less than one hundred pounds soaking wet—

And they are. Soaking wet.

The refrigerator’s light reflects off rainwater in the shape of a woman’s footprints, leading across his kitchen and onto the carpet of his living room, still shrouded in that strange half-darkness.

Ten minutes old. Maybe.

“Please don’t shoot,” says a familiar but shaky, frightened voice he hasn’t heard in more than a year. “Please,” Eileen says again. “I didn’t know who else to turn to.”


“What the fuck?” Is the first thing to come out of Avi’s mouth as he stared vacantly at Eileen’s impossible proximity in his own home. Eyebrows betray confusion, as does the twist of his mouth into a slack-jawed stare. It takes him a moment to reorganize his thoughts, beer coming to set on the counter by the refrigerator, eyes briefly tracking to the front door and then back again.

Still silent, Avi takes a half step around the counter, nodding in slowly disbelieving motions. “You vanished,” he notes for clarity. “Gabriel disappeared, and your little boy?” Epstein looks past Eileen as if half-expecting to see his silhouette behind her.

“Two questions,” Avi begins, incrementally making his way closer to her with the kitchen island as something of an intermediary. “One, where the fuck have you been?” Then, more pointedly. “Why the fuck are you in my house?

At Epstein’s approach, Eileen holds up both her hands in a gesture of surrender, arms drawn in close to her body. The closer he gets, the more details his eyes are able to pick out. There’s the tangle of dark hair plastered to her rain-slicked cheeks and brow. Her clothes, disheveled, are similarly soaked through and cling to her bare skin beneath.

It reminds him of Argentina, of hot, sopping nights in the jungle and the ever-present threat of thunder looming somewhere in the distance. She’d flinched away from him, then — and while she isn’t retreating now, he detects tension in her frame even with the kitchen island positioned between them.

She remembers.

And yet, here she is.

“Vanguard,” she roughs out. “Gabriel’s dead. They killed him, took me. I got away.”

“Fuck you,” is Avi’s immediate but toothless response, more an expression of disbelief than anything now. “Every last one of them is either dead in the ground or rotting in a fucking hole.” Reaching the corner of the counterspace, Avi keeps one hand steadied on the island’s countertop, the other tense and out at his side.

“Furthermore, you expect me t’believe that any one of those fuckwits could do more than inconvenience your boyfriend.” Avi knows they’re married, the distinction isn't lost on him, it's a social warfare tactic, one Eileen learned long before Avi used it on her. Bait, enrage, wait for a slip up.

“Your fancy lad finally slip up?” Avi goads again, inching closer yet. “You wake up in the middle of the night with him hunched over your son’s corpse, head all spooned out like a cantaloupe?” One of Avi’s brows rises slowly. He's agitated, already shaken, and now this has him thrown off balance. She recognizes the desperate jabbing, the prodding for a weak spot, he wants whatever this altercation is over — and it's clear he sees it as such — because he's never forgotten Argentina either. He's never forgotten the look in her eyes.

Epstein apparently finds the weak spot he’d been hoping to exploit, although her reaction isn’t as explosive as he might have anticipated. She seems to implode instead, sinking down to her knees on the carpet instead with a strangled sound that originates from somewhere at the back of her throat.

Both hands splay out to support the weight of her upper body. She doubles over, bent at the middle, and reaches up, fingers dragged through her hair. “Yes,” sounds like a sob, guttural, monosyllabic.

Whatever look she has in her eyes now, he can’t see it. Eileen’s head is bowed, her gaze lowered to the floor, unable to meet Epstein’s whether out of grief — or guilt. “You were right. Avi.” She chokes back another involuntary whine, well short of its crescendo.

This is difficult for her.

But Eileen has always had a hard time admitting when she’s wrong.

“I need your help. Protection.”

Confusion creases Avi’s face, this wasn’t what he expected, what he planned for. It’s one instance of many in the last few years that have played out this way. Swallowing anxiously, Epstein takes a step around the island, looking around the tops of cabinets and the closed windows for signs of birds. Signs of expected danger.

“Fuck you,” is Avi’s response a second time, but this time with even less teeth and sounding more confused at the end. He inches toward the broken, thin silhouette of someone he once objectified like a proud, wild horse needing to be broken. As he approaches closer, one hand tentatively comes up, then lowers, and his eyes search for concealed knives clutched in tiny palms, or a broken piece of glass meant for the neck.

But there are none. Just slender, delicate hands with fingers like wicker branches and wrists like willow. His upper lip curls, subtly, as he rankles against this emotional juxtaposition. “Fuck you, I wasn’t right…” comes nearly as a whisper, now looking through the doorway to the living room and the doorway to the dining room for Gabriel’s proud silhouette.

But there is none. Just uncomfortable shadows and rain-streaked glass. Avi, now a mere foot from Eileen can feel the cold radiating off of her from the rain. His eyes search the puddles on the floor, “look at me” is an order he forces her to follow. Not the first time.

Eileen looks.

The absence of daylight bleeds all the colour from her skin and eyes, although he can tell that both are pale, washed out by the kind of exhaustion and grief that’s difficult to fake.

Tears mingle with rainwater, which are impossible to separate from one another without touching her face to feel which runs hot and which runs cold. “I’m sorry,” is what she says next, and her voice splinters when she does. “I was— cruel. To you. I pushed you away when I should have let you in. For years.

Her chin tips the rest of the way up, searching his face for a reaction to this confession which, like Eileen herself, sounds small. “I should have listened to you.

“I can listen now.”

There's another scrunch of Avi’s brows, lips twisting, parting, upper curling into something between a sneer and a snarl. One eye twitches, and he's frozen in place with one hand hovering at her shoulder. He almost says something, several times, and instead opts for nothing as he tries to search for an answer in her eyes.

Everything in his mind is telling him this is a trick. Decades of work for the government screams trap, screams ploy, but his overconfidence pushes that aside. He can deal with the subterfuge, deal with whatever asinine plan he presumes she's cooked up. So he smiles, that smug smile she remembers from Argentina.

Don’t move.” It isn't the first time he's given her that order either, and the satisfaction her compliant stillness instills in Avi is exactly what he was looking for. As the hand that once hovered at her shoulder moves again, it brushed knuckles over her in ghosting motions, then finds its way to the narrow column of her throat.

Don’t move.” Avi instructs again, and the calloused palm of his hand comes to curl around her throat as his smile spreads, never quite reaching his eyes.

So Eileen doesn’t move.

Her expression remains wrought, pained, but if Epstein is paying attention, he’ll recognize that it’s also one of intense concentration and doubles in its focus as soon as his hand makes physical contact with her neck.

His ability allows for some latitude. Her diaphragm remains pliable and her lungs continue the work that causes her pulse to flutter under his palm. Shoulders rise and fall with the slow intake and subsequent release of her breath.

Don’t move, is open to interpretation.

She can swallow. She does.

She can speak. She does.

“Avi,” she says, without breaking eye contact, because he hasn’t given her permission to do so, “what are you going to do?”

This is beginning to feel less like a ploy and more like a test. The short answer section.

One hundred words or less.

There's a flash of a smile, cold and empty. Avi chooses five words, his hand moving up to her mouth and fingers brushing over her lips.

“Whatever the fuck I want.”

That his palm covers her face is unexpected, pushing her back against the wall by the living room door without a scrap of dignity in the gesture. His hand smudges across her face, comes to cup against her right cheek, fingers behind her ear and curled into hair. Avi’s eyes are the same as they were in Argentina, the same eyes that saw her as a possession, not a vulnerable person.

Be still.

So Eileen is still.

Her face fits neatly in his hand, which spans its length, from where its heel meets his wrist all the way up to the tips of his fingers snug in her hair. Pinned between the door and Epstein’s frame, her body offers no resistance except for the natural expansion of her ribcage when she shudders in a sudden, involuntary gasp, straining to maintain enough space between them so she can continue to breathe.

In the dark, he does not see the tendrils of energy hungrily snaking around his leg closest to Eileen’s open thighs. He becomes aware of their presence when the fine hairs on the back of neck and arms begin to stand on end, accompanied by a vague tingling sensation that isn’t wholly unpleasant—

At first.

It would be easy to mistake the feeling for something else, his body’s natural response to having a female form so close and readily accessible, except that arousal doesn’t prickle.

Arousal doesn’t hurt.

Arousal doesn’t eat into the flesh of his thigh and calf, shriveling the muscle on the bone with such swiftness that he suddenly buckles and drops to the floor on a knee.

But Eileen is still.

All the expressions of shock, confusion, and uncertainty that Epstein had expressed earlier are repeated in rapid succession, accompanied by a howling scream so agonized that it drops him to his knees. He tries to speak — tries to vocalize a command — but all that comes out is a wailing cry of bone-deep pain and then…


Avi collapses to the floor onto his back, eyes rolled back into his head and arms twitching. Eileen’s body is frozen under Epstein's verbal authority for what feels like an eternity played out in forty-seven seconds. But when she can move again, he isn't yet. Nothing save for the subtle rise and fall of his chest in pain-wracked unconsciousness.

The first thing Eileen does when she resumes control over her own body is deliver a swift, decisive kick to Epstein’s middle, regardless of whether or not he can feel it.

She rolls her shoulders forward, stepping over his body on her ambling way toward the apartment window. It opens easily; on the other side of the glass, a white raven waits with a syringe of Adynomine clutched in its beak. Rainwater sloughs off its back and mantled wings, although Eileen seems not to fear its sharper edges as she reaches out to accept the vial between her fingers.

“You’re right,” she tells the bird, “if you can count on other people for only one thing, it’s that they’ll always disappoint you.”

A half step points her back in Epstein’s direction. From his perspective, the next twenty minutes play out as a hazy half-dream. There’s a pinch, followed by an absence of colour and light and sound. At one point, he feels his body tilt sideways, then seem to float upward.

A voice addresses someone else in the room in a muted, one-sided conversation made up of words he’s unable to decipher. Gradually, the world comes back into focus; a tourniquet fashioned from his belt is cinched tight around his leg above the damage, partially numbing the feeling in his limb.

A pair of handcuffs fastens him to the living room’s radiator, and he glimpses Eileen’s reflection in the metal cuff even before she enters his periphery, his sidearm and holster slung over one shoulder. She’s taken the opportunity to help himself to his shower, her damp hair slicked all the way back into a loose bun at the nape of the neck he’d held in his hand not too long ago. Her clothes are fresh and dry but ultimately plain.

“Go on,” she invites him. “Tell me what you’d like me to do next.”

Avi takes a moment, and goes with his gut. “Kill yourself,” but it lacks the heat his words once had. He can feel it too, like hearing a low-quality audio recording. There's a texture to the words that's missing, and he reiterates: “Kill yourself.” Nothing.

In the aftermath of his discovery, Avi stares vacantly at Eileen and does his level best not to look at his leg, no matter how his pants might hide the visible injury. It's too much to consider right now. “Okay,” Epstein murmurs, “so where's lover boy, waiting to pop my top like Popeye with a can of spinach?”


Eileen dips down into a crouch beside Epstein. “The first story was the truth,” she says, “approximately. If you’d believed me and took me in like I asked, we wouldn’t have to do it this way.”

Whatever it is. The raw, frayed quality of her own voice remains; there’s no act for her to drop. Her words do not increase in volume. If there’s anything Epstein can take a strange sort of comfort in, in spite of his current position, it’s that she’s hurting.

She reaches up and smooths hands over her face and the top of her sleek, dark head. “Ramirez and the others. Daiyu. Kozlow. Lang.” Even if she doesn’t sound particularly confident about that last name. “Where are your people holding them?”

Confusion turns into a bark of laughter as Avi throws his head back and manages some level of self-amusement through the pain. When he settles his look back on Eileen, there’s both confusion and disbelief. “Please,” Avi slurs, “you say you were gonna play ball with one side of your mouth then you’re asking for the locations of a bunch of your old murder-friends with the other? Fuck you, I know what you are.”

Avi’s brows furrow. “They should’ve put a fucking bullet in you as soon as you two psychopaths were done killing your old buddies.” Then, with a slide of his tongue over his teeth he adds. “They’re all dead, all of them. Executed years ago, buried in a shallow grave with your thanks. So kindly fuck off.

Eileen reaches inside her sweater and produces a slip of paper folded between two fingers. “That doesn’t sound like you,” she says, “not with the sheer amount of media coverage surrounding those trials. The only reason Gabriel and I were given the pardons you promised is because you were afraid of what might happen if it ever got out that you hadn’t.”

Slowly, deliberately, she unfolds the paper with a whisper of shapeless sound. “I’m going somewhere after this, Avi. You get to decide where that somewhere is.” The creases soften beneath the tips of her fingers, then smooth out under the heel of her hand. “Either it’s the facility where you’re holding Ramirez, or it’s here.”

Here is another address, all four lines of which Epstein is intimately familiar with. At the top, in Eileen’s meticulously prim handwriting, are the words:

Rachel & Emily

Kill yourself,” Avi spits out again, this time with more fire and fury than he’d managed before. It’s enough that he pushes himself up onto his good leg to try and reach for her, but any movement at all has a knife of agony shooting up his desiccated inner thigh to remind him of who and what has the upper hand here. As he collapses back down to the ground with a whine of pain, Avi grits his teeth and looks to Eileen with a rage in his eyes she has never quite seen before. Rage fueled by the truth in the knowledge that she absolutely will, in his mind, follow-through with her threat.

Perhaps Eileen wouldn’t, he imagines, but the risk there is too high. For all the people Avi Epstein has willfully put in the ground, there are a handful of them that he outright refuses to. Regardless of situations.

After taking in a shuddering breath he says, “Raith’s dead.” That much comes with an unsteady movement of his jaw and a look away. “Suicide, back in 2012. Daiyu and Lang are in Varner Supermax in Arkansas. We stuffed Ramirez in the Idaho Maximum Security Prison in Boise. Kozlow died in custody in… 2011 or something like that. Rasoul too. Wagner’s dead, but I think you already knew that one.” Avi narrows his eyes, then looks aside. “We never found Sharrow, his kids, or Yvette Volken. Don’t know what hole they’re in, but it ain’t my fucking problem anymore.”

Avi squints and looks down to the floor, then back up again. “The rest are scattered to the fucking winds in maximum security penitentiaries or dead.” Epstein presses his lips together into a restrained snarl, then asks. “Is there a specific psychopathic killer you’re looking for? Or is this just a general assembly?”

Epstein can see Eileen mentally mapping the distance between Arkansas and Idaho. Her eyes close, nostrils flared, and she allows an airy sound of frustration to slither past her teeth. When she opens them again, her bleary stare is looking more resolute, although no less tired.

She rocks back on her heels. Closes a fist around the slip of paper and holds it, outstretched, just outside of Epstein’s reach. “This new world Gabriel and I helped you build— it’s a gilded cage, and we handed you the key.”

Gabriel. His name is difficult to say; she makes no attempt to disguise it, no effort to conceal the fact that she’s emotionally compromised. Eileen’s free hand swipes at her nearest cheek as if smearing away tears that haven’t formed yet. On its way down, coming to rest against the inside of her thigh, a tremor wracks her fingers and refuses to settle.

“Time to fly the coop,” she says. “Those of us who are left. You’re going to tell me everything you know about the Looking Glass.”

Epstein’s brows furrow, jaw set, brows lowered. That she knew that name was enough to set him on edge. He struggles again, then looks as though he's about to tell her to fuck off a tall building, but then something crosses his mind.

He doesn't care.

“Black project from Pinehearst. Something the Company mothballed. Back in 2011 there was some kind of event, shit from a literal parallel universe blew up into ours. Arthur's folks covered t up, started researching it.” Chin tilting up, Epstein assesses Eileen again. “They had a prototype, terrorists went and blew it up. But they didn't stop.”

Avi’s expression becomes a challenging sneer. “Pinehearst thinks it's fucking clever, but it isn't. We’ve had people in their fucking ranks for years. You want to fuck off from this planet and be someone else’s problem?” Epstein raises his brows. “Be my fucking guest. They're rebuilding it in Colorado, just west of Boulder over the Rockies. Big facility called Geopoint. They're hiding it in a basement lab.”

Epstein’s eyes narrow, the thought of getting rid of Eileen and killing two birds with one stone feels almost too good to be true. “They've got an advanced security team. Personnel specs are on the laptop,” he nods into one of the darkened rooms. “If you're gonna go play Alice you'll need the environmental suits they've got otherwise you'll end up crispy fried duck. Don't ask me how that works. They've got environmentally-sealed containment crates too if you want to bring your collection of tacky as fuck fur coats.”

Twisting his wrist against the cuff, Avi watches Eileen with a slow look up and down her. “How else can I help you get the fuck off my planet?”

As with all things that are too good to be true, this one also is.

Eileen follows Epstein’s visual sweep of her body, up and then down and then up again, although her attention isn’t focused on where he’s looking — only his face.

Her expression is conflicted, mouth thinned out into a flat, unhappy line that’s at odds with her usual decisive nature. She’d argued for clemency at the highly publicized trials that had both Ramirez and Lang fighting for their lives from the oppressive confines of the courtroom’s witness stand. That she should try to spare Epstein in a similar fashion is a desire that’s dictated the entire course of this conversation, such as it is.

And yet—

“No,” she says, succinctly, not without remorse, “I think that’s everything. Thank you.”

She opens her hand, allowing the slip of paper to flutter to the carpet at Epstein’s feet. “You’re a good father, Avi. When she’s old and gray, I hope your daughter has the opportunity to reflect on what she’s lost.”

Eileen’s fingers splay wide. She does not apologize with her words — or with her eyes, which are gleaming an abrupt, pristine blue.

Be still.

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