This is ridiculous. She's got all the boxes unpacked, and okay, her stuff's not exactly organized, but in this glorified closet of an apartment there is seriously not room to lose something. So where...?
She thinks about it a second longer, double-checks under the sink, then 'ports back home. "Mom? Have you seen--?"
Her mother, relaxing in the same armchair as ever, doesn't look up from her book. "Mr. Wuffles is on your bed, dear."
"Thanks!" exclaims Jessica, and pops upstairs to grab the ragged stuffed cat before 'porting back to New York.
He tries not to abuse it, honestly. He doesn't scan for sensitive information; he doesn't share details under a person's real name. But there's one class of thought that's too good not to look for.
There's a chart on a whiteboard in the Report break room, updated at the end of every week. A list of issues runs down the right side, while at the top is a scrawl in red marker: What Guests Think Stephen's Actual Opinions Are About...
His staff gets a good laugh out of quite a few of the trends. Sometimes they tease him about it. Other times the writers and producers use it to guide the show, bringing down the satire harder on an issue that they think guests think he thinks too gently about.
The kicker, of course, is that they're not always right either.
(Sometimes he fantasizes about breaking into one of the facilities where they keep less-than-ethical readers. Whatever else they might say or do to him, at least they'd know him.)
As usual, she leaves her old home on foot. No tickets, no public transportation, no people to identify her at train stations and on crowded roads. They'll report her missing, and eventually (because they know she's old, though they have no idea how old) write her off as dead.
It was harder to line up a couple to adopt her this time. People who believe in phoenixes at all, much less consider them lucky, are getting rarer and rarer. But she did find one, and their letters are in her pocket: one of the few things she didn't leave behind.
She's walking through a cattle ranch in Colorado when she somehow picks up company, in the form of a curly-haired seven-year-old with a sidekick collie. "I live over there," the kid announces, pointing across the fields with the help of a handy stick. "Where do you live? Are you a cattle rustler? You don't look like a cattle rustler. Where are you going? Are you lost? You can come in and see a map if you wanna."
"Hold your horses, kid...."
"I don't have horses. All I have is a dog and some sheeps. My name's Kristen and my dog's name is Teddy and my sheeps' names are Laverne and Shirley. What's your name?"
"Li Hua," she says shortly, recalling a name from a couple of rebirths back. "And calm down, Kristen. I'm going to a very nice place in Oklahoma and I know exactly where it is."
"Are you walking? That's a long walk. Especially for someone really old like you. Are you going to the bus stop? The bus stop's that way, not this way. Are you from Vietnam? Your name sounds like it's from Vietnam. Did you walk from there too?"
Is she going to be this much of a pest when she's that age again? She sure hopes not. "Not from Vietnam. And yes, I'm walking, you got a problem with that? Now go away. You annoy me too much, maybe you make me burst into flames ahead of schedule."
(A few years down the road, the newly-dubbed Lisa kind of regrets yelling at the kid. But it's too late to go back and apologize now. Kristen's probably forgotten it by this point, and even if she hasn't, what are the odds of Lisa ever being able to find her again?)
Fire control (Wyatt)
"You wanted to see me, boss?"
"C'mon, Wyatt, you make me sound like some deranged CEO-supervillain. I just wanted to say hi. Congratulate you on your last field piece. Ask how it went."
"Uh-huh," says Wyatt, not impressed. "Let me guess. You also want me to reheat your coffee."
Jon tugs at his collar, sheepish. "Well, you know, since you're here...would you mind?"
Wyatt groans, picks up the Indecision 2012 mug, balances it in his fingers, and conjures a small flame over the palm of his hand. It only takes a couple of seconds for the dark liquid to start steaming.
Honestly, he's pretty much cool with this; it saves the building on a ton of petty heating costs, which pays out in more perks, including nicer hotels when they're doing cross-country interviews. It's just fun to make people squirm. Jon in particular. He's got one of those faces.
"You need anything else?" he asks, doodling spiral afterimages in the air with one lit-up finger. "Leftovers warmed up? More hot water in the shower? Obnoxious guest you need to take down a couple pegs?"
Jon nearly chokes on his coffee. "Please don't scare the guest again. Uh, no, I think that'll do it. Oh! I wanted to congratulate you."
"On my last bit? You just did that."
"No! What? Like I would only have thought of one thing to praise about you. No, this time I was thinking of...uh...." He stares at Wyatt's manifestly unimpressive plaid shirt for a couple of seconds, then aims his search higher, at the growth Wyatt's been cultivating for the past year. "...your hair! It's looking very...round."
Wyatt throws up his hands. "Man, you just had to say that, didn't you?"
"Sorry? Is 'round' one of the words we're supposed to avoid now?"
"It's not the word, dude, it's the compliment! Murphy's law is out to get me. Every time anybody says something nice about my hair, I accidentally burn it, like, the next day. It's happened to my beard three times now." Wyatt checks his fingers for sparks or stray ash, blows the tips off just in case, then pats his poor doomed afro into shape. "He didn't mean it, baby. Stay strong, okay? Stay strong."