RP Just Another Tuesday

Dr. Redd gave Cait an annoyed look, which did not phase her in the slightest. Cait got annoyed looks from people all the time. Cait had gotten annoyed looks from Eldritch deities, extraplanar beings, and creatures that did not even have faces to look annoyed with. She was one of the Locusts, after all. They were good at bugging people.

The look she returned was almost patently innocent - the only thing stopping it from being so was that Gail had refused to write up a patent for it because Cait was, as she'd so unambiguously put it: quite enough of an [expletive]ing handful without having legal documentation. Which sucked, because Cait had all sorts of ideas about what she could do with legal documentation, but it was still a pretty good look regardless.

And he took the hint, so that was a point for her. Cait returned her very professional attention to Isaac, nodding along with his explanation of the Lepidopterist exploration a while back. From what Cait knew, they seemed like a good team for it, although they wouldn't be at their best without their weirdness.

Then again, who was?

Cody clarified a little bit about the synergy bit as well, with a momentary complaint about the whole godbait situation, which drew a giggle from Cait. Hey - if the not-Name fit, it might as well be used, right? And it was certainly better than going around calling things by their Names.

The revelation that the godbait had described Strings, though, that was interesting. "Just green eyes?" The question was sharp, piercing. Cait didn't quite know what that meant yet, nor whether she was asking the question to find out about the godbait or to find out about Strings. Maybe it was both. Maybe it shouldn't have been.

She shook her head a little bit, trying to dismiss where that line of thought went - because of course it went back to Strings, and of course Cait wanted to ask him - just ask him and see what he had to say about that, and whether he'd tell her anything or tell her to figure it out herself.

Except he wasn't really in a position to be telling anyone anything, not right now. "He... didn't say anything to me about it. I can ask Gail if he said anything to her." Time to change the subject. Maybe past time to change the subject. Fortunately, there was a subject there almost begging to be changed to. "Pepper? You okay?"
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Something had crossed Pepper’s face while Cody spoke, something he noticed even before he was done talking. She moved while he mentioned Strings, and he caught her eye for a second before he’d looked at Cait. He blinked, then looked back at Pepper, and then shook his head.

"No, sorry, both. Her description was… vague, and esoteric. She made this dreamcatcher cat’s cradle thing with some thread and then described him as something seen through there. She did get the heterochromia, that’s how I knew it was him."

“I’ll see if I can get a clear shot of the footage for you to look at,” Isaac suggested, in the tone of I’d value your professional opinion on this. Both Dr. Redd and Agent Cotta were well aware of how slippery the old bastard could be. Maybe comparing notes could give them all answers on that angle, without having to puzzle through riddles.

But Pepper had pulled out two files. Both of them had her name on them, and she was visibly nervous. Isaac noticed first, because that was his job, but Cody wasn’t too far behind. Hesitantly, Cody reached over, picked one up, and started to thumb through, skimming with a more serious expression and professional eye while waiting for Pepper to answer for Cait’s sake.
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They were talking about Strings, who Pepper had never met. That is, she assumed it was Strings, since Cait was from Nine, and Strings was well known to be active there. But that was kind of a well-known fact, so it didn’t surprise her. She was more concerned with how Ira had known about him, something she was sure Cody had been when it was brought to his attention. That wasn’t the kind of thing he’d ignore, especially based on how it was brought to his attention in the first place.

But Cait clearly wanted that to wait. Pepper knew a redirect when she heard one, and as usual, she was more than happy to accommodate. “Okay. I mean I’m okay. I mean, uhm. I’m technically much more than okay. These files are my personal physical results from uhm, last month. Sorry I didn’t give them to you yet, Cody, but I was honestly a little freaked out about it. There’s a point to why these are important.”

She took the second file, technically the first one she had received herself, and placed it in the middle of the table on top of her notes, that way Isaac and Cait could look if they wanted. “Actually, let me start from the beginning. I think I know why I’m attached to godbait’s world, and why it’s important. When I was really young, like five years old, I used to be able to go to other dimensions. I uhm. Don't judge little me, but she found her way to godbait’s world and while she was there, she found something. I found something. I just remembered it, because we’re talking about all of this. There was a golden light, one that spoke to me. It knew who I was, and it wanted to leave the dimension with me. I… consented.”

Pepper looked down, her face a little flushed, as though embarrassed by her actions as a child. As an adult, she knew better. You don’t give free rides to extradimensional beings, especially ones who knew who you were before you told them. She cleared her throat and continued, “Well, the light disappeared into me. I never thought about it again, but I think that’s because… it… didn’t want me to. Fast forward to last month. Dr. Kallie performed some blood work and whole genome sequencing as part of a physical for my anomaly file. It had been a long time since the last one, she wanted to see if heavy use of my abilities over the last decade had done anything to me. The test results came back and. Well, you can see what it says.”

She let her eyes flash to Cody’s face as she swallowed. Maybe she was looking for some kind of strength in him to finish, or maybe she was judging his reaction. Either way, she stared for a long moment before breaking away and taking a deep breath. She closed her eyes and finished, “I am, and always will be, twenty-two. My DNA has been radically altered over time, and the effects look permanent. And I think it’s because I absorbed the remnants of the Dead God. I think that’s why they call me the Heraldess.”

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Oh, Cody was distracted. From a certain point of view, that was funny. From another point of view, that was dangerous. Cait was perfectly capable of having both points of view.


heterochromia, she wondered? There was, of course, the matter of the third - and where had that been, in all this? She sighed at Isaac's offer. "Can we trust the footage hasn't been altered?" If digital files were being corrupted, she didn't know if relying on a video for information was the way to go.

"I'd still be happy to take a look at it, though." Even altered videos could give away information, especially if there was a way of telling how it had been altered. "And, wow do I hate myself for saying this, but... ugh - have you brought up the file corruption issue with L-6 and seen if they can do anything to reverse the process or find out how it's happening?" Maybe Brian could take a look at some of it, too, he liked that sort of thing, especially if it gave him new ideas.

And then there was Pepper...

Pepper's story unfolded, and it was one of those stories. Who hadn't met someone at L-9 who'd accidentally made themselves a warlock? That sort of thing happened all the time. Sometimes, people even did it on purpose! Cait had considered it, but she'd eventually ended up deciding she wasn't ready to commit to any one Being just yet, which was probably why she wasn't walking around with another set of eyes of her own.

But she'd seen this before, anyway. And she'd been working with Gail for years, after all, and she knew how that could get weird sometimes. Cait reached across the table and took one of Pepper's hands, because this was girl power time, and if Cody was brave enough to take the other, well, good on him, but she wasn't going to let Pepper suffer. After all, Pepper was apparently three years younger than Cait now, and you looked out for people who were younger and would always be.

"It's okay." Those were the first words, because they were the most important. "People get mixed up in that sort of thing a lot - even people who have years of experience and should know better. You were just a little kid. I wouldn't be surprised if it went after you because you weren't old enough to know better, but that's a problem for another time, yeah? If you need to freak out a bit, that's okay. Statistically speaking from L-9 experience, your best options right now are either a big tub of ice cream or a bottle of hard liquor, depending on your preference. I'm sure Cody and Isaac would be willing to give you some time off to binge-watch sappy movies or get stupidly drunk and hung over. Make sure you have friends on standby, or at least acquaintances. Crying is normal. If it crosses the line into trying to summon up the Dead God and beat it back to life with an ice cream spoon, call your friends for help. This is ACF. We've all been through weird stuff, and you're not alone. No matter what you are."
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“ACF-2142 would catch an inconsistency in the footage. That’s part of how we know about it so far, and Jupiter has me running all footage past that before we show anyone. If it comes up, we’ll find a different way. Hack may already be looking for a solution, but for security purposes, he won’t mention anything until it has a chance of success.”

Isaac said that in the reasonable tone of a security agent who completely understood SV-4’s position, but without the edge that many security agents had toward L-9’s opinion of him and his methods.

And then he became quiet, in the Isaac way, as Pepper began to speak. He watched Cody become quiet, too, but when Cody went quiet it was always with a chorus of other stuff happening behind his eyes. They were bright now, although his face was set in a rare, serious cast. Isaac knew that look. It meant Cody had questions, and he wasn’t going to ask those questions, because now wasn’t the time for them.

Now wasn’t the time to be a researcher. Now was the time to be good with people. He’d had practice with that, in recent months. Cait was already on top of “emotional advice for a situation way above Cody’s nonexistent pay grade”, which gave him time. Time to process, time to become distracted. Time to act without thinking, or rather, act while he was thinking about something else.

His eyes were unfocused when he put his hand over hers. An opening, or just a gesture of comfort, depending on whether she took his in return.

She’d been a child. She’d been a child, and nobody would judge her for that. She’d been a full dimension hopper – still relatively par for the course. But Cody was filtering through memories, too. Memories his brain hadn’t been able to hold, or could hold, but had to suppress.

The stone in the woods. Why had she come to this world? Why was she in that stone?

A dream world where she might sleep away the dangers of The Dead God who hunted her still. She had killed him in the waking world, but in her dreams he searched for her. He would not find her here, this she knew, but she also knew her form limited her abilities tremendously.

"It came where Ira was."

It might seem random. It might not connect to Pepper’s immortality in any way, or it might be completely relevant to it. They didn’t know what was relevant. Maybe it hadn’t come here looking for Ira – maybe as the Lepidopterists had been told, it was here to hide from her. An endless vicious, godly cycle of hunting each other to extinction. It certainly put a whole new spin on the name godbait, which Cody still didn’t like using.

There were word that could be said about that, or about Pepper, but words… they didn’t feel right, right now. Cody’s hand closed around Pepper’s, a gentle flex. His eyes focused on her face, young for her age, her chronological age. This didn’t change that she was Pepper, in his mind. He was oddly numb to revelations about immortality. His smile, when he gave it, was reassuring and kind. He understood that it was stressful, for her. But it didn’t change anything to him. He needed her to know that it didn’t change anything.

And then he realized he was holding her hand, and she was distressed, and maybe now wasn’t the time to be weird about it. As gently as he’d taken it, he let go, and moved his off hers, just to the side. If she decided she still wanted it, it was there.

Isaac exhaled just a touch more loudly than his usual dead silence. Cody didn’t want to know what look he was giving him as he decided to change back to the topic of the two gods that had decided to bring their fights here.

"I– don’t know how much the two of you know about Ira’s and my connection," he said to the two girls, "but somewhere in the mix was a memory of her arrival here in our world. She’d come here – or, I guess we know now, sent a piece of herself here – to hide from the Dead God and his followers."

The memory – it had been a memory, not a message. The feeling had been real, that slight fear, the need to go hide somewhere. To hide – that was familiar. That was a familiarity that ached in his bones and flickered across his features but would be missed in the blink of an eye. The memories didn’t stay, didn’t settle. Now wasn’t about him. It was only about Ira, insofar as it was about Pepper, and the deity that had decided to ride with her. Did it know about Ira? Had it recognized the piece of her? She certainly hadn't recognized the spark in Pepper. That was good. He didn’t know what he'd do if that were to come between them.

He didn't know if he could choose, if it came to that.
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Pepper let Cait take her hand, and in return, she squeezed it tight. Her face was a sad smile as she listened to the other woman talk. She had several good points and several good ideas. Normally Pepper would be an ice cream person, but she was thinking this might require something a little harder. She thought about the three-day weekend she had coming up, with that day she had taken off so specifically. Her eyes darted to Cody’s face just as a hand closed over her free hand. She looked down at their joined hands.

Her fingers shook as she turned her hand over in his and very gently wrapped her fingers around his palm. Pepper had always been a small person, and Cody was very much not a small person, so her fingers barely circled half of his hand. A soft warmth flooded through her at his touch, and she felt her shoulders begin to unwind. Then he spoke up, and from deep within her, she felt a different voice answer.
“Not true. We fear her.”

The voice was familiar. It kind of sounded like herself, but it also didn’t. It was distinctly other in nature. She suddenly felt like she had heard this voice many times, and had simply forgotten it. She could address that later. For now, she basked in the slowly growing calm that touching Cody was bringing her as she went to speak– and Cody softly pulled his hand from hers. Reflexively, her hand chased his, this time lacing her fingers through his. She didn’t bother feeling embarrassed about it. Right then, she had earned some boldness. She had earned the right to allow herself one thing, one slip up, one sign of how she felt. She needed it. Otherwise, she’d spiral, or burst at the seams, and with every bit of strength she had in her shaking limbs, she squeezed his hand.

“Thank you, Cait. Pepper said the words softly, but they were the most sincere words she had said in a very long time. Then she looked at Cody and spoke in response to his statement. “I have no access to memories of this Dead God. But I do– I do remember, what it said to me when it asked for permission to follow me. It said it wanted to leave there. It said it didn’t like it there. As much as 1003 is hiding from Him, He is hiding from Her.”

She said the words in a way that implied they were titles as much as pronouns. She wasn’t sure why she had done that and blinked in surprise at her own words. Maybe it was because she had heard Ira talk, and she was picking up some of the way she spoke. She sighed softly, letting go of Cait’s hand to push her bangs back from her face. She noticeably did not relinquish Cody’s hand. Then, after a moment of sitting in silence, Pepper looked up, her expression serious and professional. “I know there are questions. I don’t know if now is the time for them, but I’m… I’m ready to answer them if it is time. Otherwise, we should set up a longer meeting to discuss that. I know there’s going to be tests to run. I know that I’m going to need to talk to people. I’ll be okay. Just get me where I need to be and I’ll do what I have to. No ice cream or alcohol required.”

She suddenly felt tired. It wasn’t a physical tired or a mental tired. It was an emotional tired. She’d been holding on by a thread lately, and that thread had frayed to a single line, ready to snap under any weight. Questions were research, and research was safe. Tests were research, and research was safe. Emotional encounters were the enemy, at least for the rest of the day.

God, if Cody tried to take his hand back, she’d cry right then and there.

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Hm. So, maybe the Dead God came through to get to Ira, but Ira had been with ACF and Pepper, at the time, had not been. Of course, it wasn't that much of a stretch of the imagination to figure out that she'd end up there, but Cait wondered how much the Dead God might have nudged things in that direction.

What had happened with Pepper's parents? Dead, amnesticized? Could have been either, Cait didn't know. Also, even if they'd been around, that didn't mean they'd been great parents. R'lyeh, she knew that better then most. Still, she had to wonder if the Dead God had had anything to do with whatever had happened there.

Hey so did your folks die horribly by any chance? was really not the question to be asking here and now. On the bright side, Cody had taken her other hand - without prompting? Cait snuck a peek over at Isaac's paperwork just in case he was also sending Codyd messages over there, but it seemed like maybe this time it had been all on his own. Well, good for him. Good for them, maybe.

And then Pepper had to go and make it weird, which was, from a certain point of view, really interesting. Not necessarily helpful to relationships, sure, but it wasn't every day you got a possessing entity talking out of someone. That was like a "three to five times a week" sort of thing. Or six. Or, okay, some weeks it was seven...

...Point aside. It was weird, it was Cait's kind of weird, and she folded her hands under her chin with a quiet but intrigued "Ooooh~"

She didn't say any more than that for now, though, letting Pepper explain things as best as she could, which was badly, but it was a start. Cait reached up, twirling a strand of hair around her finger a little.

"You-" This was a responsible pronouncement, because Cait actually could be a responsible security agent at times, if she really had to: "Need to talk to someone more experienced. And ideally on the Security Council. You need to talk to-" Well, she needed to talk to Strings, but he was unavailable. "Ugh. I don't know, not the Fun Security, he'd just lock it all down. Boring! Jupiter maybe. If you can get a hold of him. Or Butterfly if you can get him interested." Odds on that weren't very good, unless they taped a bug to Pepper's forehead and pretended it was part of the anomaly.

Not that that idea didn't have a certain appeal, mostly because it would be [expletive]-ing hilarious...

"And... I don't know, Pepper, I'd almost advise you to talk to Gail, but you seem like a nice person and I'd feel bad putting you in the same room. Then again I guess you're already here with me, so..." A shrug, nonchalant.

"Point is, don't try to handle this all alone, yeah?"
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When the voice came from Pepper, Isaac’s quiet changed. He had not moved. He had not spoken, nothing in his body language had really changed, but he had gone from listening to still in that beat. Listening quiet had an openness to it that those close to him – or really, anyone who knew observation security – would recognize. The stillness was a closed kind of quiet.

Without even looking at him, Cody recognized it. He almost pulled out of the way on an instinct, but he felt Pepper’s fingers entangled with his. No… no. If there’d been actual trouble, Isaac would have stood up. He would have moved. He was still listening, the listening had just changed. He hadn’t realized he’d tensed, but he relaxed once he noticed. He didn’t even really know why Isaac had tensed, although he stayed quiet as long as the other manager was quiet, in case he was listening for something else.

Isaac waited for Cait to finish, as he gathered the pieces of information he’d collected so far, and then let the silence rest for a moment before looking at Cody.

“Cody, when did Godbait say Strings sent the– thing?”

Cody blinked, then realization dawned on his face. He glanced at Cait, but hesitated. He didn’t want to bring the old man’s attention to Ira. Then again, by his calculations...

"The Curiosity." He nodded. "When she saw Strings, Ira said she saw something she could only describe – coherently, anyway – as the shape of Curiosity. She said she kept half of it but half of it went back to him, through the dreamcatcher window thing. If she gave me the right timeframe, that’s the same day the rumor mill says he went out of commission."

“The rumor mill is usually accurate.” Then, before someone could ask after that, he added, “Another connection. I think that’s a good reason to get a third party involved. Leviathan will want to know, but I think they’d prefer we give it over to someone else. You’re right about Hack, he would prioritize security and attempt to have security repair this without further investigation if he thought it was a threat.” Once again, he did not say that in the tone of a man who disagreed, just one who believed there was a better solution.

"As acting primary researcher, I would prefer we don’t involve Strings with this until either he’s fully recovered, or things escalate dramatically."

Isaac nodded to acknowledge that. He didn’t need Cody to expand. “Jupiter is already involved, but as an observer. I’d trust his judgment, and he’s likely to want to stay a part of this. Butterfly is a good second choice. Even without 707, his specialty with ontokinetics could give us good insight into what exactly godbait is capable of, how, and why.”

"And we should wait to discuss the next steps without one of them?" he phrased it as a question, because if it was Jupiter, this would be an agency issue; if Butterfly was first choice, he’d already be making the decisions.

“Yeah. But we need a game plan, if possible. Corby, do you think Nine can spare you for another week? Or have you back here in the next fourteen days? I’ll need to work out a proposed schedule.”

"And, Pepper. Do you think it’ll be possible to have another conversation with Ira – not research, just… something casual. I know you want to be friends with her, and I think Jupiter would want to see if she recognizes Him when I’m not there to distract her, but I only ask if you’re comfortable."

That last part was important, and sincere, but the shift between the two location managers would tell the two Class-Cs everything they needed to know. This was fully work, now. Not even research. This was the kind of thing that could affect the whole Foundation if it went wrong. To involve the Council, especially when they were down a member, was a big step, but they’d already both made the decision it was an important one.
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They were getting Jupiter fully involved. That’s what Pepper understood. She had never really had a reason to meet a Councilmen, although she knew it was on the list for the future. She guessed that the future was hurtling toward her like a freight train at this point. There was a moment when everyone stared at her– and she realized she had spoken outloud. That voice hadn’t been internal at all, but external. She hadn’t even felt her own mouth move. She tensed up slightly at the realization.

That wasn’t a good sign, was it?

She nodded to Cait in response and squeezed Cody’s hand when he addressed her again, her fingers shaking slightly less. When he asked her if she’d be willing to see Ira again, she simply nodded. “I’m comfortable with that. Despite all of this, I still want to be her friend. Regardless of whatever she is in her world, here she’s… she’s just a child. I promised her I wanted to be her friend. I try really hard to not break promises. So yes, of course, I’ll see her again. In whatever capacity I need to.”

That was something she could do. There wasn't a lot else, but that was something. She took a few deep breaths and then stopped squeezing as hard on Cody’s hand. She left her hand loose enough that if he wanted to take his back, he could. She hoped he wouldn’t. The support it was offering her at that moment was one of the few things propping her up at that point. That and the can of Dr. Pepper she had drank what felt like hours ago.

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Cait could have added a few things about that whole day that Strings went out of commission, given that she'd been there at the time, but she chose not to. That was her Councilman's business, and they wouldn't have stayed his favorite team if they'd run around telling people every time he went and bled out a baby godlet. The Security Council no doubt knew enough about it, and anyone else could stay out of Strings' business until he was up to telling them off himself.

Hopefully that would be soon. He was going to miss out on Nimsy growing up if he didn't get himself recommissioned pretty quickly. Cait wasn't sure exactly what was going on there, but she suspected it was the bane of any Foundation personnel: paperwork.

Isaac inquired about Cait's sticking around, which was... maybe not entirely a good idea. She needed to make sure Nimsy got into trouble, after all. It was important for development. This was also probably not one of those things to go around discussing at L-14. Not yet, anyway. Instead she just gave the senior security agent an arming grin, which was exactly the opposite of a disarming grin and very much suggested there might be trouble. "You couldn't handle me for a week." This was entirely likely to be true. 14's bathrooms were all right side up and none of their elevators had been Escherized and none of the floors were cubes. Cait could have done something about that easily, but then what would she do for the other six days?

"I think I can probably pop back and forth a fair bit, though. We haven't been doing much in the way of outside work right now, given the situation. So I can probably float between locations for a little while. And someone is going to have to advise Pepper on the best ice cream flavors for divine interference, so that might as well be me." Cait and Nic had been maintaining a list of which flavor fit which [expletive]ed up situation the best. Since they'd been at this for several years, the list was getting pretty extensive now.

That just meant Cait was an expert, that was all.
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“If you can be around, that’s all I’d ask.”

Isaac had a solid source that said the Locusts would be dark for the week, which Cait immediately confirmed. He was pretty sure there was only so much that even L-9 could throw at them before someone like Cait got bored, and he decided that smile served as confirmation to that end. Of course, he had to already have a small checklist on hand for things she could do that were both useful and entertaining, but if she wasn’t staying constantly then he could ask for her personnel file just to double check some things in between until Jupiter agreed or arrived, whichever came first.

Cody, he noticed, did not let go of Pepper’s hand when given the opportunity. Maybe Cody didn’t notice the opportunity, but he had definitely initiated the hand-holding.

A pager went off. Cody jumped, Isaac didn’t. He reached into his pocket, checked the screen, then frowned, visibly.

“Archer’s out again.” He sighed and stood. “I’d better take care of that before we have to amnesticize any interns. Don’t take that as a suggestion, Corby. And don’t bend, break, or otherwise alter my location or personnel. Codes–”

"I’m on figuring-out-who-didn’t-seal-it-behind-them duty. I got it." He finally untangled his hand from Pepper’s, and if Isaac hadn’t known him for almost a decade, maybe he wouldn’t have seen the warmth in his eyes as he looked at Dr. Krasniqi. "Duty calls. Friday. I won’t forget."

And the two of them were up and off with the kind of efficiency that only location managers who wanted minimum paperwork could manage. There was muttered conversation in their wake, although not all of it could’ve been about 6842, because the word “Friday” carried back before the managers disappeared down the hall.
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