A Canary In A Coal Mine


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Scene Title A Canary In A Coal Mine
Synopsis Edward shows Elisabeth his bird in a cage.
Date November 08, 2011

The Hub: Incineration Room

For the past week, the smell of coal and filth has been Munin’s constant companion. For the past week, she has been kept in an inhumane condition that — had the world not been destroyed — would be a punishable offense under so many articles of war. She was under no delusions, either, this was war, and one that she ostensibly won.

And yet.

Bound by zip-ties to an old metal chair, Munin has been fed scraps of spoiled food and enough water to keep her alive. But it’s become increasingly clear that her captors don’t know what to do with her. They’ve asked questions that won’t help them, where are the Vanguard and how many are there? But these are questions they could answer for themselves by popping their heads out of the tunnels below the Consolidated Edison plant. It’s become increasingly obvious they didn’t have a plan.

And yet.

The room Munin is kept in was once a blast furnace, still is, and the smell of soot in the air masks the smell of her own filth they’ve left her to sit in. It will be another day before they come in and hose her off, if that day ever comes. Each day she expects to feel the heat rising in the room, see embers come from the furnace vents, and then it will all be over. Today would have been that day.

And yet.

The view slot in the blast furnace door slides open sharply, and Munin can hear the muffled sound of Edward Ray’s voice as he addresses someone. “I wasn’t going to kill you,” he says before a silhouette moves in front of the view slot, someone with blonde hair.

She can hear Edward’s clarification on the other side of the door.

“I was planning on killing her.”

The blonde at the door looks through the slot, and whips her head around so that the only thing visible to the bound occupant is the long braid of incongruously purple-streaked blonde. “And what the fuck good do you think killing her is going to do you? Is she infected? Or are you trying to bring the Vanguard down on your head that much faster just to put yourself out of your own misery?” Elisabeth’s tone is ascerbic as hell and cold. “Why the fuck do you have the woman bound in a room?”

Thank you, is what Eileen— no, Munin might say if the gag in her mouth didn’t prevent her from speaking, and although she can still make plenty of noise, she opts not to. She listens instead to the voices on the other side of the door. Edward’s is familiar in the same way that her hunger pangs and nausea are, but she does not recognize Elisabeth’s.

She flexes her fingers to keep the circulation moving in her hands, which are small, pale, and covered in soot. There has not been much to do in this prison except think; the tired expression on her face and the dark circles under her eyes, which are shut, belong to someone who has been doing entirely too much of that for as long as she’s been locked in solitary confinement.

She could not tell Elisabeth how many days it’s been. Time is the enemy, and lately it’s been eluding her in ways she didn’t know were possible until now.

The Englishwoman is still except for the rise and fall of her chest that accompanies her thin, carefully-measured breathing.

“She’s not infected, no. She’s smart enough not to be,” Edward admits with a nod of his head to the door. “I was going to kill her to raise morale.” Blue eyes search Elisabeth, then sweep to regard the viewing slat. “There’s a lot of angry, desperate people out there who want something tangible to hold on to. Hope was in short supply but everyone has an overfull supply of anger. I figured watching Kazimir Volken’s prized parrot die in a fire might’ve done something for morale. Might’ve felt something like justice, what for all the lives she’s claimed.”

But then, head angling to the side, Edward slowly tracks his stare back to Elisabeth. “But then you showed up, with your improbabilities, with your… data points.” One brow raised, Edward motions with a nod to the door again. “I’m willing to forsake morale for something a bit more tangible.” He reaches up to the latch, pulls it open and pushes the door into the blast furnace.

“Phoenix interrogated her once in your timeline,” Edward explains with a shrug of his shoulders. “No sweat off my brow if you want to try bottling that lightning a second time.”

Stalking through the door into the room, the blonde heads directly for the tiny form of Eileen. She crouches down, pulling the gag from the dark-haired woman’s mouth. “What she knew at that time is utterly useless to you now,” Elisabeth retorts to Edward. She doesn’t remove the zip ties — yet — if only because she has no idea what this Eileen might do. Hell, she’s not sure she ever knew what Eileen in her own world would do, honestly. She’s not even 100 percent certain whether Eileen was interrogated or if she came to someone in Phoenix of her own volition. She does, however, know one thing about the other woman from a whole different place.

“Eileen… is this the outcome you wanted for the world?” The question is simple, asked of the woman in a direct, even tone. Her blue eyes search the light ones of the woman tied to the chair. “If all of this is what you signed up for? Fine. But I have this potentially stupid amount of hope that what you’d really like to do is escape what Gabriel’s become and that maybe you wish you’d never been involved in all of this. If I’m way off the mark, well… that’s fine too. Give me a reason to not walk away and let him do whatever the hell he wants, please?” The question is not quite a plea, but there is a level of sincerity to it. She’s honestly offering whatever clemency there is.

The first thing Munin does is spit in Elisabeth’s face. Fortunately for Elisabeth, she doesn’t have much of a pool of saliva to draw from. Edward’s treatment of her has left her emaciated body weak and dehydrated — it’s taking all the strength she possess in her upper body not to tip the rest of the way forward.

“Nobody has used that name in a long time,” she croaks, then. Maybe she’s willing to talk after all. “Untie me.

It doesn’t sound like a request.

Edward watches from the doorway, hands in his pockets, shoulders slouched. “I wouldn’t do that,” he warns, “she’s a biter.”

The spitting? Well, to be expected. Elisabeth turns to look at Edward her tone low. “Bring me a bottle of water and something for her to eat, please?” Her ability is just barely humming along her nerves, negated as she is, but she knows what they’re doing to their prisoner. “And give me 20 minutes alone with her.” She’s not asking, she’s telling Edward what to do as she walks to him. “Let me have your knife and then take it with you when you go. I’m reasonably sure that in the state she’s in, I can handle her if she decides that I must need to get bitten. You can lock us both in.” She holds out her hand, and when he gives her the implement he’d been using to cut the strings, she goes immediately back to release the zip ties and returns it.

Then she ignores Edward, clearly expecting him to do as she asked. “I think it’s been a long time since you wanted anyone to use that name, probably,” Liz tells the other woman. “I’d like to know how you managed to find yourself here, while he’s off finding water.” She tilts her head, moving far enough away to let Eileen not feel loomed over but still close enough to help her if she seems about to topple.

The zipties leave angry marks on Munin’s skin even after they’ve been cut away. At some point during her confinement, she strained against them enough to draw blood, which has since crusted over and filled the self-inflicted wound with a sort of milky pus. It hurts to touch, but touch it Munin does, testing the extent of the damage with the edge of a thumbnail. Her jaw tenses and she chokes back the start of a small, sharp sound.

“You ask questions like you already know the answers,” she says. Her eyes fix on Edward even though it’s Elisabeth she’s addressing, studying him with the same intensity that a house cat studies a bird on the other side of a glass window. She waits until he’s left the room before her gaze shifts back to Elisabeth, perhaps for lack of anything else to look at.

Where Elisabeth comes from, she’s blind. It’s quickly becoming apparent that this isn’t the case here.

“They treat me like I’m an animal.”

Elisabeth watches, her gaze cautious but not angry or filled with hate. In her world, Eileen Ruskin is someone else. “I sincerely doubt Volken would treat any of them any better were the shoe on the other foot,” the blonde replies quietly. Leaning back on the wall, she crosses her arms and pulls in a slow breath.

“I don’t already know your answers. But I do know some things. Like the fact that you care for at least some of the people who were involved in this atrocity like family. Which means you’re in a tough place, seeing what the world has become.” She tilts her head. “Did you know what you were signing up for? Killing the entire world?” She seems willing to offer the benefit of the doubt, at least.

“What has the world ever done for you?” Munin asks. “People have been killing each other for as long as we were clever enough to come up with the idea.” Her legs unfold in a long, languid but somewhat shaky stretch. Leather boots come to rest a perfect shoulder’s width apart on the concrete floor.

“What happened, happened,” she says. “It was never a matter of if. Only when. Only how. You can’t change it, so there’s no use in whatever that shivery little weasel over there is trying to do.”

If you only knew, Elisabeth thought rather irreverently. “You’re right… I can’t change what happened to all the people here,” she admits. “The weasel is most assuredly not to be trusted, generally speaking, however… what if I told you there’s a way to escape what’s happened here? What would getting a fresh start somewhere other than here, somewhere with no Kazimir Volken and his desire to basically be the last man standing in the world, be worth to you?”

Munin might be doubting her skill in being able to spot a liar if the way she’s looking at Elisabeth is any indication of what she’s thinking. “We tried that,” she says. “Once. The man you call Gabriel and I. Kazimir was merciful. He has always been merciful.”

She does not trust her legs to support the weight of her body and seems to relax in the chair rather than attempt something as foolhardy as standing. Elisabeth probably doesn’t have to worry about the Englishwoman making an escape.

Gabriel is still a sore subject, years later. Elisabeth spots the first flicker of guilt in Munin’s eyes from beneath her lashes but she does not steer her gaze away from the stranger. Instead, she asks, “Where do you come from?”

Elisabeth’s smile is faint and holds a bitter edge. “Merciful,” she snorts. “That’s what we’re calling it when he decides someone’s body is useful to him? Because I’m rather assuming that’s what you mean by merciful — he didn’t kill you both for trying to escape him. But the punishment was severe enough to make sure you never tried it again?” She’s taking a shot in the dark — several of them, really. But it would make sense with what she knows of the old bastard.

“Let’s just say that I’m not from around here and leave it there for now. And I’m offering, straight up with no strings attached, to make the sincere effort to be sure you’re among the people who leave this hellhole… but the offer’s only good if you can offer me something I need in return. Are you interested in having this conversation?”

Munin spreads her hands as if to say, I’m still here. Whether the gesture is in response to Elisabeth’s question about the nature of mercy or whether Munin is interested in hearing more isn’t immediately clear.

“Evidence,” she answers. “I need some. I also want to know where we’re going.”

That isn’t a no.

Neither has reason to trust the other, and it’s a fair request. Perhaps even one Elisabeth was expecting if Eileen were to be interested. “The where … could be a little more complicated than you’d like to believe,” the blonde admits candidly. “But I think I can manage evidence in some form to prove that I’m not lying. In return… I want to know where Stephanie Winters is. Her skills are going to be useful to me in getting us the hell out of here before Volken comes down on our heads.” There’s a faint grimace as she points out, “Which, as we both know, really is only a matter of time.”

“Speak for yourself. I’m the closest thing he has to his child.” Munin glances at the empty doorway that Edward occupied just a few minutes ago, then raises her eyes to the ceiling. She imagines what it’s like above ground and allows herself to fantasize about the open sky above their heads.

Elisabeth has never seen her Eileen smile, but this one is smiling now. She even shows a hint of fang. “You shouldn’t worry,” she says. “If he knew how to find you, he would have. This is a safe place, wherever this place is.”

She braces her dominant hand against the back of the chair and uses it to finally climb to her feet. One knee buckles. Somehow she catches herself before she hits the ground. “Don’t touch me,” she warns Elisabeth, whether the other woman moves to or not. “Don’t touch me.”

Munin pulls in a deep breath, then lets it out again when she’s sure she isn’t going to collapse at the middle. She straightens. “I’ll take you to Winters. Your evidence, first.”

“She’s lying,” comes from the doorway, where Edward stands holding a granola bar still in its wrapper and a metal cup. “Just, in case you’re concerned about that…” As he walks in, Edward fixes a look at the thin young woman and keeps the blonde directly between he Munin’s trajectory.

Then, with a look to Liz he adds. “Stephanie Winters was only referenced in Company files,” his blue eyes flick back to the brunette. “Unless Volken started browsing two decade old records of people he’s kidnapped, she’s telling you what you want to hear.” His brows raise and he fixes Munin with something of a oops look.

“Gillian Childs, however…” Edward bobs his head up and down once, “she absolutely knows who Gillian is. I imagine she helped kidnap her in the first place.” Offering out the food and drink to Elisabeth and not Munin, Edward shrugs helplessly.

“I wouldn’t fault you for eating this in front of her.” Edward adds, helpfully.

“He seems to have forgotten who I am and what I can do,” Munin tells Elisabeth. Her grip on the chair tightens, knuckles going completely white. She imagines the wood is Edward’s windpipe. “I don’t need to know someone to find them.”

What usually happens to the people she finds requires no explanation.

“Perfect timing, as usual, Edward,” Elisabeth replies calmly as the man moves back into the cell. Pursing her lips, she shrugs slightly. “She may well be lying. It’s always my assumption that someone will say anything they think you want to hear until they figure out that you’re not fucking around with them. However, I am well aware of her capabilities, and perhaps when she sees some of the evidence, she’ll be more willing to believe and to cooperate.”

Taking the food and water from Edward, she moves forward to set it carefully on the chair, keeping herself between the two. Her blue eyes are on Eileen. “As close to him as his child, hmm? How’s that working out for you, Eileen? Has it made your life in this wasteland a good one? Have you gotten everything you ever wanted out of all of this?” She shrugs slightly. “Are the people you love really so much happier being essentially alone on this ball of dust spinning around the solar system?”

She backs away and herds Edward toward the door just by virtue of moving her own body in that direction. “Think about it. And we’ll talk further. I’m not fucking around with you. There is a way out. It’s entirely up to you if you choose to take it.”

Edward’s brows stay raised, blue eyes tracking from Liz to Munin. He looks at them both, weighing the possibilities that Liz’s sentiments don’t fall on deaf ears, or that Munin doesn’t use that cup to try and kill either one of them. In the end, he just tucks his hands back into the pockets of his pants and rolls his shoulders in a shrug.

“Magnes might have better luck,” Edward admits with a faint rise to the tone of his voice at the end, as if he wasn’t sure whether it was a statement or a question.

On the subject of questions, Munin has only one: “Who the hell is Magnes?”

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