Dies Irae


chris_icon.gif elisa_icon.gif

Scene Title Dies Irae
Synopsis Following the battle in Providence, Chris Ayers finds himself at a crossroads.
Date January 29, 2021

The last thing Chris remembers seeing is Dumortier’s silhouette by the massive machine, before his world becomes a muted, gaussian blur. It’s like he suddenly lost his vision, as if vaseline had been smeared over his eyes. But the only thing he can see clearly is Elisa. She’s the only thing in focus. “This won’t last long,” Elisa says.

She’s doing this.

“We have to run!”

So they ran.

Elisa probably wasn’t anticipating that they’d travel so far as they had, especially not on foot.

But they had.

Once Chris’ eyesight came back and he was no longer reliant on Elisa leading the way, he took over. Boots and shoes thudded in uneven rhythm against the broken pavement of an old highway. The signs had long since been riddled with bullet holes to illegibility where they weren’t removed completely. Without a destination in mind, and only wanting to put the fire and the dead behind him, he kept on keeping on. For miles, almost silent, flat and uncompromising looks answering any suggestions to stop or turn back. There was only the way forward.

At least he kept a reasonable pace, one they could maintain for a while in spite of being exhausted and injured and gross from the fire and fight.

Eventually aimlessness earns a direction. Two-eighths of a sign marked an exit from the freeway. And a few hundred yards, maybe a quarter mile or so later, Chris points out a dirt and asphalt parking lot fronting a roadside bar.

Somewhere along I-95 South

January 29, 2021
7:27 pm

Elisa had been quiet the entire way. Her hair is caked with ash, her clothes dusted in thick flakes of it. The only clean spots are on her cheeks where tears of fear and anger have washed them clean. Ones she cannot hide or say didn’t happen. It is the first time Chris has seen her so shaken, so upset, and so quiet.

There’s no lights on at the Corral. The entire bar had been evacuated weeks before the fire got this close and it hadn’t opened back up. With the wall of fire to the south turning the horizon orange, it isn’t even clear if the bar will survive. Elisa’s pace picks up once they’re in sight of it though, because it means many things, most of which right now is shelter from the cold.

Clopping bootfalls herald Elisa jogging up to the back door, kicking over the brick by the cigarette can to reveal the key under it. She picks it up and unlocks the door with trembling hands, needing to try getting the key in the lock a few times. Once it’s unlocked she slams the door open with her shoulder and stumbles into the kitchen, shivering from the cold.

Fuck,” is the first thing she’s said all night. It’s just a breathless whisper of exhaustion. Elisa slaps the key down on a counter and staggers toward the light switch, flipping it several times to confirm the generator isn’t on. All practical thinking breaks down and Elisa lets out a strangled scream through her teeth and slams both her hands down on the counter by the switch.

Chris doesn’t run after Elisa as she rushes to get into the bar. He’s not taking his sweet ass time either, since he’s coming up in time to see her shove a key into the lock and open the door. At least he won’t have to break a window to get inside. Pretty sure would’ve led to a conversation he’d rather not need to have. His hand does smack against the door, though, all to keep it from closing on him as he follows Elisa inside.

His boots scuff against the floor as he draws up short inside the kitchen. “The…” He follows the toss of the keys, “fuck…” then looks flatly at Elisa as she tries the light switch. There are so many ways that statement could continue, between watching Elisa lose her shit over… he’s not even sure what at this point. Or everything that’s led up to this exact moment. There are plenty of things to choose from, just need to pick one.

But he isn’t sure which to pick. He could easily get angry — get more angry — because the one person who could maybe answer why the fuck his horse was killed and what the shit that thing was is fucking screaming. It takes a little steam out of his engine. Does he really want to shake a hornet nest? All the miles of walking followed by every other damn thing that’s happened in the last twelve hours suddenly feels very heavy.

Chris folds his arms on a counter and folds over to rest his head on them. “Screaming like a fucking banshee’s not going to turn the fucking power on,” he points out, as dry and unimpressed as the cold and dark they’re in.

Elisa scrapes her thumbs across her eyes to dry them before she turns to face Chris. “If the generator is powered by shit attitudes you’d think it’d be charged.” She bites back, intentionally bumping into his shoulder as she turns for the basement door. But she doesn’t get all the way. Elisa pauses, one trembling hand on the doorknob, and looks back to Chris.

“What’re you doing?” Elisa asks him. But the thing is, Chris isn’t really doing anything. He’s just taking up space in the bar. It takes a moment for him to tumble the question over in his head. By the time it makes any sense she’s decided to rephrase it. “What’re—what’s your plan?

It’s not as accusatory as it sounds. She’s hoping he has one. Because she sure doesn’t.

For the question, all Elisa gets is a flat look. The clap back and shoulder that preceded it might've had some of his charming wisdom coming, but then he's rounded on with that question. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Chris has no fucking clue what he's doing. It lingers in all the wrong and uncomfortable ways, made more obvious when it's turned politely.

“Fuck if…” Chris makes a throaty grumble and folds his arms across his chest. “There's fucking nothing in Providence and that robot…” He doesn't scowl at Elisa, not exactly, but his eyes are narrowed and he isn't smiling. “You said to run. That fucking robot fucking came out of nowhere and killed… it fucking killed Jester and then you…”

He wants to place blame on the events that happened at that point, but he doesn't. Chris just cuts off, leaves the word hanging for a beat and then some. Then, quietly but forcefully, “You said we had to run, we ran. Fucking what else should I've done?”

The frustration melts out of Elisa and her shoulders slack some. “I don’t know,” she says in a whisper. There’s a silence that comes next, bringing into focus the noise of night birds and the cold wind outside. For a time there is comfort in the silence, the lack of expectation for anything to happen. Elisa uses it to think, to remember, to consider.

“I need to go west.” Elisa says suddenly, amidst the dark. “I—need to pack a car, something. Get moving west. I have people who—with the fire, they’d be evacuating now. You saw them, after the explosion in the woods that day we met.” Then, with a hint of something less sharp she suggests. “You could come with me.”

“West.” It comes out far more deadpan than Chris intends it to. Going back… He can't put a finger on why that idea seems at first kind of ludicrous — actually he can, there was a fucking wildfire that was interrupted by a Beast Wars cast off — and also better than any alternative plan he might come up with. Let alone with people he only vaguely remembers. As he recalls, Lang wasn't too fond of them but he also doesn't know Lang to give a fuck about most people.

Believe it or not, he teeters between the two possibilities for as long as it took Elisa to come up with the idea before landing on a decision. “Fuck.” Where would they even find a car? Chris doesn't have one, but he also has no problem taking liberties of one left behind, if they can find one. And what's fucking keeping him here anyway? His arms come away from his chest so he can scrub his hands across his face.

“Fine.” He doesn't mean it like he's been given a choice between brussel sprouts or kale, but that's almost how it sounds at first. “I mean you saved my life,” twice now? “so I’m not just going to let you go off alone or…” Now Chris actually scowls for a second. “Now? Or….”

“Morning,” Elisa says softly, shaking her head, starting to formulate a plan. “Neither of us are fit to move and it’ll be easier to find and hotwire a car with daylight. Plus there might still be some food here we can take with us.”

As if saying that helped her choose what she was going to do next, Elisa doubles back into the kitchen while still talking. “Those—those things in the fire were hunting for us.” She says with a quavering voice and yet adamant certainty. “Like in the war, tracking us. It’s… it’s really fucking happening.” She comes to the stock refrigerator, opening the freezer on the top and rummaging around, counting ice packs.

“There’s no avoiding it any longer,” Elisa says with a shake of her head, pulling out a pair of frozen chicken pot pies to set aside on the counter. “No avoiding it.”

Morning. All because neither of them are fit to move. Which sounds a lot like a bullshit excuse, especially if you ask Chris for his opinion. Not that anyone who's known him for more than five minutes might. Words like that would normally be cause for offense and a fight, or at least a mostly civil discussion.

Chris, interestingly and uncharacteristically, finds himself inclined to neither option and takes the road almost never traveled. He agrees. He doesn't say it outright, but marks it with the barest nod of his head.

And while Elisa's busy looking for food, he decides to rummage for other supplies. Mainly in the form of kerosene lamps or candles and matches. His efforts only go so far as to paw through a couple of shelves before…

"Pump the brakes." Chris, with one hand resting on a shelf at head height, looks to the kitchen door. He's frowning, not angry, which is a testament to how the day has gone so far, but puzzled. Hell, he's fucking confused and nearly scowling because it makes no fucking sense. "What do you mean tracking us," he asks and confusion turns to… well, it isn't wholly accusation. He still remembers the secrets on top of fucking secrets Elisa’s kept. And that one time she shot him to prove a point. But near as anyone can tell he sounds like he's trusting her as much as when she pointed a gun at him.

"Fucking… the robot and shit? The fire? What do you know about it?"

“I watch the news,” Elisa says with a pointed look at Chris. “I was here during the war. In America.” As if she would have been anywhere else. “Those machines are war machines, the kind the US Government used to hunt our kind.”

Our is emphasized, trying to remind Chris that as of his manifestation this is his fight now too.

“I’m not a child, I know what this means. What it’s a harbinger of.” Elisa begins unboxing the pair of frozen pies. “Insurrection has been fomenting in this country for over a decade. You Americans won a battle but you only forestalled the war. There is no amount of diplomacy, no amount of talks that can end it. The only thing that can is total and utter annihilation of one side or the other.”

Elisa angrily unwraps the cellophane packaging around the pies, then sets them down on the counter. “The man on the news, Medina, stoking fears of our kind. It was coming. Just like the last war was. The only difference is we can either be prepared or we can be caught by surprise and die.

Elisa’s hands behind to blur as if from an intense vibration. She brings her hands down as if to touch the pies, but they pass into them without resistance. Slowly, the pies begin to defrost. “So yes,” she says, looking at Chris, “I know about the machines, and I know what they represent.” By the time she removes her incorporeal hands from the pies, they’re steaming and cooked.

“It means war is coming.” Elisa says, then shoves a pie across the counter. “Now eat.”

Chris’ frown, his tone, his whole fucking demeanor shifts. It changes, right there while Elisa tells everything she cares to share in the moment, like one of those 1980s special effects done with claymation and double exposure. He doesn’t even try to get a word in edgewise. Not about the likelihood of war or the fact that he’s one of them now. He can’t, what with the whole fucking humble pie he’s just been forced to eat.

Which brings him to the literal pie, steaming and smelling all sorts of delicious even with the whole… whatever the fuck Elisa did to heat them. He’ll probably never know, and he’s starting to not care how it works. News of war… hell, news of war happening again

Chris picks up a fork and crushes the top of the pie into itself. The whole weight of everything seems to have soundly caught up to him and it’s so absolutely fucking exhausting. It sparks an argument — or maybe a silly childish hope — that she’s wrong. Hell, he’d hoped the same when his own dad packed him up in the car and went on the run. And look what happened there. He should start paying closer attention to the news instead of just letting shit live because it's out there elsewhere.

“Fucking… Eat your supper.” Chris motions toward the remaining pie in front of Elisa with a jab of his fork. He grumbles another fuck word, then two more with the last being muffled by a forkful of questionably cooked pie.

Elisa looks down at the pot pie in front of her and represses a faint smile at the way Chris says supper. She sits down on a stool, quietly reaching for a fork, only briefly regarding Chris across the bar.

And they eat together in silence.

The Next Morning

The Ohio River Fire has turned the southern sky coal black. Even though the sun is up there’s barely any visible light. Even the sun itself has been reduced to a crimson dot faintly visible through the smoke. Light ash falls like snow, even this far north.

Elisa has tied a handkerchief over her face to shield herself from the worst of the ash. Looking back at the wall of darkness created by the fire, she’s momentarily stricken with silence. Both she and Chris carry backpacks scavenged from the bar along with a handful of provisions that will last them a day or two at most. As Elisa walks backwards, she adjusts the straps of her backpack and looks at Chris.

“You could go, if you wanted to.” Elisa says, warm air blowing through her ash dappled hair. “Back home. Providence. The fire break might’ve worked. They might need you.” She stops walking, watching Chris carefully.

The other option goes unsaid. The offer she’d made the day before. To go with her. West.

"They need me about as much as they need rotten leather," Chris says as casually as he might point out the road was dusty or that the fire was hot. His voice is muffled behind the white bar rag he'd found to mask his face with. It isn't so white now, with the ash in the air, but better in the cloth than in his lungs. He'd been studying the road ahead, looking past Elise, but he turns his attention to her now, all levels of frowning like he still isn't sure what to make of the woman.

"You're not fucking going alone." Whatever reason has possessed him, he's set dead on that point. There are plenty of excuses he'd give, from Kara likely to dump him in a water barrel again, the robots that allegedly hunt people with powers, to losing Jester. A couple of those things he steers his mind away from. Plenty of ties severed and he doesn't need to be reminded by his own thoughts. "Besides, if I turn up and you don't…" It's probably meant to be a joke, just not very well executed. Too much deadpan.

Elisa looks Chris up and down, jaw squaring with tension. For a moment it isn’t clear what she’s going to do or how she’ll react, and the handkerchief wrapped over her face hides any tell. Then, with a subtle jerk of her head, she starts walking in the indicated direction at a leisurely pace. Time to go.

When Chris joins her, Elisa glances over at him, smile hidden behind her handkerchief. “We need to talk about some stuff,” she explains, “but we’ve got a long walk ahead of us, and plenty of time to get things square. There’s… a lot you don’t know about me, that you’re going to need to before we get to our destination.” She searches his eyes, looking for understanding. They weren’t going to be simple conversations.

The sound Chris makes could be taken for a cough. The air isn’t the cleanest, and he’s definitely not looking at Elisa. But the sound is a little… off. Because she’s too fucking right that he doesn’t know the half about her. Except that she’s been some weirdo interloper who runs off at the mouth almost as much as he does. Except that what Elisa says is usually true to some extent and he’s more inclined to offer opinions and insight whether it’s wanted or not.

“You’re part of whatever this government’s version of witness protection is,” he guesses after a few steps. It’s meant as a joke, needling at his own ignorance and how she’s usually dodged owning up to anything. “A former spy, you thought hiding out in a backwater ranch with a bunch of cowboys and farmers just trying to make a simple life for themselves was better than being transplanted to maximum security KC. I’m still trying to figure out how the robots fit into it.”

The noise Elisa makes in response is somewhere between a bark and a yelp. It’s laughter for sure, based on her smile, but a wild and bewildered laughter. She pivots on a heel and swoops in, pressing a hand to each of Chris’ cheeks. “You are like my rescue puppy or something.” She says with an inscrutably sincere expression before releasing the brief contact.

“No.” Elisa states flatly, turning to walk again. “When I was seven years old my mother manifested the ability to control ambient temperatures. She was very bad at hiding it. Couldn’t control it. Eventually she was sucking the heat out of adjacent apartments in the middle of winter. It raised attention.” She glances over her shoulder at Chris. “Not the kind you’re thinking.”

Squaring her shoulders, Elisa looks toward the hazy horizon. “I grew up in Russia. Aleksin, south of Moscow. There were things haunting the shadows of Russia worse than spies or government agents. My mother drew the attention of a man named Grigori Zhukovsky. He killed her.” Elisa’s eyes dip from the horizon. “Soon enough to save me. Not soon enough to save my father or the others in our block.”

With a sigh, Elisa slows her pace to walk beside Chris. “Grigori worked for a man you’ve heard of. Kazimir Volken.” She can’t quite meet Chris’ eyes. “Grigori saved me, spared me, and brought me to stay with his people. Who raised me.” Her jaw flexes. “The Vanguard.”

At first… at first Chris readies his own brand of flippancy. Poor little girl. Life's shit and then you eventually die. They could compare core memories the way other people share baseball cards. But that thought meets an abrupt end as Elisa's words sink in. Not just the whole part of where she came from, but where she fucking came from. He keeps pace, but he stares at her like she's beginning to grow a third eye.

He doesn't know what to say. It's really not unusual for him to be struck speechless when given unexpected information — especially when it's Elisa doing the striking — but this lacks his normal lampooning. There's a thinly veiled caution to his silence that's only broken, for a beat, by the sounds of their boots on the pavement.

"Well. Fuck." Eloquence cuts through the silence like a cold knife through frozen butter. Chris tries in vain to formulate something else. He always knew there was a reason to treat the woman like a cat in a chicken run. There's also that whole Elisa saved his fucking life thing — twice — and that's got to count for something much bigger than just stupid secrets on secrets and shit. Given the bit she just shared with him, it's pretty clear she could've just let him die.

Chris makes a sound in his throat, rolls his eyes upward and gestures for Elisa to continue.

A soft snort is Elisa’s only reaction to Chris. She steadies herself with one moment of stillness, then continues walking with a determined pace, holding the straps of her backpack as she does. “Things have changed. What used to be isn’t what is now.” She glances over at Chris, just enough to get a sense of his expression. Fretful. “We’ve become something called the Sentinel, we stand with a new ideal. That people like you and me, people who are special.” As she emphasizes that, Elisa looks pointedly at Chris. “That we’re meant for something. That we have a responsibility and a purpose beyond our lives.”

With a shake of her head, Elisa looks ahead to the dark path beyond. “That’s where I’m going. To find the rest of the Sentinel, rendezvous with them, and… maybe stop what’s coming.”

Chris' face is a dark cloud that could bring thunder and rain or nothing at all. It's the sort of cloud that farmers and homesteaders make note of. It's either going to help or it'll be extremely destructive.

He stares down the road, mouth tight and brows knitted, never minding the broken road they're on. He's minding the ideology, that the Vanguard had a fucking change of heart. Now they follow some fancy new beliefs based on some higher purpose that… That they're the good guys now, if that's even something that exists anymore.

But can he really argue? Fuck.

Providence was basically run by thieves doing Robin Hood's work along with some vigilante justice or some bullshit like that. The only higher purpose there was survival. Chris angles a look in Elisa's direction. There's no fucking argument. None. Nothing. It's no different, not in the way he can see in the moment while traveling on foot. It's just the same fucking fight for survival and peace and shit through a different lens.

"Fucking special." Unlucky is what Chris would've chosen, and he agreed to this. His expression doesn't change, but it seems like it isn't going to rain just yet. "How far?" While it's true they'd only get so far before reaching the ocean, west is such an ambiguous destination. Not to mention, "We're gonna need more supplies eventually. Maybe some horses or a vehicle." His next look at Elisa becomes more pointed. "And your secrets better become our secrets. If I'm fucking walking into a viper den I need to know shit so I don't get killed."

Elisa’s attention is fixed on Chris. The faint glow of morning light through the haze of smoke lights her from behind. Ash is already coating her hair and shoulders in a fine dust.

“Far.” Is Elisa’s explanation. There’s no humor in her voice, either. Nor glibness. It’s the cold, hard truth. “The Dead Zone.”

That’s at least two thousand miles.

“And…” Elisa turns from Chris, motioning for him to follow her. “There’s no vipers where we’re going.”

“Just wolves.”

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