Deagah I


huruma_icon.gif rue_icon.gif

Scene Title Deagah I
Synopsis Hebrew. lit. anxiety, anxious care, concern.

Two Hounds looking for a missing major canvass her last known residence.
Date April 9, 2019

Downtown Ra'anana, Israel

Two hours to Boston. Four hours cooling heels in the airport, waiting, waiting. Ten hours to cross the Atlantic — an overnight flight that nonetheless didn't manage to put wheels on Ben Gurion tarmac until after local noon. Outside, the air is balmy and dry, the sun glaring bright amidst cloudless sky; just the kind of weather one might seek when escaping from Rochester's still-wintry chill.

If only vacation was their purpose here.

Midafternoon sees them on the highway north, skirting around the suburbs of Tel Aviv. Half an hour to Ra'anana, where an address and GPS instructions deliver them to a residential street just a few blocks from downtown. Compact cars parked nose-in line both sides of the street, short ornamental trees shading the sidewalks they face. The buildings that rise above those trees are mostly of a kind: inelegant concrete blocks some four to five stories tall, drab sand-hued walls stained dark with water and time, festooned with the projections of window-mounted air conditioners. Hedges around the buildings' feet and the palm trees and strips of grass between them fail to elevate the neighborhood beyond its utilitarian roots, grace notes fallen regrettably flat.

One building on the street stands out: taller, whiter, its aesthetic distinctly modern. But it's not there to which their directions lead; of course it isn't. From outside, the most notable thing about address 27 is perhaps the utility pole at its corner, host to what seems to be the distribution transformer for an entire block or more — which is to say, there's nothing notable about it at all.

Somewhere inside, though, is unit 204. The short-term lease Hana has been occupying since February… and perhaps not occupying since sometime last week.

Light colored fabric is draped over Rue Lancaster's lean frame as she makes her way down the street to number 27. The flowing garb helps to conceal the holster around her thigh. The firearm is a welcome weight on her body. The weight in case she carries at her side is even more comforting – a currently disassembled rifle.

Upon arrival at unit 204, Rue glances briefly around before testing the knob of the door. When it doesn't give, she reaches into the folds of linen to retrieve a kit for picking locks. Sinking down to a crouch, she goes to work.

It wasn't the abruptness, or the flight, or the company that had Huruma so tense the closer they got to Tel Aviv, and then Ra'anana. Likely, it was the reason for the excursion. Unplanned and uncomfortable, she deals with it by driving headlong. Though it's been some years since she was last here, her manner appears at ease, similarly dressed in linens and military drab, pale eyes behind dark lenses. A bump of a weapon, tucked here and there.

Huruma keeps a casual look out physically and mentally, a step behind Rue; she takes up a point in the corridor while the younger woman works the lock, the location giving her a fuller field of view with her ability. People in apartments. Daily lives, so far.

Daily lives, daily concerns. A door opens down the hall, a young man in clothes one shade up from casual stepping out. By the time he's gone through the automatic motion of locking his door and turned their way, Rue's efforts have borne fruit. The sight of two decidedly mismatched women standing before an open door is met with dispassionate curiosity, a socially-polite smile, a murmured shalom.

Then he is past, and his attention with it, focused on whatever destination lies ahead in his plans.

The studio apartment beyond is small and simple, cream walls and white furniture offset by the warm, dark tones of its hardwood floor. The door opens onto a narrow hall of a kitchen, if it can be called that, with white cabinets and wood countertops and a stainless-steel sink, white mini-fridge under a counter and microwave on top. Beyond the end of the hall is a small sitting area consisting of a small wrought-iron table with mosaic top and two matching chairs. Contiguous with the sitting area is the bedroom, a full-size bed flanked by nightstands tucked against the far right wall. Left of the sitting area are a mirror-fronted closet and a door leading into a narrow aisle of a bathroom.

The apartment looks like it's hardly been lived-in at all: neither disarray nor detritus of everyday life meets the surveying eye. But then, it was only ever temporary lodging, and Hana travels light.

Rue does not offer a polite smile in return to the man, but returns his murmured greeting. Then she slips inside the apartment. It's about what she expected to find – at least, it's about what she expected from one of two scenarios crafted in her mind. The second scenario was that the place would have been ransacked. Signs of a struggle. It is both a relief and not that the space is more or less pristine.

The first thing Lancaster does is begin searching for any guidance Nambiza may have left behind. In places obvious and less than. Counter tops, the undersides of the nightstands. Opening the closet almost seems too personal, given the subject of this investigation, but it's what she would want done if she'd gone missing. If she'd possibly been captured or worse, Rue would want her fellow Hounds to leave no stone unturned.

Rue provides the greeting, Huruma gives the neighbor a slight wave in return, pleasant enough and watching him head away, her ability wisping behind with a brush of the same. Everything is definitely fine.

She follows inside, plucking up her phone and taking some initial snaps of the apartment; once she does, Huruma sets into the same tasks as her partner, opening any door she can find, prying cushions apart at the zippers, likely under the mattress. The light fixtures are easily within her reach, and earn a check too. If anything, she is sure that Hana makes similar use of rooms as she would. Hide your supplies, papers, split them apart. Make someone else work for finding anything. Keep copies. Notes. Hide your business.

It's a quiet affair between the two women searching; they made a plan and stick to it.

Rue's search yields kitchen goods in the kitchen cabinets and drawers; there's milk in the fridge, dated two days hence, and condiments, but not much else. A knife taped to the underside of a nightstand, hilt forward, that all but falls into questing hand. In the closet lie white towels neatly folded on a shelf, somehow simultaneously fluffy and thin; likely a set that came with the apartment. Folded clothes on the shelves below, nondescript and casual of style; a single pair of sandals on the floor, next to a hamper holding a bare couple of worn items. No boots. One dress, hanging at the side.

The most useful of her finds comes not from closet or cabinet, but from the underside of the toilet tank, where a plastic bag was taped out of sight. In it is a single sheet of paper torn from a notebook and folded in quarters, a cipher of numbers and letters hastily dashed down on its inner surface.

Huruma's search of the bed and its vicinity yields only two pieces of luggage tucked into the shadows beneath the bedframe; the larger is empty, and less important, customary host to things Hana considers nonessential. The smaller holds a slim portable printer and a thin sheaf of paper, all blank, waiting to be put to use. A handful of clothes that might have been padding for the printer during travel, now pushed off to one side. Side pockets hold gear appropriate to a supplemental go-bag — along with a flash drive, lack of label giving no indication as to its content.

What's obviously missing are Hana's primary go-bag, the armament she typically carries, and the working notebook whose material persistence complements the ephemerality of digitized information.

Rue makes her way out of the lav with her prize. The scarf around her hair has falling around her shoulders, her aviator sunglasses perched atop her head. The look she gives Huruma is both hopeful and apprehensive at once. She hazards a glance toward the doorway, like she might expect Hana’s return at any moment.

Settling at the dining table, the lieutenant unwraps the plastic and procures the folded paper, carefully smoothing it out over the mosaiced surface. “It’s a coded message,” she supplies helpfully for her partner. The first three letters of the cipher tell her which text will break the code. Rue opens her bag and procures a book of notes.

Though Huruma doesn't find the cipher familiar with the Hounds, she does sift through the luggage bags without hesitation, listening to Rue as the other woman moves about the apartment. She leaves the bedroom to find Rue's eyes turning to her, and the dark woman's attention flicks back and forth from the bag in her hand. In Huruma's own is the smaller of Hana's luggage.

It settles on the tabletop across from the redhead, Huruma staying at a stand as she opens the top again, letting them see the little 'setup' of printer and paper inside. She empties out the sides, presenting the thumb drive between her fingers.

"No weapons, no go-bag, no laptop. This little thing, though." She raises a brow, eyes tracking the digging for notes. "One of our ciphers, then?" Huruma voices her question at a low volume, keeping things inside the apartment at a murmur.

“So it seems.” Rue is thoughtful for a moment as she goes through the pages of her book. Snapping it shut and securing it with the elastic band attached to its back cover, she slips the small book of notes away again, procuring instead a small tablet.

Once the passcode is entered, she takes the thumb drive from Huruma and slots it into the USB port. “Let’s see what we’ve got.” With any luck, the contents of the drive will give Rue some clue to where Hana was headed or what she may have been looking into.

Huruma is tall enough to be able to lean over and take a cursory look at the pages over Rue's shoulder before she closes the book up. She gives up the thumb drive to and does the same to watch the tablet screen. The weight of a hand leaning on the back of the chair is both reassuring and somehow looming. Like a teacher walking the aisles while you're doing schoolwork.

"If there is anything worth printing, I suppose we've got that on us now, hm?" For the moment, Huruma waits for the drive to drop its loadout, expression a tempered kind of hopeful.

On the flash drive are a mix of text and image files sans organizing folder structure; it appears to be a digital staging area of sorts, not intended for long-term storage. Indeed, all of the files prove to date from the last week of March, none older — and none newer.

The contents of the text files are all of a type: paragraphs and short essays written in terse, factual style. Some describe observations made during drone prototype tests, others seem to document program design considerations, troubleshooting, and performance.

The images can be readily classed into two types. The majority are photographs, or at least have that appearance on first glance — but without any of the metadata that might be embedded by a camera. No record of date taken, no camera model information, no GPS coordinates. At one point, each such image was literally the view from Hana's eyes. These images give the Hounds their first look at the fruits of Bluebird Aero Systems' work with Hana: what seems at first glance a crow, and at closer inspection is… not. Others seem to be landscapes, atmospheric snapshots of time and place. Several scenes feature people, the same three recurring faces, all in candid poses and never the focus of view.

A bare handful contain snapshots of satellite imagery. The largest is a high-resolution image of the arid south of Israel, highways and populated places custom-marked, a number of areas grayed out. Some two dozen yellow dots also mark the map, some near minor cities, the majority far away from anything else — particularly those swathes of gray. The smaller files all look to be area details that complement the master map, and none of them are marked up.

Rue isn't sure what to make of the images. Are they intended for her report to Bluebird or are they meant for Wolfhound? Beyond matching skylines, Rue isn't sure she'll be able to connect the images to where Hana may have gone. And if she were in the location these pictures were taken, Bluebird should know about it, since it seems to be their testing grounds.

Her attention then turns to the cipher. From the cloud, she can access the texts they use to write their codes and there's very little difficulty locating the right one. This is her bread and butter, after all. "Alright, Major," Rumor mutters under her breath. "What did you leave for us?"

Though Rue can worry about transferring files to her own backups, Huruma can be a tad old-school at times. Once she sees the maps and coordinates, she moves over to fetch that little printer she'd found and slide it over to the redhead.

"See if you can get those maps on paper…" And just in case, Huruma does take extra snaps of faces and maps with her own phone, quiet and soundless. Even if something happens to the thumb drive, they'll have something to go by. Once she makes her request, however, Huruma pulls up a chair to observe Rue doing her thing, now and again flipping atlas mapping across her phone screen. Been through before, maybe there's a coordinate she'll recognize.. She was never much for codebreaking, herself, so she has faith in Rue sorting it in no time.

The code proves tedious to decrypt — based as it is not on single words, but individual letters on a page, indexed by line and word and position. Fortunately, each encrypted line is short, a word or brief phrase in Hebrew, written without punctuation — no spaces, no hyphens, no apostrophes. For all that, it's not difficult to break them apart into not coordinates, but place names, sometimes with terse descriptions.

Each place corresponds to a dot on the map, but not all dots are represented in the list, only a handful. A key, then; perhaps even an itinerary, as the order on the list progresses from east to south to west.

It is not so precise as a list of coordinates, nor is there any indication of when or how long Hana intended to be at any site, but — it seems at the least a beginning to retracing her steps.

Once she’s deciphered the code, Rue is quick to set about filling Huruma’s request of printing out the maps. Once she has those, she begins jotting down notes. Without lifting her eyes from the sheet she’s putting her neat, looping script to, she puts a query to her partner. “ Which way do you lean? Do you think we should ask Bluebird if this means anything to them?”

Rue’s inclination is to not, and while she’ll make whatever decision she decides to make without shame, she tries to keep an open mind when it comes to tactics. She may not second-guess herself - she’s more than competent and capable - but she doesn’t have the abilities of some of her teammates. Huruma’s in particular grants a specific sort of insight.

"If we decide to talk to Bluebird, it will not be explicitly about these." Huruma gathers what Rue can print before they run out of any paper left around. "We keep the details close to the chest. See if anything in a more casual interview correlates?" Her spoken plan is also inquiry, seeking out an opinion. "If they had any hint of involvement, the last thing we need is to tell them we found something incriminating."

On the printed map, Huruma traces the dots along the lines that the code parallels. The missing dots go untraced, and she seems to puzzle over the way it moves south and loops somewhat back around. Luckily, everyone has a portable atlas in this day and age; Huruma flicks her phone to maps, skirting over some of the dot's approximate locations to find hints of what may have been nearby. Towns, landmarks, borders. Yelp reviews.

The first dot appears to correspond to a peripheral neighborhood in the city of Arad. The next lies on the shore of the Dead Sea, near Neve Zohar; searching its vicinity yields details of the Ein Bokek hotel district. From there, the dots essentially trace south along Highway 90, then back up along Highway 40, although most are offset by several miles from the highway proper. Of towns in the area, there are few; most are described as boasting only a few hundred residents. Of tourist attractions, there are somewhat more, but the main theme of Hana's chosen locations seems to be that they correspond to nothing civilized at all.

Unsurprisingly, Huruma finds little that sticks out like a sore thumb. If anything, the fact she does find little. Rue can see the smaller shifts in her expression as she scribbles names with a pen onto the printout, highlights a few things with circles. It's more tangible to her this way.

"The east points practically straddle the border," She marks that with a faint line too. "The Dead Sea resorts are the most inhabited for miles. After that the points go along small towns, farms, archeological sites, nature preserves… desert. Rocks. They come back around and it's more of the same. A military base that may or may not have people in it…" Huruma pecks at the middle of the desert with the point of her pen, the dot markers looping around it.

"Up here in the hills is a nuclear research center, arguably the most interesting thing at all out there. Some industrial sites. We cannot be sure if this is a planned route. It appears to be one? I do not know much about drone field tests, so I have no idea if such a distance is standard. Then again, we are in a place roughly the size of New Jersey." There aren't a lot of places to go.

Dotting her last period onto the page with a little more force than is strictly necessary, Rue looks up and nods at Huruma’s assessments. “I think our best bet is to check in with Bluebird to see if they’ve heard from her yet. If not, we start our little road trip.”

Rue untangles her aviators from her hair and settles them on her face, then gets to her feet, beginning to pack up what they’ve found. “Let’s rock and roll.”

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