We Were Always Here, Part I


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Also Featuring:

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Scene Title We Were Always Here, Part I
Synopsis Shedda Dinu prepares for the endgame.
Date February 11, 2020

[Clocktower Building]

Red Hook, NYC Safe Zone

February 11th

3:47 pm

There is a certain simplistic grandeur to the Clocktower Building. The whitewashed exterior is set in deliberate contrast to the stark gray silhouette of the island of Manhattan directly across the river at the building’s back. In early evening hours, with the sun setting behind the jagged skyline of Manhattan’s fire-gutted silhouette, the Clocktower Building looks as much a memorial and monument as it is a place of business and residence.

Through the glass doors and into the lobby, the building takes on a distinctly Art Deco appearance. White walls and a marble floor tiled with geometric tesselation gives way to a decoratively paneled far wall with brass engravings on the doors of a pair of elevators; one for Clocktower residents, one reserved for the penthouse guests. A pair of security officers in simple black suits stand by the elevators, government-appointed attaches to the Secretary of SESA, Claudia Zimmerman.

Today Aislinn Graves of Raytech is on a list of expected visitors. Which might account for why she's greeting with a welcoming smile from the receptionist this afternoon— a woman whose job is to act as a bulwark between the elevator and the doors to the street. A pleasant gargoyle, claws and wings hidden until they're needed.

"Ms. Graves, you're early," she says with a gentle thread of approval. "Once you're signed in, your escort will take you upstairs." She turns a screen outward for Aislinn (and guest) to note their names down and who they're here to see. "And we'll need to confirm your biometrics, if you could sing the ABCs into the mic until you hear the beep?"

She's kidding.


The stare that receptionist gets is withering, though it only lasts a moment before a bright smile forms across her face. "Whatever precautions we need to take,” she offers, glancing over at Isis. "I'll let my assistant introduce herself," she offers with a motion to her, as she leans down and signs her name in the guest book. She doubts "sign in" is a literal process in this case, but hey, why not.

"I didn't realise we were early," she notes as she reaches into her purse, pulling out a stick of lip balm. "Do you have any idea how long we'll have to wait? I'm antsy to get talking!" A chuckle slips out as she runs the balm over her lips, glancing over at Isis. "I'm excited to talk about our current project more, and I'm looking forward to Director Zimmerman's feedback."

She smiles again, looking past the receptionist and towards the elevator and it's guards. Her mind races for a moment, eyes scanning the room.

To say Isis cleans up nice would be an understatement. (Thanks, Dirk.)

The redhead in the waist-cinched charcoal suit extends a small official registration card. (Thanks, Dirk!)
An expertly curled lock is brushed away from hazel-honey eyes.“Thank you. Yes. Tiffany Taylor.” (… Thanks, Dirk?)

Isis’s smile is a collected and subdued thing compared to her companion’s bubbling excitement. She returns her registration card to a pocket of her black portfolio before an upward little swing of the whole collection tucks it protectively under her left bicep. “I knew I shouldn’t have brought coffee this morning,” the redhead manages in the carefully chipper octave that registers as office etiquette. "Don't worry. We'll get in there before all the good stuff leaks out of your brain. And if we don't, I took notes." Isis Tiffany casts the receptionist an appeasing tilted smile and pats the leather-bound folder gently before bending forward to sign the appropriate alias to the screen with a little flourish of the stylus.

“Biometrics,” the receptionist indicates with a motion of her chin toward the microphone facing the front of the desk. It’s only now that Aislinn sees her embossed brass name tag reading Justine. “If you would, please,” she says with a raise of her brows. “I know it’s strange, but please, sing your ABCs into the microphone.” These sorts of biometic scanners are relatively new within the United States, Raytech has some similar technology and likely have forwarded over Aislinn’s voiceprint during their normal course of business with the Deveaux Society for just such an occasion. Isis probably won’t scan as any recognized pattern, which could complicate matters depending on how Justine responds.

The security guards don’t seem too alerted to danger at the moment, standing quietly by the elevators in their immaculate suits and fresh haircuts. They look as much a part of the decor as they are a functional defense against unwanted intrusion.

"I-" Aislinn wrinkles her nose as she looks down at the microphone. A glance is given over to Isis, and then back down. She finds herself wishing she had done her homework better, but here they were in the here and now. With a heavy sigh, she leans forward. "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, You know this is quite silly." The rhyme is intentional, eyes angled up towards Justine. "I always hated havin' t' use these kinds a' measures t'get into the labs at work too. It's just cumbersome."

Not that anyone asked her.

Stepping away, her shoulders rise and fall in a shrug. "But, I suppose it's good that you lot are takin' security right seriously." She nods, smiling. "On that note…" Eyes dip down to the nametag and back up. "You weren't here last time I was in th' building. Pleasure t'meet you, Ms. Justine." She offers a wide smile as she extends one hand while she slips the lip balm back into her bag with the other. "Hopefully th' first time a' many?" There's a hopeful sound in those words - no doubt Aislinn is committed to impressing.

“Ahem-hem.” Isis clears her throat as she dips her head down to the little microphone bud. “A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H-ay, I… “ Her gaze flicks up to Justine as she smiles. “… Q, Erre, S, T…” Her tone carries the lilt of one familiar with the art of song, while humble discretion tries to beat it down into something slightly offkey and more casual. “…X, Y, Zee. Next time won-… Oh. Oops. Was I supposed to stop at- Is this thing still recording?” Pale brows furrow and she taps the little electronic receptor, only to quickly snatch back her fingers as she seems to realize the error. The slender redhead straightens with an easier smile in a way that suggests she’s content to linger on the fringe of Aislin and Ms. Justine’s friendly exchange for now.

Justine levels a look over the frames of her glasses that is as flat as a Pepsi left out on the counter overnight and just as lukewarm. Without moving her head she looks down to the screen, brows creased. “Voiceprint match for you, Ms. Graves.” Though as she looks at the voice sample for Tiffany Taylor, Justine squints and clicks at something with her mouse. “I’m sorry, Ms. Taylor isn’t in our system. I’m going to need to— ”

“I can vouch for Ms. Taylor,” comes from behind Aislinn and Isis. Having come in off the street not long behind Isis and Aislinn, a rather stern looking woman in her late fifties or early sixties with dyed blonde hair and an imperious brow is escorted by a tanned gentleman roughly half her age in a patterned suit. Alice Shaw is the public face of SESA, their public-relations director and often named in periodicals. But without widely accessible television in the Safe Zone, her face is not immediately recognizable. But that particular confusion only lasts so long.

Ms. Shaw,” Justine says from behind her monitor, sitting up straight. Suddenly the receptionist’s demeanor changes entirely and Alice confidently strides across the lobby to Aislinn, offering out a hand to her.

“Ms. Graves, it’s a pleasure to meet you in person. Alice Shaw, SESA Public Relations.” she looks over to Isis, cold blue eyes studying the redhead for a moment before turning her attention back to Aislinn. “That must be your assistant, I presume?”

When she's addressed, Aislinn's posture straightens noticeably, a hand reaching up to adjust the glasses she wears. "Ah, um. Hello, Ms. Shaw." She takes the other woman's hand, giving her a handshake that helps hide her sudden sense of urgency. "Yes. Ms. Taylor is here today to help me talk about Raytech's Project Lattice initiative with Director Zimmerman." She nods a head in Isis's direction, beaming with pride. "She's new to our line of work but I've taken her a bit under my wing, so I wanted to make sure she got out here with me today."

That seems adequate.

"I wasn't expectin' t'see you here, however," she offers, still trying to not let the anxiety that is sweeping over her show. She doesn't actually know Alice Shaw at all, but that the other woman may have heard of her through Richard, Claudia, or any other number of people doesn't seem to entirely surprise her. "I can tell you about it privately later if you're not already familiar, but I really do believe it's something that will revolutionise living in the Safe Zone, and it's a project that specifically needs talents like mine and other similar SLC-Expressives before we can move forward into any sort of mass production." Hence, why she's here.

“That ‘she’ is,” Isis agrees about her designation of assistant, carrying on in Alice’s third-person way with a friendly demeanor. “Thank you, Justine. Ms. Shaw.” As any good assistant aught, she makes herself otherwise small - not offering her hand without invitation, even making them casually busy about her portfolio in a way that makes it socially acceptable for her superiors to ignore the usual courtesy otherwise. An easy smile disguises the way she anchors her tongue with a growing pressure of molars on either side, her head bobbing along to the cadence of Aislinn’s description of her purpose as a little known shadow at the other woman’s heels. “There’s a lot of passion driving this project. I knew as soon as I heard about it that I just had to be involved.” That’s… an understatement.

Alice is still and silent for a moment, fixing a steady look on Aislinn that then slips focus to Isis. “I’ll bet,” she says in a flat tone, followed by a sudden reanimation, moving to lay a hand on the front desk receptionist’s shoulder. “I’ll see them upstairs.” There’s no question of Alice’s authority, just a deferential nod that is echoed by the security team that seems to relax as Alice heads back to the elevator.

“Allow me to show you to the penthouse,” Alice says as the doors open for her again as she steps inside, holding them open for Aislinn and Isis. “While we’re on our way up, why don’t you two tell me a little bit about project Lattice. I’d be very interested to hear just what it is our old friends at Raytech are up to these days.”

The surprise that washes across Aislinn's face is neither hidden nor fake. It's clear she's caught off guard, trying her hardest to swallow down the growing lump in the back of her throat. "Of course!" She at least manages to not sound as surprised as she appears, rolling her shoulders as she looks to Isis and offers her a smile. It's not a smile of excitement, though. It's a smile of nervous desperation.

They hadn't even made it to the elevator yet. There was no way this could go so poorly already. Was there?

Pushing the thought out of the back of her mind, she turns her attention back to Alice, slipping into the elevator and waving Isis forward. "It's really quite remarkable. I can't take credit for it, unfortunately, it's the brainchild of one Seren Evans. They've cooked up a really interesting plan for a potential renewable energy using algae based on the principals of solarleaf technology." That alone should give good explanation as to why Aislinn is the one here and not Seren themself.

To her credit, Isis doesn’t bat an eye. Her simple-assistant smile doesn’t falter. In this case, her blissful ignorance is not an act. She doesn’t know enough to be nervous. That is… not until she turns to trail after Alice and catches Aislinn’s smile… she can almost see the strobing red of the silent alarms sounding somewhere behind her partner’s eyes.

Oh shit.

Miss Taylor’s smile digs its hooks a little deeper into pale, freckle-flecked cheeks as she moves into the elevator and tucks behind her superiors… even as the doors close and the obligatorily reflective surfaces on all sides offer nowhere to hide. Then again, a quick recall of Alice’s slippery gaze suggests ‘not speaking, unless spoken to’ is a good rule of thumb. The portfolio opened in the crook of her elbow - a tablet device on one side and a binder clip of schematics, notes, and identification on the other - present a perfect excuse to let thick lashes veil her downcast gaze.

“Fascinating,” Alice says with a rise of one brow and a subtle angle of her head to regard Aislinn in a different light. She shifts her pale stare across to Isis without so much as changing her expression and lingers on Aislinn’s assistant for a beat too long to be comfortable. Mercifully, the elevator ride to the penthouse floor is a short one of only a few floors, and just as Alice’s attention pulls away from Isis the elevator lurches to a stop and a soft chime rings through the confined quarters before the doors open.

On the other side of the elevator doors is a tanned man in a black suit, though beneath his jacket he wears a dark floral print with his collar undone. He is well-manicured, down to an immaculately cut beard. There is no formal introduction, not when he and Alice meet eyes. “Mr. Stone,” she addresses him in a perfunctory manner on her way out of the elevator, “Ms. Zimmerman’s guests are here.” There is no further instruction, and Mr. Stone offers an askance look to Aislinn and Isis, and then dismisses himself from the foyer to an open-concept kitchen nearby where a young blonde woman is seated at the island, reviewing something on a tablet.

Aria Baumgartner likewise makes no introductions, though her attention settles on Stone with a furrow of her brows. She seems upset about something, talking to him in hushed but sharp tones, and Mr. Stone makes an apologetic gesture with his hands and seems to be playing off some more casual reaction. As Aislinn and Isis exit the elevator, they are presented with the entire penthouse at once, its sprawling floor divided without walls into four distinct quadrants. Alice looks back to them, then motions to a lounge area opposite the elevator, where none other than SESA Secretary Claudia Zimmerman sits with an expectant look on her face. She slowly rises from the low-backed armchair she was sitting in and comes to meet Isis and Aislinn before they venture too far from the elevator.

“Ms. Graves,” Claudia says, offering only a perfunctory look to Isis and an awkward smile that is angled back to Aislinn. There’s a momentary look in Claudia’s eyes, a crease of her brows, as though she for a moment thought Isis was familiar, but it passes with a shake of her head. “I’m eager to get to talking with you about Project Lattice,” she says, motioning for the pair to join her in the lounge. Alice, like a ghost, simply sinks into the background and out of sight into what might be a dining room on the other side of the elevator.

Aislinn Graves is never one to second guess herself, but even as they step out into that penthouse and her eyes fall on Aria and Stone she finds herself wishing she had decided to approach this differently. More quietly, stealthily. Never mind that there would likely be people here no matter what ruse she may try to pull over their eyes, but that's inconsequential to the churning in the pit of her stomach.

Like before, she tries her best to not let her anxiety and doubt show on her face, instead letting Claudia be the sole focus of her attention in that moment. "Ms. Zimmerman!" There's enthusiasm in her voice at least - she's never been an actress, but true enthusiasm can trump the need to act. "I can't thank you enough f'r lettin' me come in today. I really and truly believe Lattice has a future here in th' Safe Zone, and-"

She stops, looking over at Isis next to her. "Oh, I'm sorry. Where are my manners." She motions to Isis, beaming at the other woman. "This is my assistant, Tiffany Taylor. I've brought her here with me t'day so she can see more directly what goes int' bringin' a project like Lattice to life, and the difficulties involved with it. I have high hopes for her bein' less of an assistant and more of a research partner in the future."

She's quick to move the rest of the way into the lounge, offering Claudia her hand. "Anyway, I'm ready to get to it if you are."

It's not that she's a good actor, Isis. Oh no. It's that her life has lent itself to a certain degree of hardships that require a unique set of survival skills. Not the hunting and gathering sort that were required with the fallout of society; those came later. But, the unwavering smile and sharp attention to detail that fit now like an old favorite pair of jeans - those came from an entirely different sort of privation.

Isis's hazel gaze follows Alice's retreat briefly, curiously, before Aislinn's chipper announcement draws her attention back around. To Ms. Zimmerman. Subtle creases cut ever so faintly at the corners of her eyes.

Tink. Ta-tink-tink. The sound of glass on concrete. No, not glass. Ice.

Isis had studied for this meeting, no-doubt, but it could not have prepared her for the flashback brought on by the similarities between mother and daughter… Something about the cut of the chin, the posture and nuances of motion that lend more credence to nature than nurture. She clears her throat and secures one hand on her portfolio, the other metaphorically on her ability.

"Ms. Zimmerman," the redhead 'assistant' catches on the caboose of Aislinn's quick introduction. "May I just say it's a real honor to meet you. While I might be new to the project team, I assure you I'm as passionate as the rest and with a good eye for detail and research see great success in the future." She dips her head, a gesture of respect as much as summation, bowing herself out so that the 'big players' can carry on.

“You do have a good eye for detail,” Claudia agrees with the level of pale blue eyes at Isis. She lets that stare linger for a beat before slowly lowering herself back down into her chair, blinking a purposeful look directly to Aislinn. “You’re the one I’m surprised about.” She says with a subtle shift of her weight to the right, resting one elbow on the armrest of her chair while she fishes a pack of cigarettes out of her suit jacket pocket with her other hand. Claudia doesn’t so much as ask before fetching a lighter and lighting up, then setting the cigarette pack down on the table. “Actually, give me a moment.” Her attention angles back toward the dining room. “Aria?

Across the way, Aria straightens up from her perch at the bar in the kitchen. She slides off of her stool and moves to cross the room. As she steps away from her seat, Mr. Stone watches her with a sudden wariness, then moves to close some of the distance that had been placed between them. He stops short of leaving the kitchen, though, casually leaning up against the bar Aria was seated at prior.

Aria comes to stop by Claudia’s side, looking between the three women expectantly. “This meeting with Raytech will probably go long,” Claudia says after taking a drag from her cigarette. “Could you please head to my apartment and fetch the documents for the estate transfer we talked about?” Her brows rise, seemingly disinterested in the conversation. Aria looks back to Isis and Aislinn without saying a word, then back to Claudia.

“I…” Aria’s brows furrow together, “I can. I will. Yes.” It doesn’t seem like she wants to go out on an errand at this hour. There’s a tension that rises in her that wasn’t there a moment prior. “If you’ll excuse me, Ms. Graves, Ms. Taylor.” She says with a quick look back to Claudia before ducking her head down into an apologetic bob and starting to excuse herself.

Aislinn watches Aria leave with her own sort of weariness, offering her a smile. "You're all very lucky I'm not the sort t'get hung up on bein' called Doctor," she notes with an uneven grin. The words estate transfer echo in her mind, but she doesn't dwell on exactly what that could mean. Worst comes to worst, she could ask her… later. Instead, she shifts her attention back to Claudia as she moves to sit.

"Oh? Well, I like t'think I keep people on their toes, so it's nice t'hear I caught you by surprise," she remarks with a small chuckle as she lowers herself down into a seat. "Not sure 'bout what, but I suppose that's not really important is it?" It sure is, but that's not something she's giving much thought to right now.

Particularly with the acrid smell of cigarette smoke settling in. That's always been one of Aislinn's least favourite things.

"If you have other matters to attend to, though… I can try and keep this short and to the point, though."

She didn't realize she had it in her - the willpower necessary to hold the older woman's icy azure gaze under the weight of that cryptic statement. In the same blink that relinquishes her from Claudia's gaze, Isis cast an inquisitive glance towards Aislinn behind a palm brought up to gently tuck a stray curl behind her ear.

The slender redhead sits - perches, really - ever so carefully on the precipice of the sofa opposite Aislinn and beside Claudia's armchair. It's from this vantage point that she watches Aria obediently come. And just as quickly and obligingly depart. First Alice. Then Aria. That just leaves Claudia and… her hazel eyes drift past Mr. Leaning Stone on their way back to their prominent hostess.

Let the show begin. Knees together and tilted demurely down and aside, Isis flips open the portfolio on the shelf of her lap so that the tablet within illuminates her in a pallid white-blue glow. Tap-taptap. She clears her throat even with her gaze downcast on the screen. Then again, a grated little cough in her throat, this time with her hand resting on the front of her slender neck. She spares a glance up, revealing she is in fact attentive, and opens up several schematics on-screen before tucking them all electronically behind a white screen with an eagerly blinking cursor. Miss Taylor draws the back of her free hand across her brow.

The silence that had fallen after Aislinn last spoke hangs with purposeful intend. Claudia takes a long drag off of her cigarette as she watches the elevator doors close behind Aria, then looks to Mr. Stone who stands in the threshold of the room like a well-dressed gargoyle, looming over the conversation. Claudia blinks a look back to Miss Taylor, then pivots her stare to Aislinn.

“I’m surprised you had the temerity to bring Joanne King here,” Claudia says with all the impact of a gunshot at close range. Her blue eyes flick back to Isis, one brow raised. “Or is Isis O’Connor your real name? We were never sure.” There’s some tension in Claudia’s posture, but not the kind that belongs to a person who intends to make a break for it. It’s the kind of tension someone has when they expect they’re about to be shot; the board-stiff tension of someone facing a firing squad. Though she tries to hide it.

“Or are you just an ignorant key holder to get her in here?” Claudia asks with a quick look to Aislinn.

Claudia has left Aislinn an opportunity a mile wide for her to throw Isis under a bus, to pretend to be the unwitting and unknowing accomplice in whatever plan the body snatcher may be playing at. To get out of this scot free, to continue her work on Lattice and at Raytech, and possibly even help bring in a criminal.

But she knows that's not the case. If Claudia knows that this is Isis O'Conner, she either knows or will shortly know Aislinn's affiliation as well.

There's a stiffness in the argokinetic for a long moment, staring straight ahead at Claudia before sitting up a bit straighter. "Does it matter?" is her final answer, hands folding atop her purse. The statement and it's attached admittance of guilt may come as a shock to Isis or even Claudia, delivered in a flat and almost forceful tone. She rarely has had interactions with her other members of Shedda, outside of Vor and Garza. Few knew the steely, determined woman that lied beneath her whimsical nature, ready to die for whatever convictions she may have.

Leaning back with her fist propped against her chin, she raises an eyebrow. "Because either way, we're in the lion's den, aren't we? All of us."

Blink. The nightmarish day-dream ends. Claudia and Aislinn are carrying on about some photosynthetic buildings that Isis doesn't truly comprehend and the sun is shining and the birds are…

Only. Fuck. No. This is real: Claudia's eyes on Isis as alias after alias pours out. Then the cherry on top - her name. By all rights, her real name. They'd been so careful. Back then she was doing good. Real good. She changed her face. Her fucking face! Only to throw herself at the mother bear like a headless chicken waddling blind and deaf and dumb.

With a quick glance to Mr. Stone, the cold sweats she had been feigning are now suddenly very, very real. And yet… Isis pulls her hand away slowly, deliberately. She raises her chin - the craftsmanship of some uniquely evolved man. Brian had been so careful. He had kept her safe so long. What would he say now? Still, curious to the end: "How." It’s not a question. Perhaps the playing field is still in flux.

How,” Claudia parrots back with feigned shock. “Please.” The disdain in her voice is evident, but tempered by the fact that all she’s doing is smoking a cigarette, not shouting for security. She isn’t even asking Mr. Stone for help, a man who is clearly within earshot of this. Perhaps there had been something unsaid when she sent Aria away?

“We’re the Deveaux Society,” is part of Claudia’s larger answer. “If you’re still cutting bread with that deranged troglodyte of an immortal, you must know what our resources are.” But Claudia sees genuine surprise behind Isis’ eyes. Her own narrow slowly. “He didn’t tell you, did he?” She takes another drag off of her cigarette. “We’re Henry Gale, Isis. We’re the man behind the Wizard of Oz, throwing levers and flipping switches. We’re the inheritors of the complete Company database, the Vanguard archives, and the Institute’s comprehensive files of multiple timelines.” Another long drag, and this time Claudia exhales smoke out her nostrils. “He sent you here because he knew I’d recognize you.”

Claudia switches her cigarette to her other hand to pick up a half-finished glass of wine she’d been sipping on before company arrived. “I know who you are, I know about your connection to Curtis, and I know what’s been done to his brain.” No mention of what happened with Zachery, no mention of Isis’ near-death experience, or the theft of Gorgon. Claudia’s eyes are focused squarely on the past. Everything she’s mentioned is old news. Ancient history.

Hand still somewhat defiantly propped against her cheek, Aislinn's eyes flick over to Stone. She tries to keep up the facade of being unphased, but the cracks show the more Claudia talks. "Y'know, I'm not from around here," Aislinn offers after a moment, having rolled her eyes at the comparison to the Wizard of Oz, "so the name means 'bout a pound a' shite t'me."

At least she's honest.

Her expression takes a bit of a downtown, a smirk becoming a frown. "An' what does that accomplish for anyone? You know we're here, an' we get screwed." Which seems to be happening anyway, woo. "So what next? We glare at each other until someone passes out?" Aislinn hasn't missed that Claudia seems to have nothing to say to her. "Hell, I'm still up for talkin' about Lattice. Everyone wins there."

Old news - to some. Ancient history - to others. The root of what makes a person tick - at least so far as Isis is concerned. Nostalgia is stronger than hate, stronger than love. It sits somewhere deep, lurking, and cuts deeper still when tugged.

The only saving grace is that some names have been left off Oz’s list. Even still… “Ash,” a subconscious twitch coalesces into a quiet whisper. A correction? A concern? She licks her pale lips thoughtfully, her lower lip following after the tip of her tongue inward, only to turn pale under the pressure of her teeth. Isis’s hazel eyes, broiling now with shards of molten golden over the fires of adrenaline, cut sharply to Aislinn. If Oz has the answers; if Oz grants wishes - then yes, the playing field is very much in flux and she is not the rook or knight she’d hoped. She is but a pawn. Black or white? White or black?

Shining eyes dart back to Claudia. Isis leans forward, managing to curl into herself and yet stretch out simultaneously. She bends over the arm tucked in across her portfolio, reaching out over the arm of the sofa with the other so as to let a lazily crooked hand dangle outstretched in the older woman’s direction. “He knows you know he knows,” she doesn’t bother to hide her disdain in this synopsis of the current clusterfuck. “And the rest of us get left in the dark.” Her fingers twitch. “I’m sick of being in the dark, Ms. Zimmerman.”

Claudia’s non-verbal response is little more than a displeased hum. She exhales smoke and reclines back in her chair, slowly. “Don’t we all, love.” Her blue eyes track up to Mr. Stone who maintains his vigilant position between kitchen and lounge, then turns her attention to Aislinn. “I think lattice is going to have to wait. Perhaps indefinitely, depending on what your intentions are here.”

Taking another drag off of the cigarette, Claudia considers the two women across from her and tips a long head of ash into the tray beside her. “If you’re here, and if you’re working for him, then this is two-fold. Adam Monroe doesn’t care about me. He cares about what the Deveaux Society has. Our knowledge, and if he’s as smart as he thinks he is, he knows he can’t get any of it without me.” Claudia blinks a look from Isis to Aislinn.

“What’s your plan now?” Claudia asks, conversationally.

"I don't think there is a plan now." Aislinn's eyes slide over to look at Isis, quirking an eyebrow at Isis. There's no way for her to communicate her thoughts to Isis, she is sadly not a telepath. Instead she reaches out, seeing what plantlife fills the room and lines the building. Ivy, potted flowers, hydrangeas on the roof, anything. Her concentration on her immediate surroundings slips, though she tries not to show it outside of the twitch of her eye.

She searches. She listens. What's up, little ones? Got any gossip?

"Shame," she remarks on the note of Lattice. But she's certainly not surprised.

Isis rolls her head back and around as though stretching out the kinks of her irritation, but the effect is disjointed in her bent and side-leaning posture, enough perhaps to disguise her wandering eye. Where oh where has little Alice gone? Oh where oh where could she be? And what about this “estate” errand Aria was set on? These are the voyages of the paranoid mind. It’s mission: to see danger at every blink. And rightly so, given the nest of serpents in which they seem to be entangled. “That depends on two things, as far as I see it.” Her gaze sweeps - elevator, Mr. Stone, Aislinn, back to Claudia. Slowly, as if melting back into her body, Isis straightens on her perch.

Snap. She closes the portfolio over the tablet. Snap. She takes on Miss Tiffany Taylor’s professional smile. “You know me and so you must know what I’ve done.” Not all, surely, but enough to make her next tidbit bear some credibility. “You know what I’m capable of then, perhaps. So…” Her right hand remains outstretched, twirling a lazily restless figure eight in Claudia’s direction. The swirling stops with a jagged lift of one finger. “It depends on what Mr. Stone there is inclined to do.” A second digit pops, pressed close in a two-finger salute. “And what you have to offer.”

Claudia makes a soft mhmm noise as she sips her wine, flicking an expectant look to Stone. “That’s a very good question, isn’t it?” When her eyes settle on him, Stone moves to the elevator and just stands there. Claudia’s eyes narrow, the corners of her lips downturn into a frown, and she looks toward the dining room before turning her attention back to Aislinn and Isis. “I don’t think you realize that you have the upper hand yet, do you?”

At a distance, Aislinn feels the plants are satisfied, though also discovers that several are just plastic replicas. The living plants nearest to Claudia want her to stop smoking near them, admittedly. Unfortunately none of the succulents and ferns are of much help with anything beyond their surface level needs. Claudia doesn’t notice Aislinn’s attention shift, seeming focused more on the discrepancy of power dynamics.

"I mean…" Aislinn wrinkles her nose. "We could be wham bam done with this, I suppose." She sounds rather confident. "You have the element of surprise in your favour. We have unpredictability." Or at least, she does. She's sure they know exactly what Isis is here to do. "But I'm also not stupid. If you know what this is, and you've already sent away - whatever th' fuck her name was? Then downstairs is quickly going t' know what t'expect, aren't they?"

There's a tad bit of arrogant annoyance in the tone of her voice, looking over again to Isis. What they have to offer isn't even a consideration to agrokinetic. "I will say, though, that you could at least blow y'r actual smoke somewhere else. Yer pissin' off everyone else in the room." And that's to say nothing of the metaphorical smoke she may be blowing.

She holds up her hands to both of them, showing their empty, before reaching into her bag and retrieving her lip balm. Slowly, carefully. Hopefully they don't shoot her just for that.

“Oh, I had suspected.” Isis’s voice pitches into a pleasant little octave, two-fingered salute still hanging. “That’s why you had a chance.” *Had.* But, her hyper awareness jerks her gaze towards the periphery - towards Mr. Stone’s movements. Her gaze tick-tick-ticks around. Up, left, down, right - as if thoughtfully searching the nooks and crannies of her brain behind, or the room around. What she finds is Claudia’s frown. “Ohhh. What’s going on over there?” Isis’s tone turns gossipy. *Had*, she’d said, but she’s stalling. Giving Claudia a chance, or a cat playing with her food? Lashes narrow, leaving thin slits of amber-green as her octave just as quickly dives low, playfully chastising. “Did you check all his references?”

“My friend is right, you know.” Friend. See, Aislinn? ‘Sall good. Hope you’re ready. Isis’s voice levels. Her eyes level. The words are falling from her face on autopilot, “We have to assume you sent for help.” She doesn’t hear them. She hears Tink. Ta-tink-tink.. Maybe she should have known then. Maybe it was always going to be this way… “Sorry.” The word cuts through the echo of crystalline shards, it washes them away in an undertow and crashes over her enough to make her shudder. She means it. From somewhere. To someone.

The reason for Isis’s precarious perch becomes suddenly obvious - it’s the starting block. Isis lurches forward, perhaps an embarassing face-first faint off the sofa from the anxious assistant if anyone watches the instant replay. But, her restless hand reaches as she simply lets go of the leash on her ability. Freedom. Unrestrained. Unhinged.

Whatever response Claudia might have had is lost when Isis lunges for her. Claudia exhales a gasp that might have been words before the hooks of Isis’ ability sink into her mind. Her pupils dilate wide, body grows stiff, and that expression is mirrored on Isis’ face for a moment. Their pupils widen and contract in sync with one-another, and Isis sees herself through the eyes of Claudia Zimmerman.

Mr. Stone does nothing, save for subtly adjust his stance as he waits by the elevator.

Claudia, swapped into Isis’ body, looks down at her trembling hands and over at Aislinn with marked confusion. Knowing what Isis’ ability is and experiencing the cognitive dissonance in it is another thing entirely. When she realizes that they aren’t here to kill her, that’s when Claudia panics. There are fates worse than death, and knowing that both of the women in the room with her report back to a man who has institutionalized those very concepts as technological processes causes her heart — Isis’ heart — to nearly skip a beat.

In that moment, Aislinn is just as caught off guard as Claudia is. This is not the sudden turn in the conversation she was expecting, no matter how much she was trying to pretend that she wasn't panicking internally. It takes her longer to register that Claudia and Isis have switched than it perhaps should. Either way, as soon as Isis pounces Aislinn is up to her feet, first spinning around to see Mr. Stone.

But, he's not doing much of anything, even when she brandishes what appears to be an epi pen out of her purse. She snaps back to Isis, and seeing that look of confusion on her partner's face brings a growing sense of smugness to hers. "Well, I guess we're not blowin' smoke anymore," is a really bad one liner, not that it's meant to be that. Regardless of what's actually happening, she has to act on best case scenario. The path that hopefully gets them out of here without bullet holes in them.

Without another moment's hesitation, she pushes over "Tiffany'' and slams the epi pen into her thigh, almost like she's had practice doing this before.

It might have been felicitous for the chair to rock back given the hurling, slamming force of the exchange. And yet, perhaps the soul weighs nothing. No matter how innocent or guilty. Isis, now in Claudia’s body, waits until the halo around her vision ebbs, pupils recalibrate, and the world is colored in a whole new perspective. By which time Aislinn has pounced and… dear Gods, she’s got a fucking epi-pen. But, it doesn’t take long and the reflex to vomit or scream or some combination of both is quelled just in time. Carefully, digit by digit, she disentangles one hand from the clawed grip in the chair’s arm while the other hand carefully draws the cigarette up to borrowed lips. She turns away slightly, eyes lidded as the smoke trails tickle the unfamiliar visage before a larger plume billows from her nostrils like a contented dragon.

Isis-in-Claudia snuffs out the cigarette with the air of someone put out by the situation, because well… she is, in more ways than one. She carefully pivots in the seat, seeking to claim an appropriate distance from the slumped assistant on the floor. “Your protege seems worse for wear, Ms. Graves. Do I need to send for assistance?” From her new perch on high, Isis risks a curious glance towards Mr. Stone.

“No need,” comes from the dining room, where Alice Shaw emerges with a glass of white wine, “I’ve already called a car around for you.” She looks over to Mr. Stone, nodding to him, and he moves away from the elevator and calls it up. “Zachary, this is where we part ways for a little while. Give Lorenzo my regards, and we’ll see each other again on the other side of all of this.”

Alice finishes her wine in a single gulp, then sets the glass down on a narrow shelf before continuing on toward the elevator door. In the same moments, Claudia — in Isis’ body — is struggling and trying to speak, looking at Alice with a baleful but not surprised expression. She struggles, eyes rolling back in her head and going limp as Aislinn’s injection takes effect. She isn’t completely unconscious, but she should be much more pliable now. Alice watches Claudia’s slip, then looks up to Isis and Aislinn.

“Mr. Garza was kind enough to give me a heads-up before you arrived. I didn’t think we’d be moving so soon.” Alice’s mouth creeps up into a smile and she presses the call button for the elevator. “We need to depart before Ms. Baumgartner returns.”

As Claudia-in-Isis goes limp, a wicked smile returns to Aislinn's lips, and she can't quite restrain laugh as she disentangles herself from the woman, holding the "epi-pen" up. "Well, that's one successful trial," she remarks of it, sliding the spent pen back into her purse and pulling a small, clasped shut case. Following it comes a small length of cloth, nondescript and white. "Anyway, yeah, yeah. Gotta get movin'. Too bad this mix isn't long lasting, so I'm gonna need a minute."

She offers a look towards Alice that is somewhere between askance and baleful. "An' a'course he wouldn't tell us we got someone on th' inside. Which would beg the question of why were needed at all." Aislinn lays the limp arm of Claudia-in-Isis flat, and as she wraps and tightens the cloth around Isis' bicep it becomes clearer what she's doing. "Y'know, if I cared."

Two fingers are pressed into the crook of her elbow, other hand forcibly curling Isis' fingers into a ball. "Do ya donate blood often, Isis? Really easy t'find a vein." With her prep done, she opens the small dase, revealing a small syringe. There's a slow, methodical precision to how she moves as she slides it into the vein and injects.

"Aaah. Thank you, Ms. Lancaster, for giving me the confidence for another field trial a'this." Her gaze flits over to Isis-in-Claudia and back. "Hopefully y'won't feel too, uh, dead to the world when y'go back" she remarks in a sing-songy voice. "Y'good t' go, Ms. Zimmerman?"

Isis-in-Claudia looks on. First with skepticism, then concern, then undisguised horror. “What are you-…” She covers her mouth with the back of a dignified hand, turning her face away, but not her eyes. She can’t. The plunger makes her eyes flutter before the curse is broken and she finally closes her eyes. “Yes. Yes, I’m re-NO.” Brown eyes open suddenly and wide. “Not quite.” She shoves up from her seat, unsteady at first. Perhaps the body thief is still getting used to the controls, or she’s still shaken by the sight of her body having become Aislinn’s personal experimental voodoo doll.

Resting a hand on the back of the armchair, she steps around it, already searching. “One file. Just one.” It’s an incessant whisper. She cuts a careful glance towards Alice. “Ash Wil-or, Curtis Autumn. Whatever you want to call him.” She reaches back a twitchy-fingered gesture towards Aislinn without looking back over her shoulder. “The tablet.” Gimme.

Alice closes her eyes and slowly shakes her head. “This wasn’t about you succeeding on an assignment, though… there’s no way I could’ve done what you did just now. This was about you,” she motions to Isis and Aislinn, “passing a test. Which you did.” She smiles as the elevator chimes softly. “You’ve just earned yourselves a promotion.” Her attention tracks to Isis, looking at her manipulating the body of Claudia like a costume. “There will be all the time in the world to pour over Mr. Autumn’s files, if that is what you want, when we arrive in California.”

Stepping into the elevator, Alice motions with her head for Aislinn and Isis to follow. At the same time, Zachary Stone slips off into a deeper part of the Clocktower, knowing full well what is expected of him now that the tide has officially turned. Alice looks back to Isis and Aislinn.

“Adam would very much like to see you both,” Alice says without expression or humility.

Aislinn looks up from where she looks over Claudia-in-Isis, blinking. "California?" A test? She removes the syringe and ties the cloth around the entry point to try and staunch the bleeding in lieu of a bandage. There's a visible conflict brewing in her. Obviously she's in here for the long haul, otherwise she wouldn't have put her work at Raytech in such jeopardy.

Work she still believes in.

Her thoughts trail for a moment, before she lets out a sigh and climbs off the couch and to her feet. She can always rehire and reapproach the project later. It's not like Raytech has any patents yet. "What about-" She motions to Claudia-in-Isis using the body's own hand, as if it were some sort of puppet. Or Weekend at Bernies. "The paralytic has her out and unable to move for a little bit, but not too long."

California. Again? Adam.Again? She feels the sweaty palm of the upper hand slipping further and further down the line. Isis-in-Claudia tracks Mr. Stone, brow cranking higher and higher with each step that steers him decidedly away from this situation. She grunts and snaps back around, reaching down to snatch the tablet, with more force than is necessary in one hand. In the other she takes up the uselessly limp ankle of her proper body. It’s at this point that Alice’s and Aislinn’s words reach her ears and Claudia’s blonde head pops up with enough force to cause whiplash.

“You aren’t suggesting…” She gives the leg a tug that rocks the unconscious redhead on the floor. “I thought he wanted-” The body thief freezes as she considers that it isn’t the person, but the body that might interest the immortal. The body she’s wearing, the nerves to which she’s linked. And, presumably, the ability lingering in the periphery, just out of reach.

“I’m not suggesting anything,” Alice says with a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “You’ve done your jobs admirably, and as it so happens there’s another you’re needed for. I couldn’t have done this without your help.” Alice steps into the elevator, holding the door. “But you won’t be coming back to New York, not for… a little while. Not after all of this reaches its natural conclusion.”

In the shadows of the dimly-lit elevator, Alice’s expression looks at once smug and humorless. “Claudia made the mistake of assuming that the only threats left to assess were those outside of these walls. She assumed that people like you — Shedda Dinu — were a new, external problem that could be researched and mitigated.”

Alice’s smile becomes more self-satisfied. “Claudia was wrong.”

Fifty Nine Years Earlier

Coyote Sands Relocation Center


A sound of thunder rolls in the starless skies.

Gunfire is a terrible sound, it carries across the open expanse of dusty desert that spills out from the foot of the mountains. Between elevated wooden lodges, screams erupt between the noise of gunfire. Blood soaks into the sand where a man in a plaid shirt lays on his back, bullet holes torn through his chest, glasses crooked on his blood-spattered face, eyes open and glassy as they peer upwards at the lightning flashing through the clouds.

Beneath one of those elevated lodges, a tiny young girl lays on her stomach in the dirt. Blood from her father is still tacky and warm across the right side of her face, some droplets smudges where tears have made them run. Dark, chocolate brown eyes watch her father's lifeless body where he lays, and not much further away where a man in a soldier's uniform lays dead as well, a burning hole in the middle of his chest from a direct lightning strike, clothing blown apart on his body in charred strips.

Wind picks up, wind and sudden snow flurries, a pop of electricity as lights on the cabins blow when a stroke of lightning hits a nearby power line. All Alice Shaw can see are booted feet running along the packed earth walkways. Trembling hands cover her ears, eyes wrenching shut and lips pressed together tightly. "Say goodnight, Alice. Say goodnight, Alice. Say goodnight, Alice." The mantra is whispered as she struggles to block out the terrible sounds. As if hearing her wishes, thunder rolls like a beat of war drums above, drowning out the pop of gunfire.

The sudden, terrifying sensation of a hand wound around one of her ankles has Alice shrieking as she's dragged out from beneath the building. Her fingers curl into the dirt, eyes grow wide and a shriek spills from her lips. The young girl turns, writhes, kicks and claws at the ground to try and save herself as a pair of soldiers haul her out from beneath the building.

One of them lets go of her leg, unholstering his sidearm from his belt, cocking it back and aiming the revolver down towards Alice. Fear fills her eyes and the sky flashes bright with a peal of thunder and lightning, followed by a stroke of white-hot light lancing down from the heavens, striking the gun-toting soldier in the top of the head, flash-frying his eyes and burning a hole through his helmet and hair. His skin boils on the inside, smoke expels out his mouth and he flies backwards onto the ground, legs and arms convulsing involuntarily.

The soldier not hit is recoiling, even as Alice draws her legs up beneath herself. He swings his rifle from over his shoulder, pulls the bolt back and chambers a round with a snap-clack. As he levels the rifle up and trains it on Alice, another soldier tackles her from out of nowhere, and the rifle goes off, followed by a puff of red from the middle of his back before he crumples to the ground with his arms around the girl.

Blood spills from the blonde soldier's mouth, and Alice continues to wail like a banshee with his dead weight atop her. Blood soaks into her clothes as she tries to push him off, but his body pins her to the dirt. The rifle-armed soldier chambers another round, ejecting a smoking shell out of the side of his bolt-action rifle as he stalks forward. Closing in on Alice, his lips curl back into a snarl and he levels the rifle down towards her.

Only to have the soldier he'd shot stand up again.

Confusion gives way to hesitation, and hesitation gives way to death. A broken piece of glass from a blown out window finds its way into the rifleman's throat, torn across the front of his neck in a jagged line by the soldier he thought he'd gunned down. Blue eyes stare piercingly from the attacker, from Alice's liberator.

When the rifleman falls down to the ground, grasping at his cut throat, gasping wetly for air and choking on his own blood, the soldier turns slowly to look back at Alice. He pulls open the front of his button down uniform, checking his chest where a bullet hole goes straight through him. One thumb wipes over the exit hole, smearing blood over perfectly smooth and undamaged skin. Alice's wide eyes stare up vacantly at the soldier, at his nametag: MONROE, A..

"You and I," the blonde soldier states as he offers a hand out to Alice, "we should be getting out of— " Alice lets out a sudden scream, scrambling back on her hands and heels, twisting until she can get up onto her feet and start to run again. "Wait!" He cries, holding out a hand after her. "Bugger, why isn't this ever easy?" Ducking down to grab the dead soldier's rifle, Adam Monroe stares into his dying eyes, even as fingers wind into Adam's sleeve, begging for help with gurgling breaths.

"Sorry chap," Adam murmurs, tugging the gun away, "that's how it works." Rising to his feet, leaving the soldier bleeding to death on the ground and drowning in his own blood, Adam charges after Alice's scrambling form. The young girl dives beneath another one of the barracks, even as another stroke of lightning hits the chain link fence on the outside of the camp.

"You can't stay here!" Adam calls out to the girl, turning to look towards the sounds of an approaching jeep drawing closer, headlights shining brightly. "They're going to kill you! You're like me, I want to help!" Trying to be heard over the storm, Adam offers out his hand to Alice, fingers splayed and blue eyes wide.

"My sister told me to wait! She said she'd be right back! I'm not going anywhere!" Alice's shrill voice fills the night, a shrieking cry of fear and overwrought emotional duress. Adam partly hears Alice over the rolling thunder, as he turns to face the jeep barreling down on his location, one soldier driving and another standing up and holding on to the roll cage, looking for residents to pick off as they drive.

"Hey!" Adam calls out, stepping into the road and away from where Alice is hiding, waving one hand to try and flag down the soldiers. "C'mon stop— don't leave me here!" The Jeep's headlight's flash and it begins to roll to a halt, just as another flash of lightning pierces the sky, followed by a tremendous explosion as a bolt of lightning drops like a lance from the sky, hitting the Jeep and causing a cache of explosives in the back to detonate.

The vehicle explodes into a bright fireball, launched up off of its burning wheels, flipping end over end through the air as Adam is blown clear off of his feet, through a doorway of one of the cabins. The Jeep crashes down on its roof, sending metal shrapnel and flames billowing out along with thick, choking smoke. Alice curls up into a ball beneath the lodge, whimpering breathlessly, wide-eyed and terrified.

Through the burning wreckage, Alice can see a figure moving, staggering through the smoke and flames. He comes out from behind one of the lodges, bloodied and clutching one side where his hand is soaked as red as the wound. A white, wool jacket is marred with soot, dirt and blood. His clothing is in dusty, cut tatters, tiny cuts and scrapes across his face. She scrambles back further and struggles to curl into the smallest ball she can under the lodge. Screams and gunfire fill the air, then nothing.


Say goodnight Alice, say goodnight Alice,” Alice keeps whispering to herself, over and over again. She whispers it as the rain continues to pound down, long after the sounds of gunfire and screams have ended. It’s only when a pair of boots come into view that she claps her hands over her mouth and grows silent. Slowly, Adam Monroe crouches into view and sits down on the ground in the rain. Young Alice remains transfixed, staring wide-eyed at him.

“What’s your plan?” Adam asks, to which she doesn’t respond. Adam lifts his brows and rolls his eyes. “Right. Well, as fun as it might be to live here like a feral cat, the government will be back. The men with guns.” There’s a hesitant sympathy in his expression. “The others who escaped ran. They’re gone. Nobody is coming back for you, kid.” Adam ducks his head under the lodge in the dirt crawlspace.

“Nobody’s coming for me, either,” Adam adds, extending a hand under the lodge. Alice stares at him, wide-eyed. “We can do this alone, here. Or we can…” his blue eyes seem dark in the gloom. “We can see if this is any easier together?”

Adam sits there in silence, nothing but the falling rain and distant rumbles of thunder to keep him company. But eventually, long into his patient vigil, he feels a tiny, cold hand shakily take his. Adam returns the gesture, easing away from the entrance of the crawlspace, helping the mud-covered girl out from under the lodge. Alice stares up at Adam, dirt smudged on her cheeks and tears in her eyes.

“Together it is, then,” Adam says as he loops an arm around Alice’s shoulders, smudging blood on her cheek.

Present Day

The woman in the elevator is a pale shade of the terrified child that witnessed the death of her parents at Coyote Sands. A pale shade of the terrified child who accepted a savior in the most unlikely of forms. Alice Shaw is not who anyone thought she was, let alone Charles Deveaux. Alice was never a helpless orphan. She was never a charity case for Charles.

For the last half-century, Alice has been one thing.

“Claudia was so very wrong,” Alice reiterates.

“We were always here.”

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