|Safety In Numbers|
|What: Curious about the telepaths she spoke to a couple days before, Laura meets up with E, S & P.|
Laura was a little nervous about the idea of returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak-- but the odd voices hadn't been that specific about where "here" was going to be. They'd been generally right about the rest, so her curiosity did not take too long to overwhelm her paranoia. This time, she's dressed a little differently-- the hoodie is left at the seedy motel she's staying in, and the jacket is zipped to hide the top part of the totally not-normal bodysuit underneath. Truth to tell, she wasn't sure why she'd kept the thing.
The Cuckoos don't like visiting the same area too many times in a row either--for the same reason. Still, it's vital to them that Laura not be exposed. The Public Library is hard to miss. They settle down on the front steps, under the left-hand lion, and let their mind wander until they finally locate their target. They're pleased that Laura thought to keep to the same time of day. Her mind is less disturbed than it was two days ago. That is good.
|"The building with the wide steps and two stone lions in front,"| they tell her.
Laura's eyes scan for the indicated building, and she alters her trajectory slightly, peeling off the crowd when she hits the steps to climb them. She's a pro, all right-- noone pays her much mind at all, even though she's sniffing the air a bit as she travels up the steps. "What now?"
There is definitely the sensation of being watched, but no sign of who is doing the watching. |"We are also here."| A shroud is lifted and there are three figures sitting on the steps. The same scent is on the air. People walk past the three without seeming to see them. |"Eating is common social activity here."| |"Also shopping."| |"Come with us."| |"We will eat."|
No complaints. Laura has long since learned you eat when you can when you don't know when meals are coming. She looks the girls over throughtfully, inhaling the un-masked scents deeply. Committing to memory, sorting them out. She nods, and relaxes somewhat. Easier to deal with them when you can see them. "You said you were Fourteen." Not a question, but it also is.
|"We are."| A pause and the Cuckoos speak with their voices.
"We are. Fourteen. We were. When we were Five." They don't speak in unison but the words pass from one to another without hesitation, rippling between them. "No more." |"Never again."|
Laura seems to understand, at least to a degree. Some of all that is very familiar. "I'm X. Or Ten, I guess. Twenty-Three." It's confusing. She tries not to think about it too much, because it's also depressing. "I'm supposed to be Laura now. I don't want to go back."
"They called us the Cuckoos after a kind of bird. When we got older sometimes it was the Stepfords. Their little jokes. In this culture, neither are flattering. Now we are Esme, Sophie, and Phoebe." The Cuckoos start walking, bringing Laura along with them. The one who falls in beside her does most of the talking now. "If we go back, it will be to end it, and not before. We do not want them to find you both because you know of us and because we would not return to them a weapon to be used later."
Laura tucks her hands into her pockets, listening while she falls into step. Her mood darkens and the vague scowl becomes a full one at the last part. "I am noone's weapon. Not anymore," she says firmly. "They only ever called me X-23." She's not sure if that's any better than joking nicknames, though. "Except one, at the end. They'll want me back, though. I left them nothing else." there's a long pause. "Thank you. For the advice and the currency. It was helpful. I think." She watched a lot of TV. It took her a while to find something worthwhile.
|"We can help you hide."| The one walking with Laura had just opened her mouth to speak and rolls her eyes at being interrupted. "Yes. We can help hide you from their searching, if they hunt your mind. We will do this regardless of whether or not you wish to help us in future, if we go back." |"To steal something of theirs."| |"When they took so much of us."| |"Amuses."|
"I'm not something of theirs," Laura says sourly, though there isn't really venom in it. Sometimes she needs to say these things just to remind herself how things are *supposed* to be. "Maybe I can help you," she allows, without a real commitment. It wouldn't be the same facility, after all, right? Different people and things. Surrre. "When you're ready." She trails of in thought for a while. "I don't think they have telepaths looking for me. I wouldn't have made it this far." Wepon X didn't have any, and they'd probably resist admitting the disaster of her escaping. If there were even enough people left alive to realize she got away. She hadn't even thought of that. But her luck isn't that good, no way.
"We wouldn't forget your interests." |"Sophie,"| as someone informs Laura, smiles at her. The girls are already fond of this new person--they're not usually fond of people. People are usually rather useless. "If you wished." Sophie points to the door of a restaurant ahead. "In here. You like meat, yes? This place has a great deal of it, different kinds." |"Some of it raw."| That comes with the impression of a dismayed face.
Raw meat and Laura have a strange relationship. The notion appeals to her on some level, though she doesn't entirely know why. But the scientists and people in suits weren't always picky about cooking what she was given, so it's the source of not-so-happy memories. "Yes," she actually says in repsonse. Because she does like meat. She takes a lot of protein to keep going. Honestly, she has no idea why she's hanging around. Maybe it's just because they're... mostly the same. Except there's more of them-- but considering she destroyed about a dozen or so tubes with smaller Lauras in them... maybe that's not a difference. "You said you've been out for a while," she muses.
Other people are waiting to be seated but the Cuckoos lead Laura past them, and past the staff--all of whom seem quite accepting of their presence--and to a table by the window. They allow Laura to choose a seat, then join her.
|"We have been out two years."|
"This is a menu. A list of what they want you to know they have. They usually have more." Sophie--Laura thinks, since she's talking--hands her a leather folder with heavy paper inside. "You don't have to read it unless you want to pick for yourself."
|"The man who cooks--"| |"Chef"| |"--knows what is best to eat."| |"He sends it to us."|
Laura finds the whole thing somewhat confusing, but she does what she always does about confusing things-- pays more attention to them. That could be why she's here in the first place. She flips through the menu curiously. "There's a lot." More than, to be honest, she's ever really seen, outside of that one party at the consulate. But she hadn't been there to eat so she didn't. The page with the steaks on it, though... she sets the menu down, gestures vaguely. "This." That settled, back to the question. "Do they ever start making sense?" People. Normal ones, anyway. Not that it's entirely occured to Laura that they actually *are* normal and she's the strange one.
"Sense. Not really." |"You can trace motivations back to a source."| "The source doesn't always make sense." |"The answer is no for most of them."| |"But you can learn to anticipate."|
A server brings wine to the table, glasses of water, and a basket of bread, then promises she'll be back soon with the order that wasn't ever spoken.
"Have you been to any other cities?" That's one of the girls who's been quiet until now, not that Laura would know if she hadn't been tracking where they sat.
Laura shakes her head. "This is my first stop." Not her last, though. "I will move on to the next soon, though." Gotham, she's decided. There was a news report. It looked perfect. Dark urban jungle struggling to stay out of decline. Ideal environment to go to ground for a while before moving on. Most of the city is like the neighborhood she picked to stay in here.
"The dark city is interesting." "It has a mad house." Now that they're settled, the Cuckoos are excited to talk to someone new. "We like it there."
"The bright city is too clean." "Like a laboratory." "But wealthy," the girls say.
An appetizer comes, a mound of seasoned raw meat on a plate of curving lettuce leaves, surrounded by little pieces of toast. One of the girls scoops some meat up onto a leaf and takes a bite. Her sister across from her makes a face.
"Esme! Ew." Esme munches gleefully.
Laura can't quite restrain her interest. though she does alter the way she reaches for the dish when she sees how Esme does it, and follows suit. There's always been something very strangely comforting about eating raw. And a good thing, because sometimes it becomes terribly necessary. The bright city? Metropolis, the back corner of her mind reminds her. You've been there. That CEO. Right. "I've been there. Before." Which doesn't count, right? She scarfs down the appetizer a little less than delicately. Ohwell.
"It's good for you, Phoebe. You need iron." That must be Sophie again. "She's just picky sometimes," Sophie says to Laura. She helps herself and then has a drink of wine. Phoebe makes a face but eats some.
"It's good," Esme says. "It's just that we're made of meat, too. I say that makes it fair."
"And I say you're a terrible person." Phoebe's little smile suggests that she doesn't mean it in the least.
"It took us a long time to learn how to eat properly," Sophie says. "They used to give us supplements, we got sick when we got out from not eating well. We're careful now."
Laura tilts her head, like the idea of having to watch what you eat is new. Largely because it is, for her. But then again, the program was probably way less picky about her health, under the circumstances. These three are a little more... delicate, perhaps. She picks at the food a bit more, pacing herself. There's more on the way, after all, so she needn't eat like a starving animal. "Smells like food," she shrugs. That is her basic criteria. She keeps her preferences simple. "Are you staying here? Or moving on?"
"Moving through." "We'll circle back." "There are some interesting minds here." "Strange disturbances." The girls enjoy disturbances and odd people. "We go many places." "Suspicions arise if we take too much." "In one place."
Laura nods slowly. That makes sense to her. Familiar. like the way she was trained. While Laura's got some issues with that whole part of her life... some of it is just WAY too practical to reject. "Leave only the invisible traces."
"Especially since we take what they value." "Oh right." "Here." The girls pass over a backpack. "Some things for you." "We didn't think you'd want to go shopping." "Yet." "It took a while to understand." "Shopping."
Laura takes the pack, curiously, unzips the top and peeks inside. "Shopping?" She paws through the bag, taking inventory, becoming a little more surprised as she goes. Though she shouldn't be. They've already been very generous with her. It's just all very strange. "This will be useful," she says, looking up. Which is a bit like a thankyou.
"The recreational act of exchanging goods for currency," Sophie says. The server brings their meals and Sophie waits until she departs to keep speaking. "It's a little like hunting, once you get the hang of it. For you, though... there are stores called 'surplus'. Army surplus. They have the most practical things for now. Also, second-hand stores."
"No one cares if you're a little strange there," Phoebe offers.
Laura nods slowly, absorbing it. "Like the armory," she hazards. "But with currency." Everything you need, except you have to pay for them. Laura'd never really paid money much attention. She'd seen it, had some ideas of what it was for, but it was soemthing she was given to deliver, or take away. The detailed mechanics of the stuff were a little more mysterious.
"The computer in there, you'll need to be near the right place to use it. The instructions are all in the computer." Esme reaches over and steals Sophie's wine almost as though she hasn't seen her own. "You can learn a lot on it. You're smart, though. You'll be fine."
Laura nods again, zipping the bag and leaving it in her lap. She's familiar enough with breaking into the things that this makes sense. There's lots of information to be had, and she's had to perform basic internet searches and the like before. "I'll do that," she agrees. They didn't explicitly suggest anything, but she can read the implied suggestion as well as anyone else.
"We don't use that...mail." "Email." "Whatever." The girls say. |"We don't need it."| There's a long pause in which they confer with each other silently. Literally silently, not even mind-speak. There's a rush of thoughts, potentials, opinions, images.
|"If you wanted."| |"We could see that you don't need it."| |"To talk to us."| |"If you needed us."| It seems reasonable. They can always cut her loose if it doesn't work out. And this way if she gets caught, they can intervene.
Laura really doesn't know how to reply to that. Well and truly torn about it. On the one hand... she likes having their help-- it's been extremely useful, and she's not quite as alone the last couple of days. On the other... she's loathe to let anyone get hooks in her in any fashion. She thinks about it for a while, and even they probably have some difficulty sorting out the storm of conflict involved. "How would it work?" she finally decides to ask.
"It's like a thread." "From our minds to yours." "More useful to you than us," the Cuckoos explain. Whoever's not eating or drinking is talking. "If we had to, we could find you again." "We could do it without asking." "But we like you." "We know what it's like to have things done against your will." "It means you could touch our minds by choosing to find us." "Call us." "For anything."
It's the non-voluntary possibilities that bother Laura, of course. Unsurprisingly. But on the other hand, they're admitting they could, which is in their favor. She spends some time thinking, eating in the silence. It takes the bulk of the remaining plate for her to mull it over. "Provisionally," she decides. It's not like they couldn't force the issue if they wanted. And they make a good case. Laura's mostly-alone out here. Support staff is key to any mission, and she's not going to find many options for such. Not ones she's likely to take.
"It's selfish," the Cuckoos admit. "If you get caught." |"Overpowered."| "We would find you." "And using that." "Stop the ones taking you." |"We do not want them to have you again."| |"Principle."| They're not going to add the part about how curious and new it would be to have someone else in their lives.
Laura nods, a little. It's not an un-compelling arguement. She's just... well. Laura. "Makes sense. Still... provisionally." Which is to say they can do it, and she reserves the right to totally freak out later. It doesn't seem likely, but she has to maintain a certain level of detachment. It's how she is. At least for now.
"When you don't want it anymore." "Tell us." The girls shrug in perfect unison and turn identical smiles on her. "You will not know it is there." "Until you need it."
Laura mulls that over, and then bobs her head once. "That's fair," she decides. She thinks she can deal with an arrangement like that. And she does like these girls-- not just because of shared background, either. They make more sense than most people and don't confuse her as often.
|"We are happy you got out, Laura."| For once, that's all the Cuckoo's voices together. |"It is what we want for all of us."| Their smiles are still identical but somehow more genuine.
The corner of Laura's mouth twitches, like smiling is something like trying on a new wool sweater that's kind of scratchy. Well... it's progress anyway. "Yeah. Me too," she says. It's not a hollow sentiment, but it is a very unfamiliar one. She'll have to think about that later.