What Tigers Can Change


odessa4_icon.gif valentin_icon.gif

Scene Title What Tigers Can Change
Synopsis Odessa reports her genetic disposition to one person who might appreciate it — which might prove to be a timely turn of events when the cracks of a future schism run through the offer put across the table.
Date May 28, 2011

Eltingville Blocks

Odessa Price is fond of dramatic entrances. Sadly, her situation doesn't generally allow for them anymore. So when she sends word that she wants to be met at a pub in Eltingville, she doesn't have the benefit of laying in wait for whomever that may be to arrive so that she can suddenly (and seemingly) appear from thin air in the seat across.

Life is hard. And Odessa is early. Seated at a booth with a basket of fries in front of her (she got hungry), salt and vinegar on a plate because catsup just doesn't do it for her. A small box with a lock and a handle sits on the seat, nestled between her and the wall. She feels safer that way. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. The toe of one acid green satin heel taps on the floor beneath the table in time to whatever the music is that's playing overhead. It's loud enough that she can follow the beat, but quiet enough that she can't tell what's playing since she doesn't care enough to actually listen that well.

Her dress is a deep eggplant colour and it hugs and flatters curves that she didn't have scant months ago when she still lived on Roosevelt Island. That she fills it out well now doesn't have her casting a dubious look to the excuse for a meal in front of her. (It should.) She's looking toward the entrance instead. And she's careful not to brush her bangs away from her face as she does so. She's sans patch tonight, trusting snow white locks to obscure the scarring enough for people not looking too closely at her.

There are only two people she trusts not to recoil from her, or arguably worse, give her pity when they see that scarring. And Odessa isn't here tonight to meet Bella Sheridan.

On time within the minute, because if you're going to have very few redeeming features, it pays to be punctual, Michal Valentin moves into the bar without much in the way of dramatic entrance himself. Birdsong whistle from pursed lips doesn't break, and neither does his stride, when he lances a look about the place, managing to give each face at least a quick check and measure — during which he finds Odessa's, and veers his direction for her, his step jaunty and matter-of-fact. He looks like someone's dad, in jeans, a loose T-shirt with a faded brown leather jacket drawn over and left open, the grey in his hair and middling height. Ordinary.

There is a package wrapped in brown envelope, curled in his hand and tucked at his side, and it's this he places in easy arms reach on the table to either of them, and slides into the booth. Linking his fingers in a clasp on the tabletop, he cuts her a swift smile in greeting.

"This is cosy," is warm, not disingenuous comment.

"I thought so," Odessa agrees easily. That Michal Valentin looks so damned unassuming is something she smiles about, if only internally. She knows better. A glance is flickered to the package he's brought, per her request. At least, she's quick to assume that it is what she requested.

"I thought you might like a beer. So this seemed about as good a place for that as any." She lets that smile become external then. She's similarly warm, and genuine about it, "It's good to see you again, Michal." Chin tips downward to indicate the fried potatoes between them, "Have some if you like." Odessa takes another herself and soaks it with the salt and vinegar mixture before consuming it.

"I hate to bring up… in such a way…" Wishing, suddenly, that she had rehearsed her delivery of this. But Odessa didn't expect to find herself without the right words. So she chooses the direct ones. "Back in the Dome, there was the boy that opposed us. His name is Devon Clendaniel, and he's decided he wants to meet with you." Contempt laces the woman's tone. "He seemed to think that I would simply tell him where to find you. Giddily allow him to set some sort of trap for you."

Mismatched eyes shift off to glance around the bar, head tipping to one side briefly in an almost-shrug. "Naturally, I told him to go to hell. Now, I don't generally advocate the murder of children, but…" Her gaze levels back on her companion's face and she leaves the unspoken at that.

Well, if she's offering—

A French fry, not a murder. Valentin picks one up, teeth flashing white as he takes a bite, brow crinkling in a these are pretty good expression as he studies the severed morsel, finishing it, and twisting to see if there's help nearby who can get him that beer he was promised as he listens to what she has to say. He flags one down, the look tilted up towards the waitress ever polite as he requests, "A beer, please. This young woman wishes to buy one for me. Perhaps something from Texas." Settling his attention back on Odessa, he goes for another fry, declining the condiment to eat it as is, and he does so thoughtfully.

"Devon Clendaniel," he says, as if trying to recall the name out of the many he has to keep track of. "Opposed us?" A hand drifts down to touch his own thigh, and it's not anger or fear that flashes silver in blue eyes, but interest, "He was among those when the dome broke?" There is vague recollection of an ambush, a death defying escape, the crush of ice and the tunneling escape through the sewers.

"Something from Texas. That's cute. Vodka tonic for me," Odessa orders and then rests one elbow on the table, setting her chin in her palm. Oh so casual talk of perhaps-murder over chips. After the waitress has left, of course. "He was. With the fat man, the puppetmaster." She also glances briefly toward Valentin's thigh, though there's a table in the way of her line of sight.

"Registration says he's unmanifested. Could be that he is, or isn't. He didn't offer any display against me when I refused to facilitate his revenge." A tight smile is fleeting, gone as quickly as it flickers to life. "Though I did agree to relay that your presence is requested. And I know it's only a matter of time before he seeks another meeting with me to find out what progress I've made on that." Odessa's lips purse faintly. "I don't like him. I'd be tickled if he just disappeared off the face of the planet."

"Do children frighten you?"

Valentin tries to block possible offense or defense at this notion — he is swift to wave a hand, as if to wipe clean his own word choice, even if someone like him well knows that words, once spoken, aren't ever erased. "It would be wise. Especially the ones now capable of decisions and gunfire, and growing up with all their fire and fury. Nazi Germany, while reprehensible in their sentiment and their methods, did at least understand the virtue of children, from Jews to the Poles — they are the roots and seeds from which things grow. Ah." Their drinks are here, and Valentin smiles bright, nods his thanks to the employee, as full glass and the bottle with the last of the Texas brew remains.

He starts with that first, in two quick gulps, teeth bared once done as he sets the thing aside, and steals himself one more stalk of fried potato. "He didn't conjure magic fire or mysterious forces against us on the roof — only his pistol. Safe to say he is unmanifested or something more subtle. What did he threaten you with?"

Vodka and tonic are a welcome addition to the table, and she pulls the glass toward her, content to leave her hands wrapped around it while they converse for now. "I agree. If he does have an ability, it isn't an outwardly offensive one." For a moment, Odessa's gaze falls to the package Valentin brought with him. But she doesn't make a move to retrieve it or comment.

Instead, she forces herself to look across the table to the man again as she addresses him. "Aside from the fact that he's promised to come looking for me if I don't make some attempt to arrange a meeting for him, he's… He's implied things. I think he knows people who'd be only too eager to know how to find me."

Not that finding Odessa is terribly hard these days. But that's part of the reason she's beginning to accept the confines of Eltingville. She sighs. "No concrete threats, but… My situation has changed. I can't afford not to take the boy seriously."

There is a twist of disdain at Valentin's mouth — it's a matter of style, and besides, Devon's seems to be effective enough that he doesn't comment on it out loud. Instead, he takes a napkin off the table, a pen from his pocket, and jots down, left-handedly, a time, a place, a date in both meanings of the word. He caps the writing implement, folds the note over, and holds it out for Odessa to take without further word on the matter. Once it's taken—

"Now." He snatches up the envelope, fingering it open and dumping the standard SLC test kit upon the table with a cardboardy clatter. "I've been dying to know what this is about."

Odessa takes the folded napkin and tucks it away. "Thank you." Because she knows that he's doing her a favour by agreeing to the meeting at all. Some of the tension - that she didn't realise was there until it was released - uncoils from her shoulders. She pushes her drink aside, still untouched, and stares at the SLC kit for a few moments.

Then she offers her hand palm up across the table. "My situation has changed," she repeats. "I don't know who I can trust. I could have secured a kit myself, but… I wanted you to be sure I've not tampered with it." Odessa takes in a deep breath and then looks up from the tips of her fingers to Valentin's face again.

Picking up his beer and relaxing back into the curved booth seat, Valentin's default look of friendly enquiry is hardening up under scrutiny, blue eyes meeting the one she has available and bypassing scars as per usual. There is no eyebrow tick or smirk or furrow at the implication that he is someone the dirty Evo can trust, but it's a fact stored away, for the time being, as he tries to fill in the blanks laid so open in between her chosen words.

There aren't a lot of other things, that an Evo test is meant to prove.

"You are the doctor," he says, and indicates the test. Perform.

"I thought you might like the opportunity to make me bleed." Amusement crinkles the corners of the woman's eyes, but she slides the contents of the envelope over to her side of the table. She pricks the middle finger of her right hand with the supplied lancet and massages the pad until enough blood beads up to apply to the test kit.

Odessa holds her breath and waits, letting the results play out in plain view of them both. She doesn't look surprised by the result, cheeks puffing out some as she exhales.

All four circles show blue.

She looks up from test to companion, reaching to pluck a pair of napkins from the dispenser on their table. "Would you like to be the first to welcome me into the human race?" Odessa asks dryly, wiping the blood from her finger, then starting to conceal the kit and its results back in the envelope to be disposed of later. Not here. Somehow, she manages to keep the disappointment off her features. Though that may be more a byproduct of being too numb to even summon defeat.

Viper fast, Valentin's hand grabs Odessa's, fingers spread over her knuckles.

The blood-spotted napkin falls away as, with gentle but firm twist, her palm is displayed to the ceiling and the tiny wound can be properly inspected. Seeing that it's sound, not some sort of elaborate illusion, Valentin keeps his grasp as it is, other hand tugging the results card closer and bending over the table to look at it, the tip of his nose barely several inches away. It's clever, that he was to bring his own, because there is little he can do to dispute it.

He doesn't let go of her hand. "If it is not a trick, you had best explain it to me," he says, his voice low and quiet, like a knife blade pressed to someone's belly. He isn't going to fuck around with the concept of a monster passing as a person. "If it is a trick, you will explain how you did it." There isn't another option offered.

Breath hisses between Odessa's teeth as her wrist is captured and she leans forward to accommodate the inspection, her ribcage pressed to the edge of the table. "It's not a trick.

"I was betrayed," she starts her explanation there. "Despite that I'd done nothing to actively compromise the interests of the Institute, my employers saw fit to have me stripped of my ability." Odessa stares down at the hand around her wrist, then quickly shifts to find out what the other hand is up to. Which is possibly more polite than immediately looking toward the gun Valentin's carrying.

"There was a man, FRONTLINE, who stole my ability. That was in February. A week after you and I parted ways." There's the smallest of flinches, uncomfortable, but she doesn't try to wrench her wrist free. "It wasn't until last week that I figured out something was…" Odessa stops herself from saying wrong just before her mouth begins to form around the double-yoo. "Different. Genetically."

Behind the blue, icy front of studious stare, there is a flicker of recognition for her story.

It doesn't so much as betray guilt as it does betray that maybe Valentin has heard of something like this before, cutting close enough that familiarity might work in her favour. His other hand, for what it's worth, remains empty and set against the edge of the table, but as tense and ready as the rest of him as he grips her with the other and listens and considers. "You did nothing," he repeats, a speculative lift to the ending syllable, in the cautious frame his accent places each word in. "What else would you need to do, but be able to stop time at your whim, draha?"

He lets go, then, returning to his beer as if the conversation is set to tick along as smooth as it had been before, taking a deep pull from it. Impossible to discern whether he likes the taste. "So you are— castrated," he says, taking a moment to pick the correct word. "What gratitude they show you, the Institute."

To her credit, Odessa doesn't rub at her hand when she withdraws it across the table. Slow to settle back, rather than the quickness of relief. Instead, she finishes her task of tucking away the kit that's served its purpose, leaving it to sit on the seat next to her. "What I did was help you. And where would the Institute be had I not?" Clearly she feels she did them a favour. A snort punctuates the indignity. "I had so many opportunities to… To…" Fingers tighten around thin air in pantomime of a stranglehold.

Then, she reaches for the salt shaker and sets it down in front of Valentin with more force than is required, a sneer to her lips. "Would you like this to rub into my wounds?" Odessa's jaw sets tight, then she goes for her drink, sucking down fizzy and diluted vodka through a red straw. "Fuck them." The Institute. "I've continued to work for their money. And for this."

The case she's brought with her is set on the table, nudged toward Valentin. "There are two vaccines against the latest strain of the H5-N10 that's attacking… us." The corner of her mouth ticks up briefly. "One for you, and one for whomever you choose to protect. But you'll want to ensure they receive it quickly. The virus is mutating rapidly, and it won't be long before this dose is worthless."

Flicking a look downwards, towards the case, Valentin silences again, elbow set against the table top and hand loose at is wrist as if in midgesture. Once she's spoken, he draws it closer, before decidedly picking it up and slipping it into the inner pocket of his jacket.

"Salt aside, I am only trying to understand the depth of your injury. I hope it won't stop you from being able to work within the Institute. It is now more than ever that the organisation needs to be watched — commands from their management, the secrets they keep, are beginning to chafe more powerful entities, not the least of which being the United States government. The tale you have of your depowering is only one of many. And in this case, they are stripping a Department of Evolved Affairs employee of a valuable asset without the paperwork to show for it. And the Department loves paperwork."

In exchange of vaccine case, he takes out a skinny cigar, going about lighting up despite the aged, nicotine-yellowed NO SMOKING signed stapled to the wall over Odessa's head.

"And of course, their money," he concedes around where his teeth grip the cigar. The lighter is pocketed once the tip is nursed to ember. "Stay for their money."

The situation is so fucking absurd that Odessa has to laugh, tipping her face downward and bringing one hand up to rest forefinger lightly to brow while her shoulders quake. "The lack of paperwork, my dear Michal, is why I haven't attempted to report a damn thing. Only you and the virologist I'm developing the vaccines with is aware of my change of status."

Dropping her hand back to the table is done only so she can lift her drink. "You would have me report to you then?" She seems to give this some consideration as she works on making alcohol disappear into her blood stream. "This could make the… humiliation of staying worth it. Though they can't possibly not have foreseen that by doing what they've done, they've ensured my betrayal." Which is a roundabout saying that the prospect of actually turning traitor has her nervous.

Which one might find odd, considering Odessa's history. "I've been promised a bullet to the head if I step out of line." What she doesn't ask is what's in it for me? She isn't so sure the answer isn't nothing, or something so quaint as satisfaction and revenge.

"You will get a bullet to the head when they are dragged out into the light and made to repent for their psychosis," Valentin says simply, syllables made visual in the to and fro of hazy smoke, breathed out, hanging in the air. "As will your colleagues. You should be thanking me, really, that I can identify you as a possible turncoat, with enough motive for it to be true."

He goes to take a deep swig of beer, and seems done with it from there, setting the tall glass aside half-filled with amber and white froth, wiping off his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket. "Choose the side you want to be on while you still have a choice, ├íno? If I would vouch for you— something, given your situation, I would be able to do credibly— then you must do something in return, someday, you know this. Pray then that it will be too late for the Institute to recognise its own sins.

"In the meantime, cement the idea you rely on them. They are the leading force of scientific advancement in the world, and if, after you diligently pay them the service they require and they do not return to you your power, then it is their own research that will restore it again. Who else would you possibly turn to?"

Humanis First?

A slow smirk tugs one corner of Odessa's mouth up and pulls at the healed ravine drawn over her lips while she listens. Half-lidded, her gaze sweeps over the man across from her once as if reassessing him. But it isn't quite that. And it isn't terribly difficult to read the woman either.

She wore a similar look when Calvin told her he was ensuring the survival of his species.

No longer their species. It's that sudden thought that leaves her unsettled and chasing traces of lust from her features. "I didn't think," she begins an attempt to cover the lapse, "that you would want to see my ability restored to me. I had thought you might like me better now that you and I are the same, Michal." And it's obvious that Odessa had hoped that in the midst of her personal tragedy, she would find approval from him. Someone she admires and regards as never powerless, despite having been born without the evolutionary advantages she was up until recently gifted with.

"Of course," is near hissed, half-whispered, but emphatic and said through a bright, sharkish smile, Valentin ducking forward as he delivers it, posturing straightening again. "And I don't think the Institute will survive as it is long enough to see any such kind of advancement, if they would dare to be so— uppity, is a good word. But it is the theatre you will provide for them so that they have no reason to think you will turn on them in your vengeance. A security measure." Ash scatters under casual gesture. "Just a suggestion."

He is moving, then, levering himself out from between booth and table to stand, trailing smoke. "If you accept who you are," he says, after a beat of thought, and a little more careful in his word choices, "and we continue these communications, I will show you what it is to be human. And I promise you, it is not weak."

A hand goes up, to press against the pocket he spirited the vaccines away, in silent thank you.

The girl's face flushes pink. Furious with herself for asking the question more than she is upset by the answer, despite it being the one she essentially wanted. That's the fact that has the blushing subsiding quickly. Even if she never reclaims her glory, someone will accept her for who she is. She suspects there won't be many among the humans that will see her as one of them, and those possessing the Suresh Linkage Complex won't count her among their ranks anymore either.

At least she'll have… Something. Someone like her. A tiger whose stripes won't change. And Odessa smiles again. "I do hope you mean that. I look forward to it a great deal." And though his is silent, she vocalises hers a second time for the evening. "Spasibo. Be well."

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