2007-07-27: DF: Imagine Today


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Summary: Strawberry Fields in Central Park may not be what it was - but what happens when two sides meet… uncomfortably.. over John's dream?

Dark Future Date: July 27th, 2009

Imagine Today

Central Park - Strawberry Fields

Central park is brown, now - spreading oaks protected by the simple virtue of the cover they offer; the former verdant green of strawberry fields is replaced by a swath of weeds and clover. The stone graven with "IMAGINE" still rests, visited by no one but the true dreamers, in these days.

But the wildness of Central Park works to advantage in darker times - the Hummvees of HOmeland Security find its depths tough going, and its proximity to other shelters make it one of the tangles that shows up red on every law enforcement map of the place. It's Brer Rabbit's briar patch - and it shows in the small groups that hide there when the sun's high.

Ali is a dreamer. So it is that she's standing there, in front of that stone, crouched to try to pull weeds away from it. An impractical gesture, at best - but it seems to mean something to her. It leaves her open to the sky, for now - but that seems a secondary concern.

To be sure, Homeland Security is still working somewhere in town. Somewhere with better roads. But it happens to be George's day off, and so he's out walking alone, retracing familiar paths. (Nor are there any suspicious planes or helicopters in the immediate vicinity.) His attention is on the crowds, not having spotted anyone in particular that he recognizes yet.

The one crowd that's here is a group of refu's near the large boulders on the west side of the green; there's a handmade ball, two youngsters tossing it back and forth under the watchful eyes of parents. A makeshift market is the focus, however - two or three battered stalls run by those with something to sell, if you don't ask what it is too closely. An attempt at a normal life - or as much of one as can be.

Ali tears out another handful of dandilions, yanking a crawling vine down from the rock. For anyone looking closely? Those are not tears. Even now, no. Jersey girls don't cry. that moisture's just pure coincidence.

Foregoing the hot dog cart - which was questionable in its output even before everything went to hell - George diverts to the right, pausing as the ball threatens to roll out of bounds, only to be retrieved by a scrawny redhead and tossed back. Eventually, he finds himself approaching the stone from the other side, craning his head to see past it. "Now that there," he murmurs, "that brings back memories." In a proper world, there'd be some passion in his tone.

.. in a proper world, Ali wouldn't freeze, like a rabbit feeling the breath of a wolf above. When there's no bullet following that statement, she reaches up slowly to wipe at her eyes. Pesky moisture. Only then does she look up - pale and underfed and tired. Searchingly. And there's a long pause before that oh-so-distinctive voice asks, quietly, "Did I ever thank you for that day? I don't remember."

George purses his lips, thinking back. "I think you did. But it was Erin who really took care of you." Yes, he remembers— in large part because there was so little to be remembered in the first place.

"I've been catching the show, off and on, but… how are you?" he asks. "I mean, besides the obvious."

Slowly, she relaxes. Perhaps that's a bad thing, in this situation - letting your guard down - but.. still, no bullets. That's something. She reaches again for clinging vines, "I've been better. I've been worse. You've heard it, huh? Not what it used to be - but, hey. What is, right?"

George shakes his head. "I should know, too," he adds, fishing out some car keys and lending a hand with the cutting. "If someone had told me a few years ago the path I'd end up following…" He shakes his head, lapsing into silence.

Ali flashes a smile. "Nobody ended up where they thought. Christ - I haven't seen you in.. a while." She works with a will, "I would have figured you for the kind of guy that would have ended up somewhere classier. I dunno. Baltimore. Paris. Probably with a supermodel on each arm." .. teasing? Yes - there's a gentle sort of humor in that.

George shakes his head. "I wouldn't dare— Aileen would cut off both my arms. For starters." His attention to the stone is secondary, attacking a few thinner strands here and there. "Actually, I've mostly been in Washington this past year. Baltimore a couple of times, Philly once."

"Yeah? I always wanted to go to DC." Ali does sound wistful. "Smithsonian. Washington monument. Be a tourist. You know - I've only really ever been here, and Jersey? Newark." She stops, resting a hand on the stone. "How's she doing?"

"You should, some time." The metal teeth catch against a stubborn patch; he leaves off, dropping them back into his pocket. "She's doing all right. Busy, of course— research project. Could make her famous."

"I.. sorta don't .." Ali shrugs, a bit, offering up a lopsided smile.. settling back to sit on her heels. "Send me a postcard sometime?" Unspoken is the obvious - that her in DC alive.. isn't precisely likely. "I can't really go right now, ya know? Responsibilities and all." Odd, how she looks him over, "You look good, George. I'm glad - you deserved it, you know?"

George blinks once. "What do you mean? I mean, you barely know me." Much more true now than it was back then. "Good to see you're doing all right, though."

"I remember you, though." Ali selfconscously runs a hand through mildly dirty hair. "I mean." Oh, my. Is she actually embarrassed? Mildly, if the flush is any indication. "Oh, don't worry about it." She holds up a hand. "Help me up?" Not that she's not already starting to stand. "Where are you staying?"

George remembers some old feelings, too. He doesn't feel them any more, though, and it shows; the assist is given absently. "Hole in the wall in Greenwich, few blocks from my old place. Probably head back in a few days." Exactly one, as it will turn out.

"Yeah?" Ali - once steady on her feet - turns back to retrieve the small shoulder bag tossed nearby. "Then definitely a postcard. Dunno where to tell you to send it, but I've got a couple of days to think of something. How come you're in the Apple anyway?" It's curious, simple conversation.

Working," he semi-explains, "or will be starting tomorrow. Need to meet with a few people— they're a bit tied up to come down, and there's only one of me so I ended up coming up."

"Fair enough - but working in this town? Didn't figure you were in for construction projects or something." Ali pauses - starts to say something, stops. Goes, instead, for - "You're being careful, right? It's really not that safe out there - between the refus and the Homeland guys.. out of towners, well. Kinda rough."

George nods. "Understatement there. But…" Admit that the people he's come to see are the Homeland guys? Hmm. Might be awkward. "Don't worry about me, I'll be all right." That much is probably true, at least; the refus around here won't particularly recognize him, either.

"thanks." Odd, that - "One less to worry about is a good thing." Ali starts for the hot dog vendor - "Treat you to dinner?"

"I had something earlier," he instinctively lies. Dark Future hot dogs are unspeakable. "Rain check, when things clear up a little?"

"Sure. If I'm still alive, I'll buy ya a hot dog anytime." Ali grins at him - it's just a friendly statement of fact. "Don't ever do a burger, though. Trust me. You don't want to know." A few wrinkled ones are waved at the fellow in his very awful paper hat - not that it helps - and she's got a somewhat terrifying dog-on-a-not-too-stale-bun that she plies with mustard. "Not even in the storefront places. If it's under thirty bucks? It ain't cow."

George winces. "I saw that movie, too. 'Esta carne es de rata.'" Movie quotes are an important source of refuge for those whose plight is merely difficult and not (yet) horrific. He mouths a curt (but more or less polite) no-thanks at the vendor, walking alongside with hands in pockets.

Ali eats - with the big bites and then slow chews of someone who likely isn't eating enough, at the moment. "I loved that movie." Or she says, once she swallows that first bite. "Stallone and Snipes. I think pop wore that DVD out. But .. all I'm going to say? I haven't seen many dogs around lately. And the idea of eating Benji creeps me out." She actually elbows him, remembering, "Hey! You're in and out of the city, right? Think you could do me a favor?"

Off in the distance, an old Korean refugee shoots the DJ a dirty look, but doesn't bother pursuing the matter further. "What've you got in mind?" replies George, keeping his tone non-committal.

"Well - I got a friend who just had a kid, you know? Cutest thing you've ever seen, too. If I gave you some cash, do you think you could snag a couple little kid's books for me? You know - really bright, with big pictures - maybe some blocks or something? Something… I dunno. Baby." Ali flashes him a grin. "I'd owe you. Big.""

George turns and nods. "I should be able to do that." With a sigh, he looks around and shakes his head. "Few people really thought about what a balancing act everything was, until it got knocked off center. When something as simple as children's books go scarce…"

"Yeah, well.. I voted for Petrelli." That's.. sour. She wolfs down another bite of questionable hot dog before fishing in the pockets of those BDUs - "You can blame me if it makes you feel better. And.. this is the Apple. Everything's scarce. There's almost nobody legal here, anymore - nobody cares. What's the point of running in trucks when things are this bad? Starve 'em out. Let 'em die off - then you go in and pick up the pieces."

Ali fishes out and offers a pair of battered 20's. "I'm surprised nobody's offered the 'Escape from New York' plan."

George reaches cautiously for the bills, slipping them in next to the keys. Definitely not a good idea to mention who his boss is, then. "Actually. Picking up the pieces? There are still people working on it. We're lucky, we might even get to see it."

"I won't." Ali shrugs, there. "I'm going to die here. I keep hoping people will wake up - maybe we'll even win. But we won't, and I'm too stupid to run. Who knows, though, right? Just… feel like we're running out of pieces to pick up." She glances up at George. "Sorry. I know. I'm depressing."

George shakes his head. "You don't really believe that. And I make it a point never to rule out long shots… the world got shaken up once, it could happen twice." A tight little grin, almost recapturing the friendship that never quite got its proper start. Then he peers at his watch, and sighs. "Gotta run. Be seeing you." One last wave before he returns to his original path, merging back into the wandering crowds.

"… be safe!" Ali calls that after him, somehow heartfelt - and worried. But.. there is only so much one can worry, and only so much one can do. And .. right now? There's a hot dog to finish up - and there's always work. At least, however, tears are forgotten.

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