The Stranger


marcus_icon.gif rhys_icon.gif

Scene Title The Stranger
Synopsis After receiving a familiar message, Rhys Bluthner returns to a place he said he'd never go back to… and is confronted by his past.
Date October 10, 2020

In 1977 Primatech Paper made the Bright White 19lb Letter Sized paper available to the American public. It is a heavier weight paper than what was traditionally available at a general consumer level in the US. The paper’s availability in America was in response to a demand for heavier weight paper for a foreign papercraft that was becoming popular in the country.


While Primatech paper has long since gone out of business, there were numerous companies that supplied the proper weight paper in more variety than ever. At least up until the Second American Civil War. In a post-war America, most paper manufacturing inside the nation has ground to a halt and imports are of narrower margins and variation.

Sometimes, an artist has to work with what they get.

Sometimes it's an intentional choice.

Isaac Mendez’s Loft

Manhattan Exclusion Zone
New York City

October 10th
4:15 pm

It’s amazing how resilient some places are.

The penthouse loft that once belonged to Isaac Mendez is a structure that has weathered a nuclear explosion, riots, fires, and a Civil War unscathed. Perhaps Carlos Mendez knew something when he bought the building in the late 1970s, or perhaps it’s just a coincidence. The trespasser in this space doesn’t believe in coincidences, though.

Rhys Bluthner emerges into this old loft with nervous trepidation. His double-breasted wool jacket is buttoned closed, leather gloved fingers gripping his flashlight as he sweeps it through the dust and ash-coated remains of the building. The windows have long since blown out here, broken glass covered in an inch of old ashes litter the floor. As Rhys walks in, the glass crunches underfoot on his way down the concrete steps to the studio floor. Broken remnants of easels lay scattered amid tangled string and crumpled newspaper clippings. A roadmap to an era no longer relevant.

Rhys pauses in the middle of the room, sweeping his foot across the concrete floor to sweep aside some of the light debris to reveal a faded mural depicting a nuclear explosion and the New York skyline, one corner of it stained with blood that soaked into the stone. Rhys’ brows furrow, lips downturning into a frown.

Clicking off his flashlight, Rhys walks over to the demolished windows, looking out to the ruins of ground zero from the 2006 explosion. Goldenrod rays of sunset light spill through those openings, cast the floor in long shadows of jagged skyscrapers still standing. As he tucks the flashlight into his pocket, Rhys notices something sitting on the window sill. A paper crane made from a newspaper clipping.

Rhys’ brows furrow, but as he reaches out for the origami crane he realizes he isn’t alone in the room. When Rhys turns around, he sees a square-jawed man in a dark hoodie with an eyepatch standing in the doorway that once led to Isaac’s bedroom.

“Holy shit,” Rhys exhales, eyes wide and one hand reflexively reaching for the gun he keeps holstered inside of his coat. The buttons on his jacket prevent him from being able to get to it quick enough, and a man that for a moment feels like a stranger makes a slow, purposeful stride across the floor and grabs Rhys’ arm by the wrist. It’s only when he’s that close that Rhys realizes who it is.

“Don’t be stupid,” Marcus Raith says with a tightening grasp that has Rhys trying to pull away, then freezing like an animal with his leg caught in a trap. “If I was here to kill you,” Marcus adds, “you’d never have turned around.”

Marcus holds that grip for a few more tense seconds, then lets him go. Rhys gasps, wringing his wrist but unable to look away from the man-out-of-time he can’t believe he’s seeing. “How’re you here?” Rhys asks in a sharp whisper, as if afraid to be overheard. “How is this— we left you in the 40s.”

Marcus narrows his eye and scowls at Rhys. “The long way ‘round,” is his tongue-in-cheek answer. “I thought my message would get your attention. Now,” he steps away from Rhys, treading across the floor to where the ash and dust had been cleared away, seeing the blood stain for the first time. He pauses, tilting his head to the side.

“Your ability is forcefields, not immortality Mr. Raith,” Rhys says with a shaky voice. “If that’s really you…” As if to try and call Marcus’ bluff, Rhys’ pupils begin to dilate and Marcus turns back with narrowed eyes and gives him a pointed, warning look. Rhys’ pupils contract before reaching their full width, before his ability seems beyond the man.

“If I weren’t me,” Marcus says with a gesture to himself, “I certainly wouldn’t remember you and your Japanese friend trying to catch up to me with that pretty blonde telepath. Ms. Sumter, if I recall? Or is she going by Thatcher again? I haven’t kept up on her divorce.”

Rhys’ jaw tenses and he grows silent.

“Kid, why don’t we stop sniffing asses and you ask me what you’ve been wanting to since you walked through this door.” Marcus walks back over to Rhys, tucking his hands into his pockets. Rhys exhales a sigh and looks down to the floor, then back up again.

“You were in my home.” Rhys says flatly; angrily. “You broke into my house, you left…” he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a slightly crumpled piece of paper out with a 1977 real estate listing for this building, creases all through it. “You left this as a paper crane on my bed. You were in my home!” Rhys’ face flushes bright red with anger.

Marcus looks at the paper, then Rhys. “And you came here.” Spreading his hands, Marcus looks smugly satisfied. “I wanted to send a message you couldn’t ignore,” he explains. “Now, I want you to tell me what stood out to you about that message.”

Rhys’ expression shifts; from anger to uncertainty. He regards the newspaper clipping with a crease of his brows, then looks back up to Marcus. He hadn’t considered there was more to the message than the location. With a glance down at the crumpled paper he hopes for some clarity, but finds none. When he looks back up to Marcus, the old spy sees the emptiness in his eyes.

“1977,” Marcus says as he turns his back on Rhys. “It’s an important year, you might even say a watershed one. Super Bowl XI, Fleetwood Mac drops an amazing album, heck the first Chuck E. Cheese opened in the good ol’ US of A.”

“Star Wars came out too, is this about the Force?” Rhys asks with a sarcastic sneer.

“Good one, good one. Elvis put on his last concert too.” Marcus explains with a Cheshire smile. “Maybe I want to know if SESA’s hiding Elvis?

Rhys stares at Marcus blankly. “Jesus Christ you really are his grandfather, aren’t you? It’s like genetic crazy.”

“Who, Jensen?” Marcus asks with a wry smile. “Don’t you worry about him.”

Suddenly, Rhys is very worried about Jensen.

“No,” Marcus says with a wag of one finger at Rhys, “I’m talking about two things. The Blackout of ‘77 right here in the Big Apple, and Billy Joel’s album The Stranger.”

Rhys’s expression shifts to confusion, then absolute bewilderment. He starts to mouth the words the stranger but no sound comes out. Marcus doubles back and jabs two fingers into Rhys’ shoulder and pushes him back against the brick wall. Rhys gasps softly, and Marcus cracks a lopsided smile.

“Blackout of ‘77 came right as the Company was consolidating their power. Putting their sensible loafers on the neck of the OSI,” Marcus says with a cock of one brow over his eyepatch. “They cut the power to Manhattan, siphoned the whole fucking grid of electricity and every single system connected to the grid so they could get access to the OSI’s offices.”

“OSI?” Rhys asks with his eyes narrowed. “What— ”

Marcus lowers his fingers and scoffs at Rhys. “Office of Special Interests, it was a clandestine organization operating since the 1940s, investigating Specials.”

“They were disbanded after Fort Daedalus and Volken— ” Rhys starts to say, but he’s cut off by Marcus.

Bullshit. The OSI just went underground,” Marcus explains, taking a leisurely walk away from Rhys. “The US continued their research into Specials through the Cold War. Psychometry, remote viewing, the entirety of MK Ultra, all of that was aimed at harnessing the power Project Icarus promised the world.”

Rhys massages his shoulder where Marcus had been pressing two fingers, leaning away from the wall. “The fuck does any of this matter? Why are you here? How are you here?”

Marcus draws in a deep breath and looks back to Rhys. “The Company fucked up.” He explains. “Coups aren’t ever clean. They leave collateral damage. They let shit fall through the cracks. The Company liked to walk as if they had an elephant’s dick hanging down the side of their leg, but all that swagger was overconfidence and hubris.”

Sliding his tongue over the back of his teeth. Rhys struggles to keep up with Marcus’ rapid-fire conversational pattern. “They missed something?”

“No, I said they fucked up.” Marcus clarifies. “And you’re gonna help me clean up the mess.”

Marcus’ assertion has Rhys balking. He laughs, awkwardly, and shakes his head. “I’m sorry, the only thing I’m doing is calling this in to the agents waiting downstairs. You didn’t think I’d be stupid enough to come alone, did you?”

With a raise of one brow, Marcus cracks a smile. “Yeah, you brought the Cockroach, too. Smart choice.” As those words leave Marcus’ lips, Rhys’ expression sags. “Look, Bluthner. I don’t think you understand what’s going on here, so I’m going to give you a little heads-up. Your old boss, Claudia?”

Don’t,” Rhys fires back, eyes tearing up and face flushing with color.

“Who d’you think she answered to?” Marcus asks with one lopsided smile. All the color drains out of Rhys’ face as if he’d lost two pints of blood. “Who d’you think called her up in the middle of the night? Who d’you think would’ve had the connections to know who you even are?

Swallowing dryly, Rhys takes a slow step back and stares at Marcus. “This isn’t blackmail, Bluthner. It’s a re-org.”

“Claudia Zimmerman is dead, and Monica Dawson controls the Deveaux Society now.” Rhys says in shaky defense.

Marcus nods, shrugging. “Sure, of course. But this hasn’t ever been about the Deveaux Society. It’s been about safe passage over water.” That phrase makes Rhys’ eyes go wide.

“Take the crane,” Marcus says with a motion of his chin to the window. “Leave my name out of your mouth, and we’ll talk again soon. A’right? Otherwise, I might have to make sure someone has a talk with Secretary Choi about your little indiscretion here.” He motions to the blood stain on the floor, then looks back up to Rhys who is now ghost white.

Rhys swallows audibly, looking back to the crane on the window sill. He picks it up, holding in a shaky hand, then looks back to Marcus. “How— ”

But Marcus is gone.

Rhys looks around, eyes wide, chest rising and falling in shaky breaths. Only now does he swiftly unbutton his coat, takes out his handgun with a trembling hand, and hastily makes his way to the door. Rhys gets four floors down before he has to stop in a stairwell, hyperventilating and opening the piece of paper with anxious uncertainty.

As he unfolds the newspaper, he starts scanning it for anything relevant. Want ads for jobs, nothing that seems immediately pressing. The offered salaries seem low. He flips the page around and is confronted by an unexpected headline in black and white:


Rhys looks at the paper, his expression twisting into a rictus of confusion and uncertainty, then casts a suspicious look over his shoulder back to the stairs. His heart ached, his chest heaved, and Rhys was left with a swirling sense of vertigo as he descended the stairs.

Back upstairs in the loft, Marcus steps out from behind a concrete column, bending over to pick up a toppled painting depicting a being of red energy and glowing eyes firing rays of light from his hands. He cracks a smile, dusting it off.

“You didn’t need to scare him.” Someone says to Marcus, standing by the windows overlooking the midtown ruins. Marcus looks up, setting the ruined painting down.

“I need to know who he runs to,” Marcus says on a slow approach. “See if he’s really trustworthy. Otherwise, we let him see too much and he blabs to the wrong people… we all wind up dead. The whole goddamn world.”

The man next to Marcus narrows his eyes, then looks back to the blood stain on the concrete floor that Rhys revealed. He says nothing, then squares a look back at Marcus. “We don’t have time for games.”

“That’s funny, coming from somebody with all the time in the world.” Marcus offers up with a tongue-in-cheek barb.

Don’t,” the man beside him says.

Marcus draws in a slow breath through his nose, then turns away from the window and walks back over to the mural on the floor. He looks at the fading orange and black paint, the hints of red and yellow of the massive mushroom cloud covered in ashes and debris of its own making. “You must be tired of this…” he says with a look at the blood-stain on the concrete.

“Tired of what?” The man by the windows says with tension in his voice.

“Saving the world?” Marcus asks, looking up from the mural. His counterpart is halfway across the floor to him when he does, booted feet treading through ash and dust. The darkly-dressed man squares a look down at the faded mural of the nuclear explosion and narrows his eyes.

“Was it really her?” Marcus asks as he motions to the mural. The other man looks up at him with a wordless stare. “The Cheerleader?”

That dark-haired man beside Marcus looks down at the blood stain on the mural and nods slowly. “It always has been…” he says softly. “Save the Cheerleader…”


“Save the world.”

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