Quality Family Time
rating: +36+x

There was no chance of her missing him, despite how he was dressed.

When she was sent out on this assignment, she almost, almost, considered stopping by with Uncle Jack to see if she could get odds on whether this was a Foundation mission or a Family mission. She was betting on Family mission, because of how they kept cropping up.

A message from an Uncle here, a letter from an Aunt there, and somehow, she was working missions, for both sides of the splintered tree. When she questioned it, she had been informed, rather gruffly, that the Hand Sinister served where it could, to help keep things civil.

Still. She hadn’t (quite) expected to be working with this one when she got the mission. It just had the feel of a Family job. Go to a college campus during a ‘free speech’ rally. Free speech, yeah right. It was just an excuse for rich white boys to say racist words, and cosplay as Nazis to satisfy their fetishes.

She plopped down on the bench beside him, her eyes still on the crowd. The man beside her didn’t react, his white trilby tugged down over his eyes, giving every impression of a shitlord at rest, from the crisp, white polo shirt, to the white pants ironed so perfectly the creases looked like they could draw blood. The only thing out of place, was the shoes, and there-

“Really? Blue suede shoes?” She couldn’t help but ask, snorting a little bit.

“Hmm?” He doesn’t look up, but she knows she has his full attention. “I’m sorry, do we know each other?” There is a smirk on his face, knowing, and obnoxious. So, he wants to play it by the book, huh? Fine, she can do that.

“I’ve heard security is your business. “ She said with a sigh.

“I wouldn’t say that.” He said. “I find that containing problems works better in the long run.” His head lifted, that smug grin echoed in the twinkle of his eyes.

“Well…” She drawled it out, seeking the proper response. “Protecting your sources keeps them alive.”

He sneered a little at that, and shook his head. “It’s the foundation of a good relationship.”

“Agent Yoric.” She said with a nod.

“Shhhhhh!” His head whips back and forth, seeing if anyone heard her. “Do you know how many people are paying attention to us?”

It’s a test. She knows it’s a test. Even with the rally getting louder, she doesn’t have to look away from him to answer. She’d already seen what he had prepared. “Sure. You have two bodyguards, one pretending to have a smoke by the tree over there-“ Pointing with her eyes, not being so rude as to actually draw attention to them. “And the other laying down on the grass behind us. There’s a man on the roof of the library who is pretending to film, but I recognize a Foundation issued recorder when I see one. And a student leaning out the window keeps looking our way, but I think it’s more because you look like a giant prat.” Yoric opened his mouth to say something smug, point out the one she missed, but she doesn’t let him. “And two benches down, there’s a Foundation researcher trying desperately not to look like he knows what’s going on.”

Yoric’s eyes narrow at her, not sparing a glance for the now flushing researcher. “Hmm. I thought I had him rather well disguised. How’d you spot him?”

“Well, two things, really. One, his badge is hanging out his pocket.” The tomato red researcher hurriedly tucked his badge back away. “And two, I’ve had lunch with him a couple of times at the site cafeteria. Hi Conwell.” Dr. Conwell muttered a hello, wilting as Yoric turns to glare daggers. The embarrassed researcher slunks away, his part in this clearly over.

“So, why here?” She asked, a gesture encompassing the marchers, the protesters, and, in general, everything.

“You should be able to tell me that.” He said, with a merry, give-them-hell grin. “After all, you are the dreadest of the dread, the most dangerous woman alive, the very Hand Sinister of the Foundation itself. Aren’t you supposed to have some kind of super power about this kind of thing?”

One hand slipped inside the pocket of her jacket, the hole cut inside allowing her access to the handle of her gun. There was something reassuring about the smooth white handle, the way it stayed warm, the way she could almost feel a heartbeat within it. “Knowledgeable, but not all knowing. Is this Hand business?”

His eyes flicked to her hand, then back to her face, a brief movement. You’d have to be very observant to notice it, or to notice the slight paling of his face as well. He held up a hand, his smile etched on his features. “A little bit. We’re all doing our own part to help teach you. I suppose you’ve been running errands for the Brothers?”

She snorted, as she leaned back, allowing herself to relax a little. Her hand slipped from her pocket, and she saw her counterpart relax as well. “I don’t think you have the security clearance for that.”

“Oh no?” He slipped a small white card from his pocket, one with a symbol well known to those in the know. “This says I’m a Level 5.”

She glanced at the card, then rolled her eyes. “It also says your name is Sophia Light. I’d suggest you get that back to her before she notices it's missing, but I’m sure you already have something clever set up to keep her from noticing.”

“Yes… Clever…” He shrugged.

“Ma’am… That’s just the joker from a deck of playing cards with your name written on it…”

Light leveled her best glare at the guard. “Are you saying it is NOT my ID card?”

The guard weighed his options, then straightened up and saluted. “No ma’am, go on in.”

“I’m going to kill that twerp one of these days.” She muttered under her breath as she stalked past. “I’ve got a new strain of campylobacter I’ve been working on, make him shit himself to dea-“ The door to her office slammed shut, and the guard let out a breath of relief.

“Anyways.” He continued. "Tell me what you’ve been doing. And then I’ll cover the spots everyone else has missed.”

“Right.” She snorted. Then sighed. It might do her some good to go over it all.

“Well, there’s the wetwork, of course. That mostly seems to come from M- Ah. Cowboy?“

“Either of them will do.” He confided in her gruffly, as he tucked a large cigar in the corner of his mouth. “In general. If it’s an official function of some sort, you call me Six. If you need to refer to me out in the real world to an agent, use Cowboy. Family function? Feel free to use Mikell.”

She nodded, tucking the information away for later use. “Thank you Sir.” His eyes raised to hers as he lit his cigar, and she corrected herself. “Sorry, Mikell.” He nodded, and continued, still feeling a little ill at ease. There was something about him that made her want to conform to military rules, standing at parade rest to report, while he lounged behind his desk.

“So.” He leaned forward, puffing like a dragon. “How’d it go, Agent?”

“It… went sir.” She drew herself up, hands clasped behind her back. Her left hand unconsciously opened and closed, seeking the comfort of her guns, but even if she was allowed to keep them on her, she felt reaching for them would go a little too far.

“Come on girl, that’s no report. Tell me what happened!” He said.

“Of course sir. As requested, I infiltrated the little gathering you informed me about. They seemed to think I was the perfect sacrifice. You were right, they had found a variation of the Semenich Manuscript.” She refrained from smiling, although part of her wanted to. What she had seen at this little ceremony left her no doubt the kind of things these people did. “When the portal opened and it saw the remains of its new followers, it withdrew peacefully.” She hadn’t gotten a good look at exactly WHAT was coming through, but she got the impression of tongues. Lots of tongues. And, of all things, a fedora, which it tipped to her as it left.

“Good, good.” He rubbed his hands together, and winked at her. “One of the duties of your new position is heading off problems BEFORE they become a problem. As long as you left a mess, people in the know will understand, and hold off on what they may be planning. You did a good job, for what it’s worth.”

Yes, she thought. A good job, but what was it worth?

“Well, he IS the big boss, technically speaking.” Yoric, in a movement that spoke of great boredom, pulled a deck of cards from his pockets, and began rifling them, mixing them up. “I’m sure you get a lot of orders from him. Official orders, anyways.” He makes a face as he one hand cuts the deck. “When they started me out doing shadow work, I reported directly to Adam. He’s a humorless git. Have you met the old man, yet?”

She hesitated before speaking. “I have, once.”

Yoric almost missed a shuffle, but quickly recovered. “Really? I’d have thought he wouldn’t want anything to do with you. He was quite adamant about quitting.”

“It was an accident.”

He had not looked like one of the founders of the most powerful institution in the world. He had just looked like a tired old man. She had almost bumped into him at the bookstore, but she was pretty sure he had planned it that way.

“Ah, the Hand.” He had said, as if that explained all. He looked her up and down, and then nodded. “They’re going to have you kill me, eventually.” He remarked, as if he was commenting on the weather.

“I know.” She replied. And they had gone their separate ways, one more relaxed by the encounter than the other.

“What about Grandpa Jack?” Yoric cut the deck one handed, then shifted it to his left hand and repeated the process. She looked away from him to scan the crowd, her gaze falling on a skinny guy wearing a pair of realistic looking fox ears. She snorted, and shook her head.

“We’ve, ah… We’ve had some talks.” She said, running a hand through her short cropped hair.

Her cousin gave her a sympathetic look. “How much alcohol was involved?”

It was a LOT of alcohol. She honestly couldn’t remember the last time she had seen this much booze in one place. She had honestly not expected her uncle to have a liquor cellar under his office, but, on second thought realized it fit his image. A long room, lined with shelves, and on every shelf, neatly labeled was a different kind of booze. Nearer the front of the room, it was modern stuff, Crown Royal, Apple Pucker, some trendy new whiskey in what looked like a gas can. The further in one went, the older the bottle got, some labels yellowing and peeling, the stuff at the far end of the room unlabeled.

Jack stood between a quartet of comfy looking chair, gesticulating at the blackboard as he tried to explain the family roots. He had scoffed at her request for a nice red wine, and instead offered her a glass of mead from a bottle etched with the family name. “If you’re going to drink, drink!” He had said, matching actions to words, and pouring himself a glass of something bright blue that smelled strongly of apples. He used a stone cup, because “It thinks metal is a snack.” Between them sat a casserole, with a small positive note from a 'Jeff Bright.'

“All right, so, here is where it gets funky.” He said, pointing at the bottom of the tree. As if the loops of the tree weren’t bad enough. “Mikell’s daughter, David’s sister, gave birth to Alice, right? BUT her husband at the time later became a man we know as…” And he draws a line back up to a name connected to his own mother. “That’s right, Dr. Prometheus. Well. The original one, anyways. “ He takes a sip from his cup, making a pleased noise deep in his throat. “Right, any questions on that?”

“David’s sister…” She frowns. “What’s her name.”

Jack, in the body of an 18 year old serial killer, has the grace to look embarrassed. “No one knows.” He holds up her hand to forestall questions. “Prometheus did something, when he became Prometheus, that wiped her name not just from our records, but from our memories as well. We think he might have made a deal with Nobody.” Jack nods respectfully to an empty corner. There’s probably no one there, but just in case Nobody is there, it doesn’t hurt to be polite.

Serra nodded, and that was all it took for Jack to continue. “All right, so Alice gets assigned to explore Site 67, and makes a deal for her life with an entity within, offering up her first born child, who ends up being…” and he drew a line from the bottom all the way back up to the top. “Joseph Tamlin, Joey T, Joshua bin Joseph, the incarnation of time, and the founder of our family line, over 2000 years ago.”

She stared into the bottom of her glass, then held it out to her uncle. “I think I need something stronger.”

“I find it helps if you take a handful of aspirin before you start.” Yoric said, actual sympathy in his voice. He cut the deck three times in rapid succession, then held up the top card, a joker. “Huh. I thought I got rid of those.” He shrugs. "At least any missions for your dad would be simple, right?”

“Honestly, that was just rough, emotionally.”

They had spent the day together drawing. TJ babbled, stuff about what he was drawing, random words strung together, and, occasionally, when his eyes took on that knowing glint, stuff about her mother. It was never much, and it was spread out, but with the things the others had told her, it built a picture she did not like.

The worst part had been the end of the day. Her father has asked to watch a movie with her, and she, not being up on current films, chose what looked like a beautiful animated romp.

The end of Coco had them both crying, and making promises to never forget the other. It had been more emotion than she had been used to dealing with, but her dad finally calmed down and went to sleep. She had a drawing in her wallet that said ‘Best Daughter Ever’ and by god, she would slaughter anyone who tried to take it from her.

She found her eyes drawn back to the furry with a frown. There was something familiar about that one. Something she couldn’t put her eyes on. She snatched Yorics deck of cards from him, and began riffling it herself. Standard agent double speak dripped from her lips. “Mister Jones. I do believe we are in unfriendly circumstances.” She shuffled, and dealt him a hand from the bottom of the deck, each card sideways and pointing.

Yoric stiffened, and then, in some odd way, relaxed. His body seemed at ease, but she could see the bare brief tension in his limps, ready to jump. “Why, Mrs. Smith, you may be right. I honestly hadn’t noticed.” He licked his lips, scanning the crowd to see what she had seen. “Someone from the other side of the tracks?”

“Yeh, and not the family side either.” She paused. “Or at least no one David told me about.”

“Ah, the other family historian. How’s Mister Cupcake?”

“Get DOWN Cupcake!” Serra pressed the large, scaly/furry head away from her. Her cousins seeing eye… pet was a little too enthusiastic for her tastes, and far too friendly. Twin tongues licked out of the things snout, slobbering over Serras hands.

“Mister Cupcake! Hey girl, you want a treat?” David held up a bone that looked like it might have been from an elephant… though, knowing him, it was probably some kind of cryptid. Slender thigh, anyone? His beast turned with a happy growling noise, and David hefted the leg as far as he could throw it. The great big thing went happily charging after it, thankfully leaving Serra alone. “Sorry about that. She really likes you.”

“The feeling is sometimes mutual.” Serra stared after the monster, and shook her head as she heard the loud crunching sounds of it enjoying its repast. “Anyways, you were saying?”

David turned back to the projector display with a sly grin. “All right, so, this is the tree you’ve seen, the official tree, so to speak.” The light showed a tree almost identical to the one she had seen in Jack’s basement. “And this!” His hands rifling through a stack by the corners, plucking out one that had the right assortment of raised dots on it, and dropping it smoothly on top of the other one. It stops being a tree, and becomes much bushier. “Is what we have when we add the Bright Bastards to the mix.

Serra stepped closer, studying the view. “Huh. There’s… There’s a LOT of Bastards, aren’t there? Wait.” She pauses, looking closer, and tracing. "Wondertainment?" She says, increduously.

"Ah, yeh. From a branch that split off before the Brights as we know it. Don't tell Jack, it might blow his mind." David replied with a grin. “And of course, Bastards breed more Bastards, and sometimes mingle back into the main family line-“ He gestures at a couple of odd little snarls, and tangles in the family hedgerow. “Which just confuses everyone. Any questions?”

Serra braced herself as she saw Mister Cupcake approaching at a gallop. “Lots. But, just one important one.”

David intercepted his wild animal, and sat her down in front of him, rubbing her happily behind her neck frills. “Hit me with it.”

“What was my mothers name?”

“He’s very… informative. Gets a person talking without making them realize what they’re saying.” Serra had taken back the hand she dealt, and was now laying out a solitaire, trying to figure out what about this boy bothered her so much.

“He does my job, for the other side.” Yoric mentioned, as he slipped on a pair of black shades. If they can’t see your eyes, they don’t know you’re staring at him. His head made incremental twitches from side to side, scanning.

She glanced up, frowning. “You reach out to family?”

“Naw, naw.” He slashed his hand out in negation. “I mean the shadow work. Stuff people aren’t supposed to see. Doing one thing, that actual means something else. I often run into him at similar bribe drop off, and the like.” He shrugged. “Mrs. Smith, I think you’re mistaken here.”

Her eyes scan the crowd again, focusing on a purple haired girl, whose scale make up looks a little too good. She glance points at the suspect, and arches an eyebrow. "Her?"

Yoric turns to look, than laughs. "Naw, that's River, she's family."

"Ahh… not our side, I'd think?" Serra said.

"No, no, she's an artist."

"Ahhhhh." Knowingly. "Is she cool?"

"Not yet. I think you got a false positive, Mrs. Smith."

“Mr. Jones, I’m sure I know what I’m doing.” And then she slipped back into normal talk. “Reminds of the grand dame.”

“Old Echidna herself? You worked with her?” Yoric shivered, and snatched back his deck of cards. “Brr, she’s a scary one.”

“Reminds me of Mikell, actually.”

“So you see, it’s all a matter of respect. We respect you, and send you little gifts that make your world more interesting. You respect us and don’t murder my babies.” Evelyn paused, and something moved under her voluminous robes. “Well. Unless I need you to.”

Serra sighed and crossed her arms. “I’m sorry. There’s a lot of things I’ll overlook. That wasn’t one of them.”

“Oh, of course darling, of course! Besides, the Jack of Hearts had run his course! I have several designs for a new one, you know, less goat, more horse, maybe. Girls love horses, don’t they?” She paused as her head scarf shifted, and her hands both full, and a third arm stretches from somewhere inside her out fit to readjust it.

“Why make them at all?” Serra asked, trying to avoid staring at the various lumps that shifted under the other womans clothes.

“Well, to be perfectly honest, it’s all Wondertainments fault.” She set down the beakers in her hands, and turned to a nearby machine, shifting levers up and down with the ease of long practice. “Lovely woman, all of them have been, but when she started making those Little Misters? My poor little Theus was distraught! After all, he was first on the scene with the unusual items selling, and here was Wondertainment, showing him up with those… collectibles.” Her lips pursed in distaste. “Awful little things. The genetic sequencing is atrocious. Do you know, she used the junk DNA of one of them to include the lyrics to a Rick Astley song? I bet she laughed herself to the bank over that one.” She shrugged her shoulders, then shrugged a separate set of shoulders. “What else could I do but build my love a better version, his own Stacked Deck.”

The agent shifted from foot to foot, not necessarily nervous, but prepared to run, if need be. “What is it with you and card themes, anyway?”

“Honestly, it’s just an easy way to keep track of what I’m doing. I separate them by suit, of course, Hearts have a prey animal base, Clubs have a predator, Diamonds are insect of some kind, yes, I know, spiders aren’t insects, but I’m allowed to classify them as I like, and of course, my dear spades, are fishes and the like.” She flicked a hand as if it didn’t matter. “You know, slimy things.”

Serra slipped her hands into her coat pocket, thinking that over. “And each number, or face, has a different goal?”

“Of course!” Clapping three hands together in glee. “You know, I presume, my little Jacks are breeders, Brights by any other name, am I right?” She chortled and nudged her grand daughter in a friendly fashion. “You should probably get started on that by the way, I hate to see my DNA go to waste…”

“And the other numbers?” Serra tried to hurry on, wanting to avoid that question.

“Well, the Queens are the caregivers, healer types. Many different ways to heal, of course. Nines are military men, and women, of course, equal opportunity, good little soldiers, fighting for what is right, and the two’s, my dear little Deuces-“

Serra snapped out of her flashback, eyes a glow. “Deuces are shit stirrers!”

Cards flew everywhere, as Yoric was startled in the middle of attempting to get the cards to flutter between his hands. “Say what?”

“The Fox.” Not looking his way, but marking his location. She stands, and begins moving towards her new target. “It’s a Deuce, one of Grandmas kids. I can bag it, but I need you to cause a distraction.”

“Heh. Distractions are what I’m best at. I'll be super subtle.” He gestures at his bodyguards, who, with a roll of their eyes, spread out to keep an eye on him. Despite being dressed to stand out, he seemed to blend into the crowd as he approached, just another face.

She moved slowly into position, trying to track Yorics movements, what he was doing. She could see both sides begin to agitate. Whispered words, shouts and chants growing more toward the violence, until both sides were literally yelling at each other… until a white clad arm popped out from behind the head counter protestor and SLAMMED into the face of a man with a swastika armband.

After that, it was chaos.

“Subtle?” Serra asked, several hours later, as they both sat in the back of a skip retrieval van. The foxy boy was bound in another van, heading for assimilation.

Yoric shrugged. "That was subtle, for this family. You can tell, because I didn't shoot anyone in the head.” He said pointedly. His formerly pristine white suit was covered in blood, only some of it his own.

“Heh. But I did figure out why you wanted to meet me there.” She said, leaning her head back against the wall of the van.

“Yeh?” Arching an eyebrow at her. “Why’s that?”

“You just wanted an excuse to punch a skinhead.”

"Heh." The back of his head thumped against the wall of the van, and he smiled. "Yeh."

She blinked, looking back at him. "Wait, really?"

"Yah man, fuck Nazis."

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