Cause Of Death, Part III


corbin_icon.gif robyn5_icon.gif saito_icon.gif

Scene Title Cause Of Death, Part III
Synopsis Agents Ayers, Saito, and Quinn converge on the presumed lair of serial killer William Sadler.
Date February 13, 2020

A maenad scream breaks darkened silence. Glass shatters. A body falls to the floor.

Pigeons scatter from the damp concrete floor of the refinery, scattering up into the metal rafters to perch in tense observation. One of the ground floor windows, already damaged by rioting and vandalism years prior, is further damaged by someone throwing their body through it. Blood tracks across the concrete, crimson footprints scraped on wet stone. Rasping, gurgling breaths plead for life even as the body begs for death. In the single shaft of light spilling in through that broken window, a broken man drags himself across the floor on his arms.

William Sadler’s hands are cut in several places, his hair patchy and falling out. Dark circles shadow his eyes like massive bruises and the capillaries in the whites of his eyes have burst, turning them as red as the tracks he leaves on the ground. “H-Help!” Sadler cries out, blood staining the white fabric of his lab coat, skin mottled with blotches of purple and red that spread beneath his skin.

Please!” Blood runs down his brow from a gash on his head, and Sadler slouches forward and presses that spot to the concrete in exhaustion. He becomes still. Eventually, the birds return, settling down on the floor around Sadler’s body, toeing through the pool of his blood. He stares at one with an unblinking, blue-eyed stare, irises relaxed. Then


Sadler lashes out, grabbing one of the birds and hissing sharply. He drives his thumbnail into its breast, spilling blood, then squeezes the pigeon like a sponge, eyes wild and unseeing. The blood rolls down from the bird, into his palm, and not a single drop spills to the floor. Sadler draws in a sharp breath, howling into the night.


Ten Years Later

Infineum Chemical Plant
New Jersey

February 7th
9:19 am

It’s been surprisingly warm most of February. Warm, and rainy.

A drizzling rain falls down from a cloudy-filled sky. A large puddle of rainwater reflects the slate gray before its placidity is disrupted by a tire passing through it. A steel-colored 2019 Yamagato Civis rolls across the cement driveway, moving at a crawl through the rusting monuments of industry long since decayed.

The Infineum Chemical Plant has been abandoned for fourteen years and left to decay. What of it that remains has stood through a massive blizzard, two hurricanes, riots, vandalism, and a civil war. Little of the chemical plant is fully standing. Tall chemical vats are split along their sides and brown with rust, long ago having spilled their toxic brew out into the ground. All plantlife around the chemical plant is dead and in the intervening decade and change nothing has dared come back to life here.

Massive lengths of piping are skewed and collapsed, some spread across the concrete roads that wind through small treatment buildings, others partially buried under dry, dead soil blown by the wind and — today — soaked into a toxic mud by the rain. The ground here is incredibly contaminated, though the air after all this time should be safe to breathe.

“This feels like that scene in Robocop…”

Kenji Saito is hunched in the back seat of Agent Quinn’s Civis, looking out the triangular rear window at the chemical plant. “You know, the part where Robocop hits the guy with his car and he just explodes into a heap of orange goop?” Saito turns a dark-eyed look from the window to Robyn, then over to the man in the passenger seat. Corbin Ayers has come along as backup, with Saito being relatively new to field agent work, leadership didn’t want to send Robyn out into the field — especially on a case like this — alone.

But Saito isn’t wrong, either. And in Robocop the bad guys used an old chemical plant as their hideout. Sure enough, the two story central office is still somewhat intact. The southwest corner of the second floor is sagging inward and has collapsed down to the ground, but enough of the building remains intact enough to serve as a hideout. It’s the only part of the ruined plant that isn’t either flattened, falling over, or about to do one or the other.

"Kenji." Robyn rises slowly out of the Civis, not looking back at her partner. "Please don't tempt fate.” The door is gently clicked shut, eyes sweeping over the grim sight around them. "Thank you for coming along, Corbin. I hope we won't need the backup, but- honestly with a place like this, I appreciate having another set of eyes. Mine aren't always great."

Straightening her jacket, she looks to the backseat, where her cane sits among a bag of markers and equipment, should they need it. "Alright, as a refresher, we're here to give the place a look over. See if anything is amiss, or if there's been recent traffic through here. And naturally, anything that might gives us reason to link back to Sadler." Rolling her shoulders, she sighs.

"Look for blood. New, old, dried, fresh. We have reason to suspect he holds a strong connection to blood." This is all the more reason she's happy to have Corbin around - blood in particular blends into the grays of the world around her. "And keep your eyes open. This place could collapse any moment, and… who knows what kinds of chemicals are still hanging around. Or how volatile they are."

With that, she opens the back door and pulls out a flashlight and clicks it on. Even in the middle of the day, it helps the details pop out a bit more for her.

With an amused smile on his face, Corbin rolls out of his door and looks up at the building, having to agree with the younger Agent. “I guess a classic is a classic,” he admits, even though he had been surprised that the young man had actually seen the original enough to make the reference. At Agent Quinn’s words, though, he gets more serious, nodding, looking back at the building for some sign of a threat, and also checking his periphery for something only he can usually see.

“I do sometimes have an extra set of eyes to offer,” he states, making it sound like a joke. He wasn’t talking about his eyes, exactly, but something that at least Robyn was aware of now. After the encounter they had sat down and had a long talk about what was going on with him and Hokuto, and how it was a secret from the rest of SESA. Or at least as far as he was concerned it was.

He had never been directly asked about it, and he certainly wasn’t going to volunteer the information. Mostly because he didn’t want SESA to start relying on her ability. She could help him if she chose to, but he wouldn’t ask for more than she was willing to give. And that would be difficult if someone gave him orders to ask more of her.

Saito follows up the rear, clicking his flashlight on last as he enters the darkened lobby of the chemical plant. The space is at once cavernous and suffocating. The ceiling sags in the middle as though it were pregnant, small cracks in the rotting drywall and dark stains implying water collection above. The cement floor is glossy and slick with water and something that shines iridescent in Robyn’s flashlight, a color-coded detail her monochromatic vision misses. An old wood-paneled reception desk is moldering away in the middle of the room along with a filthy old computer covered in grime.

Rows of old leather-backed seats in a fixed bench line the walls by the entrance, their leather cracked and peeling and the padding inside gray with mold. All the doors in here long ago fell off their hinges. One leads into a small, confined office where a steady stream of water trickles in from above. The double doors ahead lead into the chemical plant floor, where towering cylinders of rusting metal are faintly visible in the gloom. The windows here are all plastered with old newspapers on the inside, dingy and grimy beyond recognition of their content, but plastered to keep out light.

Old cans litter the ground, empty bottles, boxes of microwavable dinners. Someone has been living here. But it’s the small shoe near the double doors to the plant floor that elicits an emotional reaction. It’s too small to belong to an adult, too moldy to be recent.

“God, that smell.” Saito says, covering his mouth with one hand. The others smell it too. Bile, sweat, acrid chemicals, and human waste commingled together as though all the odors of a high school gym, bathroom, and a chemical spill joined together.

Water pools around Robyn's feet as she stands by the reception desk, flashlight scanning the immediate area around her. She kicks up some of the water, eyes narrowing as she draws her light back up. "Be careful what you step in. Any of this could have chemicals mixed into it, and who knows what might react with it."

She stops, looking up at the ceiling. "This place is in worse shape than I thought, but…" As her eyes angle back down at the floor, she never resumes her thought. Instead her heart leaps into her chest as her eyes settle on the small shoe. Frowning, she reaches into her jacket pocket and pulls out a pair of black gloves. Slipping them on, she makes her way over to it and gingerly picks it up.

"It's pretty heinous," she remarks with a shudder. "And it's not getting any better over here. We should've worn breathing masks, who knows what's in the air." Maybe, just maybe, Robyn rushed into this a little too quickly, without enough research. "But between the smells and this," she half turns, holding the shoe towards Saito. "Someone has been here. And this leaves me worried why."

"Christ. Might just be squatters, but how is anyone ever getting power out here?" She turns her attention to the office, advancing towards it - and still, for some reason, hanging on to the shoe.

At the smell, Corbin grimaces visibly, pulling his shirt up to cover his nose and wishing that he couldn’t hear the sludge sound as he tried to keep walking. Yeah, he’s starting to wish he’d worn rubber boots and brought an N95 with him. “Next time, I’m choosing the location of our surprise mission, Robyn,” he says through the shirt he holds over his mouth, trying to keep from gagging. Yeah he does not like this at all.

He is teasing, though, because he knows that the woman didn’t choose the location. What they are investigating did the choosing. And that was how it was going to end up being. They went where the case wanted.

“It’s definitely inhabited, but I don’t know if I want to meet the people who live here.” In fact he could say he definitely didn’t. But that wasn’t really an option. “What I wouldn’t give to not have to smell this,” he says pointedly toward— the air. Because if she were here, she wouldn’t have to smell this. With the joking (and not joking) done, he focuses on casting his eyes around the location, letting his hand drop away from his shirt again. The sooner he gets used to this new smell, the sooner he’ll stop feeling like he wants to gag.

Saito pulls his sleeve down over his hand and keeps that clapped to his mouth while he sweeps his flashlight around, following the other, more senior, agents. Saito belatedly winces at the shoe. The trio slowly makes their way through the foyer, then through the wide-open double doors and down a short flight of a few steps to the plant floor. Here, the ceiling is two stories tall and the corrugated metal roof has enormous holes in it, letting down shafts of pale gray light and drizzling rain. What doesn’t come through the gaps in the ceiling rattles on the metal like tiny drumbeats.

Fifteen foot tall and ten foot wide rusted metal tanks fill much of the plant floor, interconnected by a labyrinth of equally rusting and dilapidated pipes. The smell seems to be emanating from this space, though the source isn’t immediately clear save for the chemical stink coming from the broken pipes and corroded tanks. Whatever was processed here smells of fuel in a way that is at once alarming and unsurprising.

Beyond the first two rows of tanks, across the shallow water covering the floor, the trio of agents come upon a horrifying sight. Rows of rotting human carcasses hang from chains suspended from the ceiling, like flanks of meat in the butcher’s freezer. At least three dozen people, all stripped of clothing, hang upside down like freshly killed deer, gutted from crotch to throat with individual buckets placed beneath their blood-stained heads. Saito immediately doubles over and vomits behind the group as soon as his flashlight scans over one mutilated corpse.

All of the corpses look weeks, months, or in some cases years old/ Flies buzz around them and maggots crawl in their remains. It is a grotesque sight and only the sheer space of the factory floor masks the charnel stench coming from the decaying, chain-wrapped bodies.

Beyond the bodies, a slitted butcher’s curtain partitions off another space, stained with smudges and handprints of long-ago dried blood.

A small sound rises up from the back of Robyn's throat, quickly turning to a retch as she turns away. Eyes squeeze shut as she takes a moment to process the sight and will her stomach to calm back down. She's seen some bad shit, some of it arguably worse. But this pure visceral horror turns her gut in a way she hasn't experienced in quite some time.

"Okay," is a choked out word, Robyn refusing to look back into the carnage. "Okay." There's nothing more than that initially. It takes several moments for her to compose herself, turning away and looking the exact other direction. The smell wells up another retch, a hand moving over her mouth as she chokes bile down.

"Get on the radio. We're going to need a-a lot more people going o-over this." Looking over to Corbin, and then to Saito, she parts two fingers so that her voice is less muffled. "Christ. Sadler or not, this is- this is a literal slaughterhouse."

Once, not very long ago, Corbin had thought the most horrifying thing he would ever see was an x-ray of a tree with literal human body parts within them. But then he hadn’t seen this. This is less foreign, less obviously SLC-E related, but that alone might make it even more horrific. Not long after Saito retches, he’s joined by Corbin, who steps back a few steps and goes around a doorframe before he does at least. Yeah, he’s— Robyn is going to owe him some really good coffee for this.

Or something.

When he comes back around, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he nods. “I’ll get on it.” HIs voice is hoarse and sounds like he’d rather— not even be here. But he can at least hold it together long enough to call it in. Picking up the radio, he talks, turning around to face one of the doors (to look out really) as he says, “This is Ayers with Agent Quinn. We’re going to need backup and forensics team at the Infineum Chemical Plant in Jersey CIty. Bring— a big team. We have a lot of bodies.”

The dispatch on the other end of the line distracts Corbin from the horror by asking more technical questions, ones lost to Robyn as she stares into the void and the void stares back at her. Saito struggles, hunched over with his hands on his knees, taking in gulping breaths. Robyn is largely left by herself, and only in the time when Corbin is on the phone with dispatch and Saito is trying to stop his stomach from escaping his body, does she see the flicker of light through the semi-opaque plastic curtains. It isn’t light from a lamp, but the bloom of a computer screen’s glow.

With a look cast towards the others, Robyn lets out a shudder as she stands back up right. "Get it together, Kenji." Not meant in a chastising way, despite her voice. It applies to her too, but in this moment she's searching for every little distraction she can find. She certainly can't blame him, after all. It's amazing she'd been able to keep her breakfast down as it was.

Reaching down, she unlatches her pistol from its holster, pulling it free as she slowly creeps forward. This was dangerous, between her lack of cover and her lack of discerning colour, but standing around didn't feel right. Taking a deep breath, she raises her flashlight and her pistol and begins making her way deeper into the horror show, eyes fixing on the bright computer glow.

There shouldn't be power here. Not after all this time. The sight of that warm false light piques her interest and takes her mind off the bodies hanging around her.

Despite that, she can't help but occasionally glance up as she makes her way over. Her movements are slow, purposeful, eyes constantly sweeping around until finally she's before the stained and disgusting curtain, throwing it open with almost no hesitation.

The technical questions get answered in a voice that’s very used to filling in the files of these kinds of things. Corbin avoids looking as much as possible, going off the memory of that brief glance to tell the required details, including how many bodies they were talking about. “Also bring hazmat team and respirators. I’m not sure how— toxic this place is.” But he was starting to feel like he wanted a long decontamination bath just from what he was walking around in.

When the door is thrown open, he looks toward the sound with surprise and says, “Hold on a minute,” and latches the radio onto his belt and reaches for his sidearm instead. He doesn’t like using weapons, but anyone that would do this doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt anymore and he’s concerned about Robyn moving before backup could even begin to leave to head toward them.

Right now, he was her backup.

Saito wipes his mouth with his sleeve and exhales a shuddering breath, slowly moving in to follow behind the other two agents. Robyn is the first through the butcher’s curtain and though the smell isn’t gone on the other side, it’s moderately diminished by the sheer open space. The chemical plant beyond this point is a series of high and mostly collapsed catwalks over open chemical vats long since ruptured and seeped into the concrete. Folding tables have been arranged immediately on the other side of the curtain on the concrete floor. Power cabling is string across dangling pipes and bound in zipties, with the cords going out the broken warehouse windows, likely to a portable solar collector on the roof or side of the building.

On the table are stacks of moldy, yellow-lined legal notepads filled with scribbled handwriting that looks like a doctor’s prescription notes. A pair of centrifuges sit side by side, running softly with a low hum. On another table there are three desktop PCs daisy-chained together and a bank of four CRT monitors displaying chemical analysis data and modeling gene sequencing information.

A test tube rack nearby to the computers has dozens of labeled blood samples in them, though broken glass can also be found on the floor. On the opposite side of the test tube rack is a small portable vial case with six syringes of Refrain sitting within, unrefrigerated. The glass-doored refrigerator, which looks relatively new, sits on a third table, stocked with twenty or more vials of refrain ready to be loaded into a syringe, all softly glowing blue.

As Corbin and Saito come through the hall of corpses, Saito pauses by one of the bodies and stops Corbin, pointing them out. Two middle-aged men, two of the freshest corpses. Also two suspects, the exterminators who were helping Sadler, the ones from Robyn’s report. It would seem they didn’t just disappear. They died.

Another small sound rises up from Robyn's throat, though this time she's able to keep it from escaping too much. "What the fuck bargin bin built in mom's basment meth lab bullshit is this?" She stops just before entering the other room, turning back to look at the others and jury rigged mess around them. "If this is Sadler…" She looks around, walking up the computer. She doesn't touch them, but she does lean in closer, eyes narrowed.

"Is he testing victims as expressives, and the ones who aren't…" A pregnant pause fills the air with silence as she looks over at the blood vials, and then gives the quickest of glances to the butcher's garden of hanging bodies. "There's way too many bodies to fit our pattern though." Swallowing back something else, she steps back, and looks over to the Refrain.

The soft, colourless glow is still strangely intoxicating, particularly since she knows what colour it should be and can still visualise it in her mind's eye. "I've made a lot of mistakes in my life," is an odd non sequitur, "but this stuff's never been one of them. It scares me what they'd be doing with this much." Particularly knowing what had been done to her friends with the stuff before.

She notes the two familiar dead bodies, but doesn't comment yet. It's clear she has a bit of a one track mind when it comes to this case.

“That’s… a lot of Refrain.” Corbin had certainly never tried the stuff either, and he knew a little too much about what it could do to people. The sight of all these bodies bad enough, he’s quickly wishing he would have said no and told her to call Cooper or DIaz or something. But no, he had said yes. And he was there. And he was starting to get used to the smell, heaven forbid.

He continues to look around, his side arm following his gaze and only dropping a little when it would point at one of the two agents. “This is a whole lot of crazy stuffed into one building.” Horrible crazy, no less. “Remind me what the pattern was again? Maybe we can look at it from another angle.” He knew some of what he had agreed to help on, but sometimes it helped to hear it all repeated again. Maybe they were all missing something.

“Would have been nice if my second set of eyes would have shown up today,” he murmurs under his breath, because— well— he hasn’t seen her yet. For which part of him is grateful for. No one should have to see this. But he would have liked her insight.

“Six months apart,” Saito says through his fingers, looking back over his shoulders to the butcher’s curtain. “The— those bodies don’t look older than a year at most. Some of them look fresh.” He turns to look at the computers. “None of this matches the pattern, but maybe… maybe we were missing victims? Maybe there was something…” he approaches the refrigerator of Refrain, shaking his head.

“Hold on,” Saito says. “Let me check something.” Then he covers his mouth with his elbow and ducks back through the butcher’s curtain into the slaughter floor.

While Saito is on the other side of the plastic partitions, Robyn and Corbin are able to look at what is running on the computers. Chemical analysis of the blood, analysis of something called HERV-K, review of protein chains for the Suresh Linkage-Complex. All of this goes over both of their heads, but it feels like some sort of ongoing research.

Saito comes bursting through the curtain again. “Robyn!” He has his phone held up in one hand. “Tattoos! All of them except the two exterminators have Triad tattoos on their forearms. They’re Ghost Shadows members.” Ghost Shadows, Refrain, pieces of this are starting to come together. Those corpses weren’t Sadler’s usual victims, but opportunity killings or attempts to cover his tracks. It’s right about then Robyn sees a small notepad beside one of the monitors with more legible handwriting than the rest.


But even this is still hard to read.

Robyn's mind races as she takes in what Saito finds, trying her best to read the wrinkled notepad page. "I can't- read a lot of this," she remarks quietly, leaning closer to it. "The handwriting is rough, and…" Well, she'd never admit it, but cursive was never her strong suit. She can barely write in that style, much less read it sometimes. "But this, at the end. That's all I really need to see right now."

She leans back up. "I have to kill again. I have to." Motioning Corbin to it, she offers another look over at the glowing vials of Refrain, before rounding over to where Saito is. "Furthermore, Corbin, we believe he was exsanguinating his victims. Mixing their blood with Refrain, and…" She swallows, looking around the room. "Sustaining himself. Based on patterns we believe match his as well what little personal information we have I believe he may have manifested an evolved ability that… well, he's a fucking vampire."

The room around them only supports that hypothesis.

But she doesn't need to say that.

"This, I don't get though," she remarks quietly as she makes her way over to Saito. "What bridges was he burning? Or did he just get that desperate?" She takes in a deep breath. "Maybe our pattern was wrong. Or, he's storing bodies over time. Feeding intermittently and disposing of the drained one?"

Shaking her head, she looks over at her partner. "It doesn't fit the pattern, but it fits the profile. I'm not discounting it's him yet." A shiver runs down her back though, frowning. "We need to catch him soon. He's going to ghost once he realises we're here, if the past is any indication."

What Corbin can make out immediately makes him grimace, as he listens to the explanation with a slow nod. It was a horrible ability, but not completely unique. Just a different way of transferring abilities. There had been the soul vampire, there had been Sylar and Samson— and now there was this. “I’m used to everyone’s terrible handwriting,” he admits, as he pulls the piece of paper closer to a light so he can concentrate on it. He wasn’t lying. Some Agents had truly terrible handwriting.

He skips over places that are too difficult for now, intending to transcribe it later. Right now he just needed the gist. Yeah—

Yeah this sounded like a vampire. “He gets the abilities of his victims, looks like. I don’t know why he has to mix it with Refrain, but Refrain itself was kind of— well it had effects on SLC-E people’s abilities, and it reads like he’s trying to find a way to extend the time between… doses.” Of blood.

Of powers.

“It does sound like his ability gain is temporary, and he doesn’t like the possibility of getting something he can’t control. Maybe they— “ He looks at the extra bodies and presses his lips together in thought. “We’ll have to wait til forensics gets here. See what they can find.” They would have to identify all the bodies— and… “Those two… maybe this isn’t his hideout. Just the place he prepares his… victims. He could have just brought the bodies here to dump them. We’ll need to do a check and see where these two have been sent recently.”

They might have just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And ended up getting dumped somewhere. “There’s this— thing here in the corner where it’s ripped. I can’t put it together. It could be a phone number, maybe?” He held up the torn corner, it looked about the right length, and it kind of looked like numbers.

He’s also noticeably avoiding touching it too much, holding it from the smallest part possible.

“I’ll go check on the— ” Saito starts to say before a gunshot rings out in the plant and he crumples to the ground with a yelp. From the direction of the gunshot, Robyn and Corbin can see three men in dark clothes with handguns and respirator masks closing in on their position from the far end of the plant, emerging out from behind the ruptured containment tanks.

Two of the men fan out to the side, while the one in the middle barks an order muffled slightly by his mask. “Hands up, now!” They’re not law-enforcement, and from a distance of roughly twenty feet it’s hard to tell much about them other than they’re wearing street clothes. That is until Robyn sees the scars on the lead man, spreading up one side of his neck and face under his mask.

Chan Tin-chu, the exploding man.

“I said hands!” Chan shouts, thrusting his handgun forward angrily.

The gunshot causes Robyn to bolt upright. The sight of men approaching guns drawn has Robyn's grip on hers tightening. When they call up, she considers a preemptive shot. But this isn't the Ferry anymore, and there's any number of potentially flammable or combustible gases in the air. The last thing she wants to do is make this place even more dangerous

When she recognises one of them, one word slips out of her mouth.


She starts to raise both of her hands - gun visible - eyes shifting over at Corbin. "You'll know when to duck," she says quietly, before looking back towards Chan Tin-chu. A quippy comment or smarmy response is something she tries to drum up, but instead she stays silent, leveling her gaze ahead.

Hopefully backup will be here soon.

Good thing he had requested actual backup and not just the forensic team. But Corbin also knew how far they would have to travel, and— well. The odds weren’t wonderful. His sidearm, still held in one hand, gets dropped to the floor, and his other crumbles the evidence into his palm to hopefully keep from losing it. So much for not contaminating the evidence, much, but they didn’t have much choice. With the creepy letter hidden in his fist and his other hand empty, he starts to raise them up, not daring to turn around.

Because he has to watch Robyn for the cue of when to actually duck. “You definitely owe me a really good coffee mug when this is over,” he says, trying not to sound concerned or too loud either. “I like animal puns.”

Though if she ever looked at his coffee cup collecting, she would have known that.

This wasn’t really a conversation for the situation, but sometimes one had to project calm and harmlessness.

One of the three Triad men slips into the butcher’s curtains and then immediately stumbles back, squinting against the way the stench stings his unprotected eyes. He says something in Chinese and points his gun at the plastic sheets. The other Triad member heads over to the refrigerator of Refrain, slamming it with his palm and calling over to Chan, pointing excitedly.

“You don’t look like Sadler’s errand boys,” Chan says, glancing down to Saito who lays on his side on the ground, clutching his shoulder where he’d been shot. “Feds,” he adds a second later, pointing his gun at Robyn from just a meter or so away. “Bad timing.”

The hammer clicks back as he starts to squeeze the trigger.

Maybe it's a remnant of old instincts and bad habits, ones that she honestly should have shaken during the war. Maybe it's because it was her plan all along.

Either way, Robyn's eyes widen, and as quickly as she can she snaps a finger and douses the entire immediate area in darkness, pushed out as far as she can manage until she feels the strain of it, hoping to use confusion and desperation to drop to the ground until she can see how they react.

You’ll know when to duck, Robyn had said, and Corbin did know. As soon as the room fell into darkness, he went down, dropping to the floor as quickly as he could and rolling to the right. It isn’t the most graceful thing in the world, but thankfully only Robyn could see it?

He certainly could not not see under these circumstances, but he could still pocket the crumpled piece of evidence with one hand, and reach for his radio with the other. He knew the radio well enough he could find what he wanted without looking. There’s a single audible click, hopefully much too soft over anything else going on, and he sets it to transmit.

There were likely about to be gunshots— hopefully it would make the team hurry the hell up.

Darkness floods the factory, gunshots pop in the lightless gloom so suffocating it robs the guns of even their muzzle flash. Robyn and Corbin both can hear bullets ricocheting around, they can hear the crash of one of the tables, equipment crashes to the wet ground. A bullet grazes Robyn’s left arm and she’s spun around, another strikes her square in the leg. She cries out in pain, reflexively, as the bullet hits bone.

Corbin can see/ something in the dark, phosphorescent white liquid sprayed on the ground, moving in a thin line with the silhouette of hands. But then he hears //screams where there were once gunshots, cries and more gunfire. Robyn’s darkness field dissipates as she loses focus on it, clutching her shot leg with both hands, laying on the ground, radiant blood spilling out between her fingers and—


Corbin has just enough time to see the lanky, pale form of a gaunt man in a stained button-down shirt and slacks holding one of the Triad men by the face some ten feet behind Robyn. The Triad enforcer’s legs are kicking, he screams — muffled by Sadler’s palm — and all the color is draining out of his body like sugary syrup sucked out of a snow cone.

Robyn turns just in time to see the Triad enforcer thrown to the ground, Sadler’s wide, blue eyes staring down at her while Chan and the other enforcer try scrambling away.

Almost instantly, Robyn crumbles down to one knee, clutching at her leg. Of course she's felt pain before, pain more intense than this, and of course she's been shot before. But that was some time ago and this hurts like hell. Choking out another cry of pain, she tries to keep her leg as still as possible. The light around her flickers, dances, but never darkens, her focus spread too thin to maintain any real hold over the photons in the air around them.

And that's when she finally looks down at her leg, at the wound, and sees - what she assumes is blood. Or it would if it wasn't for the bright glow draining from her leg, phosphorus light mixing with the smell of copper distressingly quickly. The SESA agent finds herself almost mesmerised by it, despite the chaos around her.

Her light. It was in her all along. Apparently quite literally.

Her hand is halfway towards reaching down when the enforcer's scream snaps her out of her impossibly prolonged moment and back to reality, head snapping up to see

the literal



that could happen at this moment.

Something knots up in her stomach, vision shaking a bit as a breath catches in her throat. She trembles, straightening her shoulders and reaching to grasp the edge of the table. "Ayers," she says through grit teeth as she starts to try and pull herself up. "Get Saito."


Filing this away as ‘probably the worst day in the history of ever’ Corbin keeps the radio turned on and then says, “Hurry up on the backup guys,” before he clicks it off and reaches for his dropped side arm and— freezes at the sight of the luminescent blood and what it allows him to see in what should have been darkness. What was darkness. Lit by whatever it was that was pooling around the other agent.

Yeah, things have gone sideways, and he hopes that back up is really close right now, especially since he is unable to actually find that dropped side arm. The way the room is set up doesn’t help.

Everything inside him told him that he shouldn’t leave her like that, but— she was the Agent in charge. And she had given an order. With a grunt he pushes back up onto his feet and moves toward Saito, trying to get the boy off the ground and onto his shoulder so he can get out of here with him.

To regroup with the backup and come right back.

Nnhh,” Saito groans as he’s hauled up to his feet, blood all down his arm and smeared across his hand from the shot to his shoulder. “We— we can’t— ” he tries to say through panicked breaths, watching as Sadler reaches out to gesture for one of the men running away, picking him up off of his feet with an unseen hand and swinging him around like a ragdoll. The Triad enforces her smashed against walls, floor, and ceiling before being thrown down onto an upturned piece of jagged metal that punctures through his torso.

Saito grabs Corbin’s arm and runs with him.

As Corbin and Saito flee through the butcher’s curtain toward the front entrance of the plant, Chan comes to a stop and turns to see Sadler staring him down. His skin begins to glow, mottled yellow and orange light, but Sadler scowls and opens one hand as if revealing something, only to snap it closed. As if mimicking the gesture, the ground opens up and swallows Chan into the concrete, sealing him in a tomb not entirely unlike that which Cassandra Bauman died in.

There is a muffled thud deep underground, fumes wisping up from the cracks where Chan exploded. Sadler seems satisfied, right up until Robyn knocks a vial of refrain off of the table, hauling herself to her feet. It shatters on the concrete, and Sadler’s pale eyes swivel across the room to stare directly at her. Then, like a shark smelling blood in the water, his gaze moves down to her luminous blood spilling out of her gunshot wound.

Eyes widen as she watches Chen disappear, faltering a bit in her motion to pull herself upright. As her hand grazes the Refrain and sends it tumbling, she screams inside of her own head, watching it fall with horror. She freezes as best as she can, slowly bringing her gaze back upwards to Sadler, eyes meeting his as she stares at him.

Or so she thinks, until she realises he isn't looking at her.

That's about when her stomach sinks. The way he's displaying multiple powers, ones she's understood him to use before - he's not just a really fucked up Mosaic, he's keeping blood samples around.

Cataloguing abilities by blood, maybe.

Now's not the time to be playing detective.

"You don't have to do this." An attempt to stand straight elicits another cry of pain as she doubles over, gripping at the table. "I know what you can do. It doesn't have to end that way." Meanwhile, her eyes scan around for her gun she had dropped, or- anything really she can use to defend herself.

Of all days to leave her cane in her car.

Broken glass at her feet, her gun under the table she just pulled herself up from, a pipe nearby to—

“I don’t.” Sadler’s voice draws Robyn’s attention to laser focus. “But,” he lifts a hand and suddenly her options are reduced to zero as she feels an unseen, constricting force grasp around her like a gigantic hand. Robyn is lifted a few inches off the ground, arms pinned to her sides.

“You’re not Triad…” Sadler says on a methodical approach. “Police, more likely. Too many fumbled trails, it was bound to happen.” He seems to have forgotten all about Corbin and Saito’s escape, for the moment. His eyes flick down to the glowing blood pulsing from Robyn’s leg, then back up. “I’m not sure what you have, but it smells interesting.”

Sadler draws nearer, nearly within tangible arm’s reach. “This is about the girl, isn’t it?” He flinches, visibly frustrated. “For what it’s worth, I didn’t want to hurt her, or… any of them. It’s just… you see what they did to me, don’t you?” Sadler motions to himself with one hand. “What the fuck they turned me into?” Robyn feels herself drawn closer to Sadler. He smells of bile and blood, of sickly sweat and death.

“I don’t want to die like this,” Sadler says with an anxious smile. “It’s— that’s really all it is. It’s not personal.” He says, lifting one hand toward Robyn, revealing the underside of his palm to her, where lies a circular lamprey-like mouth puckering and gnashing human teeth. “Are you familiar with the work of Dmitri Gregor?” Sadler asks, bringing that hand over Robyn’s mouth.

He was a genius. And a bastard.

“Let her go!”

It’s a sudden yell from the butcher curtain, a gun raised forward with both hands braced. It’s not his gun, it’s Saito’s. But Corbin didn’t really give the young Agent much a choice. As soon as they had gotten out of there, he put the boy up against the wall and told him to stay there and wait for backup.

And then took his weapon and handed over the radio and the crumpled up note that the young agent had found instead. He could get in contact with them, let them know they were dealing with a murderous mosaic.

Not that murderous mosaic.

Or the other one.

But no, as soon as he did what he was ordered, he had to come back. He was Robyn’s backup until more arrived, after all.

Well, so much for making it through the moment without recoiling. Robyn does just that when Sadler reveals his palm, and the fumbled attempt to make it seem like a reaction to her still bleeding wounds and her lack of stability is likely easy enough to see through. "Fuck," escapes her breath as the hand comes over her mouth.

Eyes widen, she shakes. Water pools in the corner of her eyes, borne of pain and fear in equal measure. No time to respond, to try and deescalate. She tries to break the vice like grip on her, to struggle, but it seems to be to little avail.

And then-


Thank fucking God for Corbin.

Not now!” Sadler howls, turning his full attention to Corbin. Robyn can feel the telekinetic grasp around her break as she drops to the ground, pain lances up her side, and she collapses to the ground. Sadler in turn wheels around and throws Corbin backwards through the butcher’s curtain where he impacts one of the suspended bodies.

Corbin bounces off of the stiff, rigored flesh of a corpse wrapped in chains and lands with a splash in the filthy water and blood collected on the concrete floor. He can see Sadler’s blurry silhouette through the grimy plastic while Sadler, fuming, swiftly turns back in Robyn’s direction.

A howl of pain scapes from Robyn's lips as she hits the ground, bracing herself against the table in front of her. Nostrils flare and teeth grit as she brings her eyes back up level, scanning her monochrome world. The glow of Refrain catches her eye in the split second, along with the glow of-

her blood.

Still flowing from a leg that she continued to put immense strain on, one that she would be lucky if she didn't have permanent damage after this. Still sliding down her arm from her gaze. A light she had long since thought gone. In that moment, a smile crosses her face. Brief, but bright. Bright as- she almost seems to be in that moment, a light humming visibly just under her skin. It's not just her blood that's luminescent.

It's her, ever so faintly.

She reaches deep inside herself to find that light, and tries something in a manner she's never quite tried before - rather than taking light in, she tries to force it back out. It had never worked before, but she had lacked understanding before. And more importantly, she had lacked faith that it might work.

In a quick motion she thrusts her arms up, sending a bright flash of light cascading outwards, one that somehowdoesn't hurt her damaged eyes.

For the moment, Corbin doesn’t get up, but at least Robyn would know he’s not dead from the groaning and grumbling. He’s getting too old for this. How did Ryans manage so long? He wishes he knew, because it hurts too much to get back up, but at least he didn’t drop Saito’s firearm when he flew. Or accidentally shoot blind, either.

He’s just starting to roll to his feet in the sludge and gunk and get back onto his hand and knees as the flash of light comes from the other room. He’s, thankfully, not in it’s direct path, and still looking down at the… places he probably shouldn’t pay too much attention to if he doesn’t want to lose what was left of his breakfast.

“Robyn…” he whispers, hoping against hope that when he makes it to the doorway she won’t be exploded or something.

Sadler’s scream is all Robyn can perceive as she bursts with light. It explodes out of her in all directions, and to Corbin she is visible only as the silhouette of her skeleton and the orange-pink glow of her skin as veins and capillaries. The burst is intense but brief, and as it passes Robyn is not but a blind spot in Corbin’s vision as she collapses onto her back.

Sadler is recoiling, shielding his eyes with one hand. His skin is pink and red, blistering and peeling as though he had been out in the hot sun all day. His eyes are reddened around the edges, pupils pinpricks. His scream becomes an agonizes wail as he scrambles backwards and climbs like a spider up the side of one of the two-story tall chemical containment tanks, leaps into the rafters, and then bursts out through the corrugated metal ceiling.

The thundering of Sadler’s footfalls on the roof and his wailing cry can be heard as it fades into the distance, driven off by the photokinetic flash-bomb that has left Robyn swimming in vertigo and—


The ceiling is gray, with streaks of brown rust. Brown. Her head lolls to the side, and she can see the vial of Refrain on the ground beside her, one not crushed by shoes and violence. It glows brightly.


Efforts to hold herself up negin to fail as the world spins around her, focusing on the bottle of Refrain for as long as she can. Wobbling slightly side to side in a dazed stupor, it's only when she finally loses her balance and falls forward forehead first into the edge of the table that she snaps back to reality. That everything she's seeing becomes real.

Recoiling back, she rubs at her eyes with the back of her hand. A brilliant green she can see stares out where gray once was. Stunned, she picks up the bottle of Refrain and turns it over in her fingers as though it were something much more precious than it actually is.

It's maybe not as comforting as she thinks it is when a chuckle escapes her lips, building into a laugh as she falls backwards into the filth that fills the room. It rises up into a cackle, a joyous sound built upon the convergence of several factors.

That Sadler is gone.

That she is still alive.

And that she can see that bright blue glow she holds aloft for just a moment.


"That's right y'bastard," she says as her laughter subsides. "I'm back."

There’s still a silhouette of that blinding sight imprinted in fading colors on Corbin’s vision, which is probably why he didn’t at least take a shot at Sadler as he ran away. “Wow.” He doesn’t really understand what’s happening so much as he does that she’s just— still alive. Not exploded all over the place like he had feared, or anything worse. Sadler was gone, but they were alive, and that was a win in his column.

He doesn’t holster the weapon as he moves closer, limping just a little, before he reaches up and grasps the woman’s upper arm. To test and make sure she’s really there— holding refrain above her head in triumph.

Yep, she’s actually there.

With a grin, he says the first thing that comes to mind. “Looks like you’re going to need to update your registration.”

Sadler never returned to the chemical plant. Following the arrival of backup from the Military Police and SESA, Agents Saito, Ayers, and Quinn were rushed back to the Safe Zone to Elmhurst Hospital. Agents on scene would rescue Chan Tin-chu from his concrete tomb, arresting him for human trafficking, possession of illegal drugs with intent to sell, assault on a federal agent with a firearm, and a host of other offenses.

In the days that followed, the remains of the Triad members found at the chemical plant would be autopsied, catalogued, and added to a growing list of evidence around the killings of William Sadler. Evidence that pointed to Sadler arranging for refrain deals through third parties, executing the mules moving the drugs, and stealing from the Ghost Shadows.

The evidence from the chemical plant confirmed Sadler is suffering from a degenerative blood disorder, but appears to be able to metabolise the blood of others to sustain himself. A form of pernicious regeneration once held by none other than the storied Doctor Dmitri Gregor. But how Sadler became the monster he is remains a mystery, save that he has been terrorizing the region for years.

Sadler’s trail went cold in the forests of northern New Jersey, and federal agents remain on the hunt for him.

Chan, in federal custody, would admit to attempting to murder Sadler at the request of the late Wenzhou Zhao as reprisal for Sadler’s past acts against the Triad. That day Cassandra died, it should have been different.

Perhaps, if it had been, Chan could have prevented the tragedy yet to come.

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