What We Brought Back


avi_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title What We Brought Back
Synopsis After Kaylee delivers dire news about Curtis, Avi and Francois discuss what can be done.
Date July 26, 2019

There's a park in Phoenix Heights, a decent but not uncomfortable distance from the Bastion, that is known locally for three things. The first is the fountain that had been cleared and restored by members of the public at their own expense and engineering, an architectural feature of shallow tiled pools in which pigeons bathe themselves, and long arcs of glittering water. It's been disabled during the worst of summer in the interests of conserving water, dry and strange in the slightly unkempt parkland that surrounds it.

The second thing is the small village of food and coffee trucks that have spontaneously accumulated over the past six months. Hotdogs, noodles, coffee, although the current humid warmth that pervades the city has Francois stopping to exchange crumpled dollar bills for iced tea.

Third is the cats. This is not a deliberate feature.

In spite of the combined efforts of the citizens to make this one area trash-free and safe, the feral cat community has had other ideas. More active in the evening, during which they rove together in gangs, it's nonetheless inevitable to catch sight of them during daylight hours too. They are skinny, bred into small bodies with big eyes, and of a startlingly diverse array of colourations — stripey ginger, patchwork browns and whites, velvety greys. Flea-bitten and unfriendly, they tend to stare from the overgrown hedges, dart across pathways, fight each other just out of sight in fits of hissing and spitting.

Conrad Wozniak Memorial Park

Phoenix Heights, NYC Safe Zone

July 26th

8:22 am

"I heard there was a lady who was put in hospital," Francois is saying, by the time he has returned to Epstein Their backdrop is full of partially demolished city structures, and construction scaffolding, and a patchwork sky of cloud and blue. "By cats. Ten or more of them. There is talk of putting out poison."

None of this is any stranger to him than the way cities were, after his own war. He has memories of a girl of fifteen, using her father's revolver to shoot at the noisier strays, and no one minding.

"I wanted to talk about Autumn," Francois adds, in case Epstein thought this was a date.

Avi glances back Francois way from a crouch, the last nub of his hotdog toward a curious calico watching him with saucer-wide eyes. He regards Francois for a silent moment, then the cat, and Francois again. “Mnh,” is his guttural answer, followed by the underhanded toss of the hot dog end into the bushes and the waiting paws of that wiry cat.

As Avi rises from his crouch he takes a few ambling steps back over to Francois, thumbs hooked in the pockets of his pants. “Tell me those two topics aren't related somehow. Please.”

"Depends on how you feel about cats."

But non, it is not. Francois pivots to lead them both off to walk further away from the sparse clustering of civilians around them, stirring the ice around in his cup with a subtle shake of his hand. More tolerant than appreciative of the heat, he steers more towards where wiry trees throw shade across the barely-kept pathways. Appreciative, however, that it is not the confines of the Bastion, or the brick walls of his own newly purchased apartment.

For more reasons than just the way the summer collects up stagnant while inside. "Kaylee Sumter," he says. "The one who unlocked Devon's memories from his time with Monroe's people. She received Curtis, recently, coming to her about missing time. Time he believed belonged to Ash."

The sound that escapes Avi in response to that is somewhere between a groan and a gasp. He brings a hand up to his face, sweeping sunglasses up the bridge of his nose as he massages his eyes with forefinger and thumb. “Okay…” is anything but, though in the moment Avi isn't sure what else to say. “So she dug around in his dusty toy box and…” Avi doesn't finish the thought. Instead, he sighs and straightens his sunglasses.

“Way I remember it from Mini-Bennet is that Curtis got his egg scrambled by the government to pretend t’be a cover identity to infiltrate pro-Evo groups.” He makes air quotes with his fingers. “Terrorist groups. Then they, what, unscrambled his eggs and put him back right as rain?” It’s rhetorical, admittedly. He knew the broad-brush strokes of Curtis’ chequered past. “Yeah I mean,” Avi mumbles, scratching the side of his face, “that doesn't seem like a solid strategy. But… how the fuck’s he experiencing missing time? Like, is he just forgetting what he had for breakfast or waking up halfway through Manchurian Candidacy?”

"I don't know."

Trying to get information out of Kaylee, by way of Curtis' powers of description and likely selective framing, means that Francois has little to offer on the level of detail. "But he told her it began during the war." And here, Francois steers a sidelong look to Epstein, only half-obscured by his own set of sunglasses. "That he would 'let Ash out', during such times when the worst needed doing. But he says, now, that he has been missing time more and more, which is what brought him to Kaylee.

"Who came to me, to inform me of the memory gaps. She wasn't able to recover anything, so we can't know what happens during. There is more," he adds, "and it is not all that concerns me."

“Jesus Christ,” Avi mumbles into the palm of his hand as he scrubs it across his mouth. He can't help but pause in his stride as he wraps his head around that. “He never told me any of that, definitely hadn't told Hana. We knew he had a rough patch during the war before we picked him up but… everybody was a fucking feral cat back then.”

Avi picks his pace back up, matching with Francois as he shakes out the nervous uncertainty of this problem they have on hand. “Is the other thing that worries you that we’re regularly putting a gun in his hands and sleeping in the same building as him? Because I know that just hit my top five list of things that keep me the fuck up at night.”

Francois' trajectory takes them towards where a wooden bench has been constructed and set near the fountain with the obvious intent being that of a shady spot for people to enjoy the water feature. The fountain is not running, its shallow tiled interior baked warm in the sun, but the shady spot persists. Ever since Kaylee's intrusions in his mind, the sun feels as though it's piercing a needle through to his brain, eyeball first.

But better out here than in the Bastion, to talk of these things. The iced tea in his hand reminds him of Abigail Caliban, and he observes the energy with which Epstein experiences his worry with the remove of someone who is already tired.

"Oui," he concedes. "But also: Kaylee believes that whoever it was that wiped Devon's mind, in Monroe's employ? This same person has been in Curtis's mind."

When Kaylee had delivered that news, she had paused, to let it sink in. Francois grants Avi a second, as he takes a seat, but continues;

"She could not look any closer, because she also found, implanted in his mind, a trigger of some kind. And apparently, careful study of what it is, what it would do, was liable to set it off. I don't know if this means it is a safeguard of some kind against this gaps, or if it is something else. She mentioned the name Rupert Carmichael."

Avi hadn’t quite yet sat down when that last name slips free of Francois’ lips. It makes him hesitate, hand just shy of touching the bench arm. He recoils, as if the bench’s wrought iron frame were hot, and looks around for a moment in briefly observed paranoia. “Jesus Christ,” Avi once more whispers breathily, looking back to Francois. It takes him some time to unpack what’s wrong with all of that.

Unable to sit now, Avi paces back and forth in front of Francois. When he realizes how manic he looks, he forces himself down into the seat beside the Frenchman and scrubs the heels of his palms over the thighs of his jeans in a nervous gesture. “Okay, so…” he says without real direction at first, trying to connect the dots in his head. “Curtis got brain-wiped back before the war. So… whoever the fuck’s working with Monroe and scrambled Devon used to work for the feds, or— the Institute. Probably more likely.”

Avi’s lips part, brows furrowed, and from the angle he’s at Francois can see the old spy’s eyes flicking back and forth behind his sunglasses. “Only memory manipulator they had was Elijah Carpenter and Eve Mas painted the walls of the Ark with his brain. So…” he drums his fingertips on his knees, “somebody off the books, maybe. But Carmichael’s dead so— ” Avi’s small light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be a train when he belatedly remembers the events of Mount Natazhat.

Fuck me.” Avi hisses, turning to look at Francois. “We can’t keep him on active duty, he’s gotta be pulled, right? I mean— fuck, he might just go full fucking Rambo on folks if we do or if we don’t.” Then, sliding his tongue across his lips his rapid-fire ping-pong of thoughts serves out, “Did Kaylee say how we get rid of that psychic booby trap?”

"I asked. She doesn't know. That the attempted removal might well set it off."

And Francois does not immediately respond to the rest, pulling off his sunglasses now that his eyes have adapted to the shifting shade above them. They click as he folds them in his hands, and with a hint of reluctance, he says, "If we pull him off active duty, we may lose a valuable lead. If he suspects we know." He looks to Epstein now, raising an eyebrow.

"Back in my day," is dry, sardonic, "we didn't have telepaths shaking information out of people's heads. That I had at my disposal, anyway. If you wanted to know what someone was doing, where they went in secret…" A loose gesture. "You follow them."

The slow draw of breath Avi takes through his nose is a tell Francois picked up a couple years back. He doesn’t like what he had just heard, but he’s trying to accept it. “Okay,” is anything but, and was the next word the Frenchman expected to hear out of Avi’s mouth. Their patterns were becoming familiar to each other, especially since Hana’s departure. “So, mental minefield. We don’t know what the mine does, so we don’t fuck with it. We hope it doesn’t go off on its fucking own eventually. Fair.”

Avi leans forward, forearms against his knees, head down and sunglasses slouched off the bridge of his nose. “I suppose Lancaster would like some recon, we haven’t had a lot for her specialization since we took the NYPD contract. Who’d you have in mind to play cat to Curtis’ big dumb jarhead mouse?”

The cats out here aren't too keen on coming any nearer than they have to, but Francois imagines that curiosity is an innate trait for such creatures as he spies a sleek, black and white blur emerging from nearby brush and dealing them a fixed stare. He might put money on local news talking about SESA apprehending a feline telepath or something, but perhaps there's a little part of him that still expects sparrows and ravens and pigeons to be tracking his every move.

That is certainly something he isn't bringing up right now.

"I was thinking we might outsource," Francois says, steering his attention off the cat, a glimmer of a smile for Avi's choice of adjectives. Ahh, Curtis. But now there is a little mental fortification he needs to do before he says this next part, flexing his fingers around his ice tea. "The Ghost." Who has done a little work for them before, in the past — if not really since Gitelman's departure.

Still. "Laudani. His ability allows for perfect discretion and I do not think it places him or Curtis in any danger of whatever this trigger is. If we determine what occurs during these periods of missing time, or how they manifest, we can know what we are dealing with."

Avi snorts, looking over at Francois over the slouched frames of his sunglasses. “Uh,” he looks down, then away and over to the cat as if it will have some level of helpful insight. It doesn’t. Perhaps there’s a part of Francois that suspects the dumb thing that’s going to come out of Avi’s mouth next, but it happens regardless.

“I thought you two were getting a divorce or something?”

Avi performatively creases his brows at Francois, as if trying to guide him to the conclusion about how mixing work and the bedroom is a bad idea. It’s all very genuine. Genuinely ignorant.

A bad idea is also: making two other clones of yourself, on account of situations like this. Francois has been saying.

It's Francois' turn to communicate a measure of ill-will via a long breath in, shooting a glance Avi's way as if maybe to see if this is a joke in poor taste or— nope, non, those are some genuine eyebrows. His grimly methodical manner in which he is attempting to workshop what to do about Mr Hyde is interrupted as he says, "Ghost is not— no, I am not married to or divorcing him," the halting quality betraying just a glimmer of irritation.

Directed at Epstein, it would seem, but also at Teodoro, who was never around enough for Epstein to tell the fucking difference, apparently. "It is the other one. I mean, I am married to the other one, but we're not— we haven't divorced."

Mm. That wasn't as smooth as he wanted it to be. He glares at nothing and drinks his tea.

Avi hides embarrassment behind frustration, showing consternation by throwing one hand flippantly into the air. “Look, I can’t keep track of which Teodoro is which, let alone where his dick is. Okay, fine,” he splutters, “Ghost. That’s the— fucking fugitive from the future, right? One of them. Whichever.” He’s also right, though only by a measure of 1/3rd.

“So Ghost, whom you most certainly aren’t divorcing,” Avi says with a raise of his brows, “is gonna tail Curtis. Yeah, that’s… he’s the one with powers, right? Something… invisibility? No, telepathy? I remember he did intel gathering that one time, Hana mostly handled that transaction.” Sliding his tongue across the inside of his cheek, Avi rankles his nose.

“Sorry.” It seems unconventional for Avi to say it. “About— the mixup. Bringing it up.” Admitting to knowing about it going unsaid.

There's room for it, the apology, as Francois lapses into a tolerant kind of silence, allowing certain offenses to ease on by — he'll permit Epstein a little slack, there, if not very much. But this last part has him raising an eyebrow as he continues his consideration of some patch of empty space, and shakes his head.

"It will be over soon, one way or another," he says, which he hopes is vague enough without being mysterious. This morning, he'd put on his engagement and wedding rings, just like any other morning — they shine up silver, nestled together, on the appropriate finger.

He draws his posture up a little, and says, "Astral projection. He can ride along in people's minds. Curtis himself, or strangers around him, and jump from person to person. Like Leap Frog," Francois adds, for both levity and helpful visual descriptor. "Most times I would prefer not to have dealings with him, Ghost, but— if we ask any of ours to do this, compromise is almost a guarantee.

"And I still trust him," for reasons that are probably not remotely mysterious. "In the meantime, we try to minimise Curtis's involvement in— certain areas. Avoid Rambo, like you say."

Sliding his tongue across the inside of his cheek, Avi nods and claps his hands together. “I knew that kid was gonna’ be trouble one day, but I always figured it’d be— I don’t know, accidentally killing someone in a bar fight kind of trouble, not… whatever the fuck this is.” He motions at one of the cats, as if it were to blame for all of this. The cat mrows contentedly and turns around to show Avi its asshole.

Avi frowns. Visibly unimpressed.

“I’d like daily reports, people Curtis is talking to, places he’s going off the clock. He’s had a lot of free time lately and if he’s doing anything weird, we’ve gotta figure it out.” Avi worries his hands together in a scuffing rub of palms, then looks back up to Francois. “Long term, what d’you think we can even do about this? We can’t have ghost— uh— ghosting him— forever.”

"He won't," Francois agrees. "At first sign of anything that would compromise our operations or the safety of civilians, we should intervene. But there is not much we can decide until we have more information."

But maybe he's avoiding something inevitable about all of this. He says, "Eventually, we will have to know what that trigger is, as well, and set it off in some kind of controlled environment. Kaylee offered her help, going forward, but if she cannot directly interfere with the trigger— " He waves a hand. Telepaths. "Then she will at least be able to monitor with better insight what happens when it is pulled.

"And, you know," he adds, listing back into his seat on the bench. "Kaylee does not even believe that the Ash persona is separate to Curtis. We will, in time, have to relearn what kind of person we are dealing with."

Because then, he isn't the idiot jarhead, the man who might kill someone in a bar fight — not as they understand it.

That, of all things, sinks deepest into Avi. The notion that there is no difference between Ash and Curtis, not in any real measurable way. It’s like an animal’s talons, dug in and dragging Avi back to its den. He’s been in the dark here before, in the den, where Ash is now. “Fuck,” Avi spits out, using that same momentum to push up to his feet. He doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just that he can’t manage to stay still any longer with everything he’s heard.

“When ah… when Jensen came back from the war when we were younger…” Avi looks back to Francois. “Raith,” in case he didn’t know him on a first-name basis. “He was different. A lot. The war— everything that happened— it changed him. I mean, fuck, what’m I even doing explaining it t’you. You lived through the worst of them,” he adds with a wave of one hand in Francois direction.

“People who can turn that off, push it down, pretend like it’s happening to someone else,” Avi presses his lips together tightly, shaking his head. “Curtis never talks about the civil war. Gets this— that look in his eye whenever you ask. I thought— fuck,” Avi scrubs a hand at the back of his neck. “I never told him t’get help, t’talk to somebody. I just let him do him. I saw it, I fucking saw it. But I saw it in so many fucking people I was…” He cuts himself off, running a hand angrily through his hair.

It’s as if Avi blames himself, a little, for this. “We left him back in the war, vulnerable, and I dunno if any of us realized the man we brought back with us was just a… a…” He lacks the words.

An ellipsis, for which they have to determine.

Francois is quiet as Avi speaks, and after Avi is done. The way he has recommended counselling to some of Wolfhound, and not others. As if Avi's deteriorating self-control requires treatment because it is a weakness, whereas Curtis's breaks with reality had been a strength — until it is used against them. He does not believe himself quite so deliberate as that, but it is what it is.

"We will do our best by him now," he offers, a rare attempt at reassurance where Epstein is concerned. He thinks about talking about Teo, in the context of lasting psychological damage from war, but perhaps later, before their current burdens grow any heavier. "The man we brought back with us is just that. A man."

There’s a small snort that escapes Avi, reflexive when he hears how Francois frames Curtis. “Yeah,” he agrees with a slow bob of his head down into a shallow nod, looking away from Francois. “I guess that’s what it is. Doesn’t matter how many fancy powers you have, at the end’f the day you’re still just a fucking bag of meat and trauma.”

Taking a moment to scrub a hand over his mouth, Avi looks around the park and then down to his feet. “We’ve gotta do something, right by him or not,” he finally says, motioning with his head for Francois to walk more.

“Because I’m fucking scared of the consequences if we don’t.”

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