Still Burning


elisabeth_icon.gif simon_icon.gif wu-long_icon.gif

Scene Title Still Burning
Synopsis Following directly from What A Lovely Way To Burn, Wu-Long delivers his own payload.
Date November 21, 2008

Washington Irving High School

To all appearances, little has changed about Washington Irving High School, although it was closed for 20 months after the bomb exploded in Midtown. The windows broken and walls graffitied by mischievous teens during that interval have been restored to their original appearance; the hardwood floors have been recently waxed, the walls are clean, and row upon row of lockers line the halls of all eleven floors. The entrance hall remains elegant in its wood paneling and fireplace, as if nothing untoward ever happened.

Even when school is in session, however, there is a quiet atmosphere unusual in most public schools. Many teachers and students alike did not return when Chelsea was reopened; what faculty there are struggle with too-large classes, at least on those occasions when most of their enrolled students attend class. Some have to teach subjects not their forte, filling in the gaps left by the departed. Before the bomb, this school offered excellent instruction in fashion design and photography, along with an International Baccalaureate degree; now, it's just another example of Manhattan's fight to make ends meet at the most basic levels.

It's lunchtime, but today's lunchtime involves a study session for the calculus students and Elisabeth herself — the students haven't been getting as much from her as they need, and she wants to hear how Simon will explain things. "All right, Alex, quit heckling," she comments from the side of the classroom to one of the three boys besides Simon in the room. "Simon's the only shot you people have of passing the AP test, so get serious."

Simon is standing next to Elisabeth at the head of the room, looking at the three losers he's supposed to be teaching math in place of eating lunch with Mallory. As an addition to the teacher's comment, the "nicer" twin says, "Yeah, Alex, then you won't have to rely on the *killer* football moves to get into college next year." His words are, of course, laced with a proper amount of sarcasm.

With his textbook already in hand, Simon opens it up to the chapter the calculus students are working on. So we're learning about antiderivitives, right? Ok, I'm going to make this easy for you," he says as he steps towards the chalkboard and grabs a piece of chalk to write with.

Given that this particular session includes the worst students in the class, Elisabeth's not entirely sure it's going to be worth either her or Simon's time, but the principal insisted that because two of the boys were on the football team, they needed the help. So here we are. She moves to take a seat at the front of the class, keeping an ear on what Alex, Jimmy, and Greg are up to back behind her.

Simon starts to move the chalk across the board rather quickly, creating a simple antiderivative formula that is all letters and no numbers, probably the other boys' disdain. "So this is all pretty outdated, but still good to know. Think of it as a history lesson." He turns to the three boys, all of whom have readily made fun of him in the past, and glares. "You all *can* think for a second, right?" Those eyes roll into the back of his head as he turns once again and continues to write.

"Anyways, this is basically how you find an original function when given just a derivative. It's almost impossible to be exact, so you're always going to end up with a function plus a random number added to it." He writes all of this out and then looks back at his students, then over to Elisabeth, who he smiles shyly at. "So how did we get here?"

For the longest while, there's nothing happening behind Liz except for Simon lording his snobbiness over his scowling schoolmates— all three of which know better than to allow their dissatisfaction to reach verbalization. Elisabeth has really good hearing. Most of her kids are, by now, aware of this. Nor have they any desire to flunk or otherwise lose their sports scholarships. So it goes. Graphite to and against the grain, note-taking, glowering looks and struggling attention. "How did you get the six?" Alex asks, abruptly. He teeters his chair forward on its two front legs and cranes his head to see better.

The next instant, he's staring at the ceiling and his chair emits a screeching scrape of friction against the floor, which had jumped, shook, with a roar of nearby explosions. The window sprays all of its glass inward, a splintering crackle and clash that isn't quite louder than the shouts of three incoherent boys combined. "Holy fuck!" "Shit!" "Ahhh! What the Hell!" It comes again; closer now, overturning five tables, sending another crashing into the back wall.

The sounds of the initial explosions don't even register on Elisabeth before every piece of furniture in the room is slamming everyone around. She finds herself on the floor, screaming with the boys when the windows explode, holding her arms over her head (for all the good that's gonna do). She's barely landed when still more furniture topples and slides around. "FUCK!" She raises her head and looks around, training taking over. "Sound off," she barks at her students. "Everyone all right?"

Simon is thrown back with the first blast, not having the chance to find secure footing against flying furniture and the scream of young men. And Elisabeth. He doesn't curse like the rest, because his slams his head into the wall before hitting the floor. His ear rings for a moment and he reaches up to feel something warm and wet on the side of his face. Blood.

"What…" is all he says as he pushes his way to his feet. The room spins, blurs, and then finally comes into focus. He looks around, confused, and then makes his way over to Elisabeth. "Earthquake?" Clearly he is confused.

"I'm o-okay. Oh my God. Ow, I just bruised my kn—"

"What the fuck was that? What the fuck was that? What the fuck?" Georgie's fine too. He's already spinning in circles in his crouch.

"I'm fine, Ms. Harrison. 'M fine. Oh my God. We need to get out of here. Oh my God, there's fire or some shit!" Alex is looking out the window, crouched though he is, his hands on top of his head. He isn't wrong. There's smoke coming out of the distant end of the building, visible thanks to the trajectory of the wind bringing it around along the edge of some sprawling circle. A small fire. Alex isn't as fine as he thinks he is. He's bleeding from his cheek, slightly. He had been sitting closest to the window. A piece of glass got him.

"No, we should stay in here!"

The third explosion is closest. Makes the wall bulge, cracks racing up and down its surface like a carcass splitting around the bloating bulge of bacterial gas. Deafening. The window-frame bucks up and tears loose as if it's trying to run away on gangly, angular legs, the remaining chairs and tables keel over, and Alex is hurled facedown into fragmented class while his friends slam into the corners and flats of things.

Barely able to hear through the ringing of her own ears, somehow Elisabeth has — at least so far — managed to take mostly minor injuries from the flying glass. Her has a few small lacerations and her arms are cut up, but she uses them to shove herself up off the floor and stand up shakily. "I don't think so, no," she replies to Simon in a loud voice. She reaches up to touch his chin, tipping his head so she can see how badly he's hurt. And then she turns to the other boys to check them quickly as well. "C'mon…. we have to get out of here. On your feet, Alex."

The third explosion hurtles Elisabeth sideways to tumble over the overturned desks and chairs. That's gonna hurt like a motherf***er tomorrow, for sure…. assuming she survives it. This time she doesn't move from the awkward position she landed in, stunned.

Simon topples end over end into the middle of the room after the second explosion goes off. The ringing gets even louder and he starts to feel light headed. Glass flies over head and he can hear people screaming. He doesn't seem to be able to. A moment after the blast he coughs and rolls over, face to the ground for a moment before he can find the will to bring himself to his feet. "We gotta - " He stumbles and mumbles like a drunkard and looks like he just lost a knife fight with all the cuts and bruises he's already showing.

"Ok. Ok. We gotta - "He tries again, turns slowly, and looks to the others in the room. "We gotta get out of here." He doesn't move for the door, though, because he can't exactly wrap his bloody head around what's going on.

"Sommin's wrong with… with Ms. Harrison," Alex mumbles blearily. He sits up. His face is laddered with cuts, his blue shirt sleeves rife with holes smudged with traces of blood. Powdered window falls off him as he crawls over, past Simon, to stare at his professor's face. "Ms. Harrison, we gotta go." A large hand closes on her arm and shakes her. In due time, murmuring curses and stinking fear, the other two boys clamber toward their younger schoolmate and the faculty member sprawled amongst them, seeking comfort in numbers as well as proximity to the door. "What the fuck is going on?" George can't stop asking. Over and over, louder, then quieter, and quieter, until he's saying so so quietly that it's lost under the beginnings of the belching creaks of the building's foundations beginning to fold under weight it can no longer support.

Opening her eyes slowly, Elisabeth makes a small, pained sound. She's lying on top of one of her arms, but she starts to move. "I…. know," she gasps softly. "Help… me up." She holds out the arm that she's not laying on, and when the boys help her up, she's barely able to hold back the cry of agony as pain shoots up the other one. Gaining her feet with the teenagers around her, she takes stock. "C'mon… it doesn't matter what's going on, guys. We've gotta go. The whole building's going to come down." She cradles her left arm with her right one. She jerks her chin toward George. "Jimmy, get George. Alex, help Simon. Stick close to me, we'll get out of here. If we can get into the hall, the fire exit is to the left, straight down the hall. About 100 meters."

Simon can't hear much of what Elisabeth is saying, and what he does hear he doesn't comprehend. Like a zombie, he makes his way for the door to the classroom, which he opens slowly. Outside is a mess of concrete and crying students. Against one wall there is a splatter of blood. Standing in the doorway, Simon turns to his teacher and classmates and stares at them for a moment. Then he's heading out into the hall, wandering around in a daze and luckily maneuvering away from the falling ceiling. Off in the distance he spots more kids, huddling or lying around. Hopefully still alive, though he can't be sure.

Jimmy gets George. Alex is hesitant to release the woman, but when she reasserts her authority and manages to stand— mostly on her own power, he cedes her her space, offering her a wobbly look that was probably originally intended to look like a smile, before he stumbles after the younger boy. "Don't get to far—" he calls out at Simon, but no good it does any of them. Bloodied, cut up, still half-deaf, he follows, keeps up as well as he's physically able. The lingering students in the hallway look up, glazed-eyed; start picking themselves up to follow, sheep motivated by panic, led by authority that Elisabeth manages to retains amid the rubble and chaos.

Three stories above, there's a man on the roof. Right on the edge. Heels a bare inch from the drop, he pays the probability of falling to his demise no attention; instead, he faces inward, studying the explosive warhead he had placed dozens of yards away. He has a .9 in one hand, its shape brutal, black, and ugly, oddly disjunct with the canvas painter's jumpsuit he's wearing. The wind bobs through his ponytail and he inhales trace smoke. Raises his firearm slowly and sights down along his arm.

Elisabeth cautiously moves for the door, keeping the boys with her. She starts working on herding the students toward the fire exit, pointing the way toward it for everyone who can't hear her. She laces her voice with a hypnotic wave to calm those who *can* hear it. "Everyone who can walk, go that way," she points with her good arm. "Go calmly but quickly, and get as far from the building as possible. Take as many of the people around you as you can. Let's go, you guys." She stops near a petite redheaded girl to check a pulse, and bites her lip when she doesn't find one. "Everyone get moving. As quickly as possible."

Simon *was* going in the wrong direction, and probably would have continued if it weren't for Elisabeth's voice echoing through the hall. He stops in his tracks and the ringing in his ears begins to subside. He turns away from the nightmarish scene and starts to walk towards the exit, his steps faster and surer than before. "Right, we need to go." He continues on down the hall until he reaches Elisabeth. "You, too. Come on this place is dangerous." He nods after the students he was tutoring and starts to head for the exit.

It requires concentration. Wu-Long has no desire to blow himself up, despite that much of his existence has long been characterized by the creaking ache of inevitability. He prepares himself. Which involves a surprisingly large amount of not thinking about what's going on below, about what will. Autumn kisses his cheek and whispers in his ear. It'll be all right. Everyone dies. There are no exceptions. The notion would bring him comfort if he were in pain.

He steps backward. Waits an eyeblink to pull the trigger, and decorporealizes. A nanosecond after bullet exits barrel, the hand wrapped around the Glock's handle wisps into a black tendril, the arm attached a column of something darker than smoke; a ghost in negative color.

The next instant, the bullet connects with warhead, and the explosive does what it was built to. Before the Glock has fallen below the level of the roof, it's engulfed in concussive fire, scorched, and hurled across the sky. Borne on the rolling wave of air pressure, Wu-Long too flies — or falls, though he doesn't look like a man as he does so, nor when he lands. No: he pools on the ground, a puddle of animate darkness like poison tossed across the lawn already dying from winter's imminent arrival. Glances up in time to see the second-story science laboratory explode, bunsen burners and gas taps all sucked into a fireball, and the ceiling of the first floor come down behind a screaming stampede.

They won't all be fast enough.

The explosion overhead and the resultant fireball sends kids and anyone left standing scrambling for the exit. The heat is enormous, scorching the air above the crowd in the hallway. Elisabeth looks up and screams, "RUN!," lacing it with as much of a subsonic imperative as she possibly can to make it an order — something she's never even attempted before. Suggestion, sure. Orders? Not so much. She grabs hold of Simon's arm and bolts for the end of the hallway, but the ceiling is crashing down behind them and all around too. Shoving the teen ahead of her, Elisabeth pauses only to grab another girl who stumbles out of a classroom into her path and shove her ahead as well. "GO!" It's her job to get these kids to safety. As many of them as possible. She stops at the fire door, just steps from safety to try to urge as many of them as possible out, and she's caught at the edge of the surge as the building above collapses.

The next explosion is far too close for comfort, and it singes the hair off Simon's arms, at least in some places. This time, he screams, for a short while, at least. His feet are pumping hard as he tries his best to get out of the building. Elisabeth's extra shove helps with that, and just before the roof caves in he finds himself sprawled on the outside of the school. Smoke flies through the air and cats the ground, causing Simon to cough as he turns to see the fate of his teacher. "Mrs. Harrison! Are you alright!?"

It takes a few seconds for fire and concussive energy to sort itself out, and another for the structural integrity of rebar and old brick to reluctantly concede their point. The first floor ceiling splits down the middle and drops the second floor onto the floor, summarily ending the handful of stragglers who had been dragging fearfully behind Elisabeth. Ahead, Jimmy and Georgeie hit the ground on their faces, red-smeared hands scrambling against the tarmac; Alex hits the ground beside Simon, an arm flung over the younger man's shoulders. Ms. Harrison had told him to stay with Simon. He did.

The choking cloud of dust is huge, and the noise tremendous. Elisabeth doesn't answer Simon for a long time. Several minutes, at least. Finally, though, as the cloud clears, he can see the doorway. When the outer wall fell, it tumbled inward atop the falling ceiling of the first floor. Liz had been just at the doorway, and the door jamb saved her from being crushed though it is now twisted and tilted into a rhombus as opposed to a rectangle. She's pinned by the fire door itself, her head bleeding profusely from a laceration at her hairline, but she's conscious and struggling to dig out from under. "Simon? Where are ….?" She looks around and spots him and Alex, relief coloring her expression for a moment. "The others?" There were SO MANY kids in that hallway. She knows she saw at least a dozen in the hall before the ceiling came down.

During those moments of silence following his question, Simon struggles to get to his feet. He and Alex help each other do just that. Maybe he's not such a bad guy after all. The other students around him are looked over briefly, and the Mrs. Harrison's voice is heard over the chaos. Simon turns to find her and starts heading over. "I don't know. I don't know. They didn't make it." After zig-zagging around kids and rubble, he finally makes it to his teacher. "Shit. How do I get you out of here?" He starts pulling away some of the rubble around her, probably to no avail.

Alex might not be so bad after all. He's bleeding, he's helping. He doesn't know what else he can contribute to this exercise. He closes his larger hands on the edge of the door and bends his legs, his motions mechanical, as if he's going through a step-by-step list of things to do when you're lifting heavy objects. Actually, that's exactly what he's doing. His father is a porter at the airport, and they've moved three times in as many years. He learned well. "Don't worry, Ms. Harrison," he mumbles, laconically. "We'll get you out."

That's all he can think to say. The first cut, the one on his cheek, is scabbing over already. The ones on his forehead, nose, and chin are still leaking sluggish beads; nothing that's gotten into his eyes, yet.

Unfortunately, however, he's facing the wrong way to see when Wu-Long emerges behind the little boy mathematician. Skin and eye-whites blanch out first, before the obscenely cheerful sunlight begins to ricochet off the ragged strands of his hair, pick out clothing, callused hands, a quiescent expression. His gaze falls past boys and woman, into the wreckage and ruin of the building's facade. Smoke funnels into the sky. It smells like shit, makes even his eyes sting. A girl turns and sees him and asks him for help, doesn't receive even a glance of acknowledgment.

"Shit," Liz murmurs dazedly. She bites back any additional words, though. This is bad with a capital BAD. What the hell happened? she has time to think. The idea that suggests itself ….. can't be right. Can it? Would the terrorist element in this city actually target a school? Really? Four separate explosions would suggest yes. When Alex and Simon (mostly Alex) get the door moved, Elisabeth moves once more to get to her feet — shaky, bruised, bleeding, but well…. she's better off than some. The worst of it so far seems to be a broken arm. "You guys are doing great," she offers to her students. Little comfort, she's sure. "Let's try to get people further from the building, just in case, okay?" She puts a hand on Alex, and then one on Simon. "Out toward the basketball court."

While Alex does most of the heavy lifting, Simon helps to pull Mrs. Harrison from the rubble. He doesn't notice Wu, though if he did he may not even realize that he's never seen him around the school before. Not with all that's going on around him. "Right, let's move, then." He listens for sirens and wonders why nobody has come, yet. They must be on their way. "Come on, guys. Get up," He yells to a group of science geeks who are crying over their lost lab experiments, probably. "We need to move, seriously."

Alex nods his head numbly, stares down at the door in his straining hands for a moment before he lets it go. It falls with a rattling scrape, slides an inch, nearly slamming into the boy's ankle before nesting to a halt among fragmented stone and mortar dust. He coughs and turns, beating white dust off the front of his sweater, and obediently begins to follow again. Steps around the Chinese janitor standing there, dumb, staring upward, before he bumps into the older man. "Moving," he says. And then, louder, "Allistair's right. Come on, guys. Let's go!"

He squares his shoulders and gets his feet to go straight. By the time he glances over his shoulder, the janitor is gone, replaced by haze, a popping explosion of some other laboratory equipment lost to overheating.

They can hear the sirens now. The Doppler effect ripples through Chelsea, wailing like a babe, while a helicopter appears in the gap of a lot at the end of the street. Sooty students and straggling teachers emerge, guided by the same rotely-memorized protocols that had steered Elisabeth. Ones they hadn't really thought they'd ever have to use.

November 21st: What A Lovely Way To Burn

Previously in this storyline…
What A Lovely Way to Burn

Next in this storyline…
Date Night

November 21st: Vehicular Manslaughter For The Win
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