asi_icon.gif avi_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title Dismantle
Synopsis Three very different people converge with one very common goal.
Date February 18, 2020

The bottle of whiskey on the old desk is empty. The glass next to it was drained dry the night before. The blackened nub of a cigarette in the nearby ash tray only smells faintly of smoke now.

Rays of afternoon sunlight coming in through tall windows highlight the particles of dust in the air; they dance like golden grains of sand in the warm light. Like tiny constellations all their own. Between the shafts of light, Avi Epstein sits in shadow, slouched at his desk with his head in his hands. He smells of whiskey and cigars, of sweat and bile. He drank too much last night, woke up on the floor of his office come morning, and hasn’t left since.

On Avi’s desk, an old partly-burned photograph of Emily is set in a new frame. He can barely make out his ex-wife in the photograph through the burns, but her silhouette haunts him still. Next to Emily’s photo is a landscape-orientation photograph of Walker Army Airfield in Kansas. The earliest members of Wolfhound are gathered together for a photograph. Hana stands in the middle, impassive and square-jawed with her chin up and both hands resting on the head of her cane. Avi stands next to her, cigar in his mouth pinched between his teeth, eyepatch over one eye. Huruma is next to him, giving a side-eye and a smirk. Lucille, Noa, Colette, and Adel are there, kneeling together in the front, smiling. Rue is nearby, holding a sniper rifle over her shoulder, one hand on her hip. Claire is right beside her, arms crossed over her chest and head down, looking as serious as ever. Francois is off on one end, an arm around the shoulders of Curtis, who has a beer in his hand and a broad, cheerful smile. Then there’s the rookies on the other end, Devon and Berlin, sitting on a munitions crate together, smiling for the photograph.

Where were they all now? What happened to the Wolfhound in his memories? Hana was gone, likely forever. If not her as a person, the person he came to know and respect was erased. She might as well have died. Noa retired in disgust after Mayes was executed in Fort Irwin, Adel with her. Claire left to go live with her father in the Dead Zone. Colette retired and joined the NYPD. Rue was on paid suspension while the matter of her doppelganger is sorted out. Francois was recovering from his injuries at home. He’d teleconference into important meetings, but it wasn’t the same. Curtis’ mind was scrambled eggs, there was no way to put him in the field anymore. Devon died and came back, but Avi’s always been unsure if it really was Devon that returned. Worse, he’s dating his daughter. The guilt Avi feels for nearly killing him once is palpable. Then there was Berlin — Nathalie.

Avi looks down at the paperwork in front of himself that he’s been avoiding for weeks, curling fingers into his hair.

Form Number: B 309H
Notice of Chapter 12 Bankruptcy Case

Fuck,” Avi mutters. When the landline phone on his desk rings, he nearly jumps out of his skin. He lashes out, slapping the phone cradle to try and send it directly to voicemail. Instead, he accidentally hits the receiver.

The Bastion
Phoenix Heights, NYC Safe Zone

February 18th
3:12 pm

For a second the silence of dead air on a live call hangs. To which Avi awkwardly answers, “What?

There's a crackle of sound, a phone shifting from one shoulder to the other. If whoever it is is put off by his greeting, it doesn't carry in her deadpan tone.

"Avi Epstein?" the woman on the other end of the line asks. She presumes, but doesn't want to assume.

“Sure,” is his useless response. “If this is a creditor you can take a flying fuck off the end of my dick.”

A beat passes. Then another.

Apparently she's just going to not even touch that one.

"I'm unsure you know who I am, but in the interest of niceties, my name is ON1." the woman says, like Avi's response had been anything nearer to normal than his crass half-dismissal of her. There's no distortion on the line layered over her voice, no ominous flickering of his computer terminal, or any other indications he's dealing with a technopath aside from the name she's given, if he recognizes it. It's a human he's dealing with on the other end of the line— one with a slight accent on her English, to the point without being cold.

"I have an exchange of information I'd like to make regarding work I foresee Wolfhound's involvement in in the near future… and a proposition regarding it."

“Yeah and I’m Colonel Sanders, let me transfer you to the department of eleven herbs and spices,” Avi sputters as he reaches for the phone, but hesitates as his fingers hover over the receiver. He looks at the speaker, then down to the document on his desk.

“Paid involvement?” Avi asks, shamelessly.

Asi can only let out a scoff of a laugh from her end of the line, not a trace of humor in her voice. "Has your government stopped paying you?"

Avi sits back in his chair. “Yeah we haven’t exactly been rolling in war criminals to arrest these days. That well’s run pretty dry, O’neil.” That isn’t what she said. “But we’re a privately owned company, so if this is a solicitation for work…” Avi slides the paperwork aside and pulls out a small, spiral-bound notebook and a pen. “I’m listening.”

There's a soft sigh that comes from the speaker. It could be over that hacheting of her chosen name, or it could be that she can sense Avi's feverous need for a company-saving gig all the way from his office phone. "A little over eight months ago, a hack into Praxis Heavy Industries aired its dirty laundry to anyone willing to read between the lines of text on their defaced website. The world has been turning ever since that moment, and the US government is finally getting together its case against them given the allegations brought to light regarding that company and what it does in the shadows."

"Unless you've done something to fall out of their good graces, I would be surprised if they would not tap you and your people to follow up on this, Obscene." She lets her thoughts and her mispronunciation hang in the air for a moment before lightly conceding, "Perhaps they have not looped you in yet, but my opinion is that it's only a matter of time."

"What I have is a physical line into Praxis' headquarters in the California Safe Zone— their Praxia. I have this, as well as a source of information. What I need is to not get shot on my way in. What your government will need is irrefutable proof that the contents of the Praxis leaks were true. And if you are in need of well-paying work…" Asi's voice shifts slightly to the side somehow, even audibly giving away the cant of her head she gives at Avi through the phone. "Well, I believe between all of us, we can work something out."

Avi looks down at the phone, then slides his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. He brushes his thumb over the screen that was shattered in anger when he threw it against a wall the other night, unlocking it. “Okay, Praxis Heavy…” he says, setting the phone down on his desk and opening an application with a wolf’s head on the icon. Once the app is loaded, Avi sits forward and presses two buttons on the receiver, and a notification badge on his phone reads SYNC SUCCESSFUL.

“DOJ is handling a criminal case,” Avi muses into the receiver, tucking the corded phone under his chin. “What makes you so sure they want to jeopardize that by sending a paramilitary org into sovereign nation soil?” He eyes the phone, watching a meter slowly counting up. “That’d take an act of Congress, and I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with those fucks, but they don’t do anything fast unless there’s a quick buck in it for them or a minority to oppress.”

Another faint breath of laughter comes across the line. Fair point, it reads. "Americans are even worse than the British about letting go of territory that was once theirs. I imagine there are a fair number of people who still see California as an American state. Even in Japan, there is a good deal of resistance to the rise of corporatocracy." If she's aware of the attempts being made to trace her call, she's unbothered by them.

The case of the unknown number calling him is resolved before long, though to Avi, it might be just as confusing— what the tool on his phone determines is that the call is coming from a series of numbers that don't make sense immediately. They're an IP address, and even then, the information passed through less than helpful.|1NO#|1NO

"If there's cause to reclaim that land, I can bet they would lunge at it. Whether they do that through sending in auditors— and in what world would Praxis tell the truth willingly?— or they will take a less diplomatic approach in getting their answers."

There's a lift to Asi's voice. "I was not sure how you would receive me. But as a sign of good faith, the source I mentioned will be available to you momentarily."

Speak of the devil, and she shall appear. Right on cue:

"Colonel Sanders, I presume. Is this a bad time?" A third mystery voice says from the direction of the shadowed doorway.

Like Asi's, this is a smooth, completely deadpan woman's voice, tinted by slightly-too-formal diction and some variety of East Asian accent.

Unlike Asi, it rolls right into the office with only that single sentence fragment of warning. The slim figure of its owner is presently stepping into the interior of Avi's office as though she'd already been invited in, closing the door behind her again as she does, but only mostly— perhaps because the odor inside this room is so terrible that she doesn't want to be shut into it completely. How fucking long had she been standing there, surreptitiously listening? Long enough for at least that cheeky reference, clearly.

Doctor Yeh.” It isn’t every day someone recognizes Yi-Min on sight, but Avi Epstein was the engagement director for Operation Apollo, back when he and Uncle Sam worked on much better terms. Avi’s back straightens, the misdirect on the tracker completely forgotten as he sees an honest to god Vanguard member walk through his door. She can see his eyes track behind her, looking for a swath of destruction or a lingering cloud of toxic gas or— you know, what you’d expect.

“Alright,” Avi says, seated but tense like a dog about to chase a thrown ball. He looks down to the desk phone, then up to Yi-Min. “You’ve got my attention.”

The way the Wolfhound leader immediately picks up on who it is that's walked in his door is encouraging, at least. And it'll save some time. Asi sounds pleased about that. "Doctor Yeh has both access to Praxis and a knife she's prepared for its collective back. We have been working together to deliver it, but… I would have better faith in our plans if we had better numbers."

This up close and personal, Dr. Yeh doesn't look like somebody who would be capable of leaving a trail of destruction in her wake, ability or no. Even in the dark by the door, where the sunlight illuminating some of the room doesn't manage to reach, she is a tiny and altogether unassuming figure in her hooded, woollen winter coat. That hood is currently down around her shoulders.

Yi-Min takes one step closer towards Avi. One step closer towards that dusty swathe of sunlight striping the floor from the windows, but not entering inside just yet. Instead, she tilts her head towards his phone, causing some of her short-cropped hair to come loose from her face— and speaks but one curt word of a request. "Speakerphone?"

Having the ability to communicate three-way would be a good first step towards actually discussing those plans.

Avi keeps his eyes locked on Yi-Min and leans forward, turning up the volume on the speakerphone so she can hear it clearer. The little turn of his head at the end is a small, non-verbal, is this loud enough? Leaning back in his chair, Avi makes eye-contact with Francis in the hall behind them, who is shrugging apologetically and backing away from the door. Avi slides his tongue over the front of his teeth, then spreads his hands in front of himself.

“Well, you have a captive audience. But if you do requests in this theater act,” Avi wonders, “maybe you can tell me what the fuck happened to the Chinese Vanguard?” One brow rises.

He won’t be getting those answers today.

"Perhaps we can stay on task, instead," the peanut gallery from the phone advises instead.

"Let's entertain this question in its place— if the government doesn't contract you for this work, what are your rates for a cross-country engagement? Defense of two to five persons through Praxia, where we'll almost certainly be under fire once they realize what we're there for."

And an explanation for that, Asi leaves to Yi-Min.

Do either of those questions really need an answer from her, though? They seem self-explanatory enough to Yi-Min, who turns her eyes calmly and fully onto Avi in turn.

Without looking, Yi-Min nudges the door all the way shut behind her with her heel, fully closing out the last sight of Francis being apologetic in the hallway. Bye.

Time for Avi to concentrate on what matters. She waits expectantly to see what his response to that will be.

Avi breathes in deeply and angles a look at the phone like it asked him to tie his dick in a knot and sing Modern Major General at the same time. When Avi exhales that deep breath as a sigh he scrubs the heels of his palms on his pants and shakes his head. “Look,” is an attempt at a diplomatic tone. “I don’t know what your impression of this operation is, but it’s not just a hammer you get to swing at shit you don’t like.”

Sliding his tongue over his teeth, Avi looks over to Yi-Min, then back to the phone. “I already told you, Praxia is a sovereign state. That means any interdiction there is in accordance with international law. We roll in there guns blazing without the consent of a nation willing to back us up, we’re opening ourselves to a world of hurt.” He wrings his hands together, though, clearly not quite done.

“But let’s say for the sake of argument that’s not a problem,” Avi concedes. “For a five-man combat-expected engagement lasting no more than say, 36 hours? I’d say 15k per active head, fuel and munitions expenses, premiums for our field experience. A hundred grand.” He spreads his hands, a gesture lost on Asi. “Give or take.”

What a number. "That's roughly $415 an hour per head before you factor in the premium you intend to charge on top of it," Asi notes aloud. She's not balking at it; just calling it how it is. If she's being honest, there's something to be said for valuing the life-threatening work his unit does with that level of hazard pay— the fact they're starved for work aside. There's a separate issue before that, though:

"Unfortunately, between Dr. Yeh's resume and mine, I find it unlikely we'll be able to obtain the support of any government with this, even yours. We may be at an impasse." And Yi-Min may have gone for nothing, in that case.

When Avi glances back at where Yi-Min is lurking, he can see that she looks lightly bemused by everything she had just heard. She takes advantage of the timing to stride further into the middle of the room, coming to stand near his shoulder. "Mr. Epstein, I am not quite sure what Oni here has been telling you—" given that she had only been privy to half the conversation before she had walked in, if that, "but 'rolling in guns blazing' is not the plan. Nobody is realistically asking you to incite an international war by invading Praxia unprovoked."

That would probably be bad.

Silenced momentarily as she determines what wording would be apt, Yi-Min levels a look at the phone Avi is holding onto as though that will let her glean the thinking of the person on the other end. "However… I daresay your government is rather disposed towards invading other countries on fabulously flimsy pretenses. No? And with Praxia having such a brazen foothold on former American soil, and the tensions that are rising between the two…" Correct her if she's wrong in any of that. There is an offhand shrug of one slim shoulder.

"All I am saying is, it seems like but a matter of time before things develop further. Call this advance preparation. If you will." Setting up before the tide rolls in. Neither Oni or Dr. Yeh’s names really need to be brought up in such a case, assuming her take on things is correct.

Avi looks at Yi-Min in silence, then slowly pulls open one of his desk drawers and brings out a pack of cigarettes. Without so much as asking, he lights up and sits back in his chair, taking a minute to savor the cigarette before plucking it from his mouth and pinching it between two fingers. “You don’t slip in to a place like Praxia without preparing for an altercation. Trust me, we’ve tangled with their hardware before on another operation. Advanced robotics, aircraft…” he waves his cigarette-laden hand around. “I’m sure you and Speakerphone here have a good plan, but plans always go to shit. Ain’t saying it can’t be done, but let’s be realistic.”

Taking another drag from his cigarette, Avi glances out the window to the cityscape. He’s lost for a moment in thought before looking back to her. “Advance preparation…” he says under his breath, looking from Yi-Min to the phone and back again. “You let me worry about what Uncle Sam knows and-or doesn’t know about who I subcontract out to. What I want to know is—” he motions to Yi-Min with the cigarette, then says, “—and for those following along at home, pretend I’m pointing at you—” he sits back again, “—what’re you all bringing to the table?”

Avi takes a long, slow drag off of his cigarette. “Speakerphone here, I’m guessing, is either a regular meat-and-potatoes hacker, or an honest-to-god technopath. And you,” he fixes his eyes on Yi-Min, “what’s new, pussycat? Since about 2009 or so when I last saw an updated dossier. I’d like to hear some practicals.” Which is his unique way of saying he’s interested.

With a disaffected affect, the speakerphone sounds off, "Hacker, technopath, drones and robotics specialist— trained in military self-defense and first-aid, disaster recovery, and if we're really feeling adventurous, semi-professional swordfighting makes the list as well." She sounds less enthusiastic about the last. "Fencing, specifically."

It's not necessarily practical for where they're going, what they'll be doing.

"I didn't think to bring a resume because the intention had been to hire you, not the other way around," Asi points out deadpan. "There's other less relevant experience that might be worth bringing up, were we not planning what we are planning. That said, should you take on this work, should you run this— joint exercise, let's call it— the support I offer would not be remote. I bring myself to the table, Epstein."

"Not just myself, but a second technopath as well." Her voice lifts with just a touch of levity: "Find me a better price than two for one."

At least initially, Yi-Min's answer to Avi's question is much less wordy, consisting of a rigid green plastic folder carefully eased out of the interior of her coat and summarily tossed onto the desk straight in front of him.


"Bathroom reading for you," she announces curtly, even before he has a chance to pick it up and examine its contents. Clearly, she expects him to be doing so while she continues.

Inside is a small panoply of visual information regarding the Ziggurat and its immediate physical environs in Praxia, meticulously labeled in minute handwriting. In addition to maps and diagrams, there are notes describing guard routines (then-current as of the time of her visit in August) and basic expected protocols: whatever Yi-Min had been able to put her hands on that had seemed even marginally useful.

"I have been inside, and I can lead you. You'll be taking me with you if you go." That's not a request. "Once we are in, I should be able to gain access to the HVAC systems inside the Ziggurat in order to wreak as much airborne damage as possible, and I am prepared to otherwise employ my services as needed on the fly.” Given that Avi knows about her role in the Chinese Vanguard, he should be able to ascertain what those are. Wink, wink. “I have several connections already waiting inside, who will be willing to assist. And, well. I can also handle myself in a fight." Withdrawing her arms into a loose folded position, she ticks up one eyebrow at him as though to silently say, 'that's all of what's new, pussycat.'

Avi looks down at the folder on the table as though it were a loaded gun. He slowly sits back in his chair, elbows on the armrests, hands folded in front of himself. Slowly, Avi looks from the folder to the phone and up to Yi-Min. “Technopaths…” he says with a slow drawl. “Huh.”

“Francis can show you out, Ms. Yeh,” Avi says in a way that isn’t her being thrown out of his office. “I’m gonna read this,” he says with a nod to the folder, “and depending on how hard I get we’ll have another chat. That goes for you too, Speakerphone.”

Somehow, Asi supposes it's a good thing she isn't in the room when Avi phrases it quite like that. She doesn't have to guard the expression she gives her phone at all.

"You'll receive an email with contact information for getting back in touch. Mine, and hers, in case you soil the papers." The hostile disapproval still makes its way across anyway, though.

"それじゃ," is the last clipped contribution Asi offers to the conversation before the desk phone line goes dead.

It looks like Yi-Min had already been on her way out, judging by the way she had made the decision to turn on her heel after a brusque pause and is already halfway across the floor to the door. Her immediate task here is over, and she has no intention to dawdle in this rancid, sweat-stained den. "No need. I assure you, I remember my own way out," she says with a thin line of a smile. Her memory isn't that bad. She flashes one last, longer, meaningful look to the phone as though in a completely unseen goodbye to 'Speakerphone,' too.

Then she is gone.

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