Beast in the Bay


bao-wei2_icon.gif bella_icon.gif

Scene Title Beast in the Bay
Synopsis Bella makes a monster sighting while jogging.
Date August 18, 2010

Jamaica Bay

Tok tok tok tok. The sound of sneakers on pavement. The whimpering treble of headphones. The puff puff of exertion. The bobbing red ponytail of Isabella Sheridan, on a jog, taking the winding path through the hot house humidity of the Jamaica Bay swamp trail. Dragonflies, linked in mating, pairs zip through the air like lopsided neon darts, making eighties palates for the instant they cross camera-line with Bella's bright orange tanktop and blue and white striped jogging shorts. The late morning chatter of birds has become conversational rather than frantic.

Not that Bella is listening. Her ears are focused on the echoed sound of her own panting, and the steady beat of Madonna's 'Hung Up', which is just one of many such fine works on her 'Workout' playlist. Exercise is something she eschewed during the late days of her Institute involvement, feeling unsafe and enervated, too grim to bother using endorphins to cheer herself up. But now… she said she was going to be happy. She'd like to try and make good on that promise to herself.

As the water grows deeper and darker around her, the trees reach across, overhead, trying to bridge the light blue gap of the cloudless sky, intersticed only with the traces of jet contrails. Her gaze flicks over to either side once and a while. Nature… it's been a while since she's seen it.

Going from the inner circle to the dredges- it is a downfall story that Bao-Wei Cong has lived through too many times in his life. Every time, it is harder to put his feet to ground. This time, he hardly has been able to. From being carried to the ocean, to being carried back, dragging along the grody bottom of the bay, he has surely not done much in the way of walking. Lurking. Paddling. Waiting. When you don't need to sleep, and don't need to eat- the world is a much more linear place to exist.

Linear. Until something comes along that makes it spread into a frayed knot of sudden sentience. The warmth of the swamp is offset only by Cong's presence there; in the murky, deeper water, he has simply taken to lying under the surface. Floating, drifting. If he gets stuck on something, he will wrench it off. Well, unless he can't. There are a few bits and pieces of rock and wood embedded on his craggy, frozen body. Perhaps a few small animals- a horseshoe crab, some frogs. Being so crocodilian in state allows him to wander past most things without event, however. They may eye him, perch somewhere else while he passes through. Self containment has been his primary goal for the last few days; not that he had not been attempting. If it's possible to become like a man again, it is in his best interest to figure it out. As of current, he has managed to only contain his residual temperature- to not give off the giant aura of cold. Still, wherever he goes, it leaves behind a slush under lilies and reeds.

Activity outside of the swamp always gets a glance. This time is so much different.

A part in the trees gives him a view of the bike path that he may see people flutter past, from his place in the water. Nothing else to do. This time- oh, this time- the familiar human figure that he spots passing through- if anything would boil inside of him, it does so now, as Bella darts over the compacted ground.

The ridge of eyes under a knotted net of green in the water sinks down, the tip of an iceberg, so to speak. Bao-Wei moves along the bottom of the swamp as swiftly as he can, parallel to the path- without crashing into something, he hopes. Log, log, car, weeds- the latter clash and catch on the front of a saurid muzzle and drag like streamers onto the tips of his spines, all of which freeze into place. It leaves him increasingly looking like a strange seahorse. But, he does not resurface again. not yet. For now, he will stay under, creeping alongside her.

Bella isn't jogging quickly. She's not going to run herself ragged - this is not a pathological exercise, but rather a rationally pursued form of lifestyle improvement. The rest of her life may now be ruled by various survival instincts and utterly crazy interpersonal choices, but here… out here… things will make sense. She will run at a reasonable pace like a reasonable person leading a reasonable life.

Which makes it that much easier for the giant elemental saurian that was one her co-worker to keep up with her. Like in some deranged, hyperbolic metaphor, a horror film almost too easy to psychoanalyze, the detritus trailing thing-that-was-Cong travels in unnoticed alongside. An unknown companion. An inescapable reminder.

Any sound of collision is, for the moment, drowned out by her Madgesty letting Bella know that 'Time goes by… so slowly' following up with the statement that she's 'hung up on you'. Maybe she has the snowballing Bao in mind. But probably not.

As she reaches a curve in the road, she takes a momentary breather, stepping to one side of the road and reaching down to her thigh where she has a bottle of water strapped. Sweating and breath coming in steady but heavy pants, she pops the top of the bottle open and tilts it back, letting a stream of lukewarm tap water flow into her mouth. Yum. Gulp gulp gulp. She wipes her lips clean, then adjusts the sweat band that crosses her forehead, gaze finally drifting out into the swamp, roaming with no real intent.

Need some ice with that?

Virtually at the same time that she pulls away the bottle and looks out onto the marshland, something visibly stirs in the water. Though it is not a thrashing, not a surfacing, there are sudden vibrations coming out onto the surface of the water. The water that is practically right next to the border of reeds on the edge of the path. Some very large, noisy bubbles as well. Maybe it's a turtle?

Bella likes turtles! She had one as a pet. It's name was Oscar. 'It', because she never really knew if it was a girl or a boy. I am not mentioning this as if it had any pertinence on the situation. Nope. No inference here.

The psychiatrist and erstwhile evil scientist crosses the path, stooping over to peer into the dark waters, looking for a painted back or even the horned head of a snapping turtle - scary, but interesting. Pure curiosity, no dread or doubt. She's ready to find pleasure in a small thing. Like normal, healthy people do.

'Aww, turtle?' quickly turns into a big, red, F.M.L. on Bella's forehead. Something shimmers under the dark water and green debris, and for a few moments it does appear to be a shell. A shell that gets bigger. And bigger. Until it finally breaks the surface, with a veritable canyon of ridges and spines rising skyward, water dripping and freezing down over the sides. The weeds that had frozen to his back stick out like banners.

The now unmistakable thing in the water rises from mid-back first, serpentine chest following, then sculpted, decorated head.

Provided that she hasn't run by now- Bella Sheridan is suddenly at eye level with a tall, icy reptile reeling up from the swamp, one disc-sized golden eye staring her down. There are claws, flashing just under the water, swimming there to keep everything in its proper place.

She doesn't run. She's really much, much to shocked to. Bella is a born coward, but she's not actually one of those cowards who is particularly good at survival. When the death rays hum, unless someone is there to remind her to flee, she may just stand, gape-jawed, staring as they Destroy All Humans.

That, and there is something familiar about the chill that shivers through the air.

He has changed since last she saw him, but that golden eye in unmistakeable.

She stares back. She knows who this is but it takes her a long moment to actually believe that it could be thus. She had, she will admit, believed him dead. Or worse. She had, she will confess, given it up as effectively no longer her problem. She had, to her credit, felt bad about that. And now, mad though it may be, the third thing she feels after shock and awe is… relief.

She is, now, this much less alone.

"Dr. Cong," Bella states, managing to keep a stammer from her voice, managing to make her words a statement and not a question.

A stream of air exits through slats in the beast's nose, fogging the air with a cold cloud that floats up and around arching horns. He watches her for what seems like another eternity, expressionless in this particular state. In fact, he is not so sure how he feels about this- about showing himself. It is too late to take it back. So he stares, with that singular iris, and breathes, as much as something without lungs can.

Perhaps he should say something. He does not, yet, for a minute or so. Until he cannot leave her hanging any longer. The air is cold, his form colder- but there is a certain, foreign, favor in his gaze. His voice rumbles, hollow and deep.


Worst reply possible? It is getting there.

But it serves its purpose. This is a hailing, an address. They have acknowledged each other, and however much their genes have diverged, this forms some bond. Language is what makes us human, some have argued. More important than mere shape or form. Communication, a mind saying 'I am here'. A reply, returned.

Bella takes a ginger step forward and lifts her hand, arm outstretched, towards Bao. Towards that great crocodilian snout. There is some hesitance there, but it's not the hesitance that comes from fear (at least, not entirely). It's a hesitance born of uncertain permission. She doesn't ask, but the question is in her face. 'May I?'

If he were not what he was- there is a definite chance that her hand would fall onto the furthest point of what constitutes his muzzle. But- he cannot allow it. Not out of pride, not out of distaste, but rather out of necessity. The head drifts away from her reach, out of range with a twitch and jerk, a horse-like start.

Bella saw what happened to Amber Mitchell. He doesn't say anything for another span, breathing inward the warm air and puffing out that telltale cloud.

"I owe you."

Bella's hand drops. Very well. She doesn't want to lose her fingers, it's true. She had some sort of crazy notion that maybe, maybe, if she tried then he'd be able to hold back the deathly edge of chill. And that maybe she could demonstrate her grit and willingness by maintaining a contact despite how painful the cold might be, and that that demonstration might be worth something. It's a notion that borders on romantic, really. Bella still has some therapist left in her. She hopes, at least, the gesture does some good.

Her brow furrows slightly at Bao's statement. "I'd rather you not have to," she says, after a moment, "I'd rather you feel no debt. I'd rather…" though she's not sure what comes after this. Those other rather were, effectively, 'rather nots'. Putting a positive to her preference… that becomes difficult.

It does. He knows at the very least, she remains curious. Curiosity breeds concern, attachment. Even if his personal curiosity attracted him to different things- to a cause, a purpose- it can work similarly for people, via people. Bao-Wei may no longer be a person, per se, but eye contact, voice, sentience, sentimentality- that makes him quite so, contrarily.

"Because of you, I was ready. As I would ever be." The jaw cracks and moves further open, whiskered face bristling. "I was still send to the curb-" He confides, echoing virtually into her ears.

"Though as you can see…" It did not take. "Everything else. It is gone.

She felt something of relief before. It may come back in more force now.

Bella would be lying if she said the knowledge of Project Icarus' demise brought her an emotion more significant than relief. While not gruesome enough to dwell on details, to imagine what must have been done to Dr. Gregor to stop him from pulling himself back together, what he may have attempted in the last stages of his defeat, the desperation particular to mad Germans in bunkers… while she does not entertain images, the notion that he is gone… that soothes her.

"As long as you are safe," Bella says, though why still remains uncertain. Pity and pathos, perhaps? The safety felt in the presence of a fellow sinner, and individual who cannot possible judge her, someone too monstrous in form to forget his inner monstrosity, and thus unable to call her out on her own. "It was always going to end that way. It always does. This isn't the first time I've seen it played out. Maniacs will find maniacs, and they will destroy each other." While the less dedicated of their number are scattered, sent to far corners, to the Atlantic, to Chelsea.

"How long have you been out here, Dr. Cong? Do you… are you certain you're safe?" Bella trusts that if he had not wished to be seen, he would not have revealed himself to her. That does not mean, however, that someone might not be looking for him. One of the vindictive victors, not satisfied with defeat in retreat.

The head quirks, reptilian, emotionless features tilting to examine Bella. Her first response strikes him as strange. What is he to ask about her reasoning? At this point, it is perhaps most wise to take what you can get.

If that means saying nothing when it comes to Sheridan expressing something like this, so be it.

"They believe me killed." Cong takes a moment to respond, his words clear in implicating that he had a very direct confrontation with whoever came to him. "They came the night of the twelfth. I-" He stops, eye scanning the air above her. "They put a flamethrower tank into my mouth and set it off." He has not told a soul about what happened, until now. He has not had anyone to tell. As he recalls it, there comes a venom over his eye, shimmering alive in the pit of dark beneath one brow. His echo gets more hollow, detached.

"I was smithereens, washed out into the ocean. It is a blur, now. I washed up on Swinburne at the start of the week. I have not been out here long."

Bella actually has the urge to say 'nice use of smithereens in conversation'. But maybe that is not the most appropriate thing to say, especially when said use is as self-discriptor. Bella is not sure if Bao-Wei can feel pain, if his experience of physical suffering is anything like what it might be for her. But regardless of the experience, on a deeper level, that brush with oblivion, that reduction to helpless ruins… that cannot be easy. Especially not for someone, something, like Bao-Wei Cong.

"Well, you look remarkably well," Bella says, trying to be at least minutely humorous though God knows she should know better, "quite imposing. They obviously underestimated you." She pauses. "What will you do? Anything… anything you need? Or need to know?" That I can get you, is the unspoken component here. That you can't get yourself, being a massive, frozen, amphibious reptile creature who is unlikely to be able to just hit the corner store whenever he wants.

"I am doing much better than Gregor." Him being dead, that is quite the upward leap. "I do not think they underestimated too harshly. Only the scale of what I've made. What I did." His eye darts downward again, zeroing in on her like an eagle at a riverside.

"I have nothing, now." Nobody, implied. Though, for a moment, he reconsiders the fact that she has not run from him. Not yet. Bao-Wei's low rumble begins to get very somber, sinking into as hushed as it can become. One foot beneath the water flickers up to the surface and back down, ridged knobs of claws fluttering idle. "I do not know what I will do. Master myself. I may be able to change back, per practice. I am not all too expectant."

He is uncertain as to if there is anything that she can offer.

Change back? Bella wonders what feat of self-mastery would allow this great beast to shift into a form even vaguely resembling the Dr. Cong she met at the Staten Island Hospital. What he is, what he can do, is quite beyond her to imagine. So she certainly cannot discount its possibility.

"Hold out hope," Bella suggests. She isn't running, it's true. She's always had a remarkable confidence as to her ability, in conversation, to fend for herself. To hold her own. And however changed he may be in form, the personality (and its constituent pathologies) seem securely in place. What solitude and isolation may yet to do him, she doesn't know. And, to be honest, the notion scares her.

If he loses himself to himself, who knows what he will become.

"Please… forgive me ahead of time if this seems… I don't know… presumptuous," Bella starts, speaking like one walks on ice the thickness of which one doesn't know, "but if you need someone to talk to… I honestly don't have much left myself. I am not by any means comparing our situations, I wouldn't… wouldn't dare frankly. But… I am a therapist. Talking is one thing I can still do. So, if you, well, not even need but just want…" She trails off. He gets the picture, right? "I could come back here."

Bao-Wei's entire life has been a life on the fringe of solitude; the barest of real connections left him neither looking for more, nor eschewing the ones he had, or had lost. Now, perhaps in a fit of the same fringe benefits- it appears that he only has Bella left.

He stays still, watching her, listening closely to her awkward attempts to be courteous. She is very much walking on ice, though at current it is as thick as a vault wall, and just as sturdy.

"You could." Cong does not, notably, say whether or not she should, or that somewhere in there, he actually wants her to.

"Well," Bella says, smiling as best she can, which is actually pretty good - she's practiced, "given the power, I'm afraid I'm always tempted to use it. I can? I will." She glances about. The swamp is remarkably quiet in Bao's manifest presence. The beasts and fowl can tell there is something greater than themselves present. "Here, then? When? In two days? I… was intending to jog more regularly anyways."

"I do not have anywhere else to be." He cannot stray too close to land for too long, unless it is a place like this one. With no people, save for the ones he can watch. Nothing to bother him, save for birds and fish. A plume of cold comes from the jagged split of his mouth, rippling into the air around his head. One foot lifts from the water, perching in the reeds on the bank. They crust over almost immediately, brittle enough to crash down when he pushes his form away from the bank, steering tentatively to his right. The golden eye in his profile remains fixed.

"Do what you wish. I will know if you are here."

Well that's… nice. He'll know if she's here. He has some sort of sense, some form of watchfulness. Maybe he can sense her heat? These are not idle musings. She is genuinely curious as to the nature of his transformation. And, it occurs to her, he might be curious as well, and maybe even willing to impart his observations, report the ongoing results of his self-experiment. A matter to be approached with caution but potentially fruitful. She steps back. She won't prolong. She'll take this in steps. No need to rush ahead, particularly when she's not quite sure what she intends, what use future meetings will serve.

Would it be crazy to imagine that maybe she just wants to help?

Bella inclines in a small bow. "I'll be back," she promises, "stay safe." The way she puts it, it's as she's asking for a personal favor.

The eye narrows, not so vestigial eyelids cracking closer together, simply for the purpose of expression. The creature inclines his head in return, neck curling, mirrored of a swan, a goose, a waterbird apparently contented with its situation, contented to drift away, bill tucked earthward. And he does drift away, breaking slowly off from the bank and through freezing knots of floating green.

"I am as safe as I shall ever be."

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