Mail arrival was the one time when it was reasonably certain everyone would be distracted. It wasn't really 'mail,' exactly – a few had been allowed contact with relatives, but mostly, it was about the things they missed from their lives above. Bags of candy, DVDs, the right kind of beer, the right brand of toothpaste. The only things that were contraband were those that would draw too much attention, but still, non-necessities were scare enough that when the "shipments" (or really, a few stuffed plastic bags) turned up, everyone's interest was piqued.
Except for those who didn't have to stay below.
Noah Bennet watches the excitement from the side of the room, as the residents crowd around in the center. It's a bright space, white floors and ceiling tiles and long tube fluorescent lights, and it usually functions as a cross between a meeting space and mess hall. The tables and chairs are pushed to the side (since a telekinetic showed up, that's become easier), and Bennet leans against a table, arms folded and eyes partially hidden by the glint over his glasses.
A few minutes into it, one of the residents breaks apart from the others, and walks toward him. It's Sakamoto, holding a long plastic bag in her left hand. She sets it down when she reaches a fold-out chair near Bennet's table, and it clinks slightly against the floor tiles. Without speaking, she smooths down her skirt, and slips into the seat, her eyes turning to the remaining residents, who are cheerfully trading and comparing items.
"Did you get what you wanted?" Bennet asks, without looking at her. She glances once at him, then away again.
"I wanted to ask you frankly about something."
"Does everything you do have to be under so many layers of manipulative shit?"
His eyebrows raise, but he still doesn't look back to her.
"Do you have a problem with me, Cynthia?"
"I know what you did," she answers, her voice even. "And you've put all of us in the hands of a comic book geek and the craziest bitch in the Company."
(Both of them are about fifteen feet away: Elle is sitting on the floor a short distance from the crowd, turning a dial combination padlock over in her hands. Hiro is talking to Bernard, over a cardboard box containing various reading materials, including a few comic books.)
"I was agreeing with you."
"You were setting them up." She's managed to not quite let her frustration at his evasion show. "You might as well have a couple fired cupid arrows at them."
Bennet finally does look sideways at her, meeting her eyes.
"And why would I do that."
The answer is obvious, and Sakamoto doesn't bother with any evasion.
"Because you want us to step up, so your daughter doesn't have to."
He sighs, looking back to the group. An older man has walked over to Elle, and she offers him the padlock. Bennet only knows he worked as some sort of security specialist before being pulled out of his home in Monrovia. He watches them talk, presumably about the padlock, as he tries to draw together some sort of answer. But there really is none. He'd long since shown his cards when it came to his motivations.
So, he chooses the only other option.
"This is unsustainable, Cynthia. You said that. That day is coming, one way or another."
There's another quiet clink, as Sakamoto lifts her sack again, and the tap of her shoes against the floor as she straightens, and then walks along in front of him, blocking his sight of the collected group. He meets her eyes again, and they both listen to the others for a moment before she speaks.
"Don't think your motives make you different, Noah," she tells him at last. "You never really left us."
Despite that he'd been called in to consult on one particular patient, it seemed that Mohinder's notoriety had spread through the place like wildfire; the moment he stepped onto the concrete floor, he was approached by residents with questions for 'the doctor.' There were already other scientists and actual medical doctors below, but with the Company and its personnel dead or dispersed, he'd suddenly become the leading scientific expert on what had been dubbed the "R+" abnormality. And the closest many could come to being able to ask a doctor what was 'wrong' with them.
For his research, it was ideal. But after meeting with strangers one after the other, and feeling like what he had to offer them was so much less than what they gave to him, it was also exhausting.
It's about how he's feeling as he's waiting for what's supposed to be his last meeting of the visit. Mohinder has taken a seat in an unfolded plastic chair against the wall, leaning forward with his head in his hands, though his shoulders are tensed to spring back into a straighter, more professional stance the moment he hears anything that sounds like footsteps approaching. No matter how he's feeling, he doesn't want to push these people away from one of the few sources of help they may have.
What he isn't anticipating is that, without the accompanying noise of sliding doors or footsteps on the concrete halls –
Mohinder starts, file folders spilling out of his lap and onto the concrete floor as he looks up to see Hiro standing over him. He's dressed in black, a sword strapped to his back, his stature imposing for a moment, until he kneels down to help collect the files.
"Sorry, doctor, I didn't mean to startle you."
Mohinder shakes his head, stacking the folders, carefully trying to slip any spilled papers back into them.
"I'll actually be your ride back," Hiro says, with a small grin. "But they need to check you out upstairs first, so they asked me to come down to get you."
"Oh, right." Mohinder accepts the folders Hiro hands him, and then stands again, moving awkwardly to the other's side for a moment before Hiro, watching him, gestures down the hall.
"We can just go the normal way."
"Oh, um, right."
Hiro leads the way back to the stairwell, under rows of alternating fluorescent tube lights. They pass through two hallways, approaching the stairwell at the end, before either speaks.
"How long have you been here, doctor?" Mohinder glances over to him, and Hiro shrugs, looking to the mural of marigolds that had been "painted" along the lights in the ceiling above them. "I've been out for the most of the week, and they didn't tell me much before sending me down here."
"Well, only since Tuesday." He checked his watch, more out of instinct than need. "I can only be gone so long without being asked about it. I'm supposed to be in Geneva this evening."
"Right." Hiro pushes open the door to the stairwell, waiting for Mohinder to step through first. "You're busy up there, too."
"Yes, I..." He's unsure what to say about it, taking the first few stairs in silence before – "Actually, do you mind if I ask you something?"
Hiro nods up to him. Mohinder spends a few more steps mulling over how to ask it, but then speaks bluntly.
"What's going on down here?"
When Hiro doesn't answer, he continues, "Everyone's – I'm sure they're more on edge than I've ever seen them. People stop speaking when I enter a room, or look to each other when they think I'm not paying attention and everyone's..."
There's another pause, but he finishes it. "Just, since I've been coming here, it seems like this place has changed from refuge to some kind of – training facility."
He's careful not to use the word 'Company.'
"You're right," Hiro answers. "There is something."
Mohinder stops, and turns to look back down at Hiro.
"But you're not going to tell me. What I'm a part of."
Hiro glances away, then back up. "It's just for your safety, doctor."
Mohinder sighs. But given what he's seen down here, he has no real reason to doubt this. He turns back, and continues up the stairwell, the two walking in silence until they reach the final landing.
"I did have a question for you." Mohinder had moved to the door, but stops when Hiro speaks. They can hear voices and footsteps in the hall beyond the door, though nothing that sounds as if someone is approaching.
"Have you – seen my sister, up there?"
Mohinder shakes his head. "Only on television. I think she's supposed to be attending a conference I'll be at in a few months."
Hiro nods again. The doctor looks away, through the narrow window in the door. The lights in the hall just beyond are mostly out, only those are the far end still illuminated, so that while he can hear them talking or walking along the concrete, he can only make out their figures.
"From what I've seen, I don't think you need to worry about her."
After a pause, Hiro slips a small smile, and puts his hand on the doctor's shoulder, as they step out through the doorway.
And everyone in the hall beyond falls silent.
"Rati, she's waiting!"
He can't see her at the end of the hall – power conservation meant that there was only enough light to walk a straight line, with reflector tape flattened on the floors and doors like the aisle of an airplane. But the flashes of blue in the stairwell were enough to tell him she was there, probably messing around with that first gen girl. In one particular bright burst of light against the distant wall, he catches a quick glimpse of their two silhouettes, black lines over blue.
There's a burst of laughter, and the flashes stop, leaving the stairwell in near-total darkness. But Brian hears footsteps jogging down the hall, and Rati finally appears, stepping right into the permitted overhead lamplight, which catches on the streaks of green in her hair.
"Didn't you want this job?" he asks, holding the door open for her as she slips past him. The room was pretty much like every other in this place, concrete surfaces, fluorescent tubes, and in this case metal grates on the walls leading to the ventilation shafts, and two fire extinguishers leaned against the wall.
"Whatever, I'm here." Rati rolls back her shoulders as Brian closes the door, and then catches sight of her subject, a young woman standing against the far wall. She's eyeing the fire extinguishers.
"Hi," Rati calls, waving to the woman. "Nice to meet you."
The woman blinks to her, and then to Brian, who steps behind her. "Did you even read the –"
"-yesss," Rati hisses over him, as she remembers what she did in fact read in the woman's file. That her name was Hafsa, and – "You're here to translate, aren't you?"
Brian, who's tall enough to loom over Rati, takes her shoulder and shoves her slightly forward, calling over her, "Lei chiama Rati. Ha la abilitá di..."
He trails off, looking down to her. "What do you call it?"
"I've been saying chromakinetic," she answers, glancing over her shoulder up to him. "Italian?"
"Well, she can understand Italian, French, or Moroccan Arabic and I can speak... Italian."
"I thought –"
"I understand any language, I don't speak –"
They both turn back to Hafsa, who's pulling at the cuffs of her sleeves and watching them with the sort of uncertainty that Rati would only reluctantly admit to feeling when she first came down here. With a glance back to Brian, she steps away, walking over to the wall. She places her right hand against the concrete, and after making sure that Hafsa is watching, moves her hand across it, leaving a blossoming trail of dark red that spills across the concrete like ink in water. The hue changes from red to orange to yellow to green to blue before she pulls her hand away again.
When she looks back, she sees that Hafsa is smiling.
"Everyone likes that," Rati says, not caring if Brian passes it on. He does, though she's pretty sure he says more than that.
This is confirmed a moment later, when he tells her, "Before we get into it, Hafsa thought of a few questions for you while we were both waiting."
Rati shrugs. "All right."
"Do you trust the people running things down here?"
Rati looks between them, suspecting this question may have come with a few embellishments, but she answers, "I've seen most of them risking themselves for me or people like me, so yeah."
"Loro lei fida," he says shortly to Hafsa. "All right, but don't they seem a little, I don't know – creepy? I mean, doesn't it make you nervous, getting into bed with them? And I don't just mean literally."
"She didn't ask that."
"Yes she did."
"Then tell her I haven't known her long enough to talk about who I get into bed with."
"All right, I asked."
Rati tilts her head back, eyes snapping to the flickering tube bulb in the ceiling. "This is living underground with nothing to do. For months. It happened. And she'll tell all these stories, like how in those old places where they kept the dangerous ones, they could do this thing where they'd lock the cell doors and –"
She stops, looking down and over to Hafsa, and then to Brian. "- and this isn't a great story for someone new to hear, and you're being a terrible translator." Rati points at him, and makes her best guess, "Terribile."
Brian also looks to Hafsa and admits, "Sì, è vero."
"Why do you speak Italian anyway?"
"You're not helping."
"Fine." She straightens, and steps back to the wall. "Tell her we'll do questions later. I want to see what she can do."
Brian nods, and follows Rita's lead, stepping back until he reaches the wall opposite her. "Puoi dimonstrare la tua abilitá?"
Hafsa hesitates, but then nods - "Ouais" In what Rati suspects is a nervous tick, she straightens her scarf over her hair, and just slightly pulls back the cuffs of her sleeves. Then, she raises her right hand, flattening her palm against the air, and a jet of flame bursts up from her skin, filling the room with the a flash of orange light.