Day's End, Ends Meet

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The Matron stared at the girl agape.

"Pardon my language, my dear, but are you fucking stupid? A mad old woman who faked her death ten years ago comes crawling out of woods, speaking against the established order, without anyone to back her up? I'd be dead by dawn, for one, and it would achieve nothing, for two. Your brashness is only showing how little confidence you have in your own assertions. What do you want me to do, show it works on you? Dissolve one of you right now? I'm not so desperate to convince you I'm right that I'd kill one of you, for God's sake."

The Matron rubbed her eyes, and sighed heavily. She had expected it to be difficult, but this girl seemed to be playing the contrarian for its own sake, making accusations that didn't even really make sense. It was the very same treatment she'd gotten out of government work to escape; finding it here was giving her sneaking suspicions about the exact nature of humanity. After a moment, she pushed her spectacles up the bridge of her nose and resettled into her chair. She gave a little huff, composed herself, and continued.

"If you want to continue trusting the government blindly, Miss Vagari, then you may be my guest to walk out the door. If you do leave, don't try and report me to police; to them, you're a crazy awakened hobo with a drinking problem, and I've been dead for ten years. You have outworn your welcome in my home as a guest; you may either agree to residency, or be escorted out."

"But there's a reason you -can't- isn't there?"

Emil frowned. As much as he hated to admit it, she did have a good point. The story sounded outlandish, even for these days (if it was true, he was sure as hell glad he managed to hide his powers and was never registered).

And there was something else that was bothering him...

"Wait... how do you know all this?"

The Matron looked at Emil, and frowned. She coughed a small, frail cough, and then sighed.
"I...developed, nanolytic technology. Or rather, my research acted as the foundations of nanolytics. My full title is 'Professor Cassandra Thurgood' or in my time researching, 'Agent Marshall'. I worked with the CIA in the research of Awakened individuals, using this residential school as a front. I..." she trailed off for a moment, took a breath, and continued, "I conducted experiments on the children while playing mother to them; earning their trust. None of the Awakened who came out of this school would resent me from what they knew of the good Matron Thurgood, but if they remembered the things I had done to them..."

She trailed off completely for a moment, rendered into silence.
"When I saw what my experiments had done to Henry, the horror of my actions began to rush to me. I couldn't live with doing what I had done in the name of progress without...without doing something to correct it. The government did not trick me; Cassandra Thurgood was a viciously curious and inconscientious women. But no institution that would allow me to do what I did, no institution that seeks to continue my work, should be allowed to continue to exist," she finished finally. She found she could no longer bring herself to look the assembled in the eye. She instead took up her cup of tea and stared into it.
"I had hoped to wait until I had earned your trust to tell you that, so that it would not colour your view of the woman I have become, but if it is necessary for me to tell you to earn your trust, so be it."

From a door, a dozen meters or so from the parlour, in the kitchen, the sounds of light footfalls on slick stone steps echoed. The Matron's grimaced grew.
"Oh bother, this is hardly the time," she muttered, before turning her attention to the gathered, "you best steel yourselves for meeting Josef; this will be rather hard to explain."

For once in her life, Mia found herself agreeing with some hobo who was ranting about conspiracies. The whole thing about Awakened been tracked through nanomachines. She tried to think back about the incident in Connecticut, where she tried to walk into Mohegan Sun with a piss-poor New Jersey ID and she got busted. It meant trouble for Kaitlin Day, but not her at the time. She couldn't remember how much time she spent in that Uncasville jail though. Could they have pulled that shit on me?

The apple demonstration was a neat, if creepy, parlor trick. It didn't ease her mind any though. If someone put shit in me that allowed that to happen, why hasn't it happened yet? I've pissed off enough people. Someone has to have figured out how to fine tune that shit. So why wouldn't I be liquified by some other twat? Again, Wondering Homeless Woman served as the mouthpiece for her own thoughts, although she could do without the crazy conspiracy theories. Who cared about a bunch of dead dudes?

When the Matron laid out the options though, it didn't make a lot of sense. Mia's relationship with the police was strained since childhood, and her relationship with the government was non-existent as much as she could help it. Still, this was a crazy old woman who just admitted to participating in crazy experiments in the 20s, in a room full of people she just became aware of and who were in various states of disrepair, with some already on board with this plan.

Fuck this. I don't need this shit. My head hurts just trying to figure out who is worse. I'm going to Canada.

As the Matron finished up her admission, Mia was about to let her know that she trusted no one and was clinging to that belief. Then the footsteps came. "The fuck is that?" is all she got out.

Mohammad slowed down for a second, looking at the place where the apple once was. He shook his head, then pointed to the spot. "You could fake that. Voyager technology, your own power, plenty of things. We have no way of knowing that stuff is in us. And I'm not letting you pump me up with drugs saying that they'll 'cleanse me.'" His voice started to rise again, but he stops himself, calming a bit. "Just... something that can't be faked. Real footage, verified documents, anything."

He looked to Vagari as the Matron spoke, the traits that reminded him of his mother slowly dissolving. "Vagari, I'll drive us in to town if she can't come up with anything. They'll believe two of us." He offered, staying by the door. He looked over the others. Some were coming over to her side. Worst case is a shootout with the police. Hopefully it doesn't come to that. The footsteps coming from the kitchen put him a bit on edge, but he still held his ground. He could take a thug if it came to it, he'd kept decently in shape and remembered his training.

"But there's a reason you -can't- isn't there?"

"I mean it sounds like there's one way she could prove it to us, but we'd need a particularly stupid volunteer and a few seconds to get just over ten meters away." Octavio interjected.

My full title is 'Professor Cassandra Thurgood' or in my time researching, 'Agent Marshall'.

" Hold on, I recognize the name Agent Marshal. They had us doped up to our eyeballs when you came to the school in SF. The Dean said you were recruiting for an 'advanced curriculum' operation, even back then we were smart enough to know that meant yoi were looking for lab rats. You took, Jamal, Kari, Jason, Rachel, and Ken, we never heard from them again, they told us never to speak of them or be punished," Octavio recalled, " So how did you get the nanolytics into everyone? I mean the kids in residence schools were obvious but what about everyone else? Had the hospitals in on it? Cops? Snuck it into the drugs?"

As he heard the footsteps Octavio steeled himself, he freed his hands incase he needed to blast something. Madame Thurgood may have his interest but he didn't have her trust yet.

Dana was silent. As Matron Thurgood explained, she did not believe at first, but she still felt sick to her stomach that someone would even think of something like this.
And then she remembered that this was not the first time in history someone tried to do something like this. Less secret, but ... well, if you wanted to do it again, you would need to do it this way. As a German, Dana had learned enough.

She listened further, as the others voiced their doubts. She had a lot of questions as well. But they were answered by the Matron, one after the other. It did not make her feel better, it made her feel much worse. The step to kill her would be the logical, final step to her life. It seemed like nobody cared, but they did ... for others.

And then, she just puked, feeling sick to her stomach and ill, just from what she had been told. She sank to the ground, just sitting there, shivering, not knowing what to do. She had to trust others about what proof the Matron had, but they did not seem to be of one mind, so she had no idea what to think either.

Not that this was already too much to take in, now she heard Taylor behind her seeing something else entirely. "Someone." Dana muttered to herself. "Someone tell me what's going on. Someone please make sense of all this."

"I'm not going to the police. The police are worthless, like fake tits on a zombie." Ari said with grim humor. "Ma'am, if you actually wanted to get this out there you'd go to the New York Times. The BBC. Al-Jazeera. Some French newspaper I've never heard of, preferably all of the above. If this is true you have to have some kind of hard scientific evidence, you supposedly managed to develop a cure for it. Research materials, journals, notes, the lab rats you tested it on, hell, you must have samples of the nanotech used to do it, you just -demonstrated- it."

She glanced behind her, scanning for a quick exit and adjusting her seating so that when gravity realigned she'd fall feet-first.

"But I'm more inclined to believe you, with what he said." She angled her head at Otto. "Which makes me really curious about your motives for all this. You were perfectly okay with murdering thousands until you saw one littlest cancer patient and decided it was wrong? Bullshit. You're a monster, and monsters don't change their scales."

She glanced around at the others. "But I've got my guess. She thinks she can use us to seize power. An army of unified Awakened could overwhelm the government, and then she's sitting at the top of a new nation of evolved Humanity." She knew she sounded paranoid, but considering the other party involved had already admitted to having poisoned them all years ago with dissolving solution paranoid conspiracy seemed like a reasonable order of the day.

Through the door stepped a familiar kind of figure to those who had been watching the news recently, though infinitely more decrepit: the figure of a Voyager. It stood to attention of its pod of four feet, and under its six arms it carried a wild assortment of things; journals, what seemed to be microscopes, petri dishes, and a pair of syringes. The chlorine pump on its back wheezed, and the suit that kept earth's gravity and atmosphere from crushing and suffocating it inflated and deflated in rhythm with the pump. A semi-circular helmet, framed by two large blue hemispheres and a small pair of speakers, turned around the room. The Matron sighed quietly.
"Josef?"
YES CASSANDRA
"They don't believe me, Josef."
I KNOW, CASSANDRA. I HAVE BEEN WATCHING THROUGH THE SURVEILLANCE. I AM HERE TO CORRECT THIS FACT.
The Voyager scuttled into the centre of the room, near the table The Matron had used to demonstrate her apple trick, and place the Microscope-like devices on the table. The devices, unlike microscopes, did not have an eyepiece; in the place of one, instead was a project, which the voyager now flicked on. Both microscopes projected a blank white light onto the ceiling.

Next, the first set of arms on Josef's cephalothorax launched the journals they were carrying at Mohammad, by the door, with surprising force and accuracy. When the Voyager spoke, it emerged from the speakers, tinny as all hell, and had the rather hellish quality of having both a female and male synthetic voice contribute.
BOOK ONE CONTAINS OFFICIAL NANOLYTIC RESEARCH NOTES, OFFICIATED AND STAMPED. BOOK TWO CONTAINS A REGISTRY OF ALL CHILDREN INTERRED IN THIS FACILITY, INCLUDING THE NAMES AND FACES OCTAVIO MENTIONED. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO UNDERSTAND THE RESEARCH NOTES: THEY ARE OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMPREHENSION
With their hands free, Josef scanned the room, looking for something, though exactly what couldn't be discerned; there is no greater pokerface than a blank, black helmet. Finally, their vision seemed to shift onto a single spot; the prone form of Dana, curled up on the floor.

Josef dispassionately observed the pile of vomit and the quivering girl beside it. As gently as possible, they pushed the girl aside with their left arms, and with their right set they scooped a sample of the mess into a petri dish, which they then rapidly capped. Leaning back up to their full height, they looked around furtively.
WHERE'S THAT HUMAN BAKING SODA VOLCANO WHEN YOU NEED HIM
"Josef, please stop calling my son that," the Matron said with a sigh, massaging her eyes. Josef seemed to ignore her, and snapped back to reality, into the matter at hand. They regarded the room, before the same synthetic voice barked through the tinny speakers either side of the blue spotlights that an observer could only assume to be eyes.
I NEED A VOLUNTEER, TO PROVE CASSANDRA CORRECT

Shalim Stepped forward from the wall meeting the creature's gaze with an equally dispassionate expression and spoke clearly with surprising authority and confidence.
"I assume you mean to analyse a blood sample and illustrate the Nano-bots inside us already. I would have suggested it earlier, but I wanted to see if any of my compatriots here could devise a solution on their own. If I have it wrong I do apologise for being presumptuous, but in my view, something to that effect seems the most effective."
There was a slight stutter and shiver in his voice as the anxiety of meeting one of the two hundred or so voyagers that were part of the exchange, along with being very visible in the room started to catch up to his initial bravado.
"If you would permit I am curious to see if the Matron's claims are true for myself," he continued, stretching out his arm and rolling up the sleeve.

Josef regarded Shalim's outstretched arm. There was a pause before the same tinny speech came through.
YOU ARE CORRECT. I AM IMPRESSED. DO NOT GET USED TO THIS
And with that, Josef stuck Shalim with a syringe, taking no care and holding his arm in place in the solid, vice-like grip of a Voyager, their two thumbs framing the spot where Shalim's blood was being extracted. Shalim did not let the shock of having a syringe stabbed into him go entirely unnoticed, wincing slightly and making a rather perturbed set of blinks in Joseph's direction. Without warning, when it seemed Josef had a satisfactory supply, they retracted the syringe rapidly, leaving Shalim to nurse his bleeding arm. Josef interred the blood into its own petri dish, and capped that one too. They scuttled back over to the microscopes, uncapped the dishes, and slid them into the observation level. At first nothing seemed amiss; microscopic views of blood and vomit, grisly but nothing extraordinary.
CASSANDRA. THE DEVICE. Josef said, hand outstretched. Cassandra carefully passed the wand over to Josef, who then pointed to the ceiling.
WATCH CAREFULLY

Josef unlatched the button, and slammed it, taking no care not to catch one in the firing line. Within an even shorter time frame than the apple took to turn to nothing, it happened. The blood cells that could be observed were rapidly destroyed, their cytoplasm spreading before disappearing itself, and for the vomit sample, everything turned to nothing in a flash. Just quick enough to be seen, but too quick to be truly understood, both petri dishes were empty. Josef turned to the group.
CASSANDRA IS TELLING YOU THE TRUTH. IF YOU REFUSE TO BELIEVE HER, YOU ARE ONLY KILLING YOURSELVES. SHE CARES ABOUT THIS; I DO NOT. I AM GOING BACK DOWN INTO MY BASEMENT. DO NOT VISIT ME UNLESS YOU ARE COMING FOR THE COCKTAIL OR TO PARTICIPATE IN MY EXPERIMENTS.

And with that, almost as quick as they had arrived, Josef disappeared back down the cellar door, which dripped and stank like an open throat. They slammed the door behind them. The Matron looked exhausted.
"...So...That's Josef, my research assistant..." She spoke meekly. She turned to Vagari after she had composed herself.
"Miss Vagari, I have killed no one. My experiments were never fatal. Your accusation is baseless and revolting. I have no involvement with the current nanolytic project; it was established against my warnings. I would also thank you not to refer to my son as if he meant nothing more to me than a stranger. If I was a monster, if I was attempting to seize control of your lives, I would've liquefied you by now, and used such a threat to keep everyone else here under my control. I have no intention of ruling the world; I'm not some comic book villain, and after this is done..." The Matron paused, and heaved a sigh, "...And after this is done, I will no longer be around."

The Matron looked down at Dana, and with a pained expression, she looked at the rest.
"Will the rest of you have some humanity and help her up and explain what just happened? I'm not physically capable of lifting her up and it's probably for the best that one of you give her the situation."

Shalim was admittedly moved by the Matron's rhetoric , but chose to say nothing for the moment. He did, however, feel rather pleased that he had not acted so as to give away his initial revulsion at the Matron's plans. He had to admit that before him was all the evidence he needed to know that he was in grave danger unless something was done about it- as was everyone else in his position.

There are a lot of things observed in shady back rooms, and in her time traveling with her father Mia thought she had seen them all. Illicit drugs, women kept in cages, dogs snarling at each other in a small pit. One time she thought she saw a unicorn doing unspeakable things to a man in a Joel Embiid throwback jersey. The...thing that emerged with those thumping footsteps. In all her time criss-crossing the country, Mia never seen anything like it before.

It was massive, and metal and it basically scooped up Dana's vomit like it was nothing, then put a needle in another guy and took blood out of him. As the slides were projected and both organic samples were vaporized in a flash, Mia stopped moving for the exit and looked over at the fallen German, casually pushed aside by that thing. Damn it girl. C'mon. Hold strong. She walked over, heels clicking against the old wood flooring to help the woman back up to her feet. "C'mon. Don't need to lie in that stuff." Mia grabbed a hold of Dana's hand to help her up to the sill of the bay window, letting her sit there to recompose herself.

"Next time," she spoke to the Matron. "I would lead with him. Pretty convincing." She dusted herself off and took a spot on the sill next to Dana. "So if this shit is in my blood, which I'm pretty sure it isn't, since I've never been registered, check the books, you can get that shit out? Because I'd like to head up to the Moon at some point with as minimal chance of being vaporized as possible."

The Matron stared at Mia for a solid minute. Dealing with these kids was like herding cats.
"Mia, you're registered. I wouldn't know who you were if you weren't registered. You wouldn't be in my house if you weren't registered. I pulled all your names from dossiers provided to me by an old friend. Dossiers from the registry act. Everyone in this room is inundated with nanolytic machines," she chattered in a rapid explanation, her frustration being made clearer by the minute, "And as I said, I can get 'that shit' out of you if you stay here for a week and complete a purification cocktail course; then you'd be free to go with no chance of being vapourised, let alone minimal. There's no other way; unless you can find some completely side-effect free method of running an EMP through all of your cells constantly at an alpha particular penetration degree that Josef and I have failed to find."
The Matron ran a hand through her graying hair, and let down her bun. She begun to compulsively play with her hair, to calm her nerves, to avoid her emotions overcoming her.
"And introducing you to Josef was something I wanted to keep until and only for people who had agree to residency, given that his very presence here is a bigger secret than anything else I have told you."

"Well... damn, first time I was school by an alien." Octavio mused, still a bit shocked, he looked over at Vagari, " Look I don't want to kill anyone and if what they're saying is true, which unless you've got a way to debunk the space alien, I say it is, then we're going to be saving thousands maybe even millions of lives, maybe even stopping an interplanetary war!" Octavio began to reconsider if lived in a comic book after that last statement.

"I mean this sounds insane, because it is insane, but that doesn't mean it's not real," Octavio told her, " I don't know what to tell you, I mean I've got my misgivings, but the way I see it this is going to happen with or without us. So either we can join and make sure this gets done right or leave and surrender our fates to others."

Mia shut up instantly at the sound of her real name being used. Taylor wasn't going to cut it anymore, but that was the least of her issues. Fuck! How does she have my real name? I haven't used that name in three years! Not even in Connecticut! Fucking government! Fucking bastards! They must have tracked me down or...tested my blood. Fuck, what did they do to me?

The New Jersey native slumped back on the windowsill, paranoid thoughts starting to seep in over just how much the government had violated her body. The if was starting to disappear from her mind. Also revenge was starting to sound pretty good.

Enrique had sat and listened the whole time, he had listened when the others had yelled, he had listened when the Matron, in her frustration liquefied an apple and then her companion, a goddamn alien showed them that it worked on their blood as well. It was all terrifying and so he had been searching for the right words for the longest time. And he found nothing that he could really plan out. So he was going with his gut.

And so he chuckled. It was the only way to get the stress out of his system. Laugh and the world laughs with you, "Well, I didn't think the government would want anything with a dirty bum like me, let alone one with a useless power. But now you tell me I have something in my blood that could kill me in an instant if they so chose it."

It was frustrating, so frustrating. He had accepted his state of affairs years ago. He was content and such a part of his area now that the cops only came to talk to him if someone actually caught him pickpocketing them. All that work to blend, all that effort to adapt and here we were, the government still had a problem with him.

"Matron, I'll say this much. I don't wanna die so I'll help you on that front. I ain't killing, but I'll do any stealing or arson or whatever the fuck you need for your revolution. I also ain't getting experimented on first, I'll be open if I see someone else get it done, but until then you can count me out of that. Plus room and board is something I haven't had for a long time so I guess I can count that as a perk."

He was signing on the dotted line, "You have me Matron, in this capacity. Now though, I think I've been good enough, do you mind if I grab a bottle from your cabinet and go have myself a nice long cigarette?"

Uncharacteristically (and for the first time in like, forever), Justin kept silent. Vagari was doing well to challenge the old lady's rambling and didn't feel the need to back her up. Even then, the parlour was falling into further disruption. One of the girls scrunched into damn-near fetal position on the floor, crouching over her puke the way a curious toddler spies a trail of ants in the park. Then the boy had to physically stifle his yells as a large visitor entered the area. He would've yelled "OH GOD, WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!", but it wouldn't be nary but a kneejerk reaction. He had seen enough news to know what a Voyager was. It was, however, his first time being this close to one.

It was fascinating watching the big bug work. So unnerving, so uncaring...yet so efficient. If the nerd wasn't struck dumbfounded by the order of events playing out before him, he probably would've asked for its autograph. He had to tell himself that he hadn't of found a new role model; he still wanted to direct his anger at the situation. Even if grandma was right, and it became clearer with every passing second (unfortunately) that she was, he couldn't help but think that she could've handled it a little better. "Probably should've led in with the problem, before telling us of your solution." He pondered as he carefully inched his way back towards the parlour's threshold.

He took note of the dude off to the side, chuckling to himself. "Succumbing to insanity already? Might as well." Justin wrote the guy off, grinning himself, but took it back once he showed he could still speak proper english. "So we've fucked ourselves into a real lose-lose situation, huh?" He mumbled absently. "Such is the price of merely being alive, I suppose. C'est la-fuckin'-vie." Out of habit, he brought forth his phone and began scrolling through it mindlessly. It was a real situation where he didn't know what to do with himself.

"If I may piggyback off of Pedro here, I too could use a stiff drink after all that." Admittedly, Justin was never really that big on drinking. Mostly because he was still considered underage in New York. But things could always change. "Sheesh Cassandra, you drop a big ass bomb on a bunch of unsuspecting kids and poor people, and just expected it to all work out without a hitch, huh? Shit, ya could've at least got us drunk first."

Well.

That happened.

That was a thing.

And apparently, this wasn't all just crazy insane bullshit. Or more precisely, it was crazy insane bullshit that just so happened to be true. Great. Fantastic. Fuck.

There was a small greek chorus of people petitioning for liquor and cigarettes, and ordinarily Ari would be at the front of -that- line, but all this shit had gone right through her replacement addictions to the heart. She felt that itch in the crook of her elbow, right along the old, faded scar line. Fuck, she wanted to fix after that.

No. No. No, you are not relapsing because of this. Although, shit, if anything were a good reason to fall off the wagon, this would be it.

So that was it. She was onboard, and now she had to find some way to admit to the old hag that she was, on some level, right. Sure, Vagari still wanted to do a live reenactment of Colonel Mustard in the Dining Room with the Candlestick on her face, but she couldn't deny the truth of what she had just witnessed.

"Alright. You've sold me." She managed to force out around her anger, humiliation, and the sweet siren song of heroin.

As she was pushed gently aside by weird arms, Dana stiffened and sniffed, and tried her best to concentrate and listen to what was going on again. The voice of this Josef was nearly painful, and their heavy strides just gave way to more questions than answers, but somehow it let her to feel more like she was in real place.

She still had no idea what was happening exactly, but she got the gist of it. And it seemed to convince the others of the truth, which was ... not what she had hoped for. But at least right in this moment in time, in this place, people were less inclined to hostilities anymore.

Finally someone on heels came closer and took her hand, helping her up at the matron's request. Dana was accepting the help gladly, trying to focus on her breathing to get rid of the knot in her stomach. "C'mon. Don't need to lie in that stuff." said Taylor, whose hand she was feeling.
Sitting on this sill, she first listened further to the conversation between Taylor - no, Mia, the matron and the others. It was much more quiet now. Slowly, and starting out quietly, she spoke as well, first to Tay... Mia, then to the whole group: "Thank you. And ... sorry for this. I just didn't think I would hear this. Why can people be so evil?

I'm ..." she tried to grimace, "I think I'm obviously in now. And I could also use a drink. Unless ... unless we should start with this cocktail healing drink right away. Or maybe I should just go to the bathroom first ..."

Shalim's arm ached a little from the sudden injection still and watched as predictably people began to see things the Matron's way. It seemed to him though that they were letting this issue (albeit quite a large one) distract them from all of the other reasons not to join her, like the nature of her goals for the revolution. It had been made quite clear that militancy wasn't her aim, which was a relief, but her methodology for awakening the whole of humanity was disturbingly vague at this point, leaving him sceptical.

The main surprise was also the voyager- the fact that this being had decided to contribute to this program was confounding, and he wanted answers. If Josef is here the Matron has to be one of the top two hundred or so most interesting people in the world. That proposition made it seem worthwhile to stick around.

He then began planning his course of action- he definitely needed to take the course, from that point on he wasn't sure how he would act- but he could formulate a plan by learning more about the situation over the week he needed to spend here. The only issue was that he wasn't confident he'd be able to use his powers at all while enduring the extreme illness the Matron spoke of earlier, both from a concentration point of view and from not knowing whether the solution would leave his body if he were to warp. With this in mind he figured he'd stay quiet on whether to join or not or any of his other opinions on the matter and take the course of medicine immediately- getting there before anyone else also might give him a chance to speak to Joseph.

With that he turned towards the kitchen where he had seen the Voyager scuttle off to and open the door to the stairs leading down into the basement. As he opened it he was hit with a pungent aroma that set his nostrils ablaze- fumes of formaldehyde and rotting flesh made their way into his lungs and skull and began trying to claw their way out violently- it was unbearable. Shalim put his hand out to the wall which was disconcertingly dank and mouldy. He leant on it as he made his way down with the dull sound of his shoes on stone. As he reached the bottom of the stairs he stepped into the room itself, searching for Josef. He saw a series of hospital beds lining the wall near him, illuminated by an array of plasma screens dotted around the area showing graphs, diagrams and formulae doling out a cold pale green light. This was contrasted by a warm, crackling fireplace that sat snugly in the back of the room, which was comforting- not nearly enough to combat the eeriness of the rest of the scene. Directly in front of it stood the daunting silhouette of the voyager he had came down to see. He walked over as dignified as he could, coughing and wheezing on the way. They did not seem to notice him on his approach, diligently fiddling and toying with some indiscernible object. He stepped closer to the creature until he stood directly by them, behind the visor of their suit he could just make a chameleon-like eye snap to his direction.

COCKTAIL OR EXPERIMENTATION
The abrupt question threw him off beat for a moment before through suppressed coughs he sputtered "Cocktail, please."
There a conversational beat passed. Josef turned their head so as to regard Shalim with both eyes at once..
ONCE MORE, MORE CLEARLY, I NEED TO READ YOUR LIPS.
Shalim's eyes were now watering from the fumes, and having to speak was not something he wanted to do again, so he emphasised his elocution as best he could, saying "Co-ck-tai-l" mouthing out the words as if to some kind of child and miming a syringe in his arm as he did so.
I AM DEAF, NOT STUPID. THE COCKTAIL IT IS. TAKE A BED, I WILL ATTEND TO YOU SHORTLY.
After finishing this unintended condescension he spluttered some more. He did not want to be in this chemical pit any longer than was absolutely necessary, but this process had to be drawn out even more. Shalim began to ponder the nature of extraterrestrial humour and passive aggression as he lay down flat and focused on his breathing. He had planned on talking to Josef, but in these conditions, civil conversation was out. Josef scuttled over after a shortly delay, and did several things at once; the first set of cephalothoracic arms attached a bag of silvery liquid to an IV dip; the second set took Shalim's arm and prepared the IV drip; the thoracic arms held Shalim still, with one hand on his knees and the other on his chest.

THIS WILL HURT AND YOU WILL FEEL TERRIBLE. MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR GOD. WOULD YOU LIKE SOMETHING TO BITE DOWN ON.
Shalim looked at the voyager and with heaving breaths said "Can't breathe that well." before covering his mouth from inhaling too many fumes at once.
Josef regarded Shalim with pity for a moment, before using their now free first set of arms to reach for and affix an air mask to Shalim's face.
CONSIDER THIS A REWARD FOR VOLUNTEERING EARLIER. THIS IS AN OXYGEN AND NITROUS OXIDE BLEND. DO NOT TELL THE OTHERS I DID YOU THIS KINDNESS; I HAVE A LIMITED SUPPLY, AND IT IS BETTER LEFT FOR EMERGENCIES.
Shalim breathed deeply with relief, easing the pounding in his head and lungs, and nodded. Taking the mask off briefly he said with much more confidence "Thank you, I will be sure to respect your wishes." It was comforting for Shalim to learn that the alien was capable of kindness to some degree.
Josef leaned down into Shalim's face and stared deeply for a moment.
YOU INTEREST ME, LITTLE MAN. NOW SLEEP; THIS WILL BE THE LAST REST YOU HAVE FOR A SHORT WHILE.
Josef inserted the IV drip. Shalim felt liquid seep in, and the gas began numbing his body in waves. Before long every sensation had left him, plunging him into sleep.

Emil listened to the whole spiel, grimly observing the whole situation. Though he hated to admit it, Josef's arrival made him jump a bit, as he had never seen a Visitor up close before.

Still, if what they were saying was true - and they had some pretty hard evidence to back it up - the level of shadiness the government was up to made him feel sick to his stomach. Emil had never gone to a Residental school, so presumably he'd never been injected with nanites or whatever. But it wasn't like he could actually remember if he had...

Screw it, this whole thing was making him paranoid.

"I could use a drink," he murmured. "And damm the age limit."

As soon as the demonstration was over, and Josef had returned to the basement, Ryan had quietly slipped out the front door, ignoring the continuing argument in the parlor. Now the old man returned, one hand resting in his front jacket pocket. He still wore his backpack and kept one hand firmly on the strap, as though he feared its theft.

After glancing into the parlor to see that the clamor was dying down, he turned and walked steadily through the kitchen to the basement door. He opened it swiftly, and paused for only a moment before descending.

An eldritch reek permeated the basement, the sickening combination of many unpleasant scents; the acrid smells of lab supplies, of methanol and formaldehyde, peroxides, sterilizers and disinfectants, chemical compounds and cleaning agents, along with the sweet stench of biological decay; bile and blood and rotting flesh. It sent Ryan coughing almost immediately. He did his best to suppress it at first, but by the time he reached the bottom of the steps it was nearly uncontrollable. He blinked away tears and looked around his environment.

He stood at the bottom left corner of a large room gloomily lit by various screens dotted about the walls and a large furnace against the far right wall. The near and far side of the room were lined with hospital beds that looked like they?d been crammed into the room as an afterthought, and in the center sat what could only be an autopsy or dissection table. In one corner was a shelf filled with gruesome animal and plant specimens, in the other a rank pile of dead things. The entire place was filthy with a nightmare grime. Shalim lay asleep on one of the hospital beds, an IV drip in his arm. It seemed he had already begun the treatment.

In front of the furnace at the far end of the room was a macabre workstation, at which stood Josef. Ryan approached the hulking decapod slowly but deliberately, until he stood directly behind them. He coughed and stared at the back of the creature's head, but got no response. Half a minute passed as the Voyager continued their work, seeming not to notice him. At last, after clearing his throat uncomfortably, Ryan stepped up to the table next to Josef and peered at the impassive black visor. The eyes behind the glowing blue lenses snapped to attention, and Josef turned themself to face Ryan.

"COCKTAIL OR EXPERIMENTATION."

The old man started and instinctively stepped back before getting a hold of himself. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the small body of a squirrel, its neck snapped. "Control subject." he said hoarsely as he set it down on the table in front of them.

Josef stared Ryan for a moment, put a hand to their head, and closed their eyes. On opening them again, they looked at Ryan. "PLEASE SAY AGAIN, I NEED TO READ YOUR LIPS. AS CLEAR AS POSSIBLE."

"Control subject." Ryan said again, this time louder and as clearly as he could. "I need to see the device's effects on a control subject."

The Voyager stared at Ryan for a moment more, before offhandedly recovering the wand from their table. With a flourish, they demonstrated the wand, like a magician showing there was nothing up their sleeve. Then, they pointed at the squirrel and pressed the button; nothing happened. A meaningful glance was shot at Ryan; the wand was raised to the helmet of Josef. They pressed the button rapidly, the antenna pointing at one of the eyes through the glowing blue lens; still no effect. Josef set the wand back down on the table. "HAPPY NOW? COCKTAIL OR EXPERIMENTATION."

"Syringe." Ryan said after eyeing the device for a moment. He suppressed a cough and then extended his hand, palm upwards. Josef looked at Ryan's extended palm, then into Ryan's eyes; their own eyes narrowed, contracting radially. "IF YOU STAB ME WITH A SYRINGE YOU WILL KILL ME; BEFORE I DIE, I WILL SMASH YOUR BODY AGAINST THE FLOOR. YOU HAVE BEEN FOREWARNED."

Skeptically, slowly, Josef reached for a syringe from the workstation and placed it in Ryan's palm, then crossed their arms, taking the stance of one who is impatiently waiting.

Ryan examined the syringe for a few seconds, then deftly rolled up his jacket sleeve and drew blood until the syringe was halfway full. Despite hacking up a lung, he kept the needle steady. When he was finished he handed the the blood sample back to Josef with careful movements. "Test it."

Josef obliged, taking the syringe and holding it perpendicular to the device, so the antenna pointed directly into the blood sample. With a flourish, Josef clicked the button, and quick as a shot, the blood turned from blood, to clear fluid, to naught; the syringe was rendered empty.

"MY PATIENCE RUNS THIN. COCKTAIL OR EXPERIMENTATION."

Ryan nodded slightly and took one more long look at the syringe, the wand, and the dead squirrel. Lastly he looked at Josef, his own eyes nearly as unreadable as those of the alien. "Thank you." he said finally, before turning and marching back up the stairs to the kitchen. Behind him, there was a wet slapping, and the vague sound of a small pile avalanching.

Mia sat on the windowsill for the moment, unsure how to progress. She thought Dana would have be a bit miffed at the whole fake name thing, but she was focused more on the task at hand. She's a lot more forgiving than me I guess. Fucking government. It seemed like with the demonstration the majority of people were on board with the elderly woman's plans for...exactly what it was unsure.

A different kind of vomit-inducing drink was being bandied about, and if she was going to put up with a week of gut-wrenching illness to get clean of the government traces, Mia was going to join in the farewell to nanotechnology.

"Fine. Since people suck, I guess I'm in on this too," she confirmed. "But I want booze. Immediately. Drinking to forget is one of my many talents."

Mohammad stared in awe at the creature for a moment. A Voyager. What was a Voyager doing out here in the sticks? That, plus the rather grotesque demonstration, finally had him convinced. He looked to the Matron. "I am so, so sorry, Ma'am." He said, giving her a deep bow. "I... I just spoke out of turn. I assume you know my past, and why I would be a bit hesitant in these matters." He added before straightening himself. "If there's anything you need me to do to help, I will... except violence. I won't hurt anyone unless I have to." He said. He picked his teacup back up and, on taking a sip, was pleasantly surprised to find that the candy stick had partially dissolved.

When he heard the others asking for drinks, he wrinkled his nose. "I won't be drinking." He said simply before taking another sip of tea. He hadn't ever actually drunken alcohol in his life, and he wasn't going to start now. "Just more tea, please." He added, lifting up the tea cup before drinking down the last of the tea.

The Matron slumped in her chair, exhausted by the proceedings; after Josef's demonstration they were lining up to sign on. Of course they would be. At least none of them seemed to comprehend exactly what they had just witnessed. Good. She'd keep that particular secret for a little bit, at least until she knew that they were with her through thick and thin. For now, they were demanding to know about the liquor; of course they were, this was heavy news she had brought, and they needed some kind of chemical reprieve from the horrors of reality. Weakly she motioned ahead to the bar, through the hallway.
"You may use the bar at your leisure, but please try to be considerate; though I stocked it for you, not everything in it is easily replaceable. You should be able to find most of anything that strikes your fancy; no vintages, mind, but I imagine that wont weight on any of you too harshly."

The Matron sank into her chair, dipped her head, and closed her eyes. She massaged her temples gently, trying to summon up a smile.
"No smoking in the house, still, please, and if you wish to dispose of your dog ends, you may do so in the fountain; we will be tearing the old thing down at some point. If you wish to sleep, the sofas in here and in the lounge and bar are open to your use; I will have proper dormitories built for you once you finish the cocktail course and decide whether or not you are staying on."
"Speaking of, I repeat; I will not ask you to kill. I will tell you the first three steps in our three year plan when you have decided whether or not you are staying on. There is no rush, but I would prefer you start the course today. Talk to Josef when you feel ready to begin..."
Her speech grew slow and slurred as she continued, and by the last line, she had fallen gently asleep in her chair, no longer able to keep awake and cognisant of her guests, exhausted by the whole affair.

In the bar, Henry Thurgood polished glasses compulsively. It was not to clean them; as a matter of fact, his touch served only to dirty them further. He polished the glasses to calm his nerves; the repetitive, mechanical motions it required of him pleased him and allowed him to think more properly. So they'd bought into it. So he'd have to live with these guests for a time. Terrible; awful; wonderful; terrifying; awesome; all that and more. Playmates, heroes and villains to meet and to contend with; maybe even the first friends he had in decades? Perish the thought, Henry Thurgood, for you are far too guarded for even your own good. Henry's mind raced as he listened to the affairs and anticipated the arrival of the guests at the bar; barflies entering a spider's web.

Satisfied by the Matron's words, Emil made a beeline for the bar, more than ready to sooth his frazzled nerves. He could see Henry behind the bar, busily cleaning - or trying to clean - a glass.

Well, as long as he was staying here, he would have to put up with him... and everyone else, for that matter. Taking a deep breath, Emil sat down on a bar stool.

"I'll take a rum and coke on the rocks - and by that I mean ice." He took a look at the smudged glasses. "Er... howabout you get the drinks and I'll handle the glass and ice?"

"You know, I haven't drunk liquor out of a glass since I was fifteen." She noticed one of the others giving her a weird look. "I had an...unusual upbringing." As they drifted over to the bar area she cleared her throat and raised her voice. "Well, you probably all got a look at me earlier, so I guess I'll introduce myself. My name's Vagari. It's not the name I was born with, but...I don't want to carry my birth name anymore. I guess, uh..." She really didn't want to go into everything, her early life, her issues. She was just glad she was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, they couldn't see the trackmarks on her arms. "I'm a gravity warper. Sort of. Maybe best if I show you." She pressed her hands into the ground and reversed her direction of gravity, kicking her legs up as she did so that when she re-oriented and landed on the ceiling she was on her feet.

She was gravity-inverted, but her hair and clothes were not, the loose hoody sliding down to show her undershirt. She adjusted it, tucking it into her pants. "Can point it anywhere. Even attach my gravity to objects, like a tree and I'll just walk around the tree like it's my planet. Far as I can manage so far it's all Earth-normal gravity, so flying is a little tricky to impossible."

"Well if I'm going to spend the next week sick as a dog I'm gonna wash up first." Octavio said as he went through his hiking back pack and grabbed some of his cleaner clothes along with a tooth brush. He left the parlor and found a washroom where he was able to wash all the dirt and sweat off of his face, brush his teeth, and change into some jeans and a red plaid shirt. Feeling refreshed he walked out towards the bar and saw Vargari standing on the ceiling, " Cool, well I'd show you my power but it's destructive. So you'll just have to believe me when I saw I shoot blasts of energy from my hands." He added to the show and tell, he looked over at Emil and asked, " So what's your power?"

"So what's your power?"

Emil raised an eyebrow. Well, if he was going to hang around these people, he would probably have to get to know them too.

"From what I've learned over the years, I've found that I can control my own density." He said simply. Emil put an hand on the bar and concentrated. "I can make my body as intangible as a ghost..." His hand phased through the bar like it was nothing. "...Or as solid as stone." He stomped on the floor, which suddenly cracked under his weight.

He pulled his hand back out and grinned despite himself.

After years of living on his own, it was... nice being around others, especially people like himself.

Justin looked on, arms crossed and hip cocked, as The Matron explained the commodities the estate had to offer. By the way it was described, it didn't sound like she had much other than alcohol. "Sheesh, she fully stocked her liquor cabinets before anything else, huh? Can't blame a lady for her priorities." He shrugged as he thought. The living arrangements were definitely going to be a little awkward, considering no one would have their own room starting out. "Of course. Guess I'll reserve my spot on the floor right now then..."

"...There is no rush, but I would prefer you start the course today." She made such a mention that caused the boy to scoff. "Ha! Fuck that." His mental comments were cut short as he spied the lady beginning to doze off.

"Wait, hold on-!" As the rest of the cast began running towards the alcohol, Justin started hopping some towards the lady. He approached her carefully, slowly placing his hand under her nostrils. With her exhaling breath, he backed off with a sigh.

"Oh, okay, she's not dead." He confirmed with faux relief. She was an old lady, after all. If she died, then who would tell Justin where the computers were? There weren't any in the parlour, and he didn't have the chance to snoop around the estate any to spot one. Either way, he felt he'd be nice for once and ask her once she woke up. So from there, he started following the others into the bar.

As he crossed the wide threshold, he took mental note of some of the others already descending back into conversation. Or rather ascending, in Vagari's case. Alongside a fresh-faced Octavio, Justin looked on as the girl stood upon the bar's ceiling. "So like, if you do that outside, would you just, fall into space?" He asked as he grabbed a stool at the bar. He made brief eye contact with the gangly bartender briefly before compulsively bringing out his phone. "Hey shorty, y'all got any beer?" He asked, cycling through his photo album.

Three years. That was going to be a fuck of a long time for this crazy lady's plan. Mia shuddered at the thought of spending such an extraordinary amount of time in such a dismal place. Hell, my dad's been dead for three years. That seems so long ago as it is.

As the meeting seemingly adjourned with the old crone slipping into sleep, Mia got up and followed the throng of people migrating to where the booze was kept. The thought of alcohol being on ready supply was one of the only things making this stay attractive at the moment. That and the whole slipping loose of government control and tracking and not being able to be killed in a matter of seconds. Both attractive things. Even if it was all just an act designed to scare people into line, there was no reason that that sort of kill switch wouldn't be useful if she ran into more bothersome Awakened on her travels. Especially if she ever went back to Connecticut.

The homeless girl had ended up on the ceiling. Ms. Riley would have questioned such an act, but it made sense for her to be here with some kind of parlor trick. Cute. Could be profitable I guess. If security is realllllly lax somewhere. One of the boys showcased his talent with phasing through solid objects. OK, that one is a lot more useful. Fuck your safe, Bellagio.

"Hey shorty, y'all got any beer?"

Mia turned to the bar, expecting to ask a similar question, only to find the bartender not even fit to tend for the Polizzi Family and their wretched scum dive bar back home. The glasses ended up dirtier than they started, coated in some sort of weird substance that didn't look any shade of healthy.

Perusing the selections on the bar shelf behind the keeper, Mia settled on something that looked like she could drink it from the bottle. "I'll just take the 40 of Bombay Sapphire that's sitting behind you there. Just the bottle. Don't think I'll be bothering with the glass today."

"So like, if you do that outside, would you just, fall into space?"

"Most likely?" She shrugged. "I haven't tried it. Don't have a spacesuit, and I really have no idea how I'd get back down again. I suppose I could continually flip gravity over and over to keep myself from moving too fast on my descent back to Earth, but I'm pretty sure that much fuckery with my inner ear would cause me to pass out, and then I'd either be ballistic towards space, where I'd die from vacuum exposure, or the ground, where I'd splatter. It does come in handy, though, and I can see the world from perspectives no one else can." She walked over to the side of the room and walked down the wall back to the floor. "Also helps for running up hills. Or stairs. Just shift my gravity to be the surface of the road and suddenly by my perspective I'm running downhill."

Since nobody told her if it was expected of her to change her clothes, and the matron just fell asleep on the spot, Dana sat on the sill gathering her thoughts until she heard Mia leave the room as well. The clinking of glasses made it quite clear which room they entered, as Dana followed. The talk was, gladly, not about what horror they had just witnessed, but about their powers. Something Dana was not used to, but she thought it would feel good to tell others what she was without any kind of judgment expected.

Vagari was apparently just standing on the ceiling, at least that where her voice was coming from. Emil on the other hand explained how he could basically turn into a ghost, which made Dana shiver. He could turn completely invisible to her, and she would not even realize if he entered her room. Just hoping he is a good guy. she thought, as Mia asked for a full bottle of liquor.

"I can use my voice really well." Dana explained the others. "I do not know all the ways it could be used, though, I ... rarely use this power. And I would not want to break all the bottles in here right now." She walked closer to the bar, using another of those weird clicks, towards the heavy stench of another, assumingly awakened person. "I would like a glass of whiskey, please, if you have that." she said, then turned towards Mia.

"So ... Mia, was it? Why did you use the name 'Taylor' before?" she asked her, her tone of voice curious, but not hostile in any way. There had to be a good reason for the lie, and she could only assume it had to do with her survival as an Awakened.

While waiting for the bartender to shamble back to the bar and grab her desired sky blue bottle, Mia heard Dana move towards the bar to tack her own order onto the list. She too had explained her powers, which without demonstration seemed to be at least second tier useful. Good for a distraction, at the very least.

"So ... Mia, was it? Why did you use the name 'Taylor' before?"

There it is.

Mia softly laughed as she turned around and rested her back and arms against the bar. "Cause I haven't answered to the name Mia in a looooong time," she said matter-of-factly. It was true. Three years is a while for some people. "Hasn't done me any good, so I used Taylor for a while." That one wasn't a long time. 14 minutes is definitely not a long time. "Although the fact that the old lady knew it pretty much confirms she has government access of some kind. Or a good source from back home."

Everyone was headed to the bar. The bar would have looked pathetic to anyone at that point as the nervous man seemed overwhelmed by the amount of people requesting bottles and glasses. It was all getting a little crowded for Enrique as well. Someone was showing off their power. Others were merely talking about it. He could understand that desire. While being Awakened didn't mean being arrested off the street for having powers, most tended to be very guarded about their powers. Being around others, having that freedom to merely talk about it like any other thing must be refreshing for most.

But not for you, keep it all locked up there champ.

He found himself walking mechanically towards the bar as well where a very flustered Henry was trying to deal with everyone's requests. The poor man didn't look prepared to mix one drink let alone deal with the crowd of orders. Enrique could feel his arm burning from the inside. They had all spent far too much time talking. The heat from the cigarette he extinguished early on had been in him far too long. He didn't have a lighter so his plan had been to use that heat to light his next cigarette so timing was very important.

He began to order a drink like any other but saw that Henry wouldn't be getting to him any time soon. So he did what he needed to do and hopped the bar.

Despite being fairly thin, he was still nimble and strong enough that he launched over the bar and landed gracefully on the other side. And face to face with Henry who immediately looked away.

"Don't worry man, I won't be here long. I know you don't want me back here," Enrique used his best negotiator voice and felt behind him for the bottle of cheap tequila that he had seen on his way to the bar. His hands clasped a bottle and he brought it around. It was Bombay, not what he wanted.

Henry made to speak but immediately stopped. He was polishing a glass so hard, Enrique thought it would shatter. His second alcohol fishing hand found the tequila and he smiled warmly at Henry backing up and placing the Bombay in front of the woman who lied about her name, leaning in on the conversation she was having with another, "Pretty car and a fake name, maybe you didn't have it all together like I thought."

He used her as a brace to get himself over the bar once again and bowed, "Enjoy your drink."

He left the house and sat on the ground a small distance from the door. The bottle was his and he was free to smoke. He dug the half smoked butt from his pocket and pinched the end of it. He then thought about the movement of the warmth inside his arms and immediately it flooded to his finger tips. The cherry slowly lit up again and Enrique placed the cigarette in his mouth, taking a long drag and savouring the mostly fresh tobacco.

He then took a sip from the bottle sitting beside him. He had to conserve, no long pulls right now.

What was happening was happening too fast and while he had agreed to it, the idea of starting these "courses" right away irked him. Especially since she went to sleep almost immediately after tell them that.

"You're not the only one tired lady," he murmured taking another small sip.

One giant Leap.

Ryan inhaled sharply as the brisk tap water splashed against his eyes and cheeks. He spluttered and turned off the faucet, hair and beard dripping. One weathered hand rubbed over his face, and he blinked the water out of his eyes as he turned away from the sink. He did not look in the mirror.

He was alone in one of the spacious downstairs bathrooms, his backpack sitting on the linoleum floor nearby. It was open slightly, a hand towel and travel-size body powder peeking out. His jacket lay on the counter next to him. He'd brushed his teeth and changed into fresh clothes; a green plaid button-down shirt and brown jeans. His sleeves were rolled up, revealing long, sinewy forearms that bore numerous scars. The worst ran across the inside of his left arm, a few inches below the elbow. It was thick, and jagged. Ryan flexed the elbow stiffly, out of habit, as he toweled off his head and face.

The bathroom was quiet, save for the trickle of water through pipes and the faint clamor of the other guests in the bar down the hall. Like everything else on the first floor, this room was clean and boasted all the modern amenities; a full bath and shower, heater, fan, a pair of sinks, and faux-marble counters. Ryan had poked his head upstairs briefly, and from the looks of things it was clear that the Matron had recently renovated the first floor specifically for her purposes; the rest of the house was a burnt-out ruin. That acrid scent was particularly strong at the top of the stairs.

The old man finished drying himself off and replaced the towel, then reached for his jacket. Suddenly his hand stopped, and he winced, a strained look briefly passing over his face.

Ryan stayed still for several seconds, hand outstretched, shoulder muscles slowly contracting and releasing. Then the episode passed, gone as suddenly as it had arrived. He hastily picked up his jacket and stuffed it into his backpack. He rolled his sleeves back down, being careful to button them properly, then picked up his backpack in one hand and peered around the room. Trained eyes examined the walls, floor, and ceiling.

Finally he approached the wall next to the shower, crouched down and pressed his free hand against the cool tile. A dark, muddy blotch immediately began to spread as the matter of the wall transformed into a viscous tar. As it grew there was a popping noise, and an opening appeared in the center. Ryan's upper lip curled for a moment, but otherwise he remained stoic. Soon there was a sizable hole in the bathroom wall, exposing the beams and wires and dust within. After a moment spent surveying the space, the old man hefted his backpack through the hole and then drew his hand away. There was a squelching sound, and within a second the wall was back, as though nothing had happened. Ryan grunted in satisfaction, then turned and left.

-

He made his way back to the bar, where the others were bunched against the counter, calling for drinks and talking among themselves. It sounded like most of the talk revolved around their respective abilities, several of which were being put on display. He looked up in time to see one of the girls, the argumentative one who'd been the first one into the manor, descending from the ceiling. He did not react, though his eyes did linger for a moment on her and the young man she was speaking to.

Ryan moved on past the bar and out through the front door into the fresh air. He stopped when he saw that there was already someone outside; Enrique, the Latin-American boy. He was filthy from head to toe, with the matted hair and rotting clothing of someone who'd already been on the streets too long. He held a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of tequila in the other, though neither served to mask his other odors.

Ryan hesitated a moment, then slowly sat down on the front steps, massaging his knuckles as he watched the wind in the trees. He kept the young man in the corner of his eye.

While Mia appreciated the fact that there was now gin in front of her, she did not care for the insulting one-liner that came along with it. She definitely didn't appreciate being used as a pommel horse by the bartender afterwards. I'm supposed to be the vaulter, not the vaultee.

Looking over, Mia saw no whiskey for Dana, and the original barkeep was still more preoccupied with the glass he had continued to polish. "Typical," she said with a sigh. "Looks like I have to do things myself."

She looked over at the bar shelf and selected the half-finished bottle of Jameson, along with a glass. A clean glass. Untouched by Henry's hands. With little effort the bottle floated over to the bar while the glass awaited its cargo of two ice cubes. Eventually all entities found their way to Dana's spot on the bar.

"There you go, girl. Whiskey's in front of ya," Mia affirmed as she unscrewed the top of the bottle of gin. Taking a liberal gulp she slammed the bottle back down. "Woo! Six months sober down the drain! Totally worth it!" While it was true Mia had tapered off the alcohol while in Vegas to keep her wits about her, she had plenty of drinks in Sin City. In fact, she had three lime rickeys on the night she fled the city. "Who cares, right?"

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