The Walls (Better Not) Have Ears


asi4_icon.gif bf_kara_icon.gif nicole3_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title The Walls (Better Not) Have Ears
Synopsis They may not have solutions, but they at least have plans.
Date July 18, 2020

Dirty Pool Pub

The survivors of the Manitoban plane crash had been released out of the hospital and back into the wilds of wider society only a few days ago, but Dr. Yeh is already on the warpath.

It's just four of them here from that original group — these four whom Yi-Min had judged most efficiently able to get things done in their different fields of expertise, at least out of personal familiarity. Along with Kara Prince, they are clustered around one of the lonely little tables at the back of the pub far from any barfront activity, with Yi-Min glaring over one side with vague balefulness as though some kind of general heading a military planning table.

Far above them in the gloom, one fluorescent light flickers despondently, on-and-off. An unidentifiable mire of badly-mopped liquor oozes by her foot.

"And this is why we need to follow up every one of these avenues that we can," she relates in one of her severest, breeziest voices, stepping around the stickiness on the floor after barely even looking its way. It's hard to tell in this terrible lightning, but her cheeks are flushed an angry red.

Not having her ability to aid with metabolizing alcohol surely isn't doing her any favors.

"Nicole, how soon do you think you can rope me into SESA to begin refining a test for Gemini?"

Before Nicole can answer, there is a quiet scoff at her side. Zachery sits with his broken leg outstretched in its heavy boot, any noise that may have followed quickly swallowed back along with an uncharacteristically reasonable amount of the Guinness in his glass. Something about mixing alcohol and painkillers.

The fact that the subject of SESA has had him raise his shoulders and his guard both should be a surprise to no one.

Zachery receives a side-eye for his scoff from Kara before she sets down the draft beer she's been working on drinking at a moderate pace herself, anticipating it's her that'll need to be the designated driver once they all part ways for the evening. Between the three others here she knows, she might be the only suitable driver, but then again, she's the only of the three that hasn't suffered directly.

She's not known how to approach the topic, save for being … supportive. Supportive in grief, supportive in plan-making, supportive even in the brief moment where she'd thought Yi-Min believed herself to be better off without her ability… right before she launched back into this type of mentality regarding the event she, Nicole, and Zachery were forcibly party to.

Kara swallows her drink, shifting a look somewhere between Nicole and Yi-Min warily, trying to read the air— whether she'll need to diffuse argument back from her partner should their friend shoot her down.

Asi's drink sits barely touched, resting on a part of the table surely meant for her, but she stands back from it regardless with the closed-off posture of having her arms folded. Despite that, she speaks without hesitation.

"Enough exists from the data we exfiltrated there should be a solid premise to base these tests off of. It will just be a matter of, of course, having positive samples we can test against." She shifts a look to Nicole. "Assuming we can't just use ourselves." Asi knew where her theories stood on that topic— her certainty that what had happened to them almost certainly involved Gemini.

Nicole, who ordered a round of shots for the table then definitely proceeded to line all five of them up in front of herself, is looking particularly glum as she considers Yi-Min’s question. There are two empties off to her left, and three soldiers still in a straight line on her right. “I don’t know. Soon?”

A hand is quickly held up to belay any complaint that may be forthcoming. “It looks promising. I just have to…” That hand of her nebulously moves in a back and forth motion through the air in front of her, like a bad (and drunken) imitation of a beauty queen’s wave. “Talk to my boss again.” Nicole brings up both hands this time, eyes closing briefly as she dips her chin down. “It looks good,” she reiterates.

“I don’t know if we’re aware of anyone who survived having their ability removed via the Gemini process,” Nicole admits with a frown, plucking up another shot. So far, it seems to just be a prop for gesticulating. Or something to occupy her hand. “I would have thought our best bet would be Jaclyn Childs, but…” But she got screwed just the way they did. She frowns and darts a glance to Asi. “You might try checking with Epstein. His crew broke up Sunstone, where a lot of that fuckery was going on. They might have found a survivor that they kept off the government books out of some sense of compassion, maybe. Seems like the kind of softhearted idiocy Epstein goes in for.”

Takes one to know one, in this case.

What Kara had witnessed, or rather is witnessing, in her partner is not a fluke. That Yi-Min is not particularly bothered by not having her ability is an ongoing, visible fact.

But the trifling matter of her ability loss does not exist in a vacuum, and more importantly, neither does Dr. Yeh. While there is even the slimmest chance of those around the survivors suffering from the future unknowns of the situation, she would not let herself rest. The muted expression of gratitude she sends to Kara sometime before her next words is rather meaningful, in that light.

Even though her next words don't actually wait long. "That would be helpful, but probably not necessary for this. " she replies, half-turning to Nicole in thought only after saying this. "We are not trying to reconstruct Gemini and the full, terrible effects of the process, after all— only discover if the relevant areas in our brains have already been affected. In that, thanks to what Asi helped me pull from Praxis, I now know enough of the science behind it to have a decent idea of where to start."

The little scoff from Zachery hadn't gone unnoticed, and Yi-Min slides a shorter look at him. "Yes? Is there something you would like to add, Zachery?"

Zachery snaps out of an absent handrub at his face, hunched forward like he'd fully checked out of conversation already. After his several days' worth of fury at the hospital, maybe it's no surprise he's run somewhat out of energy for any strong emotion by now.

The glance he shoots back to Yi-Min is marred with confusion, before a bitter chuckle shifts it to incredulity. "What, you want to hear my opinion?" The anger he was feeling before doesn't layer itself as heavily on his voice anymore, but still clearly exists in the look he darts between the others at the table. It's left lingering just a moment longer on Nicole, before returning to Yi-Min with the sharpness somewhat lessened as a result.

"Alright," he starts anew, tired, "I'll be honest — SESA? I don't think they'll willingly do or provide anything, buttering up of bosses or no. I think every time something batshit like this happens, it's kept under wraps to maintain the sanity of the masses, and everyone else is shafted. If you want to go around pulling teeth with the fucking dogsbodies, be my guest." He sweeps an arm out over the table as if to welcome anyone to leave and get to it, but returns his hand to himself with a stolen shot that is immediately tipped back.

The last shot is also missing mysteriously, slid behind Asi's drink. The former technopath is regarding Kara with an arched eyebrow wondering just what the hell she's doing, but Kara doesn't so much as make eye contact, sipping from her beer and looking off at nothing in particular.

Five had been a bit excessive.

"Does Raytech even have everything you'd need to try and swing this on your own, though?" The munitions chaplain sets her glass back down with the beginnings of a frown. "The two of you have proved before you're capable of doing complicated work even in a basement in the middle of nowhere, but if you're developing a test, it needs to be more than just…" She dithers for a moment, trying to come up with the right key phrases despite this being outside of her wheelhouse. "Than just a one-shot thing." Looking to Zachery, it's clear she agrees with him on his cynicism judging by her expression, but she admits, "I don't know— where else will money and materials to pull it off come from? It's worth at least trying before bankrupting yourselves to solve this mystery."

Asi seems mollified away from any commentary toward Kara for now, leaving the shot untouched and hidden behind a dark opaque of a pint of Guinness which matches Zachery's save for its level of fullness. Her arms come unfolded to fall by her sides. "If Epstein had information like that and didn't already mention it, I'll try to refrain from strangling him when I ask him." She looks for just a moment back to Kara and then Zachery, wondering just what project she was referring to that happened in some basement somewhere.


"The challenge we might run into with any scan of the brain will be developing a test that works on us, as well. If it uses an MRI, it will still be useless, potentially. But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

Nicole is already annoyed by Zachery’s lack of faith in the agency she works for, moreso by the fact that he doesn’t think that she of all people can get traction there. It’s made worse when he snatches up one of her shots, prompting her to turn to him with an affronted expression, one hand held out in his direction, palm up. Can you fucking believe this shit?

Fine. The tequila held in her own hand is downed smoothly, the glass set down on the table with a thunk! She’ll just double-time it before the last one can disapp—

What the fuck?” Looks of accusation are shot around the table before she slumps back in her chair, arms folding over her chest with a sullen expression now. “If you do strangle Epstein,” she asides to Asi, “at least film it.” She could probably monetize it.

To Kara, Nicole reasons, “If anyone can bankroll what they need, it’s Raytech.” The question is if they can legally acquire all the equipment they need. Or if Richard will actually go for the expenditure. Even he has limits. Sometimes they’re even reasonable ones. “I don’t see any reason,” she returns her attention to Yi-Min now, “why SESA won’t support this.” Unless they were somehow behind this, and even Nicole thinks that’s a theory that can only be posited while wearing a tinfoil hat.

Though most of her ire has faded by now, she still shoots a disdainful look to her husband. Nicole pushes her seat back and gets to her feet. “I’m getting a beer,” she announces, lest someone try to stop her, assuming she’s getting another round of shots. There’s a glance thrown around the table. A silent ask of anyone need anything?

There is one last shot glass left, actually. It's the one Kara had oh-so-cleverly concealed behind Asi's drink, but now it has somehow mysteriously reappeared again not even two minutes later, this time over in Yi-Min's hand.

And it's already empty by the next time she speaks, when she uses it to casually gesticulate.

The Taiwanese woman starts out just staring at Zachery with 'yes, I want your opinion or I wouldn't have asked, you daft egg,' strongly written into the mild undertone of her expression, but this is soon overlaid by less exclusive emotions. Thoughtfulness, for one. "I would prefer to spread this out from Raytech, if possible. Richard might trust me enough to have made me the head of a department there, but I would rather not stretch my luck with the budget in such a large way just yet. Not when I have been there such a short time. Besides, if we can enlist SESA's help in this… it should make everything else easier, as well."

Theoretically, anyway. The onus of all of that lies on Nicole, and Yi-Min pivots a one-brow-lifted glance onto her friend as she is standing up from the table. "If you think you can get it to happen, I trust you. Oh, get us some more shots please. Thank you!"

Only after that does she turn to address Asi's concern. "Of course I cannot say with certainty yet, but luckily, I do not believe we will fall to needing an MRI for this. There are a number of other options I will work on narrowing down first."

Zachery meets exactly no one's gaze, his attention having drifted off to the table ahead of him as he listens, quietly hissing out a sigh between his teeth as if it might help him focus.

Only once Nicole moves does he look up again, looking - just for a moment - like he might be lifting an arm to stop her before he redirects it to clamp a hand onto the side of his neck instead, muttering a quiet "Fuck," to himself as he turns his gaze back on the table.

"We don't know what we need," he offers aloud, energy low. He's still got a drink, even if he's not currently drinking it. "But I'd like to think that between the nearly two dozen of us, or at least us at this table, we should be able to… do something."

Oh no, not more shots. Kara looks sidelong at Yi-Min before dutifully staring ahead again. She's just here to support, she reminds herself. Supporting, tonight, means letting her get drunk. Even if Yi-Min no longer was able to handle the toxins in the alcohol with the same efficacy as before.

Prevention of alcohol poisoning was where she'd intervene.

She silently mouths to Nicole and a water anyway. If it was on the table next to her, maybe Yi-Min would nurse it. She tilts back her beer afterward, chasing that optimistic thought with a drink.

Asi watches the shot glass hijinx with an unchanging expression, further deterred from getting into her Guinness. She could drink with the best of them— like a fish, even— but it required a level of comfort she didn't currently have in the situation.

She turns to Yi-Min when addressed, lifting her head a touch in acknowledgment. "That's good to hear. If there's any support you require from me, reach out. We might find a… back-up plan in Raytech's experimental SEER device, if all else fails. They're still a work in progress." Asi lets out a short breath that might be a sigh. "But I'll keep working on it so it's there if we need it."

Asi glances to Zachery at his comment, issuing him a delicate, tight nod in agreement. "If we can't figure this out… I am not sure who can." That theory submitted, she slips a step back from the table. "It will just take time." More time than she'd hope, but grudgingly she was working toward making peace with that.

A ten dollar bill is left under her Guinness.

"Enjoy your evening," Asi says somewhere between the group. "I've got some work I need to catch up on."

Regretfully, she felt that way on almost all her projects now, without her ability to help her multitask.

Nicole turns toward the bar, lifting one hand above shoulder level to give Yi-Min a one-finger salute as she goes. Sure, she’ll get another round of shots. And water, she informs Kara with a short nod. Even she understands the importance of that, as much as it’s going to mitigate her getting as drunk as she’d like to be as quickly as she’d like to be.

She’s still standing at the bar waiting for Bruce to fill her order for a tall pilsner and another round of shots when Asi starts to head past her. Nicole reaches out to grasp her arm firmly. Not to be a threat, but to make sure she has her attention. But she doesn’t say anything when their eyes meet. She doesn’t know what to say. She’s just haunted. “Take care of yourself, okay?” is what suffices for whatever sentiment she’d like to be conveying. Like dear god, please tell me when you find something.

"Best of luck!" Yi-Min calls after Asi on her way out, noting how distraught Nicole seems when she latches onto the other woman. She thinks little of it— it seems like just a permutation of a feeling they've probably all been having since the crash, in one way or another.

Instead she lets her focus revert back to the table, her stance beneath her still quite steady despite how coldly she is… glowering at nobody in particular. Kara likely doesn't need to worry too much yet, anyhow. Despite her partner's decidedly unimposing stature, her tolerance is respectable even sans her ability given the sheer amount of years she has been drinking nonstop.

Water definitely won’t be turned down, though. Getting too sotted to think isn’t her goal.

"We need," she says as though addressing Zachery alone, even though that isn't the case, "to just work through this in order. It is the only logical thing to do, yes? We will focus on one possibility, and then when that is looking unlikely or at least impossible to divine further, we will move onto the next. The answers are out there. I refuse to believe that we will find nothing at all. We must only find it for ourselves."

Asi's departure may as well have been missed by Zachery entirely, if not for an absentminded nod at her goodbyes.

An attempt at straightening up in his seat almost immediately ends up with him hunching forward again, and it's not until Yi-Min speaks up that he blinks and lifts his head, meeting her gaze halfheartedly. "I'd like to say logic's got little to do with us anymore—" He pauses, then shakes his head to add with reluctance tightening his jaw, "But you're not wrong. I just don't like not understanding. You know, less than…" He breathes out a sigh. "Less than usual."

Kara slides Zachery a sympathetic look, a deep understanding of that feeling well-known to her even if the circumstances here are once again new and uncharted territory. "You're starting from nothing, but you'll gain ground before you know it. Every idea you find can't be it is still another piece of the puzzle solved for. You're just… starting from the border and you're working your way in."

"You'll find the pieces at the center," Kara promises. Even though she's not looking to Yi-Min— she who promises this is fine even as she strives for answers— the words of reassurance are meant for her, too.

Asi's state hikes to alert when Nicole grabs hold of her forearm. Her head snaps to the normally well-put-together woman, waiting to see if somewhere between the drinks she's had and the horror she's experienced, if she's about to experience something. In a way, she supposes, she does. Nicole clings to her like she clings to hope— automatically, desperately, even if she doesn't know what to do with it yet.

She rests her hand on top of Nicole's. "The same goes for you."

Nicole nods her head mutely, the numbness obvious in her expression as well as her manner. She loosens her grip on Asi and allows her to slip away. By the time Bruce is back with the drinks (and a tray for her to carry them with), she manages to shake some of it off and offer a smile to him. For as gruff as he is, he seems to like her. Or, well, he likes her money, and Nicole tips very well. She’ll accept the dirty looks she gets from other patrons when he always pours her beers ahead of the queue.

Returning to the others, she sets down the tray in the middle of the table so everyone can reach for a water glass. Rather than reach for her new beer when she drops back into her seat, she reaches for Zachery’s hand under the table. “I fucking hate this,” Nicole admits with a sigh, not for the first time. “I fucking hate everything about this. What are we even going to do with the information if we find out we’ve been put through the Gemini process?” Is there anything they can do? Is the process even reversible? “Survivors on the recipient side haven’t even had good—”

The agent cuts herself off, setting her jaw and staring down at the table.

Kara quiets at that, too, both in word and spirit, reaching for her beer to take a healthy drink from it.

"Zǒu yí bù, suàn yí bù ba." Kara might recognize that little maxim from what passes for the odd Mandarin lesson from her partner. For the rest, Yi-Min elucidates a short beat later. "One step at a time. No use running too far ahead and getting lost in a wide web of what-ifs. If we find out this is Gemini, it is likely safe to deduce that those responsible are connected in some shape or form to one of the three circles with access to the process. The Institute, Praxis, Mazdak. And, we have someone who has helped to pierce the veil into at least one of those." Her gaze lingers on the back of the Japanese woman presently making her way out.

Only then does she reach out for one of the glasses of water on the tray, nodding her open thanks at Nicole. Her dark eyes grow clear as crystal in thought as she takes a sip. "If it is not Gemini, but something else entirely, then that at least lets us lessen our focus on the names I just listed." Which would not be much. But it is something.

That, of course, is Yi-Min's goal. Perhaps eventually, their molehills of disparate little somethings would all add up.

"Disregarding my own advice for one moment to look ahead, I think that the way forward is to really concentrate on unearthing the source. They had the resources to do this to us. They will be the ones with all the answers we desire."

Zachery's reactions to the conversation remain subdued, his stare absent until Nicole's hand touches his own. His attention snaps to it with newfound keenness to his stare, as though this gesture is somehow completely unexpected.

It's only when he looks back up again and removes thought from the equation that his fingers find hers, overlapping their claim just out of sight.

"I think it's safe to say I won't be much use reaching out, socially." A short-lived excuse for a grin is wry, but his tired voice still laden with confidence on this matter. "People skills and all. You're welcome to it, but I'm going to be personally making sure that whatever they did to us won't affect us more, physically, than it needs to. Than it has. If our bodies begin to degrade or change or…"

He shrugs one shoulder upward, adding firmly, "We should know."

"Well," Kara voices in the same quiet she's deepened into, "We know what Gemini degradation looks like. If Nicole can't tell you, then I can, at least from a layman's perspective. I've seen someone who's gradually falling to pieces because of it." She looks off to the side, brow knitting for just a moment before she relaxes.

"You know— this all sounds like a tomorrow problem, though. Nothing will get solved tonight. May as well enjoy it while it lasts." Smiling small but true, she looks back to the table. "How often is it we're all able to get together like this?"

“My only commitments are to work, and… they’re keeping me firmly behind the desk for the time being.” And for good reason. That Nicole has been allowed back to work at all is a minor miracle and a testament to her superiors’ understanding of how important it is to her mental wellbeing to have her job. Or that’s how it appears on the surface at any rate.

Zachery’s hand is squeezed firmly. For all that they’ve been seeming to drift apart in the wake of their personal tragedy, she reminds that there’s still a tether holding them fast. They will face this together, and they’ll find the other side. One way or another. Nicole offers a smile to her husband, albeit a tired one. “You just leave the people to me, and I’ll leave the medicine to you.”

"Perhaps this is why I asked your wife here as well as you," Yi-Min delivers to Zachery wryly, noting his deer-in-the-headlights reaction when Nicole touches his hand. They all had their parts to play. With this group, intelligent division of labor might carry just them a long way forward.

Or, they might all die horrific deaths trying. Either way!

"Kara is correct. We have some sort of plan now, or at least some sort of intent, and I doubt much more will come tonight. Let's leave falling to pieces until after tomorrow's hangover, hm?"

When Zachery looks up to catch Nicole's smile, he fails to meet it with one of his own. He does not, however, look away - at least not until slowly nodding his head down at something unsaid. As if the sight of her alone injects a small amount of life back into him, he abruptly inhales and reaches forward with his free hand to grab his drink again.

"Wow," is muttered over the top of the rim as he floats a look between Yi-Min and Kara, a little less flatly this time, his eyebrows slanted as if with some feigned emotional hurt. "Not a single person coming to my defense about my social skills. Well."

He raises his glass, voice relaxing back into its normal register, albeit with a twinge of amusement. "To that hangover, then."

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