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Scene Title Hubris
Synopsis Defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory.
Date April 8, 2012

Over the radios, reports started coming in: the mission to retake the NAS Oceana from traitors and renegade Evolved freedom fighters is underway. One missile strike was neutralised in the air, but final three have reduced the control tower to nothing. Soldiers on the ground are covering off the airfield, and there's been no reports of a single fighter taking off into the sky, but they have ground-to-air missiles readied just in case.

By the time they get there, success will be guaranteed.

Odessa Price, today, did not have to lift a finger.

From her view in the helicopter, she can see the ocean to one side and the naval air station as a big flat patch of grey in the distance, pillars of smoke rising. Streets and towns make up a patchwork pattern below, and an air of abandonment seems to engulf what was once a quiet military Virginian city. Cars left in the streets, buildings and houses reduced to ash and rubble. Military presence — the kind that has not yet turned on its President — is thickening out the roads with a more motley assortment of vehicles than you'd expect, and a motley assortment of uniforms at that.

You get your allies where you can, and in this world, you're either for America, or you're against America. For his part, Michal Valentin, so European that his country does not even exist by the name he was born to it under, has done much to reassure the upper echelons of this administration that he is. And that he would personally assist in taking it back.

He sits across from her in the helicopter, earmuffs and microphone, a gun and a smile. Around them, a few of his own men, likewise dressed, crane their necks to see the view. Air funnels through the open sides of the helicopter, and it feels as though if it weren't for the belts strapping them in, it'd be easy to be sucked out and left plummeting.

Virginia, Naval Air Station Oceana, April 2012

Odessa, for her part, is delighted at the success they've encountered here. She is considerably less delighted by how high off the ground they are. Fortunately, she doesn't get air sick in the least, so she keeps it together, even though the grips around the stock of her rifle and one strap across her chest that belts her into her seat has gone white and she watches the reactions of the others in the helicopter, rather than look outside herself, except to see where smoke rises in the air at eye level. She can almost pretend she's simply riding a bus if she doesn't look down.

But he's smiling, and that makes her smile. A little shaky, but genuine. The man in the seat next to her shifts and Odessa instinctively cringes in on herself, like if she can somehow mold herself tighter into this seat, that will keep her safe.

If they crash, it isn't going to matter is she's belted in or not.

"«This is either the best birthday I've ever had, or the worst.»" Her voice cuts staticky across the microphone, but perfectly audible. She has to carve through the tension within her somehow, and since she can't exactly walk it off… This will have to suffice.

Michal laughs, free and easy. "«If I convince them to rename our new airfield after you, before it will come down on the good side.»" Around them, those catching the banter seem to either leer or ignore it, depending on how foolish they're feeling on this day. All truces within the empire seem uneasy, ready to snap, and perhaps some are more sensitive to it than others.

For his part, Valentin is immune. He's never had a partnership, a hierarchy, that he believed would last forever. Such things are for Americans.

The descent is rapid, enough to be felt in one's gut. As they touch down, Valentin gestures for her to allow everyone else to go first, including himself, and once out, he puts out a hand for her to take. Fighter planes remain untouched in an organised row, great silver birds in rows as if presented just for them. Vehicles are cruising in, still, soldiers piling out with guns. In the distance, they can smell rather than see a building on fire. Towards the main buildings, a safe distance from where they stand, Odessa can make out the sight of thick, yellow negation gas seeping from wide doorways, drifting from broken windows and where missiles have driven holes through concrete.

Valentin's hand grasps hers, helping her out onto solid ground. "с днем рождения, котенок," he says.

Happy birthday, kitten.

The laughter he gets from her in return is authentic. Name an airfield after her. It might be sweet if they were the heroes of anyone's story but their own. Her unscarred face lights up, and for just a moment, she forgets to be afraid.

Until the descent. Then she's back to shrinking up and he can see the way she mouths oh, no no no no no in lieu of giving in to her urge to scream. Odessa Price doesn't like giving up control except in very specific circumstances. Control of her own center of gravity is not something she enjoys relinquishing.

When they touch down, she nods her head several times, still shaky, to indicate she understands his direction. When the others have disembarked, trembling fingers release her from her own crash webbing. The fear unwinds itself from her as she goes and by the time she takes Michal's offered hand, she's looking far more herself. And her heart soars at the way he welcomes her back to terra firma, and to their impending victory. "Thank you."

Taking in the scene around them, her eyes linger on the negation gas for only a moment. She's learned to stop dwelling on it. It doesn't kill her, and so she shouldn't fear it. All the same, she'd rather stay clear. His hand is still held in hers, squeezed tightly for a moment, then released as she sends him a grin instead. "Definitely the best birthday."

The sound of other aircraft make the air busy. Friendlies. Black helicopters coming in after them, high priority personnel looking to stake a claim on what is potentially a very important location towards their cause, and it gives Michal some clear pleasure to be among the first. He speaks into his receiver, giving curt instruction and receiving updates in return — hostiles sighted on Interstate 264, interceptors en route — followed by the distance, expected sound of gun fire and explosions. All enemies dead or on the retreat.

He doesn't go so far as to link arm in arm with Odessa, but he does invite her to stroll with him rather than flank or follow. He carries a rifle by reflex without particular expectation to use it, headed for the still standing buildings, boots striking the tarmac with a neat clip.

"They made themselves vulnerable," he says, to her, as they walk. He is in a leather jacket over kevlar, and Odessa is outfitted much the same. Opening his sunglasses with his teeth, he slips them on, the bright April sunlight reflecting readily off all this open grey, off the metal hides of planes, and the air is smokey besides. "They took a stronghold they could not hope to defend, with resources they could not hope to use wisely. I will credit them that the thought was charming, and they were a real nuisance. But still, you know. Hubris."

In his view, they should probably just have destroyed it all.

And as he thinks that, there's a sound, like a contained explosion, enough to make the ground rumble under their feet, and fighter jets jolt. With all the noise of this corner of Virginia Beach under seige, it doesn't demand immediate attention, but Valentin's hand goes to his receiver.

At his side is, as it would happen, Odessa's favorite place to be. Her head is held high now as they walk along together. "It's not difficult to see why," easily opined. She has a far different perspective on the situation than he does. "Mutants always think they're untouchable."

Her own sunglasses are slipped on to her face. They're functional more than fashionable, because being ostentatious would draw attention to herself. Black fabric hanging about her neck is tugged upward, a mask to cover the lower half of her face. From time to time, she still slips in with refugees to gather information. She's so damned small and unassuming with those big blue eyes that she doesn't raise red flags from any but the most vigilant. It wouldn't be good for her face to be recognized. Not while it's still useful to them.

The explosion sends a shudder through her frame. One small hand instinctively finds Valentin's arm, an anchor of sorts in the briefly amplified chaos. "What's happened?"

His answer to her is by way of asking the same over the radio, in more brisk terms. When there is no immediate answer, Valentin depresses the button to demand one, but before he can, there is another explosion of its like — and this time, some great force within the building seems to jettison smoke, dust, and lingering negation gas out from its yawning openings, broken windows, and now, newly formed cracks in its exterior.

Soldiers around them are quick to react this time, the nearest among them moving at a steady stream, rifles raised. Others scatter to take cover. They believe there is still a battle to be won.

Valentin, on the other hand—

"Go," he says, and not through the radio — to Odessa. His expression has set into something else, steel and edge, while the possibility of what could be happening next is grappled with, condensed, responded to with instinct and immediate, uninhibited certainty that could in itself be superhuman if not for the fact that Valentin himself knows what it is to fight dirty. His hand grips Odessa's arm, pivoting her, pushing her back towards the helicopter — and make no mistake, he is a jack rabbit at her heels.

The pilot of the helicopter had only just stepped out, but stops when he sees them, Valentin gesturing, "Get us back in the air— !"

And another explosion, or whatever it is, jolting them hard enough from the ground up that both she and Valentin are driven to their feet. He starts to launch upwards, but is disoriented enough that he mostly just turns to look at what's happening. And what's happening is the station imploding as if whatever force had exploded within it was taking a deep breath, concrete and steel beams and glass and people drawn into its collapse, and in the same moment, even sound itself seems to contract, the bustle of afternoon battle dimming all round. Blue light glows through the wreckage, glowing brighter, and brighter…

…and expanding. Not quite the speed of light, a circular wall of energy rushes out from a central point within. It liquefies the people it hits. It flips and collapses the jets that it strikes. A dull roar fills the air.

And it's not stopping, headed straight for them.

To her credit, Odessa doesn't freeze when trouble becomes perfectly evident, instead of hinted. It doesn't take much to get her to turn and head back to the chopper. While she may be none too keen to be airborne, she's even less keen to get caught up in whatever the fuck is coming.

Another shockwave sends Odessa tumbling to the ground hard with a grunt. Her rifle slides away from her grasp. She doesn't waste time crawling forward for it, but instead turns herself over to look at what's behind them. Because she can feel the disturbance.

Her hand thrusts out to her side to grab hold of her partner. "извини." I'm sorry. "I cannot let you die."

Her free hand thrusts out in front of her in tandem with a sharp cry that suddenly becomes clearer over all the other noise. Because there suddenly is no other noise.

Odessa has use of her ability.

That wave of energy holds steady in the air, the blue glow bathing over pavement, overturned vehicles, and the face of a solider, frozen in terror and half seconds away from his demise.

"Get up," Odessa begs of Valentin. "Get up, because I cannot help you." This is not what he remembers. Odessa's mastery over her ability was effortless. For her, halting the flow of time was as simple as breathing. Now, it clearly requires great effort and causes terrible strain.

Even with her face obscured as it is, he can see how her features contort in pain. Her arm trembles and she can't quite push herself to her knees. "The way I see it, lover, we have two options here… I can tell you the whole story once we get out of this, or you can leave me here to die while you escape." While it's clear her preference is to live, at least for now, it's also obvious she wouldn't blame him if he just left her there on the tarmac. "I do not have the strength to stand."

He'd have been a fool if he hadn't wondered. Perhaps there comes a point when what is a believable possibility becomes unbelievable over time, and Valentin's expression is one of empty shock, cold eyes clapped on after he's taken his moment to regard the frozen scene, the destruction of the NAS Oceana on pause. The blast had sent a roaring rush of air that is now still, his sandy-grey hair wild where it's been displaced from its neat parting. Much like the reality of danger had him quick to run, the fact of her ability is likewise quick to be absorbed into his new sense of reality.

Valentin gets to his feet. Fresh blood oozes in pinpricks from his palms where they took the impact of his fall. His glasses tumbled off his face, forgotten, exposing that wintry glare.

Then, he grabs her with a certain roughness, like a labourer picking up a sack of potatoes, and hefts her into his arms, like a groom with a bride.

"How long?"

He means, how long do we have? The other question that could be will have to wait until later.

In his arms, she trembles and clutches to him tightly like a frightened child. She doesn't know the answer to his question. "I'll give you as long as I can. I promise, I will get you out of this alive." Even if she has to tell him to leave her there and go without her to hinder him.

She stares out at the scene in front of them, committing it to her memory. Odessa's buries her face against Michal's chest as she lets out a piercing scream of agony. With nothing else to cut or drown it, it sounds otherworldly echoing off the structures that still stand. The decay of sound is a slow one.

Time is fighting her for control, and it's going to win eventually. Behind her tightly shut lids, the world remains exactly as she saw it last. This perfect still life of destruction and death. This should be their grave, but she has betrayed the only man she trusts and it's saved their lives.

As long as she can hold that image in her mind, let the encouraging whispers of power fuel her and ignore the pull of strings that tug on her skeletal structure, she feels hopeful she can give them the time to get clear.

Valentin moves. A walk that graduates into a run. He is not a big person, but neither is she. Their rifles lay on the ground, abandoned. He pushes himself into his own momentum and flees the frozen scene, passing by men he has fought with. He passes the helicopter, not trusting the strange stillness that blankets the world around them to even consider any moving vehicles as a possibility. He passes where another helicopter was twenty feet away from touching down, containing military commanders. Leaders. Allies.

Even if they live, they've lost. At least today. The empty sounds of his footfalls seem to echo and echo. His feet find soft earth instead of tarmac, and so the loudest he is is his breathing.

She doesn't know how long she can hold it, and equally, Valentin doesn't know how far they need to get to survive this. He does, however, have an inkling of how long he can run like this for, at least until her ability finally slips from her grasp. Noise floods in, drowning out everything else, and they both go crashing to the ground in a tumble on open field.

Behind them, that wall of energy continues its spread. It shatters their fallen weapons. Both helicopters explode and disintegrate. The vibrant grass that begins where the tarmac ends is flattened, smoke rising off of it.

And then, energy dissipates.

Valentin rolls to shield Odessa as debris continues its trajectory. Brick and machinery and gore spatter the world around them, feet away, inches away. Odessa can see past his shoulder where the airfield used to be, a blasted crater of rubble and ruin. The sound of a helicopter continues to beat the air, curving off in a retreat.

Fingers clutch at his jacket, her own labored breathing in syncopated rhythm with his as he runs. "I— I can't," is the only warning he gets before time is let loose from her grasp. Odessa's world goes tilting wildly. The sound is deafening in comparison to the stillness of moments before.

And he's there, over her, protecting her from the terrible crash of twisted metal, flame, and red mist.

Slender hands reach for him again, pawing at his face weakly like she can tell if he's whole from a simple touch. A pained and terrified whimper sounds in the back of her throat. "Michal," she gasps, begging him without so many words to be unharmed. It's the adrenaline that keeps her from passing out, but she's rapidly losing that battle as well.

He lifts his head as she paws at him, expression dim and stunned — but alive, it seems. The crush of his weight on top of her relents as he gets some measure of steadiness, weight applied to his knees and elbows on the ground, his hands clutching grass. He looks up and across to where a sheered wing of an F/A-18 has speared the ground nearby, the ground otherwise littered with less readily identifiable debris.

The sound of engines. Shouting. His own heart beat thumping in his ears.

Michal looks down, then, at Odessa, and shifts so that he isn't completely lying prone, half-kneeling over her. Incomprehension makes his eyes sharkish and inscrutable, recognising what he would have expected to see — her worry, her relief that he is alright. He thinks about that last split second bodily decision to roll on top of her, the way his arm had curled around her head, huddling in closer.

His hands curl. His right one comes back. With devastating efficiency, he brings his fist around to clock her across the chin. Her head snaps to the side. Unconscious comes down like bright, white curtains.

Maybe, behind them, sweeter dreams await.

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