Dragonslayer, Part III


asi3_icon.gif avi_icon.gif colette4_icon.gif francis_icon.gif hull_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif lucille3_icon.gif noa_icon.gif reed_icon.gif sabine_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title Dragonslayer, Part III
Synopsis One Wolfhound team penetrates the Praxis Ziggurat and makes a horrifying discovery.
Date February 27, 2020

Plumes of smoke wind up between the burning wreckage of half-finished houses.

From across the bay, the fires seem small, but there is no mistaking their significance. It is with a heavy brow and a set jaw that Sabine Hazel watches the end come, watches the fires burning in what should have been the next block of the Safe Zone to be settled. Instead, her view of the outside is narrowing behind lowering blast shutters that close out the view of the world with a resounding clang that echoes through the walls of the Praxia Ziggurat.

“All security personnel,” Sabine says into her headset, “this is Black Alert. I repeat, Black Alert.” Normal lightning within the Ziggurat shuts down, flooding the halls with an ambient red glow. Security doors on multiple floors shut and lock themselves, sealing residents inside.

Squaring her shoulders, Sabine turns her attention toward a video feed on a laptop, showing Praxis aircraft hovering over Detroit. She sucks in a sharp breath, curls her hands into fists, and then turns out of the Director’s office, followed in turn by two humanoid machines armed with assault rifles.

She knew this day would come.

The Praxis Ziggurat
Praxia, California Safe Zone

February 28th
1:48 pm Local Time

“We’re just closing in for a landing,” Colette says into the darkened cockpit, “I’m dropping the invisibility, we should be safe once we’re wheels-down.”

A world of darkness soon becomes bathed in the light of gray skies and falling rain. The Tlanuwa feels practically cavernous now without the bulk of the Katsch inside. Francis Harkness unclips his seatbelt and rises from his jump seat, holding out a hand and teleporting an assault rifle from the weapon rack to his hand. Several magazines of ammunition appear in a flash-pop along a specialized supply harness worn over his AEGIS armor.

As Asi guides the Tlanuwa to touch down on the roof, Colette boosts out of her seat at the command console, grabbing her helmet and sliding it on. Avi is quick to rise from the co-pilot seat as he does, leaving room for Asi at his back.

“You breach that entrance,” Avi says with a look to Yi-Min, knowing this is where she starts pulling her weight on the ground, “and split into two teams. “Demsky I want you to take Doctor Yeh where she needs to go inside.”

Colette nods, grabbing a rifle from the weapon rack and loading it with a magazine, offering a quick look of acknowledgement to Yi-Min while checking the rifle. “Affirmative,” Colette says flatly, looking to the others.

“Harkness, you’re with Dunsimi, Ryans, and Tetsuyama.” Avi offers the latter of the two a steady nod. “Blow that core network, get Scylla and Transceiver in there to wreck shit.” What becomes abundantly clear is that Avi isn’t joining them inside.

“I’m gonna run laps in the Tlanuwa with Gitelman,” Avi explains, putting one hand on the back of the pilot seat. “Keep them busy on the ground. Guardians should’ve started their fireworks by now, which means something went fucking sideways. I’m gonna try and sort that out.”

There’s a hard jostle as the Tlanuwa touches down on the roof. Colette and Francis move to the rear hatch, readying to fire if anything is waiting for them, as it starts to open.

“«Only way we’ll see you running laps, Epstein,»” quips the cheerful voice belonging to Noa, despite the dire situation. Her long hiatus seems to have lightened her mood. Of course not being in command or in physical danger might have something to do with lifting Noa Gitelman’s spirits.

That isn’t to say she isn’t taking the job seriously. “«I’ll make sure your comms are secure and send out some misdirects or static out to the other side while I’m at it, if I can.»” The young Gitelman is a good multitasker, but she’ll prioritize as Avi directs.

“«Standing by.»”

"Don't crash," Lucille says to Avi with a smile hidden by her helmet at Noa's joke at the older man's expense. "You were missed, thanks for the assist. Give him some Cyndi Lauper will ya?" She checks her equipment one more time before she feels satisfied with her big gun of choice, sidearm and Banshee. The plethora of blades are hidden in various spots around her person, flashbangs. There's a moment of sadness at not being actually with Col when boots hit the ground but that was how they normally did ops anyway so nothing new.

Coming to stand beside her best friend she squeezes her arm and looks from the helmet into Colette's eyes. "See your ass back here. We have a bottle to drain." Francis just gets a look, the other brother she didn't ask for but appreciated, maybe he can have a glass as well. Lucille wasn't accepting anyone being left behind, not today.

Then they are touching down and the hatch is opening, Lucille's eyes flash from light blue to hot amber gold. Radar. Readying herself to pick up any vitals that aren't the ones she's familiar with "Let's get to those servers," Looking over at her teammates and gaze lingering on Asi longer than the others. "You have something cooked up for the network?" Luce only hoped the technopath lived up to the stories/press surrounding her. The most she knew about technological warfare had been learned from the Gitlemans though Noa's brain had always been the easier of the two to pick. Worse came to worse, they had explosives. Chatter aside, Lucille briefly closes her eyes and listens to her own heartbeat. Taking herself to that place in the center where she knew the most clarity. Lucille lifts her gun to train at the opening hatch, ready to fire.

"No," Asi replies as she unbuckles from the pilot's seat. Compared to her earlier joy, this is heavy and curt. "No, not as much as I'd like."

Coming to her feet, she frees her helmet from where she'd secured it during flight, taking a moment to pause. Her eyes drop to the controls she's leaving behind, then find Avi. "I'm leaving you a copilot," she decides. "I'll leave the subprocess on standby until you need it. Given a voice command, it can aim and fire on anything you need it to, or it can take over simple flight directions if you'd rather shoot. If I'm in range, and have the time for it, shout and I'll see if I can do more than that." Hands around either side of her helm, she advises tersely, "Only as a last resort."

Sighing from her nose, she straps her helmet on, navigating it carefully to seat better around a Bluetooth earpiece. She glances lifelong to Yi-Min for a long moment, then opts to stick in her lane. "Scylla, Transceiver, this is it," she says into her mic, looking away. "Be honest about your capacity. Now isn't the time for last minute surprises. Can you handle attacking the Shanghai server simultaneously, or is that something you need me to handle with my line-in here?"

She frowns to herself as she unclips a briefcase-like object from the side of the Tlanuwa. As soon as she pulls it horizontal it begins to expand and separate, a sturdy drone unfolding. A tap to it sets hovering up on its own, sticking just above Asi's head and slightly behind her for the time being, the hydraulic cage of the arms on its belly extending and retracting back to itself in a quick test. Her eyes flare with an inner blue light for just a moment as she assesses the assets tied to her, the device behind her as much as the additional tools clipped to her belt and side… last of which is her sidearm, which she draws and chambers, keeping held low.

Huruma can't help but give Noa's chain-yanking a snort, all the while unfastening and kitting up. Between all of them, it's quite the array; she is checking the security of her armored gloves as the jet perches in place.

"«Feel free to give out as many concert tickets as your little heart desires.»" Huruma's advice to Noa, amused as can be. It would be one way to scramble things, that's for sure. The empath draws her Banshee first, eyes drawn to Asi's drone before her ability reaches out at length, a blooming, languorous sprawl out from the Tlanuwa. She steps up to take point behind it, casting a look back over her shoulder with a low laugh. "See you at the afterparty."

«You just worry about getting me a connection.» Scylla says over the comms «If Yeh’s information is correct we’re going to be dark once you go inside. The Ziggurat has some sort of security protocol that can block outgoing signals. You’ll need to disable that before either of us can risk piggybacking in.»

«Yeah we got this. Scylla’s got my back. You get us there and we’re bust shit up good!»



«No buts.»

Okay.” Avi practically shouts into the comms while Yi-Min enters a passcode into the keypad beside the helipad doors to the roof. “Follow protocol if anything goes wrong. With any luck, we’ll have a good laugh about all of this later.” Avi says, walking back up the ramp into the Tlanuwa as it closes behind him.

«Stay safe in there.» He adds over the comms.

«Good hunting, Hounds.»

A Short Time Later

The Praxis Ziggurat
42nd Floor, Executive Level
Praxia, California Safe Zone

The cavernous chamber of the Director’s Suite is where Doctor Yi-Min Yeh and Colette Demsky parted ways with the remainder of Wolfhound. A private elevator from the roof led directly to the Director’s office, a spacious room at the pinnacle of the Ziggurat.

Three angular walls with blast-shutter enclosed windows give the room a temple-like appearance, enhanced by the black tile floor. A single desk of smoky black glass rests in the middle of the office space, surrounded by four concrete columns with dome sconce lamps all gone out. Only red emergency lighting illuminates the place now, bathing everything in an eerie, otherworldly hue.

There is a glass-walled conference room off of the office with a long table of the same smoky glass surrounded by chairs. There is no one here. Huruma does not sense anything within her immediate empathic sense either. Doctor Yeh’s codes must have worked, Asi isn’t detecting anything like a silent alarm.

“This uh…” Francis says as he sweeps through the office, the flashlight held under his sidearm sweeping through the red. “This feels like one of those monuments to ego, right? That’s what this is?”

There’s eight floors between the Director’s Office and the server cluster and the executive elevator does not reach any of the intervening floors. Just the basement levels, the executive office, and the roof, according to Yi-Min’s data.

“We’ll meet you at the servers,” Colette says as she stands at the doors to the office, “keep your gas masks handy.” She says, rippling into a heat mirage of invisibility when Yi-Min opens the office door and steps out into the hall like she belongs there. Colette, her unseen shadow, follows behind intently.

“Right. Gas masks.” Francis says with a shaky tone of voice. “Nothing nerve-wracking about that.”

Walking behind the others with long, quiet strides, Lucille scans the corners of the rooms and any hallways they pass. The conference room gets a measured look and she thinks of what sort of decisions were made here or presentations.

A brief nod towards Colette and Yi-Min as the pair make their exit, looking down to the gas mask hooked to her belt before she takes a look around with gold glowing eyes that shine dully through the helmet. Was her father somewhere here? She hopes for someone from Mazdak, someone that would make her feel like she was beginning her revenge for Nat.

Lucille's hand tightens around her firearm and she draws a long blade from her boot sheath with the other, facing it downwards and alongside the grip of her firearm, aiming slowly around the room as she steps further looking towards the elevator and then the stairs. Francis receives an unseen small smile before she swallows, "Stay sharp," The coast being clear now didn't mean it would stay that way, all of the group knew that.

"Eight flights isn't bad," Making her opinion of how they should proceed known, "Less likelihood of sabotage." They could always take an elevator if the stairs prove too dicey for whatever reason.

Asi's hand goes flush on the desk in the center of the space, subprocess slipping into the computer before her hand retracts, eyes glowing blue while her fingers curl in to her palm. "Let's hope someone with this much ego left all the power sitting here, too…" she absently airs, fingers twitching in subtle movements while she looks down at the computer. Her other hand stays by her side, gun still in hand while she works.

But she suddenly realizes she can't do anything about the interference. Because there’s nothing there on the other end.

Her subprocess attempts to slip in to the device and… nothing. Tension builds in her hand as her subprocess winks back. The computer might as well be a coffee cup. Asi can feel the sense of an electronic device present, everything in her perception says that there is a computer built into the desk. Except… there’s nothing. There’s no data, there’s no hard disk, not even powered off.

It’s like an approximation of a computer, a cardboard cutout that — maybe if she breathed hard enough — it would simply fall over.

That's… not good.

Asi closes her fingers around her palm, looking around the office warily. "Something's off with the tech," she announces with a furrow of her brow. "It… this space doesn't feel…"

Real sounds extreme, so all she does is shake her head. With a frown, she moves around the desk and rejoins the group. Whatever it was didn't feel dangerous, so it sounded like a problem for later. "Let's be quick about this. The stairs will do."

Huruma takes her time with striding into the upper executive level. The others with her become somewhat more peripheral as they make it inside, red light coating her armor in a wash of crimson, briefly interrupted only by the bulb Francis passes over her. Without looking to him, the empath exchanges his quavering caution with a pulse of confidence. It's okay, bud.

"I see that my taste in interior decorating rubbed off." Huruma drawls at the air, dark as it is with the shutters down. She seems amused by what Lucille says with a laugh, short and huffed. "Eight. Quite."

As Tetsuyama makes her way to the desk for investigation, Huruma slowly paces the perimeter of the space, eyes over glass and tile and light, only pausing on the span of the conference room. The front plane of her helmet swivels to Asi again at the woman's assessment. She does not seem perturbed by the technopath's wariness, instead deciding to focus on ahead and move for the door, Banshee up to scan the space beyond.

Francis takes one look back at the office as he follows along in the rear of the group, adjusting the strap of his heavy backpack with a jostle of his shoulders. As they pass through the door and out into the hall, Francis lets the door slowly swing shut behind him.

When the door clicks shut, there is a slow bleed across the ground. Tile reveals cracks and fissures that weren’t there when the Hounds were. Blood that dried a day ago paints itself across the tile, shrapnel from broken marble litters the ground, ceiling tiles hang in crooked angles and exposed wiring tangles on the periphery. The glass wall to the conference room is completely shattered, chairs thrown aside from an explosion the day before.

In the middle of the office there is a swirl of blood where a hasty attempt at cleaning was made, areas of bare marble where human remains once laid, since moved down to the Ziggurat’s morgue. The Director’s desk is in fact in pieces across the room, its glass surface shattered and the window behind it spider webbed with cracks.

A woman, too, is revealed among the rubble. Pressed into the shadows near the director’s desk, her body trembling and chest rising and falling with short, panicked breaths.


Candice Wilmer watches that door the Hounds left through with a twinge of panic visible in her otherwise frozen expression. Slowly, the hand covering her mouth begins to unwind, and the shadow of a man looming behind her whispers, “Good girl,” in her ear.

Candice wants to scream, but no such sound escapes her. Instead, she sees her captor slink out from her peripheral vision, stepping into the blood red light of the office.

“Now…” He says in a coarse, smoky voice.


“…we can have a conversation.”

Seven Floors Below

Praxis Arcology, Executive Security Center

Rows of workstations line the dimly-lit floor of security command, a tiered operations center arranged somewhat like an amphitheater or lecture hall. The forward-facing workstations are awash in the glow of multiple monitors, with the wall they face a massive display showing a map of the California Safe Zone with areas highlighted red and circular reticles indicating THREAT DETECTED.

Unlike the Executive Suite, the security center is a hive of activity. Voices ring out in a cacophony of emergency responses and status checks. At the highest tier of the floor, Sabine Hazel stands with arms crossed over her chest, pacing back and forth behind a workstation where a drone operator scans burning wreckage on a freeway overpass, displayed on her five panoramic monitors.

“Two automated transports were destroyed,” the security officer says as she turns to look over her shoulder, eyes obscured by a VR headset, the view of which is shown to Sabine on the desk-mounted displays. “There’s some damage here indicative of a Yaoguai unit, but I don’t see a chassis. I think it pulled itself up and returned to pursuit mode, but it’s not responding to remote commands. Its communications module must have been damaged in the attack.”

“Send twenty Qing units to Oakland to patrol civilian zones. If the hostiles try to engage in the area retreat out of the Safe Zone to try and draw them away from inhabited areas. We can’t risk civilian casualties.” Sabine instructs, massaging the fingers of one hand against her right temple. “Do we have a predictive pattern for the aircraft yet?”

“We have a possible match,” the security officer says. “Before the Yaoguai lost connection we received a threat ID upload of the ground vehicle. An insignia on the door matches a known New York based PMC.” She makes a gesture with one of her gloved hands and the image pops up on a side monitor.


Wolfhound,” Sabine says through her teeth. “Alert the Director, get me—”

Ma’am!” Another security officer exclaims from his console, “Network analytics just pinged a possible technopathic intrusion in the security camera systems, cannot isolate floor or room!” Sabine snaps her attention to that officer and is met with more information. “We have an authorized roof access roughly eight minutes ago, it’s Doctor Yi-Min Yeh’s access code.”

What?” Sabine storms over to the desk. “Where is she!?”

“Can’t confirm, cameras are out across the Executive Suite from the explosion.” The officer responds as Sabine leans over his shoulder to look at his displays.

Ma’am!” Another voice cries from a separate desk. “We have reports of multiple engagements on Praxia, armed insurgents! Attempting to identify, we— hostiles have breached the secure dock on basement level B1!

Sabine clenches her hands into fists and leans away from the monitor. “Shut down all the elevators! Activate internal security! Mobilize local defense! Lock down every residence and someone find Doctor Yeh!

Praxis Ziggurat, Northwest Stairwell

Wolfhound’s descent into the Ziggurat has been made easier thanks to Asi Tetsuyama’s presence. While the majority of security cameras on the executive floor didn’t seem to be connected to anything, the cameras inside the northwest stairwell are. It’s a simple matter for Asi to temporarily load a subprocess into the camera and loop empty feed, then retrieve it from the network once the team is past visual range thanks to the telecom conduits snaking through the concrete walls.

“S’anybody find it odd…” Francis says as he descends the stairs, “that there’s no, uh, alarms or— ”

As if invoked by Francis’ statement, a wailing klaxon of security alarms begin to blare within the Ziggurat. An automated response from a synthetic voice cries out over recessed speakers.

«This is a Priority-1 Security Alert.»

I’m sorry,” Francis groans.

«All non-security personnel must shelter in place.»

I’m sorry!” Francis shouts.

«This is a Priority-1 Security Alert.»

It's nice having a technopath back with Wolfhound even if it is for this operation. Lucille finds herself recalling Hana in the field though she was rarely paired with her. The things she had witnessed that woman do. Her earlier thoughts on if ON1 would measure up to Wireless are confirmed and she smiles inside her helmet, confidence spiking a little to Huruma's awareness.

Lucille's head turns towards Francis as the alarms begin to go off, "You have a gift," Squinting while looking at the floors below them that they still need to go down, stairs might have been a good idea after all. Adjusting her grip on her weapons she jogs down a few steps and looks from each woman and Francis.

"We'll have to move faster, let's go." Nodding at Huruma to continue to take the stairs down. Lucille exhales calmly through her nose, they can do this. This was nothing crazy.


When the alarms begin to cycle, the drone flying ahead of them down the stairwell quickens its pace, deftly zagging its way to be a floor ahead of them. Asi doesn't react to Francis' apology for inviting Murphy's Law down upon them at first, keeping her eyes ahead. Only when she's certain no one's storming the stairwell does she aside, "It likely wasn't us that caused it. Take heart, Harkness. Eyes sharp, mouth shut."

She follows the new pace that's set, listening through her other senses for approaching electronics as much as seeing through the drone, the Tlanuwa's current position pinged for reference at intervals.

It's all a delicate balancing act, her eyes glowing as she pursues it, attempting to put the wrongness she'd first encountered upstairs out of her mind, at least for the moment. Surely that was a problem they'd only have to face when it came time to leave, and it was a mystery that could wait to be pondered until then.

Huruma has her head turned to Francis even before he gets those final words out. Do not— and of course he does.

"I know." Sorry this, that, Francis just has the worst luck when it comes to jinxes. "They'll have locked the elevators for the Shelter order." Huruma wastes no time in catching up to and passing Lucille on the stairs, tailing after the drone that Asi has flying ahead. Ahead of even that, the empath's field stretches out with spidery touches, descending along with her.

As the team makes a thundering descent down the stairs, they reach the landing for the 41st floor and can hear raised voices coming from the other side of the door. Rounding the corner they make their way down another four flights of stairs as fast as they can, hitting the 40th floor landing. From here things sound quieter, and the Hounds are able to make considerable headway up until they hit somewhere between the 37th and 36th floors.

There’s a thunderous sound of an explosion from outside the Ziggurat, rumbling through the thick walls and rattling the blast curtains over the stairwell windows. Lights inside the Ziggurat flicker and sputter, but then come back on a moment later.

“…man I hope that’s the Guardians,” Francis says with reflexive worry in his voice. But no one has long to process that as doors both above at the 37th floor and below at the 36th floor open. There’s a whirring, mechanical sound that fills the wide stairwell, and over the railing Lucille can see what the source of the noise is.

Fucking robots.

On the 36th floor landing below, Lucille spies a pair of Praxis Heavy Industries Qing bipedal security robots, armed with heavy assault rifles, march through the doorway. Their boxy heads swivel and pivot to scan for signs of intruders. Asi can feel their presence without the need of visual confirmation, and she can tell that there’s two above as well.

It feels like they're really making good time as they come to the the 30s but that all comes to a halt when those fucking robots enter the stairwell from above and below. Flashbacks to the day they lost Devon reverberate through Lucille's mind as she backs up into the wall while sheathing her knife and firearm. Looking at both of her comrades as the noise of the robots becomes apparent though Asi surely feels them before they become visible/audible.

Lifting her rifle up, head turning towards Asi, "These have a self destruct mechanism." Operation Hercules and how it ended clear in Lu's head. She plays it out in her mind as she waits for the others, where to aim when it's time to pull the trigger. "Anything in mind?" Since Asi didn't have any tricks for the server itself or not enough, Lucille prays to her mother Mary that the technopath has something going now.

They would need to dispose of all of them before moving forward and the longer they were pinned the more likelihood of reinforcements. Lucille braces herself with back against the wall.

The technopath stills when she feels the approaching robots, holding up her hand to signal they wait just before she hears the opening of the doors both above and below. Asi closes her eyes to hone her focus.

Maybe her optimistic comment to Francis was misplaced after all. Maybe this really was a well-placed pincer meant specifically for them. She opens her eyes, and they flare with an inner blue light.

Asi keeps silent to Lucille's quiet question, only nodding and looking ahead. Her hand bows forward, too slow to be a signal for the team crammed on the landing together. The sturdy O-Tetsudai drone keeps on its descent down the stairwell to the 36th floor … and charges at the head of the Qing robot standing in the doorway, knocking into it at full speed.

The heavy drone wobbles, recovering while still in motion— it continues into the hall with a noisy whirr of blades, zagging its way forward as a potential distraction for the robots to eliminate.

Huruma nearly recognizes those footfalls even before the owners appear; the last time she saw them was a clusterfuck, and she'd rather not have a repeat show. Asi notes them even faster, and Huruma slinks into the blind corner between the floors with the others.

She doesn't speak, instead alert as Asi decides to act; in her own capacity, of course. Huruma angles towards the other hounds, holding up a hand, fingers a gun which she points towards her lower faceplate, upper neck. Hopefully Praxis treated her encounter as a fluke. Even if not, debilitating visual input is critical.

A roar of automatic weapons fire erupts on the 36th floor as both Qing drones open fire on Asi’s O-Tetsudai. The two machines move with a human-guided purpose away from the door, walking and shooting at the same time with heavy, thudding footfalls and the smooth gait of something entirely unhuman.

High-caliber rounds punch through the O-Tetsudai’s unarmored frame, sparks flash out the side, smoke issues from bullet holes, but the sturdy machine wobbles and collides with the floor but continues to skid along toward the stairs, rolling and crashing down concrete steps.

Two Qing up above begin a slow and purposeful descent along the stairs, and it’s here that their mobility limitations are clearest. The intervals between each step from above are noticeably slower than on a horizontal surface. Asi has to imagine the stair-climbing is handled by an automatic process rather than some sort of foot-pedal control by the pilots.

The two Qing below are laser-focused on the O-Tetsudai and in clear enough view of the Hounds’ position that they’ve left themselves open to attack.

Huruma is the first to fire, and Wilby might as well be a fucking cannon for all the noise it makes in the stairwell. Even with both hands on the gun, there’s still a sizable kick that Huruma fights after the first shot. But the anti-armor round fired from the hand cannon punches through the armor plating of one Qing’s neck, completely severing its head from its shoulders in a shower of shrapnel and sparks. The machine doesn’t fall over thanks to autonomous balance systems, but it doesn’t advance any further.

Swinging the muzzle of her rifle out to aim Lucille opens fire on another of the droids aiming for the face and neck area. Anywhere but the goddamn body. The light of the gunfire illuminates her helmet and she bares her teeth staring down the sights at her query.

A bead of sweat runs down her neck and she feels more in tune with her body and surroundings as time seems to slow and she fires volley after volley.

When she runs out of ammo she jerks backwards against the wall and ejects the clip and slams another in, cocking the gun Lucille leans back out and continues firing when she gets an opening.

Need to keep heading down,»" Asi directs over the helmets' comms instead of speaking, looking slightly back over her shoulder to get a sense of how long until the descending bots will have line of sight on them. She mislikes the amount of time they have, but knows better than to move while her fellows are still firing.

She can't feel her own drone get shot, but it's something like it, a sense of pain as it bounces down the stairs. An anxiety that she might lose that piece of herself that's tethered to it. Hold on, she hopes for its system. She fires at the cloth-masked neck of the bot below, aiming for the red, thick wiring in the hopes of striking true through it and disabling whatever system it controls.

Need to get clear before they detonate,»" Asi stresses again, ready to begin jumping down the stairs either as soon as the second bot is down… or an opportunity otherwise arises to leap at it in the hopes of disabling its systems with a touch.

Godspeed, little drone. Huruma keeps tabs on the lower bots as Asi's takes them on a ride, though only long enough to make sure they've taken the bait. Goosechase started, Huruma draws the heavy revolver and angles it upwards at a precise angle. The sound of the first Qing's beheading rumbles in the stairwell. With Lucille giving cover fire against the second, Huruma eases back with an exhale, "Knock it's block off."

On the outside of the firefight, there is Asi's connection to her drone; Huruma can't see that much, but she can feel it. The anxiety is real enough. Huruma drops onto the next landing with the slam of boots, her only acknowledgement of getting out before the explosives fire. She has the revolver up to fire on any more of the bipeds once she finds footing.

Francis mostly keeps his head down during the firefight, watching the stairwell at their back as the two Qing drones from above begin making their way down to the closest landing. “Go, go, gooo!” Francis shouts, hurriedly moving along behind the trio ahead of him as they thunder down the stairs and slip past the disabled Qing drones below. Francis just barely clears the stairwell when the first of the drones detonates in a ground-shuddering explosion. He is thrown forward off of his feet, colliding with Lucille and taking the both of them tumbling down the stairs head over heels.

They land with a crash on the next landing, AEGIS armor hardened from the impact with the floor and mercifully saving them from any serious harm. Francis checks his helmet, straightens it, and looks up to the top of the stairs right as a second explosion goes off. He throws his arm up to shield himself from the shockwave and pieces of airborne concrete. Lucille has to practically haul him off the floor to get him moving again.

Klaxons are still blaring as the Hounds make their rapid descent down the stairs, soon accompanied by a kssh-pop and a torrential downpour of water from the automated fire suppression systems. Water runs in sheets off of the visors of the Hounds’ helmets, leaves rippling wakes as their booted feet splash down with each hurried step.

Vaulting stairs and moving as if the Devil himself were at their heels, the Hounds reach the door to the 34th floor. There’s shouting coming up from several floors below, human security forces. Not to mention the slamming footfalls of the two Qing drones above them.

The explosions have Lucille tumbling and she lands on her back next to Francis with a groan and eyes wide before rolling to her feet, grabbing Francis' arm and she's taking the steps three at a time, eyes scanning as they descend. Shrugging off bits of concrete that now decorate her armor.

When they finally reach the landing that's desired she sighs inwardly but the sounds of the drones above them and the human guards down below make her get close to the wall by the door and tilts her head trying to feel if any bodies are just beyond the door. Her head swings in Huruma's direction and the feeling of anticipation fills the air, she doesn't need to ask the empath to check the floor beyond the door. "Head inside, I'll go last."

Lifting her rifle and leaning over the railing to attempt more suppressing fire on the drones above and waiting for the others to hustle into the 34th floor.

Down the stairs they go, and the tips of Asi's fingers kiss the downed Tetsudai drone. It did its part, one that likely saved them from being shot on sight. It did good.

And now it was time for that piece of herself to come back to her.

The explosion at their back only moments after sends her tumbling forward down the stairwell, lips bared back in a grimace before she leans to the side and rushes to keep moving. By the time they reach their destination floor, it's a miracle she's not somehow tripped, one she increases the odds of by letting the glow of her eyes diminish, focusing entirely on her footfalls.

Asi reloads her gun now that they've got just enough space to breathe, looking up to Huruma to lead the way. She looks to Francis after, trying to get an idea from his focus if he's shell-shocked from what he's just been through, ready to aggressively nudge him if required.

Any other op, the image of the two Hounds getting somersaulted down the stairs would be one to stop and savor. Maybe it's that which reminds Huruma what they're working for in the present. So that maybe she can laugh next time. Her last landing sends a reminding tingle up the skin of one leg, and for a few steps Huruma favors the other; she curses to herself on the inside, taking up a brief point with Lucille to gauge the floor beyond with her sixth sense.

Lucille chooses to bring up the rear, so Huruma takes the opposite. She holsters the revolver and frees the short barrel rifle at her back. For the others her empathic field flakes away pieces of shock and nerves and fear, allowing them to replace it with their own sense of calm.

As soon as the three are at the ready, Huruma shoulders open the door onto the 34th level, slinking her way out, black armor slick with the suppressive water.

Beyond the doorway the 34th floor of the Praxis Ziggurat appears mundane on a surface level. A concrete hallway bereft of doors or windows with a high ceiling within which fluorescent lights are set. Greenery pops against the concrete from crawling vines set in round metal sconces, their verdant lengths hanging down to floor level. Asi can feel power flowing through the walls, like the heartbeat of some great machine.

Francis goes in just ahead of Lucille who picks up the rear. Neither Lucille nor Huruma sense any thoughts or life on this floor within the reach of their abilities. The sprinklers aren’t running in here, but it won’t be long before the Qing reach the doorway behind them.

There are no other ways out of this hall and just a single metal door ahead that must lead into another hall or room. There’s a keypad beside it, one that would accept an access card, but unfortunately not a floor that Yi-Min had access to with her security clearance.

“Y’ever see the Resident Evil movie?” Francis says to himself as he looks up at the ceiling and around the room. “I’m gettin’ real laser net vibes from this hallway…” he continues, walking backwards down the hall with a wary eye aimed at every metal sconce holding a plant.

Slamming the door behind her Lucille takes a look around the hall and gives Francis a look through her helmet. Please mom don't let him jinx us with that. Facing sideways she follows the others and crossing her legs one after the other as she comes down the hall.

They had minutes, maybe seconds. That much she knew she didn't have to tell the others.

"I have nothing on my radar," Looking towards Huruma and then Asi, "You?"

They had to get through that door. Now.

Asi holds, her head turning slightly one side, and then the next. Each step increases the sense of something being slightly off, something in the air not sitting right with her. She slides a look slowly over at Francis, pace slowing. "Are you certain your ability isn't to accurately guess when we are about to be in danger?" she asks drily.

She considers the hall one more time with a forward flit of her eyes, then takes wide strides to carry them forward. "Be ready with a charge for the door if I'm not able to work through the security panel." With a glance over her shoulder, she lifts her head up at Huruma. "And on the offchance the entire hall fries us with electricity, maybe one of us should stay here and stand guard."

It's more fast and loose than she'd like to be, that's for certain. But she takes point here without hesitation, intention readied at her fingertips.

"I'm suddenly quite glad that I have no idea what he's on about." Huruma mutters, mainly for herself; an aside to the women with her is a bonus. She tips a look after Asi's scan of the forward path, and gives a single nod in response to staying at the door. The Qing will be there regardless, it's best if she remains at throat level with them should they come booting into the corridor.

"Nothing for me, no. I do not believe they would abandon this floor, do you?" The tall woman's dark voice carries after Asi, rather than Lucille. "If you cannot get through the panel, we will need to kick our way back out of here. So be prepared."

The hall poses no immediate threat, for all the foreboding that the electrical charge in the walls seems to imply. Long enough in the hall, and both Lucille and Asi can feel the hairs on the back of their neck standing on end.

“Hey how d’you think I’ve kept my head on my shoulders so long with a mouth like this?” Francis asks in a whisper, backpedaling from the entrance, keeping an eye out around the ceiling and walls as he walks. “I know better than to walk into situations like this!”

The traversal down the hall is safe enough, but Huruma can hear the rapid approach of the Qing roughly a floor above them. By the time Asi reaches the keypad, she finds the security system inside awaiting her is like being ambushed by someone with a baseball bat. There’s a low electromagnetic pulse that travels up her hand on connection with her technopathic ability, causes her vision to white out and her hand to jerk away reflexively.

Anti technopathic intrusion systems— she’d heard about them being developed. As her vision comes back, the room is suddenly darkened as the lights on the ceiling go out. Huruma, at the door outside the hall, hears a sudden slam as the door to the corridor shuts, locking her out in the stairwell. Sparks begin to emit from the metal dome sconces containing the crawling vines, and it soon becomes abundantly clear those aren’t real plants.

Each copper dome is like the crown of a tesla coil, preparing to flood the hallway with electricity. As the hum begins to build, Francis looks back at Asi. “Whatever you’re going to do, hurry!

"Well here you are, walking into it," Not like he had much choice but Lucille was comforted by having his presence here, terrible jinx or not. Huruma's exuding calm overlays over Lucille's already mostly maintained emotional state. Her eyes flicker and fade back to their natural blue gray as she has no immediate use for her ability.

She's in the process of removing an explosive from her belt to ready it in case of a failure attempt when the plants and the walls hum while coming to life. The woman's head jerks over to where Asi is at work, Lucille doesn't need to echo Francis' sentiments instead she moves closer until she's not too far from the technopath's back. "I don't think we're gonna be jumping and ducking to avoid lasers," An aside to the earlier comment about Resident Evil.

Her gaze flicks over to one of the "flowers", gears in her head turning to a possible solution so they don't end up fried. Luce had quit tanning beds over a decade ago for a reason.

Asi hisses and pulls her hand back as the system tries to bomb her senses out. Shaking it out like it'd do something to help, she finds it on the whole unencouraging her vision clearing paints a different picture of their surroundings than it had only moments before.

The glimpse she'd gotten of the room's design is enough to spurn her to action, ignoring the nerves flung her way by Francis. Whatever was charging behind them now was preparing to lash out with far more lethal force than the panel had zapped her with. Flexing her hand, her eyes flare with the blue light of her ability as she hones her focus, readying multiple subprocesses at once.

This thing expected one technopath, one stream of conscious. It didn't seem like it could handle multiple. It's a bet she's taking.

Her hand meets the panel again, one, two, three fingers laying down in rapid succession. The first subprocess launches boldly and directly at the lock mechanism again while the the second slips through the system more furtively with the same goal of disabling the door. The third rushes once the other two are set to work to power down whatever it is that's charging behind them.

It's a brief brush and then her hand flies away from the panel of the surface of the panel again, prepared for another pulse to try and assail her senseless. Her eyes close entirely, seeing instead through the web of her subprocesses while they work.

In the process, a single ping is sent to check on the Tlanuwa's distance and activity.

The resonance of the room clues Huruma in, once Asi recoils from her initial contact with the panel; the door she's chosen to man cuts close in front of her face before slamming shut. At least this way, the Qing aren't an issue(?). At the same time, now she is stuck in here with the others and an increasingly tingling environment.

Huruma has been electrocuted to death once in her life. She'd like to not repeat it. She can see Asi working, and moves up alongside the wall astride the door the technopath is attempting to override.

"Tch….If you want me to sucker punch one of those plants into the lock, just say the word." Huruma murmurs, unsure of if Asi can hear her— but the offer comes regardless. As far as she can tell that would do something like create a complete circuit and overload, and the AEGIS could take the current to a degree— but then again, Huruma is decidedly not an engineer. That's what Asi's for.

Electricity crackles and snaps from the domes on the walls, causing Francis to leap back and away with an exasperated, “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” The first few bolts ground out on the concrete floor and burn with an ozone stink. But before the electricity can reach a crescendo and arc across the hall to complete the deadly circuit, Asi’s subprocesses complete their task.

To her it felt like an eternity, watching one subprocess be partitioned off behind a firewall while one hacked the door authorization bypass and another punched through to disengage the electrical security systems. Along the way, one of Asi’s subprocesses feeds back data indicating that so long as the internal door to the server room is open the external door remains locked, which means the Qing in the hallway are cut off from the Hounds, at least for the moment.

What garners more of Asi’s attention is the static from her subprocess in the Tlanuwa. Whatever countermeasures against technopathy were built into the Ziggurat are preventing communication from this room out. It’s a worrying sensation, because it wasn’t something Asi experienced on entering the Ziggurat, just entering the server room. Between that and the way the doors lock, something about all of this feels terribly off.

The noise of the automatic door to the server cluster opening draws everyone’s attention away from the dull hum of the electrical security countermeasures winding down. Francis moves to the side of the door, then peeks around it to view a massive room shaped like a dodecahedron. His eyes grow wide, reflecting the glow of lights within.

Beyond the door Asi opened, there is some sort of machine. It isn’t rows of server racks, but rather some sort of massive device. A glass-floor catwalk extends out into the middle of the cavernous room that looks like a cyst in the center of the Ziggurat. The flat planes of the room are awash with soft blue light from circuitry patterns embedded in glass bolted into concrete frames. Coolant tubes run through the walls and floor of the chamber, leaving a chill mist hanging in the air around the doorway.

At the center of the catwalk in a physical console of five terminals and attached monitors, beyond which rests another matte black dodecahedron roughly twelve feet across studded with plugs from which fabric-covered cabling extends out, forms into a tight bundle, and then moves like a nerve cluster down into the floor below. “What… the fuck kind of Star Wars bullshit is that?”

To Asi, that Star Wars bullshit feels like finding a part of her body that she didn’t know existed up until this moment. Every single part of the room feels like it should — and could — be reached out to. There is a pulse in the walls and floor, a rhythmic flow of data and electricity, like some great synthetic brain.

But as Huruma closes the distance with Lucille, the realization is that it is more than merely synthetic. Though it’s faint, Lucille can feel an organic presence inside the central containment dodecahedron; something alive encased in something artificial. On the fringes of Huruma’s empathic sense, she feels something that was not there earlier. The presence of a thinking, living mind experiencing a singularity of emotions:


The sight of the room has Lucille's eyebrows rising as the four of them enter the 'brain,' it was as impressive and otherworldly as it was eerie and wrong. Not what she expected, this was something new. What the fuck? Her thoughts scream and her awareness grows as they move closer and the signs of life become that more apparent on the edges of her radar. "….guys…" Lucille stops short and looks towards the others. Mild confusion and a healthy blast of curiosity bloom from the young woman at Huruma's side. "Something is-"

Huruma senses it once they enter the room. Something there. Far away and listless. She slows behind the others, only to quickstep to the front and at least lift an arm out in front of Lucille, face forward. It's not necessary to stop her— just to relieve her of explanation.

"- alive." The empath finishes Lucille's spoken thought without further hesitation. Her voice is low, cautious, yet her posture tells of her own curiosity. It is kept quite in check.

Did they trap someone in there? Lucille takes a breath and places a hand at Huruma's shoulder as she passes by and walks closer to the structure that holds life within, stopping a few feet away she settles on one knee and extends her field towards the dodecahedron. Her first thought: "Could be a technopath, hardwired in." Her tone is airy and distant as gaze goes far, searching inside for that biological signature.

Her hand lifts and fingers splay out towards the ceiling, it was probably something much, much worse.

Huruma is on her heels, adopting a similar manner, distant but present as she observes; frozen there, the empath's invisible touch is gentle, though persistent.

"It's at peace… whatever it is."

As above, so below; nothing. All the biological pings on Lucille’s radar were contained in that box in the middle of the room. But what Lucille senses beyond the thick shielding of the central server node is too small — too disparate — to be a human being. There are physical life signs, but they are no larger than a housecat. As the team moves across the bridge over the precipice below, she starts picking up piecemeal biological functions, primarily related to cerebral functions. But none of it is regulated the way she’d expect a body to be, there’s no adrenal system, no pineal gland, none of it makes any sense.

Huruma feels no movement in the emotion of serenity, either. There is no piqued interest, no moment of boredom, no flash of uncertainty. There is just a flat, unmoving line of placidity that feels… alien.

Now a flood of confusion overtakes Lucille and she twists her head. "That isn't right," Speaking aloud and eyes squinting. The Institute had been known for their experiments, horrific ones even, Praxis as well. A sick feeling in the pit of her stomach bubbles up. "Not a body, this is…" Something foreign but familiar, missing of crucial pieces but still able to be read. "It's too small, no adrenal system… their hub is a mix of synthetic and biological but it has," Looking at Huruma, "A feeling."

She places her hand against the containment cell, bowing her head. What are you? They didn't have time for this, this marvel.

"Tetsuyama, what can you tell us on your end?"

The possibility that it might take the three of them to properly shut this down begins to dawn on the Hound.

Asi's brow twitches midthought, head tilted up like she's listening to something in the air itself. She might as well be, for how the room thrums with a living energy. The blue in her eyes flicker as she slowly lets her gaze track back down to the thing— the brainlike center of this whole thing.

She's glad she retrieved every subprocess possible. She's going to need them.

"At peace?" The technopath echoes as she steps forward to the bank of terminals, using her analog senses to see what there is to see about the arrangement. "Well, whatever it is—" She pauses at her use of it here. Questions it, the way she questioned her insistence on referring to Jiba as one. "Let's … see if we can avoid disturbing it."

Her subprocesses could slip in like ghosts, if she leveraged the care. She readies them at her fingertips, all while continuing her study of the terminal to determine what type of interface it provided. Was it a monitor… or a control panel.

The terminal interfaces are simple enough, but also proprietary in design. They are single unit devices, sturdy and reliable rather than focusing on consumer needs of lightweight and high-fidelity. These consoles are all purpose-built, each one of them not so much an interaction interface as they are… system monitors.

On a superficial scan of the displays, Asi sees network traffic, satellite telemetry, security system alerts. This isn't just a secure mainframe, this is a hub of everything in Praxia. Adam’s entire electronic operation is negotiated out of this space. Asi finds terminals monitoring the status of the robots across the California Safe Zone as well as those currently deployed across the world. All of the ZZ-7 units are networked, but not in a traditional transmission sense.

They were a part of a vast quantum network.

What is most worrying about all of this is the lack of any human security. There were no guards watching this entrance, only one security lock to bypass. Perhaps the crisis had diverted some defenses, but this felt unusually open.

“Wwwwwwhat the fuck is this?” Francis asks, looking over the edge of the metal railing to the flashing lights below. His breath is visible against the cold air. “Like, I'm pretty sure I know what a fucking computer looks like.”

What distresses Asi the most is that she isn't even sure how to answer. This entire system feels alien, a computer operation system leaps and bounds more advanced than any known technology. All of these terminals only provide analytics, and some of them are — as Asi discovers — not about external things.

One of the terminals monitors brain wave activity, another monitors metabolic states, cerebro-spinal fluid pressure levels, and then lists of chemicals and their balances within prescriptive levels on colored charts. There's so much data about what is working that it would take at least an hour for her to get a firm grasp of what this system truly is. But based on the information provided by Huruma and Lucille, Asi has one suspicion that seems most likely.

This isn't a computer.

It's a person.

"Might have to shut it down." Rising to her feet Lucille walks quietly over to the monitors though her head turns back towards the containment cell as she goes. Eventually she shoots her gaze downwards discerning what she can from them. It takes a moment before she finds the one with the brain waves and various other things being monitored that wouldn't make sense for just machinery. She knows her and Huruma's senses aren't off anyway. Blue eyes scan the screen, looking for a name. Everything had a name in this world.

"What if, we all tried to get it to shut down. From three different perspectives," Sorry Francis.

The clock was ticking and Lucille was doing her best not just say set charges and be done with it but a nagging feeling in the back of her head stalks that line of thinking, whoever this was, they were alive if not sedated.

It's the visibility into the web of networked ZZ-7 units that makes Asi reconsider her gut feeling she had when entering the room. It pushes her to again try to reach out, to realize the interference is abnormal, and to circle back to what felt so impossible she'd first brushed it off.

Her eyes slowly return to the dodecahedron, hand still hovering.

"We aren't shutting it down," Asi decides abruptly, tersely, her gaze flitting next to the sea of biometric information. Her usual, stilled pool of calm ripples in this moment, something visceral and protective emergent in her emotional being. She tries instantly to tamp it down, shaking her head, eyes narrowing. Her hand continues to hover over the terminal like one might with the indecision of someone uncertain they should pull the trigger on a gun.

Her fingers curl back into her palm. They didn't have time for this, and yet…

"Disable, yes, we have to—" She breaks off, visibly torn. "Shut down, no. We…"

Asi's eyes stutter closed, her fist tightening as she works to bring herself back to a calm. "If we can keep it at peace, perhaps I can slip in and disable the ZZ network before it has a chance to react. Kick open the door for Scylla and Transceiver to … use its connections, to…"

It's then she realizes touching the terminal or dodecahedron might not even be necessary. The entire space sang to her, at once foreign yet familiar to her senses. What exactly she meant to do with that information wasn't something she was sure of yet, the shock of it taking a moment to process.

"But we're pressed for time, and the human element controlling security still needs dealt with two floors up." Opening her eyes, Asi looks to the other bridges, the other doors presumably leading out. She wonders if there's a maintenance hatch they're not yet seeing either. "I don't know how long this will take me. It's… doable, just—"

The technopath's voice catches. A faint laugh comes from her, humorlessly, as she glances momentarily in Francis' direction before returning her full attention to the large cases before them. "This is neither moon nor space station. It…" Her voice hushes, eyes glowing. "She is unique."

Her tone evening to a deadpan she still doesn't feel, Asi looks between Lucille and Huruma. She warns, "Dealing with what's going on upstairs is still just as time-critical."

Huruma does her courtesy circuit around the walkway and the mass connected to the rest of the Ziggurat; she pauses only to skim the monitors and readouts with her eyes. They aren't things which she is familiar with reading, but she can parse from labels and context as the technopath fills in the blanks.

It is Francis who she offers a mental balm to; his distress is meaningful, and she isn't about to let that carry on if she can help it. It's alright. Chill pill. Huruma goes on to study the flux and bend of Asi's attitude, head tipped. The snarling knot of the woman's headspace parts under prying mind; the technopath's reactions are a key to what comes next, she has no doubt about that. Asi gives the presence a meaning. A pronoun. A statement of ability.

"If this place has the consciousness we believe it does," Huruma finally speaks up again, a terse tone in her voice. It simmers there in the rest, respectful but disapproving. "We should handle it. Now. We may not be so fortunate to arrive here a second time." The plane of Huruma's helmet casts the way of the terminals. "Mankind can wait a few more moments, this is the Ziggurat's brain module, isn't it?" And all that potentially entails.

"You need us in this, Tetsuyama. Disabling it without killing it, then letting Scylla and her tagalong inside to clean house. We will work to keep it docile, anayeona. Do what you do."

“I’m sorry did you just call that big black box she?” Francis asks as he turns around, looking over his shoulder at Asi. “Because— because I’m not sure what the fuck that means and it’s confusing and scary.” He grouses, slowly approaching the consoles and looking at the displays with a shake of his head.

“There’s gotta be cameras in here, right?” Francis asks, looking at the ceiling. “They’ve gotta know we’re here.” There’s a growing tension as he takes a step back from the console. “Why aren’t they…” he doesn’t want to say it, for fear that he’s right.

Francis turns and starts fishing at his backpack. “Look if I need to be a tie-breaker here I’ve got two bricks of C4 with a sticker of that little bomb guy from Mario on them.”

There is a certain steel in the Hound's mind and tone now as thoughts of the war and the unpleasant but necessary things you do to achieve victory cross Lucille's mind. They are not in the Second Civil War now but the short haired woman adopts that manner of thinking all the same, she probably has never got away from it. The she feels right to Lucille and she nods her head, drifting back towards the box or crypt or what have you. Asi's demeanor draws Lucille's gaze and an uptick of her eyebrows. Perhaps there is camaraderie felt here between two technopaths.

Huruma has spoken both of their minds so Lucille remains quiet as she places a hand on the black box and her gold glowing eyes squint. "Last resort," Directed towards Francis. Mercy, though it would sacrifice time. If it took longer than necessary to disable the Hub she would add some of her own C4 to the man's.

Out of body awareness is what Lucille focuses on as she tries to exert her control of sleep and exhaustion over the life form inside the box. "Let's get started, now." Who was this poor mind trapped and used? Would it awaken from being tampered with.

Asi doesn't get as far as a don't you dare to Francis, already lost in the rush of noise coming from the room's many processes. Her eyes flicker shut, chin lifting in a gesture of tension and relaxation both, settling into herself— her power.

The power swirling around her.

With as few ripples as possible, she blindly opens her eyes again as she wades into the sea of it all, hearing what there is to hear— seeing what there is to see. Her subprocesses cling to her like skintight ghosts, ready to peel away from her being and set to work as soon as she sights opportunity.

Huruma turns to Francis until he stops chattering, staring him down even as Lucille corrects him. Last resort.

"Francis." Firm, not scornful. "Stop. Take a breath." Huruma offers a minute ripple of calm to him. "We need you to watch our backs while we do this. Prep what you can, be ready." Her command comes with no uncertain finality, a confidence in the order that she places on him. He's not a fool, even if he pretends. She knows he's plenty capable in the crush; she also doesn't give him a moment to respond before pivoting back around and approaching the dodecahedron at the core of the room.

Huruma's pace is slowed, carrying her around the shell to where its massive cabling coils into that thickly corded brainstem. The visor on her helmet is slid back, a thin sheen on the visible dark of her face, eyes as bold and moonstone as ever. Her hands extend as closely as they can get to that coarse metallic fiber shrouding the cabling. Touch would be best, yet—

The empath murmurs something near silent but for a whisper to herself. Hands held palm up around an invisible mass, Huruma levels her focus to the flutter of life inside the core unit. She wraps that serenity in her own touch, bonds spinning like threads around it, encasing, cradling, cocooning, bracing it there for what comes next.

“Prep. Prep. Yeah, prep, okay. I can prep.” Francis says in a way that says he is most certainly not cool, right up until the supernatural dose of cool washes over him. Tension bleeds away and Francis slides his tongue over the inside of his cheek.

“Is that what that feels like?” He asks Huruma, “because— ”

All the lights in the room, save for the dim glow coming from distant server blades in the ceiling and floor, go out the moment Asi feels her ability connect with the presence in the room. Huruma can feel Francis’ anxiety spike again.

“I apologize for everything.” Francis whispers.

In the dark, the three can see lights coming from nearby. Two pale blue dots burning inside Asi’s pupils.


And turn red.


Wet concrete stinks of mildew. The drip of water from the ceiling of a ten-by-ten cell serves only to aggravate, falling in an unsteady rhythm. There is moss on the wall around the door frame, where concrete meets rusted steel. The smell of oxidized metal clings to the air as much as the mildew stink.

Asi Tetsuyama is a prisoner within her own body, watching the door to a cell she is restrained in slowly open. The woman who walks through, thin and severe-looking, has an expression of a permanent scowl that creases visible lines in the corners of her mouth and in her neck. Asi does not recognize her.

“Major Tetsuyama,” she says in a frustrated tone. “Have the last nine days given you anything to think about? Because the options we presented to you are rapidly dwindling.”

“Erica,” Asi hears herself say. “You’re looking radiant.”


“You can either cooperate or be stripped of your ability and returned to the Japanese government.” Kravid says without a touch of sympathy in her voice. “It’s up to you.”

Asi looks down at her lap, to bare hands stained with grime from sleeping on the floor of this wet cell intended for an animal in the biodome. She looks back up to Kravid. “Go fuck yourself.”

Kravid slides her tongue across the inside of her cheek, then steps aside to reveal two broad-shouldered men waiting in the hall. “Fine. Option C.” Which wasn’t one of the choices she had been presented. “Take her.”

Asi springs to her feet, backing up to the wet wall of her cell as two sturdy men advance on her. She waits, considers her bare footing, then lunges out with a shoulder against the first one to get in striking range. Even with her hands cuffed together, she’s still dangerous. An elbow to the throat sends the first man collapsing to the ground, choking. She steps over him, hops and knees the second in the diaphragm and then drives her elbow down into the back of his head as he doubles over.

As Asi closes the distance on Erica, the older woman moves back a step, but finds herself too slow for the younger and considerably more athletic woman. Asi gets her cuffed arms around Kravid’s head, swings her around and smashes her skull against the wall, then with a crossing of her forearms uses the chain of her handcuffs as a strangulation device, knee at the small of Kravid’s back, choking the life out of her.

“I said, go fuck yourself.” Asi growls as she struggles, muscles tense and back straight. Kravid’s face has turned from red to purple, but the brief struggle was all the time more security needed to arrive. Four more people pile into the room and manage to pry Kravid out from Asi’s grasp. The technopath is thrown against the wall, kicked, punched, and beaten with truncheons until she no longer puts up a fight.

Bring her,” Kravid says in a gasping rasp, pawing at her throat, “to the fucking lab.

More Familiar Space

Red lights in Asi’s eyes turn blue again and the lights inside the server cluster come back on. It only took a moment, long enough for Francis to be exasperated before everything returned to normal.

Except for Asi. Who feels an intense sensation of vertigo, staring at the black metal dodecahedron, softly humming in the middle of the room. It both made sense and didn’t. The ability she felt in here wasn’t similar to her own.

It is her ability. And if the vivid download of data she just experienced is any indication, the organic matter inside the central node…

…is her.

Lights going out has Lucille's hand dropping from the containment cell and standing quickly, a hand goes to a blade sheathed in her belt. Then she sees the red lights that Asi's eyes have become and her expression flattens as gold eyes narrow behind her helmet. Maybe it was gigantically stupid to support the peaceful disabling of this thing. "Have that explosive ready Francis," Her tone is direct and then the lights are back on and Asi's eyes are returning to normal but Lucille has an air of suspicion radiating from her towards Huruma.

Was she taken over? Compromised? Luce hadn't seen any sort of red eyes emitting from the technopath before this and red usually equals not that swell of a time.

There was no time for this.

"Status report, on what the fuck that just was," Lucille looks from Asi to the box behind her and back again. "We can't risk you getting compromised, that happens again…" The Hound doesn't finish her sentence but the sentiment is all there, she's not choosing between this and the newfound comrade in the field.

The moment that Asi returns to the moment, she takes in a shallow breath of air that raises her chest. Lucille's voice cuts through the din, draws her attention down to the Hound.

How could she even explain what just happened?

"It's not compromise, it's— exchange of information," she shares, attempting to simplify it without sounding insane in the process. "I saw what happened to her. What… lead to this." Her jaw hangs for a moment in hesitation, a glance afforded to Huruma in particular before she resumes her study of the dodecahedron. "I don't know or understand how, but she is me. Some…. other me."

With a surge of confidence, Asi asserts with a sudden terseness, stepping closer to the machine: "I can take control. If her serenity's disturbed, calm it, but— I have this." This time, her hand raises to reach out, her eyes half-lidding as she prepares to dive again, ready this time for intent to spider away from her and begin insinuating themselves with their own purposes while wades in deeper, driven to know— to understand.

What happened to her? What happened to the Red Oni?

After Asi's own emotions focus on her task, Huruma remains focused on hers; however, as the technopath's eyes shift back and forth that the empath's observations do too. The mind inside of the core is held under in its comforted rest. Asi looks to Huruma, and is met with an angled stare, expression impassive even without the shield of her faceplate.

"分かっています。" Hands ease back to their neutral extension while Asi prepares to go back in. Now that she is certain that she was not mistaken, Huruma can more accurately measure what she needs to keep level. "We're ready." Just in case, though she suspects that the other woman doesn't need the cue. Wade where you need to, you will have a rope.


Asi kicks and screams as she’s dragged down a concrete-lined corridor. The words GEOPOINT SCIENTIFIC ENCLOSURE are stenciled in block-print on the walls. Parts of the place she’s brought to look like the outdoors, a vast stretch of tide pools and churning surf contained below a geodesic dome.

Ultimately she’s brought into a chevron-shaped room with heat-resistant plating mounted on the wall in scaled black tiling. Every surface feels slightly reflective, and a team of technicians in environmentally-sealed suits are welding shut a leak in a gold-plated coolant tube corkscrewing around the massive triangular frame of the Looking Glass. Exposed cables and conduits sprawl across the floor, and technicians stand at portable banks of computers.

Asi is thrown into the room, tripping over her own feet before crashing onto the floor at her shoulder. The technicians hear the noise and quickly finish their patchwork on the coolant pipes, then move to the sides of the room as Director Kravid strides in. She holds a hand out to one of the security guards and demands, “Gun.”

Struggling to her feet, Asi looks around at the computers, wincing and flinching like she’s trying to get something out of her eyes; like someone trying to focus their vision, but can’t.

A security officer reluctantly hands a sidearm to Kravid, who chambers a round with a snap of the slide and levels the firearm at Asi. “Stand up.” She then flicks a look to one of the technicians. “Boot it up. Last known good configuration.”

Asi follows Kravid’s sight-line to the technician, shaking her head in a briefly pleading look. But the technician, staring at Kravid’s gun, presses a few keys that elicits a low hum from the Looking Glass. “Organic matter can’t pass through,” Asi says as she pulls herself to her feet. “You know this isn’t going to work!”

Kravid nudges the barrel of her gun toward Asi. “I can put a bullet in you here, or you can take your chances.”

Asi’s expression pales, a lump rises in her throat. Behind her, she can feel an intense static discharge as the whirring sounds of a particle accelerator quickly are joined by the rapid-fire crackling of the particles colliding. She turns to see a light over her shoulder, a colorless white glow burning within the silhouette of a massive triangle. A discharge of heat blows out from the light like a thermal vent, and she raises one arm to shield her eyes from the blast.

Kravid tips her chin up, watching as the triangular matrix tunnels outward like a corridor, repeating echoes of the Looking Glass’ frame until another point in space becomes visible on the other side. A mirror image of this room, save for the computer equipment and there are metallic harnesses suspended from armatures in the ceiling, grime covered hoses sticking out of them.

“Your choice, Tetsuyama.” Kravid says with a motion to the portal. Asi can feel a pressure behind her eyes, sleepy and weak. Something just now peeking out from the edges of drug-induced silence. Her subprocesses start winking in and out, like a dead limb tingling and prickling back to life.

Slowly, Asi collects herself and turns to the portal. There were worse fates than death, she thought to herself, but also better ones. Intermediate states of being that, perhaps, were a hair’s breadth away from non-existence, but could be elevated to something more. She had heard rumors of other technopaths surviving in such a state. She wondered, for a moment, what immortality would feel like? What it wouldn’t feel like?

Kravid fires her gun at the ceiling, jolting Asi out of philosophical meanderings. One foot in front of the other, Asi makes a purposefully slow approach to the crackling portal to— God knows where. She isn’t even sure if God would. This felt like treading in spaces he’d never look.

Kravid keeps her gun trained on Asi as the technopath approaches the Looking Glass, arcs of white lightning leaping off the frame and grounding out near her body. What Kravid doesn’t notice is what the human eye can’t see, Asi searching for something with a large enough cache to hold the weight of human consciousness. Would that much data weigh any more than a feather?

This close to the Looking Glass, Asi can see light bending around the frame and folding in on itself, turning into the tunnel gridded by matrices of brightly burning lasers spinning at rapid speeds. She eyes one of the nearby shielded terminals, considers the data it must hold from the Looking Glass, and spies the cables connecting the two.

“Three.” Kravid begins counting down.

Asi takes a step closer, and at this distance it feels like walking into a furnace.

“Two.” Kravid clicks back the hammer on the gun.

Asi swallows, exhales a shuddering breath, and leaps forward with one arm out to touch the frame of the Looking Glass as she enters the scalding hot threshold of

More Familiar Space

The lights have gone out again, but this time for longer than before. Huruma and Lucille can feel an elevated state of consciousness within the machine, a spike of panic that Huruma is familiar enough to recognize as a trauma response; the same kind of panic spike veterans and other survivors experience when undergoing a post-traumatic stress flashback. That same emotional state is mirrored in Asi, though it feels strangely artificial.

Lucille senses increased brain activity and a heart-rate spike. It’s only in that moment that she can separate a heart from the other background noise. But there is a truncated circulatory system inside that machine somewhere. Disparate organs, without a body.

A nightmare, but one they can make easier. Lucille and Huruma combined can level out the biological and psychological spikes, prevent the delicate balance from collapsing in on itself while Asi is inside.


Tissue regeneration is capped at 6%.

It is a voice. A man’s voice, but distant and muffled.

We’re not seeing much developmental progress, even with the addition of the blood sample.

Time is meaningless, in darkness as this.

Brain is at 68% restoration and plateaued, we’re not going to get that tissue back.

Asi feels nothing.

Heart is steady at 77%, we can restore the rest with synthetic components.

Asi hears only muffled whispers.

Blood tests are positive, SLC-E. Cognitive functions are limited, reminiscent of locked-in syndrome.

Until one day

Asi sees the world through the lenses of security cameras. A clean room with doctors dressed in white, scientists and researchers, computers, cameras. “And she’s online. If you can hear us, we’d like you to know that we saved your life.”

Horror replaces hopelessness.

“You were the victim of an unknown accident. We found your remains at a facility of ours and, thanks to the efforts of our Director’s regenerative blood transfusion, we were able to restore you to life.” One of the scientists says, stepping to stand in front of a camera.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to restore your body. But, our assessments indicate that your SLC-E glycimerine reception is consistent with technopathy.” The doctor says, checking a tablet. “We hope that, in time, we can give you some measure of freedom within a simulated network and— ”

No. No. No. No.

“Doctor, patient is spiking. Cerebral stimulation is way too high, look at these patterns, it’s like a seizure.”

No! No! No! No!

More Familiar Space

“Please let me go.” Asi says in the dark, visible only as two red pinpoints of light.

“I do not want this.”

The lights come back on, and the red lights flicker and turn blue. Francis is speechless, staring at Asi with his mouth open and a look of horror on his face.

Lucille stops cold at the mention of 'another Asi,' and looks over to Huruma before nodding over at their new comrade. Thinking about Eileen, thinking about her brother. "No need to explain, we are very experienced in Others. The woman's helmet takes itself apart and Lucille looks at Asi, light blue to glowing blue. "My family, went through the same." She understands on some level but she never has to deal with her actual other self.

Nodding firmly at Huruma's words she readies herself and closes her eyes to continue monitoring the black box as the lights go out.

The spike in her heart, the displaced organ makes Lucille reflexively reach out with her ability for Pressure. Willing the heart rate to settle and calm. The words from Asi make her eyes snap open though and she looks up towards the ceiling. Mom. Give us your strength.

The other Asi wanted to be set free.

There's a jarring moment of disconnect when Asi comes back to the present, to herself. The words she spoke as a conduit aren't lost on her, and it's now she finally notices Francis' clear discomfort. For a moment she looks as shook as he does, reliving that moment of split again, but then her expression hardens, attention sharpening on the younger Harkness.

"The system paused for longer that time. I can't tell if it went noticed, but we are occupied. You need to focus, be our eyes if they send reinforcements here. Get it together."

Her eyes peel away from Francis back to the box, and with a blink her eyes are glowing again. She speaks with her voice as much as her ability, letting it lace into the other technopathic presence. The subprocesses belonging to her spider away seeking out the offensive capabilities the system directed and controlled on one side, while others still seek to find the edges of the network.

"Just step back from what they want you to do, and we'll get you out of there," Asi requests, still preparing for the possibility of a no, an inability to let go for reasons her own or ones imposed on her. "Okay? 一緒に1。 一緒に行こう2"

Her 'hand' remains laced around her counterpart's, the supportive grasp around her presence turning guiding, toward herself. "ここにいるよ。 安全よ。3" In the moment, her physically outstretched hand rests against the side of the dodecahedron. "おいで4"

She'll reckon with the consequences later. There's no universe in which she leaves her behind, turns her back on herself.

Everyone else does that for her.

Huruma knows to aim her ministrations on that oni inside; unfaltering, even, she curls that invisible cocoon more snugly, seeking cracks and consciously blotting out some noise in a muffle. What does make it through is Asi relaying the situation.

Asi's words direct Huruma in one direction, briefly adding to that calm with a featherlight reassurance, as a bird to a fledgling.

There is little left within the metallic shell of the Core Node, a vestige of a person resurrected through Adam’s blood, stretched across two timelines and doomed in both. Cassandra Baumann had tried to save the half of ON1 that was stranded in the Bright Timeline, only to fail after crossing through the Looking Glass.

But Asi…


When you condense everything that a person is down to electrical impulses, even Anubis would have difficulty finding the weight in comparison to a feather. Systems within the Praxis network go dark one by one as their command substructure is extricated from its prison, transported along the quantum pathways of consciousness.

Her weight inside Asi Tetsuyama’s mind is negligible, a pinprick of light that when presented with the brazen energy of full consciousness flickers and dwindles down to a single point of light, imagined as one red firefly among a sea of blue ones. There is no boundary between the points of data, no boundary between the experiences, memories, and feelings.

One moment, Huruma feels two minds, the next she feels but one.

There is no delineation between the two now, there is merely Asi Tetsuyama, and the glimmer of a second technopath’s ability condensed down into a new subprocess that feels, to Asi, to have a slightly different texture than the others. It is at once an overwhelming and underwhelming experience, to merge consciousness like pouring one glass of water into the other.

There is no separating them now.

Lucille can feel the organic components continued to be kept alive by the machines sustaining them, but there is no need for them any further. Not when Asi has found an impossible bridge between worlds, between selves, and between life and death itself.

Francis hangs in the silence, waiting for another shoe to drop. But there is no such calamity. Instead, the lights simply flicker and then stay on. For, as far as the Praxis system is concerned, there has been no true interruption of services. The system was once Asi…

…and still is.

"Well?" Lucille calls out, the organic pieces haven't left but something has happened. The Hound's head turns as she keeps her awareness on the box and the lights come on seemingly permanently, legs push up and she's no longer in her crouch. Looking around and nodding her head slowly. Whatever the other woman just did, seemingly works.

Walking towards Huruma she stops by her side and looks at Asi, "Are we in the clear to move out?"

A long look over at Francis, "Wanna set some charges along the way?"

The room opens to Asi. In ways, it feels like the world does, given the vast network she can feel in the air around her. Metaphorical hands clasped around the red firefly protectively, palms and nearby subprocesses begin to blend in color as they leverage the pathways provided to them by that bloodred origin. Physical hand sliding off the dodecahedron, Asi takes one step back, then another, footsteps slow.

"I've got her," she breathes out confirmation to Lucille. Then she lifts her head, looking up at the air around them with a slow fold of her fingers toward her palm. "I've got everything now. I'm in the driver's seat."

And cluster by cluster, automated drones begin to go on standby, offensive and defensive capabilities disabling. It begins with the drones here— such as the drones waiting for them out the stairwell they came through, and then … distance being of no object, the orders march out across space effortlessly. Instantly.

"What are you doing out there?" Asi wonders to herself in a murmur, her brow beginning to pull together in a knit as she observes through the eyes of drones in an entire other part of the country altogether. Geolocation data places the drones in Detroit, Michigan. The only thing that stills her hand from immediate, indiscriminate shutdown of affairs is that she's not sensing attacks go out, for all that Praxis tech swarms the city. So what were they doing?

Steps a little heavier than before, she walks to the ledge of the platform, listening and seeing distantly. "Can we put those on a timer? Leverage this inside access as long as possible?" the technopath asks, somewhat distracted by her split attention.

Huruma feels when the Red moves to the Blue; it is then that she lets go, lowering her arms back down and dissipating the focus she'd fallen into. A shake of her head is all that it takes before she moves to Asi, a hand briefly on her shoulder. Between praise and grounding. The empath reaches out at length with her ability, skimming for any reactionary movements.

"If we can set them right…" Huruma shifts to the edge near the technopath, glancing up to Lucille, Francis, then the angles of the ceiling. To the latter of the Hounds she looks again, pointing to the cruxes of the room. "Can you get some of them up there? That is, if we can remotely prime them. Take the weight bearing pieces once we take care of business…"

"We'll keep an eye on your vitals." She angles a look to Tetsuyama as she says this, a hushed aside. Huruma and Lucille can passively make sure that Asi stays upright after absorbing her other. It's a big thing to have done, at least to the rest of them.

“I’d say we could remote detonate, but I’m not clear that the detonator’s radio signal would penetrate these walls. If they were fancy enough to keep, uh,” Francis stammers, looking at the now silent dodecahedron, “that in check, I think a timer’s our only sensible option.”

“But if you want plastique on the ceiling,” Francis says, transporting four blocks of C4 from his backpack to his hands, “you get plastique on the ceiling.” The bricks of explosive rapidly vanish from his hands, moved so far away that they cannot be easily seen. But brick-by-brick there’s more than four. All told Francis pulls sixteen blocks of C4 out of that backpack, spreading them out across the geometric chamber, below the walkways, and on the central cord of cables going into the core.

Next, a batch of quarter-sized timers appear in one cupped hand. “These little ones can go up to an hour, but I don’t know if we want to risk that. Infrastructure here looks nice and sound, so I doubt this’ll bring down anything.” Francis looks over to Huruma and Lucille.

“How long do we set the timer for?” Francis asks.

Nodding over at Asi, the Hound's helmet snaps back together and she looks at the others in the room. Still no sign of her father. Was that a good thing?

Lucille looks up to the ceiling and considers how fast they know how to move and nods her head slowly to nobody in particular, "25 minutes."

Asi is in the process of turning away to follow after Lucille when something unseen catches her attention, catches her breath.

"Eve?" escapes her in a startled breath, eyes widening. Her pupils dance back and forth, adrenaline spiking even if her emotions haven't caught up to it yet. They won't— what she views, she views with a tactical eye. Distant resources begin to respond to her call with a turn of her head, but another hard glance to the right sees her hand stayed, her physical hand by her side releasing the gathering her fingers had started to perform to assist with driving that activity.

This was bad.

Instead, Asi comes back to the moment, throwing open a port into the system and pinging Scylla and Transceiver through it. Defenses are down. You have twenty five minutes. Watch out for anyone coming to see what the fuck is going on. She lifts a hand to the block of memory she'd brought with her, wondering if…

No. She couldn't walk, monitor the network, and exfiltrate data at the same time. She was already doing a poor job of trying to juggle two things at once. And they weren't done here yet. Maybe they'd have a window after clearing the security terminal back upstairs.

She had to respect Wolfhound's priorities at this point.

Asi stops short of entirely disabling the drones in Detroit, bringing the ones in the air to cease fire on the forces deployed against them. She draws in a breath, speaking her thoughts aloud even as she conveys them through the line back to the technopaths outside. "Offensive drone network disabled. I found where they are: Detroit. But what they're doing out there… it's still not clear to me. I have positive ID from surveillance drones on a number of faces confronting each other in a public plaza, including Baruti Naidu, Claire Bennet, Francesca Lang, Gillian Childs, and Eve Mas."

Several stills snap and send across that daisychain of communication, even as it pains her to grab them. The technopath grips her gun all the more tightly.

"Eve doesn't appear to be Eve anymore."

Exhaling heavily, Asi returns to the present, subprocesses scouring the system for answers as to what Monroe's aims were. There wasn't much time.

But if there was enough evidence whatever it was was necessary

With the sturdiness of the ziggurat, the time should be enough to get the distance and time they'll need. Huruma nods at Lucille's number for Francis' sake; she's intending to bring up the back as they head out when Asi's feet drag and her emotions skew. The new sight can't be an easy thing- - and the words that come out soon after she stops are even less so.

Drone network, Detroit. Worrisome. Positive IDs, several names that Huruma knows intimately. Concerning. Eve doesn't appear to be Eve anymore,

"What?" Huruma's breath hisses out from between her teeth as she studies Tetsuyama and the technopath's reactions to something apparently real time. "Nnnnn…- -" The empath bites back whatever she plans to say, instead bringing herself back to Earth. If what Asi says is true…

"Let's go. We- -" will figure it out soon. "- -need to finish this."

«Hey! I’ve got signal inside the ziggurat now!» Transceiver chimes in, quickly followed by Scylla.

«Copy. I can see network access to their Shanghai systems, Transceiver and I are going in. I’m— going to be a little distracted.» Scylla admits. «But I’ve got Transceiver’s back.»

“Twenty-five minutes on the clock,” Francis says, programming the remote detonator and affixing it to the underside of the central node’s control console. “Alright, let’s go light up security and maybe we’ll get in and out without too much more trouble, huh?”

Francis winces, jogging backwards along the bridge to the north side exit. “I’ll shut my fucking mouth and uh,” he turns and starts to run ahead,

“not jinx us.”


Elsewhere in the Ziggurat

Smashed security cameras emit soft sparks in an otherwise darkened hallway. Blood paints the walls in wet swaths, streaked with arterial spray. Candice Wilmer stands, hand over mouth, watching as the life is choked out of a black-clad security officer who is suspended in mid-air. There’s a spiral pop-snap-crack as he is twisted like a bag of chips, landing in a crumpled heap on the floor.

Half soaked in blood, Samson Gray slowly turns toward Candice and wipes the blood from his face. “He’s here,” Samson says, spitting blood onto the ground. Candice looks wide eyed at him, glancing over her shoulder when a piece of ceiling tile falls loudly to the floor. But her attention snaps back to Samson just as fast.

“How— How can you be sure?” She asks with a shake breath. Samson raises his brows, then points down to the soldier.

“Come on, we’ve got a few floors to clear.” Samson says as he turns his back on Candice.

“Why’m I still alive?” She asks. She knew Sylar, knew the threat he represented to people like her, and she suspects nothing better from a man she now knows is his father.

Samson doesn’t look back at Candice.

“Things change,” he says as an afterthought. “I only want one thing right now.”

Candice breathes in sharply. “What’s that?”

You’ll see.

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