Who Else?


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Scene Title Who Else?
Synopsis Everyone wants answers.
Date March 19, 2021

For as many months — nearly a year now — that the advice of Donald Kenner and Kristopher Voss has fallen on Nicole Miller’s deaf ears, it seems she’s finally decided to follow it. She stopped into the office on Friday morning long enough to answer her e-mails, delegate her workload and set her out of office message before taking off for a long weekend. She left the building by ten o’clock.


What followed was an afternoon of drinking at the Dirty Pool. Settling up the rent still being paid on the back room her husband kept up on. The place he crashed more often than he slept at home with her. Once, Bruce asked her why she kept supporting it. Why their spot together suddenly became their spot separately. Like they had alternating custody of the bar and who got to drink in it.

She’d thrown a crumpled up hundred dollar bill in his face, told him to pour her another martini, and shut the fuck up about it.

There’s a bad break-up happening at one of the booths lining the wall and no one spares a look for it, in spite of the raised voices. Only when the jilted blonde gets up to scurry to the restroom to cry does anyone else act. “I gotta take a piss,” Nicole informs the bartender with a heavy sigh, setting a coaster atop her empty glass. “Anyone takes my seat, you know I’ll just put them through a fucking wall so save us both the trouble.” She couldn’t even summon passion for it. It used to be a sarcastic thing, a joke. Then it became something serious, with a sharp edge to it. Now? Now it’s just tired. She is just tired.

It’s routine by now, her trips to the bar. This is how they go. Dark sunglasses and an old wool newsboy to block out the light, even in the dim of the bar. Fashionably torn skinny jeans. An old tee shirt from some 90s punk or grunge band. Black moto jacket.

And that’s who comes striding back out of the bathroom and reclaims the vacated seat a few minutes later. She keeps her head bowed, weary, goddamn defeated. She orders another martini.

The blonde in her oversized hoodie and black leggings emerges five minutes after that, blue eyes red from crying. The man she was arguing with — her ex-boyfriend — has gone. From the end of the bar, a look is spared to make sure the other woman makes it outside unmolested.

She goes back to her drink.

The blonde walks three blocks and gets into an old station wagon. The ignition turns over in the after a moment just protracted enough to seem like it may not happen. The car pulls away from the curb.

Bay Ridge
Rhys Bluthner’s Residence

March 19, 2021
5:48 PM

Something is immediately wrong when his keys hit the doorknob. Instead of sliding into the lock and rolling the tumblers, the key misses the mark by a centimeter, striking the doorknob, which pushes the unlocked front door out into the entryway, swinging wide before being caught on the wind to strike at the wall with a loud clunk. The door casing has been splintered, signs of a forced entry apparent even from the chain jingling on the door that swings loose, like someone just pushed the door in with one simple nudge.

Cold dread settles into Rhys’ stomach. There’s no barking or whining, no scrabbling of nails on floorboards to indicate that his dog is present. The brownstone is darkened and silent.

Until it isn’t.

“It’s not much of a surprise visit if I text first.”

Rhys freezes in place on his stoop, color drained from his face. He doesn’t even so much as lower the key from where it’s held out. His throat tightens, works up and down in a noisy swallow, and he waits to see if this is a hello or—more unfortunately—an abrupt goodbye.

Nicole tilts her head to one side, almost amused. “We need to talk. I think we’re long past due, and I am done playing whatever stupid little games you all think you’re winning at.” Stretching one leg out in front of her from where she sits in an armchair in the living room, she crosses the other ankle over it. It’s a show that she’s at least not intending to jump up. Not yet anyway.

Rhys glances over his shoulder, checking the street, then steps into his home and pushes the door shut slowly with one foot. It doesn’t stay closed, not as well as he’d like, but he doesn’t pay it much more mind.

“This is a really bad idea.” Rhys says as he gingerly lays his keys down in the small bowl on a table by the door. He would normally take off his shoes too, but today isn’t one of those days. Instead, he walks deeper into his home, looking around for telltale signs of other houseguests. “I don’t know what’s going on, but—”

“But I’m fucking tired of being lied to,” is how Nicole finishes that sentence for him. Laughter comes bitter, rueful. “Do you think I fucking care anymore about how bad an idea this is?” She doesn’t move from her position, but she shifts with agitation. “You knew. You knew this whole time what I was.”

With a preemptive shake of her head, slowly back and forth, her jaw sets and her gaze sharpens. Without her sunglasses, she’s as severe as she’s ever been, but he’s never been on the receiving end of that look before. “Don’t even think about lying to me. The tests they ran on us back in Canada? That they continued to run at Memorial?”

Nicole leans forward, her fingers curling around the arms of the chair, but she doesn’t plant her feet. “There’s not a chance in hell none of you knew we were synthetic. And you… I thought I could trust you.” Her lip curls from pain and betrayal in equal measures. “You fucking bastard.”

“First of all, fuck you if you think I’m privy to any of the information from your tests. But—” Rhys pauses, brows knit together, like he just processed what he heard.

“Synthetic what?” Rhys says with a squint of one eye, glancing back at the door over his shoulder before his focus locks back on Nicole. “Slow the fuck down, what are you talking about?

"Synthetic fucking human, Rhys!" Now those boots settle on the floor properly, but Nicole still doesn't get up. "My blood is synthetic. Until my accident, I had nanites in it." Her head shakes. "I broke your door in with a push, Rhys. I'm not—"

One hand lifts off the chair and nearly comes to settle over the lower half of her face. For a fleeting moment, she looks scared before her hand drops again and she takes up her resolve again like a shield.

Angling a sharp look to the door, Nicole snorts derisively. "I shook my tail, if that's what you're worried about."

It’s not. His expression says as much. First confusion, then interest. But Rhys steps in further like someone approaching an unfamiliar dog. Will she bite? Hard to tell. Signs point to yes.

“I had no idea about that, Nicole. That was never in any of my briefings. Details about that never were included in any documentation I read. We tested your blood when we picked you up in Canada, I saw copies of the slides. Normal blood.

Rhys’ eyes track from side to side, pupils dilating for a moment in that unnatural way it does when he uses his ability. It isn’t a deep scan, surface level, searching. Trying to understand how all the pieces fit together, understand how all this works.

“Nicole, when I tell you this has been above-board it— it has been.” Rhys says with both hands gently raised as if to show he’s not a threat. He has to give her something. She knows something is wrong.

Rhys’ mouth twists.

“It isn’t about your blood. Or the crash.” Rhys says quietly. “This is about what you found in Manhattan.”

What she wouldn’t give for just five minutes with Kaylee Thatcher’s ability. Nicole is struck dumb for a moment, her gaze still hard as she regards Rhys and dithers on whether he’s creating a distraction from the issue she came to him about or not.

What a hell of a thing to distract with, though.

While the topic of her humanity or personhood is certainly a weighty one, even it doesn’t need that much artillery thrown at it to change course. “The way you were warning me off the last time I tried to visit… You made it sound like you knew something about the crash and you were trying to protect me from it. We talked about the hospital. You told me there was another agent assigned. You never said who.”

If she’d simply giving him a confused look and asked what the fuck he was talking about, he wouldn’t have bought it. So she doesn’t try to hide it. Her lips twist into a thoughtful grimace. Her line of questioning can lie for now. She’ll shift over to his lane. “Hell of a hornet’s nest, huh?”

“One you didn’t have to kick,” Rhys notes with a raise of one brow. “This building has a security system. When you broke that door it tripped an alarm that’ll end with a call to the police.” He motions to the door. “You do not want to be here when they get here, Miller.”

Jaw flexing, Rhys’ line of sight follows his hand to the door. “Go to my dad’s shop, he’s out of town. There’s a key in the light fixture by the side door. Wait for me there.”

“Jesus Christ.” The fact that Rhys just referred to Logan as his dad makes Nicole writhe inside in ways that she didn’t know possible. But if anyone’s listening to them, it won’t — hopefully — be obvious where she’s headed next.

What is he so afraid of? If the police show up, it’s her head, isn’t it? Can’t he just chalk it up to a mistake or a prank? Nicole rises from the seat she’s taken and starts to move, but pauses midway to her exit. “Oscar’s fine, by the way. Just gave him a little Benadryl in a pill pocket to make sure he wouldn’t make a fuss and put him in the other room.” She has the good grace to look apologetic about it. She’d never hurt someone’s pet.

It’s a good thing for her, too. He wouldn’t take kindly to someone hurting his dog.

Frustration comes back to Nicole as easily as breathing, however, and her jaw sets tight as she stalks forward again. “I’m tired of playing this fucking game, Rhys.” It’s petty, but she clips his shoulder as she moves past him. “I’ll be waiting.”

Bay Ridge
The Vault

7:01 PM

The walk over was spent with angry tears welling up behind dark designer sunglasses that she didn’t attempt to stem the tide of. Normal blood, he said. There was nothing normal about it. How deep does this conspiracy run? Because now… Now it’s so much more layered than she thought it was — and she was already aware of how fucked of a tangled web it was.

The extra key was right where Rhys said it would be. Nicole spent enough time to take a cursory look around the shop — standing still, holding her breath, listening — before making her way to the back room to sit.

And wait.

This time, she doesn’t leave her gun hidden, she holds it in her hand. Back to the wall, trained at the door. Nerves pulled taut like a harp’s strings. Her finger stays loosely on the trigger guard, however. Burying a friend is not on the agenda tonight.

Not for her, at least.

Rhys’ shadow graces the stoop a few minutes after seven. He lets himself in with a key and meets Nicole’s stare almost immediately. There’s tension in his posture, that moment of waiting where it isn’t sure whether she’s going to just pull the trigger there and then. He waits, counts, and by three he relaxes and shuts the door behind himself.

“Put that fucking thing away,” Rhys says with a casual disdain, as if he weren’t afraid of it. “Do you have any idea how much shit you are in right now? I’m just lucky your sister didn’t show up to that call. I gave the cops a run-around and they gave me the we’ll let you know if we find anything routine, and we went about our day.”

But Rhys is angry in a way Nicole hasn’t seen since Richard Ray ambushed him in that car. “You’re spiraling. I know what that’s like.”

To her credit, Nicole does tuck her gun away when it’s clear Rhys isn’t planning to shoot her instead. Or… she hopes she’s reading him correctly. Time will tell.

“Honestly, Rhys? I don’t care much about all the shit that I’m in. I’m in it. I’ve been in it. I don’t understand why I’m in it. If anyone would tell me what the fuck is going on, maybe…” Nicole lets some of the anger drain from her finally with a heavy exhale.

Tipping her chin down, she runs her tongue over her teeth. Thinking, but keeping her eyes up enough to watch Rhys’ movements, even if she does glance away frequently to either side of him. “So, I’m spiraling. Help me come out of the tailspin. Because taking time off, sitting at home by myself? Is not going to do jack or shit. Especially not with those fuckheads following me every-goddamn-where.”

Nicole leans back in her seat and crosses her arms. “Go ahead. Dazzle me.”

“There’s nothing to dazzle with,” Rhys says with a tired sigh. “The people who are following you are operatives of a government agency called the OEI—Office of External Investigations. They’re investigative agents on phenomenon outside of Expressive ability that are still beyond the understanding of science. You… stumbled onto something, whatever was in that storage locker. I don’t know how they knew you went there, or what was inside of it, but I know…”

Rhys pinches the bridge of his nose with forefingers and thumb. “They’re following you but they’re not following you.” He looks up to her and starts pacing the floor of the shop. “They’re looking for the man the storage locker belonged to. Someone they think might come after you.”

Rhys looks away, then back up to Nicole. There’s a tightness in his mouth, in his posture. “Do you remember the serial killer?” The taste of the term serial killer is bitter in his mouth. “Samson Gray?

Jesus Christ,” Nicole hisses between her teeth, rolling her eyes so hard that they may well fall back into her skull and stay there. She gets to her feet, hands shoved in her pockets and head tilted to one side with her jaw slack with frustrated incredulity. “Is that it?

Pushing out a sigh, she shakes her head. “I found his fucking cigarettes in that unit. If he was going to come split my head open for shuffling some papers around, he’d have done it by now.” Glancing away, frustrated, her left hand balls into a fist. “So, what? They think he’s following me, but they don’t tell me they think he’s following me… why?” They both know the answer to this.

Bait. And the best kind is the unwitting kind.

“I’m not fucking scared of Samson Gray.” Nicole snaps bitterly. “What scares me is when my own people shut me out, ignore me, tap my phones, bug my house, and fucking gaslight me when I say I know it’s happening!”

“Then you know why they did all that.” Rhys says with a bitterness in his voice. She was right about the bait. “Gray is cautious, supernaturally cautious, but he’s also a creature of curiosity. We don’t think he’d be interested in hurting you, we think he’d want to understand why you did what you did, or at least get close enough to you to find out.”

Rhys angles his head to the side, looking Nicole up and down. “Which… begs the question? Why were you out there?

Nicole laughs, crossing her arms under her chest. “I can’t fucking believe you. You left me dangling on a string in front of the most elusive serial killer we’ve seen in a generation, who’s been operating for decades, and I’m supposed to just be fine with that?” She shakes her head, a sour expression replacing the humor born from her incredulity. “No. So you convinced yourselves he wouldn’t find me interesting enough to kill me. Fine. What if he’d decided my sister was? My daughters?

With a frown, Nicole lets some of the bluster leave her. “I got an anonymous letter in my mail. No postmark. No return address. Fuck, not even so much as a stamp. One of those sticker adhesives…” A shrug of her shoulders means to convey defeat. “They thought of everything. All that was inside was a printed piece of paper with an address in Midtown.”

There seems to be a great weariness that seeps into Nicole then, her eyes downcast. “I thought it had something to do with what happened to me, so I went to investigate. All I found was a bunch of bullshit conspiracy theory nonsense. I just walked away from it. I took a couple cigarette butts to run the DNA, but… That was it. There was nothing there of any use to me.”

“Nothing?” Rhys says with narrowed eyes, edging closer to Nicole. “That doesn’t make any sense. If it was just a dusty old storage locker with nothing of consequence in it, there wouldn’t be a concern. Because if you got an anonymous tip then SESA didn’t know about it, and I know the Department of the Exterior didn’t know about it.”

Rhys stops his approach, looking at something in one of the display cases for a moment, then back to Nicole. “So you didn’t find anything of use to you, but you found something. Because I know you went to Kenner, because he’s been informing on you to Voss. Trying to figure out what you know.” Rhys spreads his hands. “So my question then is, what did Samson know that they’re so desperate to figure out? What was he on to?”

Rhys is advancing and he’s eyeing something in a nearby case. He’s also just said something to her that’s meant to be emotionally compromising, whether it’s true or isn’t. Nicole takes a slow breath and keeps her eyes squarely on him. Either there’s something in that case he wants to make a go for, or he wants her to think there is, and he’s waiting for her to take her eyes off him.

Fuck him.

“If SESA and the Exterior didn’t know shit, then how did anyone know to monitor me?” Nicole’s brows pinch, confused and angry about it all. “What the fuck is going on? Is that your question? Or the question of whosever boots your licking right now?”

She’s not going to find out the answer.

Nicole steps forward in a surge to grab Rhys by the shoulders. There’s no shout, no growl, not expletives or invectives. Just a cold and somehow collected sort of fury. She slams him back against the wall.




She slams him back against the wall until he stops trying to fight her and his eyes roll back in his skull and she leaves a line of blood down the wallpaper when she lets him sag to the floor finally.

It’s quiet in the Vault now. The spot of blood on the wall that was where Rhys’ head impacted it several times drools down the wallpaper. Everything is silent except for Nicole’s breathing. She notices the cracks in the wall.

“Could someone step out and get some towels for Mrs. Miller, please?” Ourania asks with a quick glance around the room. When Yi-Min volunteers, her posture eases some, but her concern doesn’t abate. “We can talk about my conjecture at a later date,” she promises. “Let’s go over your results.” Her tone is gentle. She wants Nicole to have the opportunity to leave at any time now, without feeling like she’s going to be missing out on the information most important to her.

Cracks in the

Clearing her throat, the scientist queues up another slide on her laptop, but doesn’t yet broadcast it to the monitor for the group. “Now, as I said before, I haven’t had a lot of time with Mrs. Miller’s results to analyze them.” There’s an anxious energy that seems to permeate the air, or… maybe that’s just her own and she’s desperately hoping she’s not alone. “So this is what we see in Mrs. Miller’s blood.”


The slide comes up and, true to form, it is another image of bright red blood cells in the sea of duller red, and it perhaps isn’t terribly surprising to see the presence of nanites, but this… is different.


“As you can see,” Pride says in a level voice, making sure to keep it from wavering or becoming too soft, “Mrs. Miller’s blood contains a significantly higher concentration of nanites.” There’s a quiet creak. The shift of a chair? “In addition, the iron levels seen in her blood are 75% higher than what we saw before her procedur—”

Rhys isn’t moving.

The glass in Nicole’s hand shatters.

Oh god.

In that exact moment, Nicole’s phone buzzes in her pocket.

Nicole gasps, listens to the sound of her own breathing go from deep and even to shallow and ragged as she stares down at Rhys and realizes what she’s done. The gravity of it. There’s a sound she makes, high pitched and horrified. She starts to cry. “Rhys,” she whispers. “No. Rhys, please. Please, no.”

It takes the phone buzzing a second time before she even realizes it’s happened. Still whimpering and streaming tears, she pats herself down, eyes glued to Rhys’ form as she pulls out her phone. Afraid to give it her full attention, she flits anxious glances between the prone agent and the screen.

7:08 pm
hey, there was a break-in at my place and nolan isn’t around
can i use your shower?

It should be relief, shouldn’t it? Nicole starts to sob harder. If that’s Rhys on the phone, who’s on the floor? She takes a glance toward the case from earlier, like it would tell her anything. (She knows it won’t.) One trembling hand wipes at her face, the heel of her palm digging against one eye to clear it of tears. She alternates between gasping breaths and more sobs. Finally, she drops to a crouch to start searching for the phone that should be on Rhys.

But there is no Rhys.

There is no blood on the wall.

There are no cracks.

There is just Nicole and her reflection in the case.

Oh god,” Nicole moans, afraid now that she’s lost her fucking mind. She saw him. She saw him. He was there. They spoke. He sent her here. He knew where the key was. It was him. She— She— She killed him.

She climbs to her feet. Taps a message out on her phone.

7:10 pm
not safe there
im sorry

What else can she say? Is that even him? The urge to call him and beg him to tell her something only they would know is almost overwhelming, but she holds it at bay. Shoves her phone halfway in her pocket.

“I’m here,” she calls out to the empty space. “So fucking talk to me. What the fuck do you actually want?”

Nicole’s head aches. Maybe it’s the stress, maybe it’s the brain damage. There’s a dull icepick jabbing sensation behind her right eye. Blurry vision sets in for a moment. Her hands are trembling.

Was anyone here?

7:11 pm
where are you?

Did she have a conversation with herself in Rhys’ apartment? Did she ever go there at all, or did she just hear about a break-in?

Her heart races.

No. No. It’s real. It was real. It has to have been real.

She didn’t know where to find Logan’s spare key. She couldn’t have let herself in here. For a moment, she nearly doubles over from the pain. She’s felt it before, she’ll feel it again. She’s very calmly marched herself to the ladies room to have a bit of privacy while she reminds herself how to breathe. This is nothing new. She’ll get through it. She’ll…

On shaky legs, she makes her way back how she came, retrieving her gun as she goes. She has to check the state of the door. Did she open it with the key, like she remembers? Or did she force it — shoulder it open with one simple shove — the way she did Rhys’ door? As she moves, the phone is withdrawn again to tap out another message.

Compose Text
To: Don
7:12 pm

Or did Logan tell her where the key was and she just forgot? Nothing is broken, nothing is forced, and the key is still in Nicole’s pocket. But nothing feels—


Nicole dabs her fingers under her nose reflexively. It comes back red.

There’s the blood.

A Short Time Later

From inside the Vault, Donald Kenner’s car is mostly just a rain-dappled silhouette. It pulls away from the curb plus one passenger, tail lights blurring into the night. The shop is quiet again, still save for the disturbed dust particles drifting through the air like dirty constellations.

“What do you think?” A woman asks, leaning against the display case.

“I think she’s a dead end,” comes a voice from the darkened back of the store, along with creaking footsteps. “But… maybe there’s another way to approach this.” He suggests, stepping into the dim light from the street lamps filtering in from outside.

“What’s that?” His counterpart wonders.

“I tried the carrot…” the gray-haired old man says.

“…now we try the stick.”

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