Of the five staterooms on the 1st Deck Henry was given the fourth down from the door to the weatherdeck and the stairs. Desks and accents and doors were a dark stained cherry wood, fixtures and switches all the same simple copper finish. The carpet was light and sandy and short fibered yet plush all the same, bathrooms were attached though they were little more than toilet and shower closets with an awkward sink.
Eva was the fifth stateroom from the stairs, the last one, though the stateroom was otherwise no different than the others--save for a slightly larger bathroom for Nicole to shower the funk of the LA Port off and slip into fresh clothes. She never caught Henry emerge, she watched the second helicopter of the evening briefly land. Two women emerged, to her eye’s obvious Kindred just from the surreal ease in which they all but slipped and shrugged out of the helicopter, never once worrying about the blades...a real concern at sea despite the calm state of the waters just outside the Port of Los Angeles waterways. The buoys marking the western edge of the maritime corridor were no more than fifty feet away.
Where Eva sat it was all right in front of her, minus Tina, the bartender tending the yacht’s bar on the 1st Level--the area of the boat arrived at from taking the stairs up, instead of down for the staterooms of the 1st Deck. The 1st Level interior was entirely the bar, and a large lounge with various screens and parallel white sectional sofas, the walls lined with shelves filled with a hodgepodge of books read and shared by small crew and coterie, blue-rays and DVDs, and scripts.
The Captain was no fan of the ship being so close to the wake of larger vessels. They had simply been waiting. As Yanci and Rachel walked around the 1st Level of the exterior to the back of the boat, through the door to the lower level and deck, up the stairs, through the lounge, and into the bar surrounded on most sides by rounded glass. Los Angeles glared in the distance, smoldering with the orange and red glow of fire. Southern California residents knew that particular sky far too well. Tina walked out just before the two arrived.
“Are we sure?”, was how it started. The words were spoken sharply by Yanci, dark eyed and dark featured, her hair in long waves and overflowing her shoulders by a few inches, wearing acid wash jeans near baggy legged and a dark blue wool sweater that stopped at her midriff.
Rachel wore a Prada charcoal pants suit, the pants fitted and finished with a gold plated hollow centered buckle,the blouse black silk and hanging off her shoulders just far enough to hint at curves underneath instead of outright show them; her straight cut bob a dirty blonde and undyed.
The style differences only hinted at deeper differences. And made Eva feel oddly appropriate after a change to black tights with a fine black mesh along the sides shaped like smoke rising up to the thinnest smoke tendril at her knee and a simple white sleeveless shirt simple white Reebok classics on the feet that were resting on the bar. Eva didn’t turn until she shrugged. “As sure as I can be.”
“We’ll be ready if it goes badly,” the tone bordered on cocky as Dre just breezed past the two ladies for a seat at one of the cherrywood tables with matching chairs just off the bar and next to the glass. His clothes were as simple as dark loose jeans, brown boots, and a black teeshirt.
“Which it could. Very badly.” Rachel didn’t look up from the phone, but even she had to admit it.
Mateo was the dandy; purple velvet vest, black dress shirt unbuttoned a few buttons down from the top, dress slacks, calf high boots of polished leather and gold buckles. “We know who they are. We know they don’t know much about Eva.” The exchange of glances between Maty behind the bar and Dre and Yanci, in particular, was fun for Eva. Even if it just kinda meant Maty squirmed for a moment.
Eva had to rescue him. “It could all go very badly. Big gambles are big gambles for a reason. If it works out...we have a chance. If it doesn’t...I don’t see a path.”
“And they may know enough to actually make life suck for a bit,” Matty shrugged, thinking it over, the shrug making his waist length black hair dance for just a second.
“Tell me this isn’t just the next thing, Eve,” Yanci’s gaze wasn’t kind, it wasn’t cold, it was just anxious and darting and scared. “I get the chosen bit, it’s one of our favorite cliches. Those scripts on those shelves are filled with them. We both know how that normally turns out. So what if this goes beyond the pale?”
Eva smiled, if only because what else was left to her? “No clue, Yance. I don’t see a path without their help. So many of them will die if we don’t try. I can’t not try. If you can’t…” Eva’s hands went instantly up near her shoulders, palms out, innocence proclaimed by gesture. “Not to say you’d ever bail. But--”
“--yeah, I get it. I just don’t think it’s good enough. Dre is always superman, until he’s not and he breaks and our security forces break. It’s happened. We survived on luck during the King riots. LUCK. WE WILL NOT GET THAT LUCKY AGAIN. Rachel is afraid we’re the only thing she’ll ever have left in a life she gets to pick, and Matty believes in you. Like I believe in you. But right now I can’t tell if this is really the crazy gambit we want to make or if you’re just being Eva, the first of the Hollywood divas.”
The cocktail table Dre sat at almost did not survive the thunderclap slam his palm struck upon it’s surface as his temper snapped. “WE SURVIVED. Sometimes that’s a matter of luck. That’s the way it works, girl. I’m sorry, but this ain’t helping shit. You been pissed off for months. Life’s never going back to the way it was. That’s not always such a bad thing.”
“The end of the world doesn’t sound fun,” Matty’s voice was a gentle and measured thing after silence hung in the air for long moments, tipping off the curious and problem solving mind behind it, “You’re right, Yanci. I believe she’s right. I believe she’s picked, and why she was is a question we need to ask and answer. I get why she hides from the greater Kindred society. I know what it feels like to not belong to it. Whatever we can salvage...for us, for them...certainly I’m the newest of us yet I cannot help but feel confident in saying this is who and what this coterie is. Just trying is what we would do. Help. Keep ours as safe and normal as possible in the process. We’ve worked for a while to outfox the Inquisition digitally. I’m confident in our work.”
“There’s no stopping them. I have to try to manage it and take care of them.”
Rachel’s pained amusement made Yanci shake her head, and sit down at the other cocktail table. “Okay.”
For now, Eva thought, it would have to be enough. Henry and Nicole were stirring. “We’ll see what Henry has to say.”
Every pair of eyes in the bar went to Eva. If she could have blushed…”I guess so.”
One habit Grace had acquired was a tendency to judge people by where they liked to discuss business. The fact she was willing to meet with someone who chose the lounge of a yacht showed how far things had diverged from normal circumstances. Julie and the helicopter had returned home, Grace had gotten to the yacht by other means. A quick cost-benefit analysis was what guided that decision, the stakes demanded that someone go to the meeting, but the risks involved meant that exposure should be minimized. Julie’s inexperience wouldn’t add enough value to justify the added risk. Even Grace, with her many layers of precautions, felt uneasy standing in the doorway of the lounge. She wore one of the outfits she always did, selected to be as generic and unmemorable as possible, unbranded and composed entirely of shades of black and grey.
As she scanned the room the roster of Eva’s friends looked different from how Grace remembered them from their first meeting, back a sunset, but the intelligence files she had offered no explanation. The one with the most detailed file was Rachel, but it was almost entirely about her mortal life, from the days when she had been seen as a potential recruit to the cause. Old information, but not without value. It would be easier talking to her than trying to understand the network of social interactions unfolded before her; Eva was the center of everything but to understand all of centuries worth of accumulated details and norms was not practical. Grace only had time for what could be measured, not ill-defined social ties. When there was a pause, she walked near Rachel and said:
“Miss Fields, it is nice to see you again. It’s a shame that our interests don’t allow us to work together more often, if certain events had been different we may have been part of the same organization, in the same cohort even. If we had met twenty years ago I’m sure we’d be discussing Harvard’s infamous Math 55 course and comparing our scores on the Putnam Exam, but I do not know if you are the same person those old files depict. I have other concerns these days, and I believe you do also.”
Rachel could internally debate the likelihood of a 'chosen one', but she had maxed out her allotment of eye rolling for the day already--and if Mateo was to be believed being 'chosen' was unlikely to end well; just look at Caine, the logic went. So when the human magic user walked over and began speaking, Rachel actually smiled at the distraction.
Distraction was welcome, interest piqued was quite another thing when Grace brought up old files. "Old files on me? How flattering." Unlike Eva and Yanci, Rachel's tone was nearly void of the emotions the two Toreadors rode upon the unlife with.
But the line of 'I do not know if you are the same person those old files depict'...actually made the Ventrue laugh. A full, hard, if short lived, bark of laughter before quickly returning to her former composure. "Wow. Um...yeah, I'm mostly the same. Except for not being alive, I suppose, and a taste for blood."
"And fangs," Dre chimed into the chat he wasn't part of, but was overhearing all the same, as he stared a hole into the table at which he was seated.
"Ah, right, and fangs. I'm not that old. Eva tells me about the Anasazi people of early North America, Yanci recalls California before it was ever part of the US. Andre is a former slave and soldier of the Civil War. I'm a child relative to that, and too young to have begun to lose who I am to the 'monster' yet. The older you live as one of us, the further away from the human you were you find yourself. There are very rare exceptions; such as Eva. But me? I'm still me. Just less naive."
Grace was happy that the conversation was smoother than she thought it would be. Although they were close to the same age, neither spent much time with the typical concerns of someone approaching middle age in terms of human years. Grace continued with the formal pattern, if things got slow she could always fall back on the few jokes about Harvard and Stanford she knew.
“After this, if things are more relaxed and any of your friends wish to use some their experiences to correct errors with current historical studies regarding those time periods, they are welcome to contact me. I can nudge the scholarly consensus in the correct direction.”
“As for changes, I’m always wary about how reliable anyone can be when analyzing themselves. Memory is troublesome, it’s not as though people can store them in a Merkle tree so they can guarantee their integrity.” Silently, Grace corrected herself. Most people can’t. “Anyway, if you still have your taste for philosophy, this all reminds me of a famous hypothetical.
Are you familiar with Donald Davidson’s Swampman thought experiment? If you take a human and create an exact replica down to the last particle of matter, is it the same person as the original? If the copy remains and the original dies, is that person still alive? And would that copy, holding all of the memories and personality of the original but having experienced none of their actual life, even know anything was amiss? It’s an interesting idea that crops up in all sorts of places, including the works of a particularly irritating British comic book author and self-styled anarchist wizard who has so far managed to avoid our attempts to eliminate him. I’ve yet to see if any of that makes it into the TV adaptation of Swamp Thing.“
"Ask Yanci. At the moment she's managing Hollywood. I do know she's no fan of Mr. Moore; you can't be in this coterie and avoid comic books. For example if you think Kevin Feige is a mere mortal and not a conduit of greater artistic expressions and media minds...well."
Rachel shrugged, preferring to say no more on that subject lest she violate the privacy of Hollywood's creative circles. Especially the more hidden circles.
"I remember first getting exposed to the idea in Star Trek. Now Eva and Yanci have it popping up in modern classics like Rick & Morty." The word 'classics' had a certain exaggeration when spoken; though Rachel was cautious not to go further.
Yanci was quite fond of the adult oriented cartoon.
"As for after this...I don't know. That was the heated discussion we just let go: how suicidal is this? What if the Inquisition knows more about us than we think? What if they care more about studying Eva than helping her save the world? She wants to walk right into an Inquisition higher-up meeting. Lay the situation out to them. Not unlike what she did with you. I think we're waiting on Henry and Nicole to chime in."
The addition came out of Eva’s mouth, even as her attention appeared as if it stayed on her quiet chat with Mateo at the bar the whole time. "Yes, obviously, yourself included."
The quiet lapping of waves and the gentle roll of the boat from time to time the only other sounds besides the low dull hum of the yacht’s engines.
Scientific literature was the only media Grace consumed for fun. Not that she’d had much fun lately. The best ones were too classified to share anyway. Grace avoided looking at Nicole, not quite apologizing about the ejection ; that was just a way to make sure that the helicopter and her subordinate were secure while allowing their passenger to get to her destination. She said
“Your chance of success rests on how persuasive you can be. I have reason to believe you are quite effective at that, even if I don’t know the specifics of your methods.” Grace’s belief in that was why she always took such precautions when meeting with vampires. Finding out how powerful they could had only increased this drive to be prepared.
“Aside from that, you can try and plan, hedge your efforts to lessen the impact of a failure, but never assume you have a deeper bag of tricks than your adversary. That kind of hubris kills operations. So, what exactly do you want from the Inquisition? Just for them to stay out of your way, or do you see a role for them? I might be able to help but I admit I don’t spend much time thinking about them, they’re kind of like our mentally unstable cousin.”