A Blur of Rushing Images


wf_calvin3-1_icon.gif unknown13_icon.gif

Scene Title A Blur of Rushing Images
Synopsis Some lines are blurry and others can be clearly crossed. Jasmine has a point to make.
Date May 1, 2011

A blur of rushing images

For the time Calvin has been asleep, he's been dreaming next to normally.

That's to say, it's been a whirlwind of memory and creativity, with locations that blend together because space lacks the seams it has in reality, and different voices come out of different faces. Colour sharper and vibrant, but no longer trapped between the lines, and things are forgotten in fish-bowl record time as the metallokinetic's consciousness rolls itself around and around in florid, egocentric realities that even scientists in 2040 haven't really worked out. Scientists in 2040 have other things to worry about, anyway.

Until it stops. And everything is lucid and hard and real, even if the fact that he is still asleep might not be the first immediate thought.

The feeling of psychic claws on his slippery dreamself is swift to retract by the time memory plays out in HD and surround sound. The quality of air takes on the distinct notes of an early, early morning, where the sky is still mostly nighttime save for all the grey light making the shadows vaguer, clearer. There's metal in the bones of buildings, lending silent support beneath the slabs of more brittle concrete, running like veins under the ground in pipes and tunnels.

And the moving flanks of something robotic, silver and black, emitting steam and heat.

Sometimes, when it's practical, Calvin is allowed to wear a suit.

But today is not one of those days.

The grey black of his BDUs feels stiff around his shoulders, canvasy fabric not yet having seen much use despite a few scuffs about the knee pads and a marr on one boot he hasn't had time to shine out. An emblem at his right arm marks him as DOEA property same as it does the skeletal robot lurching along at his nine, white lettering on black not making for much of a target in the grey and in the gloom.

Footing is unreliable this close to Midtown and he looks down often to find his place, right over left carefully feline down the cusp of a shallow crater. Gravel drizzles in a sift down after him. Quiet. Far above his left shoulder, the sentry bot pauses, great S curve of a neck arched silently back while its feelers taste and touch and smell the air, wires glittering like needles and needles glittering like glass, wind cold in all of their ears. Cal pauses too, breath shuddering nervous into an uneven, foggy flutter he has to hope no one sees.

But everyone else is preoccupied.

There's a shout on the wind, warning, and a hustle of booted feet forward in an advance he doesn't see the signal for. Then everything's quiet again.

Trust that it won't be quiet for long. Silence and peace are good friends, and they didn't come here for the latter.

The nest of 'fugees is still asleep, the rundown building as innocent as a wasp hive tucked into the corner of a rooftop, and just as unpredictable. That's the thing, with Reds, that even the neutralising effect of yellow, oily smog can only guarantee so much. There's electronic buzzing in the radios, about the north side being secure, a unit standing by on the corner of whatever number avenue this happened to be, the roads and streets and boulevards, 14th and 36th and 22nd, the ghosts of old stores, businesses, government and commercial. The shreds of old billboards and the current evidence of black urban warfare.

Mostly meaningless, when the soldiers are in the streets, dotting DoEA agents, the robots. The opening of a door is not loud enough for Calvin to hear it, but he can hear the activity of men moving inside. At most, half a minute passes. And then black silhouettes. Calvin is the first to see them. The motley shapes of civilians, at least one child in a single-file dash out onto the dawn-lit street. Some aren't wearing shoes.

He is also only the first, rather than the second, which is only a split second after him. Red lights of something from a different angle, the clatter of debris and metal as something vaguely feline and insectile at the same time moves to give chase with a whrrrr of machinery. The hunterbot doesn't yet let loose a plume of yellow fog, heavily silent as it crosses for the fleeing Evos like a big cat headed for the weak points in a herd. There's a cry, that he hears — they see it coming.

Above and behind him, the sentry doesn't move yet.

Calvin is the first to see them, and also the first to duck, ears flattened back to his skull and pupils swollen wide alert over the closer edge of his crater. He turns his radio down with a fumbling pinch of index finger and thumb, static filtered in a muffled blast when he twists it the wrong way first and vanishes completely into a crouch for just a moment. Aaa.

Hands shaking through his gloves, he pops up again after a steadier second or two, gingerish buzz and eyes cut clear through the fog. Second guesses what to say across the channel, if anything. There are robots to notice this sort've thing, right? People running silent in the semidark?

His question is answered for him before he has to think too hard on it, this time in the form of pitter pattering robot feet and iron sides. It occurs to him that he should re-establish visual contact with the rest of his team once the pursuit's begun, and he reaches to hoist himself out up the crater's far side, rifle lifted precisely out ahead of him. Muscle memory, breath huffing quiet along, bits of broken concrete flaked from one sleeve once he's found his feet again. Top of his class, Calvin Sheridan, spotted at 0500 hours climbing out of a hole in the ground.

"Six or more unknown targets," he says finally into the piece he's wearing at his collar, voice murmured low, "fleeing south across the main drag with Mister Friskywhiskers in pursuit. At least one minor."

His voice cracks, throat dry, and he swallows determined-like without looking up after the future museum display hulking bony at his back.

Stay out of the cat's way, Sheridan, but get down there. We want the kid.

By now, most minors will be young enough to be potentially illegal. The voice on the radio doesn't say what it wants the kid for. Calvin has a good amount of options at his fingertips — rehabilitation being one. Maybe one day, if it's lucky, it'll be scurrying down the side of rubble-strewn craters just like his ginger self, shaking in its gloves and hearing the sound of the sentrybot moving in tandem, its knife-like legs sinking deep into the bombed out remains of a city street. It won't plume the oily yellow gas when one of its own is so nearby, but he can hear the sound of turrets locking into place.

Quicker, is the hunterbot, designed to be able to outrun humans. It does. There's a scream piercing the dawn when it takes out the one lagging behind, one that turns from fear to pain as a needle bites deep. That's all it takes. Leaving behind that leaking puncture wound and some new burn marks, it resumes chase. Yellow smoke begins to leak from its rib-cage like sides.

Metal head slams into the next, tossing someone aside, mowing through the group.

There's a trace of Wh… just me? to Calvin's open pause and turn to look blank-faced back after the others, rifle slack in his arms. He's cut sleek and lean at 21, hands and feet overlarge and noticably lacking in the kinds of scars his mates trade stories about over chow. Alone?

With Mister Friskeywhiskers?

But no one's openly taking responsibility for the order and he isn't supposed to question them besides, all of their eyes burning and burning and still burning into his back when he turns it to them in briefly out-of-body compliance. Crunch, a body goes rolling aside out of the mix. Crack, am arm breaks against cold bricking.

He starts into a jog, slow at first and then faster at an angle when his stride lengthens. If they were going to kill them they could've done it at a distance, with laser sights and long scopes. Life with the Department isn't so terrible, certain restrictions aside. He blinks hard as he skirts closer between swaths of cover, doubt toying at a wire somewhere, out've sight. Where's the sentry? Where is everyone else? Why him? Is this, like, unusual? It feels unusual.

A terse peek about a corner confirms that scuffing footfalls and thready breathing on the approach belongs to two of the adults and the child that's suddenly so popular, herd split in two by the cat same way his mind's split along parallel tracks. Which doesn't stop him swinging out and around in the nick of time to plow the wanted brat up onto his shoulder like a sack of meat once one of the adults is past, gun held out wide away from his left side.

Immediately, there is screaming. Rattling gunfire. Also, the heel of a smallish hand digging into one've his eye sockets for all its worth.

Back up is swift, but distanced. Through the rising fog of negation gas, something heavy enough to keep clear of if it's not aimed at you, Calvin can see the movement of like-dressed soldiers coming to thin the herd from the other direction, with enough of an angle that as long as they don't fire wildly, there won't be any friendly hits. Everyone is chasing or running. Except for the sight of a man, unexpectedly old in contrast to Calvin's drinking-age self — old in the way that people cresting forty are old, anyway, and looking hopelessly under prepared as he looks towards where some punk agent is holding squirming son.

There's a sudden crackle of white light, electricity leaping off his palm, ready to fork and snake and burn — but the next wave of yellow fog seems to snap it out of existence, reducing him to a mere shadow in the oily vapour, rolled aside by charging robot.

The ratatatat of machine guns fills the air, bullets like zipping wasps in the air as the sentry's battle mode kicks in in its approaching lurch. Six or more unknown targets are going to die, quickly, and those blessedly unconscious through needle point are being set upon by agents, who move in as determined as buzzards.

Exultation at success is short-lived; Agent Sheridan is being kicked soundly in the bullet-proof vest square enough to lose whatever breath didn't fall out of him when he turned to face his almost-electrocution. The elder target's face remains scalded into immediate memory despite rolling metal and flesh being swallowed up thick in the gas.

A beat pulses on with a boy's voice screaming Daaaaaaad in his ear and bullets tagging spits and starts of disruption through the fog while Calvin turns, abruptly. Searching. Suddenly, brainlessly nervous for them both. Memory exaggerates time and smears detail: there's a muzzle flash to his left and a crackle at his radio, padding ridged hard up his spine absorbing punishment from little fists. Finally, boots clap across shattered concrete to his right and he's able to focus in time to see the Hunter on him, razor-edged armor fileting muscle to the bone, needle lancing, missing and lancing again. Aaaa.

He's on top of them before he realizes it: a huff and a heaving kick rolls the beast broadside off the man's bleeding corpus. The automaton shifts neatly on to the next nearest moving target, as automatons do, giving chase in ignorance of Calvin's ordinance plinking and planking hot off its hide.

A hero, then, or at least a ~lifesaver~ for all that he's also a kidnapper at the same time, Calvin pauses to re-orient himself in the fog, breathing hard and fast. Hefting the weight of the child still struggling over his shoulder.

He doesn't see the Sentry at all.

The father does, but the father, perhaps, is not quite as relevant to this recording of time than what comes next. Negated electrosomething is a smear of motion as he rolls out of the way, all blood, the smell of burned skin, screaming even as he's reaching his hands for his son and the hunterbot is all bullets sparking off steel and a flicking tail of mobile discs.

Something cracks into Calvin's shoulder, knocking the life out of his arm for a few crucial seconds and send both he and kid rolling away, split apart. There isn't enough dirt on the ground for it to get in Calvin's mouth, but the hard ground meets his face with a neat, stunning smack that bloodies his cheek. He sees the Sentry, then — but only in the form of a knife-like leg just near his head, the warmth enough to feel. The other leg isn't seen. But it is suddenly felt as sharp tip descends from the sky to skewer deep into his back, too close to anything critical to be of comfort if any such comfort was possible for seven hundred pounds of metal to step on you.

It stops.

The memory halts, metal tip imbedded by an inch, which is more than enough, sharpness, heat and pressure pinning Calvin to the ground. The setting is a blurred fascimile of what it was in reality, but paused perfectly, and it's in this moment of surreality that Calvin will realise— it's all a dream. Sometimes, that's a comforting thought.

Two shoes, perfectly black and shiny, picking through the rubble and grit a few inches out of possible reach. Circling. Long, slightly spindly legs, pale beneath sheer shading of stockings, and a skirt of black with train enough to drag along the ruined ground, scatter pebbles and spent casings in its wake.

From vertical to horizontal far too quickly to parse the space in between, Calvin doesn't quite register the crack of his face to concrete so much as he hears the sound of an impact in his skull. Tch and a shrill ringing to match a static fizzle that makes everything more the same shade of grey.

His rifle's gone and so is the child, tennis shoes slapping and scrabbling away from the scrape of mantis talons. He remembers that.

And the scythe. The one he can see all shiny and scratched and the one he can't, sunk steaming into his back through kevlar and canvas and pale skin.

Instinct flexes him away into a mechanical writhe, teeth shown and brows twisted down in animal anguish. He gasps, a bit — makes a wet sound into the silence and the still, panic penetrating filters with no regard for his dignity.

The time stop dawns on him slowly, and only after some struggling to understand, kneepads scuffed and knuckles bloody as his cheek when he finally lifts his bristle-brush head after the sound of rattling casings and shiny black shoes.

This is mean. But it's also not real. The beat of Calvin's heart and cold sweat beneath the covers are real things, maybe, but not the worst that can happen. These are the kinds of debates that Benji has gotten into before, with her mother, with Hokuto. With Dema. They don't even register, tonight.

She bends at the knees to fold herself into a nimble crouch, knees pale beneath the hem of sequinned skirt, hands gloved to balance on the ground. The bodice is a modern cut, a single sleeve to keep it in place, and curls of deep red hair tumble about otherwise bare shoulders. In the light of the dawn, Jasmine is over dressed. "They want me to ask if you if you can be reasoned with, Agent Rosen," she says, as if to pull him fully into lucidity, even in trapped animal panic. "Not because they're nice. But because it's too late. It took Ingrid twenty days to say anything, and I don't blame her."

Expression neutral, even if things like the colour of her eyes are emphasised in makeup, paint exaggerating the shape of her mouth and the severity of cheekbones. Blank, beneath it.

Recognition takes longer than it should. It dawns with comprehension, fear he can't shake rattled at a shiver through his breath when he turns bloodless eyes up to take her in entirely. This is mean.

He agrees. It's in his eyes for all that he can't bring himself up into accusation under the circumstances, bone structure less defined into characteristic arrogance through cheeks and brow and nose.

Blood drips steady off his chin, thick with dust. He looks very young.

"Neither do I," is all he can say at length, breath huffed at a shuddering stifle through his sinuses that takes on the beat of a scoff at his own expense.

Fury has a way of distorting things. Like mercy. Above Calvin, the robot creaks, and a fresh wave of pressure when the leg crushes down barely a fraction of a centimeter before halting again with the blink of blackened eyelashes. Ice-water stare ticks over the young man's features, all blood and dust and sweat, as if re-recognising him for all that it won't make a difference. Beneath the paint and makeup and silk is a person, supposedly, but there is a certain degree of mirror-like reflection off white teeth in red mouth, and the light behind Jasmine's eyes is more like Calvin's dear old dad than Ruskin-Ryans genetics.

She is very still. "Explain."

Calvin cries out. Or rather, the cry forces its way through his teeth despite an effort to distract from and displace the scythe's sink through his ribs via skinned knuckles twisted into the ground ahead of him. There's genuine terror in the rattle of his breath once progress is halted once more. He is slow to reply, eyes shut.

"A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions," he quotes like a recent graduate would with a touch of a tremble and then a rankle, ashamed for his own cowardice. He's spent a lot of time thinking about this moment. And this robot.

"But by his inaction."

Keeping things halted it an exercise of will, as opposed to letting it play — it'd be all too easy to finish the memory, and by the way a compulsive grimace tugs at the corners of her mouth, Jasmine could well just. Let it. Inaction. But she doesn't, and though signs of tension don't show themselves as something physical, Calvin can probably feel it — like the fabric of this little universe were made of highly tuned guitar strings, vibrating, prepared to snap.

"You had no right," she says, voice low, quiet. There's no other noise to compete with, out here. In here. "And innocent people are going to die. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly are most susceptible to sickness," and steam hisses out the sides of the sentry as scythe presses harder, "as opposed to bigoted government officials with all the resources and sanitation in the world at their disposal. I have family that could die. So do you. And we both have Ingrid."

Her voice wavers, finally, and for a second, the pain in Calvin's back eases. Then stabilises.

"Yes," grates Calvin, voice pitched briefly higher than he'd like, more like himself, "I've done some research into the way viruses function." The as you might have noticed is implied in rasping (if polite) sarcasm, his ego finally offended enough to roll sluggishly over under the surface once pain has subsided between the blades of his shoulders.

When his eyes finally slice open again, haggard and half-absent, they focus inexorably back upon Jasmine's shoes.

"Then you know you've made a mistake," is just as politely sarcastic, from the voice somewhere above where shoes stand neatly together, balancing crouched figure. They're a good replica of the ones gifted to her IRL, all patent shininess, dangerous heel and neat toes. They aren't the best for walking around New York City in — especially this variation — and already, there are little scuffs that will need to be polished out. A streak of dust plasters to generous skirt.

A hand rests on the ground between them, clad in black satin, some wordless gesture of an olive branch as she says, "Tell me your progress. Tell me where it starts, how it can happen. Give us the opportunity to fix this and maybe— "

The optimistic outcome doesn't get said, heavy lidded eyes closing for a second. Opens again, eyes lambent. "Please."

A miserable, "Don't." isn't an order, exactly. More like an exasperated request.

The kinds couples tend to have while arguing in the kitchen over who got jelly in the peanut butter. His eyes close again and he swallows, buffering himself.

He had to've known it was coming sooner or later, no doubt. Negotiation and reason administered with pleading looks and tender offers. He isn't entirely stupid.

Granted. He couldn't have predicted he'd be being fucked through the back by a robot at the same time.

A look darted off to the side after something he's dropped comes and goes once he's ground through whatever he had to ground through to force his eyes open, ragged breaths slower and stronger now that she's building up a push that he feels he can actually resist. Tonight in the form of a darker figure sinking down onto his haunches next to her to see what she sees, black slacks and long coat and ginger mane trimmed and tousled into precision disorder. His eyes are the same brutal blue, beardy scruff as she recalls when he reaches to push his hand open and warm across her near knee to balance. "I've already exposed myself," he explains, just to her and not to himself lying prone against the ground. In search of eye contact. Reasonable. "What kind of man am I if I can't even follow through with my indiscretions?"

Spine drawing straight, hand retracted, Jasmine goes still when her space is more crowded than how it began, as poised as any crouching gargoyle.

A minor twitch at contact but otherwise nothing, shying away from the search of eye contact, at first, her focus dulling on the tilted face of the younger analogue bleeding on the ground. Though the paused world is unearthly, the stillness of the robot is an almost normal state for it to be in, save for the rigid hang of its sensors from missing mandible, eyes a bright, ominous red that shines light on nothing but its own eye sockets.

Then she looks at him, wary of this second apparition, one that isn't pinned down by a robot. Feather light, however, her satin-clad fingertips alight on the back of his knuckles. "Calvin," she says, a small smile on her mouth and audible in her voice, if frosted cool, "don't ask me what kind of man I think you are."

"I think," says Calvin, who grins to her smile and to her touch, flirtatious in the show of his teeth and the slant of his eye, "we both… already know." Which is an awfully polite way of putting things. So much so that he grins a second time. Convenient. It spares both of them the unpleasantness of hypothesis when they're trying to be ~nice~.

"I reckon," he continues once the brackish stir of his sense of humor has had time to atrophy, "the mystery that makes this all so very exciting is the question of what kind of man you are."

There's a scuff, then — peripheral. A rip. The sound of Calvin Sheridan the younger struggling to split his sidearm loose from his side.

Offense manifests as a breath taken in, as if patience could be sucked in through the air — though Jasmine's hand doesn't move from his, immediately, so he can sense additional tension at the sound of that rip. Locked gaze breaks to look down, and, teeth showing in a hiss — teeth with more edge to them than strictly necessary, sharpened ivory — the robot finally pushes its leg down, and through, the telltale scrape and crack of loose comment beneath struggling body loud enough to vibrate through the ground, because that's how he remembers it to be.

"I'm trying to save you," she says, pushing his hand away with a prim shove. "There are simpler ways to stop you. And they'll find it."

The elder, sleeker, statelier Calvin stiffens with underplayed alarm when she picks up on the noise and looks, dream reflexes too slow to intervene. The axe falls then and he vanishes soundlessly. Without so much of a mirror flash or a poff of smoke, there is no hand for her to displace. Unless she's accounting for the bloodied and dirty versions clawing for purchase close to her feet.

His face is turned down into his shoulder, smothering heat and damp and a ragged, gulping gasp for air into dusty kevlar where he can't see and neither can anyone else. He should be unconscious by now, but he already is, left hand clutched tight round the grip of a semiautomatic he's made no move to point at anyone, strings and strains of frayed tissue popping fresh against the blade with every sagging breath he draws.

He may not hear her.

There's a break in her composure when he vanishes before hand can be pushed, her own outstretched into empty air before withdrawing sharply. Stands, then, in a movement too graceful and fluid to speak of the real thing in the waking world, all physical uncertainty and gangly balance.

A shaky exhale sends tapering steam into the cool dawn air, arms wrapping about narrow torso before she pulls a step back from the struggling figure pinned to the ground. Jasmine turns, then, as time resumes, a klaxon wailing loud through the heart of the dream and ripping it apart just enough for her to find an easy exit to slip through, unravelling into the noise that fills Calvin's head, and the taste of blood in his mouth. By the time he wakes, coppery slick will be replaced with dryness, and scars twinge like a struck chord.

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